HC Deb 27 March 1865 vol 178 cc363-9

Order for Committee read.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1.


asked whether any changes were made in the Bill, so as to make it different from that of last year? The Bill was one which scarcely any of the Members had seen.


said, that if the hon. and gallant Gentleman had not seen the Bill it was his own fault, because it had been printed. There were only some slight changes, and none affecting the army of England—their object being to bring the Mutiny Act of India into conformity with that of England.


said, it was an inconvenient practice to alter clauses of a Bill which was not printed as amended. The noble Marquess said that the alterations were of no importance; but that was a matter of opinion. Those alterations should not be passed without the House having had an opportunity of seeing them.

COLONEL KNOX moved that the Chairman do report Progress, as the Bill was too important a one to be allowed to pass at that late hour of the night.


hoped the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not persevere in his Motion. It was necessary that this Bill should be passed before Easter, and if it did not go through Committee to-night it would probably be necessary to defer the commencement of the Easter holidays. As far as he was aware, there were no alterations of any importance in the Bill. Fifty copies had been printed, and were at the Vote Office for the use of those who wished to see them.


hoped that his hon. Friend would not press his Motion for reporting Progress, for there would be great inconvenience if the Bill were not passed before the 1st April. He had got a copy of the Bill, and he could not see that there were any great alterations in it.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 5 agreed to.

Clause 6.


called attention to a matter he considered of the greatest importance to the profession of which he had had the honour to be a member. If the statements made in the public papers as to what had been recently said by the Judge Advocate General in the House were true, he could only say it was a matter calculated to bring suspicion and discredit on the administration of the military law of the country. It had been reported in the ordinary channels of information that in the beginning of the month an hon. Gentleman made an inquiry of the Judge Advocate General as to what period of time a man could be kept in confinement after a court-martial upon his conduct had concluded; and further, whether it was true that two soldiers had been kept in confinement for many weeks after the courts-martial had con- cluded their proceedings and before the promulgation of their sentences. To those inquiries the right hon. Gentleman said that the rule of his Office was that as soon as a sufficient number of the findings of courts-martial had come in they were taken by him to the Queen, and submitted for Her Majesty's approval or otherwise. In the case of the two soldiers referred to the findings of the courts-martial had been approved of, and there was no reason why those individuals should have been kept in custody for one day afterwards. Now, assuming that report to be correct, he (Lord Hotham) ventured to say it raised a question of a very serious nature. The rule in reference to courts-martial was this—that on the conclusion of the trial the proceedings were forwarded to the Judge Advocate General in order that he might see that the proceedings had been conducted in a regular manner—that the evidence taken was legal evidence, and that the sentence pronounced was one in conformity with law. Supposing those requirements to have been fulfilled, the Judge Advocate General had to lay the proceedings before the Sovereign, together with his own opinion and advice thereon. After that the Queen's command was communicated to the Commander-in-Chief, and the sentence was promulgated. If men were to be unnecessarily kept in confinement, what, he asked, would be the result of such a confinement? Was that time between the sentence and its promulgation counted? If so, and if the sentence was a severe one, its severity was mitigated; but if it was a slight one it might be an aggravation of it. But what was the case of the innocent man, and how much more wrong must it be to keep in confinement a man who, having been tried by a court-martial, had been acquitted. The object of a court-martial was not vengeance, but an example to others; and with this object in view the sentence should follow as rapidly as possible, consistent with a full and deliberate consideration of the case. There could be no necessity for a delay of weeks from the conviction to the promulgation of the sentence; and no one could justify the keeping a convicted person unnecessarily in confinement, and still less so to keep an innocent man in custody. He expressed a hope that an alteration in the existing practice would be made.


said, he brought this subject on a former occasion under the no- tice of the House, at a time when a predecessor of the present Judge Advocate General was in office, and it was then stated that the practice would be altered.


said, he was asked on a former occasion whether there was any precise time a man could be kept in custody between the closing of the court martial and the promulgation of the sentence, and if he had seen the case of the two men referred to. He answered then that he had not seen the case referred to, and that with regard to the promulgation of the sentence there was no specified time for doing so; but he did not mean by that that a man was to be kept for any lengthened time in custody. The practice was to take up a number of cases at one time to Her Majesty for her approval; but Her Majesty had stated her readiness at all times to give audience in these cases. Some delay also took place after that. He had followed the practice of his predecessors; but he thought an alteration for preventing so much delay as was now the case in some instances was necessary. If the case referred to had been brought to his notice he should have inquired into it, and should, no doubt, have taken a course that would have prevented so long a delay before its promulgation.


said, that during the time he held the Office of Judge Advocate General, no such delay had taken place as that referred to in the case that had been particularly brought under the notice of the House. He could also state that Her Majesty was always ready to give audience in such cases.


asked, why the same practice was not adopted in Military Courts Martial as in Naval Courts Martial? In the latter, when an officer was acquitted his sword was immediately returned to him.


said, simply because Naval Courts Martial did not require the approval of Her Majesty.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 7 to 21 inclusive were agreed to.

