§ With a view to reducing the number of cases which have to be sent for trial by courts-martial owing to the limited powers of punishment exercisable by commanding officers, the maximum period of detention which may be awarded by a commanding officer who deals with a case summarily shall be twenty-eight days, and accordingly "twenty-eight" shall be substituted for "fourteen" in Paragraph (a) of Sub-section (2) of Section forty-six of the Army Act, and Sub-section (4) of the same Section shall be repealed.
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
moved, as an Amendment, to omit "twenty-eight" ["shall be twenty-eight days, and"], and to insert instead thereof "fifty-six," the object being to extend to fifty-six days the maximum period of detention to be awarded by a commanding officer.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
On a point of Order. Will the moving of the Amendment of the Noble Lord preclude my Motion for the deletion of the Clause?
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
I have no desire to delay the Committee unduly, but I feel sure the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War will bear with me for a few moments, especially in consideration of the fact that he and I on more than one occasion have spent the evening and probably most of the night in discussing Bills of this nature. My proposal is to increase to fifty-six days the jurisdiction of the commanding officer. This Bill already increases it, and I do not quite know the reason the right hon. Gentleman found it necessary to propose the increase. There is one objection which may be paramount in some minds, and that is that if wider jurisdiction is accorded to commanding officers it may have the effect of causing the private soldier to have more recourse to the option of being tried by court-martial. But my experience in the Army 963 is that the private soldier prefers to be dealt with by his commanding officer instead of claiming a court-martial. The question I want to raise under this Amendment is the responsibility of the commanding officer. At the present time I do not think sufficient scope is given him to enable him to deal responsibly with the unit under his command. Present conditions cannot, under any circumstances, be considered satisfactory. When an officer joins the Army he has to go first through the drudgery of the subaltern; he obtains a little more scope as captain; and a little more as major. But when he at last reaches the position of commanding officer he will be well on the road to fifty years of age; and I hardly think this is the most efficient way of obtaining the best men to command units in this country. The whole system resolves itself into this: the colonel is so hidebound by the time he attains the position of commanding officer—he is so bound in red tape that he has no initiative and no individuality.
I believe the remedy lies to a certain extent in my Amendment, which will give additional scope to the commanding officer and encourage him to take responsibility, then he will become a more efficient asset for the whole Army. This is a question in which I have always taken great interest. I believe that at this moment the present Secretary for War, who is perhaps the only man on the Government Bench on whom praises and congratulations have been showered from all sides of the House—and he is certainly fortunate in that respect—will desire to make his Army into a reality. Therefore, this is the proper time to raise this question. I have already alluded to the position which the commanding officer occupies. I have no desire whatever to make any attack on commanding officers; in my opinion they are a most deserving body of men. They deserve praise and commendation for the fact that they have gone through the drudgery of regimental life, and have withstood the temptation of obtaining greater scope for their energies and activities by the far more attractive method of either going abroad or obtaining appointments on the Staff. We cannot disguise from ourselves the fact that the energetic young officer who is full of individuality does not aim at the command of his regiment; he prefers to leave it at an early stage and go on to 964 the Staff. I am of opinion that the command of the unit is essential to the well being of the Army. No matter how small the unit may be, the command should be the training ground and the stepping stone to the higher grades in the Army. I know that there is the question of age at the present moment, and that there is not a sufficient opportunity for the young man in the prime of life to obtain what is the highest ambition of a man in the Army, and that is the position of a regimental officer. It is a great encouragement to the individual to think that he will have the responsibility in his own hands of controlling a unit, and I believe that such control would to a very large extent assist in making the officers of the Army efficient.
When we consider that the Duke of Wellington in his campaign in the Peninsula was only thirty-six years of age, and that on him was the supreme responsibility to his country, it does seem strange to say that it is practically an impossibility for an officer in the Army at the present moment to command a unit which he joins as a subaltern at the age of eighteen before he has reached what I may call the mature age of forty-eight or fifty. That is the reason why I have moved this Amendment, but. of course, it is not my intention to take a Division upon it. I should like, however, if the right hon. Gentleman would say if in his scheme for the perfecting of the Army, and in order to make the Army a reality, he will begin upon a scheme which will encourage the individual officer at an early age to undertake responsibility, which, I believe, would help in the formation of character and in making that officer an efficient asset to this country in time of need. When we compare the conditions of the Army with those in the Navy, I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that a great deal more responsibility is placed upon naval officers at an earlier age than is placed upon military officers of the same stamp. There is no need for me to go into all the details of the duties of the midshipman, the sub-lieutenant, the lieutenant, and the commander in the Navy, and the responsibilities which they have to undertake, but if we compare these with those of the respective officers in the Army we find comparatively young men in the Navy occupying precisely the same position and undertaking far more responsibility than an officer of the same age who is a regimental lieutenant in the Army. It is quite true that 965 some officers have risen to high rank who can claim the experience of having commanded a regiment, but it is almost a unique experience, and what I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman is that all those inducements for education, such as the Staff College, of which I am a firm supporter, and other facilities, prevent the energetic young officer from desiring to command his unit, which should certainly be one of the ambitions of a lieutenant and of every officer. It is for this reason that I move the Amendment, and I should like to hear the views of the right hon. Gentleman, which are based upon practical experience in regard to it.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Haldane)
No one can complain of the Amendment which the Noble Lord the Member for Maidstone has brought forward in his desire to do everything which can be done to put responsibility upon the junior officer in the Army. The point I take in replying to his arguments is the occasion which he has chosen for bringing them forward. We are here dealing with the administration of justice, which is a very difficult thing, and my attitude does not express any doubt in regard to the young officer of whom I have the very highest opinion, but when you are dealing with a question of liberty and of punishments you have to move with the utmost care. For our judges we require people of mature years and tried position, and you must extend the rules which obtain in civil life in order to deal with the problems of the Army which we have before us. We propose on this occasion to raise the punishment which can be awarded from fourteen days to twenty-eight days, but there is nothing in the Noble Lord's Amendment which would enable these punishments to be awarded with any sense of responsibility by junior officers, because the King's Regulation 493, which deals with summary punishment and detentions, provides that the power to award detentions exceeding seven days, but not exceeding fourteen days, cannot be exercised by a commanding officer under the rank of field officer. That is to say, we do not entrust this limited power to anyone less than a major. I should like just to explain what is the procedure in this matter, and to say that it is not the interests of the officer that I can take into account in regard to it. I must deal with the interests of the Army as a whole. At the present time there is great progress being made in the improve- 966 ment in the position of the soldier. There is a great drop in the number of courts-martial, which has gone down since 1901 some 40 per cent., and that is due, I think, entirely to the better feeling in the Army, the better position of the soldier, and to the fact that he is a far more educated man than he used to be, and is in closer contact with the civilian population from which he comes.
