HC Deb 12 March 1877 vol 232 cc1783-8

in rising to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that more detailed information should be furnished to Parliament in regard to crime and punishment in the Navy, such as was afforded by the Returns for the years 1863, 1864, and 1865, said, that it was about 12 years ago since there were prepared and presented to the House for three successive years what he might call absolutely model Returns of crime and punishment in the Navy. That, however, had been stopped; in introducing these Returns Lord Clarence Paget stated that he intended to lay on the Table an annual Report of crimes and punishment in the Navy. This was no question of politics. There was in the country very great pride felt in the Navy, and he (Mr. Taylor) contended that it was most desirable that the fullest Returns should be presented, so that the country might ascertain the real condition of that arm of the Service. During the last 20 years a system of training our sailors had been organized; they were manufactured in a most artistic and deliberate way, and were made valuable man-machines. The deserters from the Navy numbered about 1,000 a-year, and the loss to the country was about one-third of a million sterling, and therefore it was essential, even on economic grounds, that they should know what was going on in the Navy, and how far the Service was benefited by the distribution of good-conduct money. The sum given for that purpose amounted to £60,000 or £70,000, and the House ought to know what benefits the country also derived from that large premium. The House ought further to know whether the Navy was effective, and whether those who constituted it were well treated and contented. The Admiralty Returns to which he had referred gave a record of every crime and every punishment in every ship and on every station, showing the average amount of crime, and naming the ships which were above or below the average, and they gave that information in an admirable manner; but they were suddenly stopped in 1867 by Sir John Pakington (now Lord Hampton) the only reason given being that the Returns were offensive to some of the commanding officers. Now he (Mr. Taylor) contended that that was one of the strongest reasons why the Returns should be given. The officers who objected to the Returns were not likely to be those for whom the country would have most consideration, and the excellent officers whose ships showed a good Return would be encouraged by such information being given to the House and the country. In France a most elaborate Report on the subject had been recently presented to the President by the Minister of Marine, embracing the most minute details; but in France they were alive to the importance of making such information known. The last Returns which had been presented to the House fell very far short of the Returns which had been previously given, for they classed all the crimes and punishments under two heads—namely, on the ships at home, and on the ships abroad. Now there might just as well be no discrimination at all, because it was impossible to ascertain from these Returns on which ship or at which station the crime was committed, or in what ships bad government or good government was going on. There were 65,264 summary punishments inflicted according to the Returns; but from the meagre information now supplied by our Government there was no means of ascertaining the nature of the offences for which, under the Naval Discipline Act, a system of Draconian severity, punishments—such, for instance, as that of flogging—were inflicted. The power of officers was enormous, and all that was asked was, that they might see how it was exercised. The officers had more to do with the discipline of the ship than the men themselves. But the ships varied at the same station in the amount of crime. For instance, at one station, in 1862, three ships had no convictions at all for minor offences, while one had 2899 per 1,000. At the same station, in 1863, there were none in two ships, while the highest was 4339 per 1,000. For insubordination, in 1862, at one station three ships had no convictions, while one had 200 per 1,000, and another 417 per 1,000. In 1863, on a foreign station, while 14 ships had no flogging, the highest had 200 per 1,000. In conclusion, he would say that ours was the only service in which the punishment of flogging was retained, and for that reason he trusted that the Returns would be granted, because he thought the House ought to have the fullest opportunity of judging of the character both of the officers and the men. He begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that more detailed information should be furnished to Parliament in regard to crime and punishment in the Navy, such as was afforded by the Returns for the years 1863, 1864, and 1865."—(Mr. P. A. Taylor,) —instead thereof.


