HC Deb 20 June 1860 vol 159 cc733-40

Order for Committee read.

VISCOUNT RAYNHAM moved that the House go into Committee on this Bill.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he rose to move that the Bill be committed that day three months. The argument in favour of the Bill was, that the existing Act had failed; but the returns which had lately been laid on the table, showed that the present law on this subject was not inoperative, and that the powers possessed by the magistrates were sufficient. It appeared that in the last five years 123 cases had been disposed of at the City Police Courts by convictions, with from one to six months' imprisonment; at Bow Street, 75; at Clerkenwell, 301; at Lambeth, 121; at Marlborough Street, 141; at Marylebone, 101; at Southwark, 289; at the Thames Court, 153; at Worship Street, 264; at Hammersmith and Wandsworth, 69; and at Greenwich and Woolwich, 220. The punishments in those cases varied from one to six months' imprisonment. But even granting that the law had failed, would the means proposed by the Bill have any effect in repressing the offence? There was difficulty enough at present in getting prosecutors to come forward; but that Bill would infinitely increase that difficulty. Was it at all likely that, after being subjected to the brutal punishment of flogging, the cruel husband would return to his wife and behave better? The only petitions which had been presented in reference to the Bill were presented by the women of England against it. All our legislation of late years had been of a humanizing character; and a strong feeling had grown up lately, in reference to the use of these punishments in the army and navy, that they did not repress offences, but merely brutalized those on whom they were inflicted. But even granting that all the arguments which he had advanced were unsound, the Bill, as it stood, could not be carried into operation. The third clause gave a power of appeal to Quarter Sessions, with the privilege of being held to bail. Of course, everybody sentenced to this punishment would appeal. The first thing a man would do, when he was bailed, would be to wreak his vengeance on his unfortunate victim, and then take himself off altogether. For all these reasons, he should move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee

—instead thereof.


said, he rose to second the Amendment. If they were to be guided by their feelings merely in these matters, there was no one who would not —put in every honest hand a whip "To lash the rascals naked through the world who were guilty of such outrages. But the questions to be asked before legislating further were, had we a right to inflict a barbarous punishment like this, was it likely to repress the offence, and was there sufficient proof that the present law had been inoperative? From a return moved by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Alderman Salomons) it appeared that at Bow Street, where the best among the Metropolitan magistrates were usually stationed, of twenty-four convictions for wife-beating which had taken place during the last five years, a sentence of six months' imprisonment had only been imposed in a fourth of the cases; and of fifty-one assaults on other women in three instances only had this punishment been inflicted. The law had not even been stretched to its utmost limits in these nine cases out of a total number of seventy-five, as the magistrates had power to require, at the expiration of the sentence, that the offender should be bound over to keep the peace for an additional period of six months. At the Thames Police Court, out of 153 convictions, only twenty of the offenders had been sentenced to six months' incarceration. At Worship Street Police Court the proportion was greater; sixty-seven out of a total of 264 having undergone this lengthened imprisonment, but the number of those sentenced to hard labour was steadily diminishing. It must be borne in mind that the magistrate, if he conceived the case was one that called for severer penalties, could send it for trial before the Sessions Court, where the accused would have the benefit of having his case heard by a jury. It was unwise, he maintained, to place in the hands of a single person the uncontrolled exercise of a power which might be harshly employed in one of those moments of indignation to which every man was liable. He might add that no Metropolitan magistrate asked for these additional powers. He had obtained from Mr. Shepherd, the manager of the House of Correction in the West Riding, some particulars relating to the effects of corporal punishment as at present applied. In thirteen years previous to 1852 it appeared that 256 persons were committed to that prison, part of whose sentence was that they should be whipped. Of these 156 returned to prison in seven years afterwards, being at the rate of nearly 61 per cent. It was, therefore, plain that they were not deterred by this punishment from their evil courses. Of 40,223 persons committed under all sentences, 11,294 returned in seven years, being at the rate of 28 per cent. This showed the effects of mere imprisonment accompanied by good reformatory discipline, and ought to make the House pause before extending the punishment of the lash. The existing law had not yet been carried out in all its severity, and, if the punishment were now increased as proposed, he doubted whether women would be found to proceed against these by whom they were so cruelly beaten. Brutal as the offence undoubtedly was, the great object of the House must be to secure certainty of punishment, and he therefore felt anxious to prevent a course of legislation which their feelings might naturally lead them to pursue.


