HC Deb 10 March 1826 vol 14 cc1292-305

The House having resolved itself into a committee on the Mutiny bill,

Mr. Hume

rose for the purpose of submitting a clause for the abolition of a practice which had long existed in the army of this country—he meant the punishment of flogging the soldiery. He was aware that on this occasion he should have to encounter the prejudices of many hon. members who were officers in the army, and who, from being in the habit of witnessing such punishments frequently, did not entertain the same feelings of the propriety of its abolition that might be supposed to actuate other men. However; he did hope that they would give the subject a calm consideration, and if it should be made to appear that any other mode of punishment would be equally effectual, that they would consent to its abolition. The evil of flogging did not consist merely in the bodily torture inflicted on the individual who was thus punished; it had also the bad effect of rendering those who were obliged to witness such scenes more callous and indifferent lo their duties than before. It had precisely this effect upon the persons punished; and he might appeal to the ex- perience of those most acquainted with the army for the fact, that no man ever became a more diligent or a better soldier by the punishment of the whip. He was aware that a difference of opinion existed among many most respectable members of the military profession, on the subject of corporal punishment, and that many very humane individuals thought that the duty of the army could not be carried on without it; but he was happy to add, that there were also many highly distinguished officers who were of a different opinion, and who thought that, considering the modern improvements in the system of military discipline, corporal punishment might be dispensed with, not only without injury, but with great advantage to the service. He might, if he were disposed to go into detail, give many instances in illustration of his position, but he would confine himself to the mention of a few facts. In the Wurtemberg army, under the government of the late king, a system of discipline of a most severe and cruel kind had been carried on; but on the accession of the present king, an end was put to that system, and he had been informed by an officer that under the old system the men became worse by flogging; but the moment the punishment of the lash was abolished, so far from there being an increase of crime, the soldiers seemed to emulate with one another in avoiding every kind of punishment. He might be asked, if flogging were abolished, what kind of punishment ought to be substituted? He did not know what was the particular practice of the French army in this respect, though he was informed that in several regiments in that service flogging was not practised; but he would state that in Wurtemberg there were two regiments to which men were draughted who had been punished twice or more in their own regiments. Another regiment was appointed to receive those who had been punished only once. This system, which made it disgraceful for a man to be punished even slightly, and therefore unfit to remain longer in the same regiment with his former associates in arms, was, he was informed, found quite effectual in keeping up the discipline of the army in that country. Was it not, then, worth while that some attempt of the kind should be made with respect to our army, whose general system in other respects, and in that of flogging also, had been considerably improved? Adverting to the alterations which, so creditably to himself, had been proposed in our criminal code by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and considering the intended amelioration of the system practised towards our colonial negroes, which had been mentioned by the hon. colonial secretary, was it not monstrous that we should still keep Englishmen in constant fear of the lash, and hold that they could be kept to their duty only by that cruel species of punishment? The House were told that the whip, as a stimulus to labour, was to be discontinued in our West-India colonies. Upon what principle was it that it should not also be withdrawn as a punishment from our own fellow citizens? Never did a better opportunity occur for giving the subject a fair trial than the present. We were now in a time of profound peace, and no danger could arise to the general discipline of our army from making the trial. He was not disposed to carry the experiment too far at first; and therefore, in the resolution which he would submit, he would limit the suppression of flogging to regiments in the United Kingdom. In the colonies, the present system might be continued until it was ascertained how far the suppression could be made effectual at home. He would also limit his resolution to a time of peace, so that if a war were to break out unexpectedly, resort might be had to the old system, if necessary. Thus no possible danger could occur from the trial. From every thing which was now passing around us; from the improvements about to take place in our criminal code at home; from the change contemplated in the condition of our colonial slaves, he thought the time was arrived when an end should be put to all those cruel exhibitions of corporal punishment, which tended only to harrow the feelings of those who witnessed them, without being effectual in reforming the unhappy persons who were thus punished. Humanity called upon us to make the trial, and there could, he thought, be little doubt that it would be successful. At all events, now was the time when it could be made with the least risk of danger. He would submit two resolutions on this subject. The first would go to the abolition of flogging; and by the second another mode of punishment would be proposed for crimes to which flogging was now applied. The first resolution was to this effect:—"And be it farther exacted, that from and after the passing of this act, it shall not be lawful to punish any soldier in the United Kingdom, in time of peace, by the infliction of any lash or stripe, any usage or practice heretofore to the contrary notwithstanding." The second resolution was, "And be it further enacted, that if any soldier shall be convicted of petty thefts, or frequent desertions, or other crimes heretofore punishable by flogging, it shall be in the power of his majesty, and he is hereby empowered, to transfer the services of such soldier to any regiment serving in Africa, or any other of his majesty's foreign possessions." [A member here observed, that his majesty already possessed the power mentioned in the second clause.] Well, then, the second clause would be unnecessary, but the principle of the first was not affected by that fact. The House was not without an example of the abolition of flogging in a country, without being productive of any dangerous effect upon the military discipline of that country. In America, the punishment of flogging was abolished, and that, too, at a time when she was engaged in a war. On the 16th of May 1812, a clause was introduced into a bill then before congress, enacting, that so much of the law theretofore in force, as authorized the punishment of any soldier by any lashes or stripes, should be repealed. This was carried, and in a time of war, without producing any bad effect in the discipline of their army. On the contrary that discipline was kept up in a more effectual manner than before.