There is no doubt that the soldier is a steadier and more responsible person than he used to be, and nothing marks that more than the great drop of 40 per cent, since 1904 in the number of courts-martial, and also by the drop since that period in the length of sentences. In 1904 the daily average amounted to 1,540, but last year the daily average was 656, or a decrease of 58 per cent. Consequently last year we were able to relieve the Estimates by the closing of twelve Army detention barracks, and that marks no falling off in discipline, but that the soldier has got to be a better man, has a better sense of responsibility, and there is less necessity for punishments. What we propose to do on this occasion is somewhat to increase the power of the commanding officers with the rank of field officers. We propose to enable them to award not imprisonment, because that is not given except in bad cases, but we propose to enable them for minor offences to deal with cases up to a sentence of twenty-eight days' detention. We safeguard the right of the soldier, because we say to him that we give him the option of either being tried by his commanding officer, and being sentenced within those limits, or of going to a court-martial. We tell him that if he wishes to go to a court-martial he has a perfect right to do so, but if he elects and prefers to be tried by his commanding officer he can take that course, and we propose to give the officer power to try a considerably larger number of cases than he can at the present time. At present he cannot give a sentence of more than fourteen days, and he is bound to send a case to be tried by court-martial if he thinks that that is the suitable punishment. That is very unfortunate, because a court-martial brands more or less, and if a man has been tried by such a tribunal he can never be the same as he was before, whereas in the case of ordinary offences in the Army, for which a man is condemned to be confined to barracks or is reprimanded, nobody is any the worse in the long run, and a man's character is sustained unless he is convicted of 967 some offence which can be regarded as serious.
In the circumstances what we feel is that, at any rate for the present, twenty-eight days is far enough to go in this matter, and what we propose to do will cut down the number of courts-martial by 25 per cent. If any soldier is charged, however, as I have said already, he may ask for a court-martial, but if he is sensible, as the bulk of our soldiers are, he will prefer to be tried in a summary fashion by his commanding officer, and my opinion, from experience, is that a man gets off very much more easily before his own officer than if he goes to a court-martial. The feeling existing between the officers and soldiers leads to a very great sense of comradeship, and the commanding officer does not like to see his men get into trouble. I know of no more satisfactory tribunal for these minor offences than this, but, of course, in the case of more serious offences a different course is desirable. As to the genesis of these proposals, I would like to say it rests with the Adjutant-General Sir Ian Hamilton, than whom, I think, no man takes a greater interest in soldiers. He has worked almost all his life among soldiers; he has been in contact with them in every part of the world, and he is strongly of opinion that we have reached the time when this advance might be made which would reduce the number of courts-martial materially. We have consulted the most experienced commanders-in-chief, and they gave an opinion in each case in favour of the change. General Smith-Dorrien, General Douglas, and other officers feel that the time has come when these things may be dealt with more on the analogy of civil life where an offender gets off much more easily than he does in the Army. For my part, I regard this change as entirely in the interests of the soldiers, and one which ought to lead to a still further improvement in the condition of the soldier who, I may point out, is exactly as well off as he was before because he has a right to the other tribunal if he chooses to demand it.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
I will take this opportunity of reiterating the opinions to which I gave expression last night, especially and more strongly because of the remarks that have been made by the hon. and Noble Lord opposite. He has led us to believe, if his argument amounts to anything, that you can 968 only get responsible men as officers in the Army if they are allowed to tyrannise over all these men under them. He suggested that taking away the right of the officer to impose any other punishment than fourteen days is tantamount to reducing the status of the officers, and practically to reducing their position in the Army. So far as I am concerned, instead of increasing the sentence which the commanding officer can impose upon his men, I should think that any advance should be in the direction of reducing the power ot the commanding officer. I object to this proposition for increasing the sentence. I much prefer to leave the maximum punishment as it is, at fourteen days. I should prefer an advance in the direction of reducing the fourteen days to seven or ten. The proposition that we should go beyond what has been proposed by the reactionary Army Council over which the right hon. Gentleman presides and increase the twenty-eight days to fifty-six days is one which I do not suppose the Noble Lord himself really intends seriously. I suppose it really is the outcome of those long conversations he says he has had with the right hon. Gentleman on the subject, with the idea of forestalling the probable reduction after a full Debate in this House.
