§ On the order of the day for the third reading of this bill,
§ Mr. Leycester
observed, that, after three nights' consultation with his pillow, he had hoped the noble Secretary at War would have come down with the announcement, that he had abandoned the barbarous clause in this bill, for the infliction of Corporal Punishment. That barbarous practice showed to what loathsome habits the human mind might bring itself—how even the natural feelings might be chained under the influence of custom. If this practice were now to be commenced, the man who should propose it would meet with universal reprobation: and why was that which was too bad to be begun, not too bad to be continued? This cruel code was justified, upon the principle of necessity; but where was the paramount, the over-ruling, necessity for the practice of flogging? It was proved not to be necessary, by the diminution of the practice in the British army, by its non-existence in the continental armies, and in our own volunteer corps, which were not made of the most pliable materials. But he would not trust professional men with the decision upon the moral expediency of professional rules. He would rather refer to the tribunal of common sense, by which tribunal, he was sure the practice would be pronounced a curse to him who suffered, a torment to him who inflicted, unworthy of oar gallant army, and a stain upon the character of Great Britain. At all events, a tribunal ought to give the benefit of 1124 its doubt on the side of mercy. It was, he thought, miserable to continue thus, going on upon speculation and guess-work, when the country might resort to the in-fallible test of experience. Under those, considerations, and because he was fully convinced that the abolition of this ancient abuse would render soldiers more, attached to the service, he would move, that a clause be brought up to rescind the provisions, for the infliction of Corporal Punishment in the British Army.
§ Mr. J. Smith
said, that he should make a few observations, in consequence of facts, which had come to his knowledge, and which added to the distrust he had always entertained of the efficacy of corporal punishment. Indeed, he much doubted, whether punishment inflicted on the body ever caused the reform of persons addicted to, crime; and his opinion had been confirmed, by the circumstances which he should state. In the month of September last, he happened to be detained three weeks in a garrison town in France; and, during that period, he had an opportunity of examining minutely and accurately, the way in which five thousand five hundred French soldiers were kept in order, and he would assert, that their discipline and conduct were in no respect inferior, and in some things, probably, superior, to our own. No French soldier ever was subjected to a blow: it was considered a dishonour, to both the party who gave, and him who suffered, such an indignity; and, without noticing what some persons thought of the necessity of recourse being had to such a mode of punishment, he, was of opinion, that there was no sentiment which it was more desirable to impress upon, a soldier, than the principle, that a blow was a disgrace. The punishments inflicted in the French army were: confinement, hard labour, and privation; and it was unquestionable, that punishments like those could not have the effect of making a man a worse soldier than before, while the infliction of corporal punishment was almost certain to do so. In support of that fact, the hon. member stated a conversation which he, had had with a respectable and intelligent individual, the governor of a prison, respecting, the result of those corporal punishment inflicted every five or six weeks after the sessions; and it appeared, that the greater, part of those who suffered those punishments, came again into his custody, with in 1125 a twelve-month. Several gallant officers who had spoken upon this subject said, that the discipline of the English army would be destroyed, if corporal punishment was not preserved, and seemed to treat the objections made to it with some degree of scorn. They could not, however, justly do so, until they had ascertained whether there were not other punishments which would be sufficient. He did not know whether the British army afforded such conveniences for solitary confinement as existed in the French service. He had the opinion of a gallant officer who had served in the four quarters of the globe, that these corporal punishments were highly objectionable. Neither was that officer's opinion unsupported by experience; for he had commanded two troops of dragoons, for the space of two years, without ever having had recourse to flogging. It happened that, during the period of that officer's command, there was one individual whom he feared he should be obliged to send to head-quarters; but, on the day fixed for that purpose, a petition was presented from the men, stating, that the detachment had been for two years without any corporal punishment, and that they felt acutely that any one belonging to it should so suffer; they implored that the offender might be pardoned, and hoped that they, themselves, would be able to keep him in order. The officer complied, and the man sinned no more, ft might, perhaps, be imagined, that these troops were, in consequence of this treatment, badly disciplined and instructed; but, on the contrary, upon inspection they were declared to be the best in the regiment. He would not have alluded to this, only to show how an officer had succeeded in instilling into his men that best of feelings, the wish to avoid disgrace.
