§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. T. Shaw)
Mr. Dunnico, may I ask for your advice? There are down on the Paper five different Amendments, all dealing with the same subject. Can you agree, with the consent of the Committee, to have the widest possible general Debate on the whole of the Amendments, in order to give every Member of the House an opportunity of stating his views, from whatever side he comes—for this is no party matter—and then take the vote on the Amendments automatically. That, I think, would be for the convenience of the Committee.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I would submit that there is a definite difference as between the issue of the abolition of the death penalty for cowardice and the abolition of the death penalty for desertion, and I think they should be argued separately. I desire respectfully to reserve my right to argue the question of the abolition of the death sentence for desertion separately.
This is largely a domestic question, but, speaking for the Opposition, I would say that we do not 1565 wish to cause an undue prolongation of the discussion, and we are content to discuss the whole matter in a general Debate and then take Divisions on specific Amendments.
§ Mr. SHAW
My suggestion was for the convenience of the Committee, and was not meant to prevent anyone from expressing his view. I take it that if we had a broad general discussion everything would be argued to an extent that might give Members greater liberty than if thy were confined to separate Amendments.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I would respectfully submit that it would be very undesirable indeed to get the conflicting issues of cowardice and desertion mixed up in one general discussion. I think there would be a tenency for the discussion to range over the whole area, so that the definite point would be obscured. Whatever may be done about the other Amendments, I suggest that you allow this particular one to be discussed separately.
In all these matters it is my desire to meet the wishes of the Committee, arid if the Committee desires a general discussion I shall be prepared to consent to it. On the particular issue raised by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), a Division, if necessary, on his Amendment could afterwards be taken and a discussion, so long as there was no repetition of arguments used in the general discussion.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) is not alone in protesting against a general discussion, and I hope that there will not be a general discussion. The Amendments standing in the name of the Member for North West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) and others on the other side deal with a separate issue, and the Amendment in the name of the Member for Shoreditch and others is to narrow the penalty for certain military offences and to deal particularly with the one offence of desertion. The object of that Amendment is to remove the death penalty for desertion. If we are to have a general discussion with a discussion on cowardice and crimes in the field it will be unfair to those of us who wish to narrow the voting down to that point.
I certainly could not allow a general discussion unless it were agreeable to the whole Committee. Therefore, I suggest one discussion on the Amendments in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward).
§ Dr. MORRIS-JONES
I would like to say, for myself and several other Members, that we prefer a general discussion on the full subject rather than on a number of Amendments, with the proviso that there will be no objection to any Member speaking again on a particular aspect which he has in mind. I feel that a very big question of principle is involved in these Amendments and I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee generally to have a discussion on the whole principle.
May I suggest to the hon. Member for Shore-ditch and others that we might have a general discussion, it being understood that when the particular Amendment to which he refers is subsequently put there can be a limited number of speeches upon the particular issues involved in that Amendment.
It seems to me that the Committee cannot possibly discuss the question of desertion without bringing in frequently references to cowardice and the difference or the lack of difference between these various offences. If we do as you, Mr. Dunnico, have suggested, may we afterwards, in the subsequent Debate, talk about cowardice as if the earlier Debate ranging over the whole field had not taken place?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. LAMBERT WARD
Would it meet the wishes of the Committee if I moved the first Amendment standing in my name and if we then had a discussion on the first three Amendments on the Paper which are independent. They deal with one subject and one subject only; and I suggest that we might have a reasonably wide discussion on those three Amendments, and leave the remaining two Amendments to be dealt with subsequently. If it suits the Committee, I am perfectly ready to agree to that course.
The first three Amendments in the name of the 1567 hon. and gallant Member are certainly interdependent, and they can be discussed together.
§ Sir A. LAMBERT WARD
I beg to move, in page 4, line 7, after the word "In," to insert the words "paragraph (7) of."
If hon. Members turn to page 4 of the Bill and read Sub-section (1) of Clause 5, they will see that the effect of this Amendment, taken with the two succeeding Amendments on the Paper, would be to make the Sub-section read as follows:In paragraph (7) of Section four, 'misbehaves or' shall be omitted and in Section five, after paragraph (6) the following paragraph shall be inserted: 'or misbehaves before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice.'Many years ago a famous American soldier described war. He was General Ulysses Grant who commanded the Federal Forces during the later days of the American Civil War. He was a man of very few words, and he said, "War is just hell." What we are discussing to-night is just one small corner of what, in my opinion, can never be anything else but hell especially to the ordinary private soldier in an infantry battalion. As one rises in rank, although responsibility increases war becomes much less hellish. There is not the least doubt about that. It is perfectly true that I started the War with the exalted rank of a company commander, but in a very few weeks I had lost all my officers and my company was down to lees than platoon strength and did platoon work. In addition to that, many of the men in my company were men of my own walk in life whom I had known personally before the War and with whom I was in the habit of carrying on conversation, so perhaps I can say that I am able to appreciate the views of the ordinary man in the line as well as any commissioned officer who had not the honour of serving as a private.
There is one simple axiom with regard to this problem and it is this. There is no justice in the death penalty any more than there is any justice in war. War is the absolute negation of justice and equity; and if a Government is foolish enough to go to war, the nation has to win that war, or else the state of a country such as this would be too terrible to contemplate. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Or 1568 else throw over the Government!"] If we had not won the late War, chaos and starvation would have run riot from one end of this country to the other. [Hon. MEMBERS: "What about Germany?"] I saw it and I am very glad that I will not see chaos and starvation running on similar lines through this country. That is why I say that if a Government goes to war, the manhood of the country has to win that war, however foolish the war may be and however ill-prepared the nation may have been in attempting it. The effect of these Amendments briefly would be to remove from the province of the death penalty an individual case of cowardice such as a man might be guilty of under stress of circumstances. The death penalty would not longer be enforced for offences such as that, but it would remain in force for the offence of inducing some other man to behave in a cowardly manner. It may seem to some hon. Members that that distinction is rather finely drawn and I admit that it would be rather difficult for me to explain exactly where the difference lies if I did not crave the indulgence of the Committee to give an illustration of what I mean.
For that purpose, I should like to draw a brief picture of the state of affairs on the Western Front in December, 1914, and January, 1915. I choose that particular period because it was then that the first execution took place—I think I am right in saying the first execution of a British white soldier for a purely military offence for very many years. In this way I think I can show the Committee the difference between a cowardly act committed by the individual man him-helf, perhaps under stress of circumstances and the act, which I consider infinitely more serious, of tempting or inducing his comrades to act in a similar manner. As everbody knows at the end of 1914 the line was more or less established where it remained practically throughout the war. Practically a continuous line of trenches ran from Switzerland to the sea, and seven skeleton British Divisions were holding the line south of La Bassé. Although trenches had been dug in the line, there were no communication trenches. Such as had already been dug had filled with water and were quite impassable, which meant that all reliefs and ration parties had to go by what we called "the over-land route." The 1569 enemy, being fully aware of that fact, kept up a steady rifle and machine gun fire throughout the night. It was not serious; it was just unpleasant, and, going up on relief, one perhaps had two or three casualties, but it was enough to keep the nerves of the men taut and always on the strain.
So much for the position. Now for the men. Practically the whole of the Expeditionary Force had been knocked out during the preceding fighting, and the ranks, the commissioned ranks as well, had been filled with not too good material. There were men from various reserve units who were not too well trained and, what was perhaps even more serious, who were hopelessly unfit, as a result of the hardships they were undergoing. They were wet through day after day and night after night, and indifferently fed—although I grant that there was plenty of it—and they had reached a state of debility which, unless I had seen it myself, I would never have believed possible. In the average platoon, which contains the man who might be called a potential coward, not more than two men would have passed fit for duty under normal circumstances. They were what had been described as "exhausted, mud-stained scarecrows."
It might be said that men like that ought to have been taken out of the line and rested and refitted. Of course, they ought, but they were the only men we had, the only men the country had at that time, thanks to our having been hurled into war practically without preparation. These mud-stained scarecrows were the only men standing between the enemy and the Channel ports. Consequently, they had to be sent up to the line whether they were fit or not, but in many cases they could scarcely drag themselves the necessary mile and a half. In addition, we could not get our ration parties up, and the men had to be laden, in addition to their great coats, rifles and equipment, with two extra bandoliers of ammunition, three days' rations, an iron ration, and, in all probability, a sack of coke as well. It was as much as a fit man could stand, and in many cases it was more than they could carry.
We now get our potential coward, and he is going up to the line. Presently, from sheer exhaustion, he falls into the mud. He is too exhausted to rise, and 1570 his comrades are too exhausted to care whether he is alive or dead. When he gets up he finds that his platoon has disappeared in the dark. He stumbles round a little, and finds a ruined farm. He goes into it and finds some straw on which he lies and goes to sleep. When morning breaks, he still does not know where he is. He eats a little food, and if he is lucky he catches a chicken, kills it and cooks it, and for three days he stops there, having rather a good time. He then wonders where he is going to rejoin his comrades. There is not much difficulty about that. He waits until units come down; he challenges them, and if one answers he joins it, and in nine cases out of 10 he does it without his absence having been noticed.
The next time the unit goes up to the line, that man does the same thing again, this time without any excuse. He has had three days' rest that the other men have not had, and, what is infinitely worse, he takes his best chum or a couple of them with him. He tempts them also to do a cowardly act. That sort of thing ran like wildfire through the division, from one end to the other, and it had to be stopped. I am not going to weary the Committee with how it was stopped, but the point is that, if one man falls out under circumstances like that, he is not going to affect to any extent the success of our country's arms, but if he tempts other men to do it, and if they do it in large numbers, as they were doing, it becomes a most serious thing. I am not pretending that those men were doing anything which in civil law would render them deserving to be shot, but, after all, war is hell, and if we do go to war we have to win it, or we have to do our best to win it; otherwise, the state of thin country would be too appalling to contemplate.
That is the difference—one man committing an act through exhaustion without premeditation, the other man not only committing an act with premeditation, but tempting his comrades to do it with him. That is a thing which, as long as discipline is necessary, cannot be overlooked. One can overlook the one man acting through weakness, but one cannot overlook it when he tempts his comrades to do the same. It is because I believe that we all hope that there is going to be no more war—[Laughter] 1571 The right hon. Gentleman on the other side laughs, and he evidently does not share the belief of many people on his side of the Committee who think that the League of Nations is going to do everything. I sincerely hope that he is wrong, but it is because sooner or later some Government might do the same thing that the Government did in 1914, and hurl this country in a war, perhaps in defence of a scrap of paper, a war for which we are hopelessly unprepared, that I consider this Amendment is necessary.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I should like to add one or two words in support of what my hon. and gallant Friend has said. Take the South African War and the attitude adopted towards cowardice. If a battery of artillery put their guns behind a hill and fired by indirect fire, the soldiers of the infantry said there was cowardice on the part of the battery commander. The time has come when cowardice should be defined. The cowardice of an individual now is a very different thing compared with the cowardice of the individual many years ago in previous wars. I share with my hon. and gallant Friend the hope that we shall not have any more wars, and certainly not in this generation, but if there are any more wars, we are setting a dangerous precedent entirely to eliminate cowardice from the death penalty. If we eliminate cowardice, there is no penalty so drastic to be imposed as the penalty to which a man who is not a coward is liable by remaining under fire.
The elimination of cowardice from the death penalty has been tried before, and it showed that there was a distinct danger of the rank and file taking matters into their own hands. While I am not certain whether, in the British Army, where there is a death penalty, there are definite cases where the rank and file took matter into their own hands against cowardice, in certain other armies it was certainly true that the rank and file brought to the summary court-martial of lynch law comrades of their own for cowardice. That is a dangerous situation, and it is far better that there should be a penalty with limitations than that men should be encouraged to take the law into their own hands.
§ Sir GERALD HURST
It seems to me that a very great distinction is to be 1572 drawn between those two classes of war crimes. Cowardice per se stands on a totally different footing from those war crimes which are cold, calculated and deliberate. Personally, I am very glad indeed that the Secretary of State for War has had the courage to propose the abolition of the death penalty for cowardice, but I agree with the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment that there is a distinction between the offence of cowardice and the offence of inducing other people to be cowards. It has always seemed to me an abominable thing that where, owing to exhaustion, or shock, or exposure to long privations, a volunteer, perhaps untrained or only partly trained, has given way to nerves, he should run the risk of the death penalty, while men who have not volunteered are living at home in ease and comfort.