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
I had no long conversation with the right hon. Gentleman, and I never said I had.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
I understood the Noble Lord in his opening remarks said he had talked military affairs over considerably with the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
What I alluded to was the all-night sittings in which the hon. Member and myself have taken part on more than one occasion.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
If they are the only conversations I must confess that I had quite as long conversations with the right hon. Gentleman. I wish to refer specially to the statement that is constantly urged by the right hon. Gentleman, and which is put in the preamble of this Clause. It does not look like a clause of an Act of Parliament at all. "With a view to reducing the cases of courts-martial," and so on. It is like the preamble of a new law relating to the Military Code. I do not think that is a desirable way of introducing the subject, because it does not in any way mitigate the suffering of the private soldier. In many a case in which at the present time the commander deals 969 with his man and sentences him to a minimum detention of fourteen days without going to a court-martial, if the officer even in the days which have gone, had had the power to give him twenty-eight days, that would have been the sentence. Therefore, instead of relieving the danger to the private soldier by granting this additional power to the commanding officer, you may very likely be doubling his sentence for even the most trifling crimes or breaches of military law. There are detentions even under courts-martial showing clearly that some of the cases which are dealt with by courts-martial at present are so trifling that they are not serious cases at all, but the court finds that its discipline is amply maintained by a sentence of slight detention even then. You must not necessarily assume, as the right hon. Gentleman does, that when a man prefers, or is taken before a court-martial, he must get a more severe sentence than the commanding officer would give him. I only wish the right hon. Gentleman had served in one of the line regiments as a private, say twenty years ago, for a little while. I do not think he would be so sanguine about this advance. For instance he gives the opinion of officers of great standing in the Army in favour of this innovation, men whom one knows perfectly well, especially one of them, who does everything he can to mitigate the hardships of the soldier's life. I admit that, but officers are not the best judges of the way in which a private soldier should be punished as a rule. It is only necessary to go back to about the seventies. Twelve months ago, when I was contesting with the right hon. Gentleman on the Army (Annual) Bill, I looked through the Debates with reference to flogging in the Army, and I noticed that nearly every soldier of any standing as a commanding officer declared that it would be utterly impossible for officers to maintain anything like discipline or even to hold the Army together, even in face of the enemy, unless flogging was maintained. If we had taken the advice of the ordinary professional soldier we should never have allowed our humanity to step in and prevent flogging in the Army. If it had been left to the Army officers themselves we should flog soldiers to-day for the slightest breach of discipline. There are some officers who even now think that the Army would be much better if the commanding officer was allowed to flog a man occasionally before breakfast or for breakfast according to his whim or requirements. The opinion 970 of the officer as to what is the best punishment and the best method of dealing with breaches of discipline on the part of the man is not always the best advice, as has been proved on many occasions before. Hence I protest against this statement being put forward as a sufficient justification for making the lot of the soldier more difficult than it is to-day. Very often, I have no doubt, in spite of the intention of the commanding officer to weigh the facts of the case and to deal justly with the man, he largely has to depend upon his subordinates, upon his non-commissioned officers, for all the information that he gets relating to the conduct of the private soldier, and even sometimes upon his fellow commissioned officers.
MARQUESS Of TULLIBARDINE
I do not think any modern officer, at all events, is of any use at all unless he knows more about his men than any man in his regiment.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
In the majority of cases they know a great deal about their men, and they know them personally, but as to the incidents upon which charges of insubordination are made, I think the Noble Marquess would agree, to a great extent the commanding officer has to rely upon information supplied by non-commissioned officers, and even of men in almost the same position as the private himself. A non-commissioned officer may be prone to take personal pique arising out of incidents in the barrack room, and a charge may very soon be trumped up against the private soldier, and his position in the Army and his life generally can be made a positive burden to him. There is not the slightest doubt about that. In addition to that the officer is bound to support his non-commissioned officer. If he did not, the corps could be scarcely held together. I should think there is hardly ever a charge made by a non-commissioned officer against the private soldier of insubordination or want of attention to his duties that is not maintained and punished at once, as a matter of course, on the information of the non-commissioned officer. I should say it is done regularly, and that the commanding officer acts on this principle that if he wants to maintain the discipline of his regiment it is a thousand times better for him to be a little more severe on the private against whom the charge is made than to lower the authority of the non-commissioned officer in the eyes of the ordinary private of the regiment. I understand why it is done, but 971 at the same time I know how irksome and degrading and how unfortunate it is for a private soldier who happens to find himself a scapegoat. A court-martial is not an ideal place for sifting evidence, and you cannot get law or justice, or anything of the sort. You get a sort of rough justice, but anything approaching what you would expect in a civil process is out of the question. But, rough as it is, as long as you have a chance of establishing a court and hearing evidence properly you may, and the commanding officer does occasionally, sift the evidence and the charges sufficiently to ensure acquittal. But that is only in a few cases. Some 6,000 men in the year before last lost their liberty by courts-martial of one kind or another. Of the 6,000 who were tried only 130 or 132 escaped conviction, showing it is almost certain that if once a charge is brought against a man, it will be sure to be carried home. The suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that this extension of the power of commanding officers is an advantage to the men is one I cannot for the life of me see. The right hon. Gentleman must admit that when my Friends here were refusing him support in respect to the Territorial Army I stood behind him the whole time. I championed the cause right through from beginning to end, and I got into serious difficulty with my Friends for it. It is not from any envy or ill-feeling towards the right hon. Gentleman that I object to this extension of power; it is only because I believe that if you make it possible for a commanding officer to impose increased punishment, you are going to add greatly to the punishment of the men against whom charges are made. The commanding officer must rely always on his subordinates for information with reference to matters of this description. The "Notes on Clauses" of the Bill are unfortunate. It is said it is for the purpose of reducing the number of courts-martial. If it does not decrease the punishment on the men, what is really the use of lowering the proportion of courts-martial1? I think myself I would much rather not go before the commanding officer if a case were trumped up against me in the corps to which I belonged out of prejudice on the part of the non-commissioned officers who had been constantly in attendance on me, and who might have a grudge against me. I dare not even say I am not guilty. I would rather remain absolutely silent and get a sentence of twenty-eight days' imprisonment, or whatever it might 972 be, because, if I had denied the charge, when once the commanding officer has decided that I was guilty, that again is another offence in addition to the one of which I had been convicted. As a matter of fact, everybody in the Army knows that if the King's Rules, or the Queen's Rules, as we used to call them, were insisted upon by every commanding officer, and if the men had to obey them, they would not be able to breathe. Those who understand the strictness of the Code wish that the rules should be made more generous, and that the amount of punishment which commanding officers are able to inflict should be restricted.
