Section forty of the Army Act (which relates to conduct to prejudice of military discipline) shall be amended by adding at the end thereof the words:
"Provided that taking part in political controversy whilst off duty shall not be deemed conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline within the meaning of this section."—(Captain Cunning-ham-Reid.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."It was Oliver Cromwell who said:
and I think he understood soldiers just about as well as anybody. Our men today are fighting in the fields, fighting in the skies and on the seas not only for survival but also for a better world and that includes their home country. If we in this comfortable House commend that spirit and are grateful to them, why do we not prove it by allowing all ranks in the Services a fair say as to what they are fighting for? The Army, in which there are more men than in the sister Services, has its political freedom governed by regulations that belong to the days when wars were a thing apart from the great mass of the people. To make this clear it is necessary for me to quote a few extracts from the rules and regulations that govern the political freedom of temporary fighting men. Paragraph 541, Section A, of King's Regulations for the Army says:"A soldier must know what he fights for and love what he knows,"
As the Committee is well aware, in exceptional circumstances a soldier can stand for Parliament, but how many of the millions now in the Army are likely to get that opportunity? Paragraphs 546 and 547 make restrictions upon the soldiers even in relation to writing to the Press, and a recent pronouncement of the Prime Minister indicated there was likely to be in the future even further restriction. Members of Parliament who are in the Army and who, as Members of Parliament, can enjoy such privileges unhindered, should be the first to champion in this House equality of opportunity for their less fortunate colleagues. The King's Regulations to which I have just referred clearly indicate that there is a very real difference between the political liberty of the citizen and the political liberty of the citizen soldier. We have always claimed that we have free speech in this country and that there is no repression of political thought. This has always been considered to be a safety valve. It has been said that such freedom prevents political passion getting bottled up and developing into that extremism which can so easily lead to anarchy and even to mutiny. If this be so, why are we such hypocrites, and at the same time why are we so short-sighted, as not to extend to the soldier when off duty some of the political rights that he enjoyed before enlistment? If anyone has a stake in the future of this country, he has, and if we have a main obligation, it is to him. I have little doubt that some pundits in the War Office and class-conscious Colonel Blimps will exclaim that it is a shocking thing to contemplate that the common soldier should have access to political education, but no Minister of War, nobody representing the War Office, could possibly stand at that Box and sincerely say that if soldiers were allowed when off duty to express their political views, their morale, discipline and fighting efficiency would be prejudiced. On the other hand, I think that any Minister would be proud to boast that whatever we Britishers do is freely entered into by the majority, that we are not a regimented country, that freedom of thought and freedom of speech are the very soul of our democratic institutions. But how could such a Minister, having made such a boast, reconcile it with a denial to our citizen soldiers, sailors and airmen of the rights enjoyed by them yesterday and still enjoyed by their fellow citizens today who do not happen to be in the uniform of one of the Fighting Services? We pride ourselves in this country, and rightly so, of having thinking soldiers and not the Nazi robot type of soldiers, and yet we make it well-nigh impossible for soldiers to express publicly what they are thinking. Soldiers appreciate—and I want to make this point very clear—that it would lead to an impossible state of affairs if they were permitted openly to criticise Service matters. None of them makes such a demand. But they do resent—and I think there are quite a few hon. Members who will bear testimony to this—that they are denied, when off duty, the right of publicly expressing an opinion about the shape of the new Britain for which they are asked to fight and die. The majority of those in the Services are not Regular Service men. This is a citizens' war. A large proportion of those who are in the Services happen to be people who were not in reserved occupations. In other words, they are just ordinary citizens. Having, though, got into the Services, they have discovered that they are at once at a disadvantage compared with those whom they left in civilian occupations. I should say that in fact they are under a double, if not a treble, disadvantage. In the first place, there is the disadvantage of their having less pay. The pay and allowances of the average soldier are considerably less than the average income of an industrial worker. Secondly, there is the disadvantage, which is a considerable one, of their having a greater chance than the industrial worker of being killed. I do not say that the industrial worker does not have every opportunity of being killed in air raids, but the ordinary soldier, especially in the Fighting Services, has not only air raids to contend with but the ordinary chances of active service. There is a third disadvantage which upsets them more than the others do; it is that they are not allowed in any circumstances publicly to express any political views when they are on leave. As I indicated a little earlier in my remarks, a soldier may in certain circumstances write to the Press. We had a slight discussion about that only the other day. They may write to the Press, but even though they are able to get by all the restrictions, I think they would be very lucky if their contributions were accepted by the Press. But the fact remains that they may in certain circumstances write to the Press. I ask hon. Members to look at the illogical situation which that brings up. A man in the Services may write certain political views to the Press and yet the same man is not allowed to express the same views by word of mouth. If he takes up a pen, that is all right, but if he wishes, when he is on leave, to get up on a platform at a political meeting in a small village and speak, that is not allowed. I think it will be agreed that that is an absurd, practically a Gilbertian, situation. While on this topic, assuming for the sake of argument that the Clause will be accepted and that those in the Services will be given an opportunity sometimes of saying publicly what they like politically, let us assume further that there would crop up the question whether they should be allowed to do this while in uniform. I do not intend to press the desirability for this. There is quite a lot to be said on both sides, but I think there is more to be said for than against the contention that soldiers should be able to express political views while in uniform, because if one says that a soldier may take part in a public political discussion when he is on leave and if at the same time one says, "But you must not wear uniform," this would at once penalise the soldier. The average soldier has not any longer got any civilian clothing. He probably only had one suit, but by now it has either been pawned or is moth-eaten, or his wife or some other female dependant has cut it up for family purposes."No officer or soldier…is permitted to take any active part in the affairs of any political organisation or party, either by acting as a member of a candidate's election committee, or by speaking in public or publishing or distributing literature in furtherance of the political purposes of any such organisation or party, or in any other manner, until he or she retires, resigns or has been discharged or, in the case of a field marshal, until he has relinquished any appointment that he may be holding."
The hon. and gallant Member is getting very wide of the matter under discussion when he goes into the question of soldiers' old civilian clothes.
I beg your pardon, Mr. Williams, but I hope you will allow me to discuss the question whether a soldier should be allowed publicly to express political views while wearing a uniform. If a man is not allowed to wear a uniform on such occasions, he would be very seriously penalised because the average soldier does not go about with a natty suit of gents' clothes in his rucksack. That being so, I suggest that if it were conceded that they should be allowed when on leave to take part in politics, but not while wearing uniform, it might very likely mean that ardent politicians in the Army, if they wanted to stand up on a platform and express political views, would have to do so in their underclothes, because they would have no other civilian clothes available.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks are relevant up to that point, but my Ruling is that the discussion must not be carried any further.
I want to make it clear that I am not in any way pressing this aspect of the matter, because I do not want to jeopardise the concession of my main request, which is so much more important.I am confident that other hon. Members feel as I do, that the time is long overdue when all members of the Services should not only have the right when off duty freely to write their political views but also freely to express their political views by word of mouth. Far from doing any harm, far from prejudicing military discipline, I feel that this would be much more likely to do the opposite by preventing dangerous frustrations. Millions in the Services who are not allowed publicly to utter a word about the Atlantic Charter, the Beveridge Report, or the Prime Minister's recent pronouncement concerning a Four-Years Plan. Their views and hopes must not be openly expressed. When they put on uniform they put on a muzzle. I consider it is both immoral and un-British to gag them in this unnecessary and undemocratic manner. If we expect those who are doing the righting for us to be maimed and killed, in justice we must allow them to have some say in what they are fighting for and what they are dying for.
