HC Deb 12 October 1943 vol 392 cc691-2
18. Mr. Maxton

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that Private Sam Gold, Royal Army Service Corps, a member of the Independent Labour Party, was arrested and court-martialled for taking part in a political meeting when on leave and in plain clothes, and was sentenced to 28 days' imprisonment; and how many prosecutions of this kind have taken place in the last 12 months?

Sir J. Griģģ

As regards the first part of the Question, this soldier was tried and convicted by Field General Court-Martial on a charge under Section 4o of the Army Act for taking an active part in the affairs of a political organisation, in that he had spoken from the platform at a political meeting. Such conduct on the part of a serving soldier is forbidden by paragraph 54r, King's Regulations. The sentence was z8 days' detention, not imprisonment. As regards the second part of the Question, the answer is none.

Mr. Maxton

Since this has been a unique case and no other soldier has been treated in this way for exercising his political rights when on leave and in plain clothes, will the Minister give an undertaking that this type of prosecution will not occur again?

Sir J. Griģģ

I would not like to do that without further consideration. I think it is extremely desirable that we should not be too literal in our interpretation of the King's Regulations.

Sir Percy Harris

Will the Minister say whether he considers it improper for a man in plain clothes, on leave, to make a political speech?

Sir J. Griģģ

It is forbidden by King's Regulations. Although the man was in plain clothes, he did announce that he was a soldier and make some pretty controversial remarks.

Mr. McGovern

If a Member of Parliament happens to be a serving soldier and makes a political speech on a platform, is he subject to prosecution?

Sir J. Griģģ

I would be very glad if the hon. Member would put that Question down, because there is a Regulation on which I have not refreshed my memory. There is an Instruction on the subject of Members of Parliament making political speeches. As the Prime Minister made clear, in answer to a Question a few weeks ago in this House, it has always been the desire of this House that Members of Parliament should be treated exceptionally.

Mr. Maxton

Is the Minister aware that in the proceedings a representative of the War Office said that the content of the speech did not arise and that the only controversy occurred when this young man answered a question put by an officer in uniform? Will be take steps against the officer?

Sir J. Griģģ

It is quite true that no question was raised about the content of the speech.

Mr. Georģe Griffiths

The right hon. Gentleman raised it.

Sir J. Griģģ

In the course of my reply. Nothing in the content of the speech was taken into account in the punishment inflicted by the court. Detention is not in the same category as imprisonment. It is very light. Detention does not take place in a cell; it takes place under camp conditions.

Captain Cunninǵham-Reid

Surely the time has arrived when a soldier on leave and in mufti should be allowed to have some say publicly as to what he is fighting for instead of being locked up in this unBritish manner?

Mr. Bellenģer

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that it is of frequent occurrence that officers and men in uniform speak at political meetings, as, for example, at Labour Party Conferences? Why should there be this discrimination?

Sir J. Griģģ

I do not think it is a frequent occurrence.