HC Deb 13 August 1846 vol 88 cc685-95

rose to move— That there be laid before this House a Return of Persons flogged in the Army in Great Britain and Ireland, in the years 1845 and 1846 to the end of July; specifying the offence; the regiment, the place of station, the time; the sentence; the order for its execution; whether the trials were open to the public, or only open to the regiment, or with closed doors; the number of lashes inflicted, and the day; how soon after punishment the man was able to return to his duty, and at what place he was then quartered; whether death has fallowed within twelve months of the fogging, and the date of such death; whether the punishment was inflicted, if in cavalry regiments, by the trumpeter or farriers; if in infantry regiments, by the privates or drummers, and with what instrument; together with Copies of the surgeon's minutes of all such punishments, and any subsequent observations on their consequences." The hon. Gentleman observed, that it had been stated that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War (Mr. F. Maule) had objections to granting the returns in their present shape. What those objections were he (Mr. Escott) was not aware; and he should like to hear them stated, in order that he might decide on the course he ought to adopt. He was inclined to pay all due consideration to any objections of the right hon. Gentleman, if they were well founded, and would be the last to press upon their attention any subject in opposition to objections well founded on the part of the Government. It might be thought, perhaps, that the investigations that had recently taken place, and the modification of corporal punishment which, had just been introduced, might render such returns unnecessary; but these circumstances induced him to suppose that the information he asked for was more than ever necessary. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman would tell him publicly what his objections to the Motion were, he would take them into consideration, and if he deemed them sufficient he would withdraw it; but without such a statement he should feel it to be his duty to act upon his own opinion, which was, that the information contained in these returns was absolutely necessary.


had hoped that after the debate which had recently taken place on this disagreeable subject, it would not have been again referred to during the present Session of Parliament. He thought that the House might place full reliance on the statements which had been made by his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) and himself, that corporal punishment in the army should not only undergo considerable diminution, but that such punishments would be very rarely inflicted, and that they would be very closely watched by the medical and other authorities. He (Mr. F. Maule) would have no objection to consent to a return of the number of cases in which corporal punishment had been inflicted in the army during the years 1845 and 1846; the names of the persons punished, the number of lashes to which the offenders were sentenced, and the number actually inflicted. The hon. and learned Member asked, however, for the order for the execution of the sentence. Why, every order for the execution of a military punishment proceeded from a court martial, the sentence was passed by a court martial, and the punishment was inflicted under the direction of the officer whose duty it was to carry that sentence into effect. The hon. and learned Gentleman also wished to ascertain whether the trials were open to the public. He (Mr. F. Maule) believed a court martial was as much an open court as any other court of justice. He had been informed, upon competent authority, that a court martial was an open court; and, therefore, he presumed parties wishing to be present at any trial by court martial would not be excluded therefrom. The court was an open court, and would, of course, be conducted with open doors. The hon. Member also asked for a return of the number of lashes inflicted, and the day. He (Mr. F. Maule) did not see how a return of that kind, de- scending to such minute particulars, could be of any use to the House. The hon. Member also wished to ascertain "how soon after punishment the man was able to return to his duty, and at what place he was then quartered?" He (Mr. F. Maule) did not precisely understand the meaning of this clause of the Motion. He could understand the meaning of the words, "how soon after punishment the man was able to return to his duty;" but he did not precisely know what to understand by the words, "at what place he was then quartered." Did they refer to the place where the punishment was inflicted, or the place where the regiment or detachment was quartered when the man returned to his duty? The hon. and learned Member also wished to ascertain whether death had followed within twelve months of the flogging, and the date of such death. He (Mr. F. Maule) confessed he did not think that a fair requirement. Suppose a man who had received corporal punishment in January, died in December, was it meant to be inferred, though he might have died from some disease with which his punishment had no connexion, and though the case had not been investigated by a coroner's jury, that he had been put to death in the army—that his death had been occasioned by corporal punishment? He (Mr. F. Maule) knew there was a notion abroad that corporal punishment might occasion death even after the lapse of twelve months; but he believed that was an erroneous impression. The hon. and learned Member for Winchester also wished to know whether the punishment had been inflicted in cavalry regiments by the trumpeters or farriers, and in infantry by the privates or drummers, and with what instrument. He (Mr. F. Maule) believed the practice in infantry regiments was, that the punishment should be inflicted by the drummers, and in cavalry regiments by the farriers. With regard to the instrument, they all knew what the instrument was. If there had been any irregularity in the army on this subject—if the instruments had not been made with particular care, and upon the same pattern, that irregularity could be most easily remedied. The hon. and learned Member also asked for copies of the surgeons' minutes of punishments, and any subsequent observations on their consequences. Now, he (Mr. F. Maule) considered, that if such surgical observations and details were not particularly demanded in courts of justice, they ought to be regarded as confidential communications with the commanding officers of the regiments. He believed it would be almost impossible to lay these details before the House; he thought their production would interfere to a great extent with the maintenance of discipline in the army; and, so far as he was at present advised, be could not consent to produce them. He must repeat that he did not consider the whole of these returns necessary for the information of the House. He thought the House could repose confidence enough in the Commander-in-Chief of the army, and in the Government, to feel assured that every possible care would be taken that the infliction of corporal punishment, so long as it might be requisite to retain it in the British army, did not go further than it was intended it should go, namely, that it should be a simple infliction of punishment, leading to no future consequences, care being taken to guard against any permanent injury to the health of the individuals upon whom it was inflicted. He (Mr. F. Maule) felt it his duty to oppose the Motion, with the exception of the three clauses to which he had referred; and he begged to move the omission of the words; after the word "sentence" to the words "the number."