I do not always agree with the hon. and gallant Member, but on this occasion he has raised a point of the utmost importance. There are many men in the Armed Forces who ask what part they as citizens can play, and those who do not know the answer in advance, are dismayed to learn that in taking upon themselves the duty of fighting for their country, they have been deprived of the right of talking about the sort of country they wish to live in when they have fought for it. A careful investigation would show that quite a lot of these people feel so strongly about it, that on their seven days' leave they cannot be restrained, and they risk the penalties involved in expressing their political views. You cannot stop them; they are determined to do it. The more efforts are made to stop them, the more it is made clear that the Government's attitude to them is, "You may fight but you shall not speak," the more determined many of them will be to take part in these matters. I am carrying a little further the controversy I had with the Minister of Information, who gave me at Question Time to-day one of his rather clever replies. I think the point I made then was absolutely right and that I am justified in making it again. Many people who are fighting and working enthusiastically in this struggle would be able—psychologically, spiritually, mentally and morally—to work and fight with even more enthusiasm if they could have held out to them prospects of a post-war Britain very different from those offered by the present Government. I do not see why in the world they should not say so.There are two evil tendencies which seem to be creeping over the governmental mind in these days. The first is a tendency not to realise that the practice of democracy pays a dividend every time in concrete results. The second is a tendency not to recognise that absolutely sincere, patriotic citizens, committed up to the hilt to the destruction of Nazism, fundamentally disagree with the view of the Government. Or I can roll those two tendencies into one and say that I notice among the ruling class a really dangerous tendency to think, "Democracy is O.K. as long as the boys agree with us." That is a terribly dangerous tendency which has developed in other countries. I think it is a tendency of which members of the Government should beware. I would address to them once again the words of Cromwell, to envisage the possibility that they may be wrong.
This is the second time Cromwell has been quoted. Did he have these political discussions?
The Cromwellian armies were brought into being on political controversy and, while they were fighting unitedly against their opponents, they were discussing very vigorously amongst themselves what use they would make of their victory when they had won it.
We have had quite enough of that point, which is on the verge of being out of Order. I would ask the hon. Baronet to leave that point.
There are thousands of our fellow citizens fighting and working for this country, impeded by a gnawing anxiety that they are going to be "led up the garden path" all over again as they were last time. I am saying things that may be unpleasant to hon. Members opposite but they are the truth, and these men ought to be allowed to say so now. I know, of course, that what I say is not true of all of them, and hon. Members opposite may say it is only true of a very small minority.
Has the hon. Baronet forgotten that in a book which he recently wrote called "What It Will Be Like"
The hon. Baronet's speech has got near enough to being out of Order without quotations from his books.
I am sorry that I am being interrupted and am hot allowed to reply. If those who share my view are a majority, or a minority capable of becoming a majority, then to use these Regulations, which are wholly appropriate for peace time, as if they were equally applicable to a citizen army is a suppression of democracy, and democracy is supposed to be what we are fighting for.
I think it is a good thing that we should have-an opportunity of considering this subject because the speeches of the two supporters of the Amendment show that there is a very real need for the position to be properly stated by the War Office. My experience is not in line with a good deal that the two hon. Members have said. Within the last few months I have had the privilege of visiting the forces in North Africa. Large groups of men put questions to me, and some actually put their questions in writing through official channels. Two out of three of the questions were, definitely, on political subjects.
That was not a public meeting.
It is necessary to state that fact because that was not the impression given by either of the hon. Members to the Committee and to the country outside. Then, of course, there is the question of men on leave. I have not heard any complaint. I am not saying there is not reason for complaint, because you sometimes get commanding officers of various political views who do not always allow liberty. When I was a member of the Armed Forces in the last war I had no difficulty in expressing myself on leave, and I did it. I do not know whether I am giving too much away but when the lights were out I sometimes had to take the chair and preside over discussions and one irate sergeant of the old school told me that I was not a bad soldier but after "lights out" I was a good nightingale. Full and free discussion takes place amongst the men in the Forces. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) talked about the difficulty of men getting clothes. I thought that was a rather thin argument. I did not see any difficulty about it at all.
I also thought it rather thin.
On a point of Order. We are debating soldiers' rights of public meeting. There is a divergence of opinion whether it should be narrowed down to uniform or no uniform. Is it not in order to argue that a man might have nothing else to wear but his uniform?
I ruled that it was a fair illustration to point out that it was difficult in many cases for a soldier to speak because he had nothing to wear but uniform, but that that must not be used, as a sideline, to argue that he should have civilian clothes provided for him by other Departments.
It is very necessary, particularly in these times, to see that the soldier has full and ample opportunity to express himself, and within my experience—and I think it is the general experience, of soldiers—there is ample opportunity for that under proper conditions. If the representative of the War Office would state what those conditions are, it would be a useful lesson for the Committee and the country in general. I do not want to see our Army, in which I want everybody to be able to express themselves under proper conditions, becoming a political interference. Anybody who has noticed the development of that kind of thing on the Continent must agree that the conditions under which a soldier expresses himself must be laid down. As a humble member of the Forces I did not find any difficulty about that and I have not seen any difficulty in my experience.
I want to confine my observations to four points. I wish, first, to submit that the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) has a double importance. It is of importance in its own right but it is also important as part of the background of the soldier's life. The second aspect is not less important than the first. Then, I should like to draw a contrast With the German Army and to quote some of the things that have been said on this subject of democracy in the Army by independent and neutral observers. Thirdly, I should like to ask whether there is not some guidance to be got in the matter from the practice of the Civil Service which has had to consider the question of the dividing line between a politicalised service and freedom for the individual.
The hon. Member is threatening to get on to the Civil Service, and perhaps he will take it as a warning from me that anything that deals with the Civil Service, will undoubtedly be out of Order.
Suppose I can show that the very problem with which we are dealing has arisen in another branch of His Majesty's Service and that a solution has been reached which works reasonably well and, while avoiding the dangers which many people fear, gives freedom to the individual, may I not draw attention to it as giving some useful guidance?
Only as a short illustration.
That is all I want to do. I want also to draw attention to what I think is the real issue, namely, the danger of developing in Britain a divorce between the Army and the civil population which is full of dangers to the future of this country. Those are the four points I would like to mention.
Now No. I.
I only numbered them in this simple way in order that the hon. Gentleman might be more easily able to follow them. I have two sons in the Armed Forces, one in the Air Force and one in Algeria, and what they tell me is——
How you talk, father.
I have not interrupted anybody during the Debate and I hope I shall be able to present a reasonable argument. I do not mind being subjected to interruptions, but I object to silly interruptions, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to restain himself if it be possible. My sons tell me that there are three things which trouble men in their military and Air Force life. One is the problem of disciplinary cases, the second is the material conditions of their service, and the third is their prospects for the future. It is the misfortune of the soldier, sailor or airman than he has none of the protection in disciplinary cases that the ordinary industrial worker possesses; he is denied the advantage of the protection of a trade union in his conditions of service, and on his prospects for the future, which are intimately bound up with post-war politics, he is denied the free expression of his views and feelings because he happens to wear a uniform. That third circumstance added to the other two is rightly the source of strong and deep resentment in all branches of His Majesty's Forces.By way of contrast to that, may I remind the Committee that in a total war where the psychology of the soldier is as important as his arms, it is fatal to create an antithesis between what the soldier is-supposed to be fighting for and what he experiences in the conditions of his everyday life. That antithesis exists. We have in some respects a less democratic Army in Britain to-day than they have in Germany. If that is doubted, I would refer to the words of the American writer, William Shirer, who in his "Berlin Diary" points out that within the fabric of totalitarianism, the German High Command has been at the utmost pains to get away from that narrow segregation of the rank and file from the officers which prevailed in the last war. Shirer testifies that the German Army has succeeded in creating a much greater approximation to democracy than we have created inside the British Army. That is criticism which we should do well to take seriously. My third point is that this is not a new problem. I would define it in this way—how can we reconcile the necessities of a disciplined service with the maximum freedom possible for the individuals who compose it? That problem poses itself in the Police Force, in the Prison Service and in the Civil Service. In the Civil Service they have been dealing with the problem for many years and they have reached a solution from which a lesson may be learned. A civil servant is no more allowed to get up and criticise his own Department in public, than a soldier would be free to criticise his general in public. Nobody is proposing that. Provided a civil servant does not abuse his position by using official information acquired as, a civil servant to attack the policy of his own Minister, he is allowed a reasonable liberty to express himself on the general policy issues of the day. If I am right about the speeches in the Debate to-day, that is all that is being pleaded for. I come to the last point, the danger of developing a hiatus, an abyss between the Armed Forces and the civil population. There are many elements of danger already present. I was reading the other day Ludendorff's memoirs on the last war. He did not happen to be an independent Member of the British Parliament, but he was a member of the German High Command and, therefore, is a better witness than I might be in my own right. He asserts that one of the principal reasons, for the breakdown of German national morale in the last war was the gap which developed between the civil population and the Army. There are already many elements of danger in that connection. The gap between the treatment of the soldier and the factory worker, the appalling treatment, so far, of the problem of the pensioners—do hon. Members imagine that there is no resentment about that in the Array?—the swiftness with which the Government can make up their minds that we are not to have Beveridge and that we can only have it within the limits of sound and modernised finance, and by contrast the amount of time taken to get pensioners' tribunals—here is all the raw material for the development of a vast gap between the Armed Forces and the civil population. Since Cromwell has been mentioned to-day, I would point out that if there was one thing about which that great man always took great pains, it was that he brought up his Army on controversial discussions.
