HC Deb 11 March 1880 vol 251 cc846-59

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he would appeal to the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Otway) to withdraw his opposition to the progress of the measure at this stage. He would suggest that the sense of the House should be taken upon the subject of the hon. Member's Motion when the Bill went into Committee. The reason why he made this appeal was because he understood that considerable pressure had been put on his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to finish the Relief of Distress (Ireland) Bill, which was one of the primary objects of the meeting of Parliament.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Colonel Stanley.)


regretted very much that he could not comply with the request of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. He had a duty to perform; but he would endeavour to discharge it as expeditiously as the circumstances of the case would admit. He therefore begged to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is not desirable that a Bill relating to the discipline of the Army should be continued which does not contain a provision relieving British soldiers from the degradation of flogging to which they are at present subjected. Some 70 years ago the most celebrated military commander, and, perhaps, the most astute statesman of modern times, having made his brother Jerome King of Westphalia, advised him to do something to conciliate his new subjects. Accordingly King Jerome issued a proclamation, in which he said— Considering that honour is the great incentive to a soldier, and that it is desirable to banish for ever such disciplinary punishments as recall feudal times and degrade the dignity of man, on the report of our Minister of War, we decree that flogging is henceforth abolished in our Army. The Armies of Westphalia and France were at that time the only ones in which flogging did not exist; but Scharnhorst in Prussia and the Archduke Charles took steps in that direction, and in the Prussian and Austrian Armies flogging had long been abolished. Efforts had been made by his relative, Sir Francis Burdett, and others to put an end to this punishment in the British Army. Not many years ago, on a Motion which he (Mr. Otway) had the honour to submit, flogging was entirely done away with in time of peace, and, in consequence of the discussions in the House last year, the punishment was reduced to 25 lashes, which could be inflicted only in time of war. He understood that more than 1,000 men had been flogged in South Africa; but if only half that number had been punished it must be admitted that the lash had utterly failed as a deterrent. The only way in which it acted as a deterrent was in preventing good men from entering the Army. Some of the most distinguished military authorities—such men as Generals Stewart, Sir Robert Wilson, Colborne, De Lacy Evans, and Sir William Napier—had condemned flogging because of its degrading character. General Napier had become an opponent of flogging because in the Peninsular War his life had been saved by a soldier who gave as his reason for imperilling his own life the fact that the General had once saved him from a flogging. He did not think it was incumbent upon opponents of flogging to find an alternative punishment. There were many punishments, such as fatigue duties of a certain nature, that might be given to soldiers which would not destroy their efficiency, and yet would save them from a degrading infliction. Discipline was maintained without flogging in the Army of every civilized country in the world except the English Army. Would the Secretary of State for War say the Englishman, the Scotchman, or the Irishman was such a brute, so different from the Frenchman, the German, the Russian, and the American, that he must be flogged to keep him up to his duty? Such a declaration was an offence against the nation, which one would not expect to come from a Government that assumed to be pre-eminently patriotic. He asked the House, therefore, to accede to the Resolution he proposed. This question could only be settled in one way, and it would very soon be settled in that way. He implored the Government to settle it, and so deprive the Liberal Party of the credit of doing so. The punishment had already been reduced to a minimum, and the right hon. Gentleman had shown that his heart was not in the cause which he had to defend. That Parliament was about to expire, and he did not know that it would occupy many brilliant pages in the history of the time; nor did he know whether the Speaker would preside in the next Parliament, as he had presided so ably over that and other Parliaments. But he ventured to hope that, before the present Parliament was dissolved, the Speaker would be able to declare the affirmation of the Resolution which he now placed before the House.


begged to second the Resolution. He said that the punishment of flogging was confined exclusively to the British Army. Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Irishmen were the only people in all the great Armies of Europe who were now subject to this degrading punishment. Some concession had been already made in regard to flogging. He hoped that the Government would make a complete concession, now that we were free from war, and that the punishment might be absolutely expunged from the Statute Book.

