HC Deb 02 May 1860 vol 158 cc519-36

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he rose to move the second reading of this Bill, its object being to amend the Act for the punishment of persons convicted of aggravated assaults on women and children. That object would be generally admitted to be important, referring, as it did, to matters affecting the personal safety and comfort of women and children. This question had been frequently brought forward, on account of the many instances of these aggravated assaults of late years; and from the feeling that the law, as it stood at present, was unable properly to deal with them. It was generally deemed that some amendment was required, and the main alteration which he proposed was, that for these offences magistrates should be enabled to inflict corporal punishment for the first offence, but that for the second conviction of the same offender such punishment should be rendered compulsory. Notwithstanding that he looked forward to these offences being put an end to by the infliction of corporal punishment, he was of opinion that, under peculiar circumstances, it might not be desirable to inflict that punishment for the first offence, and, therefore, he left a certain discretionary power in the hands of magistrates in dealing with those cases when they came before them for the first time. Long imprisonment was, in some cases, injurious to the wives, and the infliction in this respect of an injury upon the wife was a principal reason why many wished to substitute flogging as a punishment for brutal husbands. There were many cases, however, which had come to his knowledge, in which so far from the imprisonment being injurious to the wife, it was beneficial to her. Men who were so brutal as to commit aggravated assaults on their wives and children seldom adequately supported them. It was argued that corporal punishment degraded a man, and made him, if possible, a still greater brute than he was before his conviction. He could not conceive such a result possible in the cases to which his Bill applied; but whether it were so or not, it was not a function of criminal jurisprudence to consider the after conduct of the convicted man; but only how he could be made sufficiently to suffer, so that others might be deterred from the commission of a similar offence. Flogging was objected to as a degrading punishment. What was there in the punishment of flogging more degrading than in the act of assaulting women and children? and such an offence should meet with a degrading punishment. It should be borne in mind, too, that soldiers and sailors were subject to corporal punishment, and that military and naval authorities did not consider that a man once flogged was degraded and brutalized, and rendered less fit to continue to discharge his duties. He should wish to abolish flogging in the army and navy as much as possible, yet as those who might be supposed to know best on this subject were not prepared entirely to do away with the lash, he submitted to their better judgment. Still, if corporal punishment were maintained in the army and navy, why should it not be inflicted for atrocious assaults on women and children? What he wished to try was, whether the discipline of the lash might not prove effectual. Even civilians, too, were liable to that very punishment for offences such as theft, when they happened to be committed for trial at the Court of Quarter Sessions. In the town of Hertford, a man was at present under sentence of imprisonment for six months at hard labour, with the additional penalty of thirty six lashes, for stealing a pair of boots and two umbrellas. It was, indeed, his second conviction; but as on his former trial he was sentenced only to two months' imprisonment, it might be fairly inferred that the offence had not been very serious. He did not know why they should evince such a want of confidence in the magistrates as to refuse to allow a proper punishment to be inflicted upon men for the most atrocious outrages, simply because they must be summarily disposed of by magistrates in petty sessions. The question was, whether the House was satisfied with the present state of the law. He acknowledged that the Act of the late Mr. FitzRoy had operated beneficially in preventing the entire impunity of these offenders, but he maintained that they deserved a greater punishment than six months' imprisonment? Were the most outrageous assaults upon the most helpless persons to be put upon the same level as the most trivial class of offences? Was nearly killing a woman and child to be classed with the offence of stealing a dog? It could not be hoped that the offences would be reduced unless some Amendment of the present law was adopted. Although he would give up with great reluctance the clauses relating to corporal punishment, yet, rather than lose the Bill, he would abandon them, hoping that the other provisions which he proposed enacting an increased term of imprisonment, requiring bail for good behaviour, and abolishing punishment by fines, would be productive of some salutary effect. However, let it not be