But what did he do to the House of Commons?
I hope I will not be out of Order if I reply to that.
I think that the hon. Member had better leave it alone and carry on with his argument.
Your Ruling, Mr. Williams, has deprived me, the House, the country and posterity of a most shattering reply. I assert that great dangers of the kind I have indicated are developing. I want to see great changes in Britain after the war, but I do not want to see them achieved through the vehicle of social upheaval. On that point I should have thought that all sections of the Committee would desire to be agreed. I want to see drastic changes but not through that vehicle, and I cannot help feeling that if you take the sum total of Government policy in this field and that, the Government are pushing the country along a path which may produce a situation in which upheaval will be the only way out. Among the dangers is the possibility of a divorce between the Armed Forces and the civil population.I beg my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who is a personal friend as well as a political friend, not to treat this question as an isolated thing, but to treat it as part of a wider problem. Do not treat it as a narrow exercise in dialectics but as a big problem in statesmanship. Do not treat it as an issue on which to score debating points—not that I mind that being done with me, because I am reasonably able to retort. I have greater freedom in interrupting than in replying to interruptions. I beg my hon. Friend to treat this as part of the general problem of the Army, which is already sore about the A.B.C.A. decision on the Beveridge Report, and about the restrictions placed by particular commanding officers on' discussions in regimental circles. It cannot say anything about it, it has no newspaper, it has none of the normal means of expression which the civilian population has, and I beg the hon. Gentleman to look beyond the Service and to treat this as part of the problem, first, of mobilising total enthusiasm for total war in Britain, and, secondly, preserving the internal solidarity of our people when the war is over and we face the problems of peace.
I hope quite dispassionately that this Clause will not go through in the form proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid). I think, without any prejudice, that it is difficult to know whether the speeches in favour of the Clause have shown more complete ignorance of military affairs or more complete disregard of the political history of our country. It is, I think, no coincidence whatever that the hon. and gallant Member who proposed this Clause, the hon. Member who supported it, and the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) quoted Oliver Cromwell——
I did not.
—or referred to Oliver Cromwell in terms of approbation. It is, in fact, the case that the history of the House of Commons in relation to this particular question was founded on its experience of Oliver Cromwell.
On a point of Order. A little earlier when an hon. Gentleman started to talk about Oliver Cromwell you said it was not in Order, Mr. Williams. Is it in Order in one case and not in the other?
I was allowing the hon. Member some licence to develop his argument. I was watching his argument closely to see whether it was going to be related in any way to the speeches that have already been made and also to the actual new Clause.
May I ask whether there is not a danger of another Member getting up to confute the argument of the hon. Member that our political history dates from Oliver Cromwell?
There is undoubtedly the danger.
If the hon. Member had been listening to what I said he would have discovered that that was not the remark which I made. What is relevant to this Clause and what is important is that ever since the military dictatorship set up by Oliver Cromwell went down in a howl of popular execration and the rule of the House of Commons re-established in this land, it has been the purpose of the House of Commons to prevent the Army, as such, from taking a part in politics. It is that principle which to my mind is being disregarded by this Clause, and it is neither irrelevant nor improper to say that it is not a coincidence by any means that in proposing it the hon. and gallant Member laid stress on a quotation from the very man who set up a military dictatorship in this country and used the very argument which the hon. and gallant Member used in order to do so.
On a point of Order. That argument was not addressed to this House of Commons. It was addressed by Cromwell to the Scots divines after the Battle of Dunbar.
Really, we have gone rather far beyond the bounds of Order with hon. Members getting into a controversy about their quotations respecting historic incidents. I hope the hon. Member will carry on, without pursuing that aspect of the matter.
I was about to say that so far as the military matter is concerned, I can, at least, claim to have been in command of men both in this country and in the Middle East, and I am bound to say that I found no trace of the resentment referred to by the hon. and gallant Member. What I did find was that the men enjoyed and often indulged in the freest possible discussions among themselves, and with their officers, about matters which would affect their lives after the war, but they did not desire or seek to take a part in political controversy outside their units whilst they were in the Army. That was my experience. I go further than that, and say that when they discovered what they described as a political soldier, they very much resented it. The fact is that when our young men go into the Army they are tired of party politics, because they are serving their country. The hon. Baronet regards his new party as something rather more privileged than other parties.
I must ask the hon. Gentleman to keep away from questions of party politics.
That is exactly what I want to do. It is precisely because I believe that those who serve in the Armed Forces of the Crown, while they enjoy political discussions as much as any other men, do not want to indulge in organised party politics, that I resist this Clause in its present form.
I feel that one of the strongest speeches for the new Clause, though not intentionally so, was made by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). In; arguing his case he told us of his experiences as a soldier, and said that when he was in the Forces he never had any difficulty in taking part in politics. That is the case we are making to-day. What we are asking is that people who are more timid than he is, those who have not the same courage and the same forthrightness, should be given as a legal right the right that he took. No one who knows the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, his character and his courage, would deny that he would take part in politics, and naturally so. All we ask is that the more timid and more backward of our soldiers should be given, the legal right which the hon. Member took for himself in his day. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) told us of his experience as a commanding officer. If I ever want to know what working men are saying in the engineering trades; for instance, I do not usually go to those in the higher ranks to find out. If I wanted to find out what the humble soldier from a humble locality wanted; I should never dream of asking his commanding officer.
I was not a commanding officer at any time. All I said was that I had had command of men, which is a very different thing.
You said you had men under you. There may be a technical difference, but in simple ordinary working class language you were their boss, and you would be about the last man I should talk to in order to learn what the men were thinking. If I were in your regiment, knowing your Tory background and history and your past——
On a point of Order. May I ask, Mr. Williams, whether those remarks are addressed to you or to me?
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) should remember that when he says "you" he is addressing me.
The point made by the hon. Member was that he had had men under his command and he proceeded to build up an argument On the basis of knowing these men. All I seek to do, is to prove that he was less likely to know anything about what the men under his command wanted. If I were under his command, knowing his background, I say frankly that, regarding him as the boss, I should play up to him. After all, privileges are privileges, and I should play up to him and tell him the best story of anybody in the regiment; but from the real point of view the story would have no value at all, it would not count. I repeat that all we are asking for here is that what the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street took for himself in his day should be given to all soldiers as a proper legal right. We say that an ordinary soldier getting his seven days' leave and home in a Glasgow tenement—his wife living in a slum and anxious to move out of that slum—should be able to go to a political meeting and to say that there should be an end to slumdom. Surely there is nothing wrong in that. He should have the right to challenge a Socialist Member who has been inactive in looking after his division, or the right to challenge a Tory Member who has been inactive in looking after his division, saying to him, "Why have you not represented me in my day to day work when I have left my wife and family behind?" Would the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), for whom personally I have a terrific regard, resent a soldier going now to the Central Division of Glasgow, where the Member takes no interest in affairs at all, and asking him, "Why?" He would resent it least of all.We are not asking that the soldier should criticise the General Staff, not that he should enter into questions of high policy about the movement of troops. Frankly, I often think that in this country and in this House we often indulge in too much easy talk about movements in this war. That is very different from discussing the issues that these folk want to discuss. Already it is done by soldiers. I have seen them at political meetings. I have seen a colleague of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) addressing a meeting in my city at which there were many members of the Armed Forces present. I have seen the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) addressing meetings at which soldiers were present. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are allowed to be present."] They are allowed to attend the meetings, but I ask for more. I ask that they should be allowed to take part in discussions. The other Sunday at the Mound, Edinburgh, I was present at a Labour party meeting, and I watched soldiers present asking questions. They were asked very politely and fairly by military policemen to desist. They were asking questions about matters which they thought concerned them. I feel that soldiers are much better engaged in using their brains in a political discussion than, possibly, loafing about in a drinking club. They were in the open air, they were using their brains and using their talents, and I could not see that they were doing anything wrong. I thought they were making themselves better soldiers and better citizens. For the life of me I cannot see any reason why, in a modern State, there should be opposition to this proposal, and I trust that the Government will note the offer of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown), with that moderation for which he is famed, of a suggestion about the civil servants. That is the way we usually take in Britain, the way of compromise. Decent compromise is the soul of politics. I would like to say a word or two about party politics. We are told that people are sick of party politics; I am sick of the lack of party politics. I want the open clash of opinion, the clash between human beings and the clash of thought. That means something, and not this nambypambiness of calling us all a happy family without the clash of opinion. To limit or to take that clash away from a soldier is wrong. The exercise of politics is not a thing that politicians should sneer at. The occupation of a Member of Parliament is as honourable as that of a soldier, and taking part in politics is not beneath the dignity of a soldier. It is good, because it makes him a better man and a better future citizen.
