HC Deb 26 April 1861 vol 162 cc1198-201

said, he did not rise to pursue the subject of flogging. Most hon. Members who had been at public schools had had the advantage of personal experience of what a flogging was before they entered that House. The question he had to submit to them was a much more important one; it related to the postponement of the Appropriation of Scats Bill. That seemed to be the only Reform Bill they were to have during the Session, and it had hardly met with the respectful treatment from its parents which it had a right to expect. It received a second reading on the 25th of February, and was put down for Committee on March 7th. It then stood No. 1 on the Orders, but it was postponed to the 11th; then it was postponed to the 14th, and then to the 21st of March. Before the 21st came it was postponed to April 15th, when it stood low down among the Orders, and it was then postponed to the 25th, when there was no chance of its coming on. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department had stated that the Bill would not come on until after the financial statement had been disposed of, but, as there was no chance that the debate on the Budget would be over before the following Thursday it was evident that a still further postponement must take place. Under those circumstances, and as the measure was one which excited considerable interest, he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would fix some day definitively for its discussion. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that independent Members had not the same inducement as the occupants of the Treasury bench to remain in the House until two o'clock in the morning to watch the Bill.


Sir, I am not conscious of having behaved, as the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Collins) has alleged, with any want of respect to the House in regard to the Bill for the Ap- propriation of seats. In the beginning of the Session an opinion was expressed, somewhat in terms of censure, that the Government were to blame if they did not introduce their Bills at an early date. In accordance, therefore, with what I thought the general wish of the House I introduced the Bill in question at a comparatively early period of the Session, and it has been read a second time. If I had seen an opportunity for the consideration of the Bill in Committee, I should not have failed to have availed myself of it. The House, however, is aware that the Government are in a more unfavourable position than private Members with regard to the consideration of their Bills at that period of the year. A private Member can put down his Bill for Wednesday, and if sufficiently high on the list it will come on, but it is impossible for a Government Bill of this kind to be taken up when there is important business on the paper, such as Committee of Supply, when a couple of nights are sometimes occupied with preliminary Motions. I am not aware that I have failed to avail myself of any opportunity of bringing on the Bill, or that I have postponed it on any occasion when it could seriously have been expected to come on; I can only repeat that as soon as the financial business shall have been concluded I will fix a day for the Bill.

As to the flogging of prisoners I would observe that there are two classes of cases in which that punishment is inflicted: one is where the Judges at assizes or quarter sessions have pronounced that sentence after an indictment. The law in certain cases allow this punishment to be inflicted on adults, and more frequently on children. That is the sentence of a competent Court; and it is inflicted by the gaoler, just as a capital sentence would be if pronounced by a competent Court. In that case, then, it is not in the power of the Executive Government to interfere with the mode of its infliction, although the Crown may remit it. As far as legislation on this subject is concerned it is under the consideration of the Committee which is now sitting on Offences against the Person. This punishment, more than any other, has been under the consideration of that Committee. They will, no doubt, make certain recommendations which will come before the House, and without anticipating their decision, I think the House may dismiss the subject, leaving it to the consideration of the Committee. The other class of cases is where flogging is administered by order of visiting magis- trates on prisoners for prison offences. There is obviously a difficulty with respect to prison offences, because punishment has to be inflicted on those who are already in a state of punishment. Ordinary modes of punishment being thus taken away the law confers on the visiting justices the power of flogging for prison offences. Before inflicting that punishment the visiting justices, as has been correctly stated by the hon. Baronet (Sir Baldwin Leighton) take evidence as to the offence, which is accessible to the prison inspector. I am not aware that any case of excessive flogging by order of the visiting justices has been reported by the prison inspectors, or made the subject of special complaint to the Home Office. If any such complaint had been made it would, of course, have been attended to. From the returns it appears that a boy of a tender age has been subjected to flogging with the cat, which is certainly a severe instrument of punishment. In the New Bailey Prison, Salford, in November, 1857, a boy aged fourteen years seven months, was sentenced to eighteen lashes with the cat. His offence was, "shouting repeatedly in his cell at night, after having been cautioned by the watchman, this being the seventh report since conviction in May, 1857." He was probably an incorrigible boy, who had given a great deal of trouble to the prison authorities. In March, 1858, in the same prison, a boy eleven years old was sentenced to thirty-six lashes with the birch-rod, for "shouting loud in his cell to other prisoners, this being the ninth similar offence in four months, in addition to other disorderly conduct." In April, 1858, in the same prison, another boy, thirteen years eight months, was sentenced to forty-eight lashes with the birch for whistling and shouting in his cell, that being "the third similar offence (incorrigible), and eighth offence in seven weeks." That is the nature of the offences for which corporeal punishment is inflicted on prisoners by direction of the visiting justices. If the House thinks fit, it can, of course, impose some restriction on the discretion of the visiting justices by defining the instrument to be used in different cases, and limiting the number of lashes to be administered. It would be competent for the Home Office to inquire into any particular case of cruelty and to take steps in consequence; but not to issue a circular letter to the visiting justices, limiting their discretion in the execution of the law. I will, however, consider whether I can make any suggestion on the subject. It certainly appears that in some prisons this punishment is inflicted more frequently than in others, but that is sometimes owing to the defective construction of the prisons, and not to any fault of the officers.


said, that last Session he had brought this subject under the notice of the House, when he had shown that the system of flogging children was most tyrannical, brutal, and of a disgusting nature. In the army a court-martial, which could order a soldier to be shot, could only direct the infliction of fifty lashes. But in Lancaster gaol there appeared to be no limit to the authority of the visiting magistrates. He had never heard of a boy being flogged with a cat-o'-nine tails in the army at all. A soldier entered the army at the age of eighteen, and must be a most accomplished blackguard to earn a flogging within a year. So that it might be said that nineteen was the earliest age at which a soldier was liable to flogging. But the Return before the House showed that a lad of fifteen years and two months had received forty-two cuts with a cat-o'-nine-tails for defacing some books in prison. Another boy, of sixteen, for refusing to work had received sixty cuts with the birch. He observed that 190 of the floggings took place in Lancashire. The hon. Member for Birmingham, therefore, would have been much better occupied in his own county than in dragging before the country General Sir Richard Dacres, the commandant at Woolwich, for having flogged the greatest ruffian that ever disgraced the army. It was all very well to talk of the brutality of flogging in the army, but what could equal the brutality they had heard of that evening? If he commanded a regiment at Oxford, he, as colonel, could not flog any man in the regiment without a regimental court-martial; but as a visiting justice, he could go to the prisons and flog as many men as he pleased. He was an advocate for flogging in the army, because he did not believe they could govern the men without it; but he would never consent to place it in the power of any one man to subject another to the lash, except in a case of mutiny when instantaneous example was necessary to suppress it.