supposed, therefore, that he abandoned in any degree his conviction that the infliction of corporal punishment was the only just and efficacious mode of dealing with the offences referred to in the Bill. It was said that the punishment of flogging was not conformable to the spirit of the age. So much the worse for the spirit of the age. He thought, however, the spirit of the age was maligned when that was said of it. The spirit of the age was to put down such atrocious offences, and this was not to be done by any other means than corporal punishment. Unless the Government—who he understood intended to oppose his Bill—would undertake to bring in a measure of their own on the subject, he thought the House would not support the Government in its opposition. He thought it was a moderate Bill, and it was much more moderate than he had at first intended to introduce. Murder was the only crime which the law now punished capitally, but death often resulted from the blows given on the breasts and other portions of the delicate frames of women and children, and the infliction of corporal punishment could not be deemed inadmissible, for those offences. It had been said that if a man were flogged for assaulting his wife he would never become reconciled to her; but in such cases, the wife seldom or never made a charge until the husband had reduced her to a state of hopeless misery, and therefore if the man was incorrigible the case would not be worse than before, while if he became in consequence of his punishment imbued with proper feelings, he could live again happily with his wife afterwards. But after all, the immediate question to be considered was, whether the punishment to be inflicted was in proportion to the offence which had been committed; and if the House required a precedent for the adoption of such a means of punishment, they had it in the introduction of a similar punishment for attacks upon our gracious Sovereign, which the adoption of that measure had effectually suppressed. There was one further desirable result which would follow from corporal punishment, namely, the moral effect of this punishment in the low neighbourhoods where these assaults generally occurred. It was inconsistent to allow the law to remain in its present state. If corporal punishment was objectionable, why was it retained at all? The argument that a sentence of flogging ought never to have been passed except upon the verdict of a jury, was a puerile one. That reasoning would apply rather to the form of trial than to the mode of punishment. But, why should magistrates not have such a power as well as justices at quarter sessions? It was important that these offences should be dealt with summarily, and why not give to those who were intrusted with the liberties of their fellow-subjects the power of meting out an appropriate punishment for these degrading offences? The fear of the lash would exercise a powerful moral influence in preventing such assaults, the punishment now inflicted was a most inadequate one. In many cases the victims received such injuries as ultimately caused their deaths, and instead of diminishing, the number of these assaults was, he believed, on the increase, and the law as it stood had been declared to be utterly inefficient for their prevention. He would cite instances to prove that the punishment was not sufficiently severe. One was an instance where an idle, dissolute fellow lived upon his wife's earnings. He had been in the habit of ill-treating his wife in a brutal manner; she declined to prosecute him, and why? From the disgrace of the offence, not from the disgrace of his suffering corporal punishment, but of his being simply put upon his trial. This arose from the affection of a woman for a fellow who was unworthy of it. Another case was one where a brute had struck his wife on the head with a poker. He only received two months' imprisonment. In this instance the wife was again unwilling to prosecute, although he had been in the habit of illusing her. A third case was where a bookbinder was in the habit of beating his wife and children. On one occasion he seized one of the children and swung her round the room by the hair of her head. He then rushed upon the mother and tore the hair out of her head by handfuls. In this case also the cruelties were habitually practised. Another wife had been compelled to leave her husband and support herself as a charwoman. He believed that amongst the magistrates of London, some of them were of opinion that corporal punishment would be a very proper penalty; but if the Bill was to be opposed on this ground, he repeated that for the sake of the other useful provisions, rather than that the Bill should be lost he would undertake that the clause should be withdrawn or modified in Committee, though he should do so with deep regret; for no one could read without the deepest pain the outrages which were daily committed upon defenceless women and children. He sincerely hoped that by passing the second reading of this Bill, even supposing it to be afterwards modified in Committee, the House would take some steps to check so atrocious an offence.