I am surprised at the length of the Debate on this Clause. I should have thought that the younger section would at once have accepted it. The other Sunday I was speaking, and at question time there were soldiers who took part in the meeting by asking questions. I see no reason why they should not be permitted to do so, but if the military police had been there, they would probably have intervened, as seems to have happened at the Mound. When my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) was speaking about the meeting he addressed, hon. Members on the other side said, "That is allowed." Evidently hon. Members thought that it should be allowed—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is allowed."] In fact, it is not allowed. Military policemen stopped the men when they were putting their questions. It is no use the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) saying that it is allowed when the military policemen are stopping it.
Members of the Forces who wanted to put questions were making speeches and, in the eyes of the law, that is not allowed.
Military policemen, acting in accordance with Army Regulations, stop these members of the Forces from asking questions.
On a point of Order. Is it not possible to ask questions without making a speech?
That is not a point of Order.
The hon. Member for Oxford said that soldiers did not want party politics. If this Amendment is accepted and the soldiers do not want politics, nothing will happen. No harm will be done. If the soldiers wish it, they are fully entitled to have this right. What we have now is a conscript Army. The citizens of this country have been taken into the Army, and not only are they being called upon to give military service, but their political privileges, unless this Clause is accepted, are being taken from them, I cannot understand why the War Office is hesitating about the Clause. I know that members of the Forces of my point of view will take part in meetings, whatever decision is taken here today, and will be willing to undergo any penalty that may be imposed upon them in connection with such activity. It is reasonable for the War Office to accept this moderate and reasonable Clause. Hon. Members seem to think that a soldier should be allowed to ask questions at meetings. I put it to them that he also should be at liberty to go on to the platform. If an officer gets leave to fight an election, he goes on to the platform. It is true that he may not go on in his uniform, but I would recall that one hon. Member put his photograph in uniform upon his election address, and no action was taken by the War Office about that contravention of the Regulations. The ordinary decent way of dealing with this matter is to give the citizens of our country the right which they have always enjoyed in the past of taking part in political controversy even though, in the stress of national emergency, they are conscripted into the service of the Crown. I cannot understand the hesitation of the War Office in accepting the Clause.
I am intervening in this matter only because the course which the Debate has taken makes it abundantly clear that two things are necessary. One is that we should come back to the Clause and discuss it, and the second is that it is time somebody took part in the Debate who knows something about it.
The wise man of Gotham at last.
The form of this Clause calls for comment. There are a number of ways in which the hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) could have raised the matter, but out of them all he chose to take a special exception to the words:
thereby recognising that taking part in political activity as such is a breach of discipline. As to the second point, if it be true that there is this great urge among the Armed Forces to express themselves, it is not unlikely, and it may be not unreasonable to assume, that in the vast Army which we have at the present time, during three and a half years of war, some members of it would have attempted to express themselves in that way, thereby bringing the rigour of this supposed law upon them. However, in the whole of the time that the war has gone on, not one soldier has ever been charged with making a political speech."Conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline."
Is not the hon. and gallant Member aware that accusations are not made against such people but that M.I.5 puts its finger on them?
That interruption is not relevant to the Clause which we are discussing. I was only telling the Committee that throughout the whole of the war not one soldier has been charged with making a political speech.
How does the hon. and gallant Member know?
Since I am asked, I may remind the hon. Member that I said it was time that somebody who knew something about it took part in the Debate. The great charm of Section 40 is that it is very elastic. It is equally the charm of the present position. If we do not try to make these matters rigid we shall find they work perfectly well, and it is because we have avoided making rigid rules as to what people may or may not do that we have had no trouble at all. I ask the Committee to avoid trying to define precisely what may or may not be done by members of the Armed Forces in this respect. It is by being elastic, by give and take on all sides and the exercising of common sense that we have come so far, and will come right the way through, without any trouble.
The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken make a very interesting legalistic point, but I think that the broad issue is covered by the wording of the Clause and explains itself naturally to the minds of most hon. Members. It is true, generally speaking, that the soldier of the present day is interested in politics and would like to be able, on occasion, to express himself if he wished to do so. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) made a couple of points which I should like to take up. He said that soldiers were not interested in party politics any longer. That may or may not be so, but in any case, party politics, as we know, are in abeyance for the duration: soldiers would no doubt be interested in discussing non-controversial matters like the Catering Wages Bill. But the hon. Member went on to suggest that soldiers were not interested in politics generally, in broad political issues apart from party politics.
If the hon. Member will forgive me I will tell him that that is not what I said. I said that soldiers were interested in discussing politics, but they did not want to take part in politics outside their units. I said they were constantly discussing politics with their officers—despite the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan).
The impression that I got from the hon. Member's speech was very different. He said that one thing soldiers disliked and avoided was the political soldier.
He is the man who takes part in politics outside his unit. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh! "] I tried to make it abundantly clear, and if I did not do so, I shall say it again, that the political soldier is the man who takes part in politics outside his unit.
I am glad to have given the hon. Member an opportunity of making himself clear, and to welcome him to the fold. There is even weightier testimony than his that the soldier in the Middle East is interested in broad political issues. May I recall that the Minister of State in the Middle East, broadcasting last December, said how very keenly the troops were discussing the Beveridge Report? The hon. Member also suggested that, because in past centuries, from the seventeenth century onwards, it had been a tradition to keep the Army out of politics, which may very well have been a wholesome tradition at certain times, that principle should still apply. I differ entirely from him. You have to judge these matters in relation to the whole social environment. The standard of education among our people has gone up so enormously in the last century, and you have now so many millions of non-professional and non-Regular soldiers in the Army, that I do not think that that argument can be seriously considered as valid any longer.The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) made two points which again, I thought, slightly confused rather than clarified the issue. He said he had been visiting units in the desert and that they had had interesting discussions about politics and so on. I also have visited many units and talked to them under the Army education scheme and in various other ways. I quite agree that they are interested in talking about politics but what we are discussing now is their freedom to talk politics off duty. We are not discussing discussion groups, A.B.C.A. or anything like that, so let us keep to the point. Finally, the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street deprecated the whole idea of political armies, which; he said, were such a regrettable phenomenon on the Continent—that benighted place. I would only direct hon. Members' eyes to the East, where the most highly political army in the world has been fighting a magnificent battle for the last year and more. The Red Army soldier knows very well what he is fighting for and he loves what he knows.
I must confess that when I came in and read this Clause I was not greatly enamoured of it, but as the Debate has proceeded and I have heard the objections from the other side, my heart has been strangely warmed towards it, noting in the arguments adduced so many of the arguments I have heard during the time I have been in the Army, which is now some 3½ years. We have to remember in considering this matter that these Regulations were framed when our Army consisted of perhaps 200,000 men who voluntarily went into the Army, knowing that in so doing they renounced their rights to certain things, and that they renounced their rights to take part in political discussion. The position is totally different to-day. We are compulsorily enlisting the butcher, the baker and the blacksmith, people of all classes and types in this country; we are compelling them to go into the Army, and compelling them, married and single, to renounce their rights and privileges in these respects. I do not think you can justify asking them to renounce their rights and privileges. In fact, my experience is that you definitely cannot. The suggestion has been made that men do not want this right, that it is not desired by the men serving in the Forces. In that case, as was so aptly put by my hon. Friend below the Gangway, there will be no harm done if it is conceded. My experience has not been such; it has been to the contrary. May I tell the Committee what has been the greatest difficulty during the time I have been serving? It has been to cold-shoulder men, and to stop men raising political discussions with me, because in every mess to which I go, as soon as it is found that I am a Member of this House, men desire to discuss the current political questions with me.
Why should they not?
Because they are not interested in politics, the hon. Member says.
I never said that. [Interruption.]
When the hon. Member has finished his sub-committee meeting with other Members, I will go on.