said, he had come down to the House with the intention of moving the Amendment which had boon more ably moved by the noble Lord. He should, therefore, give him his cordial support. He objected to the Bill, both on account of its principle and its details, and he criticised its provisions with a view of showing that, even if the House were to sanc- tion the punishment of whipping, which he regarded as ineffectual, there were defects in the measure which must prove fatal.


said, he would remind the House that petitions had been presented by those whom it was sought to protect, complaining of the degrading punishment which it was proposed to legalize. He had been assured by one of the ablest of the Metropolitan magistrates that the power of appeal in itself would defeat the provisions of the Bill, from the fact that the husband held the purse-strings. Believing that punishments of undue severity created a reaction in the public mind, he should, on mature consideration, vote against the further progress of the measure.


observed that he would never consent to place in the hands of a single individual the power of flogging a fellow-creature. So much was he opposed to flogging, oven in the army, that if he thought any one man could do away with it, he would abolish it altogether.


said, the principle which animated the House was the honourable and manly desire of preventing husbands from brutally maltreating their wives, but it was necessary to pause before they adopted the proposition embodied in the Bill of the noble Lord. That measure was framed on the simple principle which had guided our ancestors, who, when they found a particular crime becoming prevalent, increased the stringency of the law, so that ultimately our criminal code became noted for its severity. But the policy which had been adopted of late years, and which had proved more successful in the repression of crime, was to mitigate the penalty. At the beginning of last century whipping was a common punishment, and his noble Friend now sought to revive its popularity. There were other punishments which some persons, in their indignation against brutal husbands, might invite them tore-establish, such, for instance, as that of the pillory, where culprits, with their ears cut off, were made to stand. A satirical poet touched in a well-known couplet on the treatment of offenders in the last century, and of the feelings with which such spectacles were regarded:— Earless on high stood unabash'd Defoe, And Tutchin flagrant from the scourge below. Since the occasion on which this subject last engaged the attention of the House he had consulted the magistrates, and found them almost unanimously of opinion that, so far from diminishing, the tendency of the noble Lord's Bill would be to increase these brutal assaults. In reply to questions put by him, Mr. Hall, the chief magistrate of Bow Street, whose opinion was naturally entitled to weight, stated that the crime of beating wives had decreased. The number of cases heard at the several police courts from the 1st of May, 1858, to the 1st of May, 1859, amounted to about 192; and from the 1st of May, 1859, to the 1st of May, 1860, to 142, showing a diminution of 50 cases during the latter period. During the year ending the 1st of May, 1860, the maximum punishment of six months was not usually inflicted. In 142 cases then heard 19 offenders were sentenced to imprisonment for six months, 18 for four months, 31 for three months, 36 for two months, 29 for one month, and in the remaining cases the punishment varied from six weeks to seven days. In the same period, in addition to imprisonment, bail was required for six months in 6 cases, for four months in 1 case, for two months in 2 cases, and for one month in 1 case. It was, therefore, evident that the power of requiring recognizances, which in many cases would amount to an additional term of imprisonment, had been rarely exercised. As the noble Lord, in the new edition of his Bill, had omitted the provisions relative to a minimum of four months and a maximum of eight months' incarceration, it was unnecessary for him to trouble the House with the opinions he had received on that point, but he should like to read the answer given to the fourth query by Mr. Hall:— I am clearly of opinion, and I believe that every police magistrate so thinks, that it is not desirable to inflict flogging for first or second offences. My strong belief is that the existence of such a power would defeat the object in view. Even under the present Act wives reluctantly complain; but if husbands are to be subjected to corporal chastisement and long imprisonment there will be a very general disinclination to appeal to a magistrate. At present, by the interference of friends or otherwise, a reconciliation may be effected between husband and wife upon his liberation from prison, but the infliction of the degrading punishment of flogging will, I fear, destroy all chance of a renewal of kind feeling. Offenders having been whipped will probably quit the prison animated by intense and implacable hatred of their wives, whose lives may, perhaps, be placed in great peril. The more I reflect on the subject the more opposed I am to the infliction of flogging. The decrease I have mentioned during the period of a year is strong evidence of the sufficiency of the powers given by the present Aggravated Assaults Act, and I beg to call attention to the fact that only in ten cases did the magistrates consider it necessary to require bail over and above the imprisonment adjudged, and further that in no more than nineteen instances was imprisonment imposed to the extent of six months, A letter, very much to the same effect, had been received from Mr. Paynter, also an experienced magistrate. Under the circumstances, and however much they might respect the motives which had induced the noble Lord to bring forward his Bill, it could not fail to be regarded as a mistaken and retrograde policy; and if the noble Lord still pressed the measure on the attention of the House the only course which could be adopted was to vote in favour of the Amendment.


