HC Deb 26 March 1929 vol 226 cc2314-21

In Section one hundred and thirty-eight of the Army Act (which relates to penal stoppages from the ordinary pay of soldiers), at the end of the proviso there shall be added— and (d) where a soldier has made an allotment from his ordinary pay for the support of any dependant, penal deductions from his ordinary pay shall be made only from the portion of his ordinary pay not so allotted.—[Mr. Montague.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

6.0 p.m.

This Clause will mean that where a soldier is fined for any offence, if a part of his pay is deducted for dependants, that deduction shall not be accounted in the allocation of the fine. I really anticipate that the Financial Secretary will be willing to accept it. It seems to me so obviously reasonable and just. I only know the Army from my war time experience, which is not quite the same thing as the Army in peace time, but I know from that experience that a soldier is not worth much who does not at times run the risk of figuring in the crime sheet. Although I was four years in the Army and served as a private, a non-commissioned officer, and a commissioned officer, I had, at the end of it, a perfectly clean crime sheet. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is because you were not found out!"] The hon. Member is perfectly correct. There were at least three occasions on which I ought to have been shot. On one occasion, I was officer in charge of the fire picket, but for some unaccountable reason I forgot all about it, and went down town. This was after I had been to France, and had come back for special training. There was an alarm of fire while I was away. It was not a real fire, but it was put up by the commanding officer. A magazine was supposed to be on fire, and I was not present. But I had a very good sergeant. He took the fire picket out all right, got all the gear through, and carried on very well until the commanding officer turned up. I heard all this afterwards. Naturally—it was after night had fallen—the commanding officer wanted to know where the officer in charge was. The sergeant told him that I was on the other side of the building, and I can imagine the commanding officer running around the magazine several times trying to find me and then giving up in disgust and going back to the mess. That was one occasion on which I certainly deserved punishment, and did not get it. One or two other instances occurred, but, on the whole, I think, I did my duty as well as could reasonably be expected. I joined the Army at 38, and I suppose the impetuosity of youth had departed. I can imagine that if I had been younger I should not have had a clean crime sheet. I left the Army without a single blot or blemish upon it. I know that some of the best of soldiers—and very often because they were the best of soldiers—did at times kick over the traces. They were fined and given punishment of one kind or another.

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that in cases like that which really show the spirit and courage of the men, the wives, or children, or the aged parents should not be punished as well. That is what it means, and that is the position at the present moment. We move this Clause, because we think that it is one that will appeal to all reasonable instincts of the Members of this House and to the generous feelings of the Government. I ask the Financial Secretary 60 the War Office to prevent this discussion going any further by agreeing to the Clause to abolish the idea of making it possible, in the case of the soldier who has a penal fine imposed upon him, that the fine shall really fall upon those who depend upon him very largely, and who probably, because of the necessity of the allotment of pay, are in a very poor way of life.


I hope that the War Office will see their way to accept this Clause, because it concerns a matter of very serious moment to the men's wives and families and to their mothers. I know that the amount that a soldier can allot from his pay is very small, and that the amount may seem perfectly trivial to those of us who are sitting here, but it is quite a serious thing from the point of view of the poor woman who gets this little bit of money and to whom it is so very necessary. There is no reason whatever why the mother should suffer because a soldier has got drunk, or because he has done something else that contravenes the orders. It seems to me to be unfair that the soldier who has committed this crime should lot bear the whole burden of it. It does, after all, mean a double punishment to the man if he not only loses the amount of money, but if his family know all about his wrongdoing. I think that most men do not want their families to know what happens to them when they are away. They feel, probably, that it is a little hard luck if they have to write home and explain all about it to their wives. I should imagine that soldiers on the whole would very much prefer to lose the little extra money than have to write home to their wives and explain why the amount of the allotment that is coming is less than before. From what I know of the soldiers of my acquaintance during the War they would, no doubt, be perfectly equal to producing a story that would stir a lady's gentle heart, at least the first time. It would be very much better, however, to allow the soldier to face up to his own punishment, and to have the whole of the money taken out of his portion of the pay rather than penalise a perfectly innocent wife and family. While the War Office will, no doubt, earn a certain amount of popularity among the Forces if they resist this Clause, nevertheless from the point of view of dependants, especially the women, it would be very much better if the amount of their allowance remained untouched and the soldier had to suffer deduction from his own portion of the pay.