I do not propose to give way. That courtesy was not extended to me from the other side. I am only advancing that argument in order to show that throughout the Service there is genuine interest in current political questions.
Of course there is. No one said there was not.
I hope the hon. Member does not conduct his law cases on this basis. The fact that there is such interest in current political questions brings me to this point of the hon. Member and those who spoke against this Amendment. I want to confine this discussion into the narrow sphere of discussion between men. They are not prepared to allow, as the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has said, that when that man goes home on leave and is then a free agent in most respects, he cannot go along and have a discussion on politics with another man because as soon as he has a discussion with a civilian in the street he is then talking part in political controversy. [Interruption.] I say "Yes," and as soon as a group gathers around in Hyde Park and a dozen people get round to hear the arguments, it becomes a political discussion and the serving man is taking part in political controversy. I am not a lawyer, thank goodness, but I think it is elementary to an ordinary mind that that is bound to happen. If two men start arguing other men gather round, and you very soon get a political discussion. If it is right for two men to argue in that way, why should it be wrong for two soldiers and two civilians to discuss the same question? [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not wrong."] But it is wrong. I do not want to be tempted into getting out of Order, but the suggestion has been made that we should not make this thing too rigid, that if we do not define it too closely everything will go on all right. My experience is that everything goes on all right provided the sentiments expressed are not of a particular type. [Interruption.] I am saying that advisedly, with full cognisance of all it means. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] The hon. Member says "Rubbish," but I am speaking out of the depth of a full experience in these things.
So am I.
May I remind the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield (Captain Poole) of the fact that it is much better to allow an hon. Member to put his own points and not to interrupt each other, or to try, possibly, to incite other people?
I will follow that point, Mr. Williams. It has been suggested that there have been no cases in this war in which a man has been pulled up for indulging in political controversy. That of course is quite untrue. The hon. and gallant Member who made the statement, if he does not know it is untrue, has been sadly out of touch with what has been taking place.
May I be allowed to answer that?
On a point of Order, Mr. Williams. The suggestion was that I had made an untrue statement. May I not be allowed to reply to that?
Not at this time.
I made no statement that the hon. and gallant Member had made an untrue statement. What I said was that he was sadly out of touch with what was taking place in the Army if he made that allegation. He knows whether he has made an untrue statement or whether he is out of touch with what is taking place. I would like to give two illustrations that this thing is taking place. One of the funniest experiences that I had in this connection was on going to a mess in the South of England in the early days of the war. I always do my best not to make it known that I am a Member of this House. It has a nuisance value. As any serving Member will agree, the biggest liability he has, so far as his military career is concerned, is that he is a Member of this House. In this mess, after I had been there two nights the president of the mess committee came to me and said, "I hear you are a Member of the House of Commons." I said, "Well, yes, Sir, I am," He said, "I am so glad, because I am the chairman of the so-and-so Conservative and Unionist Association." He did not know that I was a Labour Member. He treated me to two drinks that evening. The next day he found out that I was not a Conservative and Unionist Member of this House, and he did not speak to me for the rest of the time I was there.The second instance, which is far more serious, and which has some bearing on this question, occurred just prior to the entry of Russia into this war. A very excellent discussion group was formed in a certain unit to which I was attached, and a discussion was to be held on the Balkan situation. One of the members of the A.T.S. staff who was excellent at pen work made an announcement by drawing a map with the Russian flag—the hammer and sickle—and on the other side the Union Jack. On the bill she put, "The Balkans; which shall it be?" The person responsible for that poster was called before the commanding officer and asked by what earthly right he dare put the hammer and sickle flag adjacent to the Union Jack, Russia not having then entered the war. The man was disciplined on this account. That man has left that unit. That mail could not get any promotion in that unit. He was a marked man because of that. There was no charge brought against him but, as my hon. Friend himself knows, there are cleverer ways of dealing with a man in the Army than by bringing charges against him.
I must remind the hon. and gallant Member that this new Clause applies only to officers and men off duty. If we are to engage in stories of personal recollections as to what happened in Army messes, it is clearly going too wide of the actual Clause.
I only sought to prove that if a man now takes part in political controversy, he does lay himself open perhaps, not to the laying of a charge, but to bringing down upon his own head unfortunate and unpleasant consequences. I think it would be deplorable if the whole Army started indulging in mass political conversations and discussions. There is no fear of that. Those who oppose this Clause themselves say there is no such fear. I feel that the man who has gone into the Army and has a wife and family, domestic responsibilities and a stake in the future of this country should have the right to go back to his home and take part in whatever discussions may be taking place having a bearing on the present situation in the country and the future of this country and should be relieved in so doing from any unfortunate consequences.
I want to support some of the observations made by some of my hon. Friends on this side and to raise the point of view so far as the Air Force is concerned, which is also covered by this Measure. In the 3½ years during which I have had the privilege of serving in the Air Force, I found, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) found in the Army, no outstanding feeling among the rank and file that they were being badly treated in this respect. As it seems to me, the reason in the Air Force was that adequate arrangements were made for them to ventilate their own feelings. I can give a very good example which came to my notice only the day before yesterday, when I had a letter from an administrative officer of a very big Air Force station, in which he told me he had succeeded in creating a debating society attended by 500 members of the Royal Air Force of his unit weekly, which was addressed by people of all parties and of all political leanings, and in which the Group Captain, unlike the officer to whom the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield (Captain Poole) referred, took his place on even terms with the Communist present in that unit. He asked me if I would have the opportunity of going to address a meeting or lead a debate, and said that the men would have ample opportunity of expressing their views.
But that was not a public meeting.
No, but the men were off duty. The point I make is this: The hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) admitted that soldiers, and for that matter airmen, are entitled to write to papers, can if they are fortunate enough stand for Parliament, and can hold meetings among themselves, and their only complaint was they could not address public meetings. I must say, in passing, that I would have thought that this Clause would have been more properly moved in peace-time, when there was something like genuine party politics in this country. The only thing that serving men are precluded from doing is to take part in political meetings. The hon. Member said that the one thing they were interested in was their own future: that is natural since they are human beings; but these matters can be far better discussed among themselves, with complete freedom for all points of view. That I understand is what happens to-day in all Service units of the Royal Air Force, and I understand that from the men of the Air Force there is no demand for further political rights.
I have had considerable experience in connection with this question of the rights of soldiers to participate in public meetings. When hon. Members on the other side say that soldiers are not continually thinking about politics, they are quite right. The soldiers are too busy training and fighting to be thinking all the time about politics. The workers in the factories are not thinking all the time about politics; they are too busy working. But I ask hon. Members, if the worker at a particular moment is earnestly agitated about some question, has he the right to express his opinion about it? He has. If a soldier is seriously and earnestly agitated about some question that affects his own life and the life of this country generally, has he the right to express his opinion about it? No. That is the question. No one has suggested that if you go to any section of the Army the soldiers will at once start shouting, "We want to talk about politics." But when such a question as the Beveridge Report comes up they are interested immediately, and when they come home on leave they want to go to public meetings and express their opinions and ask questions about it. And when they come home and find that things are bad, they want to do the same thing.I have raised this matter time and again in this House. Members on the other side adopted the same attitude as they are adopting now on another occasion when I raised the subject. I speak at enormous meetings every week-end. There are airmen, soldiers and sailors always present. They ask questions. If they are committing an offence by asking questions, obviously I am committing an offence by answering them. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Oh yes, I am an accessory to the fact. I found that when I went to meetings in different parts of the country there would be two civilian policemen and two military policemen at the door of the meeting hall, stopping soldiers from coming in. I raised the matter here, and I got a decision from the War Office that soldiers would be allowed to attend political meetings but that they must sit dumb. Will the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), or his partner in the attempt to suppress the soldiers, justify before any soldier, and will the hon. Member for South East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) justify before any member of the Air Force, such a decision? Imagine one of us attending a political meeting, on a day when all the workers are working and the hall is filled with Navy men, soldiers and airmen on leave, and we have the privilege of talking for half an hour, an hour, or an hour and a half to these lads. Is it not obvious that by allowing them to come and then making them sit quietly we are saying to them, "We cannot trust you; we are afraid that if you take part in politics, once you are among your fellow workers you will do something in politics that we do not like"? I have brought up in this House a number of cases of men, corporals, lance-corporals and what hot, who were credited by their commanding officers with being the very best of soldiers. I said on one occasion, when I read out one or two characters, that these men had characters that would have got them into the Kingdom of Heaven but that would not keep them in the British Army. Why? Because they had participated in political meetings. They were not charged. It is not done that way. Has the hon. Member heard of M.I.5 You may in the old days have seen some of the old Chicago pictures, in which when a finger was put on a man he was just taken for a ride. M.I.5 simply puts its finger on a man, and nothing can be done. The commanding officer may consider him one of the finest soldiers he has ever had under him: he may read out the finest character for him; but nothing can be done. If the hon. Member desires it, I will give him a list of names, and give him the job of fighting to get them back to the Army. There is absolutely nothing against them but the fact that they have participated in political meetings. I ask Members on the other side to forget their prejudices, to forget, if they can, for the moment their party politics, and to treat the soldiers as they deserve to be treated, with the same respect as the workers demand. The soldiers are fighting, or training to fight. They are ready when called upon to give their lives in the defence of this country. Yet Members on the other side persist in saying, "Yes, we will let them attend meetings "—that had to be fought for—"but we will not let them take part in them." It was a common thing at open air meetings in every part of the country, before that decision of the War Office, if soldiers and sailors just stood there, to see military police go up to them and ask them to move on. No Member on the other side, no official at the War Office, neither the Secretary of State nor any of his junior Ministers, can justify such an attitude towards the soldiers as that of saying, "You can attend a political meeting, but you must give an imitation while you are there of a dummy at Madame Tussaud's." I ask Members to face this question intelligently, realising that soldiers are thinking men. If they have a right to attend a political meeting, they are already participating in politics. Attendance is in itself participation. Why do Members on the other side, some of whom are intelligent, support the War Office in saying that these men should be allowed to participate in political meetings to the extent that they can attend, but that they must not ask questions or express opinions at these meetings? That can never be justified before any body of soldiers, sailors or airmen.