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 not desirable that a Bill relating to the discipline of the Army should be continued which does not contain a provision relieving British soldiers from the degradation of flogging to which they are at present subjected,"—(Mr. Otway,) —instead thereof.

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


said, that the question was now being discussed in a state of quiescence as compared with the animated scene which had presented itself on former occasions. It certainly was not difficult for the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution to speak of the unanimity which prevailed on their side of the House. The discussion, indeed, was carried on in an Assembly represented rather by the absence than the presence of its Members. He could only state what he thought was the opinion of all present—namely, that that which was passing on that occasion was not a discussion of such a character as unavoidably to oblige the Government to pursue another course of action than the one which they had adopted. There was nothing to take exception to in the statements of the hon. Member. He was glad to find that no elements of passion or false sentiment, such as had characterized the debate of last year, had been introduced into the discussion, but that the Motion had been brought forward in a business-like manner, so as to gain the approbation of both sides of the House. He would endeavour to meet the arguments which had been brought forward in a fair and candid spirit. The hon. Member who moved the Resolution had spoken of the deterrent effect which flogging in the Army exercised on recruiting. In matters of opinion it was always difficult to ascertain the exact fact. As far as he had been able to got at the truth, he had not been able to learn from those who were most conversant with the different classes of which our Army was composed that flogging exercised any such influence. It was overstraining the case to imagine that the men who entered the Service had any conception that they would incur that punishment, which was only inflicted in cases of the gravest crimes. As to the statement that British soldiers alone were subjected to this punishment, he was not prepared to commit himself to positive statements about the discipline of foreign Armies; but if it was meant that in other countries discipline in the the Army was maintained merely by moral suasion he did not believe that it was so. Either at the Cape or in Afghanistan those offences were committed for which they were obliged to deal summarily with the men. They could not send back the offenders under an escort to other places where imprisonment could be carried out. The hon. Gentleman said there were cases in which he could understand a soldier preferring death to corporal punishment. He thought the hon. Gentleman must have looked at the matter in the light of his own wishes rather than in the light in which it was likely to present itself to the person most concerned. He did not believe that, as a rule, in cases of offence while upon guard or upon duty, the offenders, if given the option of being put to death or of being flogged, would hesitate to accept the latter alternative. He did not suppose the hon. Gentleman, or those who supported his views on the question of flogging, wished to see the discipline of the Army one whit less than it was at the present time. But they must remember that the point on which the British soldier was most likely to fail was in respect of his duty towards the inhabitants of the district through which he might be passing. The hon. Gentleman said that corporal punishment by flogging had been done away with in the Army of the United States. At that moment he (Colonel Stanley) spoke under correction; but he thought it was matter of notoriety that in the American Service practices had prevailed which were foreign to our own Service, and which, undoubtedly, were almost as severe, if not more so, than punishment as existing in our Service. The hon. Gentleman spoke as to the general question. Let him (Colonel Stanley) go back as far as he might reasonably in order to know what happened during last year. The debates on this question were full, exhaustive, and protracted. He was free to admit there were in the minds of those whose duty it was to oppose the Government feelings as conscientious as those to which the Government might lay claim. He thought they finally agreed that this was no question of Party before the House. There was this broad distinction—that those who at the time were responsible for the discipline of the Service, and those who, in the ordinary course of their duty, were acting with them, did not find it possible, in the present condition of the Service, to do away with the means of corporal punishment which, apparently, in some circumstances, was the only manner in which discipline could be preserved. He did not wish to enter into a controversy as to that, to which he referred very briefly a short time ago, on the question of discipline or indiscipline in the Army of South Africa. He would prefer to postpone any remarks upon that subject till the time when the facts were more fully and more satisfactorily before him. With all deference to the opinions the hon. Gentleman had stated, he (Colonel Stanley) said the responsibility rested upon those who, like the hon. Gentleman, brought this question before the House with a wish to abolish corporal punishment as it now existed; but a due responsibility rested upon them, in common with the other Members of the House, that those who were responsible for discipline should have the means of maintaining discipline. Where there were rough characters in the Service—he was sorry to say there were such, and might be such at any time—where they had rough men, in many respects enterprizing and soldierlike characters, it was necessary that proper means of maintaining discipline should be placed in the hands of those who had charge of them. In this matter Her Majesty's Government felt that they must not shrink from performing what they believed to be their duty, however unpleasant it might be. It had been his anxiety, in the peculiar circumstances of the present year, to bring in a Bill simply to continue for a twelvemonth the provisions of the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill, because he, and those who acted with him, felt that the discussion which had occurred last year upon this subject was ample for the time, and that the Government had gone as far as they had any right to do in the direction of mitigating the punishment of flogging by making it a substitute for that of death. By taking that course, the Government believed that they had met the evident and natural desire of every man of humane disposition, by mitigating severe punishment, as far as was consistent with the preservation of discipline. He was afraid that, whether they looked to civil or to military life, it would be found impossible to govern men entirely by mere moral suasion. While fully admitting that it would be possible to amend the Army Discipline and Regulation Act in many respects, he must say that those whose duty it was to administer it had informed him that it worked, as a whole, satisfactorily, and that there was no pressing necessity for altering its provisions at the present moment. On these grounds he ventured to oppose the Motion of the hon. Member; and he only regretted that the question should have come on for discussion in so thin a House, which could scarcely be taken as fairly representing the general feeling on the subject.