§ Colonel WARNER
I have had some experience on this subject. A commanding officer relies, in the first place, as the court-martial does, entirely on the evidence before him. Any evidence can be produced before a commanding officer in exactly the same way as before a court-martial. In the second place, I would point out that the term of fourteen days is not a minimum; it is a maximum, and the commanding officer is quite entitled not only to dismiss a charge, but also to give a very light punishment indeed. Let me point out to the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. John Ward) that the very case he quoted is one where the proposal in the Bill will be of advantage to the men, because where there is a non-commissioned officer fond of raking up charges against the men the colonel will know that noncommissioned officer's character, but a court-martial might not know it. Therefore in that particular case it will be a distinct advantage to be tried by the colonel instead of by a court-martial, because the colonel would discount the charge made by an officer who was in the habit of making charges against the men. I do think that the Amendment to extend the power to fifty-six days would put rather too much on the commanding officers. I do not think the men would object to it. The first question which is always asked is: Do you wish to be tried by court-martial? If he does, there is no slur cast upon him for choosing that course, but there is this disadvantage, that if he is convicted the sentence is likely to be greater than if he had been tried by the commanding officer. It would be some advantage, therefore, to get the punishment given by the commanding officer instead of by the court-martial. That is a small point. I think at the same time that no commanding officer wants to be made 973 judge in really serious eases, such as would be punished by anything more than twenty-eight days' detention. I think if the limit was fifty-six days, it would mean that cases would be brought before the commanding officers which they would not like to try themselves. I do not think it necessary or wise to adopt the Amendment. There would be a feeling if a man got a long punishment from a commanding officer that he was not the right person to try the case, and that it ought to have been tried before a formal court. I think that under any system cases ought to be tried before a formal court, such as a court-martial, where heavy punishment is given. The object of the extension of the commanding officer's power, proposed in the Bill, is to enable him in certain cases which are near the margin to be able to give as much as three weeks' imprisonment instead of sending a man to a court-martial, where he would, as a rule, get a heavier punishment than if the case was dealt with by the commanding officer. The men, as a rule, prefer to be tried by the commanding officers of their regiments, because they generally get lighter punishment. In fact, when a commanding officer wishes a man to get a heavy punishment he sends him to a court-martial. I think it is an advantage that the men should have the option of being tried by commanding officers, even if they should get a little more punishment than can at present be given.
§ Colonel HICKMAN
I cannot let this occasion pass without saying a few words in defence of the character of the officers of His Majesty's Army. It has been distinctly aspersed by the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. J. Ward). I wish to support as strongly as I can the Amendment proposed by the Noble Lord, because I feel very deeply that the interests of the soldiers, the officers, and the Army at large are very much involved in the Amendment. In my experience of something like thirty years in the Army I have always found that a private soldier, when he has been given an opportunity of saying whether he would be tried by court-martial or take the award of the commanding officer in ninety-nine cases out of 100 he prefers to be dealt with by the commanding officer. I think that is the best possible proof that soldiers prefer to be tried by officers who know them and who know all the circumstances instead of going before a court-martial, which may be composed of officers of other regiments who have no specific knowledge of the men 974 and of the circumstances of the case beforehand.
I should like to back up what the Noble Lord has said as to the great advantage it would be to the Army and also to the officers to widen the scope of the responsibilities of the younger officers, beginning at the beginning and continuing on until they reach the higher ranks. In my experience I have found that young officers are always trying to get away from their regiments to go to Nigeria, Uganda, Egypt, and in fact all over the world, solely and particularly that they may be put in positions where they may hold higher responsibilities, gain experience, gain some confidence, and thereby improve themselves as officers, so that when the time comes they may go back to their regiments well fitted to give service in fighting for the King. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman correctly, he said he was raising the punishment from fourteen days to twenty-eight days. So far as I remember he is raising it from twenty-one to twenty-eight days.
§ Sir CHARLES DILKE
The hon. and gallant Member is referring to the provision in a Section which is struck out.