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he certainly had not expected to hear so positive an eulogium upon the lash, nor had he over understood from military and naval officers that a soldier or a sailor was improved by the infliction of corporal punishment. On the contrary, he had heard that a man, after being flogged generally became a good deal worse than before. With regard to the Bill, the noble Lord took credit for moderation because he proposed that for the first offence the magistrate should be empowered to sentence a man to twelve months' imprisonment and fifty lashes, and eighteen months' imprisonment and one hundred and fifty lashes for the second. Now, was the noble Lord aware of the difficulty which at present existed in getting wives to appear against husbands who had assaulted them, and of the consequent failure of justice? That difficulty would be considerably increased by the Bill, and, speaking from experience, he should say that it would also be difficult to get a magistrate to take upon himself the responsibility of inflicting a punishment of this kind. To the noble Lord was due full credit for his humane intentions, and for his wish to afford protection to the most helpless portions of the community. But though there were many cases in which delicate women came forward and claimed protection against brutal husbands, it must be remembered, on the other hand, that a mischievous and ill-tempered woman could very easily impose on a magistrate, and, by aggravating her husband until he struck her, might contrive to bring him into a police-court, rid herself of his society, and disgrace him by the punishment which this Bill proposed to inflict. The most experienced magistrate was apt to allow his feelings in such cases to get the better of his judgment, and in his opinion it would be most dangerous to allow such a punishment to be inflicted by either a stipendiary or by two magistrates immediately after hearing a charge of this description. The noble Lord seemed to suppose that there was no difference between a trial by jury and by two magistrates. But at quarter sessions there was a grand jury, a petit jury, and, above all, a bar, who sifted every statement, and, gave a Judge ample time to make up his mind and to modify his first impressions. He (Mr. Clive) was certain that there would be the greatest indisposition on the part of magistrates to inflict this punishment for the first, and still more for the second offence. The 10 & 11 Vict., c. 82, gave to magistrates at petty sessions a power of summary conviction in the case of juvenile offenders under fourteen years of age. The 13 & 14 Vict. c. 47, extended that power to the case of boys under sixteen years; but Parliament took the precaution of enacting that boys above fourteen years should not be flogged, and in both those Acts the parties accused had the power of declining to accept the magistrates' jurisdiction and of going to the quarter sessions. That showed what was the opinion of the Legislature as to the infliction of corporal punishment upon adult males. Altogether, though sympathizing with the object of the noble Lord, he could not concur in the remedy now suggested, and should, therefore, take on himself the responsibility of moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, he found no fault with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman, or with the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, whose opinions he no doubt correctly represented, He thought, however, there were two sides to a question of this kind, and Members who were not clothed with the responsibilities of office might very well take another view than that presented by the hon. Gentleman. These assaults were as outrageous and as shocking to humanity as ever they were, and experience had shown that the milder punishments hitherto provided to prevent their commission had been entirely ineffective. How great was the anomaly between the treatment of our brave defenders and the brutalized persons who were guilty of such assaults! It had been said that to strike a woman was a symptom of the lowest stage of moral degradation, and yet while for a small offence in discipline, not nearly so morally degrading, a soldier or sailor was punished with the lash, we hesitated to apply it to the men who savagely attacked defenceless women and children. An hon. and gallant Friend near him suggested that the punishment in the case of the brutal assailants of women and children should be applied to a less honourable portion of the body than was selected in the army and navy, and certainly it might be thought that the adoption of the schoolboy fashion might be the most appropriate mode of dealing with such degraded wretches. Experience had shown that nothing short of direct personal punishment could have much effect upon such degraded beings. He thought the time had come when the question ought at least to be entertained, and he should therefore vote for the second reading, and exercise his constitutional privilege of objecting to the noble Lord's withdrawing the Bill.