§ Lord Nugent
agreed with his hon. friend in the view he had taken of the system of flogging, and was sure that, if a proposition for its adoption were now before the House for the first time, it would not be agreed to. The only difference at present between the advocates and the opponents of the system was, whether a course equally beneficial could be substituted for that now in operation. He had heard of a correspondence which had passed about eleven or twelve years ago, between the lieutenant-governor of Gibraltar and the deputy inspector of hospitals there, and the consequence was, that from that period flogging had been disused in that garrison.
said, he had the other night expressed a wish to see a clause in the bill, making it necessary that the persons composing a court-martial should be unanimous previous to its passing any sentence. The noble Secretary at War had objected, that any factious subaltern might then, in order to acquire popularity, prevent any corporal punishment from being inflicted in the regiment. He did not know how it could be reconciled, that one out of five on a court-martial, should not prevent a sentence, seeing that twelve men were required to be unanimous in our courts, before the slightest punishment could be inflicted. The improvement he proposed was only a palliative; and, perhaps, it would not be wise to attempt a reform in what was radically bad. He had attentively listened to what had fallen from the gallant officers in the army on this subject; but, the only reason they gave for defending it, that he could discover, was that it ought to be continued because it had existed. But this, he thought, was bad reasoning, and not such as should induce the House to continue such a degradation on our brave defenders. He had heard an officer say, that in this regiment some of the men were brought out so frequently to be flogged, that they were known by the name of the flogging-blocks; and this circumstance demonstrated that, so far from flogging making them better soldiers or men, no good could be derived from it; and as no benefit resulted from the revolting custom, it ought to be abolished as being a national disgrace, and as placing our army in its discipline and honour second to that of France. He was glad to find the question brought before the House whenever an occasion presented itself; but he would rather that some regular motion had been made respecting it; and he hoped that no session would be suffered to pass away, without some effort being made to relieve the soldier from this abominable punishment.
Sir John Sebright
said, he was ready to take his share of the unpopularity which might be attached to supporting the practice complained of. He had been in the army in the early part of his life, and from his knowledge of the military service, it was his opinion that the system ought to be upheld. He was fully impressed with the belief, that the excellent discipline that now prevailed in the army was in a great measure to be attributed to the 1127 coercion which had been adopted; as, by removing that want of discipline which had previously existed, it had produced a happiness to the soldier to which he was before a stranger. It would be asked how this could happen? The answer was—because every man in the army understood discipline better, and was less liable to disobey orders. On the subject of courts-martial, he must beg to make a few observations, as he too had had some experience in these matters. They could, he might say with justice, be termed paternal or domestic tribunals; for in all cases the commanding officer had the power of dispensing mercy in his hands, and was ever ready to exercise it, when there was occasion for his interference. The whole system was, in his opinion, excellent; and though he might incur public odium by so doing, he should always feel it a duty to give it his sanction and support.
§ Sir A. Hope
wished much, that a regular motion had been brought forward for the discussion of this question, as these desultory conversations unsettled men's minds, and prevented them from coming to a proper conclusion. It had been well remarked by the lion, baronet who spoke last, that in the system which was now acted upon, corporal punishment contributed to the happiness of the soldiers. If it were to be considered as a question of feeling, it certainly was one more particularly so to officers of the army, than to visionary philanthropists, who had no opportunity of judging of the necessity which might exist for it. He would say, that if, in the paternal government of the army, and what was properly called, the family trial of a court-martial, where he who passed the sentence did so upon oath, and where the commanding officer, who had the power of mercy to alter that sentence, found himself obliged to inflict this punishment, no one could imagine, that such a punishment would be wantonly inflicted.
§ Colonel Trench
said, that one point in the present discussion appeared to have been untouched by the hon. members who had addressed the House. They seemed totally to have lost sight of the fact, that much flogging existed independent of what took place in the army; and yet a thought of complaining against it to the legislature never entered the head of any man. What distinction, he would ask, 1128 existed between flogging a boy of sixteen: at school, and flogging a soldier of sixteen in the army? Where was the difference between inflicting corporal punishment upon the back of a soldier, who had been convicted of a flagrant offence, and whipping on some other part of the body of a-school-boy, who had been accused of some petty delinquency? He thought that the agitation of this question was productive of infinite mischief. It had the worst effects upon the minds of the soldiers; and he sincerely hoped that the House would now, at once, deliberate upon it, and set the question at rest for ever.
§ The bill was then read a third time.