Mr. J. Smith

said, that he did not think the present moment a proper one for the discussion of a question of such vast importance. The principle of the resolutions he concurred in to its full extent, and would continue to support, as long as he had a seat in that House. But he did think that, instead of being thus introduced, the question should be made the subject of a specific motion, as it had been when formerly introduced by an hon. baronet (sir F. Burdett), whom he did not then see in his place, and to whose humane exertions might be attributed the improvement which had already been made in our military discipline on this point. If a specific motion were made on the subject, the whole of the facts connected with it might be brought before the House in detail; and then he thought it would be made apparent, that throughout the whole of Europe there was a gradual abandonment of cruel bodily punishments; and he believed it would be seen, that England was now; almost the only civilized government, under which this species of torture was inflicted—at least that we had not made the same progress as other nations in its abolition. He did not intend at that late hour to enter into any lengthened statements on this subject, to which he might be disposed if the subjects were brought more fully before the House. He would, however, mention one of many cases within his knowledge. He was acquainted with an officer who had, for a considerable time, the command of a troop of dragoons, and who, during the whole period of their being under his orders, never brought a man to corporal punishment. The only punishment inflicted on any of them, was confinement of a few days. This gentleman was one who had the command of his temper and passions—who watched his men narrowly, and thus became acquainted with their habits and dispositions; and, so effective was his adaptation of even the slight punishment he had mentioned, that on an inspection by a general officer, that troop received great praise for its discipline and good conduct, while other troops towards whom a more rigorous system had been applied, were censured for deficiency in both. But examples of this kind would be endless It was admitted by officers of all ranks, that the soldier who was once brought to the halbert, was more likely to be brought to it a second time, than he who had never been subjected to that disgraceful punishment. This general principle was not applicable to the army only. In the history of the proceedings at the Old Bailey it would be found, that those who were once subjected to corporal punishment by the whip were in general found to be subjected to it a second time. Then if this practice was not found effectual for reform, which ought to be the object of every species of punishment less than capital, was not the legislature bound to abolish it, and substitute one more effectual? It was pretty well known, that by such public exhibition of severe corporal punishments, the feelings of the spectators became enlisted on the side of the sufferer, and that in their compassion for the man they lost all recollection of his crime. He agreed with the hon. member, that the present was peculiarly favourable for an alteration in our code of punishment, and particularly for the abolition of military flogging. All the other nations of Europe were rapidly getting rid of their systems of bodily torture. He did not know the extent to which France had carried her improvements in military discipline on this point; but there was no question that her general code of corporal punishments had been most beneficially altered. Would she now tolerate such tortures as those inflicted on Ravillac and Damien? They had, he thought, seen too much of the infliction of cruelties to be disposed ever to wish for their revival. He had, not very long back, witnessed many disgraceful and cruel exhibitions of men publicly whipped at the cart's tail through the streets. Such disgusting scenes were now in a great measure discontinued, and he hoped that the Secretary for the Home Department, who had undertaken the greatest and most important work which had ever occupied the attention of a statesman—that of effecting a reform in our criminal code—would apply his intelligent mind to the consideration of the important question, how far severe corporal punishments were effectual for the prevention of crime? He repeated his regret, that this question had not been made the subject of a specific motion. If it had, he could stale many instances of officers who would be prepared to give it as their opinion, that when the system of severe punishment was more practised than it was at present, it invariably happened that the battalions in which the most men were punished were the least efficient. Whatever might be the result of the motion, he did hope that if he lived five years longer, he should see an end put to this system altogether. It was said, that a man who was made a slave lost half his merits; and it might be added, that the soldier who was flogged lost all.

