HC Deb 11 March 1825 vol 12 cc999-1002

The House having resolved itself into a committee on this bill,

Mr. Sykes

rose to repeat his objections to the practice of flogging, so prevalent in our military service, and which was comparatively unknown in the armies of foreign nations. It had been argued, that the practice was necessary in the British service, because our army was recruited from the manufacturing districts, in which the habits of our people were immoral and irregular; but, for his part, he did not see that persons brought from those districts were more untractable than the average of the population. He would read a letter from a correspondent who stated, that he had met a soldier whom a guard was conducting to the hospital from his wounds in consequence of his having just received 300 lashes. He had heard the screams of another victim, who was also receiving 300 lashes, and of a third who had received a similar punishment. The writer also alluded to a soldier who had died of the punishment he had received. It was at least the duty of the House to see that this practice was not carried to so great an extent.

Colonel Johnstone

objected to the inequality of the present principle in its application. There were regiments in which 100 lashes were more than equal to 300 lashes as given in other regiments for similar offences.

Lord Palmerston

was not an advocate for corporal punishment, but was convinced that, to a certain degree, it was absolutely indispensable. Our army was recruited not by proscription, but by volunteers, which might account for the circumstance that the discipline of the French army was not so complete, and their punishment not so severe as ours. Every effort, consistent with the discipline of our forces, had been made, to decrease the amount of corporal punishment.

Mr. Hume

stated, that corporal punishment was unknown in the French army, and yet their discipline was so excellent that the duke of Wellington had held it up as an example to our own troops.

General Hope

stated, that the necessity of corporal punishment arose in a great measure from the practice in our army of drunkenness; but from the regulation adopted by the commander-in-chief, of paying men weekly, this source of offence would be greatly removed.

Captain Maberly

suggested the introduction of the tread-mill as a substitute for corporal punishment.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

thought this a fit opportunity of adverting to the practice of enlisting soldiers for life in the British army, whilst, in every other service, they were enlisted for a term of years. The arrangements of our army seemed to be harsh and unjust, in the same ratio that our civil institutions were otherwise. He thought this a grievous and crying evil; and one to which the House ought to give its immediate attention.

Lord Milton

said, he should not enter into the details which had been adverted to by the hon. member for Hull, or the last hon. member, but would once more protest against that which appeared to him to be the most objectionable of all; namely, the immense increase which it was this year proposed to make in our standing army. That increase had been hitherto wholly unaccounted for; the ground taken by the gallant member' for Southwark not being at all satisfactory, and, as far as he could judge from our relations abroad or our situation at home, wholly uncalled for. He was unable to see any danger in any quarter which could call for such an increase. With respect to what had been said as to the enlistment of soldiers for life, the hon. member for Newport was not probably in parliament when, nineteen years ago, that measure was moved in that House. He knew the quarter from which that measure then originated, and he would venture to say, that it was from the same quarter that the present increase proceeded—not from the administration generally, or the financial part of it, but solely from the military part of it. He was almost tempted to lament the present prosperity of the country, when he witnessed the purposes to which that prosperity was prostituted. He was quite sure that if the country gentlemen felt the same pressure of distress that they did some years ago, they would never consent to this military increase. From some cause or another, there had been always shown a strong disposition to increase the military force. Was it forgotten with what reluctance ministers consented to reduce the army to 60,000 men? Since then, half that number had been added, although no cause, either at home or abroad, had been referred to, to warrant it. In 1819, upon frivolous pretexts, the army was again increased; and now advantage was taken of the first moment of returning prosperity, to carry through the favourite project of an increase in the military. Surely ministers ought at least to give the country a moment to breathe after all its struggles. He did not object to the chancellor of the Exchequers system, because eventually the changes in the duties on wines, & c. would increase the revenue; but his reductions of the taxes were not such as would materially relieve the burthens of the people. Nor did he expect that the chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to relieve those burthens so long as these consecutive measures for the increase of the army were forced upon him.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

complained that the noble lord had made an allusion to some one as the secret author of the present propositions relative to the amount of the standing army; but he felt it incumbent upon him to say, that a more complete error had never been promulgated in that House. If any blame was to be attributed to the administration for the amount of that army, he was bound to avow himself as culpable as any one. The present military establishment was designed, not as substitute for the ancient mode of governing the people, but solely with a view to guard the empire against accidents, with respect to its foreign possessions.

Mr. Robertson

denied that any reason was to be found, either in the arguments of ministers or the state of Europe, to warrant any augmentation of the army.