§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clauses 1 to 7 agreed to.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I beg to move the following clause to add to Section 3 of the Army Act, 1881:—Provided also that no officer or other person in command of men of Her Majesty's Forces, in a church or other place of worship of any religious communion, shall be entitled to give any order or to do any act in contravention of the civil law against causing disturbances in a place of worship.The object of this proposal is to render the military rule and usage conformable to the civil and ordinary law in respect of a congregation conducting their religious services without disturbance. Under an Act of the 23rd and 24th of the Queen, violence or riotous behaviour 1097 in a church or disturbance of the duly appointed ministers in religious worship is constituted an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment; but although a military officer would be subject to the law, yet if the military officer, by giving an order to his troops to withdraw from church, thereby caused a disturbance during service, he would not subject himself to any punishment at the hands of the civil authorities. I submit that officers should not be tempted, by the immunity afforded to them by the military regulations, to place themselves in conflict with the civil authorities. The necessity for the Amendment is proved by what occurred in the Catholic church at Clonmel on Sunday the 3rd of March.
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE)
I rise to order. The particular case to which the hon. Member alludes is sub judice, and I ask whether it is in order that any reference should be made to it?
§ MR. SEXTON
On the point of order, I may say I am only arguing in favour of making the military rule conformable to the ordinary law.
It is extremely inconvenient, and the inconvenience may become of a most serious character, to discuss questions that are sub judice, but I know of no Rule of the House that prevents the hon. Member discussing this matter.
§ MR. SEXTON
I can assure you, Sir, that, so far from touching, I shall not even approach the question that is sub judice—I shall merely relate the circumstances as recorded by the Press without any attempt to prejudice the question. The Catholic soldiers were in church in charge of a young gentleman named Geoghegan, a lieutenant. The officiating clergyman was reading a Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of the Diocese, and suddenly lieutenant Geoghegan, who was seated in the organ gallery, rose and shouted to his men who were in the body of the church, "Troops outside." The Lieutenant immediately tramped out of church, followed by two sergeants; the rest of the soldiers remained until the end of the service. The incident led to a breach of the peace outside the church after the service, and I think we may very well congratulate ourselves that, instead of one breach of the peace, there was not a 1098 riot. Proceedings were taken against the lieutenant, who was sentenced by the magistrates to a fine, or a month's imprisonment, but the case is still sub judice. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War was questioned on the subject in this House; and if he had then conveyed any censure, or expressed in the mildest manner any disapproval of the conduct of the lieutenant, I should not have pressed the subject on the attention of the House. But the right hon. Gentleman, referring to some dictum laid down by one of his predecessors in 1881, argued that some discretion must be allowed to officers in command of troops in places of religious worship in reference to the language used there. The right hon. Gentleman said he would not condemn this exercise of discretion by Lieutenant Geoghegan. It seems that something was said in the Pastoral Letter that did not meet the approval of the lieutenant. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman did not read the letter.
§ MR. SEXTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman, then, have any objection to quote the passages which, in his opinion, justified the lieutenant in ordering his soldiers to withdraw from the church?
I do not see how that is relevant to the proposed clause. It is not a question of whether what was said justified a breach of a particular order.
§ MR. SEXTON
My argument is that if Lieutenant Geoghegan had discretion, the discretion was wrongly exercised. May I not submit, Sir, that the exercise of his discretion was such that it ought to have subjected him to the censure of the right hon. Gentleman?
That is not at all relevant to the clause which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to move.
§ MR. SEXTON
Well, Sir, I ask the right hon. Gentleman what he intends to do in similar eases in future? I can assure him that the opinion entertained by the Bishop of Clonmel is the opinion entertained by every other prelate in Ireland, as well as by nearly all the clergy, and, I ask, is he going to submit the 40,000 Catholic soldiers in the British Army to the alternative of disregarding the orders of their military 1099 superiors, or being disrespectful to the officers of their Church? Either the Government can provide religious services for the soldiers in the barracks, where they can conduct them at their own discretion, or else, if they send the soldiers to the churches provided by the people themselves, they must submit to the ordinary regulations. Is it to be said that any stripling, like Lieutenant Geoghegan, 20 years of age, is to be allowed to sit in judgment upon Bishop, whose Pastoral he hears, and to act in accordance with the decision he comes to? The discretion allowed to officers in matters of this kind is offensive to public feeling, and is unwise and futile; because I submit that the soldiers gave to the Pastoral a closer and more sympathetic attention than what they might otherwise have given to it if this incident had not occurred. It is impossible to attempt to insulate the minds of your soldiers. You can prevent them from hearing Pastorals, but you cannot prevent them from reading the newspapers; and you will, in any newspaper, in any day, find much severer comment on the action of the Government than is to be found in the Pastoral Letter. In the present state of Ireland occurrences of this kind are particularly dangerous. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that such Pastorals are likely to be read and heard in churches in Ireland for some time to come; and I warn him that grave difficulties will be caused unless he takes care that such an incident shall not occur again.(Amendment of Section 3 of Army Act, 1881.)At the end of Section 3 of "The Army Act, 1881," the following proviso shall he added: Provided also, "That no officer or other person in command of men of Her Majesty's Forces in a church or other place of worship of any religious communion shall be entitled to give any order or to do any act in contravention of the civil law against causing disturbance in a place of worship."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ Sir W. MARRIOTT (Brighton)
The right hon. Gentleman who proposes this Amendment says he does not wish to discuss a question that is sub judice; but the whole of this question is sub judice at the present moment.