§ Colonel HICKMAN
I should like to repudiate the statement made by the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent that there are officers at the present time in His Majesty's Army who are willing to bring back flogging in the Army. In the whole course of my thirty years' service I have never heard an officer say that lie wanted to see flogging brought back. The hon. Member has made aspersions against commanding, officers in stating that they must necessarily take what the non-commissioned officers tell them about a man before they form an opinion as to the justice of an accusation. When a commanding officer hears a case he is in the position of a magistrate or a judge. He has to sift the evidence and give the best judgment in his power. He has to question the non-commissioned officers because they are witnesses. That is the reason why he asks them to give their evidence. The best proof we have that there has been great improvement where commanding officers' power of punishment has been increased is to be found in the words of the Secretary of State for War. The right hon. Gentleman told us that during the past few years there has been such 975 a great improvement in the discipline of the Army that there has been a reduction of forty per cent, in the number of courts-martial.
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
I entirely sympathise with the Noble Lord (Viscount Castlereagh) and the hon. Member who has just spoken in their desire that greater responsibilities should be put upon the officers in the Army, but I would point out that it is impossible that officers of the same age in the Army could ever have the same responsibilities as officers in the Navy, for the simple reason that the Navy is always at war with one of its two enemies, and that one the greatest, namely, the sea. It is because naval officers have to combat with the sea from an early age, and that at the age, possibly, of fourteen or fifteen years a lad is put in command of a boat's crew and sent away by himself. In this way naval officers learn to exercise discipline in time of peace. The Navy is always in active service against its worst enemy, but the Army has only against it a sham enemy in time of peace. I observe that the Noble Lord and others who have spoken on behalf of the officers on this occasion are in favour of giving them greater power of punishment. I do not think that is calculated to improve them as regimental officers in the fighting line. Other qualities are required than those. If you give them ampler powers of punishment it can only tend to increase their sense of arbitrary power, but I do not think you will improve their fighting power.
I really rise to make a very sincere, may I say an almost heartrending, appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to press this Clause. Let me remind the House of what has happened? And in this connection I venture to submit that commanding officer does mean the officer who commands a detachment away from his regiment in time of active service. Seventeen years ago there was a power in the commanding officer to give twenty-one days' imprisonment. And although imprisonment is now termed detention, it is imprisonment all the same. Confinement to barracks is imprisonment in a limited area. Seventeen years ago, less two days, we passed an all-night sitting in this House in the attempt to reduce the power of the commanding officer from the power of giving twenty-one days' imprisonment to the power of giving fourteen. We were defeated upon that occasion by the late Sir 976 Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who was then in power; but the force of the arguments so impressed the right hon. Gentleman that when the Bill got into the House of Lords the very Amendment which we proposed, and which was rejected here, was inserted by the Government itself. The Bill came down here on the 24th April, 1893, with that Amendment inserted by the Lords, and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman moved that the House of Commons should agree to the Amendment. The result of that was that the power of commanding officers to impose sentence was reduced from twenty-one days to fourteen days, and it has so remained up to this day.
Now the right hon. Gentleman proposes to raise it to twenty-eight, and I may remark that he has destroyed his case for any attempt of the sort. He says that courts-martial have decreased and the sentences upon soldiers have decreased. I rejoice to hear it; but if that is so surely that is a reason not forgiving the commanding officers greater powers, but rather for giving them less powers, or at any rate for leaving things as they are. The language of this Clause 4 is remarkable. It begins in a way I have never known a clause of an Act of Parliament to begin before—" With a view to reducing the number of cases." You never insert a motive in a clause of an Act of Parliament, and it recalls to me the famous words of one whom the Secretary for War will certainly respect, Sir Edward Coke, who talks of "Acts beginning with false, flattering preambles." I think this is rather a false, flattering preamble; and when the right hon. Gentleman tries to make out that a soldier is going to be better off if somebody has the power of imprisoning him for a longer period, I really cannot accept that line of argument. It is said that there will be fewer courts-martial and more sentences by commanding officers. The truth is this: The commanding officers have now only a power of fourteen days, but under this Clause they are to have a power of twenty-eight days detention, as it is called. My belief is that this tendency to imitate the arbitrariness of some Continental nations, and to give more and more arbitrary powers to commanding officers, is detrimental to the interests of the Army. I would rather see a development in the English way.
Our Army we are always told is inefficient. No War Minister comes into power but he attempts to make radical changes, 977 and every succeeding War Minister finds that his predecessors made big blunders. And so it has gone on ever since I have known of an Army or read of it. There is another force from which the right hon. Gentleman might take some lessons. The English Army which conquered France and brought credit to England were what were called Sevenpenny Men, and the Welsh among them were only Fivepenny Men, men with only 5d. a day. They found themselves and lived upon the enemy. Those men fought bravely, but when they came home they returned to their wives and families. They were a sort of ancient foreshadowing of that most admirable of all forces, the Metropolitan Police, who are ready to fight and go anywhere, but who live at home, and are always on hand, and the result is the admirable force that all the world admires of the blue angels who guard our streets. I am talking of the method of dealing with the Army. I am comparing the method of segregating a man from his fellow-subjects, keeping a man in barracks and depriving him of his civil rights in the ordinary sense, and, let it not be forgotten, subjecting him to all sorts of special punishments, and then attempting to increase the severity of those punishments, and I am contrasting that with the method which was found quite sufficient for the men who won Crecy and Poitiers, or who later on won Waterloo, aye, and even for the Metropolitan Police, who after their duty go home to their wives and families. I was only suggesting that that might be the ideal rather than the Continental, I will not say German, ideal, which we seem to be trying to pursue, almost since the time of Frederick the Great.
