§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
This Bill, as the House is aware, is the implement by which Parliament renews its authority from year to year for the maintenance and provision of the Army. Unless it were passed before a certain date the authority in virtue of which the Army is maintained would vanish, and the Army would become an undisciplined mob. Advantage is taken of the Bill to incorporate in the Army Act Amendments and alterations which experience may have proved to be either necessary or desirable. In the Bill now before the House there is a rather formidable array of Amendments which it is proposed to make in the Army Act. I think that those Amendments are 1006 formidable rather in appearance than in substance. I do not think that there will be any very grave matters arising in connection with them. The memoranda which are printed in the Bill explain sufficiently the general purpose of the Amendments, and I do not think it necessary to enter upon them in any detail.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I agree with what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the numerous expansions of the Annual Army Act which would be effected by the Bill now before the House. I agree, further, that many of these changes are consequential, and are necessary as a result of the changed conditions of the Army incidental to the recent War. But there is one Clause in the Bill now before the House to which I am desired by my Friends on this side to take the strongest objection, that is, Clause 12. While we may not pursue the subject at any great length to-night on the Second Reading, it will be the duty of many of us to contest this Clause in detail during the Committee stage of the Bill. Clause 12, as I gather, is really lifted into this Bill from some part of the Defence of the Realm Act. It raises very vital and in some respects very sore questions of individual freedom. I have no sympathy whatever with those who have designedly, sometimes perhaps with determination, sought to undermine the moral of the Army or interfere with recruiting at a time when the country was in a very perilous condition. It is not our object to offer opposition to this Bill on the ground that there should be absolute liberty on the part of the individual to say and do just what he likes when the country is in danger. But there ought to be some equality as between an orator and the Press, as between, say, a poor man and a rich man, in what he says in public with regard to the Army. I would say that the ordinary law is quite stringent enough to deal with any real offender, without importing into this Bill the special provisions that were expressly agreed to by this House during the course of the War, and that came to be known to the House as the Defence of the Realm Act.
There have been instances during the War where the freedom of the individual has been seriously impaired by the application of these Acts, but I suggest that the application has not been equitable, and that there have been cases where men have escaped who clearly have violated 1007 the laws, and cases on the other hand where men have committed a mere technical offence and been pursued by the police or by some official shorthand writer, where the speeches were written down, and these men have been brought into Court and been severely punished. Incidentally now that the War is ended one may say that we have not been quite as generous as we might have been in our treatment of these political prisoners, and it is known that this has excited a great deal of dissatisfaction in many quarters of the country. We could really have afforded to have treated many of these men more generously. Many of them have done and said what they did and said for the sake of conscience, and only as advocating the convictions which they had. Let me draw the attention of the House to one quite recent and outstanding instance of inequality. Clause 12 tells us, in effect, that any person who does any act or who attempts to do any act calculated to cause disaffection among any of His Majesty's military forces shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. I have read the material words of the Clause. We have known cases of men of quite honest convictions, men who are real patriots and not traitors at all, who have been brought into Court and imprisoned for very simple technical offences on the ground that they have said or done something which has caused disaffection in the Army.
On the other hand, there have been occasions repeatedly during the course of the War, and since the close of the War, when highly-placed and powerful personages in the country who dominate certain sections of the Press, and who can begin what I think is termed a Press stunt, have undoubtedly by their attitude towards the Government and by their conduct towards the Army created disaffection of the deepest and most severe kind. I can recall a quite recent instance when soldiers, being dissatisfied with the conditions of demobilisation, manifested their dissatisfaction even to the extent of refusing to obey orders. They were encouraged by the Press. Leading articles with bold head-lines appeared day after day, and these, which tended to inflame excitement and disaffection in the Army, were permitted without any attempt on the part of the Government to intervene. If this form of wholesale manufacture of dis- 1008 satisfaction can be indulged in as a Press stunt, whatever be the motive, whether it be a political motive or not, and those who are guilty of it can go scot-free, gaining perhaps a wider circulation of their newspapers, we suggest that the law ought not to be so framed as to cause individual workmen who commit technical offences to be brought into Court and punished. I offer these observations to indicate that this and other parts of the Bill are to us most objectionable, and we suggest that offences which imperil the strength of the country or of the Army, so far as they can be committed, can be dealt with by the ordinary law
§ Major HAYWARD
The Debates on the Army (Annual) Bill provide the only opportunity which Parliament has of revising questions of discipline and punishment in the Army. The observations that I have to make refer more particularly to omissions from the Bill than to its contents. The whole system of Army discipline and punishment in the Army wants revising in many respects having regard to all our experiences during the War and our experiences with the New Army. I put down a question the other day asking the Secretary of State if he would include in the terms of reference of the Committee which is now established to deal with courts-martial the whole question of discipline and punishment in the Army. Unfortunately the right hon. Gentleman could not see his way to do so, and the House without the expert knowledge which the Committee could give us must grope its way through this matter and amend the Act as best it can. After all this Committee has been established to deal only with the question of courts-martial, and I suggest that that is a matter which least wants attention. I believe it is the universal experience of every Member who has had any experience of courts-martial that, taking them all in all, their procedure is absolutely fair, that they are conducted fairly, and that the one desire of almost every officer who is ever appointed a member of a court-martial is to see if he can possibly find some loophole for letting the man off. Therefore, from that point of view, there are far more questions wanting investigation than this question of courts-martial. I hope, probably in the Bill, that we shall have Amendments providing that at least one member of every court-martial, probably the president, shall be someone having legal knowledge 1009 and experience. In the days of the Old Army, when every officer had a proper training in military law—he was sent to several courts-martial for training—there was not the same fear or risk that Courts would be held by officers without any knowledge or experience in the administration 3either of military law or any other law.
The other night there was raised by an hon. Member the question of a prisoner having the assistance of somebody with legal knowledge and experience in his defence. That is another weakness of the system. It is quite true that the prisoner had the advantage of the soldiers' friend or officers' friend, but that is hardly sufficient w3hen charges of great gravity are being dealt with. I want the Government to consider whether they cannot do something to deal with the powers of a commanding officer with respect to punishment. I think I am right in saying that a commanding officer can give the whole of any punishment which it is within his power to give for my office. I believe that with one or two small exceptions it is competent for him to give the greatest punishment for the smallest and most trivial offence. The result is that in the administration of justice generally throughout the Army you find a good deal of inequality. You find some commanding officers giving very severe sentences for the same offences for which other commanding officers give lighter sentences. There is one further point in this connection. I want the right hon. Gentleman to consider the whole question of field punishment No. 1, not so much with reference to the powers of courts-martial as with reference to the powers of commanding officers. That is all I am going to say at the moment, but in view, not of what I have heard, but of what I have seen and know of my own knowledge, I sincerely hope that the Government will take this question into consideration and will take this question into consideration and will put down such Amendments in Committee as will make it unnecessary for us to go further into the matter. I do submit that for the most serious consideration of the Government.