§ MR. SEXTON
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. The declaration 1100 of the Secretary for War makes it clear that, whatever is the opinion of the Court of Appeal, the right hon. Gentleman will still refuse to censure the lieutenant.
§ SIR W. MARRIOTT
The case is sub judice at this moment, and the mouth of the Secretary of State is therefore closed; and with all due deference to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sexton) I really do not think the Clause has any meaning whatever. I do not know what distinction the hon. Gentleman draws between civil law and military; they are all laws of this House, and no officer can commit any offence against a law of this House without being brought before a civil tribunal. The Clause is, therefore, in my opinion, absolutely useless. It will not add one tittle to the responsibility of any officer in the duty he has to perform, either in church or out of church. I hope, therefore, the House will not agree to the proposal.
§ MR. SEXTON
The right hon. Gentleman has been severe upon me in a very polite manner. He is usually keen in his arguments, but I must say that his bluntness on this occasion is conspicuous by its absence. He misapprehends entirely the position of the Secretary of State for War; the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stanhope) has opened his mouth already, and opened it 80-widely that he has actually anticipated the decision of the Civil Courts, because he declared at the Table of this House that he could not, and would not, condemn the action of the Lieutenant. Now, I say, that according to that declaration, no matter what may be the decision of the Civil Court, the right hon. Gentleman is bound not to condemn the action of the Lieutenant. If my Amendment be accepted, and a man were condemned by the Civil Courts, I suppose the Secretary of State would be bound to take notice of his conduct, which, in itself, would be a very useful reform.
§ *MR. E. STANHOPE
Some short time ago I answered a question with regard to the conduct of this officer, and since I gave that answer, much to my surprise, civil proceedings have been taken. I had at that time no knowledge that civil proceedings were about to be taken, and I must say that I was very much surprised that they were taken. That 1101 being so, until the result of those proceedings is known, my mouth must remain closed, although the hon. Gentleman opposite has tried to prejudge the case.
§ MR. MOLLOY
The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir W. Marriott) does not seem to know that there is any difference between the conduct of an officer and that of a private person, but there is a considerable difference. An officer's action under the circumstances stated involves what is done by the troops under his command. Are we to allow an officer, acting upon the prejudice of the moment, he being, perhaps, a strong Liberal, or probably a strong Conservative, or a man holding eccentric views—a young man of only nineteen, and without sufficient experience, to exercise such a power as was exorcised on the occasion in question? I do not think such a power ought to be allowed. There is a difference between the cases of troops going to a public Church and those who go to garrison service. It is in the power of the Commander of a station to prevent the troops going to a Church where he thinks they may hear what they ought not to hear, and send them elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War shakes his head, and no doubt he is right to this extent, that the Commandant cannot send Protestants to a Catholic Church nor Catholics to a Protestant one; but he can refuse to let them go to a particular Church and arrange for them to have a service of their own. I have had some experience in military matters, and think it difficult to lay down a hard and fast rule as to the discretion of officers, but at the same time you may be involved in another difficulty if you give unlimited power to an officer who, under circumstances of excitement, political or otherwise, may give orders that will occasion much offence and inconvenience. I should have been glad had the right hon. Gentleman expressed an opinion as to the policy of this Amendment. I do not say it is in the exact form in which it might be finally accepted; but, at any rate, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to announce some policy in regard to this question. As he has not done so, I shall certainly support my hon. Friend's proposal.
