HC Deb 07 June 1880 vol 252 cc1364-73

rose to call the attention of the House to the position of Her Majesty's Government in reference to the question of abolishing the punishment of flogging in the Army and Navy. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that in giving Notice of this subject he thought he was doing a service to the Government by giving them the opportunity of stating what it was they would actually do when they legislated next year on this subject. The observations which he would make would be divided into two distinct and contrasted parts: first, the utterances of the Members of the Government before they came into Office; and, secondly, their statements after they came into Office. It was more than three years since there was a division on the Motion of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) in reference to flogging in the Navy. That division took place on the 10th of April, 1877. The Motion was then of a very distinct and specific character, and stated that "the time has arrived when the punishment of flogging in the Navy should be altogether abolished." On referring to the Division List to ascertain who were the Members of the present Government who thought that the time had arrived for the abolition of flogging he found a division of opinion. There voted in favour of the Motion, Mr. Bright, Mr. Chamberlain. Mr. Childers, Mr. Fawcett, and Mr. Mundella, while among the Members of the present Government who were not Members of the Cabinet there also voted in favour of the Motion Mr. Shaw Lefevre, Mr. Campbell-Ban-nerman, Mr. J. Holms, Sir Henry James, and Mr. Herschell. That was a strange list. He had also looked to see who were the Members of the present Government who supported the late Government in their opinion that the time had not arrived for the abolition of flogging, and he found that Mr. Goschen, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Forster, Lord Hartington, and Sir William Harcourt did not pronounce that the time had come for the abolition of the punishment. Two years later, in 1879, the question of flogging in the Marines came up in the discussion of the Army Discipline Bill. There was a great deal of speech-making on the subject, and ultimately the Marquess of Hartington moved a Resolution— That no Bill for the Discipline and Regulation of the Army will be satisfactory to this House which provides for the retention of corporal punishment for Military offences. That was a far more cautiously-drawn Resolution than the Resolution of the hon. Member for Leicester; but, such as it was, it was supported in debate by the greater number of the Members who now constituted the Government, and he thought it was supported by all of them in the division. But this was best seen in a speech made by Mr. Chamberlain, who took a very prominent part, below the Gangway, on the occasion of a visit to Glasgow last October, in which he reviewed the work of the Session.


rose to Order, and asked if the hon. and learned Member was in Order in referring to Members of the House by name?


I am referring to a Mr. Chamberlain, who was a Member of the last Parliament, and who, after the termination of the Session of 1879, went down to Glasgow and delivered a speech


The hon. and learned Member has also referred to other Members by name.


I understand the hon. and learned Member is reciting some document in reference to the proceedings of the late Parliament, in which case he is quite in Order.


