Orders of the Day — Army Offences (Sentences).

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 9th July 1942.

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Mr. Robertson:

My right hon. Friend is not very well informed about his own Department, and, if he will listen to what I have to say, I will tell him. I told his Under-Secretary, his own private secretary, and the Under-Secretary's private secretary, and I have had endless telephone conversations with his Department. I was dealing with the fact that an officer, unlike a, soldier who receives so little in cash and so much in kind, gets everything in cash. He pays for his food and uniform, and receives a special allowance to enable him to do so. An offence, therefore, of stealing an Army commodity, if committed by an officer, must be more serious than when it is committed by another rank, receiving nearly everything in kind and so little in cash.

As an officer of the last war, I should have thought that any officer convicted by a court-martial of theft would automatically be dismissed from the Service. A few nights ago, in one of the London "evening newspapers, a report was published of a cadet in an officers' cadet training unit who had been found guilty of stealing a foreign stamp. He was returned to his unit as deemed to be unfit to be an officer, but, according to the decision in this case, if a man is already an officer and steals, he can continue to be an officer without punishment other than a reprimand. Under the National Service Acts, an officer, if dismissed, can be called up for service in the ranks in one or other of the Services, so that the State would not lose his services. Therefore, he would have an opportunity to make good. Even under those circumstances he would be infinitely better off than my corporal, who had to undergo several months' imprisonment in degrading circumstances and in company with deserters and other serious military offenders. Whether my submission is correct or not as to what should have been done with the officer, both sentences cannot be right. In his letter, my right hon. Friend held decentralisation up as a bogy. That was the reason for his non-intervention—the soldier suffers injustice, but the system which administers it must be upheld. He also said, "Commission of an offence by an N.C.O. is doubly serious." How many times more serious is it when committed by an officer? But the punishment is so much less.