HC Deb 04 April 1921 vol 140 cc74-6

Order for Second Reading read.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Colonel Sir R. Sanders)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Opportunity has been taken this year to introduce certain Amendments which are found by experience to be necessary in the Army and Air Force Act. These Amendments are clearly explained in the notes to Clauses on the face of the Bill. It is not customary to have a full discussion on Second Reading, which is really only a formal stage. The detailed discussion, by the general custom of the House, always takes place in Committee.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I believe it is a fact that the detailed discussion does take place in Committee, but there is a certain statement in the Preamble of the Bill which we cannot very well deal with in Committee once we have passed the Second Reading of the Bill, and that is pledging the Government to the enormous cost of 341,000 men. Everyone knows the financial situation of the country. We are told on all sides that we cannot have extra pensions in this direction and in that direction where they are badly needed. I supposed the reply on the Bill which we have just taken when certain hon. Members referred to the case of the police pensioners would have been that the finances of the country did not allow it. Therefore, I do not think we can allow the Second Reading of this Bill to go through without making a short protest, without going into details, against the enormous number of men we are asked to budget. The number of men in the Army controls the whole expenditure on the armed forces. I cannot see that there is any necessity for the large number that is proposed. I regret very much that the Government have not taken any definite steps to approach the other great Powers with a view to an all- round reduction in armaments. All that they have done so far has been the partial disarmament of their enemies. When that process is finally completed I hope that they will have taken steps to make arrangements for mutual reduction of armaments all round. In any case, perhaps some hon. Members will agree with me that the Navy is much more important than the Army, and that this money may mean the starving of the Fleet in very vital respects. I am afraid I shall be compelled to divide against the Bill, and I hope that hon. Members who are true economists will support me.

Colonel Sir C. YATE

I welcome the Amendment on Clause 4 which gives a right of appeal to officers of the Indian Army. I should like to ask, if an officer is to have the right of appeal direct to the Governor-General, what steps have been taken to inquire into that claim. I have always advocated and still advocate that there should be some sort of tribunal to which officers who consider themselves aggrieved should be able to go and state their case: a tribunal which would be an independent tribunal and could report on the case for the benefit of the higher officers who have to consider it. At the present time, when an officer is aggrieved the only appeal he has is to the general officer or someone above him who, probably, is the very man against whom he is appealing. That is not an independent inquiry in any way, and we can hardly call it an impartial tribunal. The officer who is aggrieved should have an appeal to a tribunal apart from the officer against whose decision he is appealing. At the present time, an officer who is under any injustice must send in his complaint to the very man against whose action he is complaining. I trust that the Undersecretary of State for War will take this question into consideration and see whether some independent tribunal could not be appointed before which the officer could appeal and state his case, and then that tribunal could report on the case for the benefit of the higher authorities. I do not limit this suggestion to the Indian Army; I think there ought to be the same protection for officers of the British Army. I raised this question last year and the year before. There are a very large number of officers, especially in the Indian Army, and also in the British Army, who suffer under a sense of grave injustice, and that sense of injustice can never be removed so long as they are under the idea that they have not had a fair and impartial consideration of their case. I hope the Under-Secretary will consider this matter, and that some separate and independent tribunal will be set up, not in any way to supersede the authority of the Army Council or of the high military authorities in India, but rather to help them to come to an impartial decision in these matters.


I endorse what the hon. and gallant Member has just said. I hope it will be applied to the Home Army, as well as to the Indian Army. My own experience as a commissioned officer and as a private soldier has convinced me that, though the private soldier is fenced round with rights which protect his interests to a remarkable extent, the unfortunate officer is under quite different circumstances, and his whole future may be ruined absolutely by jealousy or possibly by malicious action on the part of a superior officer, and there is at present no means of redress in those cases. The difference between the position of the private soldier and his officer in these matters is very serious. The private soldier has rights, but the officer has no rights, and I think it would be to the greater efficiency of the Army if the commissioned officer was given at least as much protection as the private soldier.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Sir B. Sanders.]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.