resuming, assured the hon. Member opposite that he would be very careful, when he came to speak of the Members of the present Parliament, to observe the Rules of the House. He was at present speaking of a Mr. Chamberlain who had gone down to Glasgow and delivered himself of his views of what had taken place on the occasion of that division. Mr. Chamberlain said— We were opposing the brutal and degrading punishment, a relic of the past, which by special legislation has been reserved for the most abandoned ruffians in our gaols, and which, at the same time, is declared to be absolutely necessary to preserve the character and discipline of the British Army. And then he went on to boast that one of the greatest achievements of that debate had been to elicit from the Leader of the Liberal Party—he (Mr. Gorst) believed that was the occasion when Mr. Chamberlain spoke of Lord Hartington as the late Leader of the Liberal Party—a declaration that sealed the fate of flogging; a declaration that in future the Liberal Party would no longer give it their support. Nor was that all. At the General Election the utmost possible political capital was made of the opposition of the Liberal Party to flogging and its alleged support by the Tory Party. The present Home Secretary, in addressing his then constituents at Oxford, compared the punishment of flogging to that of hanging, and remarked— Not many years ago the Criminal Code of this country was the most severe and brutal in the world. The Judges said that if men were not hanged property would not be safe, and we were told last year that if men were not flogged the Army would not be safe. I venture to say that people were as much mistaken in that opinion as the Judges when they said that if you did not hang men property would not be safe. He (Mr. Gorst) could quote similar examples from many speeches made by Members of the present Government; but he would take the case of the election at Birmingham as a specimen of all. At Birmingham, where two Members of the present Cabinet were the successful Liberal candidates, a disgraceful placard was posted—50 or 100 copies in a row—in the streets. It contained a disgusting picture of a naked soldier being flogged by a political opponent of the right hon. Gentleman. The letter-press gave a minute and disgusting description of the mode in which the punishment was inflicted, and then in large letters came the following:— The British Army is the only Army in the world in which this brutal and degrading punishment is inflicted. Last year Mr. Bright and Mr. Chamberlain struggled night after night in the House of Commons in order to secure its abolition. They succeeded in reducing the number of offences for which it could be inflicted from 100 to 10, although they were met by the most strenuous opposition from the Tory Party, who prevented its total abolition. Working men of Birmingham! These men, whom Major Burnaby would see horribly tortured, are your brothers and your sons. Thus the suffrages of the working people of Birmingham were expressly asked for on the ground that it was the Tory Party, as opposed to the Liberal Party, who maintained flogging in the Army and Navy, and that the persons flogged were the brothers and sons of the Birmingham electors. This was the way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) invoked the passions of the class whom he formerly called in that House "the residuum"—men not to be reached by argument and reason, but to be appealed to through their passions. The Liberal candidates for the borough of Southwark thought it right to accuse Mr. Edward Clarke, who for a short time was a Member of the House, of having distinguished himself during that short time by voting for flogging. Mr. Clarke personally challenged the candidates for misrepresenting what he had done, and they withdrew their statement after it had had considerable effect on the constituents. One of the Liberal candidates, who, being a philosopher, might have been expected to be more reasonable and fair in this matter than almost any other man, was pleased to say, as far as his (Mr. Gorst's) memory served him, when he withdrew the statement, that if Mr. Clarke did not vote for flogging his Party did, as they voted for everything else that was brutal and unfair. Many Members who sat on the Ministerial side of the House in the last Parliament were as sincerely opposed to the punishment of flogging as any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite, and gave expression to their views by their speeches and by their votes; and one would have expected that when the Liberal Party that had so strenuously denounced the maintenance of this brutal and degrading punishment came into Office they would lose no time in announcing from the Treasury Bench that they intended its immediate abolition. The right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), in answer to a Question put to him a short time ago, stated that the Government had not changed their views on the subject; but that before they gave effect to those views they were bound to consider what punishment could be substituted for flogging. They heard nothing of the necessity for consideration in 1879, nor in 1877, when all these right hon. Gentlemen voted for the immediate abolition of flogging. The right hon. Gentleman said if the House would place confidence in the Government, he would undertake to bring in a Bill next Session, which he hoped would be acceptable to Parliament and the country. Now, that was what he complained of—that they were to wait till next year. He would be quite willing to wait till next year if he were told what the measure would be. This was a question upon which the Government were pledged up to the hilt. If they had come into Office pledged upon any subject more than another it was the abolition of flogging in the Navy. Now would they rise in their places and say what they would do? If they did, ho, for one, would be perfectly satisfied. He thought the House and the country were entitled to a most explicit and unconditional declaration from Her Majesty's Government, that having got into Office by inflaming the minds of the "residuum" against the punishment of flogging in the Army and Navy, next year flogging would be finally abolished.