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) made some remarks about the German army. He seemed quite unaware that officers of the German army all have to be members of the Nazi Party, and all wear the party badge and give political lectures to the troops. They all have to be of the same party, and there is no liberty for other parties to speak either, in the Russian army or the German army. If an officer playing football is knocked down by a Tommy, they are playing a game, and they are playing in mufti. If an officer was knocked down by a Tommy in uniform, that would be a very grave breach of discipline. If an officer or a man speaks at a political meeting when in mufti, it is very different from speaking in uniform. In uniform, it might lead to a grave breach of discipline, especially if the arguments get heated.
I would point out to the hon. and gallant Member that officers in the Army are not allowed to speak at political meetings, whether they are in uniform or not.
I think we ought to get the subject into its right perspective. The Debate has strayed from the correct perspective on numerous occasions. I am not at all sure that the object my hon. and gallant Friend wishes to achieve will be gained by this new Clause. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe), when he said that no soldier had been charged with making a political speech, was probably quite correct. I do not know whether he meant that his experience extended to summary trials as well as trials by court-martial. I rather imagine that he was referring, considering his position in the Judge Advocate General's Department, to courts-martial. But summary trial by a commanding officer is quite a different matter. I can well believe that a man would not be charged with making a political speech, but he might be charged with committing a breach of good order and military dis- cipline. What is it that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) wants to achieve? If it is to allow troops to do what the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said, to go to public meetings, I do not think that at the present moment they are denied that right. My hon. and gallant Friend can correct me if I am wrong, but perhaps the Regulation is observed in the breach. I have attended Labour conferences and other political meetings when uniformed soldiers have got up on to the platform and spoken. If they are committing a breach of King's Regulations in doing that and they can be charged with a breach of discipline, the situation is intolerable. You have to draw the line somewhere. Obviously, if this Clause is accepted you cannot have a body of soldiers in a garrison town starting up a political meeting on their own. There are dangers inherent in that, and I imagine that under this Clause they would be permitted to do that. I occasionally disagree with the Prime Minister, but I agreed with him when he said that it would be very detrimental to the war effort if we had a divergence in the Army from the sword to the pen, which, presumably, includes oral public controversy.I want my hon. and learned Friend to address his mind to this fact. The King's Regulation is wisely administered. I believe, generally, it is not administered in a harsh manner, and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will declare that there is to be no distinction between an ordinary member of His Majesty's Forces and a Member of this House who happens for the time being to be in His Majesty's Forces. It is intolerable in spite of what the Prime Minister says if a Member of this House can engage in controversial matters either on or off duty such as an hon. Member of this House did recently and be exonerated from his actions, thereby giving the impression to the Army that there are favoured circumstances for those who happen to don uniform and who perhaps are not engaged all the time in military duties, but sometimes engaged in Parliamentary controversy. I hope my hon. and learned Friend will clarify the point a little further. If the Prime Minister's dictum is allowed to stay where it is and members of His Majesty's Forces, because they happen to be Members of this House, can be permitted on off-duty occasions to indulge in political controversy at public meetings then you have opened the door wide—as indeed it should be opened wide in such circumstances—to other members of His Majesty's Forces. I would limit my request to this. The line should be drawn between speeches of a subversive character and those of a character which are not subversive.
Is not my hon. Friend aware that under the present law of the country to make a subversive speech on the platform whether as a member of the military forces or as a civilian is against the law?
I am well aware of that and I want to keep it in that position. I would not ask for the wide powers for which my hon. and gallant Friend asks because I believe that, if it were operated by irresponsible people—and there are some irresponsible people in the Armed Forces—it might be detrimental to the war effort. I had' experience in the last war in the ranks and as a commissioned officer and I have had experience in this war and I would say that the number of officers and men in the Armed Forces who want to engage in political controversy at public meetings is very small indeed. That does not mean to say that because they happen to be in a very small minority you should put them in a strait-waistcoat. I would say to my hon. and gallant Friend that he is misconceiving the situation if he thinks that they are the small minority who might be called politically conscious.
Is not the hon. Member aware that it is possible that not a solitary soldier may want to discuss politics to-day but every soldier might want to discuss politics or something political next week? It is not something which is constant but something which is changing, and if they want to discuss politics they should have the right to do so.
They do discuss politics.
They are encouraged to discuss politics through A.B.C.A. which takes place every week. If they want to discuss politics they should discuss them in a responsible manner. If my hon. and gallant Friend is asking for this right, which I believe the soldier has at the present time, to be extended so that the war effort can be impeded, it would be a very dangerous thing for our war effort and it would not react to the good of the Army.
Does the hon. Member say that I made that statement; that I have demanded that the war effort should be impeded?
The hon. and gallant Member made a speech of limited extent and we have to read some things into it, and I think that I am entitled to say that. If, however, I have misinterpreted what he said, I apologise. My hon. and gallant Friend has experience of the Air Force and must know that there is a danger inherent in making the special provision that he is trying to do in this manner. I would far rather have it as it is at the present time, that members, in uniform or in mufti, can speak at public meetings as they are doing at the present time.
Then why not make it legal?
Is my hon. and gallant Friend so simple as to believe that if the Clause is accepted, the Army Act would not permit any charge being made against a man for speaking at a public meeting if the military authorities wished to take that action? I would far rather have the present situation. One has to observe discipline in a disciplined force, and the present position had better be left where it is. I know I am perhaps putting an unpopular point of view, but I think those who believe as strongly as I do in the freedom of the Forces and have expressed that opinion on numerous occasions should put the view in which they believe at the present moment. What I ask my hon. and learned Friend to do is to clear up the situation which was left in an unsatisfactory position regarding the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Churchill), who is encouraging the Armed Forces to engage in controversy which might lead to a, breach of good order and military discipline.
I do not want to detain the Committee by pulling to pieces the speech to which we have just listened. I am very much surprised at what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said and he was extremely difficult to follow because he expressed so many different points of view at the same time. What was equally disappointing was to hear such reactionary sentiments from what I regard as the new Tory progressive party on the other side. It seems that they showed themselves in their true colours. I want to put a view which I have not heard in this Debate and to say something of my own experience as a soldier of the last war. The tragedy following the last war was that so many of us came back from the war with no real knowledge of the political controversies. There was a complete tragedy in Parliamentary elections and many people were blinded into following a course of events which afterwards they very much regretted. Our one hope is that after this war there will be sufficient of us left who fought in the last war to join forces with the progressive element who come out of the Armed Forces of the Crown to act together to get matters put right.I do not know sufficiently what is or what is not allowed, but I know from letters I have received, and from the experiences of people who are still in the Army, that those who are politically interested feel very much this restriction which prevents them when not on duty from taking part in political activities in their own constituencies and elsewhere. I have had the honour on two occasions of being invited by commanding officers to address troops on duty. I put to them a point of view which is familiar to this House and the troops afterwards expressed great delight and said that they had never realised that point of view before. Surely it is most desirable that instead of filling up soldiers with dope all the time they should be given an opportunity, when on leave, of taking an active part in political activity. Therefore, I hope the Committee will see fit to support this new Clause and so ensure that when our fighting men come back again they will come back with a better political knowledge than those of us who were in the last war came back with.
