HC Deb 09 February 1955 vol 536 cc2017-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Elwyn Jones

I should like an explanation from the Minister as to the purpose of the Clause. It provides that: Any person subject to military law who is guilty of disgraceful conduct of a cruel, indecent or unnatural kind … shall be guilty of an offence. Is the purpose of the Clause merely to enable the military authorities to punish the soldier for offences not known to the ordinary law? We have shortly to deal with Clause 69, which covers the generality of matters not specifically provided for in other Clauses, and with Clause 70, which relates to civil offences.

I should like the Minister to tell the Committee why the retention of the Clause is deemed necessary. Surely disgraceful conduct of a cruel kind would constitute, by its nature, an offence against some well-established branch of the civil law, and disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind would, similarly, be an infringement of the ordinary law.

9.45 p.m.

Is it contemplated that the soldier should be punished for some indecency not punishable by the ordinary law? If that were the case, the Committee would not feel disposed to subject the soldier to a greater liability for punishment for offences of that kind, for which the ordinary citizen would not be considered a criminal at all. The Committee is entitled to know what is the purpose of the Clause. Is this simply to be held as a general threat over the soldier's head, to be the safety valve of the staff officer in finding some safe general allegation to make against the soldier?

Clause 69 covers the generality of offences—the old "Devil's Article," as it used to be called under the old Articles of War—which are still maintained in this Bill. I fail to see that any real purpose is served by the retention of Clause 66, and I shall require persuasion before approving its inclusion in the Bill.

Mr. F. Maclean

Briefly, the purpose of the Clause is to enable the military authorities in the field to frame, possibly without legal advice, a simple charge to deal with any offences of indecency. Clearly, soldiers under active service conditions may be called upon to live a life in which the ordinary conditions of civil life do not obtain, and, in those circumstances, and where the strictest discipline is called for, it is important that the military authorities should be able to deal with certain types of offences, which may not, strictly speaking, amount to offences under the civil code, but which, nevertheless, have to be dealt with under Service conditions.

To take one example, it was in relation to this Clause that the Select Committee considered questions relating to the punishment of sexual perverts. There are offences which, strictly speaking, may not be offences under civil law, but which would be intolerable under the conditions which I have described.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 67 to 69 ordered to stand part of the Bill.