I do make this appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to persist in this Clause, and I make it because I cannot vote against it. If I did vote against it I should be helping to provide an opportunity for the return to power of a Protectionist Government, so that I must support the right hon. Gentleman, as I regard him as the sole barrier against that Protection which I believe would ruin the country. I believe he is taking the wrong method with regard to the Army. I believe, with him, that the Army is so improved that it will need not more drastic but less drastic powers of punishment, and if I am to compare the individual commanding officer, whatever his rank may be, with the court-martial, I think I would prefer the court-martial. If I was on my trial I would prefer a jury of my countrymen, 978 even if it was only a court-martial. The commanding officer is not a jury; he is a judge. He acts according to his discretion, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that the discretion of a judge is only another name for personal tyranny. Commanding officers differ, but when you have a court-martial you get the average common-sense just as you do on a jury. When the right hon. Gentleman asks me to prefer an individual, and to give that individual a double power of sentencing me, I would certainly prefer a court-martial. I again repeat my appeal. I am quite helpless in the matter. I am in the right hon. Gentleman's hands, and I would ask him to temper justice with mercy.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman is it not a fact that the sentence and proceedings of a court-martial are subject to review by the Judge Advocate-General, and that the sentence and proceedings before the commanding officer are not subject to any review at all? And if that is so, and if this Clause is passed, does not that mean that the benefit of the revisal by the Judge Advocate-General would be withdrawn in a great many cases from the private soldier?
§ Mr. HALDANE
By Section 43 of the Army Act the private soldier has a right to complain against anything whatever done by the commanding officer, and that power is, in fact, used; and if anybody complains of the sentences an opportunity is given for reviewing them.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
Do not the sentences of the court-martial, as a matter of course, in every case come before the Judge Advocate-General?
§ Mr. SANDERSON
While the sentence of the commanding officer does not come as a matter of course before the Judge Advocate-General, but only if the private soldier takes it into his own hands and has it brought on?
§ Mr. SANDERSON
If that is so, and this Clause is passed, are you not taking away from the private soldier a very great benefit that may be of great use to him, namely, the revisal by the Judge Advocate-General, in the ordinary course of proceedings against and sentences passed upon him?
§ Mr. HALDANE
I do not think so, because, first of all, if he wants to go before a court-martial, he can go to a court-martial just as now. If he goes to a commanding officer, he chooses to go to him, and if he thinks he has been unjustly treated, he has only got to complain, and the practice which exists now will be followed, the matter will be investigated, and he will have redress.
MARQUESS Of TULLIBARDINE
The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ward) made a most extraordinary statement, that he thought all the officers of the Army were in favour of flogging.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
I would like to say, in answer to the Noble Marquess and to another hon. Gentleman who put words into my mouth, that I did not say anything of the kind. All I said was that when the subject of flogging was under discussion in this House every officer who spoke upon the subject advocated flogging, and I therefore suggested that commanding officers were not necessarily the best judges of the right way to inflict punishment upon private soldiers.
MARQUESS of TULLIBARDINE
The point of the hon. Gentleman is that at that time the commanding officers were in favour of flogging. Since then the good sense of the House has shown that they were wrong. Is there any particular reason why the good sense of the House should not be at this moment correct? It was correct before, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War is correct on this occasion. We have got several Service members on both sides of the House, and I think that while the hon. Member for Stoke certainly was speaking with an honest desire for the best from the point of view of the soldier, other Members are doing the same. I think you must grant that we have also some experience in the matter, and are most anxious to do what we can for the welfare of the soldier. I think he thought that the Secretary of State for War was increasing the powers of the commanding officer for punishment, and that therefore there would be, in fact, more punishment for a man to get. The right hon. Gentleman, however, has the opposite point in view. Though it seems, oil the face of it, to be increasing the powers of the commanding officer with regard to the punishment of the men, the reason is to give the men a chance of not having to be sent to a court-martial for offences which really 980 should not go before a court-martial. When a man who has been in the Army wants to get a place and you look up his record and find he has got court-martialled at any time, you will have nothing to do with him; but you never ask has he come before the commanding officer. One is, in fact, a goal bird, and the other is not. By increasing the power of the commanding officer you simply increase the number of cases dealt with by him which otherwise have been sent to a court-martial.