I intervene in this discussion because of various points which have been placed before the Committee by officers regarding the actions of troops in certain circumstances. I served in the ranks in the last war and never rose above the rank of corporal, but my mind is eased by the knowledge that many notable persons in the world also did not rise above the rank of corporal, and so I wish to place my point of view before the Committee for their consideration. I recognise that we have a very fine type of man in this war, officers and other ranks. We have a type that cannot be excelled in any country in the world. But we must also recognise that these men are definitely of the opinion that every soldier who takes part openly in political meetings prejudices his well-being in his own unit. That is the accepted belief in the Army to-day, and it does not meet the point to say, as the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) said, that officers discuss these questions with their men. We have always had officers who have said, "Let us have a discussion on this. Drop the 'Sir' for the time being, and let us have a hearty man-to-man talk." But I for one would have never suggested at any such meeting anything which would have prejudiced my well-being in my unit.
Yet the hon. Member never rose above the rank of corporal.
I understand that I had particular ability in dealing with what were termed "fatigue squads," which did not come within the purview of an officer's duties. All that this Clause asks is that a man, whether he has joined voluntarily or not, whether he is imbued with a patriotic spirit or not—and many who will fight well would not be in the Army to-day if they had any other alternative—shall have the opportunity of political activity. You are saying to a man who has, perhaps, a family and who has to look to their well-being and future, "You must serve in the Army. You can have your discussions with the various members of your units, but you cannot go to a public meeting where civilians do not perhaps know your point of view, and tell them that you want your boy to be educated in a certain manner and your wife to receive a certain income above the starvation level which has existed in the past." No ordinary soldier or N.C.O. will go with an easy conscience to a meeting where his superior is present and state a political view which he knows is diametrically opposed to the view of, say, his adjutant.
No, old soldiers are far too wise for that. We are saying to a man, "We shall utilise your services completely, and you must be prepared to make even the greatest sacrifice, but you shall not be allowed to express, when you are on leave, your opinion as to how the country shall be run." In that there is a danger. During four years in France in the last war there were quite a number of revolts that never came before the public eye. There were raids on Etaples by disgruntled and discontented soldiers and officers and certain officers' quarters even received Mills grenades because of the discontentment and disgruntlement of men who had no say as to where they were being pushed when they were being transferred from France to Mesopotamia.
Does the hon. Member suggest that they should have any say?
I certainly do. If men serve three and a half years in muck, mud and blood and in their opinion find themselves being unfairly treated, without haying an opportunity to express their opinion—and that is the main point—except by violence, then violence takes place. But I am dealing with the political situation. If after serving their country these men, when on leave, are not allowed to express publicly on the platform an opinion with regard to the future well-being of their homes, the education of their children, and the well-being of their aged people, for whom they are making sacrifices, there will be created a greater danger than would exist if this new Clause were accepted. Under the Clause no subversive speech could be made by either a civilian or a soldier. The argument in that respect falls completely to the ground. There would be no lack of discipline among the officers and men of the British Army if they were given an opportunity to express their views on the fundamental issues which concern them. The main idea of the officers and men in the British Army is to get the job over and then establish a claim for the condi- tions which they thoroughly deserve. We cannot establish those conditions unless we hear the mind of the Service men, and we cannot do that unless they are allowed to take their part on the political platform and express their points of view as any other free-born Britishers are allowed to do.
The Committee has listened to a very full Debate on a very interesting topic, and I hope I shall be forgiven if I intervene at this stage to answer the case that has been put by those who support the new Clause. I want to say at once that I shall have to disappoint the hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid), because I am afraid the new Clause is not acceptable, for two reasons. In the first place, it seeks to add some words to Section 40 of the Army Act, but even assuming that the words were acceptable, the hon. and gallant Member would not achieve his object. Section 40 provides that every person subject to military law who commits any of the following offences, that is to say, is guilty of any act, conduct, disorder, or neglect to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, shall, on conviction by court-martial, be liable to certain punishments which are set out in the Section. The Section does not define the kind of conduct which is considered prejudicial to good order and military discipline. Taking part in political controversy could only be construed as an offence triable by court-martial in so far as the activity in question constituted a breach of a particular Regulation, and until steps are taken to secure either the repeal, the cancellation or the amendment of the Regulation in question, merely adding the words set out in the new Clause would not achieve the object which the hon. and gallant Member appears to desire.
That matter could easily be put in order if the principle were accepted.
I will deal with the point of substance in a moment. The question of political activity is regulated by King's Regulations, Paragraph 541, and it is that particular Regulation which limits the right of the individual soldier to take part in political controversy. I hope the Committee will allow me to quote the Regulation, because I think we should have a complete picture before us in coming to a decision as to what should be done. The Regulation reads as follows:
There are similar provisions in the King's Regulations governing the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. I admit that these Rules do in effect restrain serving personnel from taking an active part in the affairs of any political organisation or party. The Army traditionally has always in this country, with very limited exceptions, at any rate, sought to keep out of the party political arena and does accept the position that it is its duty to give complete loyalty to the State whatever Government is in power, irrespective of its party complexion. That is the fundamental basis of these Regulations in so far as they apply to political controversy. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone talked about the soldier, when he enters the Army, being muzzled for the duration of his service. Surely, that was something of an exaggeration. Officers and other ranks are not prevented from voting at the by-elections that may take place. [Interruption.] There is nothing in King's Regulations which prevents any officer or soldier from having the right to exercise his vote. There may be physical or geographical reasons which prevent him from exercising his right, but he is not deprived of it."No officer or soldier, or member of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, is permitted to take any active part in the affairs of any political organisation or party, either by acting as a member of a candidate's election committee or by speaking in public or publishing or distributing literature in furtherance of the political purposes of any such organisation or party, or in any other manner, until he or she has retired, resigned or been discharged, or in the case of a Field Marshal, until he has reliquished any appointment that he may be holding."
Is not the Financial Secretary aware that most of the people in the Army are young men and that none of them has a vote?
If the young men never had a vote, then a fortiori there is nothing in King's Regulations which deprives them of something which they never had.
If it is right that they should have the vote, as we all agree, had they not better attend a little political controversy in order to find out how to use it?
I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for referring to that point, because I was just coming to it. That is just what they are entitled to do. There is nothing in King's Regulations which prevents any officer or soldier from attending meetings of political organisations with a view to forming their own minds and deciding where their vote shall be cast.
Can an officer or soldier ask questions?
Certainly, if the soldier were on leave and in mufti, and there were an election in his own constituency, in my view he would have the right to ask one of the candidates proper questions. The limitation that the soldier must not actively participate in organisations or parties whose objects are political——
On the word of the King's Regulations it is legitimate for any serving officer or man of any of the three Services to take an active part in any form of politics which is not organised. So far as the wording of the Regulation is concerned, he is entitled to do what he likes, provided it is not in connection with an organisation or a party.
That presentation of the position as far as it goes is correct. Whether or not in a particular case the individual in question is over the borderline is a question of fact, and I cannot lay down definitely now on which side of the line he would be.
How is it possible to have a public meeting which has not been organised by someone? If you have a public meeting, it must have been organised.
I have tried to make it clear that there is nothing in the King's Regulations which prevents a soldier from attending a political meeting so long as he does not take an active part in it and goes there to obtain information for the benefit of his own mind. I think that if a soldier goes to a party political meeting at other times than at an election and asks controversial questions, he may be regarded as taking an active part in the meeting, and that would be forbidden.
Is my hon. and learned Friend saying that a soldier who attends an election meeting is allowed to ask the candidate questions? Could he ask if the candidate was in favour of the removal of the War Secretary for incompetence?
The Regulation to an extent has been purposely left vague. The fact that we have been told by a number of Members that soldiers have been asking questions shows that the War Office has administered the Regulation in a very sensible way. At any rate, this is the present position, which there is no intention of weakening. Indeed, as the Committee will realise from what was said by the Prime Minister a few days ago, if anything is done at all, it will be by way of strengthening the present position by bringing it into closer uniformity with the Regulations governing the Royal Navy.
