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Clause 4—(Power To Keep Persons Sentenced To Detention Under Army Act In Air Force Custody, And Corresponding Provision For Air Force Act)

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1949

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

3.34 p.m.

I do not think we should proceed with this Clause until we have had some clear explanation from the Ministers concerned of what it means. I should like to know exactly in what conditions prisoners of either the Army or the Air Force, sentenced by courts martial to terms of detention, are to be treated under this Bill. I should like to have a full explanation of what this means and the purposes of this Clause. It is especially essential to ask these questions in view of the fact that young women who are serving in the women's Services are now liable to be court martialled in precisely the same way as men and to be sent to terms of detention. Last year I asked a similar question when we were discussing the Army and Air Force (Women's Service) Bill. I put this question to the Secretary of State for War:

"Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that a court martial will be able to send a woman to a military prison?"
The Secretary of State replied:
"Women will be liable to detention. Let us be quite clear about the definition of detention. We are concerning ourselves now, and have been for some time, with this matter, and we are providing what are called 'corrective establishments.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1948; Vol. 446, c. 2078.]
I presume corrective establishments are contemplated in this Clause of the Bill, and I should like the Ministers concerned to give us some further information as to the routine and as to what is likely to happen to persons sentenced to corrective establishments, or to detention, or whatever else is proposed in the Bill.

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this is a limited Clause, and the only question is whether those sentenced to detention under the Army Act may be detained in Air Force custody and similarly whether those sentenced under the Air Force Act may be kept in military custody. I do not think the other questions the hon. Gentleman is discussing arise.

With respect, Major Milner, my point is that before we are in a position to know what this means we must have some statement from one of the Ministers on what is likely to be the routine in the military prisons or in the Air Force prisons. Then we shall be in a position to know whether the Clause is justified or not.

I doubt whether any question of routine could arise. The hon. Gentleman may be entitled to ask what is the meaning of "air force custody" in the one case and "military custody" in the other, but he may not go into the details of the routine of the different forms of detention.

Thank you, Major Milner. I propose to ask those questions. What does detention under the Army Act and in the Army prisons mean? What does it mean in the Air Force? I ask these questions because I think it is absolutely necessary that the Secretary of State for War or the Secretary of State for Air should amplify statements made by the Secretary of State for War in his speech in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Army and Air Force (Women's Service) Bill last year. The hon. and gallant Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox) asked this question:

"Is it intended to put a woman in a cell, and turn the key on her, or put her in a room with a wardress to supervise her?"
The Secretary of State for War replied:
"I cannot give a picture of the kind of establishment we have in view. At Colchester recently, I saw an establishment for men where there were three tiers of treatment"—
At that point I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman and asked him what kind of tears he meant. The OFFICIAL REPORT tells the story. It says:
"Mr. HUGHES: Tears?
Mr. SHINWELL: No, t-i-e-r-s. According to the nature of their offence and sentence, their general conduct, general demeanour, and their capacity for improvement, the men are treated somewhat differently. I was very pleased, on the whole, with what I saw, although there were some blemishes to which I directed attention, and which we hope to correct."
I hope that in the Debate today we shall be told to what extent these blemishes in the disciplinary system of military barracks have been corrected as a result of the inquiry made by the right hon. Gentleman. He went on to say:
"It will be necessary to establish special detention barracks, but there is no question of a 'glasshouse,' or anything of that sort. I think it may be assumed that we should hardly dare to impose severe punishment upon women."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 6th February. 1948; Vol. 446, c. 2079.]

I am afraid that the general question of severe punishment or the detention of women does not arise. The only question is whether, in the one case, the detention shall be permitted under Air Force custody, and, in the other case, under military custody. The hon. Gentleman cannot enter into details of the matter which he is raising.

I think that I have made it perfectly clear to the Minister that, before giving him this Clause, we should have some explanation of exactly what is intended. I want to address myself to the question: How is it right and proper to put airmen into military prisons, and how is it right and proper to put soldiers into Air Force prisons? What sort of training in these prisons is likely to act as a corrective or likely to improve in any way the efficiency of either the Army or the Air Force? Surely the training of an airman will be very different from the training of a soldier. Is the soldier to be trained as an airman or the airman to be trained as a soldier in these establishments? I ask these questions because I have had recently a complaint from a constituent about the corrective treatment meted out to sailors under naval detention. I wonder why the naval offenders do not come under—

I am not bringing in the Navy. I only want to have an assurance that the airman and the soldier are treated more intelligently, and that the routine is more intelligent than the routine which I have had drawn to my attention by a constituent.

Order! I have already indicated that the question of routine does not enter into a discussion of this Clause.

I was about to ask whether a part of the training in these corrective military establishments is known as the exercise of doubling round the square in gas-masks, because that is the treatment which was meted out to a constituent. I wish to ask on the question, if there is not an enormous waste of manpower. Are we not continuing in existence these military detention barracks and these Air Force—

I am sorry that I have to call the attention of the Committee to the hon. Gentleman's frequent breaches of Order. He is departing from those matters which are relevant to this Clause and doing so repeatedly. I must ask him, unless he can confine himself to the question raised on the Clause, to resume his seat.

I am trying to keep slightly to this side of the iron curtain. I wish to ask the Minister if he will give us a clear picture of what is to happen to the soldiers in the Air Force detention barracks and to the airmen in the military barracks. What exactly is the purpose of this Clause?

3.45 p.m.