I do not quite understand the object of the course taken by my hon. and learned Friend. I think he would have acted more wisely if he had followed the example of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), who put off his Bill in order that the present Administration of the Navy might have an opportunity of considering what they should do. I understand the hon. and learned Member for Chatham has consistently opposed the punishment of flogging. If so, I hope he will be satisfied with the statement I am about to make to the House. He has called the attention of the House to the fact that my name appeared in the division last Session against flogging. I hold still the opinion which I held before on that occasion. Now, the statement I have to make with reference to flogging in the Navy is this. Since the appeal I made a few days ago to the hon. Member for Leicester to postpone for a short time the Motion he had upon this subject, the Board of Admiralty have given their attention to the subject, and have come to the conclusion to prepare an Amendment of the Naval Discipline Act at the earliest period of next Session, which shall omit flogging from the authorized punishments of that Act. They have been brought to this conclusion by the consideration that it will be impossible to maintain corporal punishment in the Navy when it is abolished in the Army; and, further, that it has already almost ceased to exist in the Navy. Last year there were only four cases of corporal punishment in the whole Navy, and two of these took place upon land, and not on Her Majesty's vessels. This has been the result not so much of the existing regulations, which still permit it in a considerable number of cases under certain conditions, but from the policy which has been carried out by successive Boards of Admiralty for sometime past. It will, however, be necessary to review very carefully the punishments permitted by the Naval Discipline Act for the graver offences, and to strengthen, as far as possible, the hands of naval officers for the maintenance of discipline. This will require time and careful consideration; and Lord Northbrook proposes, therefore, to prepare by the beginning of next Session, a measure for the amendment of the Naval Discipline Act in the sense I have explained. Now I understood my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham to say that he would be quite satisfied if the Government would announce their intention of bringing in a Bill next year. [Mr. GORST: I spoke of the Army as well as of the Navy.] I can only deal with the Navy. I have considerable pleasure in stating that the Board of Admiralty fully approve the course Lord North-brook intends to take. I hope the hon. and learned Member for Chatham and the House will be satisfied with this statement, and that he will not think it necessary to proceed further this Session, and that, like the hon. Member for Leicester, he will not think it necessary to proceed with this discussion.


would like to know what punishment was to be substituted for flogging? Soldiers, in some foreign Armies, on a line of march, though not flogged, were punished by being tied to a cannon or to a tree in the cold of winter or in the heat of summer, and that punishment was known to be much more severe than moderate flogging in the Navy. He was by no means an advocate of flogging; but he could not regard the statement of the Secretary to the Admiralty as satisfactory, unless they were told what was to be substituted for the punishment of flooding.


warmly thanked the Government for the information they had given as to their intention with reference to flogging. It was quite true that the Government were bound to take the course they had announced; but Governments did not always do what they were bound to do. He could assure the hon. Member for Portsmouth that whatever punishment might be substituted for flogging would not be one more severe and brutal.


said, he was not surprised that the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) had taken the opportunity of making known on the opposite side of the House sentiments which he never previously expressed on the Ministerial side. He was much surprised with the cheers of those who sat near the hon. and learned Member while he was speaking; but they did not raise a solitary cheer when they heard the statement distinctly made that the Government had kept to their pledges, and had determined on getting rid for ever of this disgraceful, degrading, and, on the whole, unnecessary punishment. He had for many years taken the deepest interest in this subject. He had never made it a Party question. He had asked Lord Beaconsfield to adopt the Resolution which he had moved in the last Parliament on this subject, and believed he would have done so but for the advice he received from some military authority. He, for one, after the statement which was made some little time ago by the Secretary of State for War, never had the slightest doubt of what the intention of the Government was on the subject. He was thoroughly satisfied with the decision to which they had come, which, he believed, would give the greatest satisfaction in the country.