had in his possession a circular, stating for what offences corporal punishment might be resorted to; and he therefore considered that the House ought to have full information on the subject, or they would not be in a situation to judge whether the punishment had been justly inflicted.


begged to submit to the House, whether it was necessary to call for such an invidious return as a statement of the regiments, the place of station, and the time when these punishments were inflicted. He thought if the House had before them a return of the total number of lashes inflicted, and the sentences of the courts, that was all that was necessary to enable them to form an opinion as to the manner in which the discipline of the army was carried on. He thought that a return of the regiments in which this punishment had been inflicted, would throw an invidious stigma on particular officers, who would not have the means of affording any explanation to the House or to the country.


considered that a return of the regiments in which corporal punishments had been inflicted, would be exceedingly odious, and disadvan- tageous to the service. He had entertained the hope, that, after the satisfaction evinced by the House the other night at the termination of the debate on this subject, and after the declaration which had since been made by a noble and illustrious individual in another place, the hon. and learned Member for Winchester would not have brought forward his Motion. He thought the House must see that the odious system of corporal punishment was fast falling into disuse in the army. He had before stated in the House that in proportion as we succeeded in elevating the moral condition of the soldier, and promoting his comfort, corporal punishment, without being absolutely abolished, would be less frequently inflicted. He believed, however, that in active service this punishment could not altogether be dispensed with. Having been for a quarter of a century a general officer, and entrusted with the command of a regiment for twelve years, he could state that corporal punishment was never resorted to when it was not absolutely necessary; never on a first conviction, nor till all minor punishments had failed; and he could assure the House that its infliction gave a degree of pain to the officers of the army, which was the best guarantee that it was not recklessly or unnecessarily awarded. He was glad to perceive so liberal a spirit pervade the House, for improving the comforts and the condition of the soldier; and to make the service more attractive, many measures were now under consideration of the military authorities, and had been recommended by them to this effect, but which had not been carried into effect on account of expense. He could not avoid specifying one, which required to be remedied, and that was the severity of colonial service. Our army consisted of one hundred and twelve battalions, of which seventy-five were at present on foreign service; and such had been the calls of those, that it had been found impracticable, for some years past, to observe the arrangement proposed by the military authorities, either as to the duration of foreign service, or the period fixed for home service of at least five years. In consideration of these exigencies the strength of the army was increased last year; but since then, fresh and unexpected demands from abroad had been made; and the strength of the army was more inadequate than ever to the services it had to perform. With respect to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member, he thought that specifying the names of regiments and other details called for in his Motion, would occasion invidious comparisons, and other impressions prejudicial to the service; he should, therefore, vote against the Motion, and hoped the hon. and learned Member would not press it to a division.