I hope the Government will recognise that in the very strong stand our party propose to take in this matter we fully admit that discipline is necessary, and we are not guided or actuated by any desire or intention to interfere with what may be recognised as the basic principle of any army—the 1010 essential necessity of maintaining discipline. But, on the other hand, we are compelled to recognise, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will do so also, that you are dealing with an Army to-day and with an Army of the future which is entirely different, both in its nature, traditions and views of soldiering from any Army in the past. I venture to assert that Clause 12 of this Bill will be violated every hour of the day. There is hardly a man in the Army at the present moment but unconsciously violates this particular Clause. In my own union, we have 123,000 members in His Majesty's Forces. That is our contribution. No matter what constituencies Members may claim to represent, the connection of these people with their trade union is such that they look upon it as their duty to consult their society on their grievances, and one result is probably during the last three years my own post bag has averaged from two to three hundred letters daily from soldiers. What I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this. These men in their ordinary civil employment, if they are suffering from grievances have grown up under forms and customs which they themselves feel provide an opportunity of redress, and I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be highly dangerous if advantage is going to be taken of this Clause to punish these men for utilising what years of experience have proved to them to be the only means of securing the redress of their grievances.
Not very long ago I visited the troops at the front. I do not want to say too much, but I think I am entitled to state that every commanding officer I spoke to recognised that to have attempted to give effect to the powers conferred in this Clause would have broken up your Army absolutely. I put it no stronger than that, but I challenge contradiction. I speak with knowledge of thousands of men, and I am fully prepared to admit that officers have acted in a very tactful way. I disagree with the suggestion that they have paid no regard to the feelings of the men. I believe they have displayed within the limits of their powers prudence, and have not desired to take advantage of the powers conferred upon them by this Clause. I suggest, however, it is highly dangerous to give powers to them which may easily not strengthen the discipline of the Army, but utterly destroy it. With a conscript army, with the men feeling as they feel 1011 to-day that the Act which we have just passed is a violation of promises made to them, if in addition to that they are to be prevented from corresponding with, or talking to, or asking advice and assistance from people at home, I submit that you cannot possibly maintain discipline under such conditions, and it is for these reasons that we on these benches take strong exception to this particular Clause, and we shall offer very strenuous opposition to it on the Committee stage; indeed, I hope my right hon. Friend may be able to meet us even on the Second Beading rather than allow a Division to take place.
With regard to field punishment No. 1 I am not concerned so much with the procedure attached to this punishment as with the punishment itself. Every soldier I have spoken to, everyone who knows anything about the punishment, says, without reserve, that is is degrading, demoralising, and obsolete, and cannot be justified in this twentieth century. In spite of all our talk of compulsion the overwhelming mass of our present Army are men who volunteered their services, or who willingly went in defence of high principles. In this question one must recognise that there is no defence or excuse for what is known as field punishment No. 1. It is because I believe it is necessary to be tactful in these matters, because I believe it to he necessary to have regard to the spirit of the times, and because I believe you will be compelled to recognise the difference between the soldier of to-day and the soldier of the past, that I hope my right hon. Friend will give some consideration to the points I have raised.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
It is not a very agreeable task in times like these to criticise any measure brought forward by the Government in the interests of what they consider to be the better control of the Army. But as we are now within sight of peace, and as we shall soon return, I hope, to normal conditions I would like to draw the attention of the House to two points in this Bill which seem to me to continue certain military rule in this country which we gladly put up with in time of war, but which when peace comes ought to be abolished, and the civil authorities put back into its former controlling position. This may be a small point but it is one which runs through the whole of the Bill. Under Section 7 the Army Council and military authorities are definitely substituted for the civil power. Before the 1012 War, when it was necessary to take a census of carriages or animals, the military authorities were not allowed to go into an Englishman's house or stable—to force their way in and make an enumeration of the property, but there was a civil procedure which had to be observed. A magistrate had to be approached, and had to give his warrant, and then a constable went with the military officer to see that proper information was given. We are only anxious that proper facilities should be given to the military authorities for finding out what carriages and horses are available in an emergency. But I am not prepared to give the Army Council or their officers power to come into my house or stable without even "by your leave," and to force their way in and do anything they like. I am perfectly willing if it is necessary, and if a magistrate gives an order and a constable comes along—the civil power—to admit that right to him, but I am not prepared to give to the Army Council—a collection of generals—the power to order anybody to go into my house, or anybody else's house, and to take an inventory of my goods or their goods. For that is exactly what it says in Sub-section (4) of Clause 7:The authority for—that is for going into the premises and doing all these things—shall be the Army Council or any authority or persons to whom the Army Council may delegate their powers under this Section.This means that the Army Council may authorise a general to send down any officer or private whom he may wish to come, and take an inventory of my carriages or horses. I feel sure the House would not approve of that, but would wish for a continuation of the old system, namely, when it was done by the civil power, working through and with the military authority. I associate myself, though it is an ungrateful thing to do in these days, with what has fallen from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite with regard to Clause 12. I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that we shall not always be at war, and when we get back to peace I want, so far as military rule is concerned, that we should go back to the year of grace 1914. In 1914 the utmost penalty that could be imposed upn anyone who induced a soldier in His Majesty's Forces to desert was six months in prison. That may have been right or it may have been wrong, but it 1013 was considered sufficient in 1914. What are we asked to pass in this Second Reading, here in 1919? That anyone who makes any statement intended or likely to prejudice recruiting, or to contravene the King's Regulations, or in any way to interfere with any of His Majesty's Forces, may be imprisoned for a term of two years, or may be fined £100 or imprisoned for six months, or both.
