HC Deb 29 March 1927 vol 204 cc1126-33

Again considered in Committee.

[Captain FITZROY in the Chair.]

Question again proposed, "That the Clause be read a Second time."


I was putting in a plea for a reconsideration of the death penalty. I think that things have changed and are changing so much that even though this question was considered but a short time ago, it is worthy of further consideration now. As I said, I will deal only with the question of the death penalty for cowardice. My hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office, who has just spoken, said very truly that everybody was afraid of something. I think they are, and it is a very curious thing. I heard of a case the other day of an officer who was famous for his courage, who won the V.C. and was killed in action afterwards, but who was terrified in a thunderstorm, and a great many people are afraid of far less dangerous things than war. Suppose in the cases with which we are dealing you do apply the penalty of death, what good do you do by it? You do no good to the man himself. You do not make the man any braver, for that man is shot. Do you make the comrades of that man any braver? Do you increase the spirit of self-sacrifice to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred, or do you make the comrades of that man more likely to go forward? I do not think you do. I do not think that human nature is constituted that way. I remember very well that in the Debate which we had last year my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Enfield (Colonel Applin) put the case for the death penalty as well, I thought, as it could be put, and he said: It is not fair to ask a man to go to what amounts to certain death unless that man knows that his comrades will be shot unless they accompany him. I want to examine that argument. J think it is rather a strange one for a man to hold. I do not think a man will say" I will go forward upon this dangerous enterprise, and I shall be supported by my comrades on the right and loft because, although they are not as bravo as I am, they know they will be shot if they do not go." I do not think men's minds work in that way.

I will recall for a moment a picture that many Members of this House have seen, a front line assault trench just before the zero hour. The men who have to go over the top will be thinking of various things, but I do not believe they will be thinking "Unless I go forward I shall be shot." I do not believe that for a moment. I do not believe their minds work in that way. Unless there is some very direct benefit to be derived from the example, there is no justification for shooting a man for cowardice. On that day he may be in a low state of vitality, or something may have happened to him, but all the complexities of human frailty are lumped into one and called cowardice and he is shot. All nations find the particular form of discipline under which their troops will fight best. In the past, no doubt, armies did fight best with the death penalty, but I think we are growing out of that, and that if we have to have another war—and I for one believe we can make war impossible —we shall find we have reached a stage at which the courage and patriotism of men will replace any stimulus which may have been supplied in the past by the death penalty.

Above all, I do not think you have the right to conscript an army, to take men from the plough, the shop and the counting house, men of all sorts and all conditions, of all degrees of physique and stamina and courage, and then, if a man break down in courage, to shoot him. I rather disagree with what an hon. and gallant Gentleman sitting in front of me said. He said that if a man volunteered and went to fight willingly, you had no right to shoot him. I think the case is the other way about, that if a man joins a force knowing that if he does not show bravery he will be shot, it is his own look out. The person you have not got the right to shoot is the conscript, whom you take willingly and compel to go into the field.

I was much impressed by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper). He said that the fact that very few sentences were carried out showed that the law was not observed. I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend on the Front Bench completely answered that point. I recall to the House that 100 years ago men were hanged for sheep stealing, and for all kinds of thefts. That practice was put an end to largely by the growth of humanity, but very largely also because it was found that when the penalty was death juries would not convict. Over and over again Judges said that juries, in the face of conclusive evidence, refused to find a man guilty because they would not see a man condemned to death for stealing a sheep. If we retain the death penalty in the Army, we shall find just the same thing in another war—if we have to go through another war; we shall find that court-martials will find a man innocent, in spite of conclusive evidence of his guilt, if he has to be condemned to death.

I wonder whether I might make a suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? I know that he, from motives of humanity, would be very glad if he could find some way of meeting the objections, and that he would be a happy man if he thought he could, without harm to the country, abolish the death penalty. Could not this matter be reconsidered? I quite agree that distinguished soldiers and sailors have to be consulted, but there need not he a committee; there could be a conference of men drawn from different activities and different professions—a distinguished Judge, and so on— who would reconsider the question in the light of the world as we see it to-day. I believe we shall very soon all agree that the death penalty must go the way of flogging. That is my opinion, but I may be wrong. I think that if my right hon. Friend himself would hold some sort of private conference, consulting the views of various people of distinction in different ranks of life, he would find a concensus of opinion for the abolition, or the partial abolition, of the death penalty. If a man deserts to the enemy, he has done some wilful act that comes within the system of criminal law; but if a man falls under the charge of cowardice, different considerations arise, and you can only justify shooting that man by the good example it will have on the man's comrades. I do not think that a good

example follows, and I plead for a reconsideration of the whole problem.

