HC Deb 13 July 1875 vol 225 cc1411-22

, in rising to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that Returns of crime and punishment in the Navy should be annually presented to Parliament, said: It will be in the memory of those hon. Members who take a more especial interest in the well-being of great naval establishment, that some 10 years ago the Government of that day established a series of annual Reports upon the condition of crime and punishment in the Navy. These Reports were of the most complete and useful kind. They showed to this House the entire condition and progress of the discipline and morals of the Navy; they showed station by station, and ship by ship, the condition of the men and of the officers. These Returns have now been stopped for several years. When, a few weeks ago, I called the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Hunt) to the cessation of these Reports, and asked if he would not cause them to be resumed, he gave me a reply which I have reason to know excited considerable disappointment among some of the best friends of our Naval establishment, and the reasons he gave excited no less surprise than the refusal excited disappointment, because he said— The expense of preparing the Reports was very great, and the advantage to be derived from them was not so considerable as to induce him to continue them."—[3 Hansard, ccxxiii. 1509.] I hardly know how to deal with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that these Reports are so expensive. Of course, the expense he means is the expense of collection, not the mere cost of presentation to this House. I am sure he will not tell this House that these Returns are not made regularly to him as First Lord of the Admiralty. I have taken some time to ascertain in the proper quarters what would be the cost of collecting and abstracting the information that I think is required, and I have been assured that a clerk power, costing £200 a-year, would be amply sufficient for the purpose. That is without the cost of printing and presenting the Return to the House; but, whatever should be the expense, I would venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Admiralty it would be one well worth incurring by the publicity obtained, and the means given to hon. Members of this House who take an interest in our Naval establishment to ascertain what is going on. I am quite sure that any amount would be worth expending. We expend £10,000,000 yearly in caring for the welfare and strength of our Navy, and cannot we afford a few hundreds or a few thousands in order to procure that means of testing what we are doing, which we insist upon, and wisely insist upon, in every other Department of the State? I was much struck with a statement made by Captain Wilson, E. N., in a paper he read at the beginning of this month at the Royal United Service Institution, on "The Seamen of the Fleet." He told us that in the three years from 1871 to 1874 there were 18,683 sailors, blue-jackets, and the waste upon them was from 11.5 to 14 per cent. Of this number desertions in 1871 were 709, and this offence was increasing, for in 1873–4 the numbers were 835, and for 1874–5 they were nearer 1,000 than 800. He added that in his estimation the cost of each man before he was trained to the Naval Service was £300 or £400, and that the country thus expended in making men able-bodied seamen from £200,000 to £300,000 per annum. I think from this it will appear that no question of expense should stand in the way of the fullest information being given to the House of the condition of the Navy. If there were but two or three harshly treated men, and the influence of public opinion might have prevented their receiving that harsh treatment, these Returns would have been worth having. This country has always taken the greatest amount of interest in the condition of the Navy. Not many years ago there was a great outburst of indignation in the country at the flogging which went on in the Army and Navy, and the Government promised a great deal. The matter was amended to a certain extent; but I am afraid the House is not aware of the extent to which it still goes on, as shown by one of the Returns I am alluding to. Lord Clarence Paget, in the discussion in 1860 of the Naval Discipline Act—and I need not tell the House that it is upon this Act that these punishments rest—said— I cannot resist the pleasure of reading to the House certain statistics with regard to corporal punishment which I have been at some trouble to procure, as they show that year by year this degrading punishment is decreasing in a steady ratio, and it is gradually dying out of the Service. I am positive that the necessity for its continuance will even more rapidly diminish if the House will continue, as it has hitherto done, to support the Government in its efforts for the maintenance of discipline, and for the improvement of the service by the training of a large number of boys, who, having entered at an early age, become attached to the Service, and in the great majority of instances turn out skilful and valuable seamen."—[3 Hansard, clx. 1655.] There has been, I need not say, a vast improvement in our seamen, through good management and care. I am informed that at the present day there is hardly a man in the Naval Service who cannot read and write, and that the old Jack-tar, with his rough, loose, dissipated, not to say debauched, habits on shore, is an extinct animal. Instead of him we have a body of as well-conducted men as any class of Her Majesty's subjects, and the more this is true the more the shame that we still allow to hang over them a system of punishment by flogging which is now almost abolished in the Army, and which, until lately, had been entirely abolished in the Civil Service. Ours is the last Service in the world where it is retained. The Dutch gave it up 10 years ago. But, Sir, the parallel is still stronger in regard to our mail steamers. There they have some hundreds of men, with an amount of responsibility in regard to mails and passengers which cannot be exceeded even by our war ships, and yet there, I need not say, the lash is unknown. Now, Sir, this is not, and should not be in any sense, a Party question. Every individual in this House, no matter what his political views, has the deepest and strongest interest in the good management, welfare, and strength of our Naval Forces. Still, it is impossible to forget, although I would not lay too much stress upon it, that a Liberal Government established these Returns; that it is a Conservative Government which has cut them off; and that it is a Conservative Government which has refused up to this time to allow them to be published. Yet I think the House will acknowledge, when I mention names, that they were able men who first laid these Returns on the Table of the House, and men who were not likely to introduce a system which would not be useful. The Duke of Somerset was First Lord of the Admiralty. Sir Frederick Grey, the House will acknowledge to be one of the best officers in the Service, a strict disciplinarian, and a wise administrator; while Lord Clarence Paget represented the Admiralty in this House. In 1865, in introducing these Returns, he said— We intend to lay on the Table of the House annually a report of the crime and punishments which take place in the Navy. There is an old French proverb to the effect that 'Dirty linen should be washed at home, but I think it desirable that the real state of the case should be submitted to Parliament.