HC Deb 26 June 1961 vol 643 cc135-41

In section seventy-two of the Army Act, 1955, and section seventy-two of the Air Force Act, 1955, for the words "two years" there shall be substituted the words "three months".—[Mr. Emrys Hughes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I hold that three months' detention is a sufficiently severe sentence for any man. I see that the Secretary of State for War has recently been spending some time in a camp. He seems to have had a very pleasant time, and to have come away with very agreeable impressions. I do not know whether he has ever spent any time in a detention camp, or whether he has ever gone there in the same circumstances as I did, but I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be quite a good thing for him to see the inside of a detention camp or a military prison from the soldiers' point of view. I can assure him that if he goes there disguised as a private soldier, and stays there for a few days, he will realise that military detention is one of the severest sentences that can be imposed upon a soldier.

The idea that detention is not imprisonment is one which gives us a sense of illusion. I was unfortunate, in my Army career, to be sentenced to two years' detention. I was taken to what was then called the "glasshouse". I do not know whether it has been re-christened now, but I rather fancy that the "glasshouse" is still an institution To the severity of civilian imprisonment there is added the harshness of military discipline and I can imagine no worse sentence for any man than that of two years in what is called the "glasshouse". I do not know how much these "glasshouses" have been reformed in recent years, but, certainly, they combined brutality with severity and harshness in a very bad way indeed. I would not like to see anyone sentenced to more than three months in a detention camp.

Therefore, my new Clause would make the maximum sentence not two years, but three months. If a soldier is sentenced to a long term of military detention, I submit that, after that, he is not very much use to the Army. He is not the sort of man whom the Secretary of State for War wants to retain in the Army. As far as I can gather from the right hon. Gentleman's very enlightened speech on a previous Amendment, he does not want to have reluctant soldiers in the Army, but the unfortunate soldier sentenced to detention goes to the military prison and, at the end of his sentence, is brought back again.

I cannot conceive of anyone who has spent any amount of time in a detention barracks being enthusiastic about the Army after he has served that sentence. I suggest that the maximum sentence should be three months, and that that kind of soldier should be discharged from the Army and not kept there, if we want soldiers who really believe in the Army and in serving on the lines which the right hon. Gentleman outlined in his previous speech.

8.45 p.m.

There are various views of people who are sentenced to military imprisonment. There are various degrees of punishment for the infringement of military discipline. One day last week during the early morning I heard an account on the wireless of the discipline which prevailed at the time of the Napoleonic wars and of the Battle of Waterloo. We heard that General Picton and another general imposed discipline by flogging, and very severe flogging. Soldiers were flogged until they died. I do not suggest that this sort of punishment exists today, but I have a shrewd idea that there is brutality in the military prison. I know that there was in my time.

I believe that it is possible to run a military prison without extreme brutality. I remember the very pleasant reception which I had the first time that I was taken, with others, to the "glasshouse" in Devizes. They said, "They tame lions here". We were the kind of people who could not be tamed by military discipline, but there were other soldiers in the Devizes military gaol at that time, Australians, South Africans and New Zealanders, who believed that that detention camp was a hell on earth; and so it was.

I therefore suggest that three months is a sufficient time to sentence anyone to military detention. If the Secretary of State, or the Under-Secretary of State, wish to make investigations, let them go disguised as soldiers, so that no one will know who they really are, to one of these "glasshouses", to see what happens there.

Mr. Willis

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has raised an interesting subject. The conditions which prevail in military detention centres are never discussed in this Committee. From my Service experience, conditions in detention centres are awful.

Has there been any change in the treatment of military offenders during the past few years? We should be told something about the attitude of mind of the War Office in dealing with men sentenced to detention, particularly those sentenced to long periods of detention. In civilian life a great deal of consideration is given to what is the correct treatment of offenders and what should be done with them. Very considerable changes have been made both in their treatment and in the conditions in which they serve their sentences.

There are possibly very good reasons for considering the question of Service prisons. It seems to me that the old type of detention should be a thing of the past. Years ago we were countenancing a form of deterrent which I do not think many people would accept today. We were countenancing a very severe form of deterrent because we were training a type of man who, by and large, did what he was told. In other words, he was a bit of an automatom. The discipline of the Army depended to a great extent on reducing people to a state in which they made automatic responses to certain commands. That might have been necessary; I am not arguing the merits or demerits today. Punishment during detention was often along those lines, with the aim of trying to make a man like that.