said, he could not approve of the Bill as a whole, but he should support it if they went to a division, because he thought that something was required to check a class of offences which were on the increase, and were most disgraceful in their character. The way in which women were brutally ill-treated by strong and drunken men in this country was a disgrace and reproach to the nation in the eyes of foreigners. He thought the objections made by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary to the Bill applied rather to details than to its principle, and would be best considered in Committee. It might not be desirable to subject adults to personal chastisement; but if so, why was flogging retained in the army and navy, and why were magistrates empowered to whip boys? He certainly agreed with the hon. Gentleman that the punishment ought to be applied rather on the school-boy than on the adult principle. He hoped that something might be done to remedy the crying disgrace and shame under which this country lay from the frequency of these offences. In former years their laws were the most sanguinary of any in Europe but now they went into the opposite extreme, and were influenced by an absurd tenderness for criminals, whom they were frequently disposed to magnify into heroes.


said, the noble Lord who had introduced this Measure had failed to show a foundation for the alteration which he proposed to make in the law. He produced no Returns to show an increase in the particular kind of offence against which the Bill was directed; nor had he quoted the opinion of magistrates that the law was ineffectual for its object, that it was not working satisfactorily, or that a difference in the punishment was required. Within the last few years the law had been made very much more stringent than formerly, and the House ought to be informed how it had worked. The hon. Gentleman who had last spoken said that something must be done, but it was too vague a proceeding to go into Committee to do something which was not defined. The present punishment for these offences was six months' imprisonment with hard labour. There were very few cases in which magistrates, without a jury, were empowered to inflict a higher punishment; and he was one of those who thought that if the offence was one that called for a heavier punishment, it ought to be sent to a jury. He confessed he did not think that corporal punishment was a penalty which ought to be entrusted to the authority of a magistrate, sitting alone, and without a jury. The magistrate was already induced to lean to over-severity by seeing the unfortunate victim of the husband's cruelty before him, and this tendency was not likely to be checked by this Measure. It might be said that there would be a difficulty in getting up a prosecution; but he thought that might be safely entrusted to the care of the chief constables. He believed, on the whole, that more or less of punishment would not stop these brutal acts. They must look to the diffusion of greater sobriety among the working population; for he believed that drunkenness was the cause of by far the larger portion of these cases, and that often on both sides. He believed there was evidence, not of a scanty nature, to show that there was an improvement among the population in this respect, and still more that these brutal offences were regarded with different feelings by the people at large now than was the case some years ago. He was, however, for leaving the case in the hands of the Government. They had Returns at the Home-Office from which they could form proper conclusions, and it would be time for the House to deliberate when those Returns were officially produced.


said, he had moved two years ago for certain Returns, showing the number of assaults committed upon women and children, and then he found that the cases in the Metropolis amounted to one a day, and that they were continually increasing. He recommended the noble Lord to move for a continuation of these Returns, which would show how the matter stood. He feared crimes of that kind were not diminishing, and an at- tempt should be made to put a stop to them. He was sorry to hear the noble Lord state that he was willing to withdraw that portion of his Bill which involved the infliction of corporal punishment, for he thought that that was the very principle of the Bill. He desired to see corporal punishment inflicted upon the brutes who assaulted women and children. Imprisonment was not sufficient, but a sharp and decisive penalty must be inflicted. The object was to prevent these offences, not to reform the brutes who committed them, for he had no faith in prison reformation. Besides which imprisonment had the effect of punishing the unfortunate partner of the guilty man. She was condemned either to the workhouse or to great want and penury. He agreed with the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. D. Griffith) that it would be unnecessarily squeamish to exempt in tenderness such wretches from a punishment which was inflicted for less brutal crimes upon the defenders of the country.


observed there was something so abhorrent to the best feelings of their nature in this crime, that in dealing with it they were in danger of allowing their feelings to overbear their judgment. But he feared that, if the Bill passed into law, it would cause more harm than good, as there would be a greater difficulty in procuring convictions than there was at present. He would agree to allow the Bill to be considered in Committee if he thought there was any chance of it being made a useful Measure, but the substantial alteration which it proposed to make was to give the power of whipping offenders. He quite agreed that whipping was the proper mode of punishing men who acted in a brutal manner; but he hesitated to enact it, because he doubted whether it would be effectual. A conviction would depend upon the victim of the assault, and although a poor woman might not refuse to give evidence immediately after the occurrence to a magistrate, yet if, as was suggested, such cases were sent for trial in a court of law, she might be influenced in the meantime, and refuse to prosecute, knowing what the result would be to her husband. He quite agreed in the objections that had been urged against investing magistrates with the power of ordering corporal punishment, and would only permit it after trial in a court of law, but then be was afraid there would seldom be any convictions. At pre- sent, however, he did not think the House had sufficient information as to the working of the existing law to be in a position to act.