…These Returns are of such interest, as exhibiting the progress hat is going on in the Service, that the Committee will, perhaps, permit me to quote a few figures."—[3 Hansard, clxxvii.] Now, Sir, that I think was a wise statesmanlike statement. The House would learn in this manner the exact state of the Navy, and the amount of success which had attended the efforts of the Government for the improvement of the men. I am sorry to say a different spirit prevails now. As was said by The United Service Gazette, in May of this year— In all matters connected with the Navy, more especially in regard to its interior economy, there is too evident a desire to keep the public in the dark. It would he hotter for the Service if the country knew more about its system of administration. Judging from the tone of the replies too often made in the House of Commons, to Members who venture to put Questions affecting the Navy, it would almost appear that such questions were deemed as an impertinent interference. These Returns were suddenly stopped in 1867 by Sir John Pakington, now Lord Hampton, who was then at the head of the Navy, and the only ground that was alleged for such a step was that they were offensive to certain commanding officers. The House will well understand that the publication of these Reports would be offensive to certain commanders; but the fact that they were so should make those who have the real good of the Navy at heart all the more desirous that they should be retained. The officers who do not like them would not be those who are attached to the Service and care for their men, who maintain discipline and yet retain their men's affection and respect. Nor would it even be the rigid disciplinarians, because they have the respect of their men, It would be just those careless officers such as will ever creep into the best service, who alternate a gross laxity of discipline with a disgraceful severity of punishment. The journal from which I have already quoted says, in the same article— It may not he agreeable for some captains to see the results of the discipline carried out on hoard the ships under their command made public, but the good officer would have nothing to he ashamed of. The suppression of statistics formerly made was due to the interest certain captains had at the Admiralty, who objected to the notoriously discreditable condition of their crews being annually made a reflection on themselves, although in some instances it was richly deserved. Some people treat this subject as though one crew were composed of good men and another of bad, and as though it were a great hardship to expose the one or the other, as though they had anything to do with the discipline or management of their ships. But I think I can show by quoting the best authorities on the subject that the condition of a ship depends far more upon the officers in command than upon the character of the men sent to the vessel. Lord Hardwicke, speaking in the debate on the Naval Discipline Act, in 1860, said— He was of opinion that the discipline of the Navy was equally, if not more, dependent on the character and conduct of the officers in command than upon the code of laws under which they acted."—[3 Hansard, clix. 1614.] This was also the view taken by Commodore Wilmot, commanding the African squadron, who said— I have remarked to the commander on the increase of minor punishments, and suggested a greater amount of supervision amongst officers and others appointed to superintend and control the men. I am quite certain that one-half of the minor punishments need never have been inflicted if a proper vigilance had been exercised by the officers. That appears in the Report of 1863. Now, Sir, we have continual Returns of the effect of civil punishment, and upon that are founded our laws, the alterations that are made, and the estimates of the advantage which result. But this is far more necessary in regard to our Naval Service than if is in regard to our Civil Service. Our Navy discipline is still of the most tremendous and Draconian severity. It includes every punishment from a simple reprimand, and the discretion vested in the officer is of the most absolute description. Simple larcency may be punished by imprisonment for life; 17 offences are punished by death; for penal servitude there is no limit. Thus, while under a good officer, a ship may be a republic or a happy paternal government, as the case may be, it is in the power of a tyrannical commander to make his ship a very hell. Nor is there anyone to report these punishments or to call attention to them. Abroad there is no press dealing with these matters, and it must be remembered that by the Naval Discipline Act it is not merely naval crimes that are dealt with. The 46th section of the Act says— If he shall he guilty of any other criminal offence which, if committed in England would be punishable by the law of England—he shall, whether the offence he or he not committed in England—be punished either in pursuance of this Act as for an Act to the prejudice of good order and naval discipline not otherwise specified, or the offender shall he subjected to the same punishment as which for the time being would be awarded by any criminal tribunal competent to try the offender if the offence had been committed in England. That is, that any crime is to be so punished—whether it be connected with discipline or not. The Act of 1661, which was in force until this Act was passed, was strictly confined to naval offences, murder, and robbery. The result of this is that our naval officers, who are not trained lawyers, and usually know very little about law, have to decide a number of cases, not as in the Army with the assistance of a Judge Advocate General, but by themselves, and as a consequence men are, for instance, often illegally flogged.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present. House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


