§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Lord Balniel)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House will know that the Bill was first introduced and taken through its various stages in another place. Members will probably recall that some doubts were expressed as to whether this course of action was constitutionally correct. I think that the very full explanation given by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House allayed in large measure the doubts which existed and the House accepted his explanation. Indeed, during the Second Reading in another place the noble Lords, Lord Byers, Lord Winterbottom and Lord Shinwell—and both of the latter noble Lords served in the Ministry of Defence in a previous Administration—agreed that no constitutional problems arose.
The reason why no constitutional problem arises is that the Bill does not provide any grant of Supply for the Services of the Crown. The House will probably know that until 1955 the Army and Air Force Bills were Supply Bills. This is no longer the case, and Members who are interested in the undoubtedly fascinating history of those Bills will find the matter referred to at some length at pages 768 and 769 of the 17th Edition of Erskine May.
While absolutely no constitutional problem arises, we are anxious to take account of the wishes of the House. On this occasion I think that there is fairly general agreement that it served the convenience of both Houses that the Bill should be introduced in another place. But if that course is felt to be unsatisfactory my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has explained that he will be prepared to consider a change.
I do not claim that this Bill is the result of deep research which we undertook when in opposition. It is in fact the result of recommendations made by the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill in 1966. The Government and Opposition of the day accepted the Select Committee's Report and work was set in 95 train within the Ministry of Defence to carry out the broad intentions of the Select Committee.
The Select Committee said that it hoped that the next quinquennial Bill, which is the Bill we are discussing today, would go further towards simplifying and standardising Service law. It accepted that traditions and differences which did not impair efficiency in the Services should be allowed to continue, but it urged that further standardisation should be introduced as soon as possible where different practices were a barrier to efficiency.
As a result, the Navy Discipline Act, 1957, the Army Act, 1955, and the Air Force Act, 1955, were reviewed. The outcome of this review is incorporated in the Bill and is a single common code of offences and their related maximum punishments. However, when the House studies the Bill, it will see that it does not attempt to provide a single discipline Act for the Forces. It keeps the three existing separate Acts in being, but amends them in a number of ways.
At first sight, it might seem more logical and tidy to create a single Act, but there are a number of reasons why we have not attempted to do this. The main reason is that the present distinct systems reflect the different operational requirements of the Services—the different environment in which they work and the different tasks on which they are often engaged. For example, forces afloat must be able to deal very quickly with breaches of discipline. Single ships may be at sea for a long time without returning to base. This is the kind of situation which does not frequently arise in Army or Air Force service. Therefore, we do not think it necessary to give commanding officers in the Army and Air Force the same powers of discipline as are needed by their colleagues in the Navy. Also, there seems to be a good deal to be said for keeping a known and accepted system of military discipline. The present Acts are known and, I hope, are broadly understood by Servicemen in the field and afloat, and when so many changes have been made in recent years I think there will be considerable relief in the Services that wholesale changes are not being made in an administrative system which, on the whole, is working reasonably well.
96 Another important reason for keeping the two disciplinary systems is that a single Act would by no means be as simple as it might first appear. It would have to be somewhat longer than the present separate Acts and would be more complicated and more difficult to use in practice than the single Service Acts. It seems to me that the job of a commanding officer in the field or afloat, or undertaking one of the arduous peacekeeping rôles which are frequently the task of the Forces today, is difficult enough, and I think we would probably all agree that we should try to keep the law as simple as possible.
For these reasons, we have decided not to attempt to combine the three separate Acts into one. Instead, the Bill keeps the existing Acts in being, but amends them to harmonise the disciplinary system wherever it makes sense to do so.
Now I turn to the Bill itself. I must announce to the House that it is of a fairly technical nature. I shall try not to weary the House by giving an account of every Clause of what is a long and complicated Bill, although I shall try to mention some of the more important elements of it.
Clause 1 is of historic and constitutional importance. From the seventeenth century until 1955 the Army Acts, and subsequently the Air Force Acts, were annual Acts which were renewable every single year. Anyone who has seen the film "Cromwell", which is on at the moment in London, will not need to be reminded of the reasons which led Parliament to keep such a tight grip on the very existence of an army in this country. In 1955 the Acts became quinquennial Acts subject to annual renewal by Order in Council, after affirmative Resolution by both Houses, up to a maximum of five years. On the other hand, the Naval Discipline Act was never subject to this kind of procedure. The Naval Discipline Act has always been a permanent Statute, and it is only revised as and when Parliament considers it to be necessary.
The Select Committee of 1966 particularly asked that the difference in status between the three Acts should be looked into. We might have tried to place the Army and Air Force Acts upon the same permanent basis as the Naval Discipline Act, and, looking at the 97 matter solely from the point of view of the original reason for annual passing of the Army and Air Force Acts, there really would be very little reason to urge that this was not possible. On the other hand, the Select Committee of 1954 only recommended ending the annual passing of these Acts on the basis that the special jurisdiction given to the Armed Forces should be subject to review by Select Committee in the course of the quinquennial re-enactment.
I feel that it would be inappropriate, therefore, to attempt to move the Army Act and the Air Force Act on to the same permanent basis as the Naval Discipline Act. I do not think this would be the wish of the House. We therefore provide that the Naval Discipline Act, which, up to now, has been permanent, should become a quinquennial Act upon the same basis as the other two Acts.
I apologise for that rather complex explanation of what is, I accept, a fairly complex situation.
Turning to subsequent parts of the Bill, Part II of the Bill, that is Clauses 2 to 43, are, in a sense, the most important part of the Bill and certainly its central theme. These Clauses, 2 to 43, create a common code of offences and maximum punishments which will apply to all members of the three Services. Up to now there have been two codes of offences and punishments. The Navy has had its own code, and the Army and the Air Force have had a separate joint code.
The Bill contains a considerable number of amendments which will bring these differing codes into line with one another. In order to do this it is necessary to introduce into certain of the Acts, some new offences which have not appeared there before. One example is that the Army Act will now contain the offence of loss or hazarding of a ship, which, previously, rather naturally, has been only a naval offence. I accept that this change is not perhaps urgently necessary, and I cannot imagine that lieutenant-colonels will be spending much time studying the difference between port and starboard; but the short answer is that it is necessary 98 if we are to provide a common code for all the three Services in the three Statutes.
Equally, just as one or two new offences have been created, so a number of existing offences have been dropped from the common code. For example, there will no longer be a separate offence of cashiering, which, to me, has always carried the implication of having a hand in the till. Nor, also, will there be the offence of falsely obtaining or prolonging leave in the Army and Air Force Acts, but before Servicemen falsely attempt to prolong their leave may I warn them them that there are in fact other provisions which will stop them doing that.
What we have in the Bill is a harmonisation of the lists of offences so that there is a common code. We hope it is drafted in a form which will make it easy for the Services to use.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
Would the noble lord say a word or two about Clause 28? There is a new offence about creating despondency orally or in writing or in other ways. It seems rather widely drawn. Would it apply to some casual remarks within the Forces—operating in Northern Ireland, for instance?
§ Lord Balniel
For me to attempt to interpret the legal meaning of the words in the Bill would, on Second Reading, be unwise; and I shall be explaining to the House later on that we shall be proposing, if it is the wish of the House, to refer the Bill to a Select Committee; and it is that kind of point which, I should have thought, would be eminently suitable for discussion in the Select Committee.
The Bill also—and here I come to Clauses 36 to 40—establishes a common scheme of punishments. Certain punishments, as I have explained, disappear altogether. Instead, there will be a single code of punishment to which all members of the Armed Forces will be subject. It is not only certain punishments which disappear from the previous legislation. So also do certain old phrases. The provision under whichan officer who behaves in a scandalous manner unbecoming the character of an officer and gentleman is to be cashieredis amended. I think that phrase is redolent of soldiering in the Punjab, of brandy glasses, card tables. I suppose this is a bit anachronistic. I imagine 99 lawyers would find it very difficult to define what gentlemanly and ungentlemanly conduct is. I think the best definition was given by King James when he was asked by a mother to make her son a gentleman. King James replied, perhaps rather roughly, that he could make him a nobleman but God Almighty could not make him a gentleman. The phrase, "conduct and character of an officer and gentleman" has been withdrawn from the Bill.
Along with establishing a single system of punishment, we have also decided that there should be a single maximum penalty for the different offences. This is the present naval system, but the Army and the Air Force Acts at present carry a higher maximum penalty for certain offences on active service and a lower penalty at other times. These offences are disobedience or threatening a superior officer, desertion, drunkenness and offences by or in relation to sentries. In modern conditions it seems quite inappropriate to measure the gravity of any one of these offences by the existence of a state of active service. This does not seem to be the right criterion. Drunkenness when one is flying an aircraft with crew or passengers on board and disobedience on patrol with one of the Polaris submarines are neither more nor less serious whether or not a state of active service exists.
There is one provision in the code of offences to which I should draw the attention of the House. Under Clauses 2 and 7 it is proposed to re-enact the death penalty for a range of military offences. These offences are: mutiny or incitement to mutiny on active service, misconduct in action, assisting the enemy, obstructing operations, failure to repress a mutiny and spying for the enemy on board Her Majesty's ships and naval establishments overseas. The last one is not in the Bill but is in Section 93 of the Naval Discipline Act.
Hon. Members are of course rightly deeply concerned about the scope of the death penalty in our legal system. It still exists for one or two offences in the civil law, for instance, treachery under the Treason Act, but the House will note that apart from mutny or incitement 100 to mutiny on active service, the only offences which will carry liability of the death penalty are those which have been committed with the intention of assisting the enemy. The results of the grave offences which still carry the death penalty as a maximum sentence could be far greater than any results likely to flow from a crime of murder in civil life. These are the kind of offences which could imperil a ship or a military unit and consequently the lives of comrades. They could imperil the security of an army or a fleet or the security of the country as a whole.
The other point which the House might like to know is that of course the court will always be able to award any less punishment if it thinks fit to do so. As one would expect, the utmost restraint has been used in carrying out the death penalty in the past. If we put aside executions for murder, which of course is a civil and not a military offence, and which is no longer a capital offence in the military courts, four men have been executed under the Service Discipline Acts since 1939. Three men were executed after conviction for armed mutiny whilst serving in the Indian Ocean in 1942. One was executed for the civil offence of treachery in the course of the war in 1946.
I will rapidly draw the attention of the House to Part III of the Bill, Clauses 44 to 58. The purpose of the Clauses is to codify practices where they differ between the Services—and they are fairly technical in nature. Clause 56 I think is of general interest. Hon. Members will recall that some time ago a private soldier was brought before a magistrates' court as a suspected deserter. He managed, by committing perjury, to convince the justices that he was not subject to military law, and so he was released. The military authorities later collected evidence which showed that he was in fact a deserter from the Army, and he was arrested by the military police under the normal powers of arrest in the Army Act and charged for the offence of desertion. There was a fair amount of criticism at the time on the grounds that this soldier should not have been brought to account by the military authorities without his being brought again before the civil court which had previously released him. Administrative orders were issued to ensure 101 that this situation would not arise again, and Clause 56 is designed simply to embody this in legislation.
Parts IV and V of the Bill, that is Clauses 59 to 75, contain a variety of miscellaneous Amendments, many of which are rationalisations of practice between the Services. One of these, Clause 74, will be of special interest to the Navy. It enables the new rank of chief fleet petty officer, recently introduced into the Navy, to be given its proper title of warrant officer. I am sure that Members of the House will agree that it is a most desirable step forward that ratings in the Royal Navy can now achieve a comparable position with the warrant officers of the other Services.
Finally, I should like to refer to part of the discussion in another place. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he intended to introduce an Amendment. This would provide that civilians sentenced by court martial should be able to appeal against sentence to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court. At present, civilians in this position are in exactly the same position as members of the Services. After their trials are confirmed and reviewed they may then appeal against conviction to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, but if they wish to appeal only against sentence they can only do this to the Defence Council.
It was argued in another place that, while there were clearly good reasons for civilians accompanying the forces overseas to be tried by court martial rather than by the local courts, it was nevertheless desirable to give them, as far as possible, the same right of appeal against sentence to a higher court as civilians would have in this country. It was not possible to lay an Amendment to achieve this purpose in another place because the actual working out of the Amendment has proved to be a good deal more difficult and complicated than we had expected. We intend, though, to ensure that appropriate amendment to the Bill is made during its passage through the House, and I thought it was appropriate to inform the House at this stage of our intentions.