§ Mr. Leycester
in proposing a clause to-prevent corporal punishment in the army, said, that whether or not a discussion on the present shameful system produced agitation in the minds of the soldiers, he cared not. He should always raise his voice against flogging soldiers. The clause which he proposed was intended as an experiment; and if it was found on trial not to be beneficial, it would be easy hereafter to get rid of it. It had been observed by a right hon. gentleman on the other side of the House, on a former night, that "where there was a will there was a way." Now, he begged to use the same expression in reference to the abolishing of flogging; and he really conceived it high time that something should be done with a view of obtaining what appeared to him so highly desirable.
would ask, what the Turk said to produce submission? "Use the bastinado," was the reply. And what said the colonial cultivator? That the lash could not be dispensed with—as if the circumstance of a man being born with a dark instead of a white skin could prevent his cultivating the soil in the same manner as the European did. The hon. member for Hertfordshire had uttered, language in reference to the subject of flaggellation, which he never expected to have heard from him. He never imagined. 1129 that his hon. friend would have advocated the cause of flogging in the government of men; seeing that he was strenuous in discountenancing the flogging of horses and dogs. He would say, "not only do not flog dogs and horses, but flog not at all: appeal not to the backs of men, but to their reason."
§ Mr. Hume
said, it was in vain to expect that military men would put an end to flagellation. Would the slave-trade have ever been abolished if the interests of those engaged in it had been listened to? It was hopeless to anticipate that any great reform in the laws would proceed from lawyers; so likewise was it hopeless to expect that officers would abolish corporal punishment. He was anxious to have the trial made by way of experiment, whether or not corporal punishment could not be entirely abolished.—With respect to England, it was an experiment; but in America, and in the greater part of Europe, it was no experiment, seeing that flogging the soldier had been done away some years. It was said that the discipline of the army required that odious punishment. The king of Wirtemberg had abolished corporal punishment in his army, and substituted in its stead solitary confinement. Flogging in the navy, he was sorry to observe, was quite as much encouraged as in the army. Having alluded to America, as an instance of a country that had abolished that digraceful mode of punishment, he would, with the permission of the House, refer to an act of Congress, passed in 1812, in which the laws that permitted flogging were repealed. The hon. member then read an extract from the Act to that effect. The noble Secretary at War had himself admitted, a few nights back, that corporal punishment in the British army would have been dispensed with if possible. The late duke of York, who carried the army to the extent of improvement which it now held, was no friend to corporal punishment; for in regiments where flogging was carried to a vast extent, he stopped promotion. The power of flogging ought to be taken from individuals by that House. There were regiments in which, from one year to another, a corporal punishment did not take place; and he would take leave to ask, if insubordination prevailed in consequence? But it was urged, that circumstances might arise in which, unless the power of flogging was permitted, 1130 great inconvenience would be sustained. In the vicinity of an enemy, or in a foreign country, this power, it was insisted, could never be dispensed with. It was said, that it was a species of coercion which, if set aside, would cause great risk to the discipline of the army. Now, his object was, to have the experiment tried on the troops serving at home. During the last discussion upon this bill, it was urged, that there was a necessity for corporal punishment, if it was intended to keep the army in a state of discipline. Necessity was always the tyrant's plea. Sure he was, that the character of the common soldier would be raised if flogging were abolished. It was remarked that there was no degradation in the punishment, and that instances of promotion had occurred in soldiers who had suffered under the lash. This might be the case in a few solitary instances, but he was persuaded that out of every hundred men who had that shameful and degrading punishment inflicted upon them, not more than one in that number was promoted. He (Mr. Hume) was desirous that discipline should be maintained in the army, but in enforcing that, the most humane course ought to be had recourse to. He should give his support to the clause.
§ Mr. Leycester
then brought up the clause to this effect:—"That it shall not be lawful, after the passing of this Act, to enforce Corporal Punishment on any Soldier, by the sentence of any Court-martial, within the United Kingdom."
said, that from his knowledge of military affairs, he should certainly oppose the adoption of the clause just submitted for the consideration of the House; being convinced that for the preservation of the discipline of the army, it was essential to have recourse to corporal punishment. If soldiers knew that it was abolished, much evil would follow. Much had been said about the government of foreign armies; and it was insisted that they were not subject to corporal punishment. If they had not flogging, soldiers who, in our army, were subject to that mode of punishment, were, in other countries subject to death for the same offence. In such a case, if a soldier had his choice, would he not prefer receiving the lash to being deprived of life? In conclusion, the gallant officer said, that he perfectly concurred in what had fallen from his hon. friend the member for Hertfordshire.
§ Sir Robert Wilson
was surprised that it should have been said by any hon. member, that the happiness of the soldier was connected with the maintenance of the present system, as far as it regarded corporal punishment. He could not conceive it possible that any British soldier could have a mind so constituted—his feelings so much at variance with the opinions of nearly all mankind—as to approve of that degrading system of punishment. Every soldier on the continent hailed with delight the abolition of that wretched system, by which man was degraded to the level of the brute—as an act of justice rendered the army by the respective sovereigns. Neither could he coincide with what had been remarked respecting the punishment which boys underwent at schools, as compared with that of flogging soldiers. The two cases were not similar. Nevertheless, he suspected, that when the boy assumed the gown, he would object to such a punishment being inflicted. The gallant officer had observed, that under the present system, as the army was constituted, it was necessary to have recourse to corporal punishment; soldiers being too frequently reckless of character. But wherefore was this so? The fault was in the system. It prevented men of character from entering the army as private soldiers. That very morning he had seen a publication which was written by a common soldier—but, by the way, although the work was written by one in that humble station, it evinced no common mind. The writer spoke of the necessity of officers correcting and preventing the irregularities of the soldiers, not by modes of terror, but by assiduous attention to them—by pointing out the evils which would result from a vicious course. "If this plan were followed," observed the writer, "then the necessity of corporal punishment would be prevented." An instance never occurred within his experience, in which a soldier who had suffered that degrading punishment became a better man; but, on the contrary, the man thus treated was always worse for the punishment, and in many instances became a thorough reprobate. When he had the command of a Lusitanian corps—a description of men, that at one time did not possess any very extraordinary character for discipline—in this corps, however, during the time he had the honour of commanding it, not a single instance of 1132 corporal punishment was put into execution. They behaved in such a manner too, when under his command in the field, as not only brought honour upon themselves, but credit upon himself. Those troops were never once guilty of an act of violence, nor was there any desertion among them. He had read that day, in a Jamaica newspaper, a report of the speeches in an assembly in that island, in which some of the speakers thought proper, in defence of that abominable practice of using the lash to the negroes, to refer to the practice of flogging in the British army. Mr. Barrett, whose name had been mentioned in that House and elsewhere with great respect, and very deservedly so, rebuked those petty tyrants—those women-floggers—for defending the system. Would the House of Commons give countenance, by permitting corporal punishment still to exist in the British army, to those advocates for flogging slaves in Jamaica! In Russia, the system of punishment for the misbehaving soldier was of a very different kind. There a stigma was cast upon his honour.—He was not permitted to take part in the storming of a fortress or in the post of danger and honour, if he had been guilty of any act which was opposed to military discipline. This was a punishment which was considered exceedingly degrading. Why not appeal to the honour of the English soldier, in cases where he had misconducted himself, rather than to the degrading punishment of flagellation? Although he concurred in the principles of the clause now under discussion, he was anxious that it should not be pressed, inasmuch as the present Commander-in-chief had so recently obtained his appointment, and had not had time to inquire into the system. The duke of Wellington would, before another session, have had an opportunity of examining whether it was or was not for the benefit of the army, that corporal punishment should be preserved. He thought the honourable members who had urged the necessity of abandoning the system, ought to be satisfied at present with having expressed their opinions, in order that the new Commander-in-chief might be afforded the opportunity of taking the subject into his consideration.
§ The Judge Advocate (sir John Beckett)
, in defending the principles of the bill, contended that, even according to the observations which had fallen from hon. mem- 1133 bers who were opposed to it, an admission was made that the discipline and subordination of the army, under the direction of his late royal highness, the duke of York, flowed from the present system, which, he would take leave to say, involved; constitutional principles; and he would add, that corporal punishment in the army was according to the common-law of the country. The Crown had, for a series of years, had the regulation of the army under its control, and had been subject to the responsibility of maintaining the military forces in a state of proper discipline. What was to become of that responsibility, or how could that discipline be preserved, if the check which constituted the principal and most effectual instrument of its maintenance were removed? The right hon. gentleman here read an extract from the Act of the 13th and 14th of Charles 2nd, expressly vesting the privilege of governing the army in the hands of the Crown; and contended, that that power had remained undisturbed down to the present day.
rose to deny that the doctrines promulgated by the right hon. gentleman were in conformity with the principles of the constitution, or had ever been recognized by the laws and usages by which the army was governed; and he was perfectly astonished to find a tight hon. gentleman, holding a high confidential and responsible office under the Crown, stand up in that House, not to uphold this practice by alleging in its justification the dictates of that imperious and absolute necessity, with a view to the maintenance of discipline in the army, which could alone palliate the continuance of this abominable punishment, but daring to argue in its defence, that our ancestors had handed to us an army, under the power and dominion of the Crown—upon which the Crown had the power to inflict punishment, according to its pleasure, its will, or its discretion; and to inflict that punishment not only by corporal punishment, but, if the doctrines of the right hon. gentleman were correct, by degradation, and even by death itself.