Colonel APPLIN

There is one other point which has not cropped up in the Debate which is probably the most important thing to consider in connection with any proposal to abolish the death penalty, and that is, what is the alternative? I have seen the alternative. I served in the late War with a very gallant corps which had no death penalty. When a man—or an officer—was considered to have let those people down a court-martial was held by the men round the camp fire at night, and sentence was passed, and the man was executed on the next occasion by his judges. That must be the alternative in any democratic Army in which the whole people are compelled to go and fight. As an old soldier, I should like to see the death penalty abolished, if it were possible. It could be possible only with an Army such as we have—the Regular Army of this country, in which the death penalty may possibly not be necessary. I believe that with our modern spirit, our modern education, and the magnificent esprit de corps of our regiments, it might be possible to abolish this death penalty without any dire results to the Army. But so long as we have to depend on conscription from the moment we come into a serious war so long shall we be obliged to impose the death penalty for cowardice in the field, not only in justice to the other men, but because they would give a very rough justice to anyone whom they suspected of letting them down.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 134; Noes, 259.

Division No. 59.] AYES. 6.50 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Clowes, S. Gardner, J. P.
Adamson. W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Cluse, W. S. Glbbins, Joseph
Amnion, Charles George Clynes. Rt. Hon. John R. Gillett, George M.
Baker, Walter Compton, Joseph Gosling, Harry
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Connolly, M. Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)
Barnes, A. Cooper, A. Duff Greenall, T.
Barr, J. Cove. W G. Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)
Beckett, John (Gateshead) Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)
Bondfield, Margaret Dalton, Hugh Groves, T.
Briant, Frank Davies. Evan (Ebbw Vale) Grundy, T. W.
Broad, F. A. Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Hall, F. (York. W.R., Normanton)
Bromfield, William Day, Colonel Harry Hall. G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)
Bromley. J. Dennison. R. Hardie, George D.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Duncan, C. Harris, Percy A.
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Dunnico, H. Hayday, Arthur
Buchanan, G. Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington) Hayes, John Henry
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Fenby, T. D. Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)
Charleton, H. C. Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Henderson, T. (Glasgow)
Hills, Major John Waller Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Hirst, G. H. Oliver, George Harold Sullivan, J.
Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Palin, John Henry Sutton, J. E.
Hopkins, J. W. W. Paling, W. Taylor. R. A.
Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan. Neath) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Thomson, Trevelvan (Middiesbro. W.)
John, William (Rhondda, West) Ponsonby, Arthur Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Potts, John S. Tinker, John Joseph
Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Townend, A. E.
Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Riley, Ben Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Ritson, J. Viant, S. P.
Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Robinson, W. C. (Yorks,W.R.,Elland) Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
Kelly, W. T. Salter, Or. Alfred Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Kennedy, T. Scurr, John Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Sexton, James Wellock, Wilfred
Kirkwood, D. Shepherd, Arthur Lewis Westwood, J.
Lawrence, Susan Shiels, Dr. Drummond Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.
Lawson, John James Sinclair. Major Sir A. (Caithness) Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Lee, F. Sitch, Charles H. Williams. David (Swansea, E.)
Lowth, T. Smillie, Robert Williams, Dr. J. H. (Lianelly)
Lunn. William Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe) Wilson. R. J. (Jarrow)
Mackinder, W. Smith, Rennie (Penistone) Windsor, Walter
MacLaren, Andrew Snell, Harry Wright. W.
Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) Snowdon. Rt. Hon. Philip Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Montague, Frederick Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles
Morris, R. H. Stamford, T. W. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Morrison, R. c. (Tottenham, N.) Stephen, Campbell Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr.
Nalylor, T. E. Stewart, J. (St. Rollox) Whiteley.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir G. K. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Colfox, Major Wm- Phillips Harland. A.
Albery, Irving James Cope, Major William Harney, E. A.
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Couper, J. B. Harrison, G. J. C.
Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l) Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L. Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)
Amery, Rt Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe) Hawke, John Anthony
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Crooke, J. Smedley (Derltend) Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick) Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. Crookshank.Cpt. H.(Lindsey,Gainsbro) Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.
Atholl Duchess of Curzon, Captain Viscount Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Davidson. Major-General Sir J. H. Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)
Balniel, Lord Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Herbert. S.(York, N.R.,Scar. & Wh'by)
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Davies, Dr. Vernon Hogg, Rt. Hon.Sir D.(St. Marylebone)
Barnett, Major Sir Richard Dixcy, A. C. Holt, Captain H. P.
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Duckworth, John Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Eden, Captain Anthony Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)
Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.) Elliot, Major Walter E. Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)
Bennett, A. J. England, Colonel A. Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.
Berry, Sir George Erskine Lord (Somerset,Weston-S.-M.) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)
Betterton, Henry B. Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.) Huntingfield. Lord
Birchall, Major J.,Dearman Everard, W. Lindsay Hutchison.G.A.Clark (Midi'n & P'bl's)
Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Sklpton) Fairfax. Captain J. G. Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)
Blundell, F. N. Faile, Sir Bertram G. lliffe, Sir Edward M.
Boothby, R. J. G. Fanshawe, Commander G. D. Inskip. Sir Thomas Walker H.
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Fermoy, Lord Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)
Bowater. Col. Sir T. Vansittart Fielden, E. B. Jephcott, A. R.
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Finburgh, S. Jones. G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William
Brass, Captain W. Forrest, W. Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)
Brassey, Sir Leonard Foxcroft, Captain C. T. Kindersley. Major G. M.
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Fraser, Captain Ian King, Captain Henry Douglas
Briggs. J. Harold Gadle, Lieut.-Col. Anthony Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Ganzonl, Sir John Knox, Sir Alfred
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Gates, Percy Lamb, J. Q.
Brown, Brig..Gen. H.C.(Berks, Newb'y) Gauit, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip
Buckingham, Sir H. Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Little, Dr. E. Graham
Bull. Rt. Hon. Sir William James Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)
Burman, J. B. Glyn, Major R. G. C. Looker. Herbert William
Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D. Goff. Sir Park Lougher, Lewis
Burton, Colonel H. W. Gower, Sir Robert Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Grace, John Lumley. L. R.
Campbell, E. T. Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Lynn, Sir R. J.
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Grant, Sir J. A. MacAndrew Major Charles Glen
Cayzer. Sir C. (Chester, City) Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)
Cazalet, Captain Victor A. Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.) Greene, W. P. Crawford McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus
Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London) Maclntyre, Ian
Chamberlain. Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Grotrlan, H. Brent McLean, Major A.
Charterls, Brigadier-General J. Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Macmillnn, Captain H.
Clarry, Reginald George Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John
Clayton, G. C. Hall. Capt. W. D.A. (Brecon & Rad.) Macpherson. Rt. Hon. James I.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Macqulsten, F. A.
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Hammersley, S. S. MacRobert, Alexander M.
Malone, Major P. B. Richardson, Sir P. W.(Sur'y, Ch'ts'y) Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-
Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford) Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Margesson. Captain D. Ropner, Major L. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough
Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K. Rye, F. G. Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Meller. R. J. Salmon, Major I. Wallace, Captain D. E.
Meyer, Sir Frank Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney) Ward. Lt.-Col.A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)
Mltne, J. S. Wardlaw Sandeman, N. Stewart Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Sanders, Sir Robert A. Warrender, Sir Victor
Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Sanderson, Sir Frank Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D. Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)
Moreing, Captain A. H. Scott, Rt. Hon. Sir Leslie Watts, Dr. T.
Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury) Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby) Wells, S. R.
Nelson, Sir Frank Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl.(Renfrew, W.) Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.
Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Sheffield, Sir Berkeley White. Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple-
Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Shepperson, E. W. Wigglns, William Martin
Nicholson, Col. Rt.Hn.W.G.(Ptrsl'ld.) Skelton, A. N. Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Nuttall, Ellis Slaney, Major P. Kenyan Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)
Owen, Major G. Smith, R. W.(Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.) Williams. Herbert G. (Reading)
Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Smith-Carington, Neville W. Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)
Perkins, Colonel E. K. Smithers, Waldron Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Perring, Sir William George Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Windsor-dive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Sprot, Sir Alexander Winterton. Rt. Hon. Earl
Peto, G. (Somerset. Frome) Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.) Wise, Sir Fredric
Pownall, Sir Assheton Stanley, Lord (Fylde) Withers, John James
Price, Major C. W. M. Stanley, Hon. O. F. G.(Westm'eland) Wolmer, Viscount
Radford, E. A. Storry-Deans, R. Womersley, W. J.
Raine, W. Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
Ramsden, E. Streatfeild, Captain S. R. Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)
Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington) Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C. Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Reid, D. D. (County Down) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn) Wragg, Herbert
Remer, J. R. Styles, Captain H. Walter Young, Rt. Hon. Hilton (Norwich)
Remnant, Sir James Tasker, R. Inigo.
Rhys, Hon. C. A. U. Templeton, W. P. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Mr. F. C. Thomson and Mr. Penny.