HL Deb 31 July 1917 vol 26 cc79-81


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill proposes certain amendments in the Naval Discipline Act of 1866. They are chiefly administrative points; but in so far as they have any other purport, it is in the direction of mitigating punishment and making it easier for a man who has committed an offence to redeem his character. The Bill has two clauses. The first clause, with its four subsections, contains the amendments to the existing law; the second clause gives power to reprint the Naval Discipline Act with all the alterations which have been made in it up to date, and therefore makes this Bill into the nature of a consolidating measure.

I am afraid that the Bill as it stands, without reference to the original Act, is unintelligible. Therefore I will state, briefly, what is proposed in the Bill. By a short Amending Act passed in 1915 provision was made for the suspension in approved cases of the operation of sentences of penal servitude, imprisonment, or detention, so as to give a man who has committed an offence a chance of redeeming his character by subsequent good conduct. That measure has now been in operation for two years, and experience has shown certain defects in it which it is proposed to remedy in this Bill. The first defect is that at the present time a sentence may be suspended only before the offender is committed; there is no power to suspend a sentence after a portion of it has been served. In the Army either course is possible; and it is proposed in Clause 1, subsection (4), of this Bill to make the practice in the Navy conform to that in the Army, and to enable suspension of a sentence to take place either before or after committal. The second defect relates to the committing authority. Section 74A of the Act confines the power of suspending a sentence to the Admiralty or committing authority, who may be either the Commander-in-Chief, the officer who ordered the Court-Martial, or the officer commanding a ship if the sentence had been awarded by him. This limitation has been found inconvenient in practice, and it is now proposed, in subsections (1), (2), and (4) of Clause 1 of this Bill, to extend this power to an officer holding such command as the Admiralty may by regulation prescribe. Regulations which it is proposed to issue will confer this power of either suspension or re-committal upon the commanding officer of any ship or naval station.

The third defect is one which was common to the Army, and which was remedied in the Army (Suspension of Sentences) Amendment Act of last year. We now propose, in subsection (3) of Clause 1 of this Bill, the same remedy in the case of the Navy. The law at present provides that a case may be reconsidered at any time and shall be reconsidered at intervals of not less than three months. The intention of this section would have been better expressed had it stated—as it is now proposed in this Bill to state—that a case may at any time, and shall at intervals of not more than three months, be reconsidered. The only other amendment of the law is contained in subsection (4). At the present time the infliction of a punishment involves certain consequential penalties. For instance, penal servitude involves dismissal from the Service with disgrace; imprisonment and detention involve disrating in the case of a petty officer and reduction to the ranks in the case of a non-commissioned officer, with the loss of good conduct medals and badges. This Bill provides that when a man is sentenced the whole or part of any of these consequential penalties may be remitted if the suspending authority thinks fit to do so. Then there is the provision that the Naval Discipline Act, as amended, shall be brought up to date and reprinted, which will be a great convenience to all who have occasion to refer to it.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Earl of Lytton.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House to-morrow.