There is no volition behind the offence of cowardice when it is not deliberate cowardice. Moreover, the punishment for cowardice is extraordinarily capricious. Not one case in a hundred, not one case in a thousand, in which men have given way under shock and strain is ever brought before a court martial at all. The reason for that is that the ordinary non-commissioned officer and the ordinary officer realise that there is nothing wrong with the man who gives way under the strain of nerves and the privations of war, and that, if he is properly dealt with within the unit, he can become a good soldier again and that there is no need to drag the reputation of the regiment through the mud or to impose upon the man the risk of the death penalty.
Not one case in a thousand is reported, and when a case does go before court martial, in the great majority of instances the court will be inclined to strain the law and strain its findings in order to relieve the man of the death penalty if there are such extenuating circumstances. As showing, again, how capricious the punishment is, when the matter comes before the confirming authorities, in the large majority of cases these extenuating circumstances will be taken into consideration; so that it really is the thousandth chance which brings upon a man the death penalty, and there is no guarantee that this thousandth chance will involve the worst of cases. That is 1573 a second reason why I think it is a good thing the death penalty for cowardice standing alone should be abolished. The third reason is that we all know in how many cases a man who has given way to panic under the shock of war has been able to make good under the system of suspended sentences. In the large majority of cases a man redeems his position and retrieves his honour.
In my submission, there is a great difference between that type of offence and deliberate and calculated offences in the nature of war crimes, such as the offence to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred—the offence of inducing in cold blood other people to commit an act of cowardice. That offence is very much nearer in its nature to the offence of mutiny and desertion. In the case of a man who gives way under the shock of war service, the death penalty is no deterrent, because when a man loses his balance and his self-control he does not calculate, "Is this offence punishable by penal servitude or the death penalty?" But in deliberate and cold blooded war crimes, like inducing somebody else to commit an act of cowardice, or to desert or to commit an act of treason, it can be said to be a deterrent. In the one case there is no calculation as to the penalty, but in the other the death penalty does operate as a real deterrent. A good officer and a good non-commissioned officer can deal with eases where men's nerves give way, and normally there is no need to court-martial a man at all, but they cannot deal with cold-blooded and calculated acts like inducing other people to commit acts of cowardice, or like desertion. When a country is at war, with its back to the wall, it has to rely upon the help and the good service of its soldiers. The soldier has to help the State or the State will perish, and the safety of the people then becomes the highest law. While I feel that the country and the Army ought to be grateful to the Secretary of State for War for having removed the death penalty in the ease of cowardice, I feel there is a great and fundamental distinction between that offence and the offence which has been alluded to by the hon. and gallant Member who moved this Amendment, and also other offences.
§ Major-General Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
As an old soldier I have come to the view which the Secretary of State for War has taken, and therefore I welcome the alteration in the Army Act in respect of the offence of cowardice. After all, anyone who has had service in the field knows the extraordinary strain under which men, and especially private soldiers, suffer, and I look upon a man whose brain goes under that stress as being wounded—wounded mentally. I am in a difficulty about the Amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. I see great difficulty in distinguishing whether an individual has induced others to act in a cowardly way or whether a collection of people who have been together have acted together in a cowardly way. I can see that there would be difficulty on the part of the courts in convicting, and we want the law to be so clear, that there is no doubt or difficulty when a case comes before a court.
There were many cases in war where it was difficult to induce the courts to convict of desertion, because they were not very sure in their minds whether it was a case of general desertion or of constructive desertion. Sub-section (6) of Clause 4 of the Army Act speaks of a man who:Knowingly does, when on active service, an act calculated to oppose the success of His Majesty's forces.If a man had done anything which, might be said to imperil the success of the troops he might be tried under that Sub-section, and, therefore, perhaps it would be unwise to complicate the removal of the death penalty for cowardice by leaving subject to the death penalty those who had been guilty of cowardice in inducing others to act in a cowardly manner. There is a great deal to be said on both sides, but looking at it from the point of view of an old soldier trying to keep his men together and to deal with the really bad cases which one does, unfortunately, find, I think that on the whole I should be inclined to vote against the Amendment simply from the point of view of administration and of helping the courts to deal with these cases. Clause 4 of the Army Act can always be brought into operation.
§ Major HILLS
I am afraid that I shall be obliged to vote against the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. 1575 and gallant Friend. I cannot see what good you can do by shooting a man for cowardice, neither do I see that by carrying out a sentence of that kind you strengthen the nerves of the comrades of the man who is shot. I have heard it argued that, unless you impose a penalty of this kind, the man who has to go on some of those dangerous enterprises in war goes forward with more confidence when he know that the man on his right and on his left will be shot unless they go forward as well, and, although he himself may be quite a brave man and does not require that stimulus, the fact that that state of things exists causes that man to advance with greater courage. I know that you cannot look into a man's heart and see what influences are at work, but I should be surprised if any man said to himself, "I shall go forward, because the man on my right and the man on my left will go forward as well or else they will be shot." I do not see what good you do to the courage of the other man by retaining that penalty.
Cowardice affects people in very different ways. I know the story of a very distinguished man who had performed acts of gallantry who went up a hill in Scotland. He was missed in a thunderstorm, and was subsequently found buried in a hole with his face against the ground. If the Germans had ordered me to climb to the top of a steeple and look down I am certain that I should have shown cowardice. The danger seems to be quite varied and uncertain in its incidence, and for that reason I would not shoot a man for cowardice. Where a man is engaged regularly in the Army you may be right in shooting him for cowardice, but you have not the same right in the case of civilian volunteers. You have no right to take a man from the factory or the farm and put him into khaki and a tin hat, and then shoot him if he shows cowardice. I submit to hon. Members that the question is not what it was in the old days of soldiering. It is quite a different question now, and I think the Government have done quite right in abolishing the penalty.
§ Mr. OSWALD LEWIS
It seems to me that to-night we are discussing circumstances which only arise in the event of 1576 war, with the result that the arguments and statements which might be commonplace at the front have a certain strange and unreal bearing in this Chamber tonight. As I understand it, this Amendment accepts the suggestion of the Secretary of State for War that cowardice should no longer be a crime subject to the death penalty. The Amendment accepts that, but it says that where the man acts in a manner which induces others to be cowards the penalty shall prevail. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison) suggested that the alteration which is now proposed should not be made because of the difficulty of applying the proposal if it were made. I submit that that is hardly a valid argument against the Amendment, because, in such a case, the onus of proof should lie upon those who desire to have the man shot, and they would have to show that a man had in fact acted in a way that would cause other men to be cowards, and, if that could not be shown, then the offender could not be brought under that part of the Act.
May I put the matter in this way? I suppose that nearly every Member of this House agrees that the ultimate object of all democratic institutions is to secure the greatest good for the greatest number. I think it is in that light that this Amendment should be considered, and not out of a desire to punish an individual. This Amendment is being proposed out of a desire to preserve the moral of the other members of the force engaged, and ultimately to save life. If this Committee, from perhaps not an unreasonable distaste of the idea of having a man shot in cold blood, proceeds to negative this Amendment, the only possible effect that such a course of action would have would be ultimately to cause loss of life in the Army, because the whole purpose of the Amendment is to prevent something being done which might destroy the moral of a unit. For that reason, I, for one, hope that the Committee will accept the distinction made in the Amendment, and will agree with the Secretary of State for War so far as cowardice is concerned, but will not go so far as to say chat a man in time of war can encourage others to behave as cowards, and so destroy the moral of his unit, and, having thereby 1577 indirectly caused much loss of life among his fellows, shall himself continue to live.
§ Colonel Sir GEORGE COURTHOPE
I think that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Mills) has misunderstood the purport of this Amendment. The object of the Amendment is to differentiate between the case of individual cowardice when a man's nerve fails, and the case of the man who, being a coward himself, induces his fellows to behave in a cowardly manner. I think that, if my right hon. and gallant Friend appreciates the purpose of the Amendment, there is very little difference between his object and ours. Those of us who are putting this Amendment forward recognise the justice of the motives which have inspired the Government to remove cases of individual cowardice. from liability to the death penalty. We do not quarrel with that, but we do feel that it is very necessary, in the interests of armed forces, if armed forces are to be employed in the future, and in the interests of their efficiency, to make a definite difference in favour of the individual whose nerve cracks, and against the individual who induces others to misbehave in the presence of the enemy.
§ Mr. SHAW
Perhaps I might take this opportunity of making a fairly broad general statement, so that the Committee may be under no misapprehension as to the position of the Government on these Amendments. I think I owe it, to the Committee to say that, when this matter was under consideration, I consulted the Army Council, as I thought I ought to do, and I am going to give to the Committee their opinions just as frankly as those opinions were given to me. The military members of the Army Council were of the opinion that the death penalty for cowardice was a deterrent which prevented many a man from being a coward. and possibly saved many lives through the deterrent effect of the penalty being powerful enough to prevent the occurrence of cowardice. That was also their opinion, very strongly felt, with regard to what has been called the crime of desertion. I said to the military members of the Army Council that I would quite frankly state their view to the Committee, in order that the Committee might be under no misapprehension as to what the military opinion was. But 1578 this Committee and the House are the persons who must decide policy, and, while I have every respect for the military members of the Army Council, and value the fact that I work in collaboration with them, I cannot share their opinions so far as the crime of cowardice is concerned.
I do not need to argue on the question of cowardice per se. Every speaker up to the present has admitted the case for the Government in taking individual cowardice out of the list of crimes for which men may be shot in time of war. Another thing has been shown, namely, that these questions are not party questions. They cut clean across all parties in the House, and, consequently, ought to be treated in a non-party way. I cannot agree to the Amendment which has been moved, because, if cowardice in itself is not a crime for which the death penalty ought to be inflicted, I cannot see how a man can be guilty of a mortal crime by making other people cowards. Neither do I believe that this Amendment is necessary to deal with the case of a man who deliberately takes action which is equivalent to mutiny. I do not think that there ought to be a Clause which will leave itself open to any misapprehension whatever, and I believe that mutiny fully covers the action which the hon. and gallant Member has in mind. It is impossible to conceive that, if a man deliberately suborns his comrades to break their, orders and desert, any reasonable person could hold that to be anything but mutiny. If the object of this Amendment is to provide that men who take this action shall be punished, that provision is already in the Bill. I cannot argue on the wider aspect, as I would rather like to do, because of the Ruling which has been given, although, if we had had the whole thing out in a general discussion, it might have been better. This, however, I will say, that, so far as I am personally concerned, the whole question whether the death penalty ought to be inflicted or not depends on action taken by a man of his own free will, well knowing what he is doing. There is no Member in the House who asks for the actual abolition of the death penalty in time of war. The question is, for what shall the death penalty be inflicted? Obviously, everyone agrees that 1579 it ought not to be inflicted on a man whose condition, owing to the circumstances in which he has been living, is such that he is not responsible for his actions. There is, however, general agreement in the House that the death penalty ought to be inflicted on a man who deliberately does something which endangers the lives of his comrades and the welfare of the Forces in the field. [Interruption.] If anyone does not say that, all that I have to say is that the Amendments on the Paper show that there is evidently that feeling in the House.
The Government cannot accept this Amendment, or any of the Amendments to this Clause. They hold that the death penalty ought not to be inflicted on men of this type, that it ought not to be inflicted for offences of this type. I should like to refer for a moment to the very eloquent speech of the hon. and gallant Member who moved this Amendment. He showed us modern war in all its horror. There may have been a romance in war when man met man, and when a man could see his enemy and fight his enemy. There is no romance in mud, vermin, and shell and shot, where men are destroyed without a possible chance of seeing the enemy they are fighting. There is no romance in that; it is simply brutality, dirt, disease and death. I hope that we shall have no more war. I rather regret these discussions, because the very fact that we have them seems to indicate that we are expecting in a short time another war, and are making preparations for men to be shot—[An Hon. MEMBER: "So does the Army Bill!"] The Army Bill is an annual Measure that must be brought before the House. The fact of the matter is that we are discussing something which I hope it will never be necessary to put into force in any way; but, on the pure ground of the theory which I am hoping will never become the practice, the Government must stick to their guns and decline to accept this Amendment.
We have heard a very unusual admission from the Secretary of State, that in the matter of the death penalty he is in disagreement with the advice of the Army Council.
I did not wish to suggest that there is any split in the civil members of the Council. Let me make it clear that there is no misrepresentation by saying the right hon. Gentleman admits that he differs in opinion from his military advisers, and that is a very rare condition in this House. He went so far as to deprecate the suggestion that the Army should be made fit and ready for war, because he said war is such a terrible condition that he does not want to contemplate it. That is a very unusual and, I think, a very dangerous frame of mind for a Secretary of State responsible for one of our fighting services. It is quite evident that he has taken to the War Office pre-conceived nations which have been expressed by many of his Cabinet colleagues in the annually recurring Debates on this subject in former years.
It is very important for us to remember how definitely these views have been expressed and the arguments which have been put forward in their support. Year by year, certainly since 1923 when it fell to my lot to answer for the War Office in this Debate, we have had demands for the relaxation of the death penalty in various forms and in different degrees. The present First Commissioner of Works said on this Bill seven years ago that he wanted to make a speech against any Army, any Air Force, or any fighting force at all, and when he found he could not do that he said if he was to choose whether to argue for no Army at all or for an Army without discipline, he would argue for an Army without discipline, as that would he no Army at all.
On a point of Order. May I ask if the right hon. Gentleman's observations are not out of Order?
I understand the right hon. Gentleman to be arguing the question of discipline—in the Forces.
I am arguing on a wise limit to impose upon the death penalty. I am stating the opinion of hon. Members opposite when they were in opposition as expressed by the present 1581 First Commissioner of Works. He stated that the Army as at present constituted was a disciplined Army.It is disciplined mainly by fear. Everyone who knows anything about the Army, whether from the inside or the outside, is perfectly aware that the one thing that holds it together and makes men submit to the iron discipline is the fear of death. During times of war it is the death penalty that keeps men up to the scratch."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1923; col. 1022, Vol. 162.]I do not accept that. I think the account of Army moral given by the First Commissioner of Works is an absolute libel on the courage and patriotism of our national effort in which millions of men took part during the War. Hon. Members opposite disapprove altogether of armed forces, and surely it is unwise for us, if we are going to have armed forces and to secure their efficiency, to go upon the advice of those who wish to destroy that efficiency in the details of their organisation and the system upon which they are based. We all know that the death penalty, especially in war, inflicted on a comrade by men who fought by his side is a most horrible form of punishment, but war is a terrible thing in any form, and it is quite misleading to look at war from a peace perspective. The conditions are absolutely abnormal and in complete contrast to the conditions of justice and punishment in peace time. Imprisonment is quite ineffective as a deterrent. A man who wishes to shirk his duty longs for imprisonment as a means of escape from those conditions which he dislikes, knowing perfectly well that at the end of the war there is an invariable amnesty for all offences.
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but this Debate is really confined to a distinction as to whether the death penalty shall be applied in specific cases. We cannot have a general discussion on these Amendments.
It is very difficult to dissociate the Amendment from the general argument in favour of death penalty. We believe that, though the death penalty is unnecessary for the vast majority of the Army, for it is a libel to say they are held together by the fear of death, it is a necessary deterrent in the case of certain offences. We believe that in this matter we should go rather by 1582 the opinion of those who have a practical knowledge of the Army, the people who have to fight in the Army if there ever is a war, rather than upon the opinion of people who have expressed their views merely from political expediency in this House. We have already relaxed the death penalty. We had in the case of the former Labour Government a Debate on very much the same lines as this when the Government were embarrassed by their votes and opinions in Opposition.
The last Labour Government set up a Committee to go into the question of the offences for which the death penalty should be retained. Certain alleviations were recommended. My right hon. Friend, in the Army Annual Bill of 1925, carried the Amendments which were necessary to give the full lightening of the death sentence which this Committee, set up by his predecessor, recommended. The Government in the Army Annual Bill, as it stands, wish to go much further than their present experts recommend, and further than their own Committee of 1924 thought advisable. We do not suggest that the report of any Committee should necessarily bind the Committee or the Government. We have looked at this matter with an open mind and we have come to the conclusion that a fair line to draw is one between the mental state of cowardice, which may be a matter of opinion, and the overt act of inducing his comrades to show cowardice which is a matter more easily tested by definite evidence. If a man is a coward and does not interfere with the general discipline of the unit, if he does not endanger the military operations in which he is involved, we are agreed that there is a case for the abolition of the death penalty in his case. But there is a very definite line between that case and the action of inducing others to impair the success of military operations.
There is a very definite distinction between a man's fears and cowardice under the old dispensation, and the definite act of deserting his post or inducing others to do the same. Those actions not only endanger the lives of his comrades, but they prejudice the chance of military success. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he does not believe that there is any necessity for us to keep the offences which are proposed to be retained as a ground for the death penalty under my hon. and gallant 1583 Friend's Amendment because he believes that they are already covered. If that is so, I cannot believe that the Army Act would have indicated them twice over, and if they really do cover the same ground and only that ground, and if that ground is a reasonable cause for the death penalty, it seems wise that they should be retained. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that in this matter he is going against the advice of his military advisers on the Army Council it would be most unwise of the Committee to agree to his proposal. It is most essential that we should do everything in our power to retain the sanction for military discipline which is held by his military advisers to be necessary for the efficiency of our troops and for our success in any future war.
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) seems to have based his whole case upon the expert opinion being against this proposal. Time after time we return to the point that expert opinion is against it, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee that as far as those of us on these benches who have no inside knowledge of the wonderful and mysterious ways in which expert opinion expresses itself are able to judge, expert opinion was against the abolition of flogging in the Army. Even the right hon. Gentleman himself, since I have been in this House, has got up and opposed the abolition of the death penalty for offences which are no longer upon the Statute Book, because expert opinion could not see its way to recommend their abolition. Year after year in this House expert opinion stoutly defended what soldiers called crucifixion—Field Punishment No. 1, and year after year representatives of the Government rose from the Front Bench and said that they were advised by expert opinion that Field Punishment No. 1 was a deterrent and that it should not be abolished, otherwise discipline would go to pieces. When Field Punishment No. 1, flogging in the Army, and offence after offence for which the death penalty has been inflicted were abolished, we had exactly the same argument that the discipline of the Army would go to pieces.
1584 The argument of the right hon. Gentleman was that if in time of war a man could get himself put into prison, it was safer for him than being anywhere near the enemy. That was the point which the right hon. Gentleman made. What is there in that point? It is well known that in the last war—and all arguments are based on what happened in the last war—time after time, when men were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, the imprisonment did not commence immediately. They had to go with their units into the line, and after the units came back again they were put into prison and served their sentences. The fact that they had been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment did not enable them to escape from danger. I hope that the Committee will make no mistake to-night in abolishing still another crime, even though we have been told that the Army Council and the experts say it will not be a deterrent. Their mentality seems to move in a direction which reminds one of Mr. Bumble's dictum:The poor in the lump is bad.It appears that in the opinion of the experts soldiers in the lump are bad. The only thing that appeals to them, every time there is a Debate of this kind, is that the death penalty is a deterrent. That seems to be the only factor which appeals to people who call themselves expert militarists. I think that the word "deterrent" in these Debates is very much overworked, and I am glad that the Government have had the courage to abolish another offence.
Sir H. YOUNG
The observations of the Secretary of State for War have left the Committee in a very real doubt, which I feel confident I can succeed in making clear to the right hon. Gentleman. [An HON. MEMBER: "Divide!"]
The cry of "Divide, divide" is not perfectly in order if it becomes prolonged and interferes unduly with the discussion.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
On a point of Order. We have taken the highest 1585 authority on the Rules of the House, and it is to the effect that "Divide, divide" is in perfect order. It has been done by the Tory party time and time again, and Lord Robert Cecil kept up "Divide, "divide" to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, and got him to sit down, but it took him two hours to do it, and we are going to do it.
The hon. Member must allow me to be the highest authority on this occasion. I am supported by all my predecessors in Ruling that the cry of "Divide, divide," unduly and unnecessarily prolonged, it not in order.
To signify agreement in such a way as to become a nuisance to the Debate, would not be in order.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Further to that point of Order. I have no desire to fall foul of you, Mr. Dunnico, but our information is that we are in perfect order, and there is no authority or power in the House to stop us, but, if you say so, we will obey you, but we are not going to obey those people opposite, though we will abide by your Ruling.
The hon. Member knows I should not give a harsh Ruling against him, but I ask him to accept my assurance that there is a long succession of authoritative decisions in support of the Ruling that I have given.
Sir H. YOUNG
I cannot but think that in a matter involving the death penalty, if there is any doubt whether the Committee has a clear basis for a decision, it ought to be removed before we pass to a Division. In seeking to arrive at that basis, the observations of the Secretary of State for War suggested to me a contradiction which I am sure he will desire to remove, if he agrees with me that there is some cause of doubt. It is this. We are dealing here with two sorts of offences. There is misbehaviour first of all in such a manner as to show cowardice, and, secondly, in inducing other people to misbehave in such a manner as to show cowardice. If I follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument as regards the second case it is this. It proceeds under two headings. He says, in the 1586 first place, that nobody can very reasonably argue, as a major offence, such as misbehaving in such a manner as to show cowardice, is not a capital one, that what he would describe as the minor offence of inducing others to misbehave in such a manner as to show cowardice, could be a capital offence, and so his first argument is that misbehaving in such a manner as to show cowardice is not a capital offence. The second heading of the argument is that misbehaving in such a manner as to show cowardice is really indistinguishable from mutiny, and it comes under the same class as mutiny. If that is so, since mutiny is a capital offence, then this second offence of inducing others is also a capital offence. So we see that the arguments of the right hon. Gentlemen are really mutually destructive.
Under these circumstances, what I want to ask him is this. The right hon. Gentleman has expressed his own very strong opinion that inducing others to show cowardice is mutiny, and therefore punishable with the capital penalty. His opinion carries very great weight. This is undoubtedly a legal matter on which the House is entitled to some legal assistance, and, since we have the advantage of the presence of the senior Law Officer of the Crown, may we have an expression of opinion from him to assist the Committee as to whether or not inducing others to misbehave before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice, does or does not amount to the offence of mutiny according to the interpretation of the law? Very much will turn, as regards the votes of some on this side, upon what opinion is expressed on that matter. I think the Committee is undoubtedly entitled to the advantage of the assistance of the Attorney-General, and I have no doubt that it will be granted.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I rise to express my views and to say that I am in favour of the death penalty not only for cowardice, but for the other instances that have been mentioned. We all of us suffer from fear. I am suffering from it at the present moment, but I should be a coward if I sat down and did not say what I feel. Cowardice is not a wilful act. It comes to anybody. We all of us have suffered from fear. I maintain most clearly that this death penalty 1587 should be retained for cowardice, as it has been mentioned by the Secretary of State for War that he was so advised by the military members of the Army Council. After all, the necessity for success in war is absolute paramount. One coward may lose a battle, one battle may lose a war, and one war may lose a country. That being so, every possible check should be placed on anything that is going to bring about the loss of a battle or a war. Fear is perfectly natural. It comes to all people. The man who conquers fear is a, hero, but the man who is conquered by fear is a coward, and he deserves all he gets.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Other hon. Members have been able to state their case quite freely, and I hope nobody will object to my few remarks. I am very much gratified that the Secretary of State has seen fit to take this step with regard to the abolition of the death penalty for what has been termed cowardice. He has gone against the military advisers of the Army Council. In that, he has done well, and it is very gratifying from the standpoint that this Committee ought to be very strongly in support of every step of this kind against those who seem to have been so relentless in their cold-blooded attitude. The so-called experts have every time been against removing this death penalty.
A young lad, who went voluntarily and not as a conscript into the War, and who found himself in a difficulty due to the breakdown of his nerves, was shot because of alleged cowardice. It was very gratifying to find that when a memorial was to be erected to record the names of those who had fallen in the War, and those who were not at the War were keenly anxious to prevent that lad's name from being inscribed on the memorial, the ex-service men said: "That was a brave man, and his name must go on the memorial or that memorial will not stand." It was very gratifying, further, to find that so determined were those men who had gone through the War and who knew what it means for that young lad, that they declared that if the memorial went up without his name on it it certainly would come down. There- 1588 fore, the name of the lad was inscribed on the memorial. I mention that incident to-night because it is very gratifying that the Secretary of State for War has taken the step which he has announced. We desire to encourage him in taking every such step against the advice of cold-blooded experts.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I was not in the House to hear the whole of the speech of the Secretary of State for War, but I gather that he said that, so far as those who induced others to misbehave before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice, and also in regard to those who, without orders, left a picket or guard or discharged firearms or—[Interruption].
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
The reason why I was not here was that I was engaged in the previous Debate up to the last moment, and the requirements of nature are such that I had to leave the House for a relatively short time. It is the common failure of most of us that, at some time or other, we require food. I was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would correct me if I had misstated the argument, which is the last thing I want to do. I may be incorrectly informed, but I understood that in regard to the first Amendment it was said to be unnecessary because it was already covered by the Army Act, in that anyone who induced—I notice that the Attorney-General is leaving the House. I hope he will remain, because I desire to put a question to him.
§ Mr. BECKETT
On a point of Order. Is not the Attorney-General as much entitled to leave the House as the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
The Secretary of State for War, as I understood his arguments, said that those who induced others to misbehave before the enemy are already covered by Section 7 of the Army Act, in that they would be guilty of mutiny. That was what I understood him to say. I am willing to give 1589 way if the right hon. Gentleman desires to correct me.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I was going to ask the Law Officer of the Crown to say whether the Amendment which we are moving now is covered by any other portion of the Army Act. I understood the argument to be that it was an unnecessary Amendment in that it was already covered by Section 7, which deals with mutiny. In that case it is not necessary to press the Amendment, but if that is not the case, the Amendment must be pressed. I asked the Attorney-General to remain in the House because the Committee is entitled to have a view expressed on this matter by a Law Officer of the Crown. I do not know whether the point that I have put is true or not, but I should like the Attorney-General to answer.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir William Jowitt)
Not having heard the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, like the right hon. Gentleman, I think it much better to say nothing.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I will ask the Attorney-General a specific question. It is true that he has not heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Neither did you!"] I have said so and I have explained the reason, and I am not in the least ashamed of it. I ask the Attorney-General a specific question. Does the inducing of others to misbehave before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice come within Section 7 of the Army Act as the offence of mutiny, and is it therefore punished as mutiny?
§ Major COLFOX
I should like—[Interruption.] I can remain standing here so long as I am interrupted. I appeal to the Chairman of this very noisy assembly to protect me against the exuberance of hon. Members opposite. It would have been much better for this country if hon. Members had shown the same exuberance and keenness and enthusiasm during the War as they have 1590 shown to-night. [Interruption.] I only rose because I realise that it is very unlikely that the Attorney-General will have the civility to reply to the straight question which my right hon. Friend has addressed to him. After all, this is a professional matter and, therefore, the opinions which have been expressed by hon. Members opposite who have no professional military experience are of no value whatever. [Interruption.] In war time, it is the duty of the General Staff and the military machine to win the war, and if from their professional standpoint they consider that this provision is necessary for the successful prosecution of a war, on which the whole safety of the country and the Empire will depend, their opinion is entitled to receive the support of hon. Members who, unlike myself, have no professional military experience.
The futility of the opinions expressed by people with no knowledge of the subject was instanced only a short while ago by the bon. Member, who said that the proof that professional expert opinion was wrong was found in the fact that since Field Punishment No. I has been abolished it has had no effect on the discipline of the Army. That was the argument. If the hon. Member had any knowledge of the subject he would know that Field Punishment No. I only operates in time of war, and there has been no war, thank goodness, since the day it was abolished. Therefore it is quite impossible to discover what effect the abolition of that punishment will have upon the discipline of the Army in war time. This is a purely professional matter, and the expert opinion of those on whom the responsibility will rest for the prosecution of war must prevail. It is ridiculous for non-professional opinion to be allowed to carry any weight whatever. [interruption.] Seeing that this is a professional matter and that a question of obscure law has been introduced by the Secretary of State for War, and that a direct question has been asked of the Attorney-General which he refuses to answer, I beg leave to move, "That the Committee do report Progress and ask leave to sit again," in order to give the Attorney-General a chance of finding the answer to the question.
Cannot we really have an answer. The Attorney-General was, of course, unable to hear the De- 1591 bate, but the Opposition, with no object of prolonging the Debate unnecessarily, do want to clear up certain points. The hon. and gallant Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) mentioned a certain offence as being very infectious. A man finds on experience that he could with impunity drop out of the battalion when going to the trenches and on a subsequent occasion he arranges with a pal to loiter. The Secretary of State has told us that it is not necessary to provide for inducing others to show cowardice in this way as a capital offence, because it is already a capital offence under the provisions of the Army Act for mutiny. If that is the case it is, of course, a strong argument against the Amendment and, therefore, we should not want to press it. But we are in this difficulty, on which we want legal help. Section 7 of the Army Act says that anyone inciting to insubordination would be subject to the death penalty and that anyone who causes or conspires with any other person to mutiny or sedition among His Majesty's military forces shall be subject to the death penalty. We wish to have a legal ruling as to whether this Section defining mutiny and insubordination as an offence would render liable to the death penalty a man who arranged with a comrade to loiter and avoid going up to the trenches.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
On a point of Order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dorset Western (Major Colfox) has moved to report Progress. Do I understand that it has been refused?
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
May I ask whether it is not in order to move to report Progress when one wishes to get a distinct reply from the Minister?
It is quite in order to move it, and it is quite within the authority of the Chair not to accept it.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us a reply. We only want a short reply. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us which of the offences we wish to retain as liable to the death penalty is covered by mutiny and, therefore, provided for twice over?
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
We have had a very interesting discussion, one of the remarkable features of which has been that there has not been the slightest attempt to define what cowardice means. I think this is the sixth Debate on this Bill which I have heard, and I have been every year, more or less, concerned with the effect of the imposition of the death penalty, because I have always had a feeling at the back of my mind that I wondered how far and how often the death penalty was justified. Last year we had a very important Debate on this subject, and a speech which created a very deep impression on my mind was the speech of the present Under-Secretary of State for Air, who, describing his experiences in a certain battle, said that, although intellectually he was absolutely cool, self-contained, and able to observe everything that was going on, yet physically he was in a state of tremor and could not move, and that if an order to advance had been given at that time, he physically could not have done so, so that the question would have arisen whether he was guilty of cowardice. That speech made a very deep impression on my mind, because, from my medical knowledge, I knew that the hon. Gentleman was not suffering from cowardice—far from it—but I wondered if at any time during the War soldiers in his position had been accused of cowardice and been shot for a thing for which they were not responsible. 1593 I was very uneasy, and I said I was prepared to await the speech of the Financial Secretary to the War Office before I gave my vote. When he spoke, he said that he still firmly believed that the death penalty was a deterrent against cowardice, that there was such a thing as cowardice, and that it ought to be severely punished. He went on:Those people who have the greatest knowledge of warfare, great officers of high standing who have devoted their lives to the study of war, are unanimously in favour of this Bill. As long as we have an Army, as long as there is danger of that Army being engaged in war, we must retain the extreme penalty for times of great crisis and great danger, as affording the sole sanction for the preservation of military discipline."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1929; cols. 2302–3, Vol. 226.]10.0 p.m.
After hearing that eloquent speech, I decided as a civilian that I was not competent to judge, but that I should take the advice of those authorities. I therefore voted for the Government but to my astonishment, when the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill of this year was produced, I found that what was impossible last year was possible now, and I was deeply concerned as to what was happening. I saw that the Army Council had gradually, year by year, removed some of the offences liable to the death penalty, and I asked myself, if they were going down year by year, how far they were going. Were they to be trusted, and need we have the death penalty at all? I really was in a state of anxiety until I heard the Secretary of State for War this evening say, quite fairly and distinctly, "We, the present Government, are abolishing the death penalty for certain cases against the advice of our military advisers." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite applaud that, and I would remind them that in 1924 the then Socialist Government appointed a committee which decided definitely in favour of retaining the death penalty. [An Hon. MEMBER: "The Labour party"].—I am still old-fashioned enough to call the Labour party the Socialist party, and if the time has arrived and they are ashamed of Socialism it is very interesting.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) has put a very definite proposition before the Government which they are not prepared to answer. He 1594 simply shows how in certain instances a man guilty of a certain action, first of all done accidentally and innocently, and who got away with it, later on persuaded other comrades to do it; and he asked if he would then be guilty of cowardice. I understand the right hon. Gentleman opposite to say that he would not be guilty of cowardice, but that he would be guilty of mutiny, and that he would therefore come under another Section. How far are we to trust the knowledge and discretion of the Army Council, and how far are we to trust the knowledge and discretion of the Socialist Government? It is not a matter of an abstract discussion but of vital considerations, because the question of the death penalty is one which may come home to any family in this land; and, on the other hand, the non-infliction of the death penalty may mean the difference between success or failure in war.
To show that the matter has had a certain amount of interest for me, during the last few days I have read the Debates on this Bill for the last three or four years, and I was very astonished, and yet in a way not astonished, to find one hon. Member of this House pointing out that in a certain battalion of which he had knowledge any man who was guilty of cowardice or whom his comrades thought guilty of cowardice was court-martialled by them, and they pronounced sentence, and carried it into effect. If a man's own comrades decide that that comrade has let them down, has played the coward and the sneak, and they have decided that they cannot stand that, are hon. Members opposite prepared to say that one of their own comrades should not be judged by his comrades? [Interruption.]
I would appeal to hon. Members not to interrupt. I know that they are anxious to get to a Division, but that is not the way to do it.
If hon. Members care to take the trouble to read, they will see that this is a definite statement, that with regard to this particular man it was decided, not by general headquarters but by his own comrades, that the death sentence should be carried out. Therefore, if a man's own comrades can decide that a man guilty of cowardice and of letting them down deserves the death sentence, I say that the Government are 1595 wrong. If it had been entirely a matter of the vote of the Army Council I should have been suspicious, because year by year they have receded from their position, and once having receded then I say the Army Council are perhaps not to be believed absolutely. But when one reads of a case like this, where a man's own comrades decide that he has been guilty of cowardice and that he deserves the penalty and shoot him, then I say we are going too far in this matter.
We are all anxious that any man who plays the coward, if you can define cowardice, and I agree that it is very difficult to do that, should have proper protection. Last year, in answer to a question, I was assured by the Financial Secretary that no man, because of cowardice, was executed until he was examined by a competent medical board. [Interruption.] By their interjections some Members display their colossal ignorance on this subject. They are perhaps not aware that there are certain nervous diseases where a man is not quite responsible. In such a case his action is due to disease and not to cowardice, and it requires a medical board to decide the matter. There is no Member of this House, or of the public, who would desire that any man should be shot for any crime for which he was not responsible, owing to mental disease. [Interruption.] When the suggestion is made that this poor man, owing to the stress of emotion, may have had to face a court-martial and have been sentenced, and when one suggests that such a man should have a medical board, the only intelligent observation you can get from the other side is "No. 9 Pill." It shows the frame of mind in which hon. Members approach this vital and important question, for we are dealing, not with an abstract question pure and simple, but with a thing that may mean life or death to some poor soldier. If hon. Members care to take the view that no soldier at any time, for any crime, should be shot—[Interruption.] I gather that that is the opinion of some Members. If so, then they should have the courage to say, "We will abolish the death penalty for everything." That evidently is desired of many hon. Members opposite, and, if we have the misfortune to see the present Government in office next year, 1596 we shall probably find them bringing in a Bill to express the wishes of some of the hon. Members. At present, we are not prepared to go so far, and we feel that the Government are taking a very serious and grievous responsibility in not only ignoring but going against the advice of the Army Council.
I have called upon the hon. and gallant Member and, having called him, it is not right for any other Members to interrupt.
Sir J. DAVIDSON
Frankly, I would say that what shocks me is the extraordinary levity with which a subject of this character is dealt with. Judging from the laughter, the continuous laughter, which is coming from the other side, I cannot think that 99 per cent. have given the subject any consideration whatever. I am not going to make a speech on this Amendment. I have got up for one purpose and one purpose only. It seems that there is a great deal of confusion on the subject in the minds of hon. Members opposite, and the mind that there is most confusion in at this moment appears to be that of the Secretary of State for War. The right hon. Gentleman sitting below me gets up and courteously asks him for some explanation, and that explanation is not given. He applies to the Attorney-General, and I must say that, with all the responsibility that the Attorney-General has, he is treating this matter with the same levity that the other Members are treating it. Is he going to give the Committee any guidance in this matter? He has practically told the Committee that he knows nothing whatever about it. I know that there are many hon. Members opposite who feel deeply on this matter, just as I feel deeply upon it, and I respect their views and their opinions, but I ask the Attorney-General, on behalf of many of us here who want guidance, to give us honestly his opinion on the problem as stated by the Secretary of State for War.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I have no desire to detain the Committee, but I ask hon. Members to allow rim to put a point perfectly fairly and courteously. I think we have got a little bit away from the real issue. I was privileged to hear the speech of the Secretary of State for War, 1597 though I did not hear the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment, and it seemed to me, listening to this discussion, that the crux of the argument was this. Most Members of the Committee are in favour of the abolition of the death penalty for individual cases of cowardice, but the Amendment in substance proposes that the death penalty should be retained in a case in which a man, by his cowardice, infects others with cowardice, and thereby starts what may become a disastrous panic, endangering the safety of his own unit, and possibly of the Army. I understood the Secretary of State for War to say, however, that a case of that kind in which a man was inducing cowardice or panic in others would be covered by mutiny. Hon. Members on this side are prepared to vote for an Amendment which we believe will retain the death penalty in the case of a man who by his own cowardice, or even if he is not suffering from cowardice himself, in any way induces cowardice in others, but if that case is covered as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested by mutiny, then I presume that hon. Members on this side would not press the Amendment to a Division. Therefore, I ask the Attorney-General, as the senior Law Officer of the Crown, to give us his opinion as to whether such a case is covered by mutiny or not. If it is, I think there is no doubt that the Committee can proceed to the next Amendment.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
Any lawyer who has heard this Debate must realise that what is here involved is a full appreciation of the facts, and it is out of no incivility to the Committee that I have not responded to the request made to me. As the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) has pointed out, this is a very serious matter, and it would ill become me on such a very serious matter to make observations on the spur of the moment. I will be quite frank with the Committee and say that I have not in my mind—it may be my own fault—with precision, what the facts are, but I assure the Committee that no discourtesy is intended. If I understand the question of the last speaker, the case which he puts is one where, in front of the enemy, one of His Majesty's soldiers actively engages 1598 in trying to persuade others to show cowardice, or something of that kind.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I should have thought, and I think the hon. and gallant Member will agree, that whatever else that might be, it would be an act done on active service which would be calculated to imperil the success of His Majesty's Forces. That being so, the hon. and gallant Member will find that it is expressly provided for by Sub-section (6) of Section 4. It does not matter whether it is mutiny or sedition. It is expressly provided by this Sub-section, which says:knowingly does when on active service any act calculated to imperil the success of His Majesty's forces or any part thereof.It is unnecessary to consider whether it is mutiny or not. It is an offence punishable with death.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I do not think that that quite answers the point. I had in mind the case of a man who is suffering from cowardice, and does not know what he is doing at the moment. [Interruption.] Hon. Members will, perhaps, allow me to put the point; I am asking for the information of the Committee. A man who by his action, when suffering from cowardice, but not knowingly, causes a panic—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
If he does not act knowingly, he does not commit any crime, nor does he commit mutiny or sedition, nor does he come under Sub-section (6).
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
This is not a matter for any court, it is a matter for the man in charge on the spot, and he has got to take action. Some of us have seen it done, and these discussions are really quite irrelevant to the military man. If the thing happens when an operation is on, the man in charge of the operation has got to shoot the man down. It is done then, and therefore there is no need for the advice of the Attorney-General, and all the fine law distinctions made in the War Office are irrelevant.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 165; Noes, 288.
|Division No. 251.]||AYES.||[10.24 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Erskine, Lord (Somerset,Weston-s.-M.)||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Albery, Irving James||Everard, W. Lindsay||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l., W.)||Ferguson, Sir John||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh)||Fielden, E. B.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Ford, Sir P. J.||Rawson. Sir Cooper|
|Astor, Maj. Hon. John J.(Kent,Dover)||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Atkinson, C.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Remer, John R.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Ganzon[...], Sir John||Reynolds, Col. Sir James|
|Ba[...]n[...]el, Lord||Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey amp; Otley)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Ross, Major Ronald D.|
|Bennett, Sir Albert (Nottingham, C.)||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Berry, Sir George||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Salmon, Major I.|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Gritten, W.||G. Howard Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Bird, Ernest Roy||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Hanbury, C.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome|
|Boyce. H. L.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Simms, Major-General J.|
|Bracken, B.||Harbord, A.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Hartington, Marquess of||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n amp; Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'ld., Hexham)||Haslam, Henry C.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H. C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd,Henley)||Smithers, Waldron|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel||Arthur P. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Butler, R. A.||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Castle Stewart, Earl of||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Iveagh, Countess of||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Stewart, W. J. (Belfast, South)|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Christie, J. A.||King, Commodore Rt. Hon. Henry D.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Train, J.|
|Cranbourne, Viscount||Locker-Lampson, Com. O.(Handaw'th)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Long, Major Eric||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||McConnell, Sir Joseph||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C.||Macquisten, F. A.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||MacRobert, Rt. Hon. Alexander M.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Da[...]keith, Earl of||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Da[...]rymp[...]e-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey||Mond, Hon. Henry||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Withers, Sir John James|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Muirhead, A. J.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Worthington-Evans. Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Dixey, A. C.||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton|
|Duckworth, G. A. V.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||O'Neill, Sir H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Peake, Capt. Osbert||Captain Margesson and Sir George|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Bowen, J. W.||Clarke, J. S.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Cluse, W. S.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Broad, Francis Alfred||Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.|
|Angell, Norman||Brockway, A. Fenner||Cocks, Frederick Seymour|
|Arnott, John||Bromfield, William||Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Bromley, J.||Compton, Joseph|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Brooke, W.||Cove, William G.|
|Ayles, Walter||Brothers, M.||Daggar, George|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, B[...]ston)||Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield)||Dallas, George|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Dalton, Hugh|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Barr, James||Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West)||Dickson, T.|
|Batey, Joseph||Buchanan, G.||Dudgeon, Major C. R.|
|Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)||Burgess, F. G.||Dukes, C.|
|Bellamy, Albert||Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Duncan, Charles|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)||Ede, James Chuter|
|Bennett, Capt. E. N. (Cardiff,Central)||Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel (Norfolk, N.)||Edge, Sir William|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Ca[...]ne, Derwent Hall-||Edmunds, J. E|
|Benson, G.||Cameron, A. G.||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Carte', W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Edwards, E. (Morpeth)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Chapman, Sir S.||Egan, W. H.|
|Birkett, W.||Norman Charleton, H. C.||Elmley, Viscount|
|Blindell, James||Church, Major A. G.||Foot, Isaac|
|Forgan, Dr. Robert||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Sanders, W. S.|
|Freeman, Peter||Lindley, Fred W.||Sandham, E.|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Lloyd, C. Ellis||Sawyer, G. F.|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Logan, David Gilbert||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Longbottom, A. W.||Scurr, John|
|Gibson, H. M. (Lancs. Mossley)||Longden, F.||Sexton, James|
|Gill, T. H.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Gillett, George M.||Lowth, Thomas||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Glassey, A. E.||Lunn, William||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Gossling, A. G.||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Sherwood, G. H.|
|Gould, F.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Shield, George William|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||McElwee, A.||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Granville, E.||McEntee, A.||Shinwell, E.|
|Gray, Milner||Mackinder, W.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)||McKinlay, A.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Maclaren, Andrew||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlleshro' W.)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Sinkinson, George|
|Griffiths, T (Monmouth, Pontypool)||MacNeill-Weir, L.||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|Groves, Thomas E.||McShane, John James||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Marcus, M.||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Marley, J.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.)||Marshall, Fred||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)||Mathers, George||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney amp; Zetland)||Matters, L. W.||Snell, Harry|
|Hard[...]e, George D.||Melville, Sir James||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Harris, Percy A.||Messer, Fred||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Middleton, G.||Sorensen, R.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Millar, J. D.||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Haycock, A. W.||Mills, J. E.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Hayday, Arthur||Milner, Major J.||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe|
|Hayes, John Henry||Montague, Frederick||Strauss, G. R.|
|Henderson, Arthur, junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Sullivan, J.|
|Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Morley, Ralph||Sutton, J. E.|
|Herriotts, J.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)|
|Hirst. G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||Mort, D. L.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Moses, J. J. H.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Hoffman, P. C.||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Toole, Joseph|
|Hopkin, Daniel||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)||Tout, W. J.|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie.||Muff, G.||Townend, A. E.|
|Horrabin, J. F.||Muggeridge, H. T.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Hudson. James H. (Huddersfield)||Murnin, Hugh||Turner. B.|
|Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.||Naylor, T. E.||Vaughan, D. J.|
|Isaacs, George||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Viant, S. P.|
|Jenkins. W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Noel Baker, P. J.||Walker, J.|
|John, William (Rhondda, West)||Oldfield, J. R.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Johnston, Thomas||Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Jones, F. Llewellyn. (Flint)||Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Watkins, F. C.|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Palin, John Henry||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline).|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)||Palmer, E. T.||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Perry, S. F.||Wollock, Wilfred|
|Jewett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Peters, Dr. Sidney John||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Kelly, W. T.||Phillips, Dr. Marion||West, F. R.|
|Kennedy, Thomas||Picton-Turbervill, Edith||White, H. G|
|Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Pole, Major D. G.||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Kinley, J.||Potts, John S.||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Kirkwood, D.||Price, M. P.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Knight, Holford||Pybus, Percy John||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton)||Qu[...]bell, D. F. K.||Williams Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Lang, Gordon||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Raynes, W. R.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Lathan, G.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Law, Albert (Bolton)||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Law, A. (Rosendale)||Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Winterton, G. E. (Leicester,Loughb'gh)|
|Lawrence, Susan||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. 0. (W. Bromwich)||Wise, E. F.|
|Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)||Romeril, H. G.||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Rosbotham, D. S, T.||Wright. W. (Rutherglen)|
|Leach, W.||Rowson, Guy||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Lee, Frank (Derby, N.E.)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)||Salter, Dr. Alfred||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Lees, J.||Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)||Mr. Paling and Mr. T. Henderson.|
§ Sir G. COURTHOPE
I beg to move, in page 4, line 16, to leave out Subsection (2).
I will move this Amendment very briefly in view of the general discussion which has taken place on the last Amendment. The effect of My Amendment is to retain 1602 the death penalty for the three offences which the Government propose to remove from the category of death penalty to that of penal servitude. The first offence is where a soldier leaves his guard, picket, patrol or post without orders from his superior officer; the 1603 second, intentionally occasions false alarms in action, on the march or in the field by discharging firearms; and the third, where a soldier leaves his post while he is acting as sentinel before he is regularly relieved. Those offences are limited to active service, and I think I may claim, in support of my Amendment, the statement made by the Secretary of State for War in opposing the Amendment upon which we have just voted.
The right hon. Gentleman in that statement said that he differentiated between an individual act of cowardice and an act which would seriously affect a man's colleagues. I should like to ask the Committee what could affect a soldier's colleagues more seriously than to reduce the serious nature of the offence of a man who blinds an army, who removes from an army its eyes, its ears, and all those precautions on which it relies against surprise? The offences which it is now proposed to relieve from liability to the capital penalty are those of removing what we nominally call the eyes and the ears of an army. There are a good many of us in this House who have had personal experience of the horrors of the last War, and I would ask anyone who has had experience of a gas cloud to consider whether they would reduce the importance of the sentries whose duty it was to give a warning to the trenches of the approach of gas. The proposal in the Bill which I wish to delete by my Amendment would relieve the gas sentry who deserts his post from the most severe penalty.
I am not one who wishes to minimise the tremendous urge of fear upon the individual soldier. I have been through it myself many a time, and I can frankly say that I very much doubt whether I could have gone through my experience in the Great War without showing cowardice, but for the one fact, which I believe saved a great many of us, that our fear of showing fear was infinitely greater than our fear of anything else on earth. That saved us. But it is not so with everyone. I have had intimate knowledge at critical moments of the innermost souls of officers and men who have been serving with me and under me, and I know well, and many in this House must know it too from their own personal 1604 experience, that there is a type of mind that is afraid—and we are all afraid on these occasions; I do not believe in the man who does not feel fear. But there is a type of mind whose fear is calculated. I have known many men when zero hour was coming, and one had to go over the top, and it looked almost impossible for anyone to go alive through the barrage of bursting shells, and so on, in front of us; and I have heard men talking, and they have said to me, "After all, we have got to be shot anyway, and we may as well be shot decently out there." I do not say that that, argument has any greater bearing on the Amendment which I am now moving than it would have had on the Amendment which has just been rejected by the Committee. It is, in fact, an argument in favour of the contention of the military members of the Army Council which the Government have turned down. The fact remains that there is this tremendous urge of fear upon the individual, whether commissioned officer or man, who neglects his duty in order to seek safty for himself. At such times all one's idea of values is broken up and changed.
I am certain, from my own experience, that, but for the fact that I was more afraid of showing fear than of anything else, I should have thought a lifetime of penal servitude a very blessed thing compared with the dangers one had to fact in sticking to one's job. There is no job the soldier has to do which tries his nerve more severely than the listening-post, the man isolated, or, at most, with two or three comrades, hour after hour out in No Man's Land, listening, cooking, almost feeling for an enemy that may be upon him, an enemy in the shape of man, an enemy in the shape of gas, an enemy in the shape of all sorts of things which may not exist in fact but only in his over-strung imagination, and it is the greatest mistake in the world to make it easy for those men, who are the eyes and ears upon which the safety of the men behind them depends, to leave their post. I feel that, if there is one military offence for which the extreme penalty should be maintained as a deterrent, it is the offence of leaving one's post when one is a sentry or listening-post, or anything of that kind on which the lives of the men behind depend. For that reason, without troubing the Committee with any argument on the third point in the Amendment, the 1605 deliberate creation of false alarms, because I do not think it has very much relation to modern war, I beg to move the Amendment.
Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
My point of Order, with great respect, is that the assumption was that the Question was being put in precisely the same form as the previous Question had been put. [Interruption.] If I may have your permission to put my point, I shall proceed. I say that that was a perfectly well-founded assumption, and it was quite obvious that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side were as much the victims of that assumption as hon. Members on this side. I ask under those circumstances that the Division shall still obtain.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
May I ask you, Mr. Young, whether you had not collected the voices and declared the Amendment carried?
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
First of all, a Division was challenged. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It was challenged on these benches. [Interruption.] May I put my point of Order to the Chairman? When you collected the voices certain hon. Members shouted "Aye" and certain hon. Members shouted "No." I am within the recollection of the Committee. That is the first point. The second point is, that in putting the Question it is usual, in fact I think it is the rule, that you say, "The Noes have it." In this case, you did not do so.
I put the Question in the proper way. I asked for the "Ayes," and there were no "Ayes" at all. Then I asked for the "Noes" and hon. Members on this side said "No." I had to give it to the "Noes."
§ Mr. BECKETT
On that point of Order, may I ask whether a similar incident did not occur during the Report stage of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Bill in the last Parliament when the late Speaker, having failed to hear certain voices, put the Question again.
I did not fail to hear the voices. I asked for the "Ayes," and there were no "Ayes" called. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] Then I asked for the "Noes," and I was so surprised at the "Noes" that at the moment I could not give my decision. The "Noes" came from this side. It was not my fault.
Having given my decision we cannot go back. Miss WILKINSON: May I ask a question? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
§ Miss WILKINSON
I want to ask, on a point of Order, if the intention is so obviously different, does it not reduce the whole of our proceedings to a farce?
There can be no point of Order on the decision which has been arrived at. It must be quite a different point arising on the decision of the Committee, but it cannot be on this. If there is any other point of Order apart from this, I will listen to it.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I beg to move, in page 4, line 31, at the end, to add the words:(3) In Sub-section (1) of Section twelve, for the word 'death' there shall be substituted the words penal servitude.'1607 This Amendment is designed to abolish the death penalty for the offence of desertion. I would like at the outset to congratulate the Government on their decision to allow this matter to be put to a free vote of the Committee. There is no more appropriate point to be put to the free and unfettered judgment of the Committee than a question of life and death like this. It is not a matter of party opinion. It is a matter which cuts across all the ordinary divisions and differences of parties, and therefore Parliament is doing credit to itself by saying that a free vote shall be given upon the issue.
I would like to express my sympathy with the position of the Minister of War in this matter. He is the head of the War Department, and it is quite natural that he should wish to pay due respect to the advice of his professional advisers on this point. I understand that the advice of his professional advisers is to the effect that this penalty must be maintained. The Minister of War, like all other Ministers, has a final responsibility to this House, and, if there is a conflict of opinion as between this House and the Army Council, then it is the opinion of this House which must prevail. I think it was Sir William Harcourt who said that the value of political heads of Departments was to tell the officials what the public would not stand. I hope the House of Commons to-night is going to ask the Minister of War to tell the Army Council, politely but firmly, that the public will no longer stand the imposition of the death penalty for the offence of desertion. If the Minister does that, he will not be in the least disloyal to his Army Council, but he will be having regard to his major loyalty, which is that to the House of Commons.
What I have to argue in this Amendment is whether or not the offence of desertion warrants the death penalty. I think my course has been made very much easier by the practical unanimity with which this House has received the decision to abolish the penalty of death for cowardice. I am going to demonstrate that it is impossible for any real line of demarcation to be drawn between the offence of cowardice and the offence of desertion. Our case is, that these two 1608 offences are manifestations in different form of the same failure of nerve power or will power. I think I can show to the House that such is the similarity between these offences that if you take away the penalty of death for cowardice it will still be Possible for the War Authorities, if the penalty for desertion remains, to get as many people executed as they could do if the two penalties were in existence. I will suppose that the penalty of death for cowardice in the last War had not been in existence. 18 men were executed under that head. I guarantee to say that without the penalty of death for cowardice, had the military authorities so desired they could have got the bulk of those men executed on the charge of desertion.
Let me give one or two illustrations to show what I mean. You have the case of the man who, when an attack is taking place, hides behind his dugout and does not go over with the rest. Clearly, that could be established as a case of cowardice, but if the penalty of death for cowardice does not exist, arid the authorities want to catch that man, they can get him on the ground of desertion, because he has left his battalion. Take another illustration. An attack is actually proceeding, the men go over the parapet, they are going along to the line in the barrage, and a man sinks down into a convenient shell hole or takes some other cover which may he available for him. The battalion and the rest of the line go on, hut he remains behind. That man is guilty, in the Army sense of the word, of cowardice, but if there was no penalty of death for cowardice it would still be possible for the military authorities to get that man on the charge of desertion.
Let me give two illustrations of actual charges, taken from the army Records. The accused, through motives of cowardice, left the trenches during a gas attack. A charge was framed, and the man was convicted and sentenced to be shot on the ground of cowardice. If the death penalty had not been available for cowardice, it would have been equally possible for the Army authorities to get that man executed on the ground of desertion. Here is another illustration from the Records. After going over the parapet with his company an attack, the man absented himself while the attack was in progress, and remained absent 1609 until the following day. There is an illustration where either charge could be formulated, either the charge of cowardice or the charge of desertion. If the one weapon is not available, the other may be used. In our view it is not possible to differentiate between these two offences. I would like the House to be seized of the importance of this issue of desertion, because if we allow the death penalty for desertion to remain, to all intents and purposes we are not touching the death penalty at all. What are the figures? There were 287 men executed in the last War. Two of them for striking officers, two for sleeping at posts; 18 for cowardice and 264 for desertion. The death penalty has been taken away in the case of the offence of striking an officer, sleeping at his post, and for cowardice. There are a number of offences for which the death penalty has been abolished. The list may seem very impressive. It may seem that there has been great relaxation as far as the death penalty is concerned, but actually if you allow the death penalty for desertion to remain you allow a penalty to remain which was responsible for no less than 92 per cent. of the executions in the last War.
Let us consider this question of desertion. What are the normal circumstances in which it takes place? I have in my possession the details of a considerable number of cases and I also had the opportunity of going to the War Office library and studying carefully the general routine orders of the War. What is the result of the information I obtained in this way? I found that the great bulk of these cases of desertion were of men when going into the line with their battalion. The terms used are:Absented himself when warned for dangerous duty.Absented himself after having been warned to proceed to the trenches the same day, and remained absent until apprehended it, the village behind the lines, six hours later.What inferences are we entitled to draw from the facts that the great majority of these desertions took place when the men were proceeding into the line? Is it not a fair inference to say that they were actuated by fear and cowardice, just as much as the men who actually failed in the field itself, and how can you logically 1610 differentiate between the two offences? Men who were in the trenches know that the imaginative man experienced more stress and more temptation when he was out of the line waiting to return to the trenches than while actually in the line. In the line itself there was a sense of fatalism, inevitability, there was no escape, but when a man got away to reserve and rest his mind was apt to dwell upon the things he had gone through. He thought he was living an unnatural life. He was away from home. He could remember the misery and the terrors he had gone through, and he could think of the possibility of having to go back into the inferno.
Is it any wonder that in those circumstances some of the weaklings, whose nerves were not as strong as those of the average man, failed? We know very well what happens in our ordinary peace-time civilian life. We get nervous failures in peace-time. Men and women under some domestic strain, or worry, or ill-health, or financial trouble, and all sorts of things like that, are constantly having nervous breakdowns. They cannot help it. If that sort of thing can happen in ordinary civilian life, how much more likely is it to happen, so far as the weaklings are concerned—and it is they whom we are thinking about in this Debate—under the conditions which obtain on active service and on the battlefield? It is said that this death penalty is a means of helping the weakling, of strengthening him, so that he can withstand the temptation. There is not a bit of truth in that. The figures prove the very contrary. You have the penalty of death for desertion, but in spite of it there were over 7,000 men—of whom, it is true, only 264 were shot—who risked that penalty and deserted because they could not stand the strain any longer. No, if a man has reached the breaking point of desertion, either because of terror or of misery, there is no nice calculation as to the consequences which are going to ensue to him from his attempt to desert, as the hon. and gallant Member opposite said in his opening speech.
I heard an hon. Member trying to make a distinction between the volunteer and the conscript. All such distinctions are idle. I agree that it is a very dreadful thing that you should get a volunteer, as you got him in the last War, impelled by 1611 feelings of patriotism to give up a good job, go into the Army, and go and fight over the other side, and that when he tries and fails, you should then have him shot in cold blood by his fellow-countrymen. That is a very dreadful thing, but I cannot see any difference between that and the case of the conscript. Take a man who does not want to fight, who will not fight unless he is forced. You conscript him into the Army, and you take him on to the battlefield, and I say that if he fails in those circumstances in trying to do the work that you have forced upon him, you have no right at all to have him shot in cold blood by his fellow-countrymen.
The attitude of the Army Council towards this question is this. It says: "This penalty of death is a very dreadful sanction, it is horrible in many cases in its application, but dreadful and horrible as it is, it is a sanction which is essential to the discipline of the British Army." What is our reply to that contention? It has been given very largely by my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison). There is a devastating historical case against the Army Council on this question of military necessity for the death penalty. As my hon. Friend said, and as the Debates in this House will show, the Army Council in the days gone by defended the practice of flogging, of the cat-o'-nine-tails, and 500 strokes, on the ground that the discipline of the British Army would go to pieces if bite practice were abolished. They defended on the same grounds, as my hon. Friend said, the policy of Field Punishment No. 1, known as crucifixion. They defended the death penalty for the act of striking an officer in spite of the fact, mark you, that there were over 6,000 cases of that sort which occurred in the last War and only two cases in which it was applied. For a long time, the Army Council, in spite of that striking fact, defended the death penalty for striking an officer. Then there is the question of sleeping at the post. You see how inconsistent the Army Council have been. We had a committee of inquiry inaugurated by the Labour Government of 1924. That committee sat and took evidence on these various questions and the Army Council, in front of that committee, insisted that this sanction of 1612 the penalty of death for sleeping at the post was an essential feature of the discipline of the British Army, and they did not yield on that point. Then, after the committee had reported—it was only two years later—after having said during the committee of inquiry they could not yield up that sanction, they gave way and the penalty for sleeping at the post was abandoned.
There emerges the clear fact that on every possible occasion the Army Council has used this plea of military necessity and has shifted its ground the most inconsistent fashion. I should like the House to realise this, if it pays any weight to the Army Council on this point, that if this plea of military necessity had been accepted as valid by the British House of Commons in the past, we should not have had a single amelioration of military law from the time of the Peninsula War. Therefore, I hope, so far as this question of military necessity is concerned, we will not hear much more about it to-night.
Let me put another point before the Committee, and I think I can get support for this from regimental officers. The Army Council's view is essentially the Staff College view. It is the view of what we used to call the Brass Hat par excellence. I think I am right in saying that the Staff College point of view differs very materially from the regimental officers' point of view in regard to this necessity of the death penalty. You will find a very large number of regimental officers who know the actual conditions of the battlefield and who, because of their close association with the men, know the psychology of the men better than the Staff Officers can know it, holding the view that the penalty of death is by no means essential to military discipline.
Having said that much, I put this further point to the Committee on the question of military necessity. I know it is a thing which the Army Council does not like to have brought up, and it gives me no pleasure to bring it up except that I want to reinforce my case. I allude to the fact that the death penalty was never applied to the Australian troops during the War. The Australian Government, in spite of great pressure 1613 brought to bear on it, would never accede to this penalty being inflicted on the Australian troops.
Sir J. DAVIDSON
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I think this is a very dangerous argument which he is introducing, and I suggest that he should drop it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why'?"] I will tell hon. Members why. If the hon. Member looks into the statistics of this particular subject which he is discussing, he will see that they defeat every single argument which he is putting forward.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I cannot accept the statement of the hon. and gallant Gentleman as an accurate statement of the facts. At any rate, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we are entitled to take this broad fact. There were two Army Corps of Australians fighting in the last War, and not a single one of those Australians was executed. We executed Englishmen, Welshmen, Scotsmen, Canadians, even New Zealanders, but not a single Australian was executed. According to the argument of the Army Council, in order that discipline should be effectively maintained, it is necessary to have this sanction of the death penalty. What happened in the case of the Australians? Does anyone suggest that the Australians, although they had not the death penalty hanging over their heads to keep them fighting, did not behave with just as much gallantry, just as much courage, as any of the other troops? If that is so, if it was unnecessary to apply this penalty in the case of the Australian troops, why should it be necessary to apply it in the case of the other British troops? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) referred to a statement which was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) and called that statement a libel on the courage and patriotism of the British troops. I say, that if it is demonstrated that the Australian troops could fight gallantly and courageously, as they did, without the death penalty, then it is a libel on the courage of other British troops to say that they will not fight without the death penalty.
I am sure that the hon. Member does not wish to mis- 1614 represent me; but he is quoting me in the contrary sense to that in which I used the words. I gave the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury)—
I did not make any attack on the right hon. Gentleman. I quoted the right hon. Gentleman's words, and I said that he represented the views of his party. I am now told that I argued in the contrary sense. I said that the right hon. Gentleman had stated that the only thing which held the Army together was the fear of death, and I said that was a libel on the British Army. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) is now supporting my view of the case, on the ground that the Australians did not need the death penalty, and that that shows the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley to have been wrong.
§ Mr. THURTLE
May I point out that the Army Council itself, by its insistence on the death penalty as a necessity of discipline in the British Army is in effect doing the very thing which the right hon. Gentleman suggests that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley ought not to do. It is, in effect, saying that without the death penalty, the British Army is not going to fight properly. If the charge is valid against my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley, it is equally valid against the Army Council.
I will leave that argument of military necessity there. I think that I have shown that it is not a valid argument. I would invite the Committee on this matter to look a little deeper into the issue than the question of military necessity. That may be a very important thing but we have not yet elevated it to the position of a supreme law. Questions of elementary human justice ought to take precedence even of military necessity. There are some limits beyond 1615 which we ought not to go, even for the sake of military necessity; and I suggest that one of these limits is to have a man shot in cold blood by his fellow-countryman, because his nerves have failed to stand the almost indescribable strain of modern warfare. Some Members know what that strain was. Others may not know it, but let me recall this fact to their minds.
In the British Army, according to the records of the last War, there were nearly 4,000 men who, in order to escape from the inferno of the War, got to the point of being prepared to mutilate themselves. Men shot themselves in the foot; they shot themselves in the hand; and they mutilated themselves in other ways in order to escape from that hell. Members must realise that if men got to that point, they must have been subjected to a very dreadful strain. I would like to put this to Members. If there are Members to-night who are going to ask for the judgment of death on men who desert, I would like them, if they have not had the experience, to be subjected to the kind of thing which men had to go through in the last War, for the period of two or three months only. If they were to go through that experience, it would he a remarkable thing if there were not one or two failures among them. If there were not, I know that as a result of that experience, they would judge the men who had failed with a much deeper sympathy and understanding.
I hope that the Committee will treat this matter as a purely non-party matter, as a matter of human justice and human fair play. This law which we are considering to-night, as Members have pointed out on other occasions, is a survival from a ruder and a more barbarous time. To-day it has not the sanction of public opinion behind it, and it is a bad law for that reason. Laws ought to reflect the public conscience. So far from reflecting the public conscience, this law violates the public conscience, and for the reasons I have given, and for reasons of humanity and elementary justice, I ask the Committee to vote for this Amendment.
§ Mr. OLIVER BALDWIN
I rise to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend. When the Secretary of State for War 1616 wiped out the death penalty for cowardice but retained it for desertion. I agree with my hon. Friend that he left a loophole through which any staff captain would be able to work with great ease. One can only speak from experience, and in mentioning cases to hon. Members who have had the same experience as I have, I think I can show how easy it would have been to shoot people for deserting if you did not wish to take them on the more serious charge, perhaps, of cowardice. I remember as clearly as though it were yesterday an experience in the first fortnight after my arrival in France. It was just behind the Arras-Doulens road. I was awakened in the early hours of the morning by a firing squad who were shooting one of my own division for desertion. It was not a firing squad from his own regiment, because, as hon. Members know, it was not considered good for the morale of the troops that men should have to shoot one of their own number. I inquired the reason for the shooting, and I was told the full facts of the. case.
I remember being very much impressed one dark night when it was raining by a man whom I noticed standing in his column of fours ready to march up to the line. Others were talking quite calmly to each other while waiting to move forward, but he was standing perfectly dead silent. He was swaying slowly backwards, as corn sways in a field. The sergeant said "Shall I take hold of that man?" I said "What do you mean?" He answered "He will never go up the line; he is a coward." I was young and inexperienced and I said "Do what you can." I saw that man frog-marched right up into the heart of the front line, and when he got there he was as brave as anybody else and was there for the whole of the four days until we came out of the line. If that man had not been treated in a humane and sensible fashion, although it was a little rough at the time, and he had dropped out when the battalion had moved forward he could have been executed for cowardice and desertion.
There were cases of men who went over the top and drooped into a shellhole—some of them made a practice of it: went into a shell-hole in the first 10 yards, because nobody paid much attention to it at the time. These men would be liable if you retain this Clause. The only reason for their behaviour was that 1617 they had had so much of the War that they could not stand it any longer. There is a particular case which I remember so well of a sergeant-major who, towards the end of 1918 was incapable of advancing a single yard in an action. According to the law as it stands, the most gallant of all soldiers would be liable to be court-martialled and shot for desertion. It is because I am thinking of individuals, so many of whom I know—because I am thinking of the position of those men and what would have happened to them had the law really been carried out to the full—that I support the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend.
§ Sir HUGH O'NEILL
I have risen to address the Committee on this subject because during the last year of the war I happened to be in charge of all the court-martial work in one of the main war theatres of the Near East, and I suppose that I have seen as many courts-martial as any hon. Member in any part of the House. The hon. Member who introduced this Amendment has spoken with great moderation and with a great deal of knowledge of his subject; in fact, I think that the House appreciates very greatly the fact that we are conducting this debate in a more serious atmosphere than that which characterised the previous Debate on this question. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) based his argument upon the fact that there was a difference between cowardice and desertion, and he said that if you do away with cowardice there is no logical reason why you should not do away with the penalty for the offence of desertion. I say quite frankly that I believe there is a certain amount of force in the argument. I think it is possible that some of the cases which were dealt with as cowardice might have been dealt with as cases of desertion. There is, however, an essential difference between the two crimes. In nearly every case of desertion a man has been ordered for duty in the line in a particularly dangerous service; he has failed to respond and has disappeared somewhere behind the lines. That is a different offence from cowardice. The essential point about the offence is that it probably takes place not in the heat, turmoil, and horror of the moment of battle, but probably somewhere behind the lines where the man at the moment of 1618 desertion is under peace conditions and safety, and he deserts to avoid the danger which he knows lies before him if he carries out the dangerous duty which he has been ordered to do. That is desertion, but it is not necessarily cowardice, and therefore there is an essential difference between the two offences.
I concede to the hon. Member that desertion is the great governing factor of these military offences. There are two classes of desertion. One case is where a man leaves the Army never intending to return and that is known as "long desertion." The other is "active service" desertion and that is the kind which I have referred to in connection with this particular offence. If you do away with the death penalty for desertion, you certainly are doing away with the death penalty for what is by far the most common, the most important, and the most vital of all the great active service military offences. That is why I think that, although possibly we may abolish the death penalty for cowardice, and I would even go so far as to say, possibly, in the case of leaving a post, if you abolish the death penalty for desertion you are striking a far more serious blow at the foundations of discipline than by abolishing it for any other active service offence.
There is one other point. If death is not to be the eventual penalty for these very serious crimes in time of battle, what is to be the penalty? The hon. Member, I suppose, would say penal servitude for life. I am not now talking about the poor fellow who is overcome by some terrible physical disability, and is a coward in spite of himself, but when you are dealing with a man who deliberately wants to get out of it, what that man wishes more than anything else is to get out of it, and what gets him out of it more effectively than anything else is a long term of penal servitude. There is no doubt about that. Punishment by penal servitude for life on active service is not an effective punishment. We all realise that, in discussing these matters, we are up against what I may call the elemental facts of life and of Nature, and it is no use dealing with them on grounds of pure sentiment. War is a terrible thing. We all hope that we are not going to have war again. But, so long as we have war, we have to treat war as a serious thing, and we have to see that our 1619 Army is equipped, by its discipline and by its military law, to face that war with success.
§ Lieut. - Colonel SPENDER - CLAY
Neither the Proposer nor the Seconder of this Amendment mentioned the great risk in which men involve their comrades by acts of desertion. Not only may such acts endanger the whole operations, but they certainly put an additional burden on these men's comrades, and may cause the death of many of them. Both hon. Members have spoken from considerable experience, but I think that one ought to consider also the lives of comrades who may be placed in danger.
There is one other aspect that I should like to mention. If you do away with the death penalty, is there not a great risk that you may cause units to take the law into their own hands? I do not wish to deal with some of our Dominion troops. It is a very unfortunate thing that mention was made of them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Some of us know something about them. There is that danger, that if you take away the death penalty there is the possibility that units will take the law into their own hands and do their own executions, and that is a far worse thing. When the circumstances of the case are measured, and the situation under which the act takes place is taken into consideration, there is a far better chance of justice being done than the haphazard shooting that may take place. It is not a popular thing to say, but I feel I must say it. I have had a fairly long Parliamentary life, and I have watched the House moved on occasions like this by sentiment; and we are naturally moved by sentiment on such a grave matter as this. I have seen the House carried away by sentiment, and when it is carried away by sentiment it very often does unwise things. When you are risking the lives of thousands because you are afraid to inflict the death penalty on those who have caused the danger to these lives, it is most necesary that the capital punishment should be retained in these cases.
§ Mr. SHAW
Although the House will have a perfectly free vote, and everyone of us will go into the Lobby according to his choice without party pressure, it would be scarcely courteous to the House 1620 if I did not express my personal opinion. I have already told the Committee what the opinion of the military advisers of the War Office is, but I am struck by the fact that the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment are men who were actually in the trenches, and I cannot hide from myself the fact that they are probably as keenly alive to the dangers to the private soldier as are others. This is not a question whether death ought to be inflicted for certain offences in the Army or not. That has been allowed to go by default, because no one even advises the withdrawal of the death penalty in cases of treachery, sedition and mutiny. The question I have to face as an individual is, is desertion a case that is so bad as to be more dangerous if allowed to go unchecked by the death penalty than other offences for which penalty is already inflicted.
I can imagine cases of desertion which are just as dangerous as questions of mutiny or treachery. A man in cold blood leaving a key position, and possibly causing loss of life to scores of his comrades, is just as grave an offence as mutiny or treachery can be. I frankly admit that I could not stand at this Box and defend the Clause if it were used for the purpose that has been described by the Mover. It would be absolutely impossible. The idea of shooting a man because his nerve had gone, because he was unable to stand the strain, because he left a post owing to the condition of his nervous system, would be repugnant to me. I agree that if the Clause for desertion remains in the Bill it ought to be so determined and hedged round that it can apply only to cases of deliberate volition where men in cold blood have deserted in a way that has placed the lives of their comrades in danger. I have to face the question of which Lobby I shall go into. I face the question unhesitatingly. On the whole believing that in some cases these offences of desertion are just as bad as those for which the penalty is retained, and while admitting the necessity for a strict delineation of the offences and that there can be no justification for shooting a man who has deserted through nerve failure, while admitting all that, I shall find myself bound to go into the Lobby against the absolute withdrawal of this provision.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I am sorry to have to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. Before he rose I said to my hon. Friends here that I wished I could be as optimistic as my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) that by the abolition of this particular offence from capital punishment he would abolish the 248 possibilities of execution. It is obvious to me that if you do what the hon. Member wants you to do, those responsible for drawing up the regulations enforcing discipline will be able to get every case to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred under mutiny or sedition. It is perfectly simple. I will go further than that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense!"] The hon. Member says "nonsense"; that is no argument. I cannot speak from the experience of a great militarist, but, from my point of view, what the right hon. Gentleman said just now appeared to be nonsense. I did not say so, because I accepted his explanation. But if he had had my experience of detailing the escort of a private soldier under penal servitude to go up the line he would know the argument or the possibilities from the point of view of the men in the line. My experience of the King's Regulations in the ranks of 1914 was that it was only by breaking regulations that you got to know them. After all, these phrases were drawn up in order to deal with a kind of warfare which is not our kind of warfare now.
The whole difficulty is that the Army authorities have never troubled to recast the definitions of mutiny and of treachery in order to make them applicable to the definite, actual service facts of modern warfare. I am convinced that the fears of the right hon. Gentleman and of the military advisers are unfounded. I believe that any man who means treachery and desertion could be secured under any regulations framed to deal with mutiny, disobedience of orders, and treachery. Therefore, I beg the Committee to consider what happened last time. We have been told about men falling out on the way to the line. If there is to be any shooting, my answer will be: "Shoot the Commanding Officer responsible for the discipline of the battalion." They did not do it in my lot. My answer to that is that if a man is allowed to slip away like that while 1622 going up to the line, the man responsible for the discipline of the battalion is the man who should bear the penalty, and not the man who gets away. That is also the answer to those who talk about the man's comrades. The fact is that the one thing his comrades will not do, if he does slip away, is to give him away. If they do not give him away, the feeling they will have will not be one of contempt for the man, but for those responsible for the discipline which allows him to do it. I do not believe this provision is necessary. The form of words in the present Army Act is archaic, and I think the Committee might agree to the amendment. If, alas, there should be another war, it will make no difference whatever to the military value of our troops whether these words are in or out.