For expressing his views on the Conscription Act.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I gladly admit that these offences will be tried, and the punishment will be inflicted by a civil magistrate, yet I would ask the House to hear me for just two minutes longer to consider what offences we shall have, if we pass the Second Reading of this Bill without some promise from the Government, which will allow civil magistrates to impose two years' imprisonment and a fine of £100, or six months' imprisonment, or both. There is an offence of making a statement intended or likely to prejudice the recruiting of people for His Majesty's Forces. Hon Members in this House have made statements to their constituents. Surely it would prejudice recruiting if you said that the pay of the Army was not sufficient. The right hon. Gentleman opposite made the statement that the unemployed were paid better than His Majesty's Forces. That is obviously an inducement to people to be unemployed, and not to join the forces. Therefore, under this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman will be liable, and probably quite rightly liable, to two years' imprisonment and a fine of £100. Then, again, under this Bill, supposing such a thing happened as was the case when we sent troops first to India early in the War. Then we drew attention outside the House, on the public platform and in the Press, to the very bad conditions of travelling for the Territorials in India, when scores of men died through the neglect of the Indian Government. We should be liable to two years' imprisonment and a fine of £100. Take the contravention of the King's Regulations. Have hon. Members ever studied the King's Regulations? I had the greatest difficulty in the Library in unearthing a volume of them. There are 574 pages of close print, and if anybody induces any members of His Majesty's Forces to break any one of those 574 pages be is liable to two years' imprisonment and a fine of 1014 £100. If a member of His Majesty's Forces is on leave and he is ill, and you tell him to stay another twenty-four hours and not to go back, and if you do not get a doctor's certificate, then you have induced him to break his furlough, which is contravening the King's Regulations, and you become liable. Anyone who obstructs, impedes or otherwise interferes with any one of His Majesty's Forces in the execution of his duty would be liable to these heavy penalties. On that, any farmer who in any way tries to prevent troops on manœuvre going over his growing crops, will be liable to this two years' imprisonment and a fine of £100. If any person, wrongly no doubt, prevented any of His Majesty's Forces coming to a house where they were billeted, he would be liable to this heavy penalty. I need not weary the House, but I could multiply instances by the thousand. I think these penalties are savage and excessive. There is no justification for them. It may be, and it is, that the law does want strengthening in some way to check people who are out to destroy the moral and discipline of His Majesty's Forces. The right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench say, "Hear, hear." I quite agree with them. But let them define exactly what they want to get at, and put into the Bill words about which there can be no doubt. In the case of men who wish to cause dissatisfaction and mutiny, and to get people to desert from the Army, let them be punished heavily, but do not leave these grave terms, which may be badly and unjustly used, and which will cause a great deal of unrest among members of His Majesty's Forces.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
I hope the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill to-night will listen to the appeals which have been made. As a matter of fact, I suppose there are more Amendments in this Bill in this Session of Parliament than has ever been the case before. I have not had time to cast my eyes over a number of the Amendments, but they are very numerous and very drastic. I was hoping that one Amendment by the Government would be to cut out of the old Army Act that barbarous system of field punishment. There is no Army, at least among the civilised nations of the world, which has so terrible a punishment as field punishment No. 1. It might be imposed by a commanding officer in circumstances which would not be permitted by any 1015 other army. So far as the other armies, at least on the Continent of Europe, are concerned, very definite arrangements have to be made before that penalty can be imposed. I just add my appeal that this matter may be amended in the existing Bill. Clause 7 seems to be complimentary to the Act we have already passed as an usurpation of the civil power in favour of the military power. In this country, at any rate, that will not be tolerated for very long. During four years of war we have put up with many restrictions on our liberty, and on the prerogative of the civil power in favour of the military. I suggest that now we are in sight of peace that cannot be maintained much longer. The people are becoming restless under the existing state of things, and to perpetuate these restrictions in a Bill of this character would simply mean emphasising the existing irritation that already exists. I come to Clause 12. At least I hope we are in sight of peace. It is just possible that peace may be signed within the next month. What does this Bill seek to undertake? I hope that when peace is signed and ratified we shall do away with Dora,—the Defence of the Realm Act. For the first time in the history of Bills of this character, which come as they do annually, to perpetuate the existence of the Army, and to provide the means for its existence, we have now incorporated within this Bill the whole of the Defence of the Realm Act.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
In one Clause, as my right hon. Friend suggests. To-day, I think, we set up a Committee to inquire into courts-martial. The Member for South Hackney (Mr. Bottomley), who has been very prominent in this matter, can now be subjected to two years' imprisonment for any comment he may make in his paper after this Bill is carried, protesting against the work of courts-martial. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) and any Member who receives a grievance from one of his constituents who is a member of the Army, if he were to go on a public platform and make the simple statement that such a grievance existed would be subject to two years' imprisonment. This does not apply merely to military men. The danger of the provision in Clause 12 is that it applies to every civilian, and that no Member of this House dare go outside it—of course he 1016 has the privilege inside of stating the case—and address his constituents and make a statement in regard to certain grievances in the Army without being subject to two years' imprisonment or a fine of £100. That is an intolerable thing. There is nothing in the Clause which improves the discipline of the Army. This Clause merely hits civilians who bring grievances of the Army before this House and the public. If I thought it would mean better discipline in the Army I would raise no objection. I am an old soldier. Years ago I was in the Royal Garrison Artillery. I was ten years in the Volunteer Force, and lately I have been on special duty for the Army itself, so that I know that this Clause, if enacted, will not increase discipline in the Army. The supposition of the Clause is that greater discipline is needed. I do not hold that opinion. In so far as the Clause prevents Members of this House going outside the House and stating certain grievances and trying to rectify them, it is very dangerous. I hope we shall stick to the old Clauses of the Army (Annual) Bill and that my right hon. Friend will withdraw this Clause
§ Mr. C. WHITE
If this Bill were an Act to-night I could qualify immediately for two years' hard labour and a fine of £100, which I should have great difficulty in finding, for I had only this morning a letter of the gravest character from a soldier which resulted in the loss of a great many lives. I am not going to read it or make it public—it is as grave as that. It is known to the members of the Government. If I were to say that outside this House, that would be something prejudicial to recruiting. The whole matter was brought about by the unsatisfactory methods of demobilisation. I do not know whether it is allowed by the Rules of the House, but may I refer for the moment to the very lax methods of demobilisation which exist to-day and which are responsible for a good deal of the punishment that is now being inflicted in the Army. I suppose that in the future any soldier doing anything in that respect would, under Clause 12, be liable to punishment. If I comment on it, certainly I should be liable to punishment also. The Government, rightly or wrongly—wrongly, I submit—have caused a great deal of dissatisfaction in the Army and interference with employment at home by adopting what they call the clean-cut with regard to releasing men on occupational grounds.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
We must not discuss the administrative side of the question to-day, but deal merely with the legal side.
