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Clause 4—(Amendment Of Army Act, S 138)

Volume 237: debated on Thursday 3 April 1930

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The two Amendments in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth Central (Captain W. G. Hall) and other hon. Members—in page 3, line 33, at the beginning, to insert the words:

"The following Amendments shall he made";
and in line 42, at the end, to add a new Sub-section:
"(2) The following paragraph shall be added to the proviso:—
(d) where a soldier has made an allotment from his ordinary pay for the support of any dependant, penal deductions from his ordinary pay shall be made only from the portion of his ordinary pay not so allotted.'"—
are inter-dependent, and I think it will be for the convenience of the Committee if we take the discussion on both Amendments together.

I beg to move, in page 3, line 33, at the beginning, to insert the words:

"The following Amendments shall be made";
This Amendment and its consequential Sub-section may be described as a hardy annual. It has been up year after year on this Bill, and I believe that in 1925 the hon. and gallant Member for Limehouse (Major Attlee) was sufficiently lucky in that he got the Conservative Secretary of State for War to meet many of the objections which up to then had been raised in regard to this particular matter. At the present moment, I understand that 50 per cent. of the compulsory allotment made by a soldier may remain untouched, no matter what the amount of debt which he has contracted may be. We desire now to go further. We want the compulsory allotment which has been made to his dependents to be entirely free from any debt which he may have contracted, and from any deductions therefrom which he may have to pay.

I have very great hopes that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War will accept this Amendment as it stands, because, looking back over the Debates which have taken place on this issue in previous years, I have discovered that he voted in favour of this Amendment, and not only so, but the Financial Secretary to the War Office also voted in favour of it. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who is also interested in this Bill, moved this Amendment last year when this Bill was under discussion. I think, therefore, we have every reasonable hope that all three of them will shortly get up and announce that they are entirely in favour of this Amendment. All the arguments in favour of the Amendment have been put over and over again, and it is not for me to-night, with so many other Clauses to get through, to detain the Committee too long, but for the sake of those who are new to this House and unfamiliar with the Debates which have taken place on this issue before, may I briefly run through the main points which, it seems to me, make it extremely necessary that this Amendment should he agreed to?

As the Act stands at present, a wrong done by a soldier, for which he has to pay by deductions from his pay, falls very heavily on the innocent. If, as at present, the allotment which that man makes to his family can be stopped, it means that his family is suffering, though entirely innocent of the sin committed. Then we have to remember that money is often stopped in the Army for breaches of discipline and for crimes which in ordinary civil life would not be considered crimes at all. In fact, very often the best soldiers are those with the highest spirits, and they frequently get entries on their crime-sheets for offences which in ordinary life would be passed over without any remark at all. I therefore think that it is at last time that this Amendment should be made.

There is a further point. If, as I suppose is the case, men have stoppages made from their pay in order to punish them, it seems to me strange that money which already does not come to them, but which has been allocated to their dependants, should be thrown into the pool when any stoppage has to take place. I think it would be far better, and a man would suffer greater punishment, if the stoppages were taken from that part of his pay which still comes to him. For these and other reasons, which other speakers may give, I ask the Secretary of State for War to agree with us in this Amendment, and at last to put this hardy annual into the Bill, in order that a longstanding injustice to the dependants of many soldiers may be done away with for ever.

8.0 p.m.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Portsmouth (Captain Hall) has presented the matter very ably, and I am, of course, reluctant to oppose his wishes. I confess I was immensely attracted by this proposition at one time, but I think my hon. and gallant Friend will find that there is an overwhelming case against it. The matter may be divided into two parts. To begin with, we have the soldiers who absent themselves without leave or who desert. In such cases they forfeit all right to pay absolutely, and clearly, where there is no pay there can be no deduction, and equally where there is no pay there can be no allotment. It is clear that when the soldier is not rendering service, he cannot expect to receive remuneration. I understand that my hon. and gallant Friend is not pressing for pay in such cases, and, therefore, the demand for a continuation of the allotment falls. Again, for instance, where a soldier commits a misdemeanour, and in consequence there are deductions made from his ordinary pay, if the debt incurred by the soldier can be cleared in the course of three months, which I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend will agree is a fairly long period, there is no interference of any sort or kind with the allotment. If the debt is of such a character as to preclude the possibility of clearance within that period, the allotment from the ordinary pay to the dependants is reduced by 50 per cent. I think my hon. and gallant Friend will agree that there is no possible ground of injus- tice in the position as it now stands. But over and above that, we have inquired as to the number of cases where allotments from the ordinary pay have been reduced by 50 per cent. My hon. Friend may be surprised to learn that out of 7,899 cases where allotments are made by personnel of the Royal Artillery only five allotments in the course of the last six months were reduced by 50 per cent. Really, when only five allotments are reduced to that extent it can hardly be claimed that there is any ground for complaints. We also examined the records of three infantry regiments, and, out of 7,797 cases, four allotments were affected. I think, having regard to these facts, that there is very little hardship.

My hon. Friend will agree that if this deterrent were not in operation many soldiers, knowing, as they would be bound to know, that their dependants were in no way affected, might commit offences which would ordinarily result in a reduction of some of their pay. We cannot take that risk. There is the risk of more offences being committed. In the absence of definite cases of hardship, and having regard to the fact that there is a period of three months over which the debt incurred by the soldier can be cleared, and in view of the figures I have just enumerated I ask my hon. Friend to remain content with the position and with the assurance that if we meet with cases of hardship they will receive sympathetic consideration. In view of this statement, I hope that he will withdraw his Amendment.

The speech that we have just heard if anything rather favours the Amendment than otherwise. We have just heard the Financial Secretary say that after a most complete investigation into the cases of three infantry regiments and the Royal Field Artillery there were only nine cases affected by the present regulations. Suppose that we assume that the total number for the whole of the Army is about 80, and that would be a gross exaggeration, even then each one of these cases would be a real injustice to the dependants of the man who committed the misdemeanor. It does not matter whether the number affected be small or great, if there be an injustice it should be abolished. For that reason, I hope the hon. Member will push his Amendment through to a Division. I am sorry to have had to listen to a Labour Member saying that in order to ensure discipline in the Army we must have some means of smashing the British Tommy through his mother or his wife. I served for six years in the Army, and I have had my pay stopped and my parents penalised thereby, and I feel ashamed, as a Member of this party, that I should have heard the Financial Secretary make the statement that he has just made. I hope the matter will be put to a Division and carried.

Question put, "That those words he there inserted."

The Committee proceeded to a Division:

Mr. WILLIAM WHITELEY and MT. WILFRED PALING were appointed Tellers for the Noes; but there being no Members willing to act as Tellers for the Ayes, the CHAIRMAN declared that the Noes had it.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.