said, that he could not agree with all the alterations that had been made in the Bill, but he held that on a former occasion the House had unmistakeably expressed its opinion in favour of the principles contained in it. The question was not merely as to the severity, but as to the applicability of the sentence. A man who was bound by all the laws of religion, not to speak of the ties of affection, to use the great physical power which he possessed for the protection of his wife, had no right to inflict torture upon her, and to keep her in a state of subservience and fear. A man who did so was worse than a brute, for no instance was found in the animal kingdom where the female was treated with that brutality which Englishmen were believed in foreign countries to exercise towards their wives. The punishment for such offences inflicted by the existing law was felt, perhaps, with even greater severity by the wife and family, whose means of support were withdrawn when the husband was put in prison, whereas the dread of a punishment, short but ignominious, might exercise a deterrent effect over that brutal class of men who could not be regarded as adults, but as grown-up and ignorant children. The arguments which they had heard urged against the principle of the Bill applied simply to the cases of women who had already suffered from their husbands' brutality; but they should also consider the vast member of women whom such an enactment as that before them would protect in future from violence and unmanly assaults. He was not in favour of inflicting the punishment of flogging for a first offence, but as that point was a matter of detail, it could be amended in Committee.


said, whatever the feeling of the House might have been on the second reading, the feeling was strongly against the Bill at that time; and he apprehended the cause of that was that the House, however anxious to put down this brutal crime, had calmly considered the proposed method of doing so, and had come to the conclusion that it would not be effective. He wished to call attention to the anomalies of the appeal clause. It appeared while that appeal was pending the offender might be liberated on bail. Of course he would go home, and he (Mr. Deedes) would like to know what sort of life the husband and wife would lead while waiting for the hearing of the appeal. He believed that no bench of Magistrates would confirm the punishment of flogging on appeal. He had no morbid horror of flogging, and he was not prepared to say that it should not be continued in the army or employed in the case of young culprits, but he believed that in this instance the noble Lord would fail in his object; and he would suggest to him to accept the general feeling of the House and withdraw his Bill.


said, he was of opinion that to inflict the punishment of flogging for the first offence which a man might be betrayed into committing in the heat of passion would be somewhat too strong a measure, but there was some reason to suppose that corporal punishment was the only form of punishment which would prove efficacious in the case of the individual who was in the habit of repeating the offence. In the early part of the present reign, when several cases of assault, or threatened assault, on Her Majesty took place, the Government of the day, instead of bringing in a Bill to make the offence high treason, passed a law under the operation of which the first person guilty of the offence might be whipped, and the result had, he believed, been that there had been since no repetition of it. The House had been told that the punishment provided by the existing law had not been carried out except in a very few cases, but that was accounted for by the magistrates knowing that the long imprisonment of a husband was generally followed by the wife being sent to the workhouse. The actual result of the law as it stood was— that within the last five years 375 persons had been committed for aggravated assaults on women, one-third of such assaults being on wives. Looking, however, at the Bill before them, he could not think that such a punishment as that proposed should be inflicted at the discretion of any single magistrate. They might, however, safely be entrusted with the power of sending cases to the Quarter Sessions, and the Quarter Sessions might then inflict the punishment in question.


suggested the withdrawal of the Bill, and the introduction of another empowering the Magistrate to send the cases with which the Bill proposed to deal to the Quarter Sessions.


replied, it could surely not be said that the present law was effective when under it an aggravated assault took place every day in the Metropolis alone. He admitted that the lash was a degrading punishment, but it was intended for a degrading offence. He referred to the adoption of flogging as a punishment for assaulting Her Majesty, and he contended that the House ought to consider every woman as worthy of protection as our gracious Sovereign. If the House would allow the Bill to go into Committee he would propose such alterations as would prevent the offenders being at large during the pending of the appeal, and would not give a power of appeal against the flogging only, but against the sentence altogether. He was willing to withdraw the Bill if the Government would agree to support a measure for the infliction of the same punishment on the sentence of the Quarter Sessions.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 57; Noes 174: Majority 117.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for three months.