The soldier may ask to be tried by court-martial, but I have never yet known a man prefer to go before the court-martial rather than before his commanding officer. There are some cases in which the fourteen days is perhaps too little, and in which it might be said that a rather heavier punishment should be given, and if a man went to a court-martial he would probably get a very much more severe sentence than would be imposed by his commanding officer. A court-martial has no feelings, it cannot have feelings, it is simply in the position of a judge, and it does not take into consideration whether the soldier accused has a wife and children, or anything of that sort. Its duty is to inflict the statutory punishment, and it is not supposed to know anything about the soldier, as does a commanding officer, who takes all the circumstances in consideration when he is considering the punishment to be inflicted. A court-martial does not make the punishment fit the individual; it acts by rule of thumb. I do think that the right hon. Gentleman is giving extended powers to the commanding officer in order to save the man from worse. That is a reason why I am thoroughly in accord with the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. I should not, however, be altogether in favour of so drastic a change as that of increasing the period to fifty-six days. I think, if you were to substitute fifty-six days you would be giving the commanding officer rather more power than would be perhaps wise. Speaking from personal experience, I think the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in bringing forward this Amendment, which, I think, is framed in the right spirit.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
This matter has been discussed on a good many occasions with reference to the maintenance of discipline in the Army. The first glance at the Clause proposed by the Government seems to be in the direction of humanity. It certainly is desirable to pre- 981 vent poor men who have committed mere trivial offences from being sent before a court-martial, and from having convictions recorded against them and their characters practically destroyed. That is the argument for the Clause. On the other hand, my own instincts, at all events, are against the Clause. I have known some commanding officers who are little better than bullies—I do not say I have known many of them, but I have known some. If this Clause should pass there are some commanding officers in the Army who, I believe, would give a man, a few days after hi had come from detention, another month, and would practically keep him in detention all the year round, and that without a chance of his going to a court-martial. To put to a private soldier whether or not he will go before a court martial is a very serious proposition to place before him, because he would find himself eventually punished if he had availed himself of the alternative. I think it has been found that the more reasonable and the more humane you make punishment the better discipline you eventually get. You do not get better discipline by flogging people; you do not really vindicate the law or improve society by brutal punishment, and it seems to me that the power to give fourteen days' detention is quite enough for any offence which is a mere trivial one. If a private soldier has committed a more serious offence, then it is time that he should go before a court-martial. We have on several occasions with you in the Chair, Sir, discussed for a great many hours this question of punishment from all points of view. I am not going to repeat any of those arguments that were formerly used, but, personally, I cannot allow the Debate to a close on a question of such importance without saying a few words upon it. I do think that the power of the commanding officer to order fourteen days' detention is quite sufficient, and if a man has committed an offence deserving a longer period of detention then the proper way in which to try him would be by court-martial, whose decision would inevitably, and as a matter of course, come up for revision by the Judge Advocate-General, and before whom there would be more chance of the man getting substantial justice. The Army is a place where men are particularly liable to be bullied, and I oppose this Clause, which simply gives the officer twice the opportunity which already exists to inflict punishment. Hon. Members who look at the matter from the opposite point 982 of view say that the object of giving this increased power to the commanding officer is to keep men from the courts-martial, but if we only look at the subject from the point of view of the man himself and from the point of view of the actual discipline of the Army, it will be seen that to increase the power of the commanding officer would be a mistake.
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
My only object in bringing forward this matter is that I do not think the commanding officers or the men of the Army as a whole have sufficient responsibility. In bringing forward this Amendment, I had distinctly in view the idea that more responsibility should be placed on every member of the Army. I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
moved to omit Clause 4.
I think if I get no one else to tell with me if I go to a Division, I shall have the services of the hon. Member for one of the divisions of Liverpool (Mr. Watson Rutherford). I daresay the Noble Lord (.Viscount Castlereagh) will agree with me that I have not even suggested one-quarter of what was said by the hon. Member behind him. I think I dealt in a gingerly manner with the subject compared with him. I propose the deletion of this Clause because I believe it is against the whole policy of military affairs in Europe. In almost every country at present the tendency is to relax the severity of the military code. In France, and I believe also in Germany, the power to inflict punishment without trial is gradually disappearing. I believe that to be the case with every army in the world except our own. It is unfortunate, at all events it is unfortunate from my point of view, that this tendency to increase the penal code in our Army should come at a time when a Liberal Minister has charge at the War Office. I do not know whether the things were planned before the right hon. Gentleman took possession of his present office, but I must say I do not think it is very creditable to a Liberal Minister to be constantly asking this House to stiffen up and tighten the power of a commanding officer over the soldier in the way suggested, not only on this occasion, but on other occasions also. I believe, as a matter of fact, that in the case of every Army Annual Bill brought in by the right hon. Gentleman he has done something in 983 this direction. I believe that on the occasion of every Army (Annual) Bill since I have been a Member of the House, and since the right hon. Gentleman has been Minister of War, some new burden has been placed on the private soldier—some new difficulty added. Last year we had the question of billeting—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is supposed to be speaking against the Clause, and he is travelling over the whole subject. He must confine his observations to the Clause itself, and tell us how it adds to the disabilities of the private soldier, and he is not in order in going over the whole field.
§ Mr. J. WARD
Excepting in the last words which I used I have dealt absolutely line by line with the Clause, and nothing else. I admit I was unfortunate in mentioning billeting. This Clause, if it becomes part of the Bill, will again carry out this tightening process that has been going on for a long time. Here we propose to allow the commanding officer power, without trial, as the hon. Member (Mr. Watson Rutherford) has pointed out, to inflict still greater punishment in the future than he can inflict at the present time. I say this Clause is absolutely tightening up the whole process of punishment. It is not a party question, and hon. Members opposite, I am sure, are just as interested as any hon. Members on this side in protecting the interests of the private soldier. The hon. Member below the Gangway a moment ago put a most important problem with reference to this Clause to the Minister for War, who never attempted to answer it. Under this Clause the punishment is inflicted, and there is no appeal unless the soldier himself appeals in some way or makes a complaint. If he makes a complaint, and if it is a wrongful complaint, he can be given another six months, I think. There are peculiar sections in the Army Act, and even in the copy the right hon. Gentleman sent to me there are some very ambiguous sorts of crime. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Liverpool, by this process the soldier may point out that there is something wrong about the sentence of his commanding officer, and I daresay there is some way of rectifying it. But as the hon. Member also pointed out, if the man goes before a court-martial, then there is an officer properly appointed, and with all the powers and 984 authority and all the necessary qualifications for investigations of this kind, who automatically inquires into the sentence, and you get an automatic rectification without the soldier being called on to make a charge against his commanding officer, a thing he is not likely to do, no matter how severe the sentence may be. Under those circumstances, if I can only get one to tell with me, I am certainly going to take a Division against the Clause. I move it be deleted.