resumed: The result, as shown by the statistics published in 1862, 1863, and 1864, was certainly not one to make us satisfied with the condition of the Navy. In 1863, out of a force of 49,463, the total crimes and offences were 106,703, or considerably more than two per head of the whole force. Of these there were for mutiny, 15; insubordination, 7,873; theft, 620; drunkenness, 10,142; absence without leave, 41,860; minor offences, 48, 552; desertion, 1,570. The punishments were—penal servitude, 10; discharged with disgrace, 85; flogged, 752; imprisoned, 1,625; confined in cells, 2,100; and so on, the minor punishments being, 99,980. In three years, 1862, 1863, 1864, 2,341 men were flogged with 79,815 lashes. There were also great diversities in punishment. In the Channel Squadron, in 1863, the punishment for insubordination varied in the different ships from 10 to 25 per cent; drunkenness, 13 to 45 per cent; leave breaking, 126 to 207 per cent; minor offences, 58 to 259 per cent. Again, on the Australian station, the punishment in the different ships varied, for insubordination, from 13 to 40 per cent; drunkenness, 11 to 40 per cent; minor offences, 56 to 325 per cent. Many ships were honourably distinguished by having had no flogging on board during the year, while on one ship 20 per cent of the whole crew were flogged in one year. We take the most elaborate pains to get trustworthy health Returns from the Navy, and it surely is a most essential part of those Returns that we should get also a Report of the state of crime and punishment. Where there is least crime and punishment, there we shall also find the least sickness; or, in the rough words of the sailors themselves—" A big black list makes a big sick list." I cannot tell what reason the right hon. Gentleman will give if he still refuses these Returns. I can only judge by the arguments used out-of-doors and in the Press. An argument appears in an evening supporter of the Government which has all the appearance of being a semi-official account, for it first misstates the question at issue, and then proposes an utterly ineffective remedy. The Globe states— That the number of punishments on board a ship should be the sole guide in deciding its position amongst others in respect to good order and discipline, was manifestly unjust. One ship employed on a station where labour is scarce and wages high, such as the Australian or Pacific, is likely enough to have far more cases of desertion and the grave offences against discipline, committed with the object of obtaining dismissal from the service, than half-a-dozen vessels stationed whore no inducement for leaving the Navy is offered, and where the attractions of the shore do not induce leave-breaking, such as the African coasts. Then, again, in the Channel, where men are granted leave at the home ports, and fall in with old associates, there is always a large amount of leave-breaking. Precisely. But the excellence of the Return consisted in that it did not compare ships on the different stations, but ships on the same station, where exactly the same external conditions prevailed. The writer goes on— If it can be shown that these statistical Re-ports were of any actual value, as a whole, we would suggest that the personal element should be eliminated, and that the stations should be dealt with rather than individual ships. If this were done it would be manifestly impossible for the House to judge which commanders dealt best with their seamen. The writer goes on— For one captain to be periodically stigmatized owing to the misconduct of his crew, to check which he has used his utmost endeavours, as if this misconduct did not result mainly from his own mismanagement, while another possibly in command of a ship not so well disciplined, but whose views is not subject to the same temptation, gains undeserved praise, is obviously unjust. Indeed, it is a positive invitation to commanding officers to allow minor offences to pass unheeded, rather than record them in the punishment returns of their ship. This last sentence appeared to me to contain a charge so serious against officers of the Navy, that I made special application to a man who knows as much of the Navy as any man in the country, whose name would make his opinion well worth having, were not his reasons sufficient proof of what he says— To this I would reply that a graver slander could not be uttered against the officers of the Navy. I am confident that they are incapable of any such contemptible trickery. But if amongst this honourable body of men there should be any mean enough to resort to this low expedient to ingratiate themselves with the Admiralty, would it avail them anything F Certainly not. Each ship is minutely inspected twice a year by the Admiralty, and she is constantly or repeatedly under his personal notice. If her commander tampered with crime she—the ship—would necessarily be in bad discipline and the Report to that effect from the Admiral would be more damaging to the commander in a service point of view, than an inordinate list of crimes and punishments. Now, Sir, I have said that this is no Party question. I will venture to make an appeal to Government in this sense. As a Radical, I regarded their accession to office without any dissatisfaction. I thought we were as likely to get good measures from them as from their opponents, while I was certain opposition would be good for our own Leaders. But if we are not to have measures of organic reform upon questions of the greatest social interest, and if we are to have retrograde legislation, if we are to have new flogging Bills for civilians, and these essential Returns refused that Liberals never denied, then I shall begin to wish to see a Liberal Government on those benches. I do not wish to say a word of antagonism to any portion of the Navy. There is a general feeling among us, whatever our politics of traditional respect and liking for our great naval establishment. I am no friend to extravagance or to standing armies; but I have always said I would have our Navy not only powerful, but predominantly powerful. But we do require, when we spend the money of the taxpayers, to know that it is well disposed of, that the men are in effective condi- tion, and that the men are well treated and contented, which the list of desertions seems to show is not the case. I will venture, in conclusion, to adopt the words used by the Lord Chancellor of England, in 1661— Here I am, by the King's special command, to commend the poor Seamen to you.… They are a people very worthy of your particular care and cherishing; upon whose courage and fidelity very much of the happiness and honour and security of the nation depends."—[parl. History, vol. iv. 183.] The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that Returns of Grime and Punishment in the Navy should be annually presented to Parliament."—(Mr. P. A. Taylor.)