§ The Judge Advocate
disclaimed having made any assertion which could be thus construed. But he repeated, that the power of the Crown to impose corporal punishment for insubordination, or any neglect of duty or discipline, had been conferred, by a clause introduced in the 1134 Mutiny bill with that express view, and had been repeatedly confirmed and recognised by various distinct acts of parliament; and that this power, so exercised', had become, by established usage, what might be denominated the common law of the army.
asked, what the right hon. gentleman meant by the common-law, or by established usage, if it was not what had been handed down to us by our ancestors, from time immemorial? How did he mean to support the argument that the Crown had the power to dispose of the army as it pleased, by the common-law of the land? Did the right hon. gentleman mean to rely upon the act of Charles 2nd? If he did, his answer was, that there was no common-law, and no established usage, of the nature contended for by the right hon. gentleman, but that a special enactment had been made upon the subject; very different from the purport alleged by the right hon. gentleman; which enactment, however, had long since been abrogated, and was no longer in force. He denied that any such common-law, as stated by the right hon. gentleman, existed in the army, and God forbid that it ever should! The law was, that the army should be governed by the same principles' of legislation, as those to which persons in civil capacities were subject. Now, if any attempt were made to innovate upon—in any way to alter or modify—the laws subsisting for the government of persons inc civil capacities, it was necessary to produce an authority by act of parliament. He would remind the right hon. gentleman of what was said by lord chief justice Mansfield, at the time of the riots, when it was proposed to make use of a military force in a way which was inconsistent with the law. The lord chief justice asked for the authority for such a proceeding. It was stated, that the commander-in-chief had given orders for the military to advance. His reply was, "Then, if they do, I will try the men for murder; I will not suffer any person, in whatever station or authority, to control the laws, framed for the government of the military as well as others, and I will not suffer them to be altered, except by a special legislative enactment." All that appertained to the government of the army rested upon the Mutiny act solely; and any punishment not sanctioned by that act, was a direct violation of the law, for which the author 1135 of it was responsible—Nay, he would go further, and say that that responsibility had been enforced, and acted upon within the last thirty years. Let the right hon. gentleman recollect himself. He must be very well aware that if any mistake was made by a court-martial—if individuals were subjected to punishment in a manner not authorised by law—the Court of King's-bench would give, and had given, redress. He must declare that never since he obtained a seat in that House, had he heard the constitution attacked in the manner attempted by the right hon. gentleman. He never could have thought, that a person, so officially situated as was the right hon. gentleman, could be capable of standing up and maintaining doctrines as unconstitutional as they were unfounded; and which, were they even well founded, would be contrary to the dictates not only of justice, but of common humanity. The right hon. gentleman had said, "Is this a proper period to introduce any proposal for the abrogation of corporal punishment, so immediately after the death of the duke of York, whose supervision and management of the army were applauded by all?" Good God! what had the death of the duke of York to do with the matter? The question was, whether so inhuman a practice should be continued, or could be upheld on any principles, either of justice or of propriety? and it was perfectly immaterial, in reference to that question, whether the duke of York or the duke of Wellington was Commander-in-chief. The subject was one, in fact, which could not be postponed. It was one which required to be agitated, until we should arrive at that minimum of human suffering which would be compatible with the preservation of discipline and subordination in the army. Had that Minimum been attained? He said, No. Had we brought the regulation of the army to a state of perfection? He denied that this was the case. The right hon. gentleman, he was satisfied, would agree with him when he stated, that ten years ago corporal punishment prevailed in the army to a greater extent than at present; and at that period there were the same objections made to its mitigation. Honourable and right hon. gentlemen, and gallant generals, were heard loudly to exclaim, that, this species of punishment could not be departed from, or diminished, Without peril to the due control and management of the army. But, notwithstand- 1136 ing these arguments, the good sense of the country had diminished such inflictions; and if the question was still further discussed, the same spirit would lead to their further mitigation. He hoped, therefore, that the mouths of his hon. friends would not be closed, but that they would persevere in their praiseworthy efforts. He would tell the right hon. gentleman what he had heard from a practical man, as an example of the frightful extent to which this debating system prevailed. A gallant general had told him, that during his command in Canada, he had been compelled, in the execution of that revolting part of his duty, to witness the infliction of five hundred lashes per day; and he would mention it as a fact reflecting high honour upon the memory of his late royal highness, that when that gallant general resigned his station, unable longer to support the sight of so much human misery, the Commander-in-chief assured him, that he should not suffer in consequence of it. He contended, that the army had not arrived at any tiling like a state of perfect discipline. [An hon. member here raised a cry of "Question."] He should not be surprised to find that the hon. gentleman who began the cry of "question" was some young officer, smarting from the reflection called up by these remarks, of his having inflicted punishment unjustly. If this was the case, he did not envy the young gentleman his feelings; but as he would not be awed into silence, the hon. member had perhaps, better hold his peace. The hon. and learned gentleman concluded with repeating his dissent from the doctrines of the right hon. gentleman.