§ Lord CHARLES BERESFORD
The question under discussion is a very interesting one; but the point to consider is the case of the man, as it is the man who is going to be punished. When a man receives summary punishment it is over in a very short time. He is not kept waiting, and there is none of that irritation caused by keeping a man waiting for punishment, and generally he gets a fairer punishment from the officer than he does from the court-martial. May I give some instances which happened to me? As a captain I had a sergeant-major of Marines who had served twenty-onxe years, with great credit to himself and with great credit to his country. He went ashore and he got drunk. It was not his fault, as he drank some filthy stuff that made him drunk. I had to disrate him. He was a very valuable man, and in a very short time I gave him his rating back. If I tried that man by court-martial he would have lost all that service which he had given to the State. He was a splendid man, an excellent non-commissioned officer, respected by everybody, but he would have been disrated, and have lost all that service, and lost his pension, and he would not have got employment on shore, because, it must be remembered, that the court-martial goes down on the conduct sheet. I had another excellent man who through carelessness put his helm in such a way as to lose two men's lives. I had to disrate him. It was carelessness, and one, of those mistakes which we are all liable to. But on active service in the Navy you have got to think of every little finger of your men, and to see that nothing is done of any sort or kind to lose men's lives, and a little error of judgment might have that result. If this particular case had been tried by court-martial there is no doubt that the man would never have got his rating back again, which would have affected him in his whole career. I only mention these circumstances on the point as to whether a commanding officer should have the 985 right of punishment, or whether he should refer the matter to courts-martial. It is a very difficult case I admit, but I am thinking only of the men.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
If the Noble Lord tried all the cases I would submit them to him without courts-martial.
§ Lord CHARLES BERESFORD
I am much obliged for the compliment. In the old days in both Services the rigour of discipline was, "Do not ask" and "Do not speak." In these days the whole, of the sympathy of the officer is with the men, and I am sure I speak for the sister service as well as for the one I know so well. The effort is not to try and run a man in, but to try and get a man out and give him every chance. As for non-commissioned officers or petty officers irritating the men and running them in for offences against discipline or making irritable remarks to the men, that is known at once, I am sure, to every colonel of a regiment and captain of a ship. They know it from the other noncommissioned officers. I myself am certainly only thinking of the men. Do not let us think of the officer's power but of what is best for the men. My humble opinion is that the right hon. Gentleman's idea of giving the officer more power with a view to getting rid of courts-martial is certainly best for the men, and I shall vote for the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.
§ Colonel IVOR PHILIPPS
I do not think the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. John Ward) represents the views of the soldiers of the Army, because I am firmly convinced that the soldiers of the Army know that it is not to their benefit for minor cases to go to courts-martial. The hon. Member talked as if a man who was brought before his commanding officer had to appeal against the decision. There is no such thing. What happens to the man is that the case is inquired into, and then the commanding officer says, "Will you be tried by me or by court-martial?" and the man says whichever he prefers. If he thinks the commanding officer has a "down" upon him he says by court-martial, and if he thinks the commanding officer is a man who will deal fairly with him, he says, "I will be tried by the commanding officer." There is no question of any unfairness. I do not think it should go out from this House that during the tenure of office of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War that the Army Act has been stiffened up. I believe that it is entirely 986 the other way, and I believe the whole tendency of the Army Act has been to make military law more suitable for the soldier and to benefit the soldier. I am quite certain that the soldier thinks so too. I say with every confidence that the remarks of the hon. Member for Stoke do not represent the views of the soldiers. I am certain that the officers will say the same thing. They do not advocate these proposals to add to their power. These proposals give more power to the soldier who can be tried either by his officers or by court-martial, which ever is most beneficial in his opinion. I certainly do not think it should go out from this House that we are tightening up the Army Regulations.
§ Mr. REES
I heard with the greatest pleasure the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Philipps). I agree with him, and I am convinced that the picture drawn by the hon. Member for Stoke of antagonism between the private soldier and his officer is a figment of that hon. Member's imagination. I do not say that he himself may not have seen such things, but if it is so, then I think the cases have been exceptional, and he has been particularly unfortunate in his experiences. The hon. Member said that the Question before the House was not a party question, and neither is it. He proceeded, by way of showing how it was not a party question, to attack the Secretary of State, and to ask how could a Liberal Minister propose to stiffen up discipline in the Army, and how could a Liberal Minister do this, that, or the other. If the hon. Member really believes that this is not a party question, how can he suppose that there is anything Liberal or Conservative in the action of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War? I suppose that the Secretary of State, whether he happens to belong to the Liberal or Conservative party, acts on the advice of distinguished soldiers on his council. I do not suppose that in a matter of this kind he lays his own views before the House of Commons. The hon. Member commented on the thin House in which this has been discussed. I believe there is very good and satisfactory explanation of that, and I believe it is that the Members of this House know that the private soldier is in good hands, and that he can be trusted to his officer and to the War Office, and that he does not require all this defending. What the hon. Member says is very different to my experience, not as a soldier, but as one who has been 987 a judge and a magistrate in cantonments. I remember that officers have said to me that when they got into command they must be considered by their brother officers and by their men either to be fools or to be tyrants. They always have that unfortunate alternative before them. If they try to do their duty somebody accuses them of being tyrants, and if they are too lenient they are accused on all sides of being fools. I venture to make these few remarks because I confess I heard with some indignation the speech of the hon. Member, reflecting upon British officers.
§ Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill Reported without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.