Before the Minister deals with that point, I wish to give support to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who has made a valiant effort to put a good case. I think that he is entitled, before he allows one of his constituents, who is an airman, to be condemned to a military detention barracks, to get the fullest information as to the character of the detention that the constituent is likely to undergo. If an airman is going into military detention, the hon. Member is entitled to know if his constituent is likely to go into a "glasshouse." The Minister should always bear in mind the word "glasshouse" and remember the old adage about "People who live in glasshouses."

Then again, if the hon. Member for South Ayrshire has a constituent who is in the Army, he has a right, on behalf of that constituent, to know every particular about the conditions in an Air Force detention camp before he allows him to be sent from the Army to an Air Force detention camp. Some of us have heard occasionally that the Air Force men are treated fairly well. Some of us have also heard occasionally that under Army detention they have been treated very badly. These are the stories, and very often we have had to bring them up in this House to get inquiries made.

If there are worse conditions in a military detention camp than those in an Air Force detention camp, then, of course, we cannot allow this Clause to go through. I think that it is very right and desirable for the hon. Member for South Ayrshire to raise this matter, and the Minister should be able to satisfy us that any member of the Air Force who gets into trouble and who is sent for detention shall not go into worse conditions in a military detention barracks than he would have in an Air Force detention barracks, and he must satisfy the House that any airman sent to detention in an Air Force detention camp will be under no worse conditions than he would have in a military camp. Perhaps he will kindly give us all the information he can on this very important point.

All that we want to know on this side of the House is: Why has it been decided to put this Clause into this annual Bill this year? Presumably some special situation has arisen which has made it necessary to insert the Clause into the Bill. I do not think that we are opposed to it, but we should like to know why it is brought in at this time.

I do not see any difference. If a man commits a crime in the Army he goes into detention; if he commits a crime in the Air Force he goes into detention. Why should there be any different treatment in one case from that in another? I hope that there will be no worse treatment in one than in the other.

If an airman or a soldier is sent to detention that has nothing to do whatever with this Clause. The Clause deals only with those in custody. An airman can serve in a military unit in custody and a soldier can serve in an Air Force unit in custody. Is it not only a matter of hours? I think that 160 hours is the maximum which they usually serve in custody.

I think that my hon. Friend is under some misapprehension because the wording of Clause 4 states specifically:

"A person sentenced to detention under that Act shall undergo the term of his detention…"
which I apprehend means the entire term of the sentence
"either in a detention barrack or in military custody,"
or, if we pass this Clause—
"in Air Force custody."
Therefore it seems to me that there is no validity in the point raised by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd). The real point before the Committee is this. Since we are asked to add a further method of serving a term of detention in the case of an airman or a soldier, we ought to know whether by adding to the methods in which detention can be served we are causing any unnecessary hardship to the airman or the soldier.

I ask the Committee to come down to earth again. We have here a Bill called the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill, to provide for discipline in both Services. There should be no difference between the two Services; whether a sentence is served in one or the other, the treatment should be the same.

I should be delighted to tell hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate a very great deal about conditions in military detention barracks, but I cannot possibly do so within the limits of this Clause. A sentence of detention may be served either in a detention barrack—and for the purposes of this Bill a corrective establishment would be a barrack—or in military custody, that is in a detention room. It is also possible and legal to have reciprocity with regard to detention barracks between the Services; an airman may serve a term in a military detention barrack, or a soldier in an Air Force detention barrack. That has been legal for some time, and is in fact occurring at the present moment. That, I think, disposes of most of what was said in the Debate.

This Clause simply extends the same reciprocity to the use of detention rooms. At present, a soldier serving a short sentence, such as may be served not in a detention barrack but in a detention room, or a soldier in transit or awaiting committal, must serve the sentence in military custody; and similarly an airman must do so in Air Force custody. All that this Clause does is to provide reciprocity between the Services. That is an obvious administrative convenience. It may happen that a soldier creates a disturbance in a public place, so that it is necessary to put him under detention; but there may not be a convenient place of military custody nearby, and in such circumstances he could be kept in Air Force custody; and conversely for an airman.

The hon. and gallant Member for Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) asked: Why this year in particular? There are, I think, two answers to that. First, as he will realise, the process of combing, if I may so term it, the Army Act is gone through every year, and we discover by experience that amendments made in the past make certain further consequential amendments desirable. This is merely a consequential amendment on the power taken some time ago for reciprocity in detention barracks. There is the further point, which links up with what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Ayrshire—[Laughter.] I am not quite sure whose pardon I should beg in these circumstances.

My hon. Friend made reference to women serving sentences of detention. If that should occur—and there is legal power to impose such a sentence—it would be only a short sentence such as would be served in a detention room. This fact drew our attention to the provision of detention rooms and the desirability of this reciprocity. All that is asked for is a convenient arrangement which will have no other effect than preventing the unnecessary provision of places of military or Air Force custody apart from barracks. I am sure my hon. Friend would not wish more accommodation than necessary to be used for this purpose, and what we are proposing effects an economy of accommodation. I am sure he would not wish to go down to history as an advocate of that profligate incarceration which we hope to avoid.

Was there any consultation with the Air Force or the Army before this Clause was introduced?

The hon. Member will see from the Title that this is always a Bill prepared in consultation between the two Ministries.

Supposing a woman is sentenced by court-martial to six months' detention, under the new Bill, where would she serve that sentence, and under what conditions?

She might serve it in a detention barrack or a detention room. The only point on this Clause is that it might be in an Air Force detention room or an Army detention room.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 and 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.