HC Deb 29 March 1935 vol 299 cc2242-7

"In section forty-four of the Army Act (which relates to scales of punishment by courts-martial), all words after 'officers,' in line four, to the end of' (gg), stoppages,' in line eighteen, shall be deleted, and the word 'and' inserted in place thereof."—[Mr. Buchanan.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made and Question proposed "That the Clause be read a Second time."

2 p.m.


On the last occasion I thought that I had been very generous to hon. Members below the gangway, but their appreciation has not given me too much encouragement as to my future generosity. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) says that the new clause may not make good reading. That is quite true. I agree with his remarks on that point, because if it were carried it would require an amendment to 18 other sections of the Army Act where cashiering is mentioned. In order to tidy up the Army Act we should have to deal with 18 other sections, but I do not think we need trouble much about that to-day in view of the fact that the hon. Member is likely to be defeated in the division lobby. He says that there should be no difference in the punishment of officers and men. I do not agree with him; for a reason which perhaps he does not expect. I think that an officer's punishment for the same offence should be a great deal more severe than that of the soldier. His responsibilities are greater. He ought to set a good example to his men; and in my submission he should be dealt with more severely than the private soldier. The hon. Member's argument is that at the present time there is an unfair differentiation against the soldier in favour of the officer. That is made plain when the hon. Member for Gorbals says that there should be no difference in the punishment of officers and men, implying that there is a differentiation in favour of officers and against the men. That is not true.

He had referred to cashiering. Cashiering is probably in very many cases a far more serious punishment than imprisonment. It includes great publicity. What happens to the officer who is cashiered? First, there is publication in the "Gazette," it is in all the newspapers, all his friends know about the disgrace and he is not allowed to become a member of any of the clubs to which he previously belonged. He gets no further employment of any kind from any Government department or any of the Services. In fact, the punishment of being cashiered is very serious indeed. The hon. Member suggests taking out cashiering from the punishments of an officer—


And putting in discharged with ignominy.


There is this difference between being discharged with ignominy and being cashiered. In the case of a soldier he is under contract to serve for a certain period of time, and when he is discharged he is free to do exactly what he likes, he may be able to join up again. But the officer, on the other hand, serves during His Majesty's pleasure. It is a life job. There is that distinction. Although the punishment is practically the same, there is the distinction that they are on different forms of service altogether. If I thought that an officer with very great responsibilities, in which he has to set a very high example to his men, was getting off more lightly than a soldier for committing the same offence I would not defend the present law. But that is not so. If we accepted this Amendment we would in effect reduce the punishment that could be given to an officer. The Amendment, for example, would make it impossible to reduce the officer in rank or seniority, or to reprimand him. These lists of punishments have been in operation for more years than any one of this House can remember. They have worked quite satisfactorily over that long period of time. I ask the Committee to reject the new Clause and to let us continue on the sound lines which have worked perfectly smoothly almost from the day when the Army was first formed.

2.7 p.m.


I would like to ask the Financial Secretary to make clear a few words that he spoke. He pointed out that an officer would be Gazetted if cashiered, but he also said that a private soldier dismissed with ignominy is free to rejoin the Army if he cares. Surely one of the most distressing punishments of a private soldier who is in a sense cashiered and turned out of the Army with ignominy is that that fact is recorded on his discharge papers.


We had a long discussion this morning about the production of birth certificates. They are not absolutely essential. It is possible for a man to rejoin the Army under an assumed name, and many of them do.


I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not recommend that practice. One of the most distressing punishments of a private soldier who has been dismissed from the Army, sometimes not with ignominy but for becoming intoxicated—I have had such cases brought to my notice—is that he has to carry his discharge book about with him, and at the present time, under the system of registration connected with National Health Insurance, wherever that man goes to apply for a situation he is compelled to disclose the fact that he was a member of the Army at some time, and his discharge book is produced to his prospective employer. That in itself is a punishment much harsher than the fact that the cashiered officer would be Gazetted, because that would be known only to people who read that sort of paper. It is certainly not a form of publicity that appears in every daily newsaper read by the multitude. I admit it is something that is very ignominious for the officer in his own circle and rank of society, and we should not look lightly on that. Nor should we look lightly on the fact that a private soldier, when turned out of the Army with ignominy, carries his discharge book about with him for the rest of his life, and that works very hardly with him.

2.11 p.m.


I do not know that we are prepared to accept the general doctrine outlined by the Financial Secretary, that differentiation of sentence should bear more harshly on the officer than on the man. I know the theory. It is a common thing, to whom much is given much is required, and so on, that the more responsible the position of a man the greater the obligation on him to act rightly, and the greater the penalty should be. I am not accepting that doctrine in general at all. But we are not caring, in this instance, whether our Amendment eases or increases penalties for officers. The principle we are putting forward is that there should be exactly the same treatment for officers and men. While theoretically it may be true that Army and Navy authorities regard the offence of an officer as much more severe than the same offence committed by a private soldier, in practice we know that the authorities are prepared to temper the wind very much for the senior officers. The Financial Secretary must not shake his head. We have had the most flagrant case in the last week or two, when an officer of the Navy, sentenced by court martial, has had the sentence completely wiped out and overturned by the superior authorities.