Sir R. Fergusson

suggested, that the chairman should report progress, and the hon. member might bring on his motion at a future day, on bringing up the report.

Sir J. Brydges

gave his entire concurrence to tile-resolutions; because he was convinced that the system of flogging in the army was improper, and ought to be abolished. It was improper, because every man knew that honour was the essence of a soldier's profession; and when he was disgraced, by being subjected to such punishment, he considered his honour tarnished, and was no longer capable of any heroic feeling. He also objected to it, because it did not answer the end designed; for it left the soldier dejected and callous, and generally almost incapable of future improvement. In the present improved situation of the army, flogging might be done away with, without the slightest risk of danger to the service. He therefore entreated the committee to accede to the proposition, and grant that boon to the army which its invaluable services so well merited.

Sir G. Murray

thought it rather unfair in the hon. member for Aberdeen to charge officers with want of feeling, because they were frequently obliged to witness the infliction of corporal punishments. No class of men, he would assert, were more alive to feelings of compassion. He did not deny the statement of the hon. member (Mr. J. Smith), that such feelings as he had described might be called forth from a mob witnessing a punishment. It was impossible not to have feelings of compassion, in seeing a fellow-man suffer; but it was one thing to have those feelings, and another to legislate on them. It would be inconsistent with sound policy to legislate on such feelings alone; and, in looking to military punishment, it should be considered whether the discipline of the army could be kept up without them. He was no friend to severe punishment of any kind; but he did think that the power of inflicting corporal punishment was necessary to the discipline of an army. He knew of no instance of any army, ancient or modern, without similar punishments. They were in use in the Roman army, and it would not be denied that they were kept in the highest state of discipline. It was not a fact, as the hon. member had stated, that the punishment of flogging was altogether abolished in America. But suppose it were so, what comparison was there between an army of 6,000 men, scattered over the immense surface of that country, and the extensive army kept up in this? The regulations of the two armies might be extremely different, and, at the same time, be applicable to the circumstances of the country. America did not want a standing army. What power would invade America? Her power was derived from a force of another description, and, the state of discipline of her troops would be wholly inapplicable to this country. With respect to the army in France, he could say nothing of the system now kept up; but it was well known that before the present dynasty returned to the throne of that country, a system of discipline of the most severe description was kept up amongst the French troops; and that under the power of that period there was a most wasteful sacrifice of human life. As to the Wurtemberg army, though he had seen them, he could say nothing as to the discipline by which that force was now governed; but he could give the House some information on the subject of the discipline observed in the armies of other powers on the continent. He had received a letter from a gentleman who was well acquainted With the regulations of the Prussian, Saxon, and Hanoverian armies, and with the leave of the House, he would read some extracts. In the Prussian army the punishment of the cane was universal and arbitrary; but the constitution of that army was essentially different from that of the English military force; for there every man Was obliged to serve. A soldier, on entering, belonged to what was called the first class, in which he was exempted from corporal punishment. But if he violated the military law on certain points, he was transferred to the second class, in which corporal punishment might be inflicted; but it did not necessarily expose him to such punishment, although it sometimes happened that the transfer and the punishment were made at the same time. The punishment of the cane was, at all times, inflicted by non-commissioned officers, and in secret. Would the hon. member wish to see such a system of secret flogging adopted in our army? Another regulation was, that only forty stripes could be inflicted without the sentence of a court-martial. Would the hon. member desire to see an arbitrary system of this kind adopted in the British army? The extracts then went on to detail the other species of punishment to which the Prussian soldiers were liable. There was that of confinement. This was of several sorts: first, sending a man to the guard-room, or for a short time to Solitary confinement. The second was to solitary confinement, on bread and water, and a forfeiture of pay; and there was another species of confinement in which the prisoner was not permitted to lie down. Was the hon. member aware of these facts when he stated that torture was abolished in foreign armies? Another species of punishment was, the criminal was fastened to a tree, or to a wall, with his face turned towards it, and continued in that posture for a considerable period without being permitted to lie down. This was an outline of the discipline in the Prussian service; and, be it observed, this was described as the mildest military service on the continent.—He would now state some points as to the discipline of the Saxon army. The highest punishment was shooting; but in many cases, after death the body was delivered over to the common hangman to be stretched upon the rack. There were, besides, several degrees of punishment by confinement, solitary confinement—sometimes with the addition of being fed on bread and water—sometimes confined with leg-irons of 32 lb. weight; and after the infliction of this punishment a second time, the man was declared altogether unworthy of being allowed to remain in the army. Another description of punishment was—a soldier was kept in solitary confinement, in chains, in a cell, without bed or bedding, and frequently in a position called crouching; that was, the body was bent forward, by the hands and feet being fastened together, so that the party could not, while in that state, lie down. Was not that torture? The longest period during which this punishment might be inflicted at frequent intervals, was eight months; but in some cases it was limited to six. The gallant general next proceeded to contrast the military punishments of Hanover with those of this country, and to show from such contrast that the former were full as severe as the latter. He conceived that these statements would serve to confute the assertion, that other nations were more mild than we were in their military punishments, and that there had been an abandonment of torture in all nations except in England. As to the proposal, that the system of flogging should be relinquished in this country, and retained in our colonies, he thought such a regulation would be highly unjust, and attended with the most pernicious consequences. It was, in his opinion, the liability which a soldier was under to be sent to any part of the globe, and to encounter every variety of clime and disease, which mainly contributed to raise our military service to the high eminence it had attained; he also considered the continual interchange of troops of very great advantage to the service. The empire was not confined to the three kingdoms; there were limbs and members of it in every quarter of the globe; and surely it would form a very inconvenient and invidious distinction to have one system of discipline for our troops at home, and another for those Stationed abroad. It had been said that this was a boon for the army; if it were so, he must, as far as he was connected with the army, beg leave to reject it. It was to our discipline that we owed all our military honour; it was not the arms or dress of our army, but its discipline which rendered it useful to its country, and feared by its neighbours; but if he had had no other reason for rejecting this boon, as it was termed, he must confess that when he considered the quarter whence it was offered, he felt but little disposed to accept it. It was somewhat strange to find the same individuals coming forward to present a boon to that army, which they had not long ago stigmatized as a mere engine in the hands of ministers, to be applied towards the destruction of our liberties. For his part, he was fearful of accepting any thing, in the way of gift, from that hand which had attempted "with desperate hook" to cut down the military glory of the country—to deprive the army of the means of education for those who were to fill its future ranks—and to take from the veteran the well-earned reward of his toils and perils. When he found boons offered from such a quarter, he could not help exclaiming with the poet—"Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes."

