HC Deb 24 July 1940 vol 363 cc900-5

Amendment made: Leave out "Extend further," and insert: Remove doubts as to the extent of."—[Sir J. Anderson.]

Title, as amended, agreed to.

Bill reported with Amendments [Title amended]; as amended, considered.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)

There is a manuscript Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Colonel A. Evans) but which under the circumstances I think it is necessary to withdraw, if the hon. and gallant Member will agree.

7.52 p.m.

Colonel A. Evans

I wish to move, in Clause 1, page 2, line 10, at the end, to insert: Provided that in any area in the United Kingdom in which the competent military authority certifies that by reason of active military operations against the enemy or their imminence it is not practicable to refer for trial to any civil court the case of a person not being a person subject to the Naval Discipline Act, to military law or to the Air Force Act charged with having committed an offence against the safety of His Majesty's Forces or the efficient prosecution of the war such person may be kept in military custody and tried and punished by court-martial as if he were a person subject to military law. I put this Amendment down on the Committee stage, but, unfortunately, it was not called. I think the meaning and effect of this Amendment will be obvious to the House. No hon. Member who has already taken part in the Debate on this Measure has challenged the right or the necessity for this House to give every assistance in its power to the competent military authority who will have the responsibility of repelling an invasion wherever that might take place. I think it is the desire of the country that we should do everything possible to assist the general officer commanding in the discharge of that responsible duty.

Mr. Silverman

On a point of Order. Is it in order to move on the Report stage an Amendment which was down on the Committee stage and which was not called?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes, quite. I think that the hon. and gallant Member will have heard what I said when I called this Amendment.

Colonel Evans

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I would draw the attention of the House to this fact, that if this Amendment were carried, it would apply only to certain specific offences of the gravest character. It would apply only in the case of an offence committed against the safety of His Majesty's Forces or the efficient prosecution of the war—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am afraid I must stop the hon. and gallant Member. I have no doubt whatever that this Amendment is one which I cannot accept and put to the House because it is outside the scope of the Bill. I gave the hon. and gallant Member an opportunity of moving it because I had not really had time to consider it.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Would I have better fortune if I also moved an Amendment which I have put down and which was not called? It is a most important Amendment.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That Amendment I do know about.

Mr. Hall

May I move it?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

My answer would be that I would not reject it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

7.57 p.m.

Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)

May I say one word? I am aware that time is short, but there is one matter in connection with this Bill which has not been considered and which the Home Secretary might bear in mind. An hon. and gallant Gentleman has just wanted to move an Amendment which has been ruled out of Order, in which he sought to reverse the whole principle of the Bill and to make civilians in certain circumstances subject to courts-martial. The matter which I want the Home Secretary to consider is as to what procedure will be adopted in order to ensure that in all cases, or at any rate in all practical cases, the military authorities shall hand over to the properly constituted authorities those found committing offences which come under the Bill which is now before us. The Bill provides for a certain procedure, namely, by way of special courts to deal with these cases. What guarantee is there that the military authorities will take advantage of the procedure provided under this Bill and hand over those whom they find committing offences under the Bill to the courts set up under it? I respectfully submit that the Home Secretary might properly consider whether he might not request the War Office to issue instructions to the military authorities or something to that effect. The Home Secretary shakes his head—

Sir J. Anderson


Major Milner

I am sorry. As I understand it, the whole purpose of this Bill is to avoid the necessity of courts-martial and the application of military law in regard to civilians. There is nothing in the Bill to say that military law shall not operate, by which I mean the drumhead procedure, and so on and so forth. In order to ensure that it shall not operate except in those immediately pressing and urgent cases where civilians are caught in the act of committing most serious offences, I suggest that some instruction or guidance ought to be issued to military authorities in this matter. I should have thought that military officers would have been grateful to have been freed of the responsibility of dealing with these offences and that they would certainly if requested take action, so that these special courts might have the opportunity of dealing with those cases. I do not desire to say any more except that I hope that course is likely to be adopted.

8 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

Undoubtedly steps will be taken to acquaint all concerned with the procedure which is established in connection with these courts. That, of course, will apply not only to the military authorities, but also to members of the courts. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that the military authorities are most anxious to be relieved of responsibilities which they might otherwise have had to take and that they have adopted an attitude which makes it clear that all unnecessary obstructions will be removed.