I am sorry that the Government are unable to accept this new Clause, and I am not sure whether the hon. Members who moved and seconded it are aware of the concession which this Government have made with regard to this particular subject. The Government have already arranged that men can transmit allowances not only to their wives but to their parents, or to any relations to whom they wish to allot a certain amount of their pay, and the Government undertake the whole expense of arranging for that transmission. It is a considerable expense which the State has undertaken. Beyond that, and subsequent to the Debate which took place three years ago in this House, we have arranged that in no case, however much a man may be in debt for an offence which he has committed, shall the allowance which he is paying to his parent or his wife, be reduced to a point beyond 50 per cent. of what it originally was. Therefore, in any case, the dependant retains, whatever crime the soldier may commit, half of the sum of the regular allowance to which he or she is entitled. Hon. Members opposite must remember that in the ordinary way a man's pay comes first as a source from which any such sums can be deducted. It is only when the sum is so large that it cannot be paid off by deduction from a man's pay within three months, leaving the minimum he must have for his own personal use, that anything at all is deducted from the allowance.

The hon. Lady suggested that we were courting popularity with the troops by sticking to the law as it is. She seemed to think that they would be substantially the gainers under the existing system. That is not really the case. In the ordinary way, up to three months they bear the whole brunt. She suggested what an extremely useful deterrent this was, when she said a man would be far more likely to commit an offence if he was not afraid that it would be known at home and had not to report to his family. The same applies to the very engaging argument which the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) put forward. He said we wished to encourage a high spirit and a certain amount of dash in the Army. That is perfectly true, but we wish to keep that spirit in some sort of restraint. The instance which the hon. Member gave within his own military career is hardly affected by this Clause, as he was an officer at the time, but had he been a private soldier I am sure that he would have taken that risk with a far lighter heart had he felt in his generous and dashing way that all he was endangering was his own allowance. Had he, on the contrary, been aware that, should he get into serious trouble, his people and dependants might suffer, he would have thought twice, and probably remembered that it was his duty to stay at home. Both the speeches made in support of the Clause rather strengthen my view that the law, as it exists to-day, does provide a useful deterrent. No man in civil or in military life, I would remind the Committee, can hope to commit serious offences without bringing trouble not only upon himself, but upon all those who depend upon him. In the Army a man's dependants have got some safeguard. I am afraid that we cannot increase that safeguard.


It seems to me that the War Office have recognised that a very great hardship falls upon the parents. I think the fact that not more than 50 per cent. of the dependant's allowance can be affected is proof that they have recognised the hardship. The War Office, no doubt, think that they are swallowing a camel, whereas they are only straining at a gnat in refusing to accept a Clause of this kind. As has been said, there are only a few cases affected by these stoppages. Every soldier does not make an allotment, while the cases of crime are remarkably few. When, however, the effect of the stoppages is felt by dependants, they are all very hard cases, as a matter of three or four shilling a week makes a very great deal of difference to their comfort. During the War, it was found that much trouble was brought upon parents and wives of men concerned, and there was so much indignation throughout the country that the War Office had to drop the regulation. The War Office ought to encourage the soldier to allot so much a week to his parents or dependants. I think that the hon. Gentleman will admit that this is very desirable. They ought to encourage the soldier to take that course, and be just to the parents and dependants. It appears to me that without in the least encouraging crime, or mitigating the punishment as far as particular offenders are concerned, the wisest, most reasonable and decent thing is for the War Office to see to it that the dependants get their full allotment.


I had hoped that the Financial Secretary to the War Office would have accepted this Clause. As things are at present, when a soldier is tried by court-martial or by any other authority, it is like placing his wife and family in the dock by his side. It may be a very fine thing for the War Office to hold that it is a good thing to put fear into the soldier by penalising his family. I suggest that it is unfair that the mother of a soldier who may be receiving an allotment upon which she has to depend should, because of some lapse on the part of her son, be deprived of part of that allotment, because the War Office think or say that they cannot get the money back during the next three months. If this were suggested in industry in civilian life at the present time, there would be such an outcry that no Government would dare stand against the proposals that we are putting forward. I am amazed that in this 20th century there is still an opinion held that soldiers must be dealt with in this way.

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

The Committee divided: Ayes, 107; Noes, 170.