observed, that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman appeared to have discussed this question at great length with the air of a man who felt that corporal punishment was doomed, but must be retained for the present, in obedience to the wishes of those who were outside that House. He predicted that those who defended this punishment would shortly find themselves placed in a very ridiculous position. He thought that the opponents of corporal punishment had every reason to be satisfied with the progress made on this question, the great Tory Party now being the only advocates of the lash. Until this last shred of authority, supported by brutish violence, was done away with, he and those who held the same opinions as himself would never cease from troubling those in authority.


said, he felt very strongly indeed that the lash ought not to be entirely abolished or banished from the country, as its retention was necessary in some cases; but he objected most strongly indeed to our soldiers being placed in the same category with garrotters. He believed that there were certain persons who could only be influenced by the kind of violence the lash inflicted, and he was prepared to maintain that there were circumstances and crimes which called for the use of the lash. What he did object to was that while the House was told, on the one hand, all that was grand and beautiful with regard to the Army, it was, at the same time, told that it was necessary to use the lash, which was so bad that everybody but the soldier and the garrotter were exempted from it. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State for War really gave the go-bye to the arguments that had been put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood). What he complained of was that the House was not drawing a distinction between the British Army and a foreign Army, but between the British Army at home and the British Army abroad. For some reason, however, the cat was retained, and he would like to know the cause of it. Was it the pain it caused? The House had been over and over again told that it was not the pain. Then what was it? Was it the shame it caused? There were two or three ways of inflicting shame upon a man, and what he complained of was that punishment debased the man and made him feel not ashamed of what he had done, but of himself, and made him all the more liable to commit the same crime again. He trusted to see flogging and the Sinking Fund go together with a dying Parliament. It was strange to say that a punishment that could not be inflicted upon the Army at home could be inflicted upon them when on service out of the country. He was sure the hon. Members of the House would most strongly object to see the lash used upon their farm labourers and their tenants; but it was strange that, directly those farm labourers or tenants enlisted to serve their Queen and their country, they immediately became so bad that a proper control could only be maintained over thorn by the use of the cat. The subject had so thoroughly been thrashed out that it was not necessary for him to make any further observations upon it; but he ventured to hope, even now, that if the exigencies of the Service would not allow flogging to be entirely abolished, that its existence would in a short time be put an end to.