§ Lord Palmerston
said, that the hon. and learned gentleman had, in his opinion, wasted a vast deal of very respectable and constitutional indignation, which he might better have reserved for some occasion, on which it would be more necessary or useful; for greater misrepresentation he had never heard, than the hon. and learned gentleman had made of the speech and statements of his right hon. friend. The hon. and learned gentleman had, no doubt, misunderstood his right hon. friend; but he would submit to the House, whether the arguments of his right hon. friend bore such a construction, or merited such animadversions, as those applied to them by the hon. and learned gentleman. Any person coining into that House would, from the statements of the hon. and learn- 1137 ed gentleman, have supposed his right lion, friend to have represented, that by the common-law of the country, the king enjoyed the power of inflicting corporal punishment. His right hon. friend had said no such thing. The position of his right hon. friend—which, he contended, was perfectly consistent with the law and the constitution—was, that the government of the army was not only by immemorial usage, but by the distinct recognition of acts of parliament, in the hands of the Crown. Now, if we looked to the modes of punishment constantly resorted to, for the preservation of discipline in the army we should find that corporal infliction, in some shape or other, formed invariably a portion of them; and when we considered the means by which military subordination was to be maintained, it must be evident, acting upon the results of practical experience, that this description of punishment was indispensable to the promotion of that most necessary object. But he denied that his right hon. friend had used any argument which could with justice, be characterized as at variance with the principles of the constitution, or that would justify the imputation of such ignorance on his part, as to confound the common-law of the land with the regulations for the maintenance of military discipline. The simple question was this—"Is corporal punishment necessary for the preservation of discipline in the army, or is it not?" The hon. and gallant member for Southwark had put this question upon its proper footing. He had correctly and fairly asked, whether it was possible to put the army abroad upon one footing and the troops at home upon another. This was the true way to view the present proposition; and it would be acknowledged, that such a proceeding would be a subversion of all justice and wisdom in the application of laws. That such a mode of repressing insubordination was necessary, experience fully proved. The existence of the power to inflict corporal punishment operated as the most effectual preventive of its actual infliction. But, the line of argument pursued by the hon. gentleman opposite was not fair or tenable. Were corporal punishments frequent? The hon. gentleman demanded their abolition on that ground. If they were unfrequent the hon. gentleman contended that that very circumstance constituted a 1138 proof of their inexpediency; and therefore desired that they should be repealed. Those hon. gentlemen who were so hard to be pleased could not complain of him and his right hon. friends, if they did not affect to meet arguments employed to find fault with every line of proceeding that could be adopted. It had been affirmed, that, in the French army no blows were ever inflicted. He apprehended that this statement was erroneous. His impression was, that blows were inflicted, and that the French soldier—although, perhaps, not punished with the cat-o'-nine-tails—was subject to the infliction of punishment with the flat side of the sword, at the caprice or will of his commanding officer. It would be ridiculous to attempt to draw a distinction between punishment inflicted with a piece of iron, or a piece of leather. If there was any degradation in corporal punishment, or if such suffering tended to demoralise the man, or to break down his spirit, it must be perfectly immaterial whether it was administered by a sword or a cat-o'-nine-tails; and it would be absurd to draw a constrast between the two instruments of punishment. It might be true, as was urged, that corporal punishment did not, in some instances, tend to reform or improve the individual; but still it was indispensable, as a means of preventing the commission of acts, to which men would be tempted if free from its restraint. But, the question of military discipline was not one in which the army was alone interested. Its effects extended to the well-being of all classes of the population. If the hon. gentlemen on the other side had any reason to complain of violence or injury committed by any portion of the army, he was sure they would be very much disappointed if their prayer for redress was met with the answer, that government could not interfere—that they must have recourse to the tardy and tedious process of law. A good deal of indignation had been expressed in the course of the debate; but he should like to hear the expressions of indignation which would be vented against the government in such a case. He would ask those who objected to this mode of punishment, what form of coercion could be substituted for it? Would they have soldiers sent to prison? In that case they must be placed in the common gaols, amongst the most abandoned cha- 1139 racters; or military prisons must be built for their reception. He should be curious to hear what the hon. member for Aberdeen would say, if his majesty's ministers were to propose a grant of some hundred thousand pounds for the erection of prisons for the exclusive accommodation of the army. For himself, he felt as much as any one could do, all the objections to this mode of