§ Mr. WHITE
I anticipated that ruling and therefore got in as much as I could before you interfered, Sir. I will not pursue that subject further. I should like to say one or two words with regard to the abolition of held punishment No. 1. I will give one instance, without mentioning names or dates. It is the case of a young man of the highest character, whom I knew before he went from my county of Derbyshire. He is nineteen years of age. He had the misfortune to shoot a comrade through the foot owing to an accident to his rifle. He was sentenced to twenty-eight days' field punishment No. 1. I wrote to his commanding officer as his mother, who was broken-hearted, came to see me and described the punishment he was undergoing. Eventually he was reprieved to the extent that he was sentenced to nine months' detention instead of the twenty-eight days' field punishment No. 1. I contend that that was an unjustifiable sentence. [An HON MEMBER: "Was that a sentence by court-martial?"] I cannot tell you how it was done; all I know was that he was sentenced to it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are you sure it was nine months' detention?"] It was some months, at any rate. I can produce the correspondence. I am speaking, perhaps, in the presence of Service men who pretend very often to know all there is to be known of the Army, but who do not know a great deal that is known among the rank and file. This lad was sentenced to twenty-eight days' field punishment No. 1, and that was commuted, perhaps because of some influence I was able to bring to bear. It does not matter for what period it was commuted; the fact remains that he was sentenced to twenty-eight days' field punishment No. 1. That was an inhuman sentence. With an Army constituted as ours is to-day, no punishment like that ought to be inflicted. I know that Service men, perhaps some in this House, would like to continue these old, arbitrary, savage, inhuman sentences, but at this time they are out of date. I have had as much to do with recruiting for the Army as most men, but I am here to protest against that kind of thing and say that now is the time to abolish this punishment.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
In regard to Clause 12, I would appeal to the Government to with- 1018 draw it. If it was ever needed at all, this is the worst time in which it could be introduced in connection with the Army. I have had some experience, because my own boys are in the Army—one is an officer and the other is a non-commissioned officer—my father was a soldier who died in the Crimea, so that there is something of the soldier blood in me. From the experience I have gained I gather that the best soldier is generally found to be the best grouser, and that the best grouser in the Army is generally found to be the best soldier. Stop a soldier grousing and you will very soon stop him fighting. It is a part of the very privilege that is in him in his position that a man grouses in the morning, all day, and last thing at night. It is a part of his very training, and in my own experience as a trade union official I have known young fellows who have gone into the Army during these last four years or so and they have been very nice, quiet, young chaps and they have been demobilised, but they can grouse now all right. You get a few of them in your branch meeting and hear them talk. It is part of their very privilege, and you might as well try to stop the sea coming over the shore as to stop the soldier grumbling and grousing. Even when he is praising the Army he is grousing about it all the time, and you are introducing a very dangerous element. At this very time make a man feel that he is under restrictions, make him feel that he is to be penalised for something he has been accustomed to for years, and at once you create in him a spirit that will make him break every Clause in this-Bill before he will know what he has done at all. I have been a justice of the peace during the War period and it is under the Clause of the £100 or six months or both. It is as familiar to me as anything I know, for we have it before us in dealing with bakers selling bread that is less than twelve hours old and violations of various Acts which have been passed and every-time you look at it it is the six months or £100 or both. And then, of course, we-have had to deal with it in various ways as applied to various other sections of life. The soldier has been fighting for us. He has helped to get us the liberty that we are enjoying to-day. We have just come out of the world's greatest tragedy where we have been fighting for liberty, and a Clause in this Bill says to these very men, "We are going to further restrict your liberty and going to put 1019 penalties upon you which were never known before." Do not embitter the minds of the men. Do not give them the feeling that they are going to be treated more harshly in the future than even they have been treated in the past. I have a bundle of the letters which we are all receiving, and if they were revealed every one of the men who have written them is liable to the penalties contained in this Clause. You will never stop them complaining. You will never prevent them sending their complaints by letter, and you will never stop them uttering their complaints. I make an earnest appeal as one who comes from among the ranks, one who knows something of the evil effect of restrictions of this kind being imposed upon our men. Do not let them feel that now that the War has been fought and won they are to be treated worse than they were before, so far as liberty of expression of opinion is concerned, and to be prevented from expressing themselves in their own way.
§ Major COURTHOPE
The remarks which have been made about field punishment No. 1 have brought me to my feet, because I want to ask those who feel inclined, as many must at first sight, to support the attitude of those who have raised the question to think twice about it, to hear what I am going to say, and to think whether the existence of a punishment of almost inhuman severity, as I admit it is, may not be for the benefit of the soldiers themselves. During war everyone admits1 that discipline of a very rigid character has to be maintained in and near the firing line and many offences which at home and in peace time might be matters, I do not say of trivial importance, but at all events not matters deserving the most severe punishment, have to be treated as serious offences, and unless there is punishment of great severity which cannot only be imposed but can be carried out at the front I know from my personal experience that a great many more death penalties would have to be imposed. I am not going to mention names or regiments, but I call to my mind one case when I had the misfortune to sit as president of a field general court-martial just behind the front line in Flanders and I had to try twelve men in one noted regiment, men of undoubted gallantry, for an offence which, in spite of the fact that there were extenuating circumstances, was an offence of the most severe character 1020 as it took place in the presence of the enemy, and but for the existence of a penalty, which could be imposed and carried out at the front, of the most severe character there would have been no course open to the court-martial but to condemn these men to death.
Do you mean by that that it would not be within the competence of the military authorities to substitute some other punishment?
§ Major COURTHOPE
The punishment for this particular offence was death or such lesser penalty—you know the formula—and the crime which they committed was, when committed in the presence of the enemy, as this was, so serious that it required the most drastic punishment. No light penalty would have been possible at all. But I am quite convinced in my own mind that, but for the existence of a penalty of almost inhuman severity, as field punishment No. 1 can be, all those twelve men would not only have been condemned to death, but would have been shot. I think it would have been necessary for the discipline of the Army. I only mention that as an instance. There were innumerable cases of that kind. Drunkenness in action in the presence of the enemy is a very serious offence indeed, and one that has to be visited with severe penalties. It must be visited with a penalty which can be carried out on the spot. You cannot send a man like that back for imprisonment or anything of that kind. It has got to be dealt with where you are, and I firmly believe there are many men who would, in the War which is just over, have suffered the death penalty but for the existence of this severe field punishment No. 1. I only ask hon. Members who have personal knowledge of military conditions to consider this before they press the Government to withdraw this penalty because on the face of it it appears to be almost inhumanely severe.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman would have had much greater weight if this field punishment which he has been seeking to examine in certain circumstances were applicable both to officers and men. As my hon. and gallant Friend knows, this arrangement is not applicable to officers. When we discuss the question of punishment that fits the crime, I am not going to pretend for a moment to compete in knowledge of the circumstances with hon. Members who are obviously very much better acquainted 1021 with them; but hon. Members who have intimate knowledge of Army conditions must also remember the public opinion which surrounds the class from whom the men are recruited for the army. That must never be lost sight of, and I am clearly of opinion, having had brought to my knowledge many instances of the application of field punishment, that some considerable revision ought to be made in regard to this kind of punishment. I do not think that in any kind of punishment that is imposed upon men, that that kind of indignity ought to be heaped upon them. We have to remember that the bulk of the men who serve in the present Army volunteered their services. I think more than two-thirds are volunteers. None of us would like to guarantee our action in certain circumstances. Probably every one of us knows of cases in which men have had to undergo field punishment, and who, if the real facts were known, would have been excused by every reasonable man. Therefore, while not saying anything more on that topic, I hope my right hon. Friend (Mr. Forster) will give his earnest consideration to the plea which has been made that this barbarous method of punishment ought to be abandoned, or if not abandoned very considerably revised.