It is now a parliamentary convention that a Bill which affects the discipline of the Services should be referred to a Select Committee. If the House gives a Second Reading to the Bill, we therefore intend to move to send it to a Select 102 Committee for examination. When the Select Committee has reported on the Bill, it will of course we recommitted to a Committee of the whole House.
It is possible that hon. Members of the House and of the Select Committee will have criticisms to make of this legislation, but the Government accept full and total responsibility for the introduction of the legislation into the House. I think it would be the wish of the House as a whole that we should express our thanks to those who over many years have spent much time and work in the preparation of this codification of law, although the ultimate responsibility for its introduction rests on our shoulders.
I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomson (Dundee, East)
I should like immediately to join the hon. Gentleman the Minister of State in expressing the appreciation of the House to those who have done such immense labour in this great task of codification of the various Service Discipline Acts.
We on this side of the House welcome the Bill in principle, subject to the close scrutiny of its detailed provisions by the Select Committee which the right hon. Gentleman proposed should be set up at the conclusion of the debate. I was grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about the Government's decision to introduce the Bill first in another place and for the way in which he said it. Nevertheless, we on this side of the House wish to put on record that we believe the Government were wrong in their judgment. I accept immediately that this was done in the interests of the management of Government business between the two Houses and not with any sinister intention of eroding the constitutional rights of the House of Commons. The rights of this House in regard to the raising and keeping of standing forces in peace time go deep into the history of parliamentary democracy and I feel that it would have been wiser not to have disturbed them.
This Bill is in direct descent from the historic annual Army and Air Force Acts which were never passed in the Commons until the Commons had voted the Supply to determine the number of men in the Services each year. The position is summed up in page 769 of Erskine 103 May. I draw from that a rather different conclusion from the one the noble Lord was seeking to draw, but perhaps it might be simpler to refer to what was actually said in Erskine May:By the procedure laid down in the legislation of 1955, the Commons, in addition to their control over the number of the naval, military and air forces, and the yearly sums to be appropriated for their support, reserve to themselves"—these are the words on which emphasis may appropriately be put—the power of determining whether a standing army shall be kept in being in time of peace.The noble Lord referred to that excellent and entertaining film about the life of Cromwell. It reminded us that one king lost his head and another lost his throne over this principle. It was rather unwise of the Government to raise their ghosts.
There are also contemporary reasons, quite apart from the historical reasons, why this principle is important to the House. The House is therefore right to be a little sensitive about its position. We are dealing in the Bill with the liberty, and to some extent with the life, of our constituents who are Servicemen. They do not have a number of the usual channels which are open to civilians for redress of grievance if convicted. Members on all sides are very much the watchdogs for those Servicemen.
I say frankly to the noble Lord that we on this side do not particularly like the fact that the Secretary of State for such a large spending Department is in another place. It is for the Government to choose whether they wish to arrange their affairs in that way, but if they have the Secretary of State for Defence in another place then they ought to be particularly careful about the traditional rights of the House of Commons. In fact, I do not think the Government helped the House of Lords by their action, though they may have assisted the expedition of their own business.
Their action forced the House of Lords to take this Bill at a galloping pace. The Government were in such a hurry in the other place that they were not even able to introduce there one important Amendment which, as the noble Lord said, they had hoped to introduce before the Bill left that House. Their Lordships would have 104 been better served if they had had the benefit of the considered conclusions of a Select Committee of this House.
It will be five years before this matter comes before the House again and I have no doubt that by that time there will be a very different Government in power. However, I wish to put on record that we think that the Government were wrong in their judgment on this matter and we feel it should not happen that way again.
This is a complex Bill and it is difficult to have a Second Reading in the usual sense. It is essentially a Bill appropriate for scrutiny by Select Committee. It presents particular difficulties to laymen in the House. I once undertook a course on how to put people on charges in one of the Services, but I never had an opportunity to practise what I was taught and I have now forgotten all I was told. I can claim that my own military career was as free of crime as it was free of any distinction. The only time I nearly fell foul of the military code was when I was found on the parade ground at Cranwell eating a piece of home-made cake that my mother had just sent me. It was too irresistible to wait any longer to have a nibble at it.
§ Mr. Thomson
No doubt it was Dundee cake. I wonder under what provision of this Bill that misbehaviour would have come. Would it have been conduct unbecoming to the character of a temporary acting, but I am happy to say paid, sergeant in the Royal Air Force?
The noble Lord has told the House that the Bill follows a report of a previous Select Committee in 1966 under the then Labour Government. We for our part welcome the achievement of a single common code of offences and a common range of maximum penalties. Servicemen will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, for the successful campaign that he waged in the early 1950s for these changes. He waged that battle with the unique panache he commands and he was able to ensure that every five years there is an opportunity for a thorough examination of Service discipline.
These Clauses, although extremely technical, involve important human 105 issues. Above all, the Bill involves the task of reconciling the individual rights of those in the Services with the necessities of the profession of arms. It is sensible to have a five-yearly review. Service discipline inevitably must be seen against the background of a changing society. Servicemen no longer live in a separate, insulated category. They are very much skilled professionals, operating within society as a whole.
Concepts of crime and of the treatment of crime have been changing fast in our society over recent years. Changes in the civilian criminal law must inevitably be reflected in the military law. In addition, the professional work of the Serviceman has been changing rapidly. The formal declaration of a conventional war now seems almost as archaic and old-fashioned as the hansom cab. The Serviceman faces all sorts of new challenges and problems. He may find himself involved as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force, where his right to use force may be shrouded in a good deal of ambiguity; or he may now find himself dealing with the new military problem of urban terrorism, such as that in Northern Ireland. That again is bound to raise new problems for the military law.
There is also the tragic innovation of aerial hijacking which the Bill recognises creates new legal problems. It was mentioned in another place that Clause 71, in Part V, reflects the remarkable discovery that some civilian passengers in military aircraft are outside the jurisdiction of any system of law during the period when they are in that aircraft. As an old civilian traveller on military aircraft, I have been pondering what splendid opportunities of lawlessness I must have missed by ignorance of the fact that I was in total immunity during the period I was travelling through the air as a guest of the Royal Air Force.
I suppose there are three broad categories of offence which have to be dealt with in terms of military law. First of all, there are the offences which would come under the criminal law in civilian life, which is a straightforward matter. Secondly, there are the offences such as absence without leave, which is not a crime in civilian life, but which it is necessary to regard as an offence given the problems of organising an effective military 106 force. There would be general agreement about that, and that distinction is fairly straightforward. Thirdly, there are the offences against morale, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg). It is more difficult in that respect to determine where to strike the right balance, and there was some discussion of these problems in another place. No doubt the Select Committee, once it is formed, will wish to look more closely at the problems.
I note that that ringing phrase, "conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman", is disappearing for ever from the martial landscape, along with the Admiralty and the tot of rum. But, in our egalitarian age, I wonder why "scandalous conduct", even in this amended Bill, should be an offence committed by officers but not, apparently, by any other Servicemen. Why do officers have a monopoly of this sin?
While on this subject, why should there be a completely different set of penalties for different ranks in the Services? We have just welcomed the fact that a common code of offences and penalties is being established by the Bill between the Services, but between ranks there is a most intricate hierarchy of penalties. This is all set out in splendid detail in Clause 38 of the amended Bill.
There, one finds that, in the case of an officer, for example, detention cannot be imposed, nor can reduction in rank, apparently, as I read the Bill. He is exempt from minor punishments. Warrant officers also have their own special omissions. The same is true for sailors below the rank of leading seaman, and there is a separate category for ratings themselves. Perhaps that is a matter of principle which the Select Committee might look at more closely.
The noble Lord mentioned one of the major matters of principle involved in the Bill, the retention of the death penalty for certain categories of military offence. Like the noble Lord, I speak as a strong abolitionist in regard to capital punishment for murder. I notice, first of all, that the Bill reduces the number of offences for which the capital penalty can be invoked. It is being removed altogether in the case of mutiny with violence or the threat of violence in peacetime. Second, it is being retained for a limited 107 range of offences in the face of the enemy or for positively assisting the enemy.
In time of war, when the State itself sanctions the killing of an enemy, when, indeed, killing is likely to be widespread and possibly indiscriminate, the circumstances are very different and give rise to quite different considerations from those which apply to the abolition of capital punishment for murder. Indeed, as the noble Lord said, the abolition of capital punishment for murder applies equally whether that crime is committed within the Services or outside.
The second matter of general principle which arose during the deliberations in another place was the question whether the operations of the Parliamentary Commissioner should be extended to personal matters within the Services. I hope that the Government will look sympathetically at this question. As has been explained, they are at present considering a Report of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and this was one of its recommendations.
I think that there would be general agreement that the Parliamentary Commissioner should not deal in any way with disciplinary offences. That would be as inappropriate as his dealing with the activity of the criminal courts in civilian life. But there are some special considerations regarding the position of Servicemen. As I said, by entering a military life, they voluntarily surrender a certain number of the normal channels of redress of grievance which are open to the ordinary civilian. The Discipline Acts provide a machinery for redress of grievance and I think that the Services are scrupulous in operating that machinery, but the Select Committee took the view that the Parliamentary Commissioner should have the right to consider whether that machinery had operated effectively in every case. There is the question of justice being seen to be done as well as simply being done.
I do not expect the Government to commit themselves on this matter at this stage. Nor would I like to commit my party finally on this matter. I simply say that the problem should be looked at sympathetically. I am not clear whether this would come within the terms of reference of the Select Committee, 108 but by the time that it reports back to the House, perhaps we could have looked at this question again.
It is against the background of those comments that I join the noble Lord in welcoming the Bill.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
Both my noble Friend the Minister of State and the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) have stuck closely in their speeches to the detailed legal provisions of the Bill. I would seek to do the same, because, although it has been known—I checked my memory by looking at past debates on these Bills—for the debate to go a good deal wider, particularly in Lord Wigg's day, and turn on the general philosophy of the maintenance of standing forces and connected questions, it is appropriate, I think, as we have a season of general defence debates to come shortly, that we should follow the example of the two Front Bench speakers.
As to whether there was any constitutional impropriety about the Bill going through another place before it came here, I was rather more in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman than with my noble Friend. I was puzzled by my noble Friend's reference to what he called a "Supply Bill". I failed to find the animal in what was admittedly a cursory reading of the two pages of Erskine May, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman was right in his explanation of why it was all right for the Bill to go first to the Lords. He reminded us that the ultimate control of this House over the existence of the Armed Forces comes in Vote A, in control of the Estimates.
The change in procedure in 1955 and the change by which this Bill now happens only every five years, instead of every year, came about to a certain extent by accident. Again, I am taxing my memory, but I think that in 1954 the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, then the hon. Member for Dudley, and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), possibly more in a spirit of faction than in an attempt to be constructive, put down about 22 pages of Amendments to the Army Act. The Act was exempted business, and if it were not got through by a certain date there would be no Army. The effect of their strategy 109 was to bring the then Minister of Defence, Lord Head, to the point when he had no option but to surrender. He was obliged to ask the two hon. Gentlemen for their terms.
I do not think that the hon. Gentlemen in question had given the matter as much thought as they might have applied to it before that stage was reached because their terms were that there should be instituted a Select Committee and that there should be this five-yearly procedure. I agree that it is a good idea to have a Select Committee, and the House was, therefore, served well by their strategy. But I am not sure that it did not originate, like so many things, by accident.
I do not see any impropriety in the Bill starting off in the Lords. The reason why it is has emerged in this way is that at this time of the year the Lords find themselves short of Bills with which to deal, while they are very much overloaded in July. The authorities of the House looked into the position and thought it would be a good idea to enable the Lords to finish their labours at the end of the Session in a more leisurely way. I hope that if it happens again it will not happen as it has this year, with the Commons losing a week at Christmas in an effort to lighten the labours of the other place at the end of the summer.