said, the punishment of flogging had been restricted to the smallest possible compass, and was inflicted only in cases of the most desperate character, and where the offender deserved to be in the same category with the garrotter, and the House must remember flogging could only be inflicted on board ship, or in face of the enemy. It was very ingenious to get up this as an Election cry; but it should not be forgotten that this punishment was declared to be necessary by the last Liberal Government, of which the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Otway) was a Member. He saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) in his place, and would remind him that his voice was not raised against flogging when the Leader of the Opposition was at the War Office, and stated distinctly that it was essential, in the interests of the Army, that the punishment of flogging should be maintained. There was no one on either side of the House who would not wish that the punishment of flogging could be abolished; but it should be remembered that our Army was not an Army of conscription. It was raised from different classes from those of which Continental Armies were composed. There were in our Army numbers of honourable and gallant men, but there were others of a different character; but even in their case flogging was only resorted to in the most extreme cases, and for the very worst offences. For all others it was abolished. He had, since the question was discussed, consulted many authorities on the subject; and they were all of opinion, with one exception, that flogging could not be safely abolished, and the exception he referred to was to the effect that it could only be abolished in the event of some other suitable and very summary punishment being substituted for it. He felt himself compelled to support the Government, believing that they were right in maintaining a punishment which had been absolutely abolished except in the case of extraordinary offences.


thought that if the Government opened a more generous career for merit in the Army there would be no occasion to resort to the brutalizing lash. They had evidence that the punishment did not fulfil its object, for there never was a better flogged Army than that which overcame the Zulus. Enough had come out in the controversy between Sir Garnet Wolseley and Dr. Russell to show that abundant flogging did not keep British soldiers from being a disgrace to their country. Last year they were afforded a specimen of the way in which Tory Members reconciled themselves to the use of the lash. The hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell) rose in his place, and, with tears in his voice, produced a letter from an old soldier, who he said was in the Lobby, stating that he had been flogged, and had ever since felt himself regenerated and dignified by the punishment. Some of those who heard the statement sought the man in the Lobby, and they found a broken-down man who said that since he was flogged he had led a life of physical pain and felt he was a degraded man, and, he added, that he had come down to say so on behalf of his comrades who were still in the Army. The versatile Premier had not thought fit to make an appeal to the country on the question of flogging in the Army; and, although the accents of the living cat had been imitated in that House by distinguished Obstructionists on the other side, he did not suppose that Ministerial orators, in their addresses to their constituents, would lay much stress on their devotion to the flogging of the soldier as a means of preserving the efficiency of the Imperial Forces.


said, there were few things more humiliating than the frequent discussion of the question in that House. He was old enough to remember the time when the public were shocked by floggings that were followed by death. From first to last the tyrant plea of necessity had been used; but various mitigations had been made in the brutal punishment—which was now reduced to a comparative tickling, as it was called, of 25 lashes. The infatuation with which hon. Members on the other side of the House clung to the barbarous infliction was astounding; and if they would only go to the country pledging themselves to vote for its abolition the advantage that they would thereby gain would not be grudged to them for the sake of getting rid of this infamous punishment. If officers could not govern their men without subjecting them to the brutal infliction of the lash, which was used in no other Army in the world, they ought to retire from a position, for which they were unfit.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 76; Noes 30: Majority 40.—(Div. List, No. 39.)

Main Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


who was prevented by the Forms of the House from moving the following Amendment:— That, in the opinion of this House, no Act relating to the discipline of the Army ought to be passed which gives to the military authorities power to flog Volunteers on active service, said, they were told that it was necessary to flog men on active service in foreign countries, because there was no other way of dealing with offenders, and because one-half of the Army could not be spared to look after the other half; but, however good that argument might be in South Africa, it surely could not be sustained as against Volunteers serving in this country. The clause conferring power to flog Volunteers off active service was absolutely unnecessary, and was a great blot on the Bill. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman had told them distinctly that he wished the time had arrived when it was possible to do away with this punishment in the Army, but that with the sort of men still enlisted for the Army it was absolutely necessary to retain it. But that opinion did not apply in the least to the Volunteer Force, which consisted of men of a totally different class. It would be very easy to provide, by an Amendment, that Volunteers should not be liable to be sentenced by court martial to corporal punishment. It had often been said, that Volunteers would never deserve the punishment, and, therefore, would never get it. Well, then, if that were so, it was perfectly useless to retain the power to inflict it. Officers were not allowed to be flogged, and that led to the anomaly that a gentleman who was a private in a Volunteer corps, but who might be of exactly the same standing as the officer holding Her Majesty's commission, would be liable to this degrading punishment for an offence for which the officer would remain untouched by it. Volunteers who sacrificed their time and money for the service of their country ought not to be placed on the same footing with, gaol-birds and ruffians. Such was the character of the Volunteer Force that mere expulsion from a corps was punishment sufficient for any offence of which a Volunteer might be guilty. Were our Volunteer soldiers less worthy of respect than American, French, German, Italian, or Russian troops? They were told there must be uniformity in military punishments; but there was no uniformity in the conditions of service. They were totally different. Volunteers proved, by making themselves efficient at their own cost, that they were men to be relied on. It was said this subject was being made a hustings cry and a Party question; but there could be no doubt that the public would demand pledges at the hustings that this meaningless and useless stigma should not remain on the Volunteer Force.