This is a Bill on which there have been many long discussions in this House. Those of us who have served in previous Parliaments know that on this Bill the House can be kept up all night and into the early hours of next morning. Tonight we have had the Bill brought on early in the evening. Compared with previous Army (Annual) Bills, it is in many respects an entirely new Bill. I do not know what the Government's intentions are in regard to it—I do not think they have ever found the opposition unreasonable in regard to question of time—but I am certain that while the Second Beading may be obtained to-night we must have ample time to consider the fourteen or fifteen new Clauses which appear in the Bill for the first time. I do not think that is an unreasonable request. I want to join in the protest against incorporating in this Bill for the first time regulations which were devised for the purposes of the War and for the War only. We have to be very careful and to examine all the Bills presented for that reason. I should like to hear from my right hon. Friend, before I form my own judgment, why the 1022 Government consider it necessary, after the experience of the War, to incorporate as an integral part of the Army (Annual) Bill these Regulations in regard to incitement against recruiting. While the War was going on there may have been, and in some cases there were, distinct instances in which it was right that some curb should be put upon the language of some people who were talking against the raising of troops. Those circumstances have gone by. It is always possible for any Government to bring in legislation for special purposes, and if the same circumstances arise again it would be easy for the Government to meet those circumstances with the same special legislation that they have introduced during the War. I should like to warn my right hon. Friend that if the Government seeks to make that a permanent part of the machinery of the Army (Annual) Bill, simply as a result of the experience of the War, which is a special experience, they ought to give substantial reasons why it is necessary. I do not think it will be necessary, if the ratification of peace comes as we all hope, and if the desires of the Government are realised. There will be less necessity then than ever, and that makes one wonder why the Government is introducing it into the Bill now. I should be glad to know what special reasons have induced the Government in Clause 12 to seek these extraordinary powers just at the moment when we are coming out of the War. I dare say my right hon. Friend will be able to give us those reasons, but if not he must expect more opposition to the Bill in its new form than would otherwise be given.
§ Captain A. SMITH
I would ask right hon. and hon. Members to remember what kind of people we have had in our Army during the last three or four years. The men who have comprised our Army during the War have been men who have been brought direct from their employment. They have not had the training and discipline which our Regular soldiers have had before the War and we cannot reasonably expect to retain that rigid form of discipline amongst men who have enjoyed freedom of their industrial and civic life and the freedom of other phases of life directly before they joined the Army. They joined purposely at the time of war and to carry on war instantly after joining the Army. Sufficient account has not been paid to that in several of the points mentioned in this Bill. I was disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman who moved 1023 the Second Reading did not do that. A great deal has been said in regard to field punishment No. 1. Field punishment No. 1 has never been administered uniformly throughout the Army. A great deal has depended on the commanding officer of the battalion and a great deal has depended on the brigadiers, as to how this field punishment has been carried out. The question was raised as to whether this refers to officers. I can only say at once we know it does not. Many hon. and gallant members of this House have seen a good deal of service in this War, and they know as well as anyone how officers have contravened the Army Regulations and how they have encouraged men to do it time after time during this War, and they have escaped; but when the men have been caught they have been severely punished. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I am not speaking without full knowledge of what I am saying, and I should not have risen to say this had I not known the seriousness of what I am saying. What I say is within my own knowledge and experience. With regard to field punishment, taking into consideration the class of men of which the Army is composed, and has been since the War, and is likely to be in the future, what I say is that if discipline cannot be maintained in the Army without resorting to this barbarous form of punishment, there is something wrong elsewhere. I would ask some senior officer who has had charge of divisions and brigades to confirm me when I say that the best battalion commanders have had the least amount of field punishment—either No. 1 or No. 2—and I think he would bear me out in that respect.
With regards to courts-martial I agree that it is the fairest form of trial the soldier has? It may have its defects, and possibly it can be improved, but what I wish to draw attention to is that the soldier has to make his statement in writing, and that has always raised a doubt in the soldier's mind as to whether he is not really going to commit himself before appearing, and the result is that many of them, although they may have a good case, fight shy, and if some other form of procedure could be introduced it might give the soldier encouragement to make out his case more fully, and I think many more men would escape punishment who do not escape now because their defence is not properly prepared. With regard to some of the minor punish- 1024 ments which have been referred to, all I wish to say is that there are commanding officers and commanding officers, and, uniformity of punishment for these offences is lacking. Some commanding, officers have no sense of proportion, and I do really think that attention ought to be drawn to the limitations under which commanding officers can inflict punishment. I know these punishments are held up sometimes, but in other cases the commanding officer is found to back up the battalion commander in a great number of cases, and I am afraid there is something radically wrong. Men have been constantly severely punished for certain offences committed in certain battalions, whilst in other battalions the men go scot-free for the same offences. That causes a great deal of discontent which may be avoided by proper supervision, and I suggest that is a matter which ought to receive attention. We have also to consider the class of man who forms our Army.
The Clause which has been complained of is so worded in many of its parts that the least offence can be construed into a very serious one, and that is a matter which this House may very well ponder over. We have been discussing in this. House the Military Service Act and it has passed. We have now passed through a period of four and a half years of war. There are on many of our fronts men who have been away from their homes three and four years, and any amount of men who have been over two years from home. We have seen instances of men who have been coming home when they have been diverted and sent to some other front. We have also our womenfolk, who have not been much taken notice of and who have acted bravely all through the War. Personally, I cannot find language in which to fully appreciate what our womenfolk have stood through the whole period of the War. Naturally they are anxious to see their menfolk back home, for they have never been used to such a long separation, and never have our soldiers been away for such long periods of time before, and then to be suddenly taken away to take part in the War.
Naturally, when they find an Armistice has been signed, although the War is not over, they particularly desire to come home to see their own people. Now, can it be expected that any human man brought up as these men have been can sit down without grumbling? It is not 1025 humanly possible, and after the passage of the Military Service Bill, and if this Army (Annual) Bill passes, these men are placed in a position that if they commit one or two of these minor offences they can be called up and severely punished. I think many of these punishments are too harshly drawn, and if you are going to get discipline when men are suffering as they have done—and they have stood it manfully and splendidly—you must take into consideration not only the faults of these men on the field of battle, but also think of the people they have left at home all this time, and so on.