My noble Friend referred to a change in procedure which the Bill introduces; namely, the making of the Naval Discipline Act quinquennially renewable instead of being a piece of standing permanent legislation. This deserves more than a passing reference because the point is historically interesting, if nothing else. This House has always in the past welcomed without question the permanent legislation of the Navy, but has looked much more critically at the Army and, later, in association with it, the Air Force.
I recall answering Questions—they were tabled in almost identical terms—for the Army and the then Under-Secretary was answering for the Admiralty, about the eviction of an Army wife and a Navy wife respectively from their quarters. When I answered the Question about the Army wife the House was severe with the Army authorities for having acted hastily and disturbing the family. However, when my hon. Friend answered for the Navy, the attitude of the 110 House was rather like saying, "Why has this troublesome woman made things awkward for the British Navy?" This reflects a genuine feeling which the House has had for many years, and it is historically interesting to note that the Navy is now on the same footing as the other Service.
I am not sure who decides the actual composition of the Select Committee, but it does not seem necessary for a Minister to be on this body. There has always been a Minister on it, and this has involved a great deal of detailed work, though the Minister of the day need not be aware of much of this detail.
Indeed, a Minister on a Select Committee is neither flesh, fish nor fowl. He has an interest in the content of the Bill before the Committee, unlike the back-bench members of the Committee. But he cannot be expected to know in detail the answers to the questions which the other members of the Committee are bound to ask about the Bill in the same way as the witnesses who are invited to come before the Committee will know those answers.
It is for consideration whether it is not a waste of a Minister's time to be on such a Select Committee, especially considering that the Amendments that may emerge from that Committee and come before the House have to be answered for by the Minister at that stage.
Why is there no legislation in the Bill consequent on the acceptance by the Government of the Donaldson Report? Perhaps what the Government intend to do about that Report does not require legislation, though this was not made clear at the time of the anouncement before Christmas. However, there are Clauses regarding terms of engagement under the 1955 Act, and I would like to know whether legislation is not in the Bill because it is not ready—in which case, will it come later?—or because it is not necessary.
Will my noble Friend spare a thought for those who, as part of their military duties and education, must learn military law? I have been looking at the 1955 Act, and, like the Navy and R.A.F. Discipline Acts, it presents a mass of interleavings, sidelines and marginal notes. The whole process of the unification of the Services must mean changes in the whole ambit of military law, and this will make it difficult for 111 those who need to learn military law as part of their duties.
There must be a case for some sort of consolidation Measure. My noble Friend explained why one Act for all three Services was not possible within the framework by which he has decided to proceed, and I accept his explanation. However, is it not possible for those concerned to be provided with a "fair copy" to help them with their labours?
I was glad to hear my noble Friend's remarks about the provision enabling financial recovery in connection with a judgment for debt to be made from a Service man's pay. I am sure that hon. Member's have come across cases—they are not at all numerous—of a Service man moving out of an area and perhaps inadvertently leaving behind unpaid debts. It is right that those who may be the victims of these occurrences, which are not frequent, should be protected, and this provision is, therefore, welcome.
I wish to raise a constituency point which I have no doubt concerns the constituents of many hon. Members. I refer to low-flying aircraft. We are aware that this type of training must occur, but if it must happen over the air space of this country and inevitably cause a certain amount of annoyance, this upheaval must be kept to the minimum. I have always found when writing to the Ministry that complaints are carefully examined and verified and that one can always rely on individual cases to be investigated. The whole subject is taken very seriously indeed.
It is not a bad thing that those who understandably complain should realise that, as a matter of Service discipline, undue annoyance should not be caused, that pilots in training are under a duty to make sure that they do not cause it, and that if it is caused frivolously it can result in dismissal from the Service. It is fair that this should be realised, but I hope that my noble Friend will see that the rules are maintained, and will maintain with the same care his past practice of investigating complaints with a view to disciplinary action should it ever be necessary.
I hope that he will also look again at a proposal that was being kicked around when the former Government were in office, that low flying training down the 112 centre of the Pennines might avoid even the extreme western fringe of my constituency by the use of another path, although I realise the difficulty of doing that having regard to civil airfields and the congestion of our air space.
I welcome the Bill. I enjoyed my noble Friend's explanation of it, and feel enlightened by it.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
This debate seems like old ground to me. I feel almost as though I were making my maiden speech all over again, though I do not seek the indulgence of the House.
Of the two mild protests that I wish to make, the first concerns the present composition of the Ministry of Defence. I noticed that my Brigade magazine recently commended the take-over of the Ministry by the Grenadier Guards, so I felt it my duty to be present today and at least to put in a word for the Coldstream Guards.
My other protest concerns what all speakers have so far pointed out, which is that the Bill has first been dealt with in another place. It was more or less by accident that I found that out, but when I trooped along to listen to the Second Reading I was amazed to find that I had missed it. Reading the speeches on that occasion one finds the excuse made for the Bill starting its life there was that the other place wanted some work. That may be quite all right, but what happened was that the House of Lords short-legged the Leader of this House by getting through Second Reading, and the Committee, Report and remaining stages in four hours, four minutes flat.
The Bill contains 77 Clauses and two Schedules and affects 350,000 Servicemen and their families. What was not greatly understood in another place was that it also affects quite a number of civilians and their families. Punishments for Service crimes range from the death penalty to reprimand. That being so, it is no wonder that only those involved in the Services, or who may have been involved in the Services, become interested because here there are no precedents. There is nothing in the way of an hon. Member's mailbag filled with representations from people in the Forces, or from pressure groups, trade union or otherwise, asking that various Amendments should be made on their behalf. 113 That being so, it is the duty of us all to subject the Bill to close scrutiny, and this I shall seek to do. I apologise for the fact that owing to other duties I have not been able to do as much homework on the Measure as I should have liked, but I intend, if chosen to serve, to busy myself with it in the Select Committee.
It is becoming customary on occasions such as this to refer to those interested in the subject. Here we have distinguished soldiers, sailors and airmen—and, I think, marines. According to the last edition of my Brigade magazine we have in the House 40 members or ex-members of the Brigade of Guards. Here is one of the best trade unions of all. If one adds messengers and other members of the staff the number becomes immense. We have all ranks from major-generals to a couple of my old company commanders, and sergeant majors and warrant officers, and so on right down to myself. If ever we had to form a House of Commons company, the amount of work that would fall to me would be quite fantastic, as I would be the only one left available to do it.
We do not need just the view of those who have dished it out; those not on the receiving end. My brushes with authority have been perhaps a little more extensive than have those of people not at the receiving end. I do not say that I speak with any great authority because of that. I was never court martialled, but from a reading of the Bill I must assume that I was perilously close to it at times, or my C.O. must have been very understanding or lenient on occasion, or I was clever enough not to be caught. Nevertheless, my Service crimes had nothing at all to do with what might be considered civil crimes.
I see to it that I get around the Forces quite a lot during most recesses. I spent Christmas and the New Year with a certain sergeant of the Second Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Berlin. That was a wonderful experience, and I believe it to be about the best way to find out how Service life affects people. When I asked: "Do you know that when the House resumes after the Christmas Recess there is to be a five-year review of Service punishments?", none of those I asked knew anything about it whatever. That particularly worried me, and I shall wish 114 to say something about it in the Select Committee. We have to find some way in which information about such matters can drift through the ranks so that what is decided can be seen to be absolutely necessary for discipline.
This measure is one in a continuing series of Bills. When we refer to members of the Armed Forces we are talking all the time about professionals and specialists. That is what we have in the Army today. The men themselves consider themselves to be professionals and specialists. Some people might throw up their hands in horror at the civilisation of the Army these days, but it is something that will continue and all we can hope to do on occasions like this is to make sure that the disciplinary codes keep pace with such developments.
One has only to stay with a battalion to notice the terrific changes that are taking place, not just over the years but over a matter of months. It is nothing out of the ordinary for the C.O. of a battalion to find that one of his biggest duties is not the care of the troops under his command but the care of their families. The C.O. of one battalion had more than 250 children under five years of age under his care. As a great deal of a C.O.'s time must be devoted to that, it is obvious that nowadays commanding officers must not only be first-class soldiers but also be first-class administration and welfare officers.
I know that in the Bill we can do nothing about the civil law, but I should like the number of Army crimes which are not civilian crimes to be kept to the minimum.
I thank the Minister for giving us a better explanation than was given in another place of the facts relating to the death penalty provision. Since 1939 this provision has been used very sparingly; there have been only four executions under this power, although there might have been two or three more if the Army could have got their hands on those who were responsible for one particularly disgraceful incident.
I have been worried for some considerable time at the fact that apparently members of the Armed Forces can still be sentenced to death for murder. Any British soldier who commits a crime off-duty is responsible under the civil law of the country in which he is stationed, so 115 it would appear that it is still possible for a British soldier to be sentenced to death and even executed in a country which retains the death penalty. Perhaps this matter can be taken up in close detail in the Select Committee.
I shall also want to have it justified to me why dismissal with disgrace should be retained in the punishment list. Dismissal would have to be accepted. Not only have the words "with disgrace" lost their meaning, but as there are some crimes in the Army which are not crimes in civilian life it is unfair that a man for the rest of his life should have to carry the stigma of having been dismissed with disgrace.
I am glad that the offences of scandalous behaviour and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman have gone. Nowadays even the officers regard themselves as professionals. Everyone in the Forces is trying to do an efficient job. In my stay with the Second Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Berlin I was impressed by the togetherness of the troops. I spent the afternoon of Christmas Eve in the support company club of that regiment. It was a wonderful afternoon when the officers, warrant officers, sergeants and men gat together and talked about things in a rational way. I cannot conceive of such a thing happening five years ago.
We shall have to be on the watch all the time in our scrutiny of the Bill for acts which are offences if committed by officers but not offences if committed by other ranks and vice versa. All members of the British Armed Forces are now professionals. Such distinctions may have been necessary during the time of the Indian Mutiny or the Boston Tea Party, but they are no longer necessary.
On the face of it, the new provision that someone sentenced to imprisonment is automatically dismissed the Service is an advance, but I am worried in particular about the position of men who signed on at the age of, say, 18, for 22 years and who will be 40 on the completion of their period of service. By the end of about 18 or 20 years the only thing that such a man is looking forward to is the end of his 22 years' service and his pension so that he can adapt himself to civilian life with his pension behind him. A man in this 116 category may have an unblemished career for, say, 18 years and then do something stupid or unfortunate in the last few years of his service and be sentenced to two years' imprisonment and automatically dismissed the service. I shall want to examine this provision very carefully to see if there is any protection for men in this category.
Another aspect of Service discipline which is worrying me greatly arises from the unfortunate situation facing the Army and the country in general in Northern Ireland. It is amazing how well discipline is holding up there under the terrific pressures of T.V. cameras and commentators going round with troops in their back pockets, so to speak. This has led to some unfortunate incidents in families which have sons serving out in Northern Ireland. There should be some machinery to obviate these invidious occurrences, because it must be difficult for a man from Northern Ireland who signed on in the British Army to find himself posted back to serve in Northern Ireland. In my early days if I had had to go with the British Army to Northern Ireland I should have found it very difficult to explain this to my grandfather, knowing his views.
Is there any machinery to ensure that such men can be sifted out? I recognise that men who join the Army volunteer to serve anywhere at any time, but we must expect servicemen to have feelings in these circumstances and we should attempt to secure that nobody is forced to serve in a country in such circumstances against his will. The fact that there have been invidious incidents is proved by the figures far absence without leave amongst those posted to Northern Ireland. Care must be exercised about the disciplinary aspect of service in Northern Ireland. One irate mother in my constituency phoned to say that she had heard on television about a certain guardsman who had done a certain thing and that his name had been mentioned; she wanted to know if it was her son. That is one of the terrible things that can happen in such situations. It caused a great deal of distress to that lady and the whole family. Unfortunately, it turned out to be her son, but I went to see him later and explained to him. The matter was no fault of the Army or the Defence Department. I can only say a big "Thank you" to the Department for 117 the co-operation I have had from it on such problems.
I intend to give the Bill a great deal of scrutiny. The House should show the Forces that we are doing this, because they have no direct representation. Many Servicemen—I am talking about those on long engagements—do not consider themselves to be represented by any Member because they do not feel that they have a root in any one place. If they are asked who is their Member of Parliament, they will say, "What do I take as my last address? Is it my last Army camp?" Many of them feel disenfranchised in one way or another.
I am not really suggesting an Ombudsman for the Services. I have come to the conclusion that at times I am more or less the Ombudsman for quite a number of disgruntled Servicemen. Letters from many of them seem to end up on my desk, and dealing with some of them is a labour of love for me. We must try to make sure that the Armed Forces have a representation in the House which makes itself felt here. We must find a machinery for doing that, particularly on Measures such as the Bill before us, so that we can obtain the true feeling not only of the Army Council and the Defence Department but of the men. We could get some good ideas from some of them on what some of the punishments should be. We might get a few surprises as well. It could only help if Servicemen felt that they had a voice here and had a say in the decisions being made for them. It could also go a long way to help the recruiting figures, which happily have shown a bit of a spurt lately.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald King Murray (Edinburgh, Leith)
I wish to speak about a fairly technical matter concerning Clause 75, on which I have some doubts which I hope can be resolved.
One of the features of a Bill dealing with the Armed Services in a comprehensive way, as the Bill does, is that it covers not only the three Services but more than one jurisdiction. The Bill commendably seeks to iron out divergences between the law of England and the law of Scotland in Clause 75, dealing with a technicality of evidence. My doubt is whether the amendment to previous legislation which it proposes is apt to achieve the desired result. The Clause 118 attempts to achieve the same result in Scotland as is achieved in England, whereby certain documents are admissible in evidence or are evidence of any matter stated in them. It is provided that such documentsshall be sufficient evidence of the matter so stated in such proceedings in Scotland.My doubt arises on the use of the word "sufficient" in this context. It is tolerably clear from a quick perusal of the Bill that three classes of documents are in view: first, affidavits; second, records of court proceedings, such as courts martial; third, various certificates. The difficulty I have with "sufficient" arises in this respect. If we say that evidence is legally sufficient, that means that it may be admitted by a court and considered on its merits. I think that we are also saying "considered on its merits without regard to the legal necessity for any other evidence". But a court has also to assess the sufficiency of evidence in another sense. Having accepted the evidence before it as sufficient in a legal sense, it must decide whether that evidence is sufficient in weight to allow it to achieve a certain result—for example, to decide for one side or the other in the contest before it.
I feel that the problem with which the Clause seeks to grapple is primarily that of dealing with affidavits and certificates. It is a well understood practice in the law of England, though not in the law of Scotland, to take the evidence of persons outwith the United Kingdom, or in places inaccessible to the courts, in written form. An English court has no difficulty in regarding such a written affidavit as equivalent to the evidence of a witness given in court before it. But in Scotland such a document would normally require something more; it would require, at least, for instance, someone to speak to it as evidence in the case. Obviously, Clause 75 wants to eliminate the need for that, and that seems to me a reasonable requirement.
The second situation with which I think the Clause tries to cope is that where, according to the law of Scotland, a document would not by itself be legally sufficient and it would be necessary to have corroboration by a witness giving oral testimony to the same effect.
Those are the two things the Clause tries to do—on the one hand to allow 119 things like affidavits to be legally sufficient, without any further testimony, and on the other to exclude the need for corroboration where the law of Scotland would require it. Those are laudable objectives if we are trying to achieve a uniform code of law for the two countries and the three Services. My doubt about the aptness of the wording of the Clause arises from the use simply of the word "sufficient". Saying thatit shall be sufficient evidencedoes not make clear whether the object of the Bill is merely to make the evidence legally sufficient or to go beyond that and say that the testimony in the document is to be sufficient for all purposes. In other words, it does not make clear whether it means to exclude an argument that the document before the court, although legally sufficient, is not sufficient evidence to establish the point which is sought to be established.
The questiton I have raised is a short one, but it is important, because the House would not wish the effect of a document produced in a Scottish court to be substantially different from the effect of the same document produced in an English court, and the object of the Clause is to remove that doubt. If the word "sufficient" could be taken in the sense that I have put forward, as referring to the weight of evidence and not simply its legal admissibility, it would have the effect that a litigant in Scotland would be barred from arguing to the court that although it was legally sufficient the evidence was not sufficient in weight.
I should be very grateful to hear from the Government whether they have canvassed this matter properly. If they have not, I hope that they will look into it seriously and that they can resolve my doubts about it today or at a later stage.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
I am in general entirely in favour of bringing Service disciplinary codes up to date, which in essence is what the Bill does. I agree very largely with the remarks from both sides of the House about this aspect. I am also, with slightly less enthusiasm, in favour of unifying the disciplinary codes applicable to the three Armed Services.
120 Service discipline must always be of a different nature from that in civilian life. This is perhaps implicit in the very use of the word "Service" to describe the Armed Forces of the Crown. But in the process of bringing Service discipline up to date it would be an error to over-reach and make it too liberal too fast.
I also put it to the House that there is no need to make Service discipline over-liberal, because Service discipline, certainly in my experience, has been most fairly applied through many generations. I think also that the appeal procedure, even under existing conditions, is very adequate, and personally I am suspicious of the idea of the Ombudsman being able to extend his area of operations within the Services, so to speak. Without having a closed mind on this subject, I feel that at present the appeal procedure is adequate, and one does not want, so to speak, to fog the issue or complicate the life of the Serviceman or the officer by bringing the Ombudsman into it.
It would also be fair to say that Service discipline results in wonderfully good industrial relations, if I may use that term, within the Services.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman nodding. It is, in fact, a lesson to the rest of the country. I am sure that I speak for all three Services in this.
In an effort to rationalise, I think that it is very important not to let the essential difference between the three Services be blurred for a matter of drafting or administrative convenience. The disciplinary circumstances, after all, in a submarine are quite different from those in the Second Regiment of Fusiliers stationed in Berlin. I was a little surprised that the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), who spoke about the situation in Berlin, was surprised to see the close relationship or understanding between officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks, as I understood him. That situation has existed within the submarine service since the beginning.
§ Mr. Concannon
I do not think that I said in that context that I was surprised to see it. I was surprised at the extent 121 it has moved over the few years even since I left the Forces.
§ Rear Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am glad that the Government are giving attention so early in this Session to the conditions in the Armed Forces. Obviously, as my noble Friend said, there has been a great deal of labour in working out this very detailed Bill. I am glad most of all that this matter is now under consideration because of a point made by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence when he said, in a recent lecture at the Royal United Services Institution:… we can't succeed in recruiting voluntary forces unless we, as a Government, are seen and heard to attach real importance to Defence.That process is going on under this present Government and is long overdue.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman might direct his attention to one particular aspect of the Bill. It removes Section 2 of the Naval Discipline Act in relation to the duty imposed upon a naval officer to use his utmost exertion to bring his ship into action and to pursue an enemy whom it is his duty to pursue. That provision has been deleted. As a gallant seaman himself, will the hon. and gallant Gentleman give us his views on the deletion of these duties?
§ Rear Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, but I think that it is really implicit, certainly in the training of all the Forces. It probably hardly needs saying. But, as an aside, it is probably worth remarking that, in the legislation—and the Select Committee will have to take care of this—it is very important that no distinction should be drawn between what happens in peace and what happens in war, because peace and war are very difficult to distinguish in the present day. I want to quote from a speech made in the House not long ago on the subject. Stating that there was a completely different dimension in war, the speaker said:The main battlefield now lies not on the plains of Europe but elsewhere. It lies in the steaming jungles of Laos and the ruined cities of Vietnam. It lies in the bazaars of Bangkok and the city council of Singapore. It lies in the swamps of Borneo and in the minds of 80 million Indonesians. It lies in the wrangles within the Indian Congress and 122 in the swollen bellies of starving babies in Calcutta. It lies beneath the sweltering sands of Arabia and in the rumour, gossip and intrigue of the small Gulf States."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 285–6.]So it goes on. The point I am making is that it would be misleading and confusing to the Services to have different sets of circumstances in peace and war in the legislation we are to go into in detail. The quotation about this new background I agree with—because I was the chap who made the speech.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) gave a most eloquent quotation from his own speech and I am sure that it will go down in history in various anthologies of English prose. But I cannot agree with him altogether on the question of distinction between peace and war in relation to this Bill. Of course, it is much more difficult than it used to be to distinguish between the two. Very often, there are no formal declarations of war. Perhaps it is a police action, so called, or a United Nations action, as in Korea. But I hope that at least some of the penalties in the Bill, such as the death penalty—which the Minister of State spoke of with great restraint and with some sympathy—would hardly ever be applicable in peace time. I think the hon. Gentleman said that there had been one execution since the war—I think we know which one that was—and I suggest, with respect to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that there is a distinction to be drawn there.
Secondly, I do not altogether agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman on a minor point he made—the use of the word "service". That does not distinguish the Armed Forces from the entire civilian community by any means. There are all sorts of ways in which people serve as civilians, in the police, the Fire Service and other ways. Mr. Speaker himself is the servant of this House, and so on. So I do not think that the Armed Forces have any monopoly of the admirable concept of service.
There is another point on which I agree to some extent with the hon. and gallant Gentleman and with my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon)—that is on the greatly improved relations in our Armed Forces 123 between officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks generally. In my experience, this has been most noticeable in the Royal Marines, particularly in a Royal Marine Commando. I think one can generally observe a very great improvement, which probably reflects the general rise in the educational standards among other ranks.
It is not universal yet, unfortunately. One still hears of unfortunate incidents like that rather ridiculous but deplorable recent case in which a number of sailors were drunk and appeared to have enacted a sort of charade. Discipline in that ship must have been extremely bad anyway, and the relations between the officers and ratings not as they should have been, from all accounts. But I hope that that sort of offence would not be regarded as the most serious kind of mutiny. I cannot remember the result of the charges. Those involved were quite severely punished, I think, and perhaps they had to be.
In my interjection in the speech of the Minister of State, I referred to Clause 28. He was good enough to say that this was a matter which could be dealt with by the Select Committee, which would go into all the details. That is naturally so, but I would not myself accept that Clause 28 is merely what one, in another context, calls a "mere Committee point". An important principle is involved.
This is the kind of offence to which we are accustomed in what is strictly war time; in the Second World War, for example. However, in peacetime, or in one of these curious marginal situations which are half war and half peace, there are some dangers in enacting something so widely drawn and so vague as this Clause—"Offences against morale". It says:Any person subject to military law who spreads (whether orally, in writing, by signal, or otherwise) reports relating to operations of Her Majesty's forces, of any forces co-operating therewith, or of any part of any of those forces, being reports calculated to create despondency … shall … be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years …".That is a somewhat dangerous principle, and I hope that if it goes through unamended, it will be applied with great restraint and discretion.
It is easy to think of situations in which a soldier, or even an N.C.O. or an 124 officer, talking freely with his colleagues, might comment in a disparaging way on the performance of some allied force, perhaps in a United Nations peacekeeping exercise. One can think of the example of Northern Ireland, or Cyprus, or Vietnam, where we should now be committed, if the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester had had his way, for I remember his speech from the Opposition Front Bench when he said that we ought to send some warships there. It would be almost impossible for any civilised officer or other rank not to comment on the brutality and corruption which would be so evident all around him in Vietnam in certain allied forces. There are dangers in Clause 28, but I will say no more about it at the moment.
I wanted to speak chiefly about a particular aspect of naval discipline; that is to say, the conditions in the Royal Naval detention quarters at Portsmouth. I know that the hon. Gentleman who is responsible for the Navy in the Ministry of Defence is very much concerned about conditions in this establishment, as was his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen.) I drew my hon. Friend's attention to them—I am sure that he was aware of them—three and a half years ago when I visited a constituent in the detention quarters at Portsmouth. I found that, although, of course, they were hygienic and no doubt humanely run, they were extraordinarily backward by comparison with even one of our civilian prisons, which are not at present a model to the world because of overcrowding and so on.
