HC Deb 28 June 1974 vol 875 cc1942-6

(1) For the purposes of this Act, any finding that a person is guilty of an offence in respect of any act or omission which was the subject of service disciplinary proceedings shall be treated as a conviction and any punishment awarded or order made in respect of any such finding shall be treated as a sentence.

(2) Without prejudice to subsection (1) above any finding in respect of any act or omission which was the subject of any such proceedings that the person charged was guilty of, or did the act or made the omission, but was insane at the time, or is not guilty by reason of insanity, shall, if no order is made in respect of that finding, be treated for the purposes of this Act both as a conviction and as a sentence.

(3) In this Act, "service disciplinary proceedings" means any of the following—

  1. (a) any proceedings under the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955, or the Naval Discipline Act 1957 (whether before a court-martial or before any other court or person authorised thereunder to award a punishment in respect of any offence);
  2. (b) any proceedings under any Act previously in force corresponding to any of the Acts mentioned in paragraph (a) above;
  3. (c) any proceedings under any corresponding enactment or law applying to a force other than a home force, to which section 4 of the Visiting Forces (British Commonwealth) Act 1933 applies or applied at the time of the proceedings, being proceedings 1943 in respect of a member of a home force who is or was at that time attached to the first-mentioned force under that section;
whether in any event those proceedings take place in Great Britain or elsewhere.—[Mr. Alexander W. Lyon.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

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

The first group of amendments illustrates the difficulty that I was referring to, which caused the Government to give assistance with the Bill and try to help with the redrafting to meet all the difficulties that are attendant upon it.

The new clause deals with the position in relation to courts martial and courts martial sentences and convictions. Clearly it would not be right if we were to pass a Bill giving rehabilitation for convictions and sentences in the past if we did not try also to deal with the problem in relation to Service disciplinary proceedings. This is what the new clause does, together with the other amendments that are grouped with it.

Subsection (1) equates findings of guilt by Service authorities with convictions by civilian courts, and punishments awarded by such authorities with sentences passed by such courts, for the purposes of the Bill.

Subsection (2) provides that where, in Service disciplinary proceedings, a person is found guilty but insane, or not guilty by reason of insanity, the finding is to count as both a conviction and a sentence for the purposes of the Act. This brings it into line with the Bill as at present drafted in relation to civil criminal proceedings.

This means that a person is capable of becoming rehabilitated in respect of such a finding. The appropriate rehabilitation period is five years, or two years after release from custody, whichever is the longer, under subsection (7A) of the new Clause 3, which is to be inserted by a later Government amendment.

Subsection (3) defines "Service disciplinary proceedings" and is largely self-explanatory. The definition includes proceedings under Acts superseded by subsequent legislation so that persons found guilty in such proceedings may benefit from the provisions of the Bill. It also includes proceedings which take place outside Great Britain. Other Government amendments to the new Clause 3 set out the appropriate rehabilitation periods in respect of sentences imposed by service authorities.

11.15 a.m.

The other amendments are largely drafting. There are two to which I shall draw particular attention. Amendment No. 6 deals with a sentence of cashiering or of discharge with ignominy or dismissal with disgrace from Her Majesty's service". Cashiering is now an obsolete sentence, and it is referred to only because there will be some people who still have a sentence of cashiering against them, and we have to deal with their position as well.

The way in which the matter has been approached is that these offences should count in relation to rehabilitation. In relation to a sentence of detention, the period will be seven years for rehabilitation. In relation to a sentence of dismissal from Her Majesty's service, it will be seven years.

In relation to dismissal with disgrace, it is not proposed that that sentence could be rehabilitated. I have considered this at some length, but I am advised by the Ministry of Defence that courts martial normally retain the sentence of dismissal with disgrace for very serious offences which might be equated in civilian courts with a sentence of imprisonment of more than two and a half years. In other words, it is rather like a Crown court sentence for an exceptionally serious offence. In those circumstances, the Ministry of Defence thinks it right, and I agree, that this sentence should not be capable of being rehabilitated. That would be the effect of the amendment.

Amendment No. 17 specifies the rehabilitation period applicable to a finding in Service disciplinary proceedings that the person is guilty but insane or not guilty by reason of insanity. The period is five years or two years after discharge, whichever is the longer.

The second new subsection provides that, where a conviction results in any kind of disqualification, the rehabilitation period applicable to the sentence shall be a period of disqualification beginning with the date of conviction. This goes wider than military service questions. It relates to the point taken in Committee about disqualification. The House will recollect that the Bill in its present state says that the period of rehabilitation shall be the period of disqualification or one year, whichever is the longer.

It was drawn to the attention of the Standing Committee that there will be occasions when a sentence by itself—not apparently including a period of disqualification—may attract, under the general law, a period of disqualification—for instance, disqualification from jury service. It would, therefore, appear possible that that period would be included. This amendment is designed to help with that provision and, equally, to deal with the position of disqualification from driving offences. It retains the effect of the new Clause 4(3) in respect of orders arising from a conviction—for example, under the Criminal Justice Act 1972, which disqualifies from jury service for 10 years anyone sentenced to more than three months' imprisonment. Under the new existing Clause 4(3), that would automatically apply a 10-year rehabilitation period to any such sentences, which would make nonsense of the shorter rehabilitation period set out in the Bill. By confining the effect of disqualification to orders arising from a specific conviction, that difficulty is overcome.

The next amendment with which I wish to deal is No. 20. This is merely a minor drafting amendment to take account of the inclusion in the clause of new subsection (7A) and (7B).

Amendment No. 30 is a drafting amendment, to deal with definitions. It provides that an official record for the purpose of the Bill includes the British armed service record at home and overseas.

Mr. Stanbrook

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is the Minister moving amendments or is he merely moving new Clause 1?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

I was intending when the Minister had resumed his seat, to regularise the position, inasmuch as I was going not only to give the page and line numbers referred to on the typed copy of the Bill but also to mention, before proposing that the clause be read a Second time, the amendments which are to be taken with. I will do that now. With new Clause 1 are being taken Amendments Nos. 1, 5, 6, 7, 35, 17, 20 and 30. The page and line numbers in the Notice Paper refer to the typed copy of the Bill which was published yesterday and which hon. Members have in their hands. I hope that will help the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Stanbrook

I am sorry to be tiresome about this, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have just been handed a copy of Mr. Speaker's provisional selection of amendments. I have been here since 10.30 asking for this list in the Lobby and in the Vote Office. These lists were not available at 11 o'clock. The hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), who has just arrived, has a copy because presumably copies are in the Lobby now, but they were not in the Lobby at 11 o'clock. I was waiting for them. This really is an abuse of the proceedings of this House. It is taking away the rights of back-bench Members. The Home Office may have known how these matters were to be discussed, but back-bench Members do not.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Home Office has no control over how Mr. Speaker selects amendments or groups them or deals with the way in which hon. Members are informed about the grouping. As I understand it from my hon. Friends, the table showing the grouping of amendments and the order in which they have been selected was available in the Vote Office this morning at a reasonably early hour.

Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Further to that point of order. They were in the Lobby at 11 o'clock. I picked up my copy then.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that they were available before 11 o'clock; I could not give the exact time but somewhere around half-past Ten, I understand. That is my information.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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