punishment; but he would still adhere to it, as a choice of evils. The only way to avoid its operating injuriously was, that all officers should be instructed to use their utmost endeavours for the prevention of those acts which, if committed, would render the infliction of the punishment necessary. But he was satisfied that, if ever so ill-judged a proceeding were resorted to as the removal of this regulation, it would be found necessary, in a few months, to re-impose it; The hon. gentlemen on the other side called upon the House to follow the dictates of experience. Now, it was his right hon. friends and himself who were, in effect, acting up to that principle; while the hon. gentlemen opposite were only attempting to substitute for experience their own crude and visionary theories. Ought not the opinions of practical men to be received, and their suggestions attended to? It would be as reasonable, when any measure of West-Indian policy was brought forward, to discuss it in the absence of hon. gentlemen connected with those interests; the affairs of India should be kept a secret from all who had a knowledge of that portion of our possessions. When the Corn-laws were discussed, for Heaven's sake let no country gentleman—and, on any financial question, let no political economist—open his mouth. The noble lord concluded by saying that, if the infliction of corporal punishment were abolished, it must be followed by the abolition of the army itself, which, without it, would soon become the most dangerous establishment in the empire.
§ Mr. Sykes
said, that the power claimed for the Crown was not conferred either by the statute or common-law; and he read a portion of the preamble of the Mutiny act in support of his argument. With respect to the question now before the House, he entertained but one opinion; namely, that it was a barbarous remedy, equally unfavourable to the liberty as well as to the discipline of the army. It had the effect of making the mind as well as the 1140 body callous. He would appeal to military gentlemen, whether a soldier who had been flogged was good for any thing afterwards. Experience proved, that it was a punishment which rendered the object of it insensible to the duties of the soldier. In a town in the neighbourhood in which he lived, a soldier, for some offence, received five hundred lashes. A few days afterwards, the regiment was ordered to march. The consequence was, that the wounds of this man festered, and he died. On the inquest, one witness deposed, that all the flesh came from the back bone. The verdict was, "Wilful murder": but, no proceedings were taken, or inquiries made, on the finding of this verdict. He believed that the instance he had mentioned was very frequent [No, no, from the ministerial benches]. If it was not let there be laid on the table of the House, a return of the number of cases in which corporal punishment had been inflicted. He could never believe that such punishment was necessary in the English army, when it was not found necessary in the armies of the continent. If it was necessary to restrain the improper passions of the men, and compel the due performance of military discipline, some other means ought to be adoped; for corporal punishment was cruel in the extreme. The system ought to be put down, and some other introduced in its stead. The sooner it was abolished the better.
§ Sir H. Hardinge
rose amid cries of "question." He said, he would not dwell long on the subject now before the House. One hon. member had stated, that military officers were not to be considered authority upon this topic, any more than law officers were to be taken as authority on matters of law: he would, therefore, produce a document which emanated from: persons, who at all events, deserved, and, doubtless, had, the confidence of the House, with reference to it. On the subject of corporal punishment he would read an extract of a report of the governors of the General Penitentiary, made on the 7th of bruary, 1827. The persons by whom that report was signed, was, he felt assured, the last to be suspected of inhumanity, or of a desire to inflict unnecessary punishment. The extract was as follows:—"That solitary confinement appeared to have very little effect, either upon the men or the boys, and certainly did contribute to injure the health; it was, therefore, the opinion 1141 of the governors, that an error had been committed in abolishing corporal punishment, and the governors were satisfied, that a revival of this power would be highly advantageous, guided by necessary restrictions, and under particular circumstances;" signed "Bexley." Now, surely the individual whose name was affixed to this report, would be the last man to act with inhumanity, or to recommend a system which he considered either unnecessary or unwise. With regard to what the gallant member for Southwark had advanced on the subject of the Lusitanian Legion, which that hon. member had commanded, he would give his testimony to the admirable discipline which existed in that corps. But it should be remembered, that corporal punishment was not the system adopted in the Portuguese army. He himself had had the honour to command five battalions of Portuguese troops; and, as the system of flogging was not in force, recourse was had to punishment by the sword; the effect of which was, that of the wounds which they received, many died in the hospitals. The milder and more natural punishment was thus rejected; and a punishment, which produced no beneficial influence, but very frequently caused death, was adopted in its stead. Was this a system which Englishmen would ever tolerate? The hon. member for Midhurst had referred to the French army, and commented on the fact, that no corporal punishment was then permitted. Now, a friend of his had, not