My constituent said, "I am glad that you have come on a Saturday afternoon, because on Saturdays we are locked up from midday until Sunday morning." That seemed to be a long time for a teenager to be locked up in solitary confinement in a cell. He went on to say, "Also, we have to do two tasks on a Saturday." I asked what he meant and he replied, "Most days we do one task, but on Saturdays we do two, because we are locked up and there is nothing else to do." I asked, "What tasks, what sort of work, do you do?" He described the process which is most familiarly known to students of English history and literature as picking oakum. It seemed to me rather extraordinary that in the 1960s able fit young men, even if 125 they have committed a military offence, should still be picking oakum.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton slightly refined the term later by pointing out that there were three stages, or phases, in the process and that perhaps only the first could be accurately described as picking oakum, while the third was the greatly refined and sophisticated process of making a kind of matting out of the oakum picked. But I still think that there should be more variety of constructive tasks available, which would help slightly in the rehabilitation of naval ratings confined in these quarters.
The aim should be to assimilate military and naval detention barracks and the punishment and procedures in them to the ideal always set forth by the Home Office for civilian prisons, although it is not always lived up to in civilian prisons—that the emphasis should be on rehabilitation rather than mere punishment.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as always, would wish to be fair and that before leaving the subject of detention quarters—for his remarks will be widely reported in the Press—he will wish to agree that admirable results are produced throughout the naval disciplinary system of which the detention quarters are only a small part.
§ Mr. Driberg
I agree. On one matter the hon. and gallant Gentleman is wrong. All my remarks are invariably ignored by the Press, except when they can be libellously distorted. I agree with the main point that he makes. Even these rather backward detention quarters were humanely administered so far as I could tell, and were perfectly clean, but I did not think that they were suited for rehabilitation.
I have another comment which in a way is related to that. The constituent whom I was then visiting was one of those lads whose position was dealt with by the Donaldson Committee, whose report was issued fairly recently, with not very encouraging results from the Government. He was one of those who, out of boredom, for a change, had signed on at 15 and had repeatedly gone absent and was apparently quite unsuited to the life and discipline of the Royal Navy. I persuaded him to give himself up and I turned him in personally at the police 126 station, which I think is the best thing to do when these lads become desperate and are on the run. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) was good enough to have this lad examined by a Service psychiatrist.
This is a point which I ventured to make in the evidence which I submitted to the Donaldson Committee. Premature release, so to speak, whether on compassionate grounds or release by purchase, is always difficult for the Service authorities, which have to keep a balance between the requirements of the Services and the interest of the individual. That is perfectly well understood. But what I would say to any hon. Member who is trying to secure the release of a Serviceman on the ground that he is not suited to the Service and that it is a waste of time and money to keep him in the Service is that he should ask the Minister responsible to allow the man to see an independent civilian psychiatric consultant as well as a Service psychiatrist.
In this case the two psychiatrists differed remarkably in their estimates of the man's character and potentialities. In January, 1967, I was advised by the Ministry that he had been examined by a psychiatrist who could find no psychiatric disorder. Later in January my hon. Friend wrote to me and said that the psychiatrist had found no mental disorder which rendered him unfit to stand trial or even to continue in the Service. So he pleaded guilty and got ninety days' detention. My hon. Friend added, as is the custom with letters from the Ministry of Defence tinder any Government:I sincerely hope thatso-and-sowill earn his full one third remission by good behaviour and that on release he will then be able to settle down to a useful career in the Navy.I then persuaded by hon. Friend to let an independent consultant psychiatrist examine this person. I do not wish to cast any reflection on the Service psychiatrist, who no doubt gave an honest opinion after a rather short interview, but the civilian psychiatrist came to a totally different conclusion, so that in July my hon. Friend wrote:I have now seen this second opinion and it indicates that there has been, regrettably, some deterioration in your constituent's mental state 127 since he was first seen by the naval psychiatrist"—I hope that that was not because of his incarceration in those detention quarters—and it is therefore unlikely that he will ever become a useful member of the Service. In these circumstances … I am approving his discharge as temperamentally unsuitable for a naval career.If any question of the mental or emotional stability of a Serviceman arises, particularly if he is a young Serviceman who has signed on for a long term at the age of 15 or 16 without realising what he was doing, it is extremely desirable that he should see not only a Service psychiatrist, but an independent civilian psychiatric consultant. I hope that those who represent the Ministry of Defence in this House will be good enough to bear this in mind and follow the excellent example set by my hon. Friend.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
I want to deal briefly with one aspect of court martial procedure not covered by the Bill. That is the situation which arises over costs for a successful defendant. As a young barrister I used to spend quite a lot of time in Germany appearing for Service personnel, officers and other ranks, who had been charged generally with civilian offences under the Air Force or Army Acts. There is nothing sweeter in an advocate's career than the moment at which he can ask for his client to be discharged with costs and then to succeed.
Although in many cases legal aid is available, it is contributory, and certainly in the Air Force and Army in many cases it is highly contributory. However, Judge Advocates have no discretion to award costs to a successful defendant. That falls even harder on senior other ranks or officers who for reasons of income do not fall within the scope of the legal aid scheme at all and in these circumstances have to carry the whole of their defence even when acquitted after a full and fair trial. They are still left heavily out of pocket so that any victory from their point of view must to some extent be a Pyrrhic one. It is a very small slur on what is otherwise an admirable system of justice. It is certainly something which can cause an individual to be punished through his pocket for merely being tried, 128 which is alien to the British system of law.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
In many respects this Bill is to the Forces what the Industrial Relations Bill is to the industrial worker. It has its penal sanctions which can be applied to Servicemen as they go about their occupations. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) said he was convinced that military law was applied fairly in the Services. I hope and believe that he is correct but we have no means of knowing whether that is a fact because, unlike the industrial worker, the Serviceman is not represented in this House by those who are knowledgeable through current contact and consultation with Servicemen.
It is one of the defects in our debate that we are discussing measures of the utmost importance to these men without the benefit of their views and opinions. I do not take the view of the noble Lord who, in opening the debate, said that these Acts are broadly understood by Servicemen. I very much doubt whether the average Serviceman has even seen the Army Act, the Air Force Act or the Naval Discipline Act. To give an illustration, when I was serving in the Royal Navy—
§ Lord Balniel
The point I was trying to make was that the Army Act, the Air Force Act and the Naval Discipline Act were long-standing Acts which I said I hoped were understood by Servicemen. I appreciate that they do not follow all the details. I was arguing that it was desirable to keep them separate rather than to have a unified Act which would be longer and more complicated.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I accept that. The noble Lord said "broadly understood", and I accept his definition. I am glad that he agrees with me that the ordinary Serviceman probably does not understand the details of the Act applying to his Service.
I was about to give an illustration of something which occurred to me during my service in the Royal Navy. I had reason to be in dispute with those who held command over me and I exercised my rights under the then King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions to inspect the regulations which applied to 129 the particular incident over which I was in dispute with my superior officers. I was entitled to see them, but I had to see them in the presence of an officer, who merely turned to the page he thought appropriate to the point I wished to investigate, allowed me to read that page, but not to make an extract from it in writing so that I might have it in mind later. I am sure that such out-of-date procedures have long since passed.
I am still doubtful about how quickly a Serviceman can get access to his particular disciplinary Act. I would like the Minister to give the House an assurance that on each ship or establishment these Acts are readily available for Servicemen to read and study without there being present a superior officer and that the men are able to understand the law applying to their occupations. That is a basic requirement, and I hope that we can have some assurance tonight. I hope, also, that the Under-Secretary will reply to the interesting point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Murray) about the application of Scottish and English law to Clause 75. It is a most pertinent point. The Minister must not slip away from the debate without dealing with it, and I hope that he will not endeavour so to do.
As the Bill will go to a Select Committee, we do not want to deal now with too many detailed points, but I wish to refer, in particular, to Clause 8. In days now gone, it was an offence—I think it was called "dumb insolence"—to stand before one's superior officer and by an expression upon one's face convey to that superior officer that one did not hold him in high regard. That has been abolished, but I am concerned—indeed, to use stronger language, I am somewhat appalled—to find that in Clause 8 there is a proposal to resinsert into the Army Act and the Air Force Act—not the Naval Discipline Act, because we have not been sufficiently progressive to remove the corresponding provision there—the words, "or behaves with contempt to". Thus, we are returning to the days when it was an offence by any facial expression to convey one's opinion of the person before whom one was standing to attention. I believe that this is a retrograde step.
130 I hope that the Minister will give a clear explanation of what is intended by the expression, "to behave with contempt to a superior officer". I hope that it does not mean that, if a serving soldier, airman or sailor is on a charge or is being addressed by his superior officer, he will be guilty of another offence if he expresses by his eyes the opinion which he may genuinely hold. That point needs to be cleared up, if not today, certainly when the Bill goes to the Select Committee.
I was surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) did not deal at greater length with the passing of those fine-sounding Sections and subsections of the Naval Discipline Act which deal with the duty of an officer in command of one of Her Majesty's vessels to bring that vessel into action in the face of the enemy and to pursue those whom it is his duty to pursue. I should like to hear from the Under-Secretary whether the Admiralty Board expressed any opinion or regret at the passing of those traditional sentences in the Naval Discipline Act.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) rightly referred to the passing from the Army Act of the words referring to "officers and gentlemen", and I assume that henceforth all members of the Army will be gentlemen at least by implication. The passing of those words is all very good, and probably the passing of the words in the Naval Discipline Act about the duty of a commanding officer is all very good. But we must be careful that we do not go too far in removing all the traditional customs and usages in our Armed Forces.
I particularly regret the passing of the Navy rum ration. If I might remind my right hon. Friend, the stopping of the naval rum ration, unfortunately, did not bring equality into the Royal Navy. It brought inequality and continuing distinctions between the various sections of the Royal Navy. The rum ration was abolished because it was considered to be incompatible with the need for seamen to operate the complex machinery and systems now used in the Royal Navy, and so it passed from the scene. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) had responsibility in 131 this matter, and he carries the odium of having taken the decision.
Though the rum ration was abolished for the lower deck, strong alcoholic drink was still available in the wardroom. My right hon. Friend talks about equality in the Forces, but we did not get equality in the Royal Navy when we made it a "dry" lower deck and still left the wardroom "wet". [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not a dry lower deck."] It is dry inasmuch as ratings no longer have spirits. I believe that they are entitled to an extra can of beer. The so-called extension of the privilege of spirits to petty officers and chief petty officers only serves to emphasise the point. By giving that privilege to petty officers, we give a constant reminder to the ordinary seaman on the lower deck of the privilege that he has lost and which is conferred only upon those of superior rank.
I join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East in his remarks about a Parliamentary Commissioner for the Forces. It would be a useful step forward if there were an official available to Servicemen who could listen to their genuine fears and complaints about the operation of the various laws and regulations governing their jobs. I go a little further than my right hon. Friend who left the question open. I say that it is no longer an open question. It is essential that we have a commissioner for the Armed Forces to do that job.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), in a remarkable and compassionate speech, dealt with some of the problems affecting individuals in detention, and, in passing, he referred to the occasion a short time ago when a number of seamen were charged under the Act and were sentenced to imprisonment for being drunk—I think the charge was conduct to the prejudice of good order and naval discipline, or whatever it may be—[An HON. MEMBER: "Mutiny."]—they were charged with mutiny because they were drunk on board ship. I was horrified to read that, despite the fact that those seamen were sentenced to imprisonment, the officer in command of the ship, who obviously had failed to exercise proper control, discipline and leadership, and who had invited a tramp aboard and entertained him in the wardroom, suffered only a reprimand. The 132 comparison between the punishments meted out, imprisonment for the seamen who were allowed to conduct themselves in such a disgraceful manner, and a reprimand imposed upon the officers who, by their lack of leadership and control, allowed this situation to develop, is but an illustration of the continuing disparity between the standards which appear to be applied to officers and those applied to other ranks.
I hope that the Select Committee which is to consider the Bill will make visits to the Forces and have an opportunity, at least informally—I recognise all the difficulties of formal meetings—perhaps over cups of tea or glasses of beer, to discuss some of the matters covered by the Bill with ordinary rank-and-file Servicemen. One accepts that one cannot have trade unions in the Forces, but the Select Committee, before recommending acceptance of these proposals to the House, ought to enable itself to discuss these matters informally with serving men so that we may know as a matter of fact rather than theory and belief the real reaction of those who are entrusted with the duty of protecting us and our nation.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) reminded us of the withdrawal of the rum ration by the last Government, and I agree with what he said. It was a somewhat mean and unnecessary act, and I regret that it was ever done.
