HL Deb 06 April 1925 vol 60 cc1012-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, you will see that there are a number of somewhat more important amendments this year in this annual Bill than is usual, but I think there are only a few to which I need draw your Lordships' special attention. I dare say your Lordships will remember that last year in another place there was some considerable debate upon the death penalty, and a Committee was set up by the then Secretary of State for War, under the Chairmanship of the late Financial Secretary of the War Office, who was succeeded by Captain Douglas King, the present Financial Secretary. This Committee examined the whole question and made a number of recommendations which are embodied in the amendments to the Act.

The effect is briefly this. The death penalty is abolished altogether in certain cases—namely, for impeding the Provost-Marshal in the execution of his duty or refusing to assist him, for attacks on those in charge of supplies, for irregularly detaining such supplies, or for committing any offence against the property or person or an inhabitant of the country in which operations are taking place. These offences, which were never before punished with the penalty of death in peace time, have now ceased to be punishable with the death penalty in time of war. As regards peace, the death penalty is abolished altogether for all military offences excepting the one offence of mutiny. I might add that the amendments now made in the law do very little more than regularise the actual practice which has been obtaining now for, I think, about a century. I do not think that anybody has suffered the death penalty for any of these offences during that time.

As regards the other amendments. Clause 5 makes it possible to sentence an officer to imprisonment for the same offences as are specified in Section 18 for other ranks. Hitherto the maximum penalty for these offences in the case of officers was cashiering. There are minor amendments to be found in Clauses 8 to 17. Clause 7 is an Amendment which gives power to Air Force officers to exercise military command. Hitherto if it was required to place soldiers under the orders of an Air Force officer, as has been done in Iraq, it has been necessary to give that Air Force officer a temporary military commission.

Then I come to Clause 17, which simplifies the definition of the word "corps." I should like to reassure any noble Lord who is interested in the Teritorial Army, and possibly the noble and learned Viscount opposite, who created it, that this amendment will not in any way operate to render the Territorial soldier liable to transfer to another unit. Although it is the case that in some places counties are grouped, yet by subsection (4) of Section 7 of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907, the Territorial soldier cannot be posted to another unit of his corps. Thus, for example, supposing you have a brigade of artillery of which one battery belongs to one county and another to another county, a soldier could not be transfered from the one battery to the other within the brigade.

I come now to the Air Force amendments, which are covered by Clause 18 and the remaining clauses. I think there is only one with which I need trouble your Lordships, and that is Clause 18, which empowers the infliction of fines upon airmen. As a matter of fact, I think it will be operative only in the case of air schools, where it is considered necessary to have some power of inflicting fines in order to preserve discipline. The other three clauses enable the Air Force to be kept up to the highest efficiency during any precautionary period. It is obviously necessary that the Air Force should be mobilisable at the earliest possible moment and in the quickest time if the precautionary period were to take place. I think that I need not trouble your Lordships with any further explanations, but if there are any points upon which any noble Lord would like to ask questions I shall be very happy to endeavour to answer them. I propose with your Lordships' consent and, I believe, with the approval of noble Lords opposite, that we should take the Committee stage of this Bill to-morrow, if that will suit the convenience of your Lordships' House. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

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


My Lords, the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill is a Bill which it is the duty of your Lordships to watch. Generally, before it comes here it has undergone very considerable sifting in the other House. I myself, looking back on the days of my youth, have had to take charge of an Army (Annual) Bill during sittings extending from the middle of one day to the evening of the second day with an all-night sitting in between. Happily, the tranquillity of your Lordships' House obviates any such necessity as that, and I rise to-day to make only a very few observations. The Bill is a very important Bill for this reason: without it the Army would come to an end. There would be no effective Army on April 30 if this Bill had not then become law, and that is one of the reasons why I assent very willingly to the proposal of the noble Earl that the Committee stage should be taken tomorrow. The Bill is, however, on another account a very important Bill. It proposes to re-enact for the ensuing year the whole of the General Army Act, and, as it incorporates that Act, it proposes to make amendments in it. It is over the amendments that questions always arise. The Bill as it stands otherwise, is little more than a common form.

The amendments upon this occasion are amendments which deal with the very important question of the death penalty. I agree with the noble Earl opposite that for long the death penalty in time of peace has been a very unimportant affair, for the good reason that it was almost never inflicted. When it is really a serious sanction is in time of war, and therefore, in the discussions which took place in another place, it was not agreed by the Army authorities that it should he abolished altogether in time of war. Nevertheless, amendments are introduced in this Bill which confine the range of the penalty and which provide more effective means for the revision of sentences. I do not think that there is anything to be said against that part of the Bill. As regards the other points, they are really technical matters of definition. I have thought it my duty to go through this Bill and to observe the discussions in another place, and I am well satisfied that the Bill as it stands is a Bill which we ought to pass. For that reason I shall offer no objection to the Motion of the noble Earl.

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