said, there was no objection to a return of the number of lashes inflicted; but he thought, if the regiments in which corporal punishment had been inflicted were particularized, invidious comparisons might be made. Such comparisons would be very unjust; for no one who had looked into the reports on this subject could have failed to perceive, that though a regiment might at one time be kept in very good order without corporal punishment, yet that under other circumstances punishment might be necessary for the maintenance of discipline. Colonel Macgregor had stated, that for a number of years he commanded a regiment in which scarcely any corporal punishment was inflicted; but, when the regiment was joined by a number of recruits from the worst parts of some towns in Scotland, it was necessary to make some very severe examples. Now, if a return of the regiments were agreed to, cases of this kind might lead persons to entertain a very unfavourable opinion of particular officers. If it was the opinion of the House that that portion of the return would lead to invidious comparisons, he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would consent to omit the clause.


considered that these returns, in the altered form suggested by the right hon. Secretary at War, would be useless; and he regretted that the Government should refuse to accede to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Winchester. That refusal, however, spoke even more eloquently than the returns themselves could do, for it was not a refusal without a motive; and in his opinion it would be found extremely inconvenient to grant the returns moved for by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He believed that if those returns were granted, they would exhibit facts which would, more than anything that had been stated, satisfy the House and the country that the odious, disgusting, and brutal practice of flogging ought at once and for over to be completely abolished. He inferred from the tone of the hon. and gallant Officer who had addressed the House, that he (Sir H. Douglas) believed that the practice of flogging had nearly approached its termination. The hon. and gallant Officer evidently considered that it was a very disgusting practice, and that it ought not to be continued without the most paramount and uncontrollable necessity. But that gallant Officer considered that they ought to retain the power of inflicting fifty lashes. Why, when the power of inflicting 1,500 lashes existed, the officers of the army did not admit that it would be safe to diminish the number. When the number was reduced to 1,000, although the officers rejoiced at the reduction, they still did not admit that it could be carried further. When the number of lashes to be inflicted by a general court martial was reduced to 200, the officers of the army rejoiced that the state of the troops permitted such a diminution of punishment; but they yet retained the opinion that the number could not be further reduced. The Government, much to their credit—and in spite, he believed, of great opposition and strong feeling in certain quarters—had announced that the Commander-in-Chief had reduced the maximum number of lashes to be inflicted to fifty; but he (Mr. Wakley) had heard it intimated that it would be necessary, if not to inflict those fifty lashes, at least to retain the power of doing so; and he had heard it said that—except in very rare instances—that punishment would be fully inflicted. Now, leaving out of view the physical danger which arose from the infliction of that amount of punishment, and the physical torture it must cause, he would ask, if there was not just as much moral degradation, and debasement, and brutality, in the infliction of fifty as of 1,500 lashes? His opinion was, that the soul-breaking, the spirit-destroying effect of the punishment was exactly the same. Had hon. Gentlemen ever seen the outstretched limbs of a man about to undergo this punishment extended on a ladder—resembling a rack? Had they seen human beings standing over such a man while his limbs were restrained, so that he was scarcely able to exhibit the horrible torture he was enduring, and inflicting a punishment which hon. Gentlemen would not inflict on the lowest brute in their service? Why, the degradation of receiving fifty lashes was just as deep, and might be just as permanent, as soul-destroying, and as spirit-breaking, as if they inflicted 1,000 lashes on the man. He (Mr. Wakley) hoped the next announcement the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) made to the House would be, that this punishment was abolished, and abolished for ever. Indeed he was satisfied from the manner in which the noble Lord and the Secretary at War had spoken on this subject, that they were both opposed to the practice of flogging, and that they only consented to its retention under the conviction, which was entertained by persons of great experience and of high authority, that it was a practice of undoubted necessity. He had no objection to give to the Secretary at War the name of a surgeon, who, having resided at Hounslow for many years, was prepared to state it as his deliberate conviction, from what he had seen and heard, that no man had lived one year who had received, with full force and effect, 150 lashes. Fifty lashes with a cat o' nine tails, containing nine knots in each thong, and consequently giving eighty-one inflictions on the skin at every stroke, could not be administered without danger to life; and whatever the penetration, sagacity, or skill of a surgeon might be, it was utterly impossible for him, with any degree of certainty, to state what amount of corporal punishment might not be attended with danger to life. This punishment was inflicted under an Act of Parliament which passed that House annually, and therefore the House was competent to deal with the subject. He was willing to admit that there might be inconvenience in discussing the subject; but the discussion was forced on the House by the continuance of the practice. There appeared to be a feeling in the House that the particular regiments should not be specified in the return; but he thought that to be absolutely necessary. If it appeared that one regiment was frequently flogged, while in another there was no flogging, it was the bounden duty of the House to inquire into the cause of the difference. He was informed that, in one regiment, there had been no flogging for twenty years. It was due, then, to the commanding officer of that regiment, and to the privates (for the fact was creditable to both), that that regiment should be known, and therefore he thought that the particular regiments should be specified in the return. In reference to that part of the return which required a statement of the fact whether a party had survived the flogging for twelve months, he admitted that the mode of expression was objectionable, because it seemed to lead to the inference, supposing the party died, that there was a connexion between the death and the flog- ging. Such an inference ought not to appear on the face of the return; but all that the hon. Gentleman required was, that the fact might be correctly stated, though no medical man would deny that a man might die one year after an injury inflicted on the skin, and the death be traceable to that injury. He believed that the practice of corporal punishments might be dispensed with by adopting a different system in the army—by giving higher pay to the soldiers, which he should be most willing to vote for, and by making the soldier feel that he was also a citizen. Under these circumstances he felt bound to vote for the return.


