HL Deb 28 April 1948 vol 155 cc463-6

2.15 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Nathan.)


My Lords, before this Bill is read a third time, may I crave the indulgence of the House with regard to one point which I should have raised on the Committee stage? I owe the House an apology for not raising it then and I must also apologise to the noble Lord opposite. That point is the distinction, or should I say the disparity, which it appears is being made in favour of civilian members of the Control Commission who have never been under military law, as opposed to those who have. Your Lordships will remember that some two years ago a hue and cry was created in this country about the cost of the Control Commission. If I remember rightly, the figure given was somewhere in the neighbourhood of £80,000,000. Recently, too, we have had an outcry raised in connection with the Boydell case and the War Office; and you will no doubt recall that in the Press it was stated that the War Office seemed to have been caught napping. Apparently the original outcry about cost has been completely forgotten. In the past, rightly or wrongly, a great deal of mud has been slung at both the War Office and the Control Commission, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that the Government should do everything they can to clarify the position now. From the final answer given in another place by the Attorney-General during the Committee stage of the Bill, it would appear that the position with regard to the C.C.G. whole-time civilians, as opposed to those who have been demobilised from the Services, remains very unsatisfactory.

May I use my own case as an illustration? Before I do so, however, may I say that I trust I shall not give the impression that I was either a black marketeer or that I committed any other offence? I went to Germany as a civilian in December, 1945, two months after being demobilised. I had been in this country for some considerable time before that, and for that very reason I could never have come under military law, or under any military discipline, for any offence I might have committed while in Germany. In giving an answer on this point the Attorney-General stated that there appeared to be no means by which a civilian could be extradited or brought home, or caught at home after he had left. The Attorney-General also said: Unfortunately, it has been construed, whether rightly or not, as applying only to misdemeanours, and, another unfortunate thing, it seems still to be subject to the rule that there must be a Grand Jury presentment for trial to take place. In view of those remarks, it would appear that if I, as a civilian member of the Commission, had committed an offence amounting to more than a misdemeanour, I could have come home (as I did last September) apparently—if I may use what will perhaps be thought to be a slang term—having "got away with it." Surely, that sort of position should be prevented now, rather than that we should wait for such a case to occur. May I suggest that the old adage that "prevention is better than cure" should operate here?

It is possible that such an offence might have been committed by a member of the Control Commission who had previously been a member of the Services and who had recently been demobilised. May I again quote from the Attorney-General's speech in another place? He said: There may be cases in which, as a result of some criminal process, a person in the service of His Majesty has succeeded in obtaining money in Germany and has put it in an anonymous account in a bank, perhaps in the name of a German, and left it there until he has been discharged from the Army for three months. Having been discharged for three months, and knowing that under the existing law he is immune from prosecution, he then says, 'I have got some money in Germany. Kindly arrange for it to be sent to me.' While we felt that it was necessary to have some time limit, we thought as quite considerable sums might occasionally be involved, a year or even two years might not be enough. People might be prepared to let the money lie in Germany for two years in order to avoid the risk of prosecution. We had to draw the line somewhere and we thought that the right line was the line already laid down in Section 161 of the Statute, that is, three years. Honourable Members will remember that there is no time limit to prosecution in the ordinary criminal law, except in particular cases. That is the case of a man who has been demobilised and who committed an offence before he was demobilised. I suggest that there is a very unfair disparity created in favour of a person who has been out there as a whole-time civilian, such as myself. It appears that legislation of some sort is necessary to prevent that disparity in future.


My Lords, I recognise that the matter to which the noble Earl refers is one that should be looked into and I will certainly see that it is brought to the attention of my noble friend, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is responsible for the Control Commission amongst other matters relating to German affairs. It would not be appropriate, however, to deal with it on this Bill, which relates to discipline in and regulations for the Army and Air Force.


While thanking the noble Lord for his reply, I sincerely trust that something will be done.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.