HC Deb 24 July 1832 vol 14 cc681-5
Mr. Hunt

rose to bring forward a Motion of which he had given notice respecting corporal punishments in the army. He had submitted his Motion to the Secretary at War (Sir John Cam Hobhouse), who had done him the kindness to state, that he would agree to a return showing the number of persons on whom corporal punishment was inflicted during the last seven years, but that he objected to the number of the regiment, or the names of the commanding-officers, being included in the return. His (Mr. Hunt's) object in moving for the names of the commanding-officers was, not so much to show up those who had inflicted the punishment of flogging in a great many instances, as to do honour to those officers who had maintained the discipline of the service without resorting to corporal punishment. It appeared to him to be a great cruelty and injustice to those officers who did not resort to flogging, that their regiments should not be distinguished from others in which corporal punishment was constantly inflicted. This was his view of the subject; but, at the same time, if the right hon. Secretary at War persisted in his objection, he (Mr. Hunt) would not be pertinacious. He did not see, that there was any difference between calling for a return of the number of persons flogged in different regiments, and a return of the number of persons flogged in different gaols. It appeared, from a return before the House, to the credit of the city of London, that no flogging was allowed in the gaols of that city; but, crossing over the river, it was found, that the punishment was still inflicted in the gaols of the county of Surrey. He should move (which would give the right hon. Secretary an opportunity to amend his Motion as the right hon. Secretary might think fit), that "an annual return be made of every punishment inflicted by flogging in the army for the last seven years, specifying the name and age of each person flogged, the number of lashes awarded by the Court, and the number of lashes actually inflicted; stating who was the Secretary at War, and who was Commander-in-chief in each year; also the commanding-officer of each regiment, and who was in command at the time of each Court-martial being held."

Sir John Hobhouse

had no objection to grant any returns on this subject which could be reasonably desired, although he believed this was the first time when any similar returns were called for or granted. He had no objection whatever to returns from which it could be ascertained whether, as had been lately stated, corporal punishment had been greatly diminished; and, with a view to acertaining that fact, he thought it would have been better if the hon. Member had taken a longer period than seven years. As the hon. Member had chosen that period, however, he (Sir John Hobhouse) would adopt it in the Amendment with which he should conclude. He could not agree to the number of the regiment being included in the returns, because it would form no ground for any just conclusion, unless the House also knew the service in which each particular regiment was employed, the place in which it was stationed, and the descriptiom of population amongst which it was quartered. It would be a gross injustice to a particular regiment to have the number of cases of flogging published, unless the peculiar circumstances under which the regiment was placed were likewise detailed. The same objection was applicable, only on much stronger grounds, to a return of the names of commanding-officers. The effect would be, to raise a degree of public odium against certain officers which might be quite unfounded, unless the proceedings of the Courts-martial in every case were likewise laid on the Table. As to the names of the persons who had held the offices of Commander-in-chief and Secretary at War, during the last seven years, they were known to every one, and it was, therefore, unnecessary to include them in the return. As the object of the Motion was to ascertain whether the punishment of flogging had become less frequent, he proposed to add the amount of the forces during the several years; in order to form a comparative estimate as to the number punished, it was necessary to know the number who were liable to punishment. He would at once move, as an amendment, on the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, for those returns he was willing to lay before the House. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving "for returns of the military establishment from the year 1825 to the year 1831 inclusive; of the numbers tried and sentenced by Courts-martial, during the same period, to corporal punishment; and of those tried and sentenced by Courts-martial, in the like period, to other punishments.? He thought these returns would afford all the information that could reasonably be required.

Sir John Bridges

supported the Amend- ment. He was averse from corporal punishment. He thought it disgraceful, and he wished to see it abolished. At the same time, the returns moved for by the hon. member for Preston would cast a slur upon officers, and would be very mischievous.

Mr. Hunt

begged to withdraw his Motion, as that of the right hon. the Secretary at War would answer his purpose.

Sir George Murray

said, he was an advocate for abolishing every species of punishment, both in civil life and in the array, which was unnecessary. He wished, however, that those Gentlemen who advocated the abolition of corporal punishment in the army would suggest some other punishment of equal utility in preserving the discipline of the army. He had yet beard of no efficient substitute; and he spoke from experience. When he was Commander-in-chief in Ireland, an officer of high rank made an attempt to carry on the discipline of a regiment he commanded without flogging. That regiment was moved to Dublin, that it might be under his eye, and he encouraged the attempt. The officer commanding the regiment was one of great experience, and used all his efforts to succeed; but the consequence of the attempt was, that the discipline of the regiment was so deteriorated, that it became the worst disciplined regiment in Dublin. The officer then wrote a letter, admitting that he could not keep up the discipline of his men without flogging. He recommenced it, and in consequence of the relaxation, it was necessary to inflict more severe flogging in that regiment than in any other. He had the letter in his own possession, and could prove all he had said. After this experiment, however, he thought it very doubtful whether it would be advisable to abolish corporal punishment in the army. He knew that the most anxious desire was manifested by his Royal Highness, the late Duke of York, who was so long at the head of the army, to get rid of corporal punishment; and he knew that the consequence was, that many vexatious minor punishments were substituted for it, without much success. The punishment of foreign armies, which had been referred to, particularly confining men in fortresses for ten or fifteen years, dragging about a bullet, and similar punishments, were totally different from those of the British army, and were totally inapplicable to our service. Such punishments might not shock the public so much as corporal punishment; but nothing was so much to be deprecated as punishments inflicted out of the public view. They were apt to degenerate into torture, which was much to be avoided. The right hon. Baronet eulogised the discipline and conduct of the British army, and declared that he knew not how that discipline could be preserved, if corporal punishment were to be wholly abolished. With respect to the returns, he was sorry that they were to be laid before the House; for he was afraid, if that House became a Court of Revision for military offences, it would infringe on the great principle of the Constitution, by which the army was placed under the exclusive control of the Grown. He regretted that the right hon. Secretary baa agreed to lay the returns on the Table.

Mr. Hume

differed from the right hon. Gentleman; for that House was already, and ought to be, a Court of Review. The King, it was true, had the command of the army; but he was to command it according to orders and rules submitted from time to time to that House. He was glad that the returns were to be made. He was glad, also, to hear that the British army was the bravest, and most loyal, and most gallant in Europe. But was that a reason why the soldiers were to be flogged like brutes? He was sorry to hear the opinion of the gallant officer, that the discipline of the army could not be maintained, without flogging; but the reason, he believed, was, that the men were degraded by the very system of flogging. It was institutions which made men what they were, and our system of providing men for the army, and of treating them after they had become soldiers, degraded them and made them insensible to milder methods of restraint. He thanked his right hon. friend (the Secretary at War) for his returns, and hoped that it was the beginning of much improvement.

Lord Ingestre

thought that it would be prejudicial to the navy as well as army to abolish corporal punishment. He had often heard complaints made by seamen themselves that flogging was not applied to the correction of irregularities, without which it was not possible to keep up the efficiency and discipline of the ship. A dozen or two applied at the proper time often checked irregularities, which, if allowed to go on led to much more severe punishments. If corporal punishments were abolished, there would be an end of the efficiency of the British navy.

Returns ordered according to the Amendment of Sir John Hobhouse.