The question before the House is the choice of measures for the accomplishment of an end for which we are all agreed. But the choice of the means must depend in a measure upon whether it can be shown that the present law is ineffectual, and whether there has been any increase in the number of offences of the kind we are considering. The noble Lord has not attempted to show anything of that kind, but he appeals to what he calls the evidence of notoriety—the reports in the newspapers, and he deduces from them, and the amount of public attention that is bestowed upon them, a totally opposite conclusion from that which I have arrived at. I infer that the increasing horror with which these cases are regarded by the public has induced the conductors of newspapers to devote an increased space to reporting them. I think that the increase in the number of reported cases is no proof of the increase in the number of cases themselves, and I am not aware that there is any ground for supposing that cases of cruelty towards women and children are on the increase. As far as they depend upon intoxication, which is the chief cause of such offences, we must look to—what there is evidence to show has already taken place—an improvement in the habits of the people as the best remedy for them. The principle of this Bill is, that the present law is ineffectual, and that the proper way to make it effective is to make it more severe. That is proposed to be done in several ways; by prolonging the periods of imprisonment, by increasing the time over which recognizances for good behaviour extend, and by giving to one magistrate or two justices the power of ordering one, two, or three whippings. My hon. Friend (Mr. Dillwyn) seemed rather to undervalue the additional imprisonment to be awarded under this Bill. At present the maximum is six months, with no minimum. Under this Bill, for the first offence it is to be a minimum of four months and a maximum of six months, with an additional period of six months, during which the offender is to be under recognizances. For a second offence the minimum of imprisonment is to be eight months and the maximum twelve, so that for a second offence a man, if he cannot give recognizances, may undergo eighteen months' imprisonment and three whippings. Under the present law whipping cannot be ordered except for offences tried before a jury, and it would be a great innovation to give such a power to a single magistrate. The noble Lord said he was willing to withdraw that portion of his Bill. ["No!"] At least, so I understood him, and the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) truly observed that the power of flogging was the very principle of the Bill. But the question for us to consider is, whether increased severity would tend to the repression of such offences. I think it would not. The person who must put the law in motion is usually the wife. At present the punishment is severe, but not too severe. Is it likely that a woman will be induced to prosecute her husband, with the knowledge that this severer imprisonment will await him, and that he may be privately whipped? I believe that increased severity will tend to prevent wives from coming forward, and make them reluctant to prosecute, when the result will be to condemn their husbands to a lengthened confinement and a disgraceful whipping, while they themselves are left to starve or be supported by the parish. It is no uncommon case now for wives to petition the Home Office for a remission of their husbands' sentences, upon the ground that the man is penitent, and that the woman is suffering from being deprived of her usual means of support. Therefore, I do not think that this Bill would tend to repress offences of this description, and though I am ready to give the noble Lord every credit for his humane intentions, I must vote against the second reading.


submitted it was the duty of the Home Secretary to have produced positive evidence that the existing law was sufficient to repress the crime with which the Bill proposed to deal. He (Mr. Brady) asserted, on his own observation and knowledge, that the crime was on the increase. Magistrates, also, were in the habit of stating that it was on the increase, and that men were committed to prison for it as often as three or four times, facts which proved that the existing law was inadequate for its repression. As it was, many a poor woman suffered in silence, and did not come forward until the last moment; and although the right hon. Gentleman said the wife would not come forward, he thought that was no argument why a sharp punishment should not be inflicted upon offenders; for if they refused to do that these ruffians would never believe that that House was really in earnest in their desire to put down such offences.


said, he could not help expressing his astonishment at a proposal being made in that House to inflict corporal punishment for the sake of humanity. He thought it ought to be abolished even in public schools, and he should never desist from his efforts to put an end to so degrading a penalty in the army and navy. If you wanted to stop assaults on women, improve the moral sense of the people out of doors. It was said that wife-beating was pointed at in foreign countries as a disgrace to England, but he believed there was nothing considered in France to be such a stigma on our national character as the flogging in our army and navy. He hoped the noble Lord would withdraw his Bill.