Sir R. Wilson

said, he would not enter into any particular exemplification of a painful nature; but he would state generally, that his experience left no doubt on his mind, that the sort of punishment under discussion was one which ought to be abolished. It continued to exist in our military code, though every other power in Europe had rejected it. No such punishment was known in France, nor in many parts of Germany; nor in any shape similar to our own, even in Austria. In Holland it was completely abolished. The king of the Netherlands, on his return to that country, confirmed a decree previously issued for its abolition, and it had not since been re-introduced. The abolition had been attended with no prejudice whatever to the military service of that country. The gallant general had adverted to the great waste of human life which had taken place in France during the reign of its late emperor. He believed this had been very much exaggerated. We had before us a recent instance where the French army maintained the greatest propriety of conduct, under circumstances calculated to produce great disorders—he alluded to the late invasion of Spain, on which occasion he believed no irregularities had been committed which could in any way disparage the discipline of that army. The gallant general had also drawn an analogy between the English and Roman armies, and seemed to think that both of them owed their courage to the system of flogging which prevailed in them; but he would ask, where was ever a more cruel people than the Romans? What atrocities were they not in the habit of committing on their slaves? On one occasion, where a murder had been committed by a single slave, 650 were consigned to instant execution, as an atonement for it. Was this the description of people to whom we ought to be anxious to compare ourselves? The gallant general had spoken of the cane being used by other powers as an instrument of punishment; but was there any analogy between a cane and a cat-o'-nine-tails?—was there any similarity in punishment between striking a man who had his clothes on with a cane, and flogging a man's naked back with an instrument calculated to tear his skin and flesh from his bones.' The gallant general had alluded to a punishment abroad, which prevented the offender from reposing; but he should like to know what kind of repose one of our soldiers enjoyed after he had received eight or nine hundred lashes. If flogging were abolished in our army, it would soon be composed of a different description of persons. In consequence of the prevalence of this system, our soldiers were at present frequently the outcasts of society, who had adopted this profession because they were neither fitted for, nor could get admitted into, any other: whereas, let corporal punishments be done away with, and then farmers' sons would have no reluctance in entering into the army; which they were now deterred from doing through fear that they might thereby be subjected to a punishment which would disgrace them during life. Indeed, it formed the chief objection to this system of punishment, that it degraded the moral character,; and that it vilified the individual who had been subjected to it to the last day of his life. He was convinced, that after this experiment had been tried for twelve months, there would be no complaints from officers, that they found any difficulty in controlling their men without having recourse to flogging.