I know that one of the greatest blunders committed in this War was in regard to demobilisation. Thousands of men are in the Army who in the ordinary course would have been at home, and people who got out through that blunder and who ought to be in the Army are now living at home. I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman for taking that line, but still it has left many men smarting and they must find a vent for their feelings and let people know how they stand. I know of a case of a man with four sons in the Army, one of whom is in hospital. All he wanted was the young son sent home and a son not fit for general service and who has never done a day's general service. The reply I received to an application in that case was that it is not met by the Army Order, nor is it sufficiently strong to let that boy go on compassionate grounds. These things hurt at home and the brothers who are serving, and they spread, and that is why there is discontent in the Army with the War Office. If such cases were treated as compassionate cases it would improve feeling in the Army and at home, and with better pay provided there would be less grumbling and you would have a more contented lot of men. Everybody agrees that you cannot have an Army unless you have discipline, and you cannot expect the War Office or any other body of men to carry on a great war without making mistakes. But when those mistakes are pointed out they really ought to see that they are remedied in a way which will appeal to the feelings and the consciences not only of the soldiers but of the women at home. You can never get that by putting in a Clause like Clause 12, which provides that however hard their case they are debarred from giving it any publicity in order to obtain redress. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has always been willing to meet such cases in 1026 a fair spirit. I hope he will take this discussion as a warning that this Bill cannot go through as easily as perhaps is desired. Let him give to the men more confidence that they are going to be treated fairly, and also the people at home. You will not have that if you insist on Clause 12 for those men abroad, although it may apply to a certain section of men at home. My earnest desire is that the Government will consider this question seriously and try to meet us as fairly and as squarely as they can.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not only withdraw Clause 12, but will insert in the Bill a Clause prohibiting field punishment No. 1. I am, I hope, a law-abiding citizen, but if this Bill becomes an Act I shall be in great danger of incurring the punishment laid down, for I shall most certainly in my own Constituency, if I am not satisfied with Army Regulations and Army conduct, criticise those Regulations and that conduct, though the Act may provide a punishment of two years' imprisonment. Every politician who goes before a bench of magistrates of an opposite political complexion from his own is in danger, if this Clause remains in the Bill. [HON. MEMBEBS: "Oh, oh!"] You will pardon me; I know of what I speak. Personal experience is a very good teacher in these matters, and I say that a Clause which says that anyone who spreads a report likely to prejudice recruiting is liable to punishment, is a Clause which endangers the liberty of every active public man in this country. I understood that we had gone to war to smash militarism and to safeguard liberty. Is this the way we are going to safeguard liberty? I submit that this is the very way to rivet on us the shackles that were on the German people in 1914. Certainly I feel very keenly that this is the gravest mistake that any Government could make, particularly a Government which is already accused of having broken its pledges on Conscription, and of not being sound on the doctrine it laid down of the breakdown of militarism throughout Europe. With regard to field punishment No. 1, I have not been a soldier, but for thirteen months for five counties of this country I was primarily responsible for providing the men for the Army and the Navy, and during that time I made it my duty to see and speak with as many private soldiers as I could, and I have to say this, that I 1027 have met hundreds of men disgusted to the core with the punishment, but I have never met a decent man yet on whom the punishment had had any good effect, either if he were the criminal so-called or the observer. Any self-respecting man tied to a wheel is a blot on the civilisation of this country. If we were Red Indians in a state of savagery one could understand that punishment. If it were true that this punishment, and this punishment alone, could absolve from death, there are self-respecting men who would prefer death. I feel myself that if I were subjected to this punishment, I should either prefer death or the death of the man who inflicted the punishment. Having that feeling, I protest against a punishment which is not in consonance with our civilisation, which is degrading to the man, which degrades the people who witness it, and which, according to the statements made to me, does no good, does not improve the criminal, and deteriorates his comrades as well. For those reasons, I personally hope that field punishment No. 1 will be abolished, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take out Clause 12 and give us a chance of being free men, free to speak our opinions even with regard to Army management and Army methods, and I can assure him that some of us are likely to be free to speak our opinions even if Clause 12 is kept in the Bill.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I cannot refrain from adding a word to what has been said by Members on this side in regard to Clause 12 of the Bill. I speak with some sense of responsibility as having been an old member of the Army Council, but I do feel that the present powers claimed in this Clause, when we are approaching a time of peace, go beyond what ought to be necessary for the Government to ask the House to confer. It says that any person whomakes statements intended or likely to pre-judice the recruiting of persons to serve in any of His Majesty's military forces.That is done hundreds of times a day in every railway train in this country when soldiers are coming back for demobilisation or on leave, and it is regarded, as one of my hon. Friends said just now, simply as the ordinary Englishman's grumble, and is not now regarded—and, I think, ought not to be regarded—as a crime against that Army Act. If you confined it to statements intended to prejudice re- 1028 cruiting, and to do damage to the Army, that is one thing; but to extend it to statements by word of mouth likely, if uttered in the presence of a young fellow who might be likely to recruit, to deter him from recruiting, or likely to make him suspicious of the administration of the Army, and to say that sort of statement may be punished with two years' imprisonment under certain circumstances, that does seem to be going altogether in the direction of Prussianism, and against what we have been accustomed to regard as the distinct rights of free speech. If a man, for instance, as happens almost every day, complains that he has been kept at the front without leave for a couple of years, that when serving in Russia he was often very hungry, that he could not understand the accounts of his pay and allowances, and so on; if a man says what he really thinks about his sergeant-major, or if he says, "You cannot get a job at the War Office without using influence," and that sort of thing—all these statements, if uttered in the presence of some persons who might become recruits, though they are absolute commonplaces, and are said thousands of times a day, might be held, and would be held, by a Court as being likely, though very probably not intended, to prejudice recruiting, or to prejudice the administration of the forces. These things are un-English. Let us continue to be allowed to grumble about these things as we always have grumbled, and let the Army rely for its recruitment and administration on the general knowledge that, in spite of all these statements, their methods are sane and their treatment fair and just, and let people continue to blow off, as hitherto allowed to do, without putting these heavy terms of imprisonment and heavy fines into the Army Act. I am afraid that if the Government cannot modify, at any rate, this Clause which seeks to introduce, for times of peace, powers which have not been found necessary under different circumstances, there is bound to be extremely strong opposition to this Clause of the Bill.