said, he was not disposed to give the power of inflicting corporal punishment to a single magistrate, or even to two justices. In the army not a single lash could be inflicted except, by the sentence of a court-martial, subject to the approval of the higher authorities. He could not see why the power of ordering flogging should not be intrusted to the quarter sessions. Fellows who beat their wives were personal cowards, and he had no doubt that if they knew that the lash was hanging over them the offence would be put a stop to. That, he thought, would put a stop to it. When the ruffian who insulted our Queen was made a sort of hero, he found plenty to follow his example; but when the crime was made subject to the penalty of flogging the crime ceased at once. The right hon. Baronet said that women were deterred by the fear of starvation from prosecuting their husbands; but there were cases in which women supported their husbands, and in which the scoundrels showed their gratitude by going home drunk and beating their families. He hoped that the law would be so altered as to enable such persons to receive a flogging—and a good flogging—for their offences.


said, that although he disagreed in the abstract with the opinions of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Coningham), and would have no hesitation in applying corporal, or any other mode of punishment, if it would tend to the repression of crimes such as they were considering, he intended to oppose the Bill, not for the sake of the men, but for the sake of the women. He thought the objections which had been stated by several hon. Members as to the difficulty of obtaining prosecutions should make them hesitate in adopting an alteration of the law which might have the effect of defeating the object which its proposers had in view. He believed that every one who was acquainted with the feelings of women, even of the lower classes, among whom these offences usually took place, would agree with him in thinking that there was that instinctive tenderness and delicacy in the female mind which would induce a woman to shrink from prosecuting her husband, who in a moment of passion or drunkenness might have committed a brutal assault upon her, and that even among women holding a less reputable, but still binding relation towards the men with whom they lived that feeling would prevent them from coming forward to inflict punishment which might savour of vengeance, and destroy all prospect of ever living together again. His firm belief was that that would be the result of the punishment which it was proposed to introduce. Upon many former occasions when Bills of that nature had been discussed they had always been rejected upon that special ground, and he thought no answer could be given to it. He did not object to corporal punishment from any sympathy for the brutes who committed such offences, but because the object of the law ought to be not only to insure punishment, but to make it certain and effective. Nothing could be more detrimental to the ends of justice than to prescribe a punishment which in the state of feeling which must exist between the two sexes could not be carried out, and therefore he said that the introduction of corporal punishment would defeat the very object which the authors of this Bill had in view. He must also remark that it was not only among the lowest classes of the community that these offences took place. If they looked to the revelations in the Divorce Court they might well fear that if the secrets of all households were known these brutal assaults upon women were by no means confined to the lower classes, and he thought the establishment of a punishment obviously only intended to be applied to the lowest classes would have the effect of creating an invidious distinction between those classes and others in better circumstances who were unfortunately guilty of similar offences. Therefore, he should feel it his duty to oppose the second reading of this Bill.


said, he wished the Bill to be disposed of, because there were several Bills on the paper in which Irish Members took great interest, and the one before the House was a matter with which Irishmen had not the smallest possible concern, for Irishmen never did beat their wives. He left it to moral philosophers to say how it was that in this highly civilized country a crime should prevail which was entirely unknown in the sister island.


said, the assumption that the wife was the first to move in punishing a husband who had maltreated her was hardly consistent with experience. He thought she seldom had recourse to the law for the first offence, and that it was only a long course of brutality which she could no longer conceal from her neighbours that drove her to seek redress. He knew instances where the poor neighbours of women who had boon brutally treated had clubbed money from their small earnings to keep them and their children out of the workhouse while the husbands were undergoing imprisonment. He was in general against the infliction of corporal punishment, but he thought it was called for to repress an offence which had defied all ordinary means of legal correction; and he believed the knowledge that this class of offenders would receive a rapid and degrading punishment would be far more effectual in deterring men from the commission of the offence than any amount of imprisonment. His experience as a magistrate induced him to think that corporal punishment would be a fair weapon to use for the protection of the woman in those cases; and in her interest, and in that alone, he cordially supported the Bill.