said, that as in the course of the late Election it had been charged as an offence against him that he was desirous of maintaining the punishment of flogging, he wished to say a word or two with reference to the position in which this question now stood. All the honour that attached to the abolition of this punishment was the fair due of those hon. Members who, like the last speaker (Mr. Otway) and the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), had stood up for years demanding, through good report and ill report, that it should be put an end to, and that at a time when there were few hon. Members to support them. He could not say, however, that the present Government were entitled to share in that honour, because he remembered well what had taken place on this subject last Session. He had had the honour of sitting on a Committee presided over by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The question had been brought before the House, and there were then no signs on the part of several hon. Members of the present Government taking the part they since did in the matter. He well remembered that the then Opposition Leader of the House (Lord Hartington) had, when this question was under discussion, declared that "the object seemed to be to take care of the blackguards of the Army," and it was not until the junior Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) had reproached the noble Lord with being the "late" Leader of the Liberal Party, that that noble Lord came down to the House, changed front entirely, and said that no measure would be satisfactory that did not abolish flogging in the Army. It must be remembered that neither the noble Lord, who had been Secretary of State for War for some time, nor any Member of the former Liberal Cabinets, had ever brought forward any measure dealing with the subject. In such circumstances, he repeated that he could not give either respect or credit to the Government for the course they had taken with regard to this question of flogging, however much he might respect those who had been consistent on it throughout. They had heard it was to be abolished in the Navy, but not in the Army. If they could find a substitute for this punishment, less degrading, less brutal, and still sufficient to maintain discipline in the face of the enemy, he would be more than satisfied to see flogging abolished. He would not like to say the number of men who had been flogged of necessity in the presence of the enemy in the war in South Africa. He wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would state whether it was his intention to abolish the punishment of flogging in the Army, which had been stated by the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) to be raised from the dregs of the nation; and whether he had resolved upon substituting for it any punishment less degrading and less brutal which would maintain discipline when our troops were in the face of the enemy? He urged the right hon. Gentleman to consult Sir Garnet Wolseley on the subject, and to ascertain from him how many of our soldiers it had been found absolutely necessary to flog in the recent campaign in South Africa.


said, the hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Otway) and his noble Friend opposite (Lord Elcho) had so pointedly challenged him to take part in this debate that he could not decline the responsibility of doing so. As to himself personally his hands were perfectly clean in this matter. He had never voted in favour of flogging, and his personal opinion had always been strongly against it. Allusion had been made to the vote he gave in 1877 against flogging in the Navy. He had arrived at the conclusion, after his own experience on the Admiralty Board some years ago, that it would be safe to abolish flogging in the Navy. It was not a question which he had been able to deal with when First Lord, but from the opinion he then formed he had never gone. He was now asked precisely whether he would give the answer in respect to the Army which his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty had just given in respect to the Navy. With regard to this, he was under the impression that nothing could be more precise than the answer he had given the other day to the Question put to him by the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen); and though he was jeered by hon. Gentlemen opposite, no one on that (the Liberal) side of the House misunderstood him, and he undertook to say that no one in the country misunderstood him either. He had had opportunities of reading the remarks which had appeared in the Press, and whether it was what was known as the Service Press or the daily Press of London and the country, it was apparent from their comments that his answer was clear enough. What he said was that the Members of the Government did not swerve in the least from the opinion they had expressed in 1879. That opinion was, in the words of his noble Friend's Reso- lution, that flogging should not be a part of the permanent punishments of the Army; but they never stated that on the following day, without any further inquiry or investigation, it would be possible by a stroke of the pen to abolish corporal punishment. His first act when he went to the War Office, and before any allusion had been made to the subject in the House, was to commence an investigation as to the punishments which might be substituted for flogging; and what he said in reply to the hon. Member for Newcastle was, that between this and the next Session of Parliament they would examine into the question very carefully and obtain the most accurate information of the punishments in force in foreign armies, some of which were not in pari materia with ours, and others were more so, in order to see what punishment could be substituted. He had also stated that at the commencement of next Session the Government would prepare and introduce a measure consistent with their pledges, which he hoped would be satisfactory alike to those who had voted with them on the question, to the great majority of the present House, and to the country generally. He now repeated that statement, and that he concurred with all that had fallen from his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty on the subject of the abolition of flogging in the Navy.