long since, seen a drum boy shot at Lisle, for striking a drum major. The question was not as to what was the effect of the system of corporal punishment in a time of peace, but in a time of war; and he would refer the House to the conduct of the French army during the Peninsular war; and would quote from the work of colonel Jones, who gave the words of a French lieutenant-colonel, who had said, that it was a common practice in the French army to exchange and to play at cards for women. One instance he related of a commissary who offered two ounces of gold for a Portuguese girl. This was while the army of the duke of Wellington was in a high state of discipline. He would refer to the army of Soult, when crossing the Pyrenees, pursued by the British army. The conduct of the latter was then so excellent, as to have been generally contrasted by the inhabitants with 1142 that of the former. He would also allude to the Prussian army after the battle of Waterloo. In that army no flogging was allowed, although the torture of the cane was. When the British army marched through the various villages, the inhabitants remained quietly in their cottages, firmly confiding in their good conduct; but when, through those same villages the Prussians marched, they found them all deserted, and, until they had departed, the people could not be prevailed upon to return. The state of the army of occupation might also be cited; the army of which the archbishop of Cambray, who naturally disliked it, because it had taken, as it were, possession of his country, had reported, that while the British army was there, their conduct had been such as to remove all his prejudices, and to give rise to the most grateful sense of their kindness and generosity. So much for the discipline and conduct of the British army, as compared with that of other troops. If the House substituted any other punishment for that of flogging, it would inevitably be more severe than it was at present. He had taken the trouble to ascertain the number of courts-martial held during the Peninsular war, and he found, that altogether they did not exceed five hundred, all of them being, of course, for serious offences, as trivial matters would, under such circumstances, be passed over, and of these not more than fifteen or sixteen men had been shot. Now, if the punishment of flogging had not existed, acting according to the system pursued in the French army, more than half the men so tried would have been put to death. Would this be according to the feelings or the wishes of Englishmen?—Surely not. He was satisfied that such a power was absolutely necessary. That it ought to be exercised to as limited an extent as possible, was a truth which no British officer would deny. In the regiment of guards to which he had the honour to belong in the year 1823, there were but three men flogged out of eight hundred soldiers, of which the first battalion was composed. In the second battalion, there were, he believed, five; and in the third, eight; making but sixteen out of two thousand four hundred men. He assured the hon. members who had commented with such severity upon this subject, that there was a feeling in the bosoms of British officers, as strong as in that of any individual 1143 in the country, to prevent the unnecessary use of corporal punishment. When it was resorted to, it was only done from an earnest desire to discharge a duty which they owed equally to the country, whose servants they were, and to the soldiers they commanded.
§ Sir A. Hope
said, that every soldier in the army of every country in the world, with the solitary exception of that of Great Britain, was subjected to arbitrary punishment. But the British soldier, ever since the passing of the Bill of Rights, could only be punished after undergoing a trial by his peers: his safety and his security were, therefore, guarded by the law. Now, it was impossible that any free-man could be in a better state. Before the passing of this bill, if the hon. members would refer to the articles of war, they would find that there were forty-three cases for which punishment of death were awarded, one of torture, and one of mutilation. The two latter, and nearly the whole of the former, had been done away, by substituting a system of flogging in their stead. There were two reasons why this system should not be abolished; first, that of mercy to the soldier; and second, to subdue the unruly passions of men, with a view to preserve the peace of the country, and the good order of society. It was the duty of those hon. members who wished this system to be done away with, to propose in its place one that would produce those necessary ends.
§ Sir H. Vivian
declared, that the British officers were most anxious to do away with the system of flogging, if any system, which could answer an equally good purpose, could be substituted in its stead. He assured the House, that the speeches of some hon. members had had the effect of causing that punishment which they sought to abolish; for his own part, he could state, that when he commanded a thousand men, he found, all of a sudden, that a great degree of murmuring had suddenly spread among them. He then sent for the oldest of his Serjeants, who told him, that the men were induced to believe that sir Francis Burdett had done away with corporal punishment; and he was actually obliged to make an example of one man, to restore order in his regiment. It was only the power that British officers wanted; they were not disposed to use that power, until every other means had failed. Let any hon. member show by what other 1144 means he could preserve military discipline, and he would at once give his sanction for removing this evil, which he now felt to be a necessary one.
§ The clause was negatived, and the bill passed.