Do I understand that the Prime Minister's statement can be construed as a threat that very likely additional restrictions will be placed upon serving men?
No, I should not regard it as a threat but as an indication of an intention. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) raised the position of Members of Parliament who are serving officers. I am sure he did not intend to advocate that any steps should be taken which would prevent a serving officer who happened to be a Member of Parliament from carrying out his responsibilities in his capacity as Member of Parliament. I am sure that would be most undesirable, and that is one of the exceptions to the general rule laid down in King's Regulation 541. It would not be in Order to refer further to the actual episode to which my hon. Friend referred, but I think the Regulations have been conformed to by Members of Parliament serving in the Forces.
Since when have Members of Parliament serving with the Forces been exempt from the rule applied to ordinary members of the Forces? Does it date from the Prime Minister's speech?
It may be a matter of argument whether it is desirable to allow those who are serving in the Forces to stand as Parliamentary candidates, but I have always understood that my hon. Friend, who is a great champion of the soldier, would be the last to suggest that Parliamentary candidates should not be drawn from the ranks of the Army. In order to make that possible, I should have thought it a very desirable step on the part of the Army Council to decide that Members of Parliament should not be kept within the limitations set out in Regulation 541. The converse would be that no member of His Majesty's Forces should be a prospective candidate while in that position. I am sure my hon. Friend would not desire to have that position. I have endeavoured to put the position as I see it, and I am afraid it is impossible to accept the Clause.
We are actually so near to agreement that I should like to make an appeal to my hon. and learned Friend. It has been indicated quite clearly by various speakers in this discussion that what I am asking for is being done every day. It has been stated that the Army Regulations which concern this matter are being deliberately contravened all the time. That being so all the War Office has to do instead of keeping one eye shut is to legalise the situation. It will be seen that the concession for which I am asking is only a small one. The Financial Secretary has already admitted that there should be no reason why political discussions should not go on in camps among the men themselves, in study circles and such like. He has also stated to-day, what I did not appreciate before, that soldiers on leave can ask questions at public meetings.
I cannot allow the hon. and gallant Gentleman to get away with that. I said that a serving soldier in the event of an election in his constituency would be entitled to go and exercise his rights of citizenship.
The fact remains that in certain circumstances members of the Services can now ask questions at public meetings. Over and above that, we know that members of the Services are permitted to write to the Press, but they cannot speak in public what they write. That is practically the only difference now between us. I would make a last appeal to the hon. and learned Gentleman to make this small concession which will give an immense satisfaction to the Services, otherwise I am afraid we shall have to divide.
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will consider the real position. The ordinary soldier goes to an ordinary political meeting and asks ordinary questions in an ordinary sensible fashion as he would do if he had not been a soldier. He might get into minor trouble for conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline, on the reading of the Regulations—which is not easy. The matter might be reported and the man's officer might say, "I am not going to do anything, because I think it is
Division No. 15.
|Acland, Sir R. T. D||Foster, W.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Stephen, C.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Gallacher, W.||Stokes, R. R.|
|Brown, W. J. (Rugby)||Granville, E. L.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Buchanan, G.||Horabin, T. L.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Daggar, G.||McEntee, V. La T.||Thorneycroft, H. (Clayton)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||McGhee, H. G.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Mack, J. D.||Viant, S. P.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Maxton, J.||White, H. (Derby, N.E.)|
|Dugdale, John (W. Bromwich)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Reakes, G. L. (Wallasey)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Edwards, Walter J. (Whitechapel)||Sloan, A.||Captain Cunningham-Reid and|
|Agnew, Comdr. P. G.||Etherton, Ralph||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Frankel, D.||Kerr, Sir John Graham (Scottish U's)|
|Amman, C. G.||Furness, Major S. N.||Kimball, Maj. L.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ.)||Fyfe, Major Sir D. P. M.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Galbraith, Comdr. T. D.||Lancaster, Lieut.-Col. C. G.|
|Baillie, Major Sir A. W. M.||Gardner, B. W.||Lawson, J. J.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Garro Jones, G. M.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Beattie, F. (Cathcart)||Gates, Major E. E.||Leonard, W.|
|Beaumont, Major Hn. R. E. B. (P'ts'h)||George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G. Lloyd (P'b'ke)||Levy, T.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Gibson, Sir C. G.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Gledhill, G.||Lloyd, C. E. (Dudley)|
|Bennett, Sir P. F. B, (Edgbaston)||Glyn, Sir R. G. C.||Lloyd, Major E. G. R. (Renfrew, E.)|
|Bevin, Rt. Hon. E.||Gower, Sir R. V.||Locker-Lampson, Commander O. S.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Loftus, P. C.|
|Bower, Norman (Harrow)||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Lucas, Major Sir J. M.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Oliver.|
|Brocklebank, Sir C. E. R.||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||McCallum, Major D.|
|Bull, B. B.||Grigg, Rt. Hon. Sir P. J. (Cardiff, E.)||McCorquodale, Malcolm S.|
|Butcher, Lieut. H. W.||Grimston, R. V.||Makins, Brig. Gen. Sir E.|
|Cadogan, Major Sir E.||Groves, T. E.||Marlowe, Lt.-Col. A.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T. (Bromley)||Guy, W. H.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Campbell, J. D. (Antrim)||Hammersley, S. S.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P.|
|Cary, R. A||Hannah, I. C.||Messer, F.|
|Cazalet, Col. V. A.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Mills, Colonel J. D. (New Forest)|
|Challen, Flight-Lieut. C.||Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A.||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Headlam, Lt.-Col. Sir C. M.||Montague, F.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry.|
|Colegate, W. A.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Morrison, Major J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir Stafford||Heneage, Lt.-Col. A. P.||Mott-Radclyffe, Capt. C. E.|
|Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Hewlett, T. H.||Muff, G.|
|Crowder, Capt. J. F. E.||Higgs, W. F.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Hill, Prof. A. V.||Oldfield, W. H.|
|De Chair, Capt. S. S.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Paling, W.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Dobbie, W.||Hotline, J. H. (Silvertown)||Petherick, Major M.|
|Dodd, J. S.||Hopkinson, A.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Douglas, F. C. R.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Peto, Major B. A. J.|
|Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V. G.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Duncan, Rt. Hon. Sir A. R. (C. Ldn.)||Hutchinson, G. C. (Ilford)||Pilkington, Captain R. A.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. (Kens'gt'n, N.)||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. G. I. C. (E'burgh)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Dunn, E.||Isaacs, G. A.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Ede, J. C.||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Radford, E. A.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Jennings, R.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Ellis, Sir G.||John, W.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
reasonable for a man to ask questions." It might work out well in practice, but is it not a most undesirable position? Will not the hon. and learned Gentleman say that the War Office will consider it again, and try to arrive at some more definite view which the troops and the public can follow?
Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The House divided: Ayes, 33; Noes, 195.
|Rickards, G. W.||Spearman, A. C. M.||Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Ridley, G.||Storey, S.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Ritson, J.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (Northwich)||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Watson, W. McL.|
|Rothschild, J. A. de||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.||Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. H. (Richmond)|
|Rowlands, G.||Sutcliffe, H.||White, Sir Dymoke (Fareham)|
|Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Sykes, Maj.-Gen. Rt. Hon. Sir F. H.||White, H. Graham (Birkenhead, E.)|
|Russell, Sir A. (Tynemouth)||Tate, Mavis C.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Btaydon)|
|Salt, E. W.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Thomas, I. (Keighley)||Wood, Hon. C. I. C. (York)|
|Schuster, Sir G. E.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir K. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Scott, Lord William (Ro'b'h & Selk'k)||Thomas, Dr. W. S. Russell (S'th'm'tn)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Shakespeare, Sir G. H.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.||Wootton-Davies, J. H.|
|Shute, Col. Sir J. J.||Thorneycroft, Major G. E. P. (Staff'd)||Wright, Group Capt. J. (Erdington)|
|Simmonds, O. E.||Thurtle, E||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Smiles, Lt.-Cot. Sir W. D.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Smith, T. (Normanton)||Touche, G. C.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Snadden, W. McN.||Turton, R. H.||Mr. Boulton and Mr. Pym.|
|Southby, Comd. Sir A. R. J.||Wakefield, W. W.|