begged to call attention to the insufficiency of the payments to licensed victuallers for billeting soldiers. Those payments were based on old values, which were altogether too low at the present day to recompense keepers of public-houses and licensed victuallers for the accommodation they were obliged by Statute to afford to troops on the march. Licensed victuallers objected very much to the scale of payment, and accordingly disliked to see soldiers marching through their towns. They objected to having soldiers constantly billeted upon them, not because the soldiers behaved badly, but simply from the insufficiency of the rates of payment. Her Majesty's Government ought to do something to re-model the scale. Last year they did make some slight improvement by making allowances for officers' lodging; but even yet licensed victuallers were subject to a great amount of hardship from the low scale of payment. As a private Member of the House he could not move an Amendment on the clause unless Her Majesty's Government would take the initiative; and he would, therefore, content himself by simply pointing out further that 2½d. did not pay a licensed victualler for the trouble he was put to in lodging a soldier, nor was 1s.d. sufficient for his board. Again, the payment of 1s. 9d. for stabling a horse was also insufficient, as the publican might have to give more for the forage; at all events, that small amount could not recoup a licensed victualler for the trouble he was put to in stabling a horse.


strongly urged the consideration by the Government of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. H. Samuelson). He (Mr. Anderson) was against flogging altogether; but he thought even those who considered that it should be retained in the Army would not go the length of saying that it should be extended to Volunteers. He could only believe that Volunteers had been placed under this stigma through some inadvertence in the drafting of the Bill. If that was so, he hoped the Secretary of State for War would make some promise that it would be expunged. The alteration might very well be made in Committee next day.


said, the question raised by the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. H. Samuelson) was fully discussed last year, when the House, by a substantial majority, agreed to take the Bill as it was drawn. Part of the principle of the Bill of last year was to place soldiers of the Regular Service and members of the Auxiliary Forces on exactly the same footing in case of active service. It would be almost pedantic to introduce words into the Bill to guard against Volunteers being subjected to corporal punishment, the contingency of their being so treated being so very remote. The general feeling of all Volunteers was in favour of their being subjected to the same conditions as governed the Regular Forces, should they ever be called upon to serve side by side with those Forces. Coming to the objection of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Major Nolan), he could only repeat what he felt it his duty to say last year—that, so far as the hardship of billeting was concerned, no doubt there would be some inconvenience in having to receive soldiers suddenly, and in addition to persons who might be staying in the house; but that was one of the incidents attaching to the monopoly given to licensed victuallers. He understood that the principal objection applied not to the billeting of soldiers on the march, but to the billeting for a month of the Militia. Efforts to remove this grievance had been made by placing the Militia under canvas, and in some instances in barracks. As regarded the prices for troops on the march, the Schedule was drawn up in 1873, when the prices of provisions were much higher than now. A deputation of licensed victuallers, representing one of the associations, waited upon him in regard to this matter last year; but on a comparison of figures they admitted the fallacy of many of the figures; and although he offered to see the deputation again after they had had an opportunity of correcting their figures he had not since seen nor heard from them.


as a Volunteer, was of opinion that Volunteers would consider being equally liable with the Regular Army to corporal punishment anything but an honour.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow, at Two of the clock.