Clause 22.


said, he found in this clause four causes for which the infliction of corporal punishment was permitted—namely, desertion, disgraceful conduct, misbehaviour, and stealing. Now, it might be easy enough to define desertion, but disgraceful conduct was an indefinite term, and misbehaviour was more indefinite still. The Return of the number of lashes inflicted upon soldiers in the year 1862 showed that different officers must attach very different meanings to the term "misbehaviour," for while in some regiments lashes had been inflicted upon soldiers for that offence, in others there had been no such punishment for misbehaviour. Again, in some regiments a great many men had been flogged for neglect of duty, while in others none had been flogged for that offence. Stealing appeared to be a very common offence in the army, judging from the number of men who were flogged for it. He wanted to know why a soldier was punished with fifty lashes for that crime, while a civilian only, perhaps, suffered a few weeks' imprisonment for it. Would any man in that House get up and say that the infliction of fifty lashes on a soldier made him a good man or more fit to serve in the army? Another offence for which soldiers were lashed, as appeared from the Return, was "making away with necessaries." One man might consider something a necessary which another man might consider to be perfectly unneccessary; and yet twenty-nine soldiers had received an aggregate of 1,000 lashes for "making away with necessaries." In some cases the offences for which lashes had been inflicted were not stated in the Return. There were cases in which it would appear that men had been flogged for "absence." A man might be absent from some cause over which he had no control. Many of the Members of that House were often absent from their duty, and why should they not be flogged for that offence if it was to draw down fifty lashes upon a soldier? In three cases the Return gave the cause of flogging as "miscellaneous." What might that be? It was high time that the flogging system should be done away with, and he, therefore, begged to move, as an Amendment, the omission of the clause.


seconded the Motion. He considered that so long as the clause was retained in the Act we should never get good men to enlist.

Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided;—Ayes 85; Noes 2: Majority 43.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 23 to 25 inclusive were also agreed to.

Clause 26.

MR. COX moved the rejection of this clause, which was known as "the branding clause." He thought there was no necessity for such a degrading punishment. And, further, he wished to know why it was inflicted on soldiers and not on sailors, many of whom were, no doubt, worse than the "B. C.'s of the army.


in seconding the Amendment, said, that of late there had been a manifest improvement in the conduct and condition of the soldier, and it was his firm conviction that not many years would elapse before this punishment and that of flogging would be abolished both in the army and in the navy. There was no doubt that these punishments operated as a great discouragement to recruiting for both services.


said, that as long as this class distinction of making private soldiers and sailors amenable to these punishments was kept up there was an end of the boasted maxim that all Englishmen were equal in the sight of the law.


said, this punishment was rarely inflicted, and, in fact, it was retained more as a precaution than a punishment. It was to prevent men who had been dismissed or had left his regiment with ignominy being enlisted in another, and thus to save the country the expense of re-enlisting such bad characters. The Return before the House showed how rarely these punishments were inflicted. It was only the perfectly incorrigible characters who were subjected to them, and they need not deter good men from entering the army, because the fact of their being good men secured them from their infliction.


asked why the distinction between the army and the navy was kept up?

Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 77; Noes 35: Majority 42.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 27 to 30 inclusive, were also agreed to.

Clause 31.


said, he found it gave power to the Secretary of State for War in a foreign State—namely, in the Ionian Islands; and that Clause 52 also gave the same power. It showed the manner in which the Bill had been brought into the House.


admitted that the section was not very carefully drawn. No harm would be done by retaining the words, but he would consent to omit them.

Words struck out.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 32 to 54 inclusive were also agreed to.

Clause 55.


said, that the clause referred to negroes purchased by Her Majesty's Government previous to the abolition of slavery. He wished to know whether there were any such negroes in Her Majesty's service?


did not believe that there were any, and would therefore consent to the omission of the words.

Words struck out.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.

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