Orders of the Day — Army Offences (Sentences).

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

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Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham and Worthing

—This is a serious matter. I sat on many courts-martial. I think that it would be very wrong at this critical moment that it should go out from the House that it is anything but a very fair system of justice. On the question of uniformity, it is impossible to obtain uniformity of sentences unless the Secretary of State for War interferes with all the sentences in every command. Have those who speak about uniformity in sentences never heard of justices' courts? Is there in them uniformity of justice? Uniformity does not exist under our British system of justice. There is another point which to me is an important one. If the House feels, as it is entitled to feel, that military law is wrong, that the Army Act is wrong, it should, not on this occasion, bring forward amendments to produce another system of justice. It might well be, for instance, that there might be some system of penal battalions, such as exists in other armies. But it is the Army Act under which we are working.

I want to say this, and I do not care if the whole House is offended by what I say, because it is time it was said: There is far too much tolerance at the present time in both civil and military offences about breaches in the age-old law of meum and tuum. There is too much stealing going on in this country, far too much, both among citizens and Service men. When one thinks, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, of the way in which the lives of men are being risked to bring petrol to this country, I do not think that six months' imprisonment is at all too heavy a sentence for the offence. I would like to see every person in this country, whether soldier, civilian, airman or sailor, who is found guilty of the very serious crime of stealing things which are brought here at the risk of the lives of our sailors dealt with firmly. My hon. Friend has been quite fair in bringing this case forward, but I think the answer which has been given by the right hon. Gentleman is a fair one. It is all very well to jeer at the War Office and to say, "This poor wretched office." The people who ought to be jeered at are Members of this House who for generations starved and neglected the British Army, and who in war-time expect so much of it. Many of those who, in peace-time, have treated it as a Department for which no one has any use, expect it in war-time to expand ten times and then complain because it does not get an efficient organisation. When hon. Members get up in war-time and complain of the War Office, I am reminded that if they had been more active and had gone in for a bigger Army in peace-time, that sort of thing would not have occurred.