HC Deb 30 April 1823 vol 8 cc1437-42
Mr. Grey Bennet

rose, in pursuance of notice, to move for leave to bring in a bill to abolish Punishment by Whipping. He maintained, that this species of punishment was altogether inefficacious, and that it wanted two essential qualities which ought to belong to all penal inflictions. It neither operated as an example to deter others, nor had it any tendency to reform the offender. It was, in fact, the last relic of a barbarous system of punishments which it was high time to get rid of. He was ready to admit the necessity of some punishment for minor offences, and if there were no other which could be effectually substituted for that of whipping, he would not have brought forward the present motion. There was, however, a most effectual punishment, that of hard labour, which, while it operated with sufficient severity on the offender, neither degraded nor disgraced him, like the punishment of flogging, and which might have the effect of convincing him of the necessity of habits of industry. Not long since, the punishment by pillory had been repealed, and the abolition of flogging, as applied to females, had been carried almost by acclamation. It was a ready sacrifice to the good sense and good feeling of the country. The hon. gentleman challenged any man to produce an instance in which the punishment of whipping had done any thing but mischief. He had travelled over a great part of the country expressly for the purpose of obtaining information on this subject, and he had never met with a person who had the means of observing the effects produced by this punishment on offenders, who did not declare it to be a positive evil. It was a customary thing to say it was well to whip an incorrigible plough-boy; but he was convinced such a mode of punishment only tended to make him worse. He was therefore anxious to erase this blot from the Statute-book, and to substitute something more consistent with the enlightened system of jurisprudence which now prevailed. By the returns upon the table, it appeared that no less than 6,959 persons had been flogged for various offences within the last seven years, to the disgrace of the age in which we lived. The hon. gentleman concluded by stating some objections to the 20th Geo. 2nd, which enabled a single magistrate to commit a refractory servant to be flogged. He had known many instances where the guilty had escaped because magistrates were reluctant to subject them to such a degradation. The hon. member then moved, "That leave be given to bring in a bill to abolish punishment by whipping."

Mr. Curwen

seconded the motion.

Alderman C. Smith

maintained the expediency of whipping, and observed that there were many offenders who would rather be imprisoned twelve months, than undergo that salutary infliction.

The Attorney General

said, he was aware that any person who opposed such a measure as that which the hon. member had brought forward, would subject himself to the charge of want of humanity. He felt it his duty, however, to oppose the motion, because he was satisfied that the punishment of whipping was, in many cases, salutary, and that a sweeping abolition of it could not but be highly prejudicial. It might be advisable to do away; with this punishment in some particular cases; but to abolish it altogether would: be a very dangerous experiment. He should oppose the measure in this early stage of it, because, if the hon. member succeeded in obtaining leave to bring in the bill, magistrates might feel themselves fettered in the exercise of the power of awarding this punishment, before the bill was disposed of.

Mr. Lennard

observed, that the principle had been admitted in the abolition of the practice of whipping females, and he saw every reason for carrying it further. It was a punishment that must have different effects upon different minds, and might be slight or severe, according to the pleasure of the person inflicting it.

Mr. Dawson

saw no sufficient ground for the motion, and, if necessary, would take the sense of the House upon it. Without whipping, magistrates would not be able to compel subordination and discipline in prisons.

Mr. Hobhouse

denied that there was any statute by which magistrates were authorized to flog for the purpose of keeping up the discipline of prisons. Whipping was the sentence of a court; and, he believed, could not be inflicted without it. As to the private infliction of whipping, though it might be rendered less disgusting by that means, one of the great objects of punishment was the publicity of the example, and if we must have flogging, he should prefer the public to the private infliction of the punishment flogging in private was in fact a species of torture which the spirit of the English law did not justify. The more he considered the subject, the more he was convinced of the necessity of extending the provisions of the late act, which abolished flogging in respect to female offenders. If the house had judged it necessary to respect the decency of females, he did not see why they should not also respect the manliness of the other sex by abolishing this degrading punishment. A man once punished in this way lost all self respect. The frequent infliction of this punishment had tended greatly to degrade the character of our seamen; and our navy was well known to be supplied by a class of men, upon whose moral character and habits little reliance could be placed. He himself knew an instance of a commander of a ship, who was obliged to sleep every night with sentinels planted at the door of his cabin with loaded blunderbusses, and who assigned as a reason for the precaution, that his life was hi jeopardy, secant; that there was not a man on board his ship who had not been flogged. He trusted the House would see the necessity of abolishing a punishment, which was contrary to sound principles of penal legislation, as well as to common decency and humanity.