I suggest that the Army of today, or, for that matter, any Service, is quite different. We are not wanting that type of man so much as a man with rather different characteristics, who has not only courage, but initiative, and who is willing to take risks and all sorts of other things. When we bear all that in mind, it seems to me that we must look at the methods of punishment and consider whether the system of punishment which we are authorising is calculated to achieve the results we want today.

I therefore suggest to the Under-Secretary that the results we want are different from those which we set out to achieve twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. If the results we want are different, the methods of obtaining them probably must be different. If that is so, it is time we were told something about this. I have taken a great interest in Service matters in the House of Commons for the past fifteen years and this is one of the aspects about which I have heard little for any Service. Therefore, we should he told what changes are being made and in what directions they are tending. What are the aims of the Army now in inflicting this type of punishment?

Mr. Mayhew

I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) that this is a subject about which we hear little. I have warned the Minister that in connection with this new Clause and the next, I should be asking a number of questions which it would be of great interest to have answered. One does not have to agree with the suggestions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to be profoundly interested in the subject. I therefore ask the Minister not only to reply to the questions which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East has just put to him about what changes have taken place in the Army detention centres, but to reply to one or two questions of my own.

I should like to ask the Minister more specifically what is the average length of sentence, what sentences are served and how many soldiers are at present in detention. What proportion does this number of people in detention bear to the strength of the Army? How has this percentage gone up or down in recent years?

The Temporary Chairman

Order. It is difficult for the Chair to hear the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the Committee if other hon. Members are talking too loudly.

Sir O. Prior-Palmer

I apologise, Dr. King.

Mr. Mayhew

The figures for which I have asked are easily available for civilian prisons. We should like to know what evidence the Minister has of the effectiveness of detention as measured, for instance, by the subsequent careers of the soldiers who have been in detention centres. How many of them go through their subsequent military career without further offences for which detention is given or without offences for which they are discharged? These are sometimes useful and significant statistics to have.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire used the word "brutality" although I missed any evidence later than his own experience in an Army prison to justify that accusation of brutality. Nevertheless, I should like to know from the Minister what are the inspection arrangements at the detention centres, who carries out the inspections, how often are they carried out and what reports are made. It would be of interest to the Committee to have answers to these questions.

Mr. Ramsden

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has raised an important matter on which, in my recollection, there has been little discussion in recent years, and the Committee should be grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to review the question of detention in the Army. I understand that he intends to move the next new Clause—(Option to serve sentence of detention in a civil prison)—and, as that also deals with the subject, the most helpful thing that I can do now is to address myself to the narrow point which arises from the Clause which he has moved and then, when he moves the other Clause, to try to cover some of the points which have been made by Members opposite, particularly by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). By that time, some of the answers to the questions which he asked may become available. I have not all the answers by me just now.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire's main point was whether the maximum sentence of detention should be three months instead of two years. The Committee should consider the implications of what such a change would mean for soldiers who incur this punishment. I have considered what the situation might be. I do not believe that the change would be altogether to the advantage of the soldiers concerned.

The award of detention for periods up to two years—and detention may be awarded for almost any period, from one day to two years—covers a very wide range of offences for which, in the light of practical experience, it has been found by the Army to be the most appropriate sentence. If we made three months the limit, there would at once be numerous offences, now dealt with by detention centres, for which detention could no longer be given, and we should have to look for an alternative penalty higher up the scale of punishments.

In many instances, the most appropriate punishment would be imprisonment. If we accepted the Clause, there is no doubt that, without a sufficient range of punishments at our disposal, we should have to give more men sentences of imprisonment. There are a number of reasons why we do not want to do this, and I do not think that the Committee, on reflection, would want to do it either. All these reasons are fundamentally in the interests of the men concerned.

The debate on the next Clause will give me an opportunity to enlarge on the whole system of detention and its administration, but there can be no doubt that, if one were obliged to commit to prison some of the men who now undergo sentences of detention, they would be at a disadvantage, in that imprisonment usually leads to dishonourable discharge from the Army. It certainly leaves a man with a stigma of a kind that detention does not leave, and it might well bring him into contact with hardened criminals, associations with whom might well have an unfortunate effect on his character.

Again—although I will say more about this later—there is the rehabilitative aspect to detention which confinement in prison cannot match, and is not intended to match, from the point of view of the Army. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member will not press this new Clause, because, as I have tried to explain, it would not be in the best interests of the soldiers.

Question put and negatived.