said, he should have been better pleased if this question had come before the House on a Motion for a Committee of inquiry, for he knew that among police magistrates great differences of opinion existed with respect to it, and it was very desirable to have further information before they sanctioned the Bill. He was aware how unpopular it was to say anything against the other sex, but really some hon. Members spoke on this subject as if there was no such thing as a bad woman. A magistrate of great experience in a district which comprised some of the lowest parts of London had assured him that cases of drunkenness and the pawning of their husbands' clothes had been much more frequent among women since the increased severity of the law against men for aggravated assaults upon their wives, and that it was common among women addicted to those vices to say to a husband, "You brute! If you hold up your hand against me I'll give you a 'sixer.'" Hon. Members had probably some experience of the venom of an angry woman's tongue; and if the Legislature so far added to the power which a woman already possessed of punishing a husband who maltreated her as to enable her to say to him, "You brute! I will have you whipped like a dog," he (Mr. Clay) believed that the apprehension of a degrading punishment might so operate on an infuriated husband's mind as to lead to worse consequences than an aggravated assault—namely, to murder.


observed that the right hon. Gentleman opposite was in error when he said that flogging could be only inflicted on civilians after the verdict of a jury. He would remind the House that flogging was a punishment which was already inflicted in gaols for breaches of prison discipline; and as a visiting magistrate for a period of 20 years, he had seen a number of offenders sentenced to be flogged for the repeated commission of those offences, but that he only knew one instance of a man repeating the offence after being flogged. He was sorry to say that amongst the worst class of female prisoners there was more misconduct than among the most ill-disposed of the men. The highest personal punishment that could be inflicted on women was being put in irons; but it did not prove so efficient as flogging was found to be in the male wards. That circumstance carried conviction to his mind that flogging as a last resource was more likely to repress crime than any other punishment. Again, the law was that any person who committed a larceny was liable to be flogged; but larceny was not so bad an offence as an aggravated assault on a woman; and therefore he did not think the Bill was so objectionable as it had been represented.


supported the Bill, believing that if whipping was added to the existing punishment, it would go far to repress aggravated assaults upon women.


said, it was his intention so to alter the Bill in Committee as to give the magistrates, acting separately, only power to sentence to a longer period of imprisonment; but he should propose to give the magistrates in Quarter Sessions power to order a person guilty of an aggravated assault to be flogged. Wives who were beaten by their husbands commonly owed them very little for their support; and they were, generally speaking, much better off while their husbands were in prison.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 109; Noes 85: Majority 24.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°.

On the Question that the Bill he committed the next day,


suggested that the noble Lord who had charge of it should adopt the recommendation of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), and refer it to a Select Committee, seeing that the House was much in want of precise information on the subject, and that it would be desirable to have the evidence of police magistrates in reference to it.


said, he hoped the noble Lord would not accede to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. He did not think that any further information they were likely to get would be of any advantage, and he hoped the noble Lord would not consent to the Bill being sent to a Select Committee.


said, he thought the course proposed by the hon. Member for Wiltshire was the best that could be followed, and he would therefore support his proposition for sending the Bill to a Select Committee.


said, he thought the House had had sufficient information already on the subject. He would move that the Bill be committed the next day.


said, if it was proposed to send the Bill to a Select Committee in order that it might receive improvements, he was disposed to think that with a view to such improvements it should be considered in a Committee of the whole House rather than by a Select Committee. If it was proposed to refer the whole subject to a Select Committee, with a view to evidence being taken, that, he thought, was not the ordinary course. As he understood the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, it was that they would obtain any additional information that might be required by simply sending the Bill to a Committee up-stairs. He (Sir G. Lewis) was disposed rather to have the matter discussed in a Committee of the whole House, in order that they might arrive at a right conclusion as to whether the punishment inflicted on offenders should be lengthened imprisonment or flogging, or a combination of both.


said, it was, perhaps, not the ordinary course of proceeding to take evidence on a Bill when sent to a Select Committee, but there were precedents for such a course.


said, he concurred in the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that the clauses of the Bill should be considered in a Committee of the whole House; but he hoped the noble Lord would be prepared, before going into Committee, to inform the House what modifications he meant to introduce; or, if the noble Lord thought it a more convenient course, the House could go into Committee pro formâ, and thus enable him to introduce the Amendments he meant to propose.

Bill committed for To-morrow.

Back to