It is surprising to hear a skilful dialectician like the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) using such an argument as that to which we have just listened. He suggests that the Commanding Officer is to be responsible if his men desert, and he proposes to take away the one sanction which, in military opinion, is necessary to enable discipline to be maintained.
I do not base my argument on an appeal to authority. I base it on the absurdity of the hon. Member's suggestion that you should take away this necessary sanction.
The sole object of the hon. Member's argument is to take away this sanction, and, when you have done so, it is absurd to pretend that a Commanding Officer could be responsible for the maintenance of discipline. The Secretary of State has, I am sure, convinced the Committee of the extreme gravity, from the point of view of discipline of this question which we are called upon to decide. I should like to thank him for the courage he has shown on 1623 what is a very difficult, very unpleasant, and unpopular question, in giving the definite lead which he has given. He has admitted that this is really the keystone of our code of military law, and he has also shown that there is no real foundation for the fears which have been expressed as to an improper use being made of this provision. It is quite possible to put in a limitation so that the men of weak nerves, about whom we hear so much in these Debates, will not be unfairly treated and brought under this provision against desertion; moreover, they will escape by the abolition of capital punishment for cowardice.
The Amendment which we are considering is tantamount to the final abolition of capital punishment. It seems to me to be based on false sentiment. It is not, as most of us know from our experience, a question of the man with broken nerves. The men who were shot were men who had deliberately shirked the burdens accepted by their comrades. They were guilty of prejudicing the success, not only of their comrades, but of the national effort. I must protest against the attempt made by the Mover of the Amendment to traduce the humanity of the military members of the Army Council and those responsible for sanctioning these sentences. He talked about the Army Council being able to get as many men executed as before. Not a word of recognition of the efforts of the officers to secure for every man the fairest possible treatment, and the benefit of the doubt. Not a word of recognition of the fact that of the death sentences passed by the unanimous votes of courts-martial—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—Yes, it had to be a unanimous vote of the court-martial—nine out of every ten were commuted. The whole of this case is largely based on a false analogy with our peace time system.
The Committee ought to bear in mind the advice of the Darling Committee which went into this matter just after the War. They said:The reasons for punishing crime on conviction in the Civil Courts are the amendment of offenders, and the deterrent effect of punishment… For the punishing of military offences there is the further reason that unless discipline in Armies be preserved such forces are but a mob—dangerous to all but the enemies of their country. Therefore, the considerations sufficient for Civil Gov- 1624 ernment are not enough for the ruling of the armed forces of the Crown.If we abolish this sanction is will be a very serious blow at the maintenance of discipline. It is not a question of considering the weak, but of taking away a death penalty and thereby creating the inducement to desertion. We know that imprisonment for the period of the War was no deterrent; it was dropped towards the end of the War and the men were sent back to their units. That method was only possible because when the men went back to their units there was every prospect that if they deserted again they would pay the extreme penalty. The whole of the system of probation depended upon the ultimate penalty being probably in involved in a second offence. If the House abolish the death penalty for that very infectious and tempting offence of desertion, they will be encouraging shirking and prejudicing efficiency and discipline of the Army in a case where the Safety of the State ought to be the supreme law.
§ 12. m.
§ Mr. O. LEWIS
I listened very carefully to the Speech of the Member of Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle). He based a considerable part of his argument 12. m. on the contention that the death penalty is of no value as a deterrent, to desertion, and impressed upon the Committee the fact that the temptation to desert is not strongest when a man is taking part, or about to take part, in an attack, but when he is at rest or in reserve. He told the Committee that at such a time a man thought of his home and the hell he had just been through. If a man is capable of reflecting upon his home and the horrors he has been through, he is also capable of reflecting upon the consequences of his action and the penalty which might follow any particular action. By the argument of the hon. Member for Shoreditch it is clear that desertion is a case in which a man often has an opportunity of considering the penalty which will follow. I appeal to the common sense of the Committee in such a case. If a man says to himself: "If I desert I shall be kept in penal servitude, but when the war is over my sentence will probably be cut short and I shall be let out." On the other hand he says: "I shall be shot." Is there any hon. Member who is not pre- 1625 pared to say that the second penalty is not more likely to act as a deterrent than the first? Surely that demolishes entirely the theory that the death penalty cannot be a deterrent in cases of desertion.
§ Mr. LEWIS
The hon. Member for Shoreditch says that the death penalty is a survival of a rude and more barbaric age. Yes, and so is war. And I would remind the Committee that we are assuming war. It is no argument to say: "Let us do away with war," or "We shall not have another war" We are discussing a state of war, and therefore when the hon. Member says that the death penalty is a survival of a more barbaric age it a fair reply to say, And so is war. This proposition must be considered as though at this moment we were, in a state of war.
§ Mr. BECKETT
I shall only detain the Committee for a very few minutes. Other speakers in this Debate have referred to personal experiences in connection with this subject, but I think my experience has been rather different from those which have been described up to now, and I have been waiting all the evening for an opportunity of putting my side of the case. I think, possibly, I am the only Member who has taken part in this discussion from the point of view of a private soldier who has been lined up when a firing squad was being selected and I wish to challenge strongly the view of the Secretary of State for War that, if we pass the Amendment, men who desert in cold blood will escape the consequences, because of it. I submit that that is an entirely unreal view of what happens in war-time and it would be a disaster if that opinion expressed from our own Front Bench were to lead Members of the Labour party to vote against the Amendment. Hon. members in all parts of the Committee who have had any experience of war know that desertions of that kind could never be "got away with" in the middle of an action. In one of the most popular
|Division No. 252.]||AYES.||[12.10 a.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Ayles, Walter||Bennett, Capt. E. N. (Cardiff,Central)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Barnes, Alfred John||Bennett, William (Battersea, South)|
|Angell, Norman||Batey, Joseph||Benson, G.|
|Arnott, John||Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)||Bentham, Dr. Ethel|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Bellamy, Albert||Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)|
§ plays now running in London there is an excellent example of what I mean. In "Journey's End" a young officer proposes to get away from his service and his superior officer at once pulls out a, revolver and threatens to shoot him if he does not "carry on"; and men are more likely to be punished in that way than by courts-martial. But it shows an unreal view of the situation to try to put on this Committee the responsibility for continuing judicial murder. As to an event of the kind which the Secretary of State fears and which the Army Council may have Old him is possible, I assure hon. Members of the Committee that such a fear is not justified and ought to influence anybody in voting on this Amendment.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
There is one point which has not been made so far. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]. I ask hon. Members to have patience—some of us only speak for a short time and others speak for no end of time. There is one point which has not been introduced in the Debate up to the present. During the War there was a threat to shoot conscientious objectors and some of them were taken to France, but as far as I know, there was no actual shooting in those cases. I know of one man who was brought to the point of being shot, but the situation was saved and the man was not shot. If the Government and those who believe in war, feel that public opinion would not support them in shooting conscientious objectors, then I submit that they are not entitled to shoot the man who has been driven into the Army by compulsion and who finds that he is not able for the task. That is a logical position. [Interruption.] Of course men did not want to go into the War—naturally—and a Debate like this ought to emphasise in the public mind the necessity for safeguarding ourselves by being out-and-out opponents of war in all circumstances.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 219; Noes, 135.
|Birkett, W. Norman||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Picton-Turbervill, Edith|
|Blindell, James||Horrabin, J. F.||Price, M. P.|
|Bowen, J. W.||Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Pybus, Percy John|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Isaacs, George||Qu[...]bell, D. F. K.|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Raynes, W. R.|
|Bromfield, William John,||William (Rhondda, West)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Bromley, J.||Johnston, Thomas||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)|
|Brooke, W.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Le[...]f (Camborne)||Romeril, H. G.|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Rosbotham, D. S. T|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Rawson, Guy|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West)||Kelly, W. T.||Sanders, W. S.|
|Burgess, F. G.||Kennedy, Thomas||Sandham, E.|
|Ca[...]ne, Derwent Hall-||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Kinley, J.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lang, Gordon||Scurr, John|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lathan, G.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Cocks, Frederick||Seymour Law, A. (Rossendale)||Sherwood, G. H.|
|Compton, Joseph||Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)||Shield, George William|
|Daggar, George||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Dallas, George||Leach, W.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)||Sinkinson, George|
|Dickson, T.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|Duncan, Charles||Lindley, Fred W.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Ede, James Chuter||Logan, David Gilbert||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Edge, Sir William||Longden, F.||Smith, H. S. Lees (Keighley)|
|Edmunds, J. E.||Lunn, William||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Egan, W. H.||McElwee, A.||Snowden, Thomas Accrington)|
|Elmley, Viscount||McEntee, V. L.||Sorensen, R.|
|Foot, Isaac||McKinlay, A.||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Forgan, Dr. Robert||MacNeill-Weir. L.||Strachey. E. J. St. Loe|
|Freeman, Peter||McShane, John James||Strauss, G. R.|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Sullivan, J.|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Marcus, M.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Marley, J.||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)||Marshall, Fred||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)|
|Gill, T. H.||Mathers, George||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Glassey, A. E.||Matters, L. W.||Toole, Joseph|
|Gossling, A. G.||Messer, Fred||Tout, W. J.|
|Gould, F.||Middleton, G.||Townend, A. E.|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Mills, J. E.||Turner, B.|
|Granville, E.||Milner, Major J.||Viant, S. P.|
|Gray, Milner||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Morley, Ralph||Watkins, F. C.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Mort, D. L.||Watts-Morgan, Li.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Moses, J. J. H.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.)||Muff, G.||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)||Muggeridge, H. T.||West, F. R.|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Murnin, Hugh||White, H. G|
|Hard[...]e, George D.||Nathan, Major H. L.||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Harris, Percy A.||Naylor, T. E.||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Hartshorn. Rt. Hon. Vernon||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Noel Baker, P. J.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Haycock, A. W.||Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)||Williams Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Hayday, Arthur||Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Hayes, John Henry||Owen, H. F. (Hereford)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Henderson, Arthur, junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Palin, John Henry||Wilson R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Paling, Wilfrid||Winterton. G. E. (Leicester,Loughb'gh)|
|Herriotts, J.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wise, E. F.|
|Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Young, R. S. (Islington. North)|
|Hoffman, P. C.||Peters, Dr. Sidney John|
|Hollins, A.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hopkin, Daniel||Phillips, Dr. Marion||Mr.Thurtle and Mr. Oliver|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Boyce, H. L.||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer|
|Albery, Irving James||Bracken, B.||Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh)||Brass, Captain Sir William||Colfox, Major William Philip|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Briscoe, Richard George||Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Courtauld, Major J. S.|
|Atkinson, C.||Brown, Brig.-Gen.H. C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Butler, R. A.||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Carver, Major W. H.||Crookshank. Capt. H. C.|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Castle Stewart, Earl of||Croom-Johnson, R. P.|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Culverwell, C. T.(Bristol, West)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Christie, J. A.||Da[...]keith, Earl of|
|Da[...]rymp[...]e-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey||King, Commodore Rt. Hon. Henry D.||Salmon, Major I.|
|Davidson, Major-General||Sir J. H. Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset,Yeovil)||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon.||George R. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Duckworth, G. A. V.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome|
|Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Llewellin, Major J. J.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Long, Major Eric||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s. M.)||MacRobert, Rt. Hon. Alexander M.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n amp; Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Ferguson, Sir John||Margesson, Captain H. D.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Fielden, E. B.||Marjoribanks, E. C.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Fison, F. G. Clavering||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Mond, Hon. Henry||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Ganzon[...], Sir John||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)|
|Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey amp; Otley)||Moore, Sir Newton J. (Richmond)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Stewart, W. J. (Belfast, South)|
|Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Muirhead, A. J.||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||O'Neill, Sir H.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Peake, Capt. Osbert||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Power, Sir John Cecil||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Ward, Lleut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Hallam, Henry C.||Ramsbotham, H.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)||Remer, John R.||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel||Arthur P. Reynolds, Col. Sir James||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Ross, Major Ronald D.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Hutchison,||Maj.-Gen. Sir R.||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Iveagh, Countess of||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Kindersley, Major G. M.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Sir George Penny and Captain|
§ Clause as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.