Colonel A. Evans

I take it that the competent military authorities will not be prohibited from proclaiming a state of martial law in a forward area if they consider it necessary?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I allowed the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) to make his remarks because I understood them to refer to a question of administration of this Bill, but I think that when the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Colonel A. Evans) asks his question he is going not only outside the scope of the Bill, but is dealing with something not in the Bill and therefore not permissible on the Debate on Third Reading.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I make no apology for the few words I have to offer, because the understanding that we should try to get the Bill through all stages by half-past seven, which has been broken, has not been broken by Members on this side. I think that the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow will show that, as one hon. Member has said, the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary between them this afternoon have made very heavy going. They have definitely given me the impression that there is behind this Measure, which has been pushed through in a most curious way, something which has not yet been brought out into the open. I hope I am wrong, but I have a strong suspicion that that is so. It seems to me that if the Home Secretary's Second Reading speech was to be taken at its face value—and, of course, I do so take it—he already had all the powers which were required to his hand in the original Measure or under Regulations which he could have brought in under other Acts of Parliament. Here we have a Measure which was brought in for the simple purpose of extending to the civil population courts-martial which previously could have been used only in the case of members of His Majesty's Forces. That purpose has now gone. These new courts are not courts-martial and are to be used only in a state of emergency, or in the face of enemy action, actually taking place or apprehended. It seems to me that the powers given are greatly in excess of anything which any Government should ask from this House.

Although, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) we have got the Government to accept one Amendment, I, for one, am not too hopeful that that Amendment will give us the safeguard which many of us have fought for, and which all of us would like to see embodied in the Bill. A review is an excellent thing, but it is only a review, and I take it that it will not enable the whole case to be gone into when a person is sentenced to death. We have, very properly, through the centuries, built up in this country certain safeguards, so that persons who are sentenced to death may appeal; and it is a shocking thing that this House should to-day hand over that right, in the way it has done. A person sentenced to death in that way should have the undoubted right not only to appeal but to appear himself and to give and call evidence.

It seems to me that the words that have been accepted by the Home Secretary will not give that right which should be given in a free country. If you are not going to shoot everyone found guilty, if it is possible for a person to be kept for a review of his case, then obviously he can be kept until he has had his appeal considered in a proper manner. It is simply begging the question for the Home Secretary to say that the situation will be such that present ordinary safeguards will not be possible and that therefore they cannot be allowed. Without saying more, I desire to protest most strongly against the way this Bill has been introduced, altered, pushed through the House, and all attempts at improvements stone-walled by the Ministers in charge, in a shocking way.

8.8 p.m.

Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I do not want to make another speech on this matter, but I do not think it would be right to allow the Third Reading to go without expressing my profound conviction that either this Measure will never be brought into operation, or this House will bitterly regret that it has departed so easily and so irresponsibly from all those constitutional safeguards which for hundreds of years we have so patiently built up, and by which the lives, the liberties and the fortunes of private citizens are protected from arbitrary action by the Executive. I do not want to say more: I have given reasons for my belief throughout the Debates; but I wanted, before it was too late, to put on record the profound conviction that I hold, that the day will come when this House will be sorry, when it will look back with a little shame as well as regret at the proceedings on this Bill.

8.9 p.m.

Colonel Gretton (Burton)

I do not want to detain the House except to say that I am one of those, probably a small minority, who regret that this Bill has been introduced, who consider that the Government had full power to ensure the safety of the Realm and the proper prosecution of the war, in the ordinary processes of courts-martial and military courts, and that it was unnecessary to set up an intermediate process, distorting the civil law of this country by a kind of hybrid court which is neither one thing nor the other. The Bill, as originally introduced, before its amendment, was quite impossible. The Government have accepted Amendments, which, in certain important respects, modify the over-drastic proposals embodied in the Bill. With the very serious and important undertakings which have been given during the Committee stage, the Bill becomes much less objectionable. I wish that I could support it heartily. I am one of those who think that every sacrifice and even surrender of principle for the time being is worth while for the prosecution of the war, but I do not believe that this Bill is really required. Therefore, it is with much reluctance that I have seen it reach the Third Reading stage. I trust that the Bill may not be required, and that it will never be necessary to put it into force. I look with some trepidation—even with the Amendments and undertakings embodied in it—to its operation, should it of necessity be forced into operation in the country.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.