said, that as the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) had raised a distinct question upon the Amendment, it would be convenient to reply to him at once, and leave the other subjects to be dealt with after the decision of the House had been taken on this point. The hon. Member had expressed a desire that the Returns presented to the House with regard to Crime and Punishment in the Navy should be similar to those furnished for the years 1863 and 1864. The Return relating to the latter year was presented to the House in 1866, and he was inclined to think that no similar Return had since been presented. The Returns had not been renewed by the Admiralty under the Administration of his noble Friend Lord Hampton (then Sir John Pakington), nor under the administration of his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), and of his right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen). When the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester brought forward the subject two years ago, it appeared to him (Mr. Hunt), on thinking the matter over, that it was not desirable that such detailed Returns should be presented but he thought it reasonable that the House should have some information respecting crime and punishment in the Navy; and, accordingly, he directed that a Return should be prepared and laid on the Table last year, believing that it would satisfy the House upon the subject. He should have thought that the Return would have given a great amount of satisfaction to the lion. Member, because the hon. Member would discover from it that corporal punishment, though not abolished by law, was nearly extinct in the Navy, and that courts martial rarely had recourse to that punishment, which, in his own opinion, should be resorted to as little as possible, and only where the cases were of a very aggravated character. The hon. Gentleman wished, however, to have the very detailed account which appeared in the Returns for 1863 and 1864, giving a statement as to the amount of crime and punishment not only on every station, but on every ship. The experience of the Admiralty was that those costly Returns did not produce a good effect. Instead of being found advantageous they were found to have the opposite effect, for they put such a pressure on commanders of ships that some of them shrank from doing their duty. In one instance it appeared that there were many cases of theft on a particular ship and none at all on another. Did the hon. Gentleman think this depended on the disposition of the commanding officer? Was it not clear that there were more thieves on one ship than on the other? No commanding officer would ever overlook a case of theft. Again, it might happen that in some ships there was a greater number of young men than in other ships, and, as hon. Members were aware, boys were much more troublesome at ages between boyhood and manhood than they were at other periods of their lives. When one commanding officer had on board his vessel a large proportion of these young ordinary seamen, he found a great deal of trouble in dealing with them; and was, in some cases, obliged to resort to flogging. The consequence was, that because he had more of these boys than other commanding officers had, he seemed to be gibbetted, and shown up by this unfair comparison. Ought he to have his capability as an officer called in question by the House of Commons? This consideration had weighed very much with previous Boards of Admiralty. The Administration which preceded him did not think proper to renew the Returns, and no Return had lately been presented till last year, when he laid on the Table a Return which he proposed to continue, and which, in his opinion, gave the House sufficient information on the subject. For the reasons he had given, he thought it was not desirable to go into all the details which had been given in the Returns for the years 1863 and 1864, and which had given the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester so much satisfaction.


said, he had never shrunk from supporting Her Majesty's Government in reference to questions of discipline in the Navy when he had shared their views, even though his opinions differed from those of many hon. Members with whom he generally acted. No inconsistency, therefore, could be imputed to him by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, on the present occasion, for supporting the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), in opposition to the views of the Government. It was true, as the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty had said, that Returns such as were asked for had not been given by previous Administrations; but it was equally true that they had not been asked for; and there was a great difference between volunteering Returns and refusing them after they had been pressed for by the House. The argument of the First Lord of the Admiralty he (Mr. Goschen) appreciated only to a limited extent. It was possible that some meritorious officers might be misunderstood, when they had the misfortune to have ships on board which there was a considerable amount of punishment inflicted, and when the discipline of those ships was shown in the Returns to be bad; but, like other people, naval officers must put up with being misunderstood, and with having motives attributed to them which did not actuate their conduct. The right hon. Gentleman had put forward no such case as having happened during the years that the Returns in question had been published; but if ever any unfair attacks were made against officers, he was sure, as far as the present question was concerned, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, or his Successors, would be alike able and willing to defend their subordinates from wilful misrepresentation or misunderstanding based upon insufficient knowledge of facts. The House, in his opinion, had a fair right to ask for the Returns which had been moved for by his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester.


sympathized with his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester in what he desired to obtain, and thought that the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty were singularly weak, for it struck him as being remarkable that commanders of ships could not perform their duty properly, if it was possible for what occurred in their ships to become known to the public. He hoped his hon. Friend would press the Motion to a division.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 121; Noes 65: Majority 56.—(Div. List, No. 32.)