Division No. 276.] AYES. [6.16 p.m.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Harris, Percy A. Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Shield, G. W.
Ammon, Charles George Hudson, J. H. (Huddirsfield) Shieds, Dr. Drummo'ld
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Shinwell, E.
Batey, Joseph Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Sitch, Charles H.
Benn, Wedgwood Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Smillie, Robert
Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Kelly, W. T. Snell, Harry
Broad, F. A. Kennedy, T. Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Bromfield, William Lansbury, George Stamford, T. W.
Bromley, J. Lawrence, Susan Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Lawson, John James Sutton, J. E.
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Lee, F. Taylor R. A.
Charleton, H. C. Lee, Jennie (Lanark, N.) Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Clarke, A. B. Lindley, F. W. Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Cluse, W. S. Lowth, T. Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Compton, Joseph MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon) Thurtle, Ernest
Connolly, M. Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Tinker, John Joseph
Dalton, Hugh Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton) Tomilnson, R. P.
Dalton, Ruth (Bishop Auckland) March, S. Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles
Day, Harry Maxton, James Viant, S. P.
Dennison, R. Montague, Frederick Watson, W. M. (Duntermilne)
Dunnico, H. Morris, R. H. Wedgwood, Rt. hon Josiah
Fenby, T. D. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Wellock, Wilfred
Gardner, J. P. Naylor, T. E. Welsh, J. C.
Gibbins, Joseph Oliver, George Harold Westwood, J.
Gillett, George M. Owen, Major G. Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Gosling, Harry Palin, John Henry Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Paling, W. Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Williams, Dr. J. H. (Lianelly)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Griffith, F. Kingsley Potts, John S. Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Groves, T. Riley, Ben
Grundy, T. W. Ritson, J. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Saklatvala, Shapurji Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Hayes.
Hardle, George D. Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Ganzonl, Sir John Oakley, T.
Ainsworth, Lieut.-Col. Charles Gates, Percy Penny, Frederick George
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)
Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l) Glyn, Major R. G. C. Perring, Sir William George
Allen, Sir J. Sandeman Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Grant, Sir J. A. Pilditch, Sir Philip
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Price, Major C. W. M.
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Ralne, Sir Walter
Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. C. W. Gunston, Captain D. W. Ramsden, E.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Hamilton, Sir George Rawson. Sir Cooper
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Reid, D. D. (County Down)
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Harrison, G. J. C. Remer, J. R.
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Hartington, Marquess of Rentoul, Sir Gervale
Boothby, R. J. G. Haslam, Henry C. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)
Briscos, Richard George Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley) Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.
Brittain, Sir Harry Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P. Rye, F. G.
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I. Henn, Sir Sydney H. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Sandeman, N. Stewart
Buckingham, Sir H. Hills, Major John Waller Sanderson, Sir Frank
Bullock, Captain M. Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Sandon, Lord
Burton, Colonel H. W. Hopkins, J. W. W. Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.
Campbell, E. T. Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities) Scott, Rt. Hon. Sir Leslie
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Hudson, Capt. A. U.M. (Hackney, N.) Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W.)
Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n) Sheffield, Sir Berkeley
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Hume, Sir G. H. Shepperson, E. W.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J.A. (Birm., W.) Hume-Williams, Sir W. Eills Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Hurst, Sir Gerald Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Christie, J. A. Iliffe, Sir Edward M. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Churchman, Sir Arthur C. Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Cobb, Sir Cyril Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l) Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Cooper, A. Duff Kindersley, Major Guy M. Thomson, Sir Frederick
Cope, Major Sir William King, Commodore Henry Douglas Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Courtauld, Major J. S. Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L. Lamb, J. O. Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon
Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe) Lister, Cunliffe, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Wallace, Captain D. E.
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Lougher, Sir Lewis Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Crooke, J. Smedley (Derltend) MacAndrew Major Charles Glen Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Crookehank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro) McLean, Major A. Watts, Sir Thomas
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford) MacRobert, Alexander M. White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Margesson, Capt. D. Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Davies, Dr. Vernon Meller, R. J. Whiterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Edmondson, Major A. J. Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Withers, John James
Elliot, Major Walter E. Meyer, Sir Frank Wolmer, Viscount
Ellis, R. G. Milne, J. S. Wardlaw. Womersley, W. J.
Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.) Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)
Falle, Sir Bertram G. Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Fanshawe, Captain G. D. Morrison, H. (Wilts. Salisbury) Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Fermoy, Lord Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph Wragg, Herbert
Flelden, E. B. Neville, Sir Reginald J. Wright, Brig.-General W. D.
Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Newman, Sir R. H- S. D. L. (Exeter)
Foster, Sir Harry S. Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Fraser, Captain Ian Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.) Captain Bowyer and Sir Victor
Fromantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Warrender.