said, it appeared to him that no part of the return was half so important as No. 8, which required a statement "whether death had followed within twelve months of the flogging, and the date of such death." When they inquired respecting the health of a colony, they required a report of the number of deaths in it; and so in respect to the practice of flogging, he trusted that the Government would grant the information required by that part of the return he had referred to.


said, that there was no wish to withhold information; but the Government objected to grant a return calculated to mislead the public. Parts of the return moved for were so worded that they would lead palpably to the most erroneous inferences. With respect to No. 5 in the return moved for, he could state that it was a general rule of law that courts martial, whether general, district, or regimental, were open to the public, except during the period of deliberation. He agreed that there ought to be some general rule regulating this system of punishment, and he believed that measures were taken by authority to the effect that the instrument inflicting the punishment, should be in accordance with some fixed regulation.


concurred with those who thought that if the whole return were granted, erroneous inferences would be produced; and he denied the assertion of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wakley), that when the number of lashes allowed to be inflicted was 1,500, the officers of the army declared against a less amount. The officers of the army never maintained such a doctrine; but their doctrine was—and it was a correct doctrine—that the discipline of the army never could be carried on without occasionally resorting to corporal punishment.


said, that reference having been made on a former occasion to the opinion of that distinguished officer Sir C. Napier, he wished to state that that opinion had not been correctly explained. It was true that in one part of his work Sir C. Napier admitted that in time of peace it might be possible to abolish flogging, though it must then be done gradually, and with extreme caution; but in another part he stated that it was necessary in time of war. He (Mr. M. Gore) thought the great point was to educate the soldier and improve his character by rewards for good conduct and other means, and then, possibly, this species of punishment might be abolished.


said, that if it was the law that courts martial should be open to the public, all that he wanted to know by one part of his return was that the law was properly carried into execution. As to that part of the return which was to state whether death had followed within twelve months, the very cause of all this stir was the verdict of a jury that in one case death had so followed, and that a man had suffered capitally who was only sentenced to be whipped; the information asked for related to a most important point, and there was no necessity that any unwarrantable inferences should be drawn from such a return. Then as to the copies of the surgeon's minutes, it was said they were confidential communications; but the surgeon was under no oath or imperative call of duty to withhold the information if the House of Commons called for it. However, he would not divide the House, but take as much as he could get, and hope for the rest next Session. He begged to say, with regard to the suggestion that the House ought to put confidence in the Government as to this matter, that he was disposed to put confidence in them; but in withholding this information, as well as in some other courses to which they scorned addicted, they were destroying the confidence of the House and of the country; he told them so in no unfriendly spirit, and they would hear more of it before long.


was of opinion that the power of inflicting this punishment must be retained; in case of mutiny or insubordination on a march, for instance, it could not be dispensed with. He begged to deny the position that it degraded a man, and rendered him unfit for service; he had known an instance where it turned one of the worst and most drunken soldiers, one of the latest on parade, into one of the host men in the regiment. The illustrious Duke, the Commander-in-Chief, had said he hoped to live to see the day when this punishment should be altogether discontinued; he (Captain Polhill) could express no better wish for the noble Duke than that he might really live till then.

The Motion, as amended, by leaving out the words in italics, was agreed to.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock.