HL Deb 21 April 1942 vol 122 cc657-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill As your Lordships are aware, the Bill must receive the Royal Assent by the end of the month. The Preamble and Clauses 1 and 2 are in the usual form. Clause 3 introduces two changes in the Army Act in regard to the summary punishment of officers. In the first place it enables charges against Majors on less serious offences to be disposed of under Section 47 by a General Officer or Air Officer authorized to convene a general Court Martial. At present all charges against officers above the rank of Captain must be tried by Court Martial. Secondly, it empowers the authority dealing summarily with a charge against an officer below the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel to order deductions to be made from his pay in cases where the offence has caused loss or damage to property. This power can at present be exercised by a Court Martial and also, in the case of warrant officers, by an authority authorized to deal with charges summarily. The amendment, which also applies to the Air Force Act, puts officers in the same position in this respect as warrant officers.

Clause 4 amends Sections 56 and 70 of the Army Act and the Air Force Act. Section 56 enables a Court Martial to convict a person, in certain cases, of an offence other than that with which he is charged, but does not, generally speaking, enable the Court Martial to convict him of a more serious offence. In one case, however, the section enables the Court Martial to convict of a more serious offence, in that it may convict of desertion a person charged with attempting to desert. This power is not in practice used, and is repealed by the clause. The amendment of Section 70 enables a valid finding to be substituted for a finding of guilty by a Court Martial which is invalid or unsupported by the evidence, if the new finding could have been validly made by the Court Martial and the Court Martial must have been satisfied of the facts establishing the new finding. It also enables a sentence to be imposed for the offence specified or involved in the new finding, but the sentence must not be more severe than the sentence imposed by the Court Martial. These powers are analogous to those exercisable by the Court of Criminal Appeal under subsection (2) of Section 5 of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907, and cover a case where a Court Martial has wrongly convicted a person of an offence and could under Section 56 of the Army Act have convicted him of a less serious offence plainly established by the evidence

I will give an example which, I trust, will make the proposal clear to your Lordships. A soldier has been convicted by a Court Martial of desertion and sentenced to six months' detention. The proceedings are duly confirmed and the sentence put into operation. On reviewing the proceedings before they are filed, the Judge Advocate General reaches the conclusion that there was not sufficient evidence to justify the conviction. As the Act stands at present, he could only advise the quashing of the finding and sentence even though the soldier had been absent without leave from his unit for weeks and the court had clearly been satisfied that the soldier had been so absent. If the Act is amended as proposed (and the consequential amendments to the Rules of Procedure under Section 70 of the Act are made), His Majesty or the Army Council would be able to substitute a finding of guilty of absence without leave and a sentence of, say, 56 days' detention. I would like to emphasize that in no case will it be permissible to substitute a conviction on a charge of a graver nature than the one on which the Court Martial convicted.

Clause 5 amends paragraph (1) of Section 138 of the Army Act and of Section 138 of the Air Force Act which provide that a soldier or airman sentenced to penal servitude, imprisonment or detention shall not receive pay during his sentence. The amendment extends the provision to sentences of detention in Borstal Institutions. The sole object of Clause 6 is to obviate the necessity of printing a revised and consolidated Army Act or Air Force Act each time it is amended by an Army and Air Force (Annual) Act, and so save paper and the labour of editing fresh editions of the Acts. This is solely a war-time measure which can be repealed when things become normal again. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Croft.)

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