We had better leave the Navy alone in this debate. It does not arise on this Bill.


I was merely making what I thought was a legitimate point. The Financial Secretary tells me that the War Office hold the view that the commissioned officer should be treated more severely than the private soldier. That may be sound theory, though I am not accepting it. We know that in practice an officer and a gentleman has a certain amount of consideration held out to him by higher authorities—consideration that would not be held out to the private soldier for the same offence.


In the analogous case that the hon. Member mentioned the fact was that the Admiral suffered.


No; the effect of the change, I understand, is that there has been no suffering in the end, and that any suffering that had been imposed was withdrawn. If a private soldier got into similar trouble before a court martial he

would be turned out. If a man is convicted in our local police court at home, a working man, there are social consequences for him which have nothing to do with the sentence at all. When the Financial Secretary tells me that cashiering means that a man will be blacklisted, that has nothing to do with the sentence or with the court martial. No court, military or naval, will say, "You are going to be shut out of your club." It is for the club committee to decide that; it is a social taboo. But the soldier dismissed with ignominy is not allowed to slip quietly out of the ranks. If I know the procedure correctly the soldier is dismissed in front of the whole regiment. Definite steps are taken to make him feel the ignominy of his position and to let all his fellows know. In the case of the cashiered officer, it is true, his fellow officers know about it. It is true that the readers of the Gazette know it, but, so far as I am aware, there is no public act in which he is walked out in front of the regiment of which he has been a member, and subjected to personal indignities, as is the private soldier dismissed with ignominy.

In any case we are not arguing whether the officers' punishment is higher or lower. We say that whatever the appropriate punishment is for the offence, it should be the same punishment for the rank and file as for the officer. The right hon. Member made some reference to the procedure, but, as my hon. Friend said, we are not bothering about details. We are putting before the Committee and the country a big principle which is of importance to us, namely, equal treatment in the eyes of the law in the Army as outside, and we ask the Committee to support our proposals by carrying our new Clause.

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

The Committee divided: Ayes, 20; Noes, 99.

Division No. 129.] AYES. [2.17 p.m.
Batey, Joseph Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Thorne, William James
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield) Groves, Thomas E. Tinker, John Joseph
Cave, William G. Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Daggar, George Harris, Sir Percy Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) John, William
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) McEntee, Valentine L. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Rathbone, Eleanor Mr. Maxton and Mr. Buchanan.
Gardner, Benjamin Walter Rea, Walter Russell
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Grimston, R. V. Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W,) Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Harvey, Major Sir Samuel (Totnes) Ropner, Colonel L.
Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent) Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Salmon, Sir Isidore
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).
Aske, Sir Robert William Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) Sandys, Edwin Duncan
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge) Selley, Harry R.
Blindell, James Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Bossom, A. C. Hume, Sir George Hopwood Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Bower, Commander Robert Tatton Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg) Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dlne, C.)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Hurst, Sir Gerald B. Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Broadbent, Colonel John Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Sutheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Kerr, Hamilton W. Spens, William Patrick
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Knight, Holford Stourton, Hon. John J.
Browne, Captain A. C. Leckie, J. A. Strauss, Edward A.
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Leighton, Major B. E. P. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Cadogan, Hon. Edward Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.
Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley) Llewellin, Major John J. Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Chapman, Col. R.(Houghton-le-Spring) Lloyd, Geoffrey Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Clayton, Sir Christopher Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Tree, Ronald
Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey Mabane, William Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. McLean, Major Sir Alan Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Cook, Thomas A. Macquisten, Frederick Alexander Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest Watt, Major George Steven H.
Crooke, J. Smedley Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Wells, Sidney Richard
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.) Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Donner, P. W. Milne, Charles Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr) Wise, Alfred R.
Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Morrison, William Shepherd Womersley, Sir Walter
Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.) Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Worthington, Dr. John V.
Fremantle, Sir Francis Penny, Sir George
Ganzoni, Sir John Raikes, Henry V. A. M. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Sir Victor Warrender and Lieut.-
Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward.

Bill read a Second time.

First Schedule (Prices in respect of Billeting).

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Schedule be the first Schedule to the Bill."


Are you not calling our last Clause on the Order Paper which provides that a general court-martial where a private soldier is being tried shall be composed of private soldiers with a certain length of service?


The hon. Member's Clause is so incomplete, that I am unable to call upon him to move it. It is so incomplete that it is out of order. It would require considerable amendment to make it fit in with the Act.

Second Schedule agreed to.

Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.