§ *MR. F. MACLEAN (Woodstock)
This Amendment appears to me to be 1102 based upon an entire misapprehension. It assumes that, as the law stands at present, an officer is entitled so to act as to create a disturbance in a place of worship. But is he so entitled? I have heard no argument from the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Mayor of Dublin to suggest that he is. In point of law he is not; and if he be not, if it be the law that an officer cannot so act, what reason is there for laying down in an Act of Parliament that which is now the law? It is quite clear that such is now the law, for in the very case cited by the right hon. Gentleman, the case which has given rise to this debate, the officer in question has been fined by a Civil Court of competent jurisdiction. That case is now sub judice, on appeal, so I will say no more about it. Under these circumstances I hope the Committee will reject the Amendment.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
The answer to this question is embodied in the Act of Parliament which prevents any officer or anyone else from brawling in church. Even if the civil law did not prevent this it is the duty of the Government to see that no officer shall perpetrate the indeceny of brawling in church. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War ought to give an assurance that he will not allow the bad example in this case to be followed by other officers, and that he will take official notice of any such misconduct. The right hon. Gentleman has said he was surprised at the civil action taken against the officer. Why is he surprised? Because the Government think that everybody except the military and police ought to submit to any sort of treatment on the part of their agents in Ireland, and that it is not for any ordinary citizen to take action against the merest stripling in the Army, because he holds a commission and chooses to disgrace it by misconduct. I do not suppose the magistrates would have fined him were it not so. Public opinion will not be found to be with the Government in this matter, and I am glad the Lord Mayor of Dublin has brought it forward, and hope he will press his Amendment to a division.
§ MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
I think the House will feel that it was a very improper thing for any priest or clergyman to indulge in tirades against the law, and I hope that some consideration will be shown to the young 1103 officer, and that all the sympathy of those who want to see justice done will not be given to the priest.
§ *MR. H. H. FOWLER
I quite understand a technical difficulty in inserting this Amendment. But the Amendment raises the general question whether a subaltern is to be the final Court of Appeal as to the doctrines, propriety, and good taste of a sermon. Soldiers, like other men, have their own political and religious opinions; but it ought to be our object to keep military questions distinct from political or religious matters. Practically it comes to this: You cannot exclude soldiers from a knowledge of what is going on in the world—you cannot interfere with their political sympathies. Your object should be not to provoke the soldiers into political action. If there be a flagrant case—I do not say that such a case may not arise—in which so-called religious teaching is clearly inconsistent with the discipline of the Army, well, then, I think the commanding officer of the district, not a subaltern sitting in the church, would be justified in giving directions that the soldiers were not again to be taken to that place of worship. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend the Lord Mayor that he would do wisely to postpone any further discussion of this question until the legal question has been decided. We shall have an opportunity of discussing on the Army Estimates—and I think that would be the proper time—the question of the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State for War, and whether it has been exercised properly. I think this clause would be inappropriate. It is a contradiction in itself, so to speak, because it is quite clear that nothing can be done which the Civil Law disallows. But that is not the reason of my right hon. Friend. He wants to challenge—and I join him in it—the discretion of the military authorities in what I think was a lamentable interference with the worship of the soldiers.
§ MR. SEXTON (West Belfast)
I wish to point out to the Committee that the Irish Constabulary attend church and hear every sermon or pastoral that is delivered. The Royal Irish Constabulary are very closely concerned in public matters, yet I never heard of any officer withdrawing them from any church. 1104 That exhibits in a moment, and in a clear light, the folly of the order given by this young lieutenant. But I hope to make the matter clear to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler). The Secretary for War declared from the Table that this young officer had acted rightly; and at the very time the Court of First Instance condemned this young officer, the right hon. Gentleman gets up at that Table and expresses surprise that these proceedings should have been taken. What does the right hon. Gentleman say to that? He gets up at the Table and uses a phrase which, if language has any meaning at all, implies that the proceedings ought not to have been taken, and perhaps might be reversed on appeal. Does not the House perceive that there is a clear discordance between the practice of the civil and military authorities, because the Court holds one view and the War Office another. We have no assurance whatever, if the Court of First Instance is confirmed by the judgment of the Court of Appeal, that the right hon. Gentleman will take any action. Look at the position of the Secretary for War: he upholds the order given by the officer, and which has been declared by the Court to be illegal. Then, when we come to look at the matter from the point of view of discipline, we find an order given, and disobeyed by the soldiers. You have been dragged into a dilemma by your absurd regulation. If you punish the soldiers you insult the Church, because you punish them for not having left the building. If you uphold the order, then you must punish the soldiers for disobedience. Will the right hon. Gentleman say that he will punish the soldiers? And if he does not punish the soldiers how does he maintain the order? Under the Government there are 40,000 Roman Catholic soldiers, who have a right to be protected against the possible repetition of an order which may be condemned by a Court of Law, and which, at the same time, may be condemned by the War Secretary, and the question of punishment for disobedience apparently remains in suspense. Is that a reasonable or sensible condition of military discipline? Let the soldiers know what orders to obey and what not to obey, and let the officers know what orders to give and what not to give. 1105 I always listen to any suggestion which falls from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, and I am not disposed to trouble the House if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War will say anything reasonable, if he will say that he will consider the order, or will cause a communication to be addressed to Lieutenant Geoghegan, or a general communication to the officers limiting their discretion in such a matter, with a view to preventing a repetition of these scenes. I am sure that such an order defeats its own purpose. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is ready to consider the subject, and, if he is ready to give fair and reasonable consideration to it, I am not disposed to give the House any further trouble.
