HC Deb 14 December 1944 vol 406 cc1342-4
46. Sir G. Jeffreys

asked the Prime Minister what will be the position at the end of the war with Germany of men in the Services undergoing terms of imprisonment or penal servitude for military offences.

The Prime Minister

So far as concerns the present Government, it is not the intention to grant any general remission of sentences. Offences such as desertion, which comprise the bulk of these sentences, involve at the best an added strain upon the man-power of this country, and at the worst forfeit the lives of other soldiers who have to fill the places of these deserters. Such very serious offences are happily rare, and in the opinion of His Majesty's Government there can be no reason why the men concerned should not complete their sentences, irrespective of the end of the war with Germany or the end of the war with Japan.

Sir G. Jeffreys

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the deterrent effect of these sentences was very much decreased at the end of the last war by wholesale reductions? Will he bear that fact in mind, if any pressure is put upon him to reduce such sentences?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. That is why I thought it my painful duty to make the pronouncement that I have just made to the House.

Mr. Bellenger

Does the Prime Minister know that there are other cases, besides those of desertion, where sentences have been passed and suspended, and the men have been sent back into the line? I know of two men who in such cases have given their lives for their country, and, I think, have expiated their crimes, which were not great crimes. Will the Prime Minister consider those cases, where sentences have been suspended and the men are retrieving their characters?

The Prime Minister

That system was introduced at the end of the last war. The sentence is suspended, and the man goes into the line, under certain restrictions as to leave, fatigue duty, and so on, but he has an opportunity of retrieving his character. There are cases of men not only having lost their lives, and so having retrieved their characters, but also of men having shown courage and bravery, and having retrieved fully their position among their comrades and having been relieved of the sentences altogether. I am talking of cases which do not fall within that well-established practice of the British Army.

Mr. John Dugdale

Will such men as continue to serve their sentences be brought back to this country after the termination of hostilities with Germany, and allowed to serve the sentences in camps here?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, certainly. I have no doubt that that would be the course that would be followed. In fact, in some cases I think they have already been returned.

Mr. E. J. Williams

Will the Prime Minister state that the dependants of these men should not suffer in perpetuity for anything that the men have done?

The Prime Minister

I could not answer that. That question should be addressed to the War Office. But I do not imagine that a man who is serving a long sentence, and is not actually fighting at the front, would have the advantages which come to him as a father or a husband in the ordinary circumstances. But a question addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will clear up that detail, on which I cannot pronounce.

Mr. Buchanan

May we take it that nothing in the Prime Minister's answer will interfere with the present practice, under which, even when a man is sentenced, if certain facts are brought to light afterwards, the Secretary of State for War reviews the position?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, nothing can impede or impair the prerogative of mercy on which the Home Secretary advises the King.