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
I only wish to add one word to the remarks of my right hon. Friend. I am very glad to see that, having regard to the responsible positions he has held in the Governments of the past, he did not ally himself with the speech made by the hon. Member who sits behind him. I think those speeches are somewhat dangerous, and much to be regretted. When a hon. Member rises in 1029 his place and says, regardless of the Statute, or what may be the Statute, "I propose to defy the Act and I propose to prejudice recruiting"—
§ Mr. H. SMITH
I think that doctrine is very dangerous. I regret the observations of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman who followed (Mr. Acland) addressed the House in a very much more dignified and a very much more to be commended manner.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member has anything to say I shall be pleased to call upon him—for he can make a very good speech—and the House will be very glad to hear him, but it is not for him to interrupt another hon. Member in the course of his speech
§ Mr. SMITH
I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the remarks he has made. For myself, I think this Clause is such that we should have it amended. But we must not forget that we are living in different times than before the War. We have had five years' experience of the action of the Press and others in spreading disaffection among our troops. We have had some considerable experience of the spread of Bolshevism throughout Europe. For my part, I believe the principle of the Section is sound, but I also believe in the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. In the criminal Courts of our land no man can be found guilty unless he has a guilty intent. Under this Section a man can be found guilty of spreading disaffection owing to action which may prejudice recruiting though he has no guilty intent at all. That is contrary to the whole of our criminal code. I think the right hon. Gentleman was justified in his appeal to the Government to leave out of this Clause the words "or likely" whilst retaining the word "intended." A man should have 1030 that guilty intent which in our criminal code is essential before conviction. There is great weight in what the right hon. Gentleman said. Under present circumstances you can subject to extreme penalties a man who utters these words in an utterly careless manner. Perhaps he has some grievance for the moment with no guilty intent. The penalties under the circumstances are far too great, and the punishment entirely uncalled for. Confine ourselves merely to the word "intended" I am quite certain if that is done that it will commend itself to the general feeling of the House. Certainly it will commend itself to those who are experienced in our criminal Courts. You will obviate what I conceive to be the very great danger of convicting of crime persons who have no criminal intent, but who through mere careless speech or excess of speech, or excitement, perhaps, aroused by some grievance, have been guilty of words which subject them to this penalty.
§ Mr. BILLING
It seems to me that this may prove to be the thin end of the wedge. It is quite possible that if the House takes this particular Clause lying down that the next Bill we shall be treated to may embody a phrase that any man making a remark or writing any article that is likely to prejudice public opinion against the Government shall be guilty of a crime. I suggest that here where the Englishman is concerned—I cannot speak for Scotsmen or Irishmen—that he has a right to grouse. That is the only redress he seems to receive at the hands of the Government. One is permitted to object to things. There is hardly an hon. Member who has not within the last three months received letters which if handed over to the authorities would render the writers liable to two years' imprisonment. I have received dozens of letters from constituents complaining most grievously of the administration of these Acts, saying that they were most unjustly treated, and were I a young recruit anxious to join the Army many of the letters which I have received would cause me furiously to think. If these men have received this treatment, if they have not got their back pay, if they have suffered these injustices, which I submit cannot be avoided in the general administration of a vast body of men, the small injustices, which are big injustices to the individual who has received them, and if because that man grouses or says to a friend that he 1031 considers that the Army is no good to him or to anybody, he is to be liable to two years' imprisonment, or if this House passes into law a Clause which can be taken advantage of by a military authority to punish such a man, then hon. Members who support such a proposal are lacking in honesty and in appreciation of what has to a very large extent been a safety valve in many of the extraordinary situations which have arisen in this country not only in the last four years, but previously. Very many serious situations have blown over by what I may call a conscientious grouse on the part of the people who have suffered. While we are quite willing to suffer a great deal at the hands of the Government without, shall we say, doing anything which is not constitutional, I consider that if the Government rob the country of the liberty to grouse they will be doing something which will rebound against themselves.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
I think that this Clause, even though a new one, is well intended, but that it goes too far. I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. friend (Mr. H. Smith). The two provisos (a) and (b) relate to different subjects. One relates to word of mouth or writing something, and the second refers to the doing of an act. In (a) it is made criminal to spread reports or make statements—that does not mean merely casual conversation in a railway train, because the plurality of the language applies to something more or less of a systematic kind-intended or likely to prejudice the recruiting of persons. "Likely" is a very dubious word to use in a criminal Statute. I agree with my hon. Friend that "intended" is quite sufficient and, for the purposes of this Clause, or "likely" may be omitted altogether. In the same way in (b), if he attempts or does an act calculated or likely to cause disaffection, you might omit the words "or likely." It would then mean that if anything was done by report or writing with intent to prejudice recruiting, or if any act was committed which was calculated to cause disaffection, that person would be subject to trial whether he belonged to the Army or was outside it, because the discipline of the Army should be preserved. I suggest that the difficulty would be overcome by the omission of the words "or likely" in both cases.
§ Mr. JOHN JONES
I cannot claim to have the technical legal knowledge of some hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in this discussion, but I suggest that a person who knows nothing about the law may sometimes understand its effects, and, although knowing of the law, I had to go to gaol for not understanding it. Consequently, I approach this subject from a totally different point of view from that of those hon. Gentlemen who have spoken before me. To me, as an advocate of a national citizen Army, a soldier has equal rights with every other citizen in the State. He should not be subject to special laws which do not operate against his civilian comrade, and if he breaks the law, he should be subject to the same punishment and the same kind of trial as any other subject of the State. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Possibly you cannot understand me. You have lived a life different from the life that I have tried to live, and I am not sorry for having tried the experiment. I suggest, so far as the punishments contained within this Act are concerned, that if the opinions of the ordinary soldiers were taken into consideration, there would not be many attempts made to justify them by legal quibbling. Disaffection! I have been very pleased to sit here and listen to some Gentlemen who have tried to explain to us about what is meant by disaffection. The right hon. and learned Member for the Duncairn Division of Belfast (Sir E. Carson) was one of the most prominent advocates of disaffection when he did not get a Bill that he wanted, or when he got a Bill that he did not want. He then went to the extent of organising an army for the purpose of resisting an Act of Parliament passed by this House. What, then, is the use of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen getting up and talking about obedience to the law, discipline, and the recognition of authority if those who are in high places, when it does not suit their purpose, become the principle advocates of rebellion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"] There is no question about it; it is a fact. I aim not a lawyer, but I suppose facts stand before questions. We want to know exactly where we are. Are the men who joined the Army under the original Military Service Act going to be punished for crimes that they have never committed in law. I ask some of my lawyer Friends to answer—can you legally claim even from the standpoint of your own law that these men who have been kept in the Army against their 1033 will are guilty of these offences? Will you go to your constituencies 2 I am not a lawyer, but I will meet any of you in any of your constituencies and argue the case out before the common citizens of this country, who, after all, are our masters. We have not come here by our own consent, but because the people have sent us. Possibly they made a mistake in sending me—[HON. MEMBEES: "NO!"]