said, he could not recommend the House to accede to that Motion. It was in 1866 that the Returns were ordered to be discontinued; and the Naval officers of the Board of Admiralty of that day were unanimously of opinion that their production had been unfavourable to the discipline of the Navy. They could not be valuable unless they showed what were the qualities of the officers in command, as well as the amount of crime and of punishment, and that was not the case. On certain stations the temptations to desertion were very great, and therefore it must be expected that the statistics of crime and punishment on such stations would be considerably higher than on those where the same temptations to desertion or smaller offences did not exist. Again, when those Returns were presented to the House, after the careful analysis that was made of all the different punishments inflicted, and of the number which each ship had to show, it was found that the officers in command were in the habit of studying the Returns, and that great pressure was put upon them to keep the figures as low as possible in their ships. The consequence was, that they were much tempted not to inflict punishments when they were fairly due, for fear their ship should exhibit a larger average than some others with which they might be compared. In fact, in some ships the officers were so coerced, if he might so say, by the statistics as they were produced that orders were given that the punishments should be only so many in a week. The hon. Member, while admitting that certain stations were likely to produce more crime than other stations, said there could not be any such difference between ships of the same squadron on the same station. But, surely, it might happen from the accident of two or three bad characters being on board a particular ship that the punishments for minor offences would amount to a very large number in comparison with those on the other vessels in the same squadron; and a false impression would perhaps be produced with regard, it might be, to the conduct of a most humane and discreet commanding officer if that comparison was carelessly made. He thought the predecessors of the present Board of Admiralty had acted wisely in determining not to produce those Returns.


said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had, on a previous occasion, given as a reason for not producing the Returns that they were too extensive, and not worth printing. It now appeared the reason was that the publication would be prejudicial to the discipline of the Service. If that was correct it would be a sufficient answer to the Motion; but he was not aware that the publication had been prejudicial during the three years the Returns had been issued, and if they were seen at the Admiralty, he did not think it would make much difference if they were seen by the public. At all events, they might, without harm, be published, showing the facts squadron by squadron, if not ship by ship, and he believed they would prove to the country that even within the last 10 or 12 years there had been a great improvement in the condition of our seamen.


said, he was surprised that the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken should be in favour of publishing these Returns, seeing that when he was at the Admiralty they were never given.


The question was never raised in my time either in the House or at the Admiralty.


But if the question were so important it could have been raised by the Admiralty. He thought the hon. Member had failed to see that there was a very great distinction between publishing the Returns and merely sending them to the Admiralty. The objection to publication was that false impressions might be produced on the mind of the public with regard to the conduct of officers, for the public could not have the information which the Admiralty possessed as to the circumstances of the different ships, the character of the officers, and the peculiarities of the different stations.


said, he thought that this was a great constitutional question, and he could not understand why the Government should refuse the Returns. Unless they knew what were the punishments inflicted they could not form a correct opinion of the state of the Navy, and for this reason he should support the Motion.


said, that they had full Returns as to crime in the Army, and he could not see why there should not be similar Returns for the Navy. He believed that it would be for the good of the Navy that the Returns should be published.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 63; Noes 101: Majority 38.