The hon. Gentleman spoke also about the availability of the Army Act and the other Acts to ordinary soldiers, sailors and airmen at the places where they live and work. In my 22 years of experience in the Services, I found that the Acts were available in the company office, the squadron office or the ship's office for anyone who wished to see them. Most serving men, however, are more interested in the summary justice which is meted out by their commanding officer, and they are more likely to direct their minds to that.
I come now to the Bill itself. Clause 2 relates to conditions of total war, and I have one or two points to raise. On the question of misconduct in action, I am sure that the principle behind the 133 Clause is right, where it refers in the proposed new Section 24(1) to the offence of surrenderingwithout lawful excuse … any place or thing to the enemyor abandoningany place or thing which it is his duty to defend. …".It must be right to put those words in the Act, but in certain theatres during the last war one was constantly abandoning places and things as one moved up and down in desert warfare, and it would be difficult to say whether one has a lawful excuse at any one moment.
I have in mind another situation of which I was a victim during the last war and I have been unable to discover from my reading of the Bill how the malefactor in such a case would be caught. This was the case of a "stool-pigeon", a British Serviceman who deserted to the enemy with the intention of assisting them. He passed through the lines in the desert war, in 1941–42, and went over to the Italian side. Thereafter, as British soldiers were captured and became prisoners-of-war, he appeared among them in British Army clothing, impersonating a British officer. He tried to obtain from them information about dispositions and plans, and also whether they had plans for escape.
This man came to me. He appeared to be a British soldier, being dressed as an officer, and I was taken in. After he had left the cell where I was a prisoner-of-war, I had all my clothing taken away, and the various maps, compasses and things which I had hidden were removed from me. This man moved among numerous prisoners of war as they came through, and, in the way I have described, obtained from them information about Allied plans and about their own plans for escape. It was proved afterwards that he was responsible for the capture and death of many of our people concerned in those operations. Yet, having looked through the new provisions, I cannot see how he would be caught.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Is it not the proposed new Section 25(1)(d),having been captured by the enemy, serves with or aids the enemy in the prosecution of hostilities or of measures calculated to influence morale, or in any other manner whatsoever not authorised by international usage"?
§ Mr. Mather
I have noted that, but the opening words are "having been captured". The man I am referring to went over of his own volition, so I do not think that his case would be covered by that paragraph. However, I understand that he was eventually brought to book under the law prevailing at that time.
I turn next to Clause 6, which specifically provides that looting is against the law. During the last war, however, looting or the collection of booty was pretty prevalent and was winked at by the authorities on a fairly large scale. I remember that a very senior officer with whom I served was once accused of looting a pig. I feel that this phraseology should be looked at again to take account of that sort of situation and what might happen if, by some chance, we had war on that scale again.
I do not feel that the establishment of an ombudsman for the Armed Forces would be a great advantage or be particularly good for military discipline. The redress of grievances works extremely well in the Forces, and I should prefer to leave it to our present methods.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)
I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I was delayed in attending to a constituency problem.
The matter which I wish to raise is connected with the Bill and it arises from the recommendations made in the Donaldson Report, some of which were recently accepted by the Government. I was disappointed that all the recommendations were not accepted, but I was pleased that at least some were, and I felt that progress had been made in developing an understanding of the situation of young men or boys who, at one point in their lives, are encouraged to join the Forces and then, when they are a year or two older, realise that they have made a mistake. Everyone welcomes the new arrangement under which they will have a right to leave earlier than was possible hitherto, but our acceptance of that principle entails that we consider also the position of those young men who were boy recruits—I have two in my constituency, and one of them has this week, I believe, given himself up—and subsequently deserted because they were 135 unhappy and could not get their discharge.
In accepting some of the Donaldson recommendations, we recognise that young men at 15, 16 or 17 years of age will not fully appreciate all the consequences of the decision which they take then. I hope that we can go a stage further and, in the same light, consider the position of those who regret the decision which they then took and have deserted. The young man in my constituency to whom I have referred enlisted before he was 16. He is now 21. I am not sure how long he has been a deserter; I was not able to ascertain that.
My plea is that some compassion and understanding should be shown towards these young men. We have, as I say, endorsed the principle that boy recruits should have an opportunity to consider their position and obtain their release after they have served three years, and so on, and I hope that this will be borne in mind when some of these other young men who have given themselves up come forward for judgment. A number of young deserters who are still not able to give themselves up because they fear not only detention but that they will be put back in the Services and will have to serve the rest of their time and lose the period of their desertion are condemned to many years of misery and unhappiness. It will be a waste of their lives.
I know that it is not possible to make a general statement because each case must be dealt with individually, but if we could make it known to boy recruits who have deserted that the same principles will be applied to them as we are to apply to boy recruits after they have served a certain time we would end a great deal of unhappiness and uncertainty for perhaps a small but very important section of young people.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
There is always a danger in defence debates, which I have been taking part in for a number of years, that old battles will be refought. This debate has been no exception. We have had a short, interesting but nevertheless wide-ranging debate. I was interested in the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), who returned 136 to his old battle concerning the rum ration for the Navy. I was glad to hear that he does not now regard that matter as important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) made an interesting speech. I think that it was made on behalf of the Coldstream Guards, because he was chiding the Ministry for having been taken over by the Grenadiers. Far be it from me to intervene in the sniping between various members of the Brigade of Guards. All that I would say for the record is that it was drummed into every recruit to my old regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, that when we were offered the opportunity to become the first battalion of the Welsh Guards in 1916, we turned down the honour because it was felt that it was hardly worth while to become a new regiment dating from 1916 in view of the illustrious victories which the Fusiliers had won from 1753 or thereabouts.
Having been concerned for over two years in discharging, as Minister, across-the-board responsibilities for each of the Services, I very much welcome the major aim of the Bill to bring the Services more into line one with another on the issue of discipline. From my short experience in these matters, I realise the limitations—the different considerations of each Service and the attractions of commonality which must be weighed against any possible deterioration in the effectiveness of each Service. I think that it would be right to say that under my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) we made very great progress in creating a Ministry of Defence compared with the previous loose-knit federal structure. I am sure that this trend will continue.
Like the Minister of State, I had the opportunity, as an across-the-board Minister, to see the problems of each Service in turn. I had the chance, as I am sure the noble Lord has had, of presiding over each of the Service Boards. It was interesting to see how they behaved—and I do not mean that in any offensive way—and their reactions to problems. Not many people have had the opportunity of presiding over each Service Board in turn.
While my responsibilities hardly ever referred to the issue of discipline—I was concerned with equipment rather than 137 with the problems of men apart from a fairly short period in the summer just before and after the death of Gerry Reynolds, who was highly esteemed by the Services—I remember on one famous occasion presiding over the Navy Board when the system of discipline in the Navy was discussed.
The process of the harmonisation of the Services will go on. We envisaged this in our last White Paper. We proposed the abolition of single Service junior Ministers and instead the appointment of one or more Ministers who would be responsible across the board for the three Services. It is perhaps regrettable that the Government, who were pledged to reduce the size of the Administration, shied when they came to this fence. This was in the face of a report of business men, senior Service officers and senior civil servants who had come to the same conclusion as us. Nevertheless, they merged two posts in the office of Minister of State, as we had envisaged.
§ Lord Balniel
Far from shying from the issue, we took a positive decision to the effect that it was right and in the interests of the Services that each Service should have a political head to whom it could look. We are absolutely convinced that our action was right and wise.
§ Mr. Morris
The noble Lord is entitled to his opinion, but the Government shied at our decision to reduce the number of Service Ministers. After a great deal of consideration, they rejected the idea of having one political head for each Ministry and decided on appointing a person with across-the-board responsibilities.
§ Mr. Ramsden
Will the right hon. Gentleman say when the Opposition, when in government, said that they would reduce the number of Ministers? They said in the White Paper that they would replace them with others with across-the-board responsibilities, but, to my recollection, they never published any intention about reducing the number of Ministers.
§ Mr. Morris
This was one of the major claims of the Government when they were in opposition. We made our position clear in our last White Paper on these matters. We said that we would 138 amalgamate the two offices of Minister of State, as the Government have done, and that instead of having one junior Minister for each Service there would be a reduction in that one Minister or possibly more would have across-the-board responsibilities. One of the Government's claims when they were in opposition was that they would reduce the number of Ministers. When they came to the question of junior Ministers for each Service, they shied at the fence.
The Service Boards cling to their junior Ministers as though they were their fathers in God. They have a certain amount of power in questions of discipline, but they still believe that they have a substantial power, which has been eroded. They know full well, if they look at the matter rationally and objectively, that the powers of decision have been taken from the Service Boards and vest in across-the-board Ministers like the Minister of State and the Secretary of State. But I am sure that in the fullness of time the Service Boards will no longer exist and there will be junior Ministers with across-the-board responsibilities.
A great many senior offices are filled by members of each Service in turn. We on this side of the House are partly responsible for this. The fact that these men, from the Chief of the Defence Staff down, hold the offices in turn is perhaps regrettable. The best man for the job should do it. Although there are many jobs which can be done only by members of a particular Service, I hope that in the fullness of time the best men for the job will be given the job rather than its being a question of the turn of any particular Service.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Services are in the fortunate position of having so many excellent men that the jobs can be rotated with ease?
§ Mr. Morris
Discussion of that point would take me outside the ambit of the debate. All I would say is that it is a very odd defence of the system to say that there are so many excellent men in the Services that the jobs can be rotated rather than that they should be done by the best men for the job.
I welcome the Bill, as I said earlier. Obviously, when we are in the Select 139 Committee we shall have to examine in some detail particular Clauses. It is, perhaps, one of the difficulties, as the Minister, I am sure, would concede, of making a Second Reading speech on the Bill that it is full of a large number of very important details. However, the Bill seeks to harmonise the three Services, and this, I am sure, is welcome to the House. I also accept, although I feel we should look at this also, regarding the framework for administering the disciplinary code of each of the Services, that there are different needs for the different Services, and I appreciate very much the needs of the Royal Navy in this respect. Anyone who has had any experience of these matters will, I am sure, accept the need for speedy and effective decisions when one is, perhaps, more remote than are others from the central machine.
To achieve this harmonisation in the codes there has had to be a great deal of give and take by each of the Services. This is commendable to the House. It is not always easy to give up one's existing position in order to arrive at the degree of harmonisation which one sees in the present Measure, but I think that this is in the spirit of the relationship now between the Services.
I would also make the point, which has been made already, that one of the objects of the Bill is to bring military law closer in harmony with the civilian law. This is a sound principle, and it reflects the consideration given to this matter as far back as 1963 by a Select Committee of this House, when it found that members of the Armed Forces should, so far as is consistent with the efficiency of the Services, enjoy the normal rights of a citizen.
This is obviously sound, because a soldier today, more than ever, is part of the society whence he comes: he is not cut off; he behaves, particularly in his off-duty hours, in his social life, very much likes the others in the society from which he has come. Indeed, this is reflected in the changed problems within the Armed Forces, for he is married younger, as he would have been, no doubt, had he remained in the outside world, and as other men in the outside world are nowadays, and this gives rise in turn to, for example, problems of soldiers' accommodation.
140 Indeed, this problem is seen in the architecture of the Forces today. When I was a young recruit one was kept incarcerated behind high walls for weeks on end before the outside world was allowed to see one in one's brand new uniform—ill-fitting sometimes. Now, in the new camps which have been built, and I refer particularly to one in the Principality, at Crickhowell, the very architecture, the very openness, has been deliberately planned—this was explained to me by a very senior officer in the Principality—for the purpose of showing that soldiers today are not cut off from the rest of society; and that place is very different from the old barracks in which some of the older generation worked. Perhaps not a great deal of thanks is due to the Armed Forces themselves for this development, because the standards and codes of discipline, if they are to be effective in this day and age, obviously must reflect in part, also in substance, the conditions in the outside world.