—but I want hon. Members—I made a mistake the other evening in calling them gentlemen—to realise the fact. The argument has been put forward this evening that we must maintain discipline. How is it that this discipline does not apply to those in authority in the Army? How many officers have been tied to the gun wheel? [An HON. MEMBER: "They are shot!"] They get shot at when anyone sees them, but they are missed more often than they are seen. [An HON. MEMBER: "You do not know what you are talking about! "] Don't I. I may not know the figures in the field, but I do know the figures in the streets. I do know men who have come back who have gone through the punishment, and they tell me the private soldier does not get the same chance of escape as other people get. Some of us have tried our best during the War to do our duty by the country We are not blind; we are not deaf. Our men are coming home and they report back to us as to differentiation in treatment between one section and another. They are not prepared to stand in the future risks they ran during the period of war, and therefore I want to suggest to hon. Members that no penalty ought to be inflicted on the worker who has joined the Army, who is in many cases a conscript soldier against his will, and is kept longer in the Service than was originally intended—no punishment ought to be inflicted on him which does not apply to other members of the organisation of which he is a part. I want hon. Members to understand that some of us on these benches want to know what is going to be done in connection with the administration of the Army in the future. If we are going to have courts-martial—and I understand a Committee has been appointed to inquire into their administration—we want to know if the ordinary soldier is going to have a say or if he is going to have any rights in the administration of them. In our trade union movement in the industrial world we are asking that the man who does the 1034 work shall have some control over the business. We are also claiming that the soldier, who is the main part of the Army, shall have something to say in the administration of the Army in its internal affairs. That may not meet with the approval of hon. Members. We are opposed to the policy contained in this Act—we object to the punishment of a soldier without any say on his part and therefore our party will oppose the Bill to the best of our ability.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
I have listened with great interest and a certain amount of sympathy to the remarks of the last speaker and I think he has a little misread the Act in thinking that Clause 12 refers entirely to the Army. It refers to people outside the Army who are endeavouring to seduce the soldier from his duty and from his allegiance to his country.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
That point, however, does not come into the Bill before us. As one who had the honour of serving in three different battalions in France, I do not think there is anything like the feeling expressed from these benches on the subject. I have always found the very best feeling between officers and men and no resentment on the part of men when they knew they were justly punished. There has, I think, been what I may describe as a very great deal of slush talked in this Debate and the only thing I should like to say is that Clause 12 might be amended by the Government by putting in the words "with hard labour." Two years simple imprisonment is a very inadequate punishment for people who try to destroy the discipline and spirit of the Army. There is one other point in this Bill which I wish to mention, and that is in connection with the billeting prices in the Schedules. I believe it would not be in order to put down Amendments increasing the amount to be paid for billeting, but a great many of these amounts in the Schedule are totally inadequate, and absolutely unfair to the people who have soldiers billeted on them. Take the case of 6d. a day, without meals, but only for lodging; here attendance, coals, candles, etc., all are thrown in for that amount. I have had many complaints from my constituency on this subject, and it is a matter 1035 which the Government should seriously consider, and which should be amended before the Bill goes through. There is the amount of 2s. 4d. per day for billeting a horse, which includes stable room, 10 lbs. of oats, 12 lbs. of hay and 8 lbs. of straw. Ten lbs. of oats alone costs me, at present, 2s. 3d., which leaves 1d. over for 12 lbs. of hay and 8 lbs. of straw, as well as the stable. I only just mention these things as matters which need looking into. This Schedule has come down through the ages with the same old prices. These things want altering, and I hope the Government will look into them during the Committee stage, and will meet them.
§ Colonel MEYSEY-THOMPSON
I had no intention of intervening in this Debate, but I think I must say one word in defence of the commanding officer and other ranks of the Army. The very unfair and, I think, unfortunate speech of the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) implied that the ordinary soldier was very much more hardly treated, and was subjected to very much more severe discipline, than the officers in the higher ranks of the Army. I tell the hon. Member straight out that that is absolutely untrue. I had the honour to serve as a commanding officer during the War, both at home and abroad, and I was just as liable to be tried by court-martial and shot—and very properly so—as any soldier under my command. The hon. Member is absolutely and entirely wrong. No favour would have been shown to me if I had failed in my duty. With regard to other remarks that have been made, I think hon. Members to whom I have had the privilege of listening tonight, rather missed the point. The object of this phrase "liable to," is, I think, only to give power to punish those who are distinctly trying to undermine the discipline of the British Army. The assmption is, as I have heard it argued to-night, that that power will be abused. I can say, as a commanding officer myself, that whenever I asked a man whether he would rather be dealt with by me or go before a court-martial, he invariably said he would rather come before me as his commanding officer, and that I should adjudicate in his case. That is the case all through the Army, whatever the hon. Member and other hon. Members may say. My experience is that the men have absolute confidence in their commanding officers, and have absolute faith in their 1036 fairness and justice. But there are men—you meet them in every walk of life, and you do meet them in the Army I am sorry to say—who not only grouse—I do not mind how much a man grouses: I would rather t encourage him, if he gets it off his chest—but who make up grievances which are perfectly unjustified, and do a great deal of harm in persuading their fellow-men that they are being badly treated when they are not being badly treated. Those are the men for whom this particular Clause is intended. I think I have a better idea of the English people of every class than the hon. Members who have spoken. I believe that in ninety-nine cases out of 100 you will find that, if this Clause is included in the Bill, it will not be abused. English people, from the highest to the lowest, have that sense of justice and fairness to their fellow-men that they can be entrusted with these powers for which the Government ask.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I have listened very carefully to the various points that have occupied the attention of the House in the course of the Debate, and I can promise that I will discuss them with my right hon Friend the Secretary of State before the Committee stage is entered upon. Although I do not propose to go in detail through the points which have been brought before the House, I should like to say one or two words in regard to Clause 12. Hon. Members who have spoken seem to assume that the days of peril are past. That is not my view. I believe that exceptional, though the powers which are given in Clause 12 may be, they have been justified during the course of the War; and I do not think that we can say now that the outlook is so certain, that the prospect of peaceful days is so sure, that we ought lightly to lay aside provisions of that kind which may be of real value. But I confess that I have been impressed by the views which have been laid before the House with regard to the perhaps unnecessarily wide language in which the powers are taken. In a matter of that kind I do not think there is much difference between the Government and its critics in regard to that point of substance. The point of substance is that when people deliberately set themselves out to prevent recruiting, to poison the minds of would-be recruits, and poison the minds of those who are in the Army, those men deserve no pity, and they ought to be dealt with drastically. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Thomas) said that he had no sympathy 1037 with those men who are guilty of the actions I have described. He said, and other hon. Gentlemen have agreed with him, that the language of the Clause was altogether too wide, and might include a whole category of people with whom neither he nor the Government would wish to deal. That is the point of substance. The point of words I am going to discuss with my right hon. Friend between now and the Committee stage. If we are able to arrive at a form of words which would give the Government what they think is essential, without running the danger that is foreseen—I think needlessly—by its critics, I think we should be able to come to a willing agreement.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I will consider the words. Until I have considered them I will not commit myself. It is not necessary for me to go into the other points. I note the renewal of the objection raised to field punishment No. 1. That will be considered between now and the Committee stage, although I cannot hold out a prospect of change on that matter. I hope we may now get the Second Reading.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Wednesday.—[Mr. Pratt.]