§ SIR. W. T. MARRIOTT
This is not a question concerning the order or the law as it at present stands, and if these words of the hon. Gentleman are added it would be rather trying to deal with the subject by a side-wind. I am quite sure that the Secretary of State for War will have the sympathy of Members on both sides of the House in refraining from expressing an opinion on a case which is sub judice. If this young man has broken the law he will be punished, but we cannot make an ex post facto law. It is our wish that the soldiers should have perfect freedom to attend church or chapel as they choose; and I know from my own personal experience that they have in the Army every liberty of conscience, for it is our desire that they should have that freedom. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton sees the objection to this Amendment. It is absolutely useless. If this young man has broken the law he will be punished, but we cannot make an ex post facto law.
§ MR. SEXTON
May I point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman that his usually subtle and judicial intellect has failed him on this occasion. By the 23 and 24 Vic, to create a disturbance in any place of worship is an offence. But the Secretary for War says that when an officer creates a disturbance by ordering the troops to withdraw it is not an offence.
§ MR. SEXTON
The right hon. Gentle- 1106 man said the officer was justified in exercising his discretion.
§ *MR. STANHOPE
The question at issue now before the Courts is whether the lieutenant was guilty of the offence of disorderly conduct, and upon that I expressed no opinion. Whether he has committed an offence against the Civil Law, the Civil Court must decide.
§ MR. SEXTON
I want on this subject to make the military the civil point of view. I wish to know whether the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Civil Court, should the Court of First Instance be confirmed, by punishing or reprimanding the lieutenant? That is a plain question for him to answer.
§ *MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark)
I think it would be an inconvenient course to press this Amendment to a division, still I think the Secretary for War has entirely himself to blame, for it is, in itself, a pre judgment of the case to express surprise that the proceedings should have been taken. But in doing that he only followed the precedent set by his Colleagues in these Irish affairs—namely, that of throwing contempt upon the constituted tribunals of the country whenever they are likely to go against the Administration. While I am ready to vote with the right hon. Gentleman, I think, speaking as a lawyer, that the Amendment is inconvenient, and that it would be wiser not to press it.
§ *MR. H. H. FOWLER
The Secretary of State for War has said that he will reserve his judgment upon this case until he has heard the decision of the Court of Appeal.
§ *MR. H. H. FOWLER
Assume it is decided that the lieutenant acted illegally, I defy the Secretary for War or any military authority to set aside that decision; but, if it is decided that he acted legally, then it becomes a question of military discretion, and this is neither the time nor the occasion to raise that question of military discretion. That is a subject which we could discuss on the Secretary for War's salary or on any other item of the Army Estimates. Whatever decision you take upon this Amendment now, to my mind, it would mislead and have no pronounced 1107 effect. While I sympathize with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, yet this Amendment does not advance the case one step. I therefore think it will be better for the right hon. Gentleman to await the decision of the Civil Court, and not to press the matter to a Division.
§ MR. SEXTON
If the Amendment is carried, the effect of it will be that the Secretary of State will be obliged to take notice of the decision of the Civil Court. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman will suspend his judgment until the Civil Court has decided.
§ MR. SEXTON
Then what does the right hon. Gentleman intend? Will he, or will he, not await the judgment of the Civil Court?
§ *MR. STANHOPE
I have already said that on non-military points I shall await the judgment of the Civil Court.
§ MR. SEXTON
And if the judgment of the Civil Court be adverse to Lieut. Geogehan, will the right hon. Gentleman reprimand that officer?
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 98; Noes 159.—(Div. List, No. 59.)
§ Bill reported, with Amendment; to be read a third time To-morrow.