We have had a number of comments about courts martial, and particularly from my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield. Courts martial are, of course, limited in their jurisdiction. I would bow to the experience of one hon. Member who has spoken on this subject, but I found from my short experience of these matters, when I was a National Service subaltern, that the courts martial did their job effectively, and general officers were able to grasp details with commendable speed, and generally justice was seen to be done. Since the setting up of the Courts Martial Appeal Court I think this is much more so, in that there is a new avenue of appeal.
I am glad that one of the amendments which are now introduced by the Bill is to give to courts martial powers of awarding consequential sentences for more than one charge. This brings the courts martial, as is the object, into line with our civilian courts.
The Minister of State told the House that, following the discussion in the other place, an Amendment would be brought in to deal with the position of civilians on appeal. Perhaps it is a surprise to some Members of this House that civilians can be dealt with at all by a court martial, but where they are accompanying part of the Regular Forces, either here or overseas, they are subject to military law, and 141 where such matters arise overseas it is usually in the civilian's interest that these should be tried by a court martial rather than that he should go within the jurisdiction of an overseas country.
It seems rather odd, though, that while there is a right of appeal in civilian courts in this country, both against conviction and against sentence, the only remedy against sentence for a civilian, like that of the soldier, is to make his representations through the usual military channels, whereas an appeal against conviction can be made to the Courts Martial Appeal Tribunal. We shall look forward to the Amendment which will be introduced, according to the assurance of the hon. Gentleman, to remedy this position and to give the civilian the right which he enjoys in the outside world.
I think that one of the other matters which cause concern from time to time is sentencing—that is, the powers and the methods and the policy of the military courts on sentencing. One of the queries in another place was whether or not a court martial should award a sentence of a probationary period. Obviously, this will not arise with a soldier, but it might well be an appropriate remedy in the case of a civilian. Perhaps when the hon. Gentleman winds up we shall be told the position on this, and, indeed, about the form of punishment, which we have in our civilian courts, of suspended sentence. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could tell us what is the position, and what is the range of punishments which can be awarded to a civilian. I am sure the House would be interested. Particularly following the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), on the whole issue of sentencing, I think it would be valuable for the House, knowing that there is no appeal against sentencing for soldiers, to be told some time what is the policy on sentencing. How does sentencing by courts martial compare with that for like offences in civilian courts? I am sure the House would welcome at some stage, perhaps before we pass the Bill, the Minister's taking the opportunity of presenting a document for the Select Committee, or in some other way enlightening us on sentencing.
As to detention, I have no personal experience of having been detained, fortunately, but I would think that detention 142 could be compared with imprisonment. That, obviously, must be very expensive in terms of manpower. One would like to know how this sentence compares with similar punishment in civilian life.
I was concerned with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking about the naval detention centre. He commended my hon. Friend for the improvements which have taken place, and I am advised by him that quite extensive improvements have taken place in the conditions at the detention centre, but I would ask a question, and I can ask it not having been concerned, as I said earlier, with issues of discipline. Since we are harmonising more and more the three Services and having a common code for offences and punishments, is it not right, perhaps, to look further into the issue raised by my hon. Friend when he was a Minister? If I recall aright, the suggestion was the unifying of places of punishments. The premises at Portsmouth are exceedingly antiquated. Following the study, it might be proper to move the place of punishment of those who have been sentenced by the Navy to Colchester where those who have been sentenced by the other Services are accommodated. I know that this suggestion commended itself to my hon. and right hon. Friends when they considered it at first blush. Since we are seeing a great deal of harmonisation, we should also harmonise this so as to save a great deal of expense and achieve a commonality of conditions for people in the Services who have to serve sentences. A great deal of fresh air could be let into the matter in this way, and perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will say a little about this later.
May I thank the Minister for the fair and detailed way in which he dealt with the issue of the death penalty. I am sure that the House will also wish to commend him. The death penalty is now being re-enacted for a range of military offences. As one committed to the abolition of the death penalty for murder, I have examined with some care the new proposals. I immediately concede, as did my right hon. Friend, that Clause 7 is a great step forward. The present position of mutiny with violence or threat of violence being a capital offence will no longer continue, and retention of the death penalty will be limited to an optional sentence for Service offences which 143 directly or indirectly assist the enemy. I presume this would arise usually in time of war, and perhaps this can be confirmed. Where there is a great deal of killing sanctioned by the State going on, it would be odd to take exception to the ultimate sanction being available for somebody who has put himself in the position of being the tool of the enemy. It is a matter for individual conscience, but very different considerations arise as to the use of the death penalty where a person endangers the lives of his comrades.
Clause 56 deals with the position of the deserter. Before I went to the Ministry of Defence my right hon. Friends were much concerned about the unfortunate incident where a person brought before the magistrates' court as a deserter was discharged, and was then arrested under military law by the military authorities but was not brought again before the magistrates' court. Administrative steps were taken by my right hon. Friends soon after that event to ensure that there should not be a repetition of this procedure, and I do not think there has been a repetition of it. I am sure the House will welcome the putting into legislation of the administrative steps taken by the Government's predecessors to avoid a repetition of that incident.
The right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), who has a great deal of experience in dealing with defence generally—I have crossed swords with him metaphorically during the last nine years on defence matters—raised the issue of low flying. This is a matter which causes a great deal of concern in many parts of the country. In this day when we pay so much lip service—and I hope more than lip service—to the environment, some parts of the country do not realise what the problem is, but many areas are acutely affected by low flying. It was the policy of the Ministry of Defence—I am sure it still is, but perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will give this assurance once again—to limit as much as possible in time and intensity the level of flying on these necessary operations.
This matter has been pressed upon Ministers from time to time, and my good colleague in the other place who was responsible for the Air Force said that he probably had more letters from Members 144 of Parliament on this issue than on any other. In many instances this training cannot take place over the sea, which is a solution which is pressed upon us from time to time. I am sure that those who are affected will welcome the proposal to strengthen the punishment for illegal low flying and, given the sophisticated aircraft that are now being flown, to recognise that responsibility should lie with the commander of the aircraft. I was not in sympathy with the deliberations in another place. Here we are dealing with highly sophisticated aeroplanes where the power of decision lies with the commander of the aircraft, and that is where the responsibility should lie. I particularly commend this part of the Bill.
This is perhaps only of very small cheer to those who are affected by low flying, and I ask the Minister responsible to ensure that he presses this matter from time to time. From my Ministerial experience of five and a half years, I have found that the only way to ensure that one's interests are kept alive is to keep the pot boiling. I hope that the Minister will continue to ask, time after time, whether the Air Force is keeping to its assurances to limit the instances of low flying to as few as possible. The proposal in the Bill will be a small assurance to those who are directly affected.
I welcome the Bill in that it seeks to harmonise discipline and administration in the three Services. Secondly, it brings military law more closely in line with civilian law. Thirdly, it recognises the need to mitigate where possible the impact of military activities on civilian life. I join in the thanks that have been accorded to those who have been working on the Bill for two years, if not more. Subject to the necessary scrutiny in detail which must take place in the Select Committee, I add my voice to commend the Bill as yet another step in the harmonisation and bringing together of the three Services.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Peter Kirk)
Both the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) and the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) commented that this was not an easy Bill on which to have a normal Second Reading debate. This is true. It is very 145 much an omnibus Bill. It is possible—indeed, it has been shown this afternoon to be possible—to discuss almost any matter relating to the Armed Forces without going out of order and, as a result, we have had a wide-ranging debate. I think that everyone will agree that it has been a good debate and, if there has been a central theme, it has been the great affection and pride which we in this House have for the three Armed Services of this country, and our determination through this Bill and in other ways to support them to the fullest possible extent.
What criticisms there have been of the Services have been designed to improve them rather than to run them down. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Con-cannon) was slightly critical of the Services but even more worried about the Ministry of Defence, which he seemed to think had succumbed to a coup d'état of the Brigade of Guards and what he would regard as one of the more junior regiments of that Brigade. I can assure him that, although I am heavily outnumbered, there is a small patch of dark blue still in the Ministry of Defence, and we hold our own very well.
The right hon. Member for Aberavon queried the Government's decision on taking office last June to keep the three Service Boards separate. This is not a matter specifically referred to in the Bill, but the fact that discipline ultimately is exercised by the Boards brings this matter within the confines of the Bill. It will be recalled that there was a proposal put forward by the previous Administration in their last White Paper to abolish the single-Service Ministers and thereby no doubt eventually to abolish the three Service Boards. This was not a question of our shying away from this matter. It was a matter of judgment.
In our judgment, although the greatest measure of harmonisation is desirable between the three Services, there are separate and distinct manifestations within the Services which are best represented by separate Boards and by separate Ministers. I believe that this has been welcomed widely within the Services. It certainly makes the conduct of defence matters in this House a great deal easier, as hon. Members know who come to us with their problems. Although the abolition of one of the offices of Minister of 146 State has placed a considerable burden on my noble Friend, I can assure the House that the three of us who act for the three Services also occasionally mix in each other's responsibilities and there is a good deal of tri-Service co-operation always within the Ministry and it seems to work well.
If I may turn to the provisions of the Bill, I feel that I should refer once again to the constitutional propriety of bringing forward the Bill in another place. My noble Friend made it plain that since the change in form that took place in 1955, there is no statutory or constitutional reason for the Bill not to be brought forward in another place and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) said—and this matter was also referred to by the hon. Member for Mansfield—there were reasons of convenience as between the two Houses why that should be.
There is one other reason which is worth mentioning. This is the fourth quinquennial review and it means that the Select Committee will have the advantage, if somewhat second-hand, of opinions expressed in another place about this Bill.
The Bill will need to be gone into in detail as this Second Reading debate clearly has shown. A number of points have been raised which I will try to answer. After this Bill has gone to a Select Committee, it will subsequently go into Committee of the whole House. Therefore, at the end of the day nobody will be able to say that we have not done our homework. Indeed, it will probably be discussed more than any other major Bill this Session.
One of the major points in the Bill is the codification of offences under the three Acts, and in consequence the placing of the Naval Discipline Act on a quinquennial basis like the other two. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate referred to the rather privileged position which the Navy appears to occupy in the House as opposed to the other Services. I am in the unique position of being the only person here who has been politically associated with two Services, first of all with the Army in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and now with the Navy. I have certainly noticed the warmth and affection I now get from the Navy which 147 I never got when I was Under-Secretary of State for War. Nevertheless, we feel it right that we should not trade on this privileged position, and the Navy and the Admiralty Board itself welcome the fact that they, too, will come up for scrutiny every five years. They will then have an opportunity to put their views to a Select Committee every five years, an advantage which hitherto has been denied to them.
The Bill has been generally welcomed in the House. A number of detailed points have been raised, and I shall try to answer them as best I can, though it will be necessary to go into matters in much more detail when the matter is before a Select Committee.
The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) raised the question of the abolition of the rum ration. I do not know whether he wanted a further statement from me. This was a decision taken by the previous Administration. I re-examined the matter on taking office and came to the conclusion that they were absolutely right, and I am certain the Navy has benefited from it. Although we have allowed petty officers' messes to sell spirits, speaking as a veteran of six months or more who has consumed more pints of beer in petty officers' messes than I care to remember, I assure the hon. Gentleman that widespread drunkenness has not taken place in those messes. Indeed, the situation is settling down very happily indeed.
The question of low flying was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and also by the right hon. Member for Aberavon. I can give the assurance that Ministers in this Administration are just as concerned as was the previous Administration over the matter of low flying. I personally have investigated two cases and I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State responsible for the Air Force has done the same. This is one of the most difficult problems facing the Ministry of Defence at the moment, and as a Member of Parliament whose constituency contains Stansted I have this matter very much in mind.
The important question raised by a number of hon. Members related to the death penalty, which was a matter originally raised in the speech of my noble Friend fully and generously and 148 which the House appreciated. I would point out that both my noble Friend and myself voted for the abolition of the death penalty, as did my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State responsible for the Army. We were therefore put, not perhaps in a dilemma, but certainly in an earnest position when we came to examine this Bill in draft over this question. We all three came to the conclusion that there was no alternative but the maintenance of the death penalty for certain offences. It applies only to offences committed with intent to assist the enemy, offences which most people would agree are very close to treason, and therefore would be liable under civil law as it at present stands; or the one case of the offence of mutiny with violence when committed in a warlike or active service situation.