Mr. N. Calvert

thought the punishment required modification, but was not friendly to its total abolition. He saw no reason why, if flogging were abolished in prisons, it should not be abolished in schools. If it were true that it destroyed all self-respect, he believed he was surrounded by ninny gentlemen who could not have a particle of it remaining, from the many castigations they had endured in their youth.

Mr. S. Bourne

agreed that the punishment of whipping, in order to be salutary, ought to be public; but objected decidedly to the total discontinuance of it. He thought that, in the case of a hardened offender it was often attended with most beneficial effects.

Mr. J. Smith

approved of the principle of the motion. One argument had not been adverted to, which might be urged in support of the abolition. He alluded to the improved state of knowledge among the inferior classes of the people. As to flogging in public schools, it was much less frequently resorted to than it used to be.

Mr. Sumner

thought the introduction of the tread-mill would render the punishment of whipping in prisons less necessary. If the hon. member brought in his bill, he would recommend an exception with respect to juvenile offenders, to whose case the punishment of whipping was peculiarly adapted.

Sir I. Coffin

declared that, in the whole course of his naval experience, he had never heard of such a case as that mentioned by the hon. member for Westminster. He thought it impossible that the story could be well-founded. He had himself commanded the Melampus, during the late war, for fourteen months, and during the whole of' that period he had punished only one man.

Sir R. Heron

thought it was high time to abolish so degrading and unequal a punishment.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that all the information he had been able to collect on this subject led him to think that the abolition of the punishment of whipping for minor offences would be a dangerous experiment. If the principle of the hon. mover were well-founded, they ought not to stop here; but the punishment of flogging in public schools ought to be abolished by act of parliament. It was peculiarly incumbent upon those who advocated the necessity of mitigating the severity of the penal code, in respect to capital punishments, to beware of render- ing such an experiment-impracticable, by narrowing too much the scale of minor punishment. For his own part, he had always been friendly to the punishment of whipping, when exercised within salutary limits; and upon looking into the records in his own office, he had not been able to find a single instance of abuse for the last seven years. Solitary confinement was, in his opinion, a much more rigorous punishment, and one which was much more likely to break the spirit, than moderate whipping. There were some instances of offences in young delinquents of a nature so flagrant, that no other punishment seemed to have any effect upon them. He would notice but one, and that was the case of a youth of 14, who had been guilty of four thefts, even in the prison in which he was confined. He thought that, for the proper administration of justice, the continuation of the punishment was necessary.

Dr. Lushinglon

denied that the practice of flogging was necessary to discipline, either in our army or navy. He was convinced that where soldiers or sailors were subjected to it, their feelings became blunted, and their moral characters degenerated in proportion. The flogging at public schools proceeded upon a different principle; but there were instances in which, at public schools, the practice had been carried to a most improper excess. He objected to public whipping; it was a disgusting exhibition. And, in cases where floggings were privately inflicted, who was to superintend the punishment? The fact was, that its lightness or severity depended, almost entirely, upon the feeling or caprice of the gaoler.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, that in the gaol of Newgate, the punishment was always inflicted under the inspection of the sheriff or of a visiting magistrate.

Mr. Home Drummond

thought it impossible that the narrative of the hon member for Westminster could be correct. It could hardly have occurred without being noticed at the Admiralty.

Sir T. Baring

thought that boys might be whipped with less impropriety than men; and that though the punishment might tend to reclaim young delinquents it had no such effect on old ones.

Mr. Martin

of Galway, thought there were cases in which the continuance of this punishment might be desirable, although he thought the manner of inflicting it deserved to be inquired into.

Mr. Estcourt

thought, that, as the whole end of punishment was the deterring of others from crime, and as there could be no doubt that such was the tendency of the punishment of flogging, it ought not to be abolished. In the present state of prison discipline it was indispensable.

After a short reply from Mr. Bennet, the House divided: Ayes, 37. Noes, 70.

List of the Minority.
Baring, sir T. Maberly, J.
Bernal, Ralph Maberly, W. L.
Brougham, H. Monck, J. B.
Blake, sir F. Milbank, M.
Byng, G. Martin, R.
Caulfield, hon. H. Newport, sir J.
Corbett, P. Ricardo, D.
Cradock, col. Robinson, sir G.
Curwen, J. C. Rice, T. S.
Denman, T. Smith, J.
Fergusson, sir R. Smith, R.
Folkeston, lord Talbot, R. W.
Grant, J. P. Tulck, C. A.
Hume, J. Wood, alderman
Hornby, E. Williams, O.
Hutchinson, hon. H. Williams, O. jun.
Kemp, J. Wodehouse, E.
Lushington, S. TELLERS.
Leycester, R. Bennet, hon. H. G.
Lemiard, T. B. Hobhouse, J. C.