HC Deb 17 August 1846 vol 88 cc757-60

rose to ask the question of which he had given notice. He had heard with great satisfaction from the lips of the noble Duke at the head of the army that the time would soon come when corporal punishments should cease, and that he hoped to live to see the day when they would be altogether abolished. His question was—"Whether any instructions have been, or are intended to be issued, regulating the character of the instrument with which flogging in the army is to be inflicted, as regards the size, the weight, the length of the handle, the number and thickness of the cords or thongs, the size and number of the knots; also, determining what functionaries are to be charged with the infliction of corporal punishment, and what period of time is to be allowed between each blow; also, whether, in case the medical attendant shall certify that it would be dangerous to continue the flogging, any unapplied portion of the punishment is to be reserved for a second infliction; also, whether it is intended that the diminution to fifty lashes shall apply to the European and Native troops of the East India Company; and whether the Government will consent to make annual returns to Parliament of the corporal punishments employed in the army, the number of lashes, the offences for which inflicted, and by what species of court martial ordered?"


Sir, I shall not attempt to answer precisely and categorically all the questions which have been asked by my hon. Friend who has just sat down; but this I will say, that the noble Duke the Commander-in-Chief intends to do that which he has declared he will do, and does not intend to evade any declaration which he has made, either to this or to the other House of Parliament. Now it would be a complete evasion of the declaration we have received, if any system were adopted by which the violence of twenty-five lashes was so increased as to be as severe as 1,000 lashes. Corporal punishment will be inflicted as it was inflicted before; and any instructions or regulations as to the size and strength of the instrument will be given by the military authorities. As to the medical attendants certifying that the continued flogging of a man was dangerous, and the remainder of the punishment being inflicted on a second occasion, I do not think it is likely to be required with the present amount of corporal punishment, diminished as it will be in future. With respect to the diminution of punishment to fifty lashes being applicable to the European and Native troops of the East India Company, I may observe that they are regulated by articles of war of their own; but I have no doubt that when the opinion of the noble Duke is known, that similar orders will be given with respect to the Native troops in the East India Company's service. There will be no hesitation in giving any return of corporal punishments, or the offences for which they were inflicted, without of course going into detail which may injure personal character. I beg the hon. Gentleman and the House to recollect, that when I stated what was to be done immediately on this subject, I did not state that it was a final and complete measure to be taken by the Commander-in-Chief. I said that the whole matter was under his consideration, and that he purposes, from time to time, to introduce such measures as will render this punishment less grievous; and when my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Fox Maule) proposes the Mutiny Bill, I shall be enabled to state the nature of the measures to be taken on this subject. I can assure the House that it is not the intention of Government to say that fifty lashes is a punishment which every soldier can bear—but that corporal punishment will be diminished as much as possible, and that we hope to maintain the discipline of the army by other and by better means.


wished to know if the same regulations were to be applied to the navy as to the army. He thought they were as necessary in the one service as in the other, and he hoped that both would be placed on the same footing. As the law stood at present, the captain of a ship could punish a man on seeing him commit an offence. It was evidence enough if the captain saw it; but in any other case the man would have to be reported by the officer, and an inquiry would be made into the circumstances.


said, that no man could receive punishment on board a man of war without an inquiry, not in the cabin of the ship, but publicly and openly; and that no officer could inflict punishment without making a return of the punishment and all the attendant circumstances to the Board of Admiralty, who made a most close and searching investigation into each case, in order to prevent the infliction of improper punishment. Whenever this subject came before the House, he should feel it to be his duty—disregarding all popular outcry—to state the real facts of the case, and to show the House that it would be utterly impossible to carry on the discipline of a ship if they deprived the naval officers of the power of inflicting punishment. Let them put whatever restrictions they pleased on them, and on the exercise of the punishment; but he boldly and fearlessly asserted—and in that assertion would find the concurrence of the great majority of his brother officers—that they must not deprive a naval captain of the power of corporal punishment.


said, that after what they had heard in Parliament on this subject, the public were satisfied that the amount of punishment would not be much for the future. It was now known that a few lashes might be sentence of death. ["No, no!"] It had been so. It was known to have occurred at Woolwich; and he asserted it as his deliberate conviction, that more men had perished from the effects of the lash than from the halter. It was essential that there should be the most strict regulations as to the mode in which it was inflicted. While he was on this subject, he would refer to the remarks made by a noble Lord in reference to the late case at Hounslow. The noble Lord had felt it consistent with his duty to denounce the proceedings at the inquest—to denounce them as unjust. The inference that would be drawn from the remarks of the noble Lord was, that the jury were perjured. The noble Lord, knowing nothing of the case except from the reports, felt it to be his duty to denounce the conduct of the person presiding at the inquiry—an individual who could have no motive to act otherwise than rightly; and to denounce the jurors, who, as the noble Lord inferred, had returned a verdict not consistent with their oaths. It was not for him to say more than to express his deep regret that any noble Lord should have felt it to be his duty, with his incomplete and very imperfect knowledge of the facts, to denounce one of the public tribunals of the country. He would not say more than to intimate to the noble Lord, that, if he believed there was anything wrong, any dishonourable or unjust practices at that inquiry, he ought to move for a Committee of the House of Lords to inquire into the circumstances; and not give an opinion on the loose information he had received. He believed that no one had a right to complain of the conduct of the jury in that inquiry.