I would point out to the right hon. Member for Aberavon that it is unlikely that these provisions will ever be used. It is almost impossible that they would have to be used in peace time, but we feel that the provision should be there. I feel as a result of today's debate that the House accepts this view as reasonable, regrettable though it may be to many people, including myself.
I come now to a matter in which I have taken a close personal interest, and that is the question of the Royal Naval Detention Quarters at Portsmouth. The right hon. Member for Aberavon referred to the possibility of unification of various corrective training centres which the Services maintain. We are still considering this matter, but there are problems. One of the major problems, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) will recall, is that the Navy is different in two respects, in that conditions in certain of Her Majesty's ships are not all that comfortable and therefore conditions in naval detention quarters cannot be all that comfortable either.
Secondly, and rather more seriously, the Navy does not have, as have the other two Services, guard rooms in which to keep short-term offenders for up to 28 days under fairly minimal conditions. For that reason the Royal Naval Detention Quarters serve a dual purpose in a way that the military corrective training establishment at Colchester does not. This, coupled with their age, which is considerable, leads us into difficulties.
149 I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Sutton for the immense improvements in R.N.D.Q. as I saw for myself not so long ago. These improvements included the introduction of lectures, television, controlled discussion between instructors and detainees; an improvement in food, with an increase to 4,200 calories; the introduction of bunks instead of plank beds; extension of the library, and so on. All these things have been done within the constraining limits of this institution.
We are going further now with structural improvements as well—again planned by the hon. Gentleman—work on new washing and toilet facilities, a new sick bay, work on a dining hall, modernisation of the galley and so on, and we hope to take over a plot of adjacent land which will enable us to provide extra space for physical recreation.
All this does not alter the fact that there are problems in dealing with naval ratings who have committed offences, some quite serious offences, in trying to achieve the right balance in conditions in the naval detention quarters, having regard to the conditions in which they serve at sea. Our object is to rehabilitate them for continued service. Those who are to be discharged from the Royal Navy go to Colchester from the beginning and not to Portsmouth. It is right that, in these circumstances, the corrective training should be undertaken in a naval environment and by naval personnel, as they are intended to continue serving there.
However, I have been worried about the position of those serving long sentences in Portsmouth. If one takes the analogy of the guard room, it is clear that, whereas guard room conditions may be all right for reasonably short periods, they are not all right for long periods. I have therefore decided to limit the period in R.N.D.Q. to that which is necessary to achieve the rehabilitation. Any further period of detention will be served at Colchester and they will be moved there. I hope to be able to embark on this on 1st February this year.
§ Mr. Kirk
Yes, the tasks have now been reduced. They now amount to no 150 more than two hours a week. This was another reform by the previous Administration. It is part of the difficulty in confined surroundings with little to do, but we are trying to improve that with increased space and so on. But the tasks will remain, all the same: we do need the mats in the Royal Navy.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, East raised the question of "scandalous conduct", and asked whether it was still necessary to provide for this offence in this Bill. This offence has been a feature of Service disciplinary Acts for a long time. We considered it again very carefully when reviewing the systems, and we have concluded that it is essential if the standards required of an officer are to be maintained. Every profession has its own system of ethical standards—examples are medicine and the law—which has to be accepted by members and which goes beyond the requirements of the ordinary law.
Cases arise—not very often, I am glad to say—when an officer cannot match up to the standard of this profession. In some cases, it is enough to allow the person concerned to leave quietly, but, in a few cases, what has happened is too serious to follow this course and a more formal process is essential, which may even be fairer to the individual on occasion, since it provides at least the chance to have his case heard.
This provision enables the Service to deal with the case of an officer who has not necessarily committed a criminal offence and may not even have conducted himself in a way "to the prejudice", but who nevertheless is unsuitable for further service in the Armed Forces. We believe that this provision is right.
A number of hon. Members, including both Front Bench speakers, opposite and the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford asked about the powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner being applied to the Forces. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) were against this proposal. We are all agreed, I think, that so far as the Bill concerns the proceedings in military courts, it would be wholly inappropriate and totally wrong for the Parliamentary Commissioner to be given powers.
151 As to the other aspects of the question, however, I am in a slight difficulty. The right hon. Member for Dundee, East recalled the Report of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration earlier this year on the question of areas excluded from his investigations. That Report, which raised very important issues of policy, so far as the Government were concerned, is still under consideration, and a statement will be made in due course. Until it is made, there is not much that I can say about it, except that this matter is definitely under review in the general review of the Parliamentary Commissioner's activities.
§ Mr. John Morris
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman cannot answer this question now, but I should be glad if he could give an answer later. Will this matter come within the cognisance of the Select Committee—whether or not the Parliamentary Commissioner's powers should apply?
§ Mr. Kirk
I do not think that one can guarantee it. The Select Committee is to examine the Bill. To what extent it can examine something which is not in the Bill and which, for the reason that I have given, cannot be in the Bill, it is difficult to say. That is largely a matter for the Committee itself to decide.
The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) mentioned Clause 28, dealing with the spreading of information damaging to morale. With respect, this is not a new provision. It merely repeats the present Section 27 of the Army and Air Force Acts, and the only purpose of putting it in here is so that we can write it into the Naval Discipline Act. This is part of the process of unification and not a new and sudden departure—
§ Mr. Kirk
That is true, but I was answering the hon. Gentleman's point that we were making a new and sudden departure. The question of justification is a matter for the Select Committee and then the Committee of the whole House. I should have thought that there was a case for it—it has proved so in the past—but that is a matter for the Select Committee to decide.
The hon. Member for Barking and a number of other hon. Members mentioned 152 some of the matters arising out of the recent Report of the Donaldson Committee. I was surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the Government had not done much about it. His hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Joan Lestor) qualified that by saying that we should have gone a good deal further.
In fact, of the many recommendations of the Donaldson Committee, we accepted all but two. One of them, we thought, was wholly impracticable—the suggestion that many things borne on the Defence Vote should be borne on the Vote of the Department of Education and Science. That is something which I am all for, but it would be difficult to achieve. The other was one which created, we thought, an unfair discrimination between different types of boy soldier—apprentices and others. Otherwise, we accepted the Report as it stood, and we intend to apply it. Therefore, the problem would not have been made any easier—particularly the problem to which the hon. Lady referred—if we had accepted the two recommendations which we did not accept.
The essential recommendation of the Donaldson Committee which should ease the hon. Lady's problem—we have corresponded on a number of these cases—is the one which urged the Navy in particular to shorten the period in which discharge by purchase was allowed. The Navy has undertaken to do this. It will fall into line with the other Services by 1977. That is a longish period, but conditions of naval recruitment require that we take time to adapt it. That, and that alone, will solve the problem of someone who is already in the Service, although I have given instructions that the system of a four-year engagement which has been applied to certain of the over-18s entering the Service in certain sections of the Navy shall now be applied roughly throughout the Service. That may help those entering the Service at that time.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate asked whether the Report itself required legislation. Clause 64 of the Bill provides for the making of regulations which can be used to reflect any changes implicit in the Report. I am advised that nothing further is necessary to ensure that that Report is carried out to the full.
153 Another question was whether we should not try to get a common code of punishment for officers and men. This is a difficult one. To give one example, how would it be possible for a private soldier to be reduced in rank? He could not go any lower than he was at the time, so that punishment is not available for a very large number of soldiers. Furthermore, the whole point of military detention, if not accompanied by discharge from the Service, is to re-educate, to get the man back into the Service and into a Service frame of mind again. It would be very difficult for an officer who had been sentenced to detention to go back and command the respect that he should command as an officer.
So there are considerable problems here, which I am afraid it is almost impossible to resolve. Although we cannot provide in the Bill the same punishments for officers and other ranks, the new provisions for punishment in the Bill contain fewer differences. For instance, we have got rid of cashiering, something which was only for officers. We replaced it in the Army and Air Force Acts by dismissal and disgrace, and this applies to any Serviceman. However, to have complete unification for officers and other ranks would, I suggest, be almost impossible.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
Detention is almost exclusively an other ranks punishment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) mentioned his feeling about detention being almost synonymous with a prison sentence. I believe that there is a feeling in the House generally that detention is used rather too frequently as a form of punishment in the Services and that a review of this form of punishment is necessary in that it is used rather more than it perhaps should be in the changed climate of opinion in Britain with regard to penal law.
§ Mr. Kirk
It is difficult to comment specifically on this subject. One would need to make a wide survey of precisely how often this form of punishment was used. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is rather more an other ranks punishment; this is because officers, if they are imprisoned, do not return to the Services, mainly, of course, because they cannot. Other ranks, on the other 154 hand, can return. This is the major point of difference and the reason why there appears to be discrimination here, but it is rather more in the form than in the substance.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate spoke of the difficulty of applying, as well as fully comprehending, the complications of Service law. I am advised that the Services do not find this a tremendous problem. All officers are given some training in Service law and there are legal services available to give advice and instruction if necessary. Although some of the manuals may be complicated, they are designed to instruct.
As for legal problems generally, a knotty legal problem was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Murray) on a difficult point of Scottish law which I was ordered to answer by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford. I will, therefore, answer it.
I am not, as it happens, either a Scotsman or a lawyer. Drawing heavily, therefore, on the advice I have, I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Clause in question seeks to deal only with admissibility and not with the weight of evidence. It is necessary only because in Scotland the formula to establish admissibility exists in relation to the phrase "shall be sufficient evidence"in England it is "shall be evidence". The Clause does not confer any higher degree of proof than that existing in England. I hope that that is comprehensible to the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is, to a certain extent only, comprehensible to me; and if he requires further information I will gladly consult the Lord Advocate.
I come to the question of the Iveston mutiny. I do not think that there is any doubt that it was a case of mutiny. Indeed, this appears to have been accepted by the men, because they did not appeal against conviction but against sentence. In those circumstances, I do not think the authorities had any choice but to proceed in the way they did. Nor do I think there was any great discrepancy between the way in which the men were treated and the way in which the officers were dealt with. The officers had not indulged in mutiny though they may have been negligent. They were, therefore, reprimanded for carrying out their duties in a negligent way, but they were 155 not found guilty of an offence other than that and I do not see how they could have been treated in any other way.
The hon. Member for Mansfield asked why a Serviceman is dismissed if he is sent to prison. I suggest that one can assume that if a Serviceman is sent to prison he has committed a quite serious crime. That being so, he is not the sort of man we want in the Services. The standard required in the Services nowadays is high. It has been the practice for a number of years not to take back a Serviceman if he has been sentenced in the civil courts to serve a prison sentence. The Clause to which the hon. Member for Mansfield referred merely writes into the law what in fact has been the practice for a considerable time.
The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford raised the question of dumb insolence, something of which he will never be accused. This is not a question of putting the clock back but of unification. There are various forms of contemptuous behaviour which should be guarded against and it was felt right to bring the other Acts into line with the Naval Act. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to do so, he can pursue the matter further with the Select Committee or in Committee of the whole House. The facts on this issue are readily available for study by Servicemen. Indeed, there is an obligation in this matter to ensure that men under one's command are acquainted with the facts. For example, the Articles of War must be displayed in all Her Majesty's ships.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) referred to the award of costs. I regret that my hon. Friend is not in his place to hear me tell him that he certainly has a point. It is a matter that should be looked into by the Select Committee, and I hope that it will be. At present it is a matter for discretion: costs can be awarded to a successful appellant in a courts martial appeal court but not in the lower court.
My hon. Friend the Member for Esher raised the question of looting and desertion to aid the enemy. I believe that the case he cited would be caught under the treason or treachery Acts. I cannot believe that a Serviceman who crosses over to the enemy in time of war and 156 while in uniform remains to assist the enemy would not be caught under one of those Measures.
As for looting, that has been an offence since the last war. The Bill widens its scope to include operations in aid of the civil power, which we are advised is a point not covered by the existing Acts. This is necessary in view of the amount of time which the Services now provide in aiding the civil power.
I have done my best to cover most of the points that have been raised. My noble Friend pointed out, as I did at the outset, that there will be opportunities to raise these and other points in the Select Committee and during the deliberations in Committee of the whole House.
In view of the general welcome which the Bill has received, I trust that it will now be given a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Select Committee.—[Mr. Monro.]