HC Deb 09 July 1942 vol 381 cc1037-52

Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]

Mr. Robertson (Streatham)

On 23rd June I asked the Secretary of State for War the following Question: Whether he has considered the case of an officer convicted of stealing War Department petrol, and sentenced by general court-martial, to be dismissed from His Majesty's service, which was confirmed, and at once reduced to a severe reprimand; and, to prevent injustice, whether he will reconsider in the light of this case, that of the Streatham non-commissioned officer in the same unit convicted of a similar, but lesser, offence at about the same time, who was put under close arrest for 21 days prior to court-martial, and thereafter reduced to the ranks, and compelled to serve a sentence of three months in detention barracks? My right hon. Friend replied: Both these cases were tried by court-martial, and the sentence in each case was reviewed by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Command. I do not feel that I should be justified in interfering with the decisions of the competent military authorities. I then asked: Is there not something wrong with a system which punishes the corporal so severely and lets the officer off so lightly? My right hon. Friend replied: The hon. Member is assuming that the circumstances were the same in each case. So far as I can judge, and certainly so far as the responsible authorities have judged, the circumstances were not parallel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1942; cols. 1796–7, Vol. 380.] The corporal is one of my constituents. Early in April his father, who is also my constituent, consulted me about his son's case. The corporal is a pre-war Territorial volunteer, who served in France, and escaped by Dunkirk. He has an excellent character. He has a motor-cycle which he mainly uses for visiting his wife on short leave. One day he was stopped by his major and asked whether he had War Department petrol in his tank. The corporal at once admitted that he had, and said that he had got it the previous night because his tank was empty and it was some considerable distance to the filling station. He was placed under close arrest for 36 days—I made a mistake in saying 21 days.

Mr. Denville (Newcastle-on-Tyne, Central)

What was the age of this major?

Mr. Robertson

Twenty-one years. The corporal was court-martialled and convicted of stealing War Department petrol to the value of 3s. 7d. He was sentenced to be reduced to the ranks and to serve six months in detention barracks, and 3s. 7d., the cost of the petrol, was stopped from his pay. The finding of the court-martial was confirmed, except that the sentence of six months was reduced to three months. The father, who was a citizen soldier in the last war and was severely wounded in the lungs, took the view that the sentence was much too severe. I shared that view, and I at once approached the Secretary of State for War, on the telephone and in writing, urging that the case should be reviewed immediately, with a view to releasing the corporal from detention. I am sure that the detention barracks system of punishment was not devised to deal with the stealing of 3s. 7d. worth of petrol. I drew the attention of the Secretary of State to the system of "scrounging," or "winning," things in the Army, and pointed out that the soldier does not regard such a matter in the same light as civilians do. Much of the soldier's pay is in kind. Everything is provided for him, including free railway passes home four times a year. It was not a heinous offence to take petrol in order to get home on a fifth occasion. Hon. Members get free railway passes to their constituencies every week; I wonder how we should feel if we got home only once every three months.

There is a petrol shortage; but, even now, taxis can be obtained to get to race meetings or to dog meetings. I passed the White City the other Saturday, and there were rows of taxicabs outside. They can be hired in order to go to the theatre. Anyone owning a blood mare can get petrol to see it in training or at a race meeting. A friend of mine in Buckinghamshire has a petrol allowance for that purpose. People at Maidenhead recently complained that they could not get seats in public service vehicles because there were so many Service men using the vehicles. Two large motor buses were immediately put on to take the Service personnel back to barracks. That does not indicate such a serious shortage of petrol as would be suggested by this sentence. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, in an interview with an American newspaper correspondent recently, said that he intended to fight for an allowance of petrol to enable his pilots to get home, just as this corporal wanted to get home. I find it difficult to reconcile those facts with the savage sentence passed on my constituent.

I recollect that appeals were being made in the House, and published throughout the country, to motorists to give lifts to men of the Forces. Like other hon. Members, I have given lifts to many men. In the majority of cases, these fellows were on 48 hours' leave, were going home, had not a railway warrant, and were hitch-hiking. To the great credit of the British public, they responded to those appeals. The young man about whom I am speaking was going home, but he was using two gallons of petrol which he was not entitled to take and which he ought to have been punished for taking, but not punished in this way—36 days under close arrest awaiting trial, three months in detention barracks, reduced to the ranks, with the stoppage of pay involved. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for War looked into the case. He was most sympathetic and I think he shared my views, but something occurred which threw the case on to his senior, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, whom I approached in February, when I learned that the case had passed from the hands of the Joint Under-Secretary of State. The Secretary of State wrote to me as follows: I have now had an opportunity of looking into the case of Corporal—— Your suggestion that I should intervene to have this soldier's sentence remitted raises an important question of principle. As you probably know, the whole tendency in the Army nowadays is towards decentralisation, and this tendency has been actively encouraged by the War Office, and I had always understood that it had the full support of the House. The sphere in which decentralisation has been carried out in the last 12 months includes court martial procedure among other things, although the powers under which this particular sentence was promulgated were already decentralised before the recent reforms. I should, therefore, be most reluctant to interfere with a sentence which had already been reviewed and promulgated by the proper military authority unless I were absolutely convinced that it was essential to do so in the interests of the Army— not of the individual, but of the Army— I find it quite impossible to take this view in the present case. It was represented to the War Office last summer that large quantities of petrol were being stolen and in general the Army took the same view of this offence as you put forward in your letter. An Army Council Instruction was accordingly issued bringing to the notice of all ranks that the use of War Department petrol in private vehicles was forbidden and that anyone caught using it was liable to be tried by court martial for stealing and if found guilty to be sentenced to a term of imprisonment. This was published three times in unit orders. There can, therefore, be no question but that the Army has had full warning of the way in which cases of this sort would be treated. I should also point out that Corporal was a non-commissioned officer in a unit which had to deal with large quantities of petrol. Pilfering of petrol in such a unit is a very serious matter and the commission of the offence by a non-commissioned officer is doubly serious. In the circumstances I am afraid that I cannot accept your suggestion that I should overrule the findings of the court. I put a question about the matter in the House, and although the reply was unsatisfactory, I felt it was undesirable to carry the matter further. Right from the beginning I have struggled to avoid publicity. I am so proud of the British Army that I do not want to reveal details of a case which must reflect on the administration of the Army. For that reason I decided to drop the matter, although I realised that the corporal would have to carry the stain of this conviction and imprisonment with him to the end of his days, and that if any civilian employer asked him if he was in trouble in the Army, he would be obliged to confess his crime, and it might cloud the whole of his future career. Shortly after the corporal was released from prison, he called at the House, with his father, to thank me for my unsuccessful efforts, and I then earned with amazement that an officer in the same company had committed a similar but greater offence at the same time, had been tried and convicted by a court martial, and sentenced to be dismissed from His Majesty's Service. The G.O.C.—presumably the same officer as dealt with the corporal—confirmed the findings of the court martial, but he altered the sentence from dismissal to a severe reprimand. When this extraordinary decision was published in company orders, a number of the men were naturally indignant at the treatment meted out to the corporal, and they approached the serjeant-major and asked whether he could explain the extraordinary operation of the Army Act which caused a noncommissioned officer to be dealt with with such severity and an officer with such leniency. The sergeant-major could offer no explanation. It was quite beyond his powers.

I reopened the matter with the War Office, and I told them I intended putting down a Question, and I did so with two motives in mind. Firstly, so that there should be ample time to prepare their case, and, secondly, I hoped that the Secretary of State for War would see me privately and take some steps to recompense the corporal, by expunging his case from the records, or by some other action, and at the same time give me an assurance that in future justice in the Army would be administered in a proper manner. After waiting a month, during which time he made no approach to me, I put down the Question which I have read to the House. Perhaps it is just as well that the matter has been ventilated, because, if sufficient notice is taken of this case, it can only be for the ultimate benefit of the Army. No system in which injustice applies can ever succeed. Unlike an N.C.O. or a private, an officer receives all his income in cash.

The Secretary of State for War (Sir James Grigg)

Would the hon. Member say to whom he has given notice that he was going to put down a Question, because he has given none to me?

Mr. Robertson

My right hon. Friend is not very well informed about his own Department, and, if he will listen to what I have to say, I will tell him. I told his Under-Secretary, his own private secretary, and the Under-Secretary's private secretary, and I have had endless telephone conversations with his Department. I was dealing with the fact that an officer, unlike a, soldier who receives so little in cash and so much in kind, gets everything in cash. He pays for his food and uniform, and receives a special allowance to enable him to do so. An offence, therefore, of stealing an Army commodity, if committed by an officer, must be more serious than when it is committed by another rank, receiving nearly everything in kind and so little in cash.

As an officer of the last war, I should have thought that any officer convicted by a court-martial of theft would automatically be dismissed from the Service. A few nights ago, in one of the London "evening newspapers, a report was published of a cadet in an officers' cadet training unit who had been found guilty of stealing a foreign stamp. He was returned to his unit as deemed to be unfit to be an officer, but, according to the decision in this case, if a man is already an officer and steals, he can continue to be an officer without punishment other than a reprimand. Under the National Service Acts, an officer, if dismissed, can be called up for service in the ranks in one or other of the Services, so that the State would not lose his services. Therefore, he would have an opportunity to make good. Even under those circumstances he would be infinitely better off than my corporal, who had to undergo several months' imprisonment in degrading circumstances and in company with deserters and other serious military offenders. Whether my submission is correct or not as to what should have been done with the officer, both sentences cannot be right. In his letter, my right hon. Friend held decentralisation up as a bogy. That was the reason for his non-intervention—the soldier suffers injustice, but the system which administers it must be upheld. He also said, "Commission of an offence by an N.C.O. is doubly serious." How many times more serious is it when committed by an officer? But the punishment is so much less.

Mr. Denville

In this case?

Mr. Robertson

I hope only in this case. The Minister is head of a great Department which enjoys the worst reputation for administration among all the Departments of State. Prior to his coming here as Minister, he was the Permanent Head. He therefore has a considerable responsibility for the maladministration of his Department. I should like to assure him that, whatever else may be tolerated, two brands of justice will not be tolerated by Parliament or by the people.

Sir Frank Sanderson (Ealing)

I have a case in my own constituency of a captain who has done excellent service in the Army who took five gallons of petrol. He was court-martialled and dismissed the Service. I was advised on the highest possible authority that it would be unwise for me to pursue the matter any further. I merely raise the point to demonstrate that it certainly cannot be said that on all occasions my right hon. Friend differentiates between commissioned and noncommissioned officers.

Mr. Denville

To hear a Member of this House say in cold blood that a corporal who has taken two gallons of petrol is punished so severely, and a commissioned officer who commits a worst offence gets off by being told that he must not do it again, is scandalous, and I hope it is not true. If it is true, the Secretary of State has something to answer for, but in the interests of the Army I hope it is not true.

Mr. Martin (Southwark, Central)

I want to raise one point in connection with Army justice to which I hope the Secretary of State will pay some attention. A number of cases have been brought to my notice lately in which men have been sentenced by their commanding officer for committing some crime and subsequently have had their leave stopped. It is customary for punishment to expunge the crime, and two punishments, one passed at the moment of the infliction of justice and another imposed later, without the knowledge of the convicted man that it was going to be imposed, is a very serious miscarriage of justice according to British ideas, and it is a great hardship on the family and the friends of the convicted man. A great deal of distress, anxiety and sorrow have been caused, to the knowledge of some of us, by cases of this kind, and I feel that there is a case for inquiry into the administration of justice in the Army. When I was an officer in the last war, certainly in my unit no company commander would have got away with that kind of conduct.

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Pym.]

Mr. Martin

In some of these cases the deprivation of leave was not included in the original sentence, and it seems to me, in view of this kind of case and of the case which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson), that there is some ground for an inquiry by the right hon. Gentleman into the administration of justice in the Army.

The Secretary of State for War (Sir James Grigg)

The hon. Member who raised this question dealt with two different cases. He dealt with the question in two parts. His first contention was that the punishment of the corporal was excessive in itself, and then, having discovered a case later on which appeared on the face of it to have been dealt with more leniently, he contended that there was in the Army a caste system or discrimination between officers and other ranks in the administration of justice.

Mr. Robertson

I never said anything of the kind, and my right hon. Friend must not impute a meaning to my words which I did not intend. I made no reference to a caste system. I dealt with two different cases of men in the same company who committed offences about the same time.

Sir J. Grigg

The hon. Member suggested that an officer was treated more leniently than a corporal, and he went on to develop a considerable argument—I am within the recollection of the House—that there was discrimination in the exercise of justice in the Army. Perhaps I may be allowed to deal with the question in the same way, that is, first to deal with the case of the corporal on its merits, and then to deal with the case of the officer. At the end I will put to the House whether there has in fact been any discrimination.

The hon. Member recited the history of the case and read out my letter quite accurately, and, as he pointed out, I cannot pretend that he was appeased by my letter. He raised the matter again in the House on 23rd June and brought forward the case of the officer who, on the face of it, had been treated more leniently. The suggestion at that time, if he will remind himself of his supplementary question, was definitely that there was discrimination generally in the treatment of officers and other ranks. It will be within the recollection of the House that the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) mentioned this suggestion when he asked, Does not this case bear out the contention that there is a caste system in the Army?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1942; col. 1797, Vol. 380.] Perhaps I may deal with the contention of the hon. Member about the gravity of the corporal's offence. In reading my letter, he set out the Army Council Instructions, which pointed out that the Army took a very serious view of the theft of petrol, and it has done its best to stimulate courts and confirming officers who deal with cases of theft of petrol to deal with them seriously. The hon. Member made great play both in his speech and in his letter to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary with the argument that the soldier takes an entirely different kind of view about theft from the view a civilian takes, and that in the Army there is no such thing as stealing; in other words, that a civilian steals things and that a soldier wins or scrounges them. I am asked to believe that this state of affairs is not only inevitable but perfectly reasonable. Indeed, I caught myself wondering during the hon. Member's speech whether he did not regard the theft of petrol as a praiseworthy act.

Whether the hon. Member's description of the Army's attitude to other people's property is accurate or not I do not propose to argue, beyond saying that I do not believe it. It is not in accordance with any experience of mine, and I am sure it is not in accordance with the experience of most other people. All I am concerned with is that petrol stealing is a very serious business indeed, and when we reflect that this commodity is brought to this country by merchant seamen at the risk of their lives, it seems to be going a little far to suggest that the theft of petrol is not only a venial offence but that it is not an offence at all. Then, in his correspondence at any rate, the hon. Member develops another kind of argument, that because so many of these cases of theft or waste are undiscovered, it is unjust to punish offenders who are discovered. I leave hon. Members to reflect at leisure upon the implications of that remark.

Mr. Robertson

My right hon. Friend is referring to correspondence which has not been raised in this House. I am certain that I wrote no letter to any Minister suggesting that any theft should go unpunished. My point from beginning to end has been the severity of the sentence in this case.

An Hon. Member

And there is the inequality of sentences.

Sir J. Grigg

I shall deal with the inequality argument afterwards. I am dealing first with the severity argument, and I am clear, on reading the hon. Member's correspondence, that the implication is as I stated—that stealing in the Army is not theft, and I personally am not prepared to admit any contention that the theft or the waste of petrol is an offence which ought not to be severely dealt with. Suggestions to the contrary seem to carry us a good long way not only in the Army but as regards the civil courts also. Let me try to deal with the case of unequal treatment between the officer and the man. The hon. Member has expressly disclaimed that he raised any suggestion of a caste system, though it was raised in the Supplementary Question.

Mr. Robertson

Not by me. I have no association with the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). I do not control the words he utters. If he uses words implying a caste system, they must not be put into my mouth, because I did not use them then or at any other time.

Sir J. Grigg

The hon. Member's own words were: Is there not something wrong with a system which punishes the corpora] so severely and lets the officer off so lightly? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1942; col. 1797, Vol. 380.] I was in the process of saying, when the hon. Member interrupted me, that I did not propose to deal with the caste system, as he expressly disclaimed it. Perhaps the House will allow me to make a few preliminary observations. I am now dealing with the discrimination issue in regard to the punishments prescribed by the Army Act. The punishments awarded in individual cases for offences which on the face of them are very similar do undoubtedly differ, not only between officers and other ranks but between soldiers of the same rank, apart from differences in the circumstances of the case, and no two sets of circumstances are exactly the same.

The difference also arises for other reasons. In the first place—and it is a very important consideration—in assessing sentence the past record and services of the individual are taken into account, and although I do not wish to pontificate on a subject of which I know nothing I understand that is the position in civil justice also. Then we have the fact that the Army Act prescribes a different set of punishments for the officer and for the soldier, not at all because of the existence of any caste system or a desire to discriminate or to treat one more leniently than the other, but because the circumstances are different and because the consequences of punishments to officers and other ranks are different. For the soldier there is, in this case, but for the officer there is not, the punishment of detention, which is not the gross sort of imprisonment which the hon. Member suggested, t is a remedial kind of confinement which allows a man to go on with his military training in a good many directions. For an officer, no punishment is provided—I am talking about the Army Act—short of dismissal, except a severe reprimand or a reprimand.

There are, of course, more severe punishments than dismissal, such as cashiering and even imprisonment. In this matter it is necessary to bear in mind that a sentence of dismissal or cashiering not only ends a man's career as an officer but makes it extremely difficult for him to get a livelihood in civil life. Undoubtedly a sentence of imprisonment on an officer inevitably involves the determination of his military career; so that the punishment does not fall quite equally on the two classes. In the light of these considerations let us consider the case of the officer. The officer was sentenced to dismissal. The one consideration which the hon. Member has left out is that the court-martial, which, heard all the evidence, recommended him to mercy. In military law, a recommendation to mercy is a very rare occurrence and a very significant one. Perhaps I might be permitted to quote from the Manual of Military Law. For hon. Members who may want to refer to it I will gve the reference: Chapter 5, paragraph 84, page 62. The Manual of Military Law on that page says: In view of the discretion of the court in the matter of awarding sentence, recommendation to mercy will be exceptional. It will usually be made only when the court, though unwilling to pass a lenient sentence lest the offence should be considered a venial one, think that, owing to the offender's character or other exceptional circumstances, he should not suffer the full penalty which the offence would otherwise demand. Recommendation to mercy has to be promulgated as well as a confirmation of the proceedings, and promulgation therefore would make it clear that the offence of which the accused was convicted was a serious one, deserving, in normal circumstances, a sentence of dismissal; but that the confirming officer accepted the opinion of the court that, owing to the offender's character or other exceptional circumstances, a sentence of dismissal was greater than the accused deserved. As a recommendation to mercy is such a rare occurrence and can only be made in exceptional circumstances, it is a consideration to which a confirming officer must pay serious attention. This officer was aged 50, so that there was no question of his being called up in the ranks and going on with his military career exactly as if nothing had happened. Dismissal would have fallen with great severity on him. He would have found the greatest difficulty at his age in living down his disgrace and in finding any means of livelihood. He had previously had a good record in this war and he had served throughout the last war in the ranks. Certainly, I do not see how the confirming authority could have failed to take account of the recommendation to mercy.

Let me say a word on the general question of the severity of sentence against officers for petrol offences. The hon. Member drew the conclusion from this one instance that this was a general practice. I have taken the trouble to look up the cases of officers who have been court-miartialled for petrol offences in the last 12 months or so. There are 28 of them; in only eight of those was the final sentence less than dismissal, and in a number of them it was even more severe, including even imprisonment, and, as I said just now, imprisonment for an officer is a very different affair from detention for a soldier. I am confident that the arguments and facts that I have given dispose of the case for discrimination, not only in that particular case, but in general. If an hon. Member is still disposed to think that in the present case favouritism was Shown because the offender belonged to the officer class, it may not be out of place to add that he was not a Regular officer, and to repeat that he served in the ranks during the whole of the last war.

There remains the question of trying to ensure that the decentralisation which is part of the policy of the Army Council does not result in an undue lack of uniformity in sentences. The hon. Member was pleased to be almost facetious about a passage in my letter dealing with the policy of decentralisation. He went on to say that the War Office was the worst administered Department in the State, and that it was all my fault. I personally have had a good deal of experience of the administration of Government Departments, not only in this country but abroad, and I say without any hesitation that the War Office is not a badly-administered Department. That being so, it disposes of the argument that it is my fault. For the last two years I have spent a great deal of time on administrative problems, and I have done my best to urge, in and out of season, the policy of decentralisation, which means that business shall be transacted as near to the line as possible and as far from the War Office as possible. In that way you cut out what is known as the "paper war," and reduce red tape to a minimum. It is a very difficult process to reverse the tendency and traditions—I was going to say of 40 years, but it is much longer than that—of 100 years. It is very difficult to reverse that process, but it seems to me absolutely essential, for the efficiency of administration of an Army which has expanded 10 times, that it should be done. The administration of justice is one of the matters in which there has been a further decentralisation, and I am not in the least penitent about using the argument which I did use to the hon. Member to the effect that I am not called upon to interfere with the judgments of Commanders-in-Chief in the Army Commands unless I feel it absolutely vital to do so. The whole essence of the policy of decentralisation or delegation is that you should trust the people to whom you have delegated, and that is, so far as I am concerned, the policy of the War Office and one which will be pursued.

I turned aside there to say a few sentences about decentralisation because it seems to me that it is a very important issue indeed, and nothing would induce me to sit silent while its importance is being belittled. There remains the question of trying to ensure that the decentralisation which is a very important part of the policy of the Army Council does not result in an undue lack of uniformity in sentences. I seem to remember, even in the short time I have been in this House, similar complaints being made about civil sentences. Of course, that sort of thing must happen when you have a dispersed system of justice, and when you remember, in particular, that no higher authority in the Army can increase a penalty but can only reduce it, a certain number of instances are inevitable, in the Army as elsewhere. In some cases the apparent lack of uniformity is undoubtedly due to the fact that the circumstances differ. You must not forget that the court after all is in the best position to appraise the circumstances.

Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

But because of that very factor, does it not sometimes occur that the sentences given by the court-martial are greater than they might otherwise be, because they know that those sentences, while they cannot be increased, can be reduced and often are reduced by the confirming authority?

Sir J. Grigg

I suppose there is a tendency for them to regard the severity of the offence and to leave the confirming officer to attach the importance to the special circumstances and previous service. I think that is the tendency in a case of that sort, I am talking about the question of getting uniformity in the final sentences. I am quite prepared to consider whether, without reversing the policy of decentralisation, because I am not prepared to do that, we can devise some means of reducing the lack of uniformity to a minimum. Guidance in the assessment of sentences has already been given to those concerned, and I will see whether something further is possible in the way of producng uniformity, but in any case I give the House this assurance, that it can rely on me personally and on the Army Council to see to it that nothing in the way of class discrimination is countenanced. I hope that I have said enough to show that there is nothing in this particular instance that suggests that anything of the sort exists at present.

Mr. Robertson

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that he has not dealt at all with the severity of the sentence passed by the court? He has dealt at great length with the good character of the officer and with the fact of the court being influenced by the effect of its decision on his future in civilian life. The corporal, although of another rank, also has to find employment in civil life and also has a stain against him in the future.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I do not think the Debate ought to end without a word of commendation from somebody for what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. This is more important than any individual case or individual grievance. It concerns the position of the whole Army. I wish to say, respectfully and humbly, that I agree with every word he says. I consider the court-martial system in the British Army is the fairest system of justice in the whole world. I had experience of it in the last war—

Mr. Denville

And what did they sentence you to? [Laughter.]

Earl Winterton

—This is a serious matter. I sat on many courts-martial. I think that it would be very wrong at this critical moment that it should go out from the House that it is anything but a very fair system of justice. On the question of uniformity, it is impossible to obtain uniformity of sentences unless the Secretary of State for War interferes with all the sentences in every command. Have those who speak about uniformity in sentences never heard of justices' courts? Is there in them uniformity of justice? Uniformity does not exist under our British system of justice. There is another point which to me is an important one. If the House feels, as it is entitled to feel, that military law is wrong, that the Army Act is wrong, it should, not on this occasion, bring forward amendments to produce another system of justice. It might well be, for instance, that there might be some system of penal battalions, such as exists in other armies. But it is the Army Act under which we are working.

I want to say this, and I do not care if the whole House is offended by what I say, because it is time it was said: There is far too much tolerance at the present time in both civil and military offences about breaches in the age-old law of meum and tuum. There is too much stealing going on in this country, far too much, both among citizens and Service men. When one thinks, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, of the way in which the lives of men are being risked to bring petrol to this country, I do not think that six months' imprisonment is at all too heavy a sentence for the offence. I would like to see every person in this country, whether soldier, civilian, airman or sailor, who is found guilty of the very serious crime of stealing things which are brought here at the risk of the lives of our sailors dealt with firmly. My hon. Friend has been quite fair in bringing this case forward, but I think the answer which has been given by the right hon. Gentleman is a fair one. It is all very well to jeer at the War Office and to say, "This poor wretched office." The people who ought to be jeered at are Members of this House who for generations starved and neglected the British Army, and who in war-time expect so much of it. Many of those who, in peace-time, have treated it as a Department for which no one has any use, expect it in war-time to expand ten times and then complain because it does not get an efficient organisation. When hon. Members get up in war-time and complain of the War Office, I am reminded that if they had been more active and had gone in for a bigger Army in peace-time, that sort of thing would not have occurred.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War whether he deals with equal severity with officials in the War Office who are responsible for the waste of petrol? I gave an instance the other day at Question time in this House where 30 cwt. lorries were sent down to Devonshire on the order of an official of the War Office, which was completely unnecessary because the unit was moving by train to London, and involved the expenditure of 3,000 gallons of petrol. Does the right hon. Gentleman carry out, in the higher ranks of the administration of the War Office, the same severity of sentence among officials of the Department who have been proved to have been responsible for gross waste?

Sir J. Grigg

Waste is a different offence from theft. It is a serious offence, but I do not punish people until their case has been investigated. This particular case is being investigated.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

Did not the right hon. Gentleman admit to me in reply to my Question in this House that the statement was correct?

Sir J. Grigg

That is not within my recollection.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will see that he admitted the facts that I gave to be correct, and I want to ask whether any punishment has been meted out to the official in the War Office responsible for gross waste of that character.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.