Mr. W. Smith

said, he perfectly coincided with his gallant friend, that it was the nature of the punishment and not the severity of it, which was to be objected to. He thought some other mode might be devised equally effectual; such as stoppage of pay or provisions; at any rate, any expedient was preferable to flogging. There might be some few individuals in the army of such base and callous minds, that nothing but flogging could have any effect upon them; but it was neither just nor proper, that in order to meet these few peculiar cases, the comfort and credit of the whole army should be sacrificed.

Sir F. Blake

deprecated the infliction of corporal punishment.

Colonel Johnson

said, that the whole argument of the gallant general opposite, went to prove, that the chief good to be derived from the soldier must first be flogged into him. For his own part, he thought that if commanders would only contrive to command their own tempers, there would be but little recourse to that disgraceful, unnecessary, and detestable punishment,

Lord Palmerston

said, he did not wish to put the question on unfair grounds, lie was ready to admit, that whenever punishment was accompanied with ignominy it must necessarily have the effect of hardening the offender; but he conceived that the doing away with this punishment would have the effect of introducing other and greater evils. There was something in the constitution of an army which required some stronger and more speedy power to control it, than was necessary for the regulation of a mere civil body. Indeed, the history of every age and. country showed this; and he would assert without fear of contradiction, that corppral punishment had prevailed in every army which had ever existed; and whether that punishment was administered with a cane or with a lash, did not seem to him to make much difference; at least with regard to the ignominy of it, urtjlch1 appeared to be the greatest objection been raised against it. He could assure the House, that a dispo- sition existed in the highest quarter to have recourse to corporal punishment as seldom as possible; and when, from the returns made to the commander-in-chief, it appeared that corporal punishment had been frequently inflicted in a regiment, the conclusion which he universally drew from it was, that the officers had been remiss in their duty. The argument of his gallant friend had been totally misrepresented, when it was imputed to him that he had ascribed the courage of the Roman and English armies to the system of flogging which prevailed in them. When it was considered that our army was raised by voluntary enlistment and not by conscription, it would be readily conceived that there must necessarily be no small difficulty in controlling a body of such different tempers and habits. He looked upon the proposition of the hon. member for Aberdeen, for confining the system of flogging to the troops employed in our colonies, and abolishing it at home, as highly objectionable, and he would conclude by re-assuring the House, that there existed a very strong disposition in the high quarter which had the direction of the army, to mitigate corporal punishment, as far as it could be mitigated, with a due regard to the maintenance of proper discipline in the army.

Sir R. Fergusson

said, he was convinced from the speech which the noble lord had just made, that he agreed in opinion with his hon. friend who had brought forward this motion, though in his situation it might not be prudent to avow it. The analogy which a gallant general had endeavoured to draw between the soldiers of foreign powers and our own army ought not to be permitted for a single moment. The former were the subjects of despotic powers; the latter were the subjects of a free state. As far as his own personal experience went, he had always observed, that the best discipline was preserved in those regiments where corporal punishment was least frequently inflicted. From this he inferred, that whilst regiments were employed on home service, their discipline could be maintained without having recourse to the whip, or the cat-o'-nine-tails.

General Townshend

observed, that having been in the performance of regimental duty for thirty years, he might be permitted to say, that he brought at least the benefit of experience to this question. Corporal punishments had formerly been very prevalent in the regiment of Guards to which he had the honour to belong; but he was happy to say, that of late the frequency of its infliction had much diminished. He was, however, of opinion that gentlemen were much mistaken who thought that the discipline of the army could be maintained without corporal punishment.

The committee divided. For the clause 47; Against it 99; majority 52;