SECTION 154.

Question again proposed :—" That Section 154, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

I have had an opportunity since our last meeting of considering the objections raised to this section and of consulting our legal advisers. I may say that I still feel that, in connection with the more prevalent military offences, there should be specific provision in this Bill as distinct from the provisions of civil law ; and, having heard the relative portions of the Larceny Act, I also think that a simplified provision would be of the utmost assistance to all who have to deal with military crime. However, I do appreciate the force of the arguments which have been made against the section, and particularly the point that too great a departure from the terms of the Larceny Act might be objectionable. I hope, therefore, that it will meet the viewpoint of the Deputies who have spoken against the section and that they, on their part, will realise the desirability of some specific provisions in military law, if I say that at the Report Stage I am prepared to withdraw Sections 154 and 155 and to replace them by new sections somewhat on the following lines. First, I propose a section similar to Section 47 of the Act of 1923, which, incidentally, contained the word " stealing." This section would provide that every person subject to military law who, being charged with or concerned in the care and distribution of any public or service property steals, fraudulently converts or misapplies or embezzles that property, or is concerned in or connives at any such offence, shall be guilty of an offence against military law and be liable to penal servitude or a lesser punishment. I am advised that such a section, which deals with persons guilty of these offences in an official capacity, is absolutely necessary, particularly in relation to embezzlement.

I would then add a further section to the effect that any person subject to military law who steals, embezzles or receives, knowing it to have been stolen, any property belonging to a person subject to military law or any public or service property shall be guilty of an offence against military law, punishable by imprisonment or a lesser penalty. This will enable us to deal under military law with the more prevalent types of stealing and pilfering which are met with in Army life. For the purposes of both the sections I have mentioned, the word " stealing " would be defined as having the same meaning as it has for the purposes of the Larceny Act. I hope that Deputies will find this compromise satisfactory. It does not succeed in getting our Army officers altogether away from the intricacies of the Larceny Act but it does make the position somewhat easier. At the same time, it does, I think, substantially meet the objections which were advanced in the course of the debate.

I am very pleased with the decision of the Minister. A very good purpose has been served by the discussion we had here and the consideration given to it by the Minister and his advisers. While I should not like to say at the moment that I would accept in advance what the Minister says, I personally think there will not be any great difficulty about it when it comes up on Report. I am very pleased with the final part of what the Minister says, that for the purposes of this Act, stealing will mean exactly what it means in the Larceny Act, 1916.

It will be dealt with on Report Stage.

I think the Minister's decision is a very wise one. Everyone can appreciate the necessity for the provisions the Minister wants to put into the Bill but what we felt was objectionable or, rather, dangerous, was the duplication of two laws and the Minister has met that point fully. The Minister has first the problem of interference with State property and that is primarily what he has referred to in his last statement. That problem was provided for explicitly, to some extent, in the previous Act and, in principle, everyone will agree that the Minister should provide for it in this Act, subject to this qualification, that where words are used that have already a definite meaning in criminal law, it is desirable that they should have the same meaning in this Act.

The second type of case is that to which the Minister adverted on the previous day, the petty pilfering type of case. I do not know whether the Minister will find it necessary to make provision for that or whether he will leave it to the good old Section 68. If he finds that he should deal with petty pilfering as a military offence, I would strongly recommend that it be considered from the point of view of practice and law in regard to minor larcenies in the civil courts. It should not cause any great difficulty, and if there is something which the ordinary law does not cover and which the Minister thinks it desirable to cover—I will take the case the Minister mentioned on the pervious day as an example in a moment—if it is found necessary to cover such cases explicitly for military or disciplinary purposes, care should be taken not to give the complexion that this military offence, which is really a disciplinary matter, is equivalent to something which is a criminal offence in the ordinary law. It is a matter of wording. Take the case of the man who borrows another man's cap for a parade. Treat that rather as a question of discipline—he is guilty of a disciplinary offence but do not put it on the basis that he is a common thief. There is a distinction and I wonder would the Minister keep that in mind when drafting his new sections. Take the case of a man who loses an article of equipment of his own and who temporarily purloins an article of equipment of another soldier for a particular occasion as distinct from stealing it. That is clearly a case for military discipline and nobody will have any objection to the Minister covering it in his Act as making it subject to penalty, but it is obviously not on the same basis as the case of a person who takes some of my property in the civil sense of petty larceny.

The reason for the sanction in this Act would not be quite the same reason as in criminal law. I suggest that the Minister's advisers be careful in the choice of words. There could be no objection to covering such cases as that.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the Minister has considered this matter very sympathetically, and I think the Bill will be improved as a result.

We certainly will take note of the Chairman's remarks, but I should point out that in the case he has just made, which is a simple case, it is doubtful if it could even be called petty robbery, but it would give rise to another offence and another man would be " crimed " and come under the disciplinary code.

Therefore it is a matter of discipline and you have to cover it.

It becomes more serious when it involves another member of the Army in an offence for which he is not really responsible. I think we will be able to meet the views which you have put forward.

I am perfectly satisfied with the decision that has been taken in regard to this. It was undoubtedly a very difficult and a very thorny problem.

We will pass this section, then, on the understanding that the Minister will withdraw it on Report, and will replace it by a new one.

Section 154, as amended, agreed to.

Section 155 will also be passed under the same circumstances.

Section 155 agreed to.