HC Deb 26 October 1909 vol 12 cc982-6

(1) For the purpose of preventing persons subject to the Naval Discipline Act convicted of offences against discipline under that Act, and not dismissed from His Majesty's Service, from being subjected to the stigma attaching to imprisonment there shall be added to the punishments specified in Section 52 of the Naval Discipline Act the punishment of detention, which in the scale of punishments mentioned in that section shall come next before dismissal from His Majesty's service.

(2) The maximum term of detention shall be two yeans, and a person sentenced to detention shall undergo the term of his detention either in naval detention quarters or in a detention barrack, or partly in one way and partly in another: a person liable to imprisonment in a naval prison may be confined in naval detention quarters, but a person sentenced to detention shall not be confined in a prison.

(3) The Admiralty shall have the same power of setting apart buildings or vessels, or any parts thereof, as naval detention quarters as they have of setting apart such buildings or vessels or parts thereof as naval prisons.

(4) For the purpose of giving effect to the foregoing provisions such Amendments shall be made in the Naval Discipline Act as are set forth in the Schedule to this Act.

Mr. HAY moved, in Sub-section (1) to leave out the word "added" ["there shall be added"] and to insert instead thereof the word "substituted for."

I shall be obliged if the Secretary to the Admiralty will give us some reason why the word "added" is put into the Bill when a new form of punishment is created in lieu of the existing code. Not only that, but the hon. Gentleman gave us particulars as to the rearrangement of these naval prisons, rearrangements which were to do away with the existing system. I gather that the intention is to practically abolish naval prisons and to create in lieu thereof these places of detention. The Clause refers to Section 52 of the Naval Discipline Act, which contains many very severe penalties, including that of death. The matters referred to in that Clause, it appears to me, hardly come within the category of those which should be dealt with in this Bill. The phrase "custom of the Navy" is affected by this Clause. Will the Secretary to the Admiralty kindly state how the "custom of the Navy" comes in with respect to the treatment of those persons who are to be sent to the new establishments? What are the minor punishments inflicted according to the custom of the Navy?


We cannot accept this Amendment. When a sailor is to be subjected to naval discipline and not dismissed, we propose that he should be sent to detention barracks which are to be set up at certain ports. As a rule in cases of naval discipline, instead of sending a man to a naval prison to undergo shot drill and to pick oakum, he will be sent to detention barracks.


Do you propose to keep alongside the detention quarters the existing naval prisons, such as at Lewes, where very severe punishments are inflicted for purely naval offences? What is the custom of the Navy in regard to these punishments? It is a very vague phrase.


We do not propose either at Chatham, Portsmouth, or Devonport to have anything but the detention quarters. That is to be the general rule for offences against naval discipline. I explained very fully the other morning exactly the course to be pursued in these detention quarters. Generally we propose that the men under detention will have naval drill, drill with the rifle and loading practice with the large gun, and physical exercise, which we make of a pretty severe character without making it what we consider degrading.


Are you going to retain Lewes Prison as a prison or not?


We are not.


What is the custom of the Navy as regards these punishments? Is flogging a custom of the Navy? Will the hon. Gentleman say categorically does the punishment inflicted by this Clause involve disrating?


I explained very fully before what we proposed to do. All this Bill does is to give power in cases of offences against naval discipline to substitute the punishment of detention. It does not touch flogging. Flogging has been suspended in the Navy since 1881, and so far as I know is certain to continue to be suspended. It cannot be re-enacted except by special Admiralty Order. As to disrating, I assume that the punishment of disrating will continue to be imposed for the offences for which it has been imposed in the past. As to whether sending a man to detention quarters, as against sending him to a naval prison, will affect the question of disrating, I should say off-hand that it would not, and that a man will be disrated in future for whatever offences he would be disrated in the past.

12.0 P.M.


Before withdrawing the Amendment, I should like to have an assurance, if he does not know that the punishment involves disrating, that the hon. Gentleman will ascertain and let us know before the Report stage.


There are two kinds of flogging—one the sentence of flogging and flogging for breaches of prison discipline. I wish to know whether there will be flogging in these detention quarters for breaches of discipline?


There is no flogging, and it cannot be reinstated except by order of the Admiralty. With regard to disrating, I am perfectly safe in stating that this Bill has nothing to do with it at all. If a man has been previously disrated for any offence he will, I assume, be disrated in the future, irrespective of the change we are now making.


I desire to call attention to Sub-section 10 of Clause 53 of the Naval Discipline Act, which says upon imprisonment, whether on board ship or on shore, shall involve disrating. In view of the fact that this Bill substitutes detention for imprisonment, ipso facto it carries with it disrating of a bluejacket.


Of course, I entirely approve of the main purpose of this Bill, but I am desirous of asking whether birching and caning are still suspended. I understand that the abatement of punishment is not statutory, but depends upon circulars and regulations issued by the Board of Admiralty, which might be also withdrawn from time to time. Therefore, we embrace this opportunity of ascertaining whether the abatement of minor punishments is still in force.


With regard to minor punishments in the case of young bluejackets and boys, on the 30th January, 1906, instructions were issued that birching as a summary punishment should be discontinued, and that caning should only be inflicted on the actual order of the captain of the ship. I am very glad to say, having ascertained the opinion of flag officers with regard to this suspension of birching that, generally speaking, they endorse the change that was made in 1906. Therefore, birching is entirely suspended, and is likely to continue to be suspended, as has flogging since 1881. I repeat that the rules with regard to the suspension of flogging and the suspension of birching are so far permanent that they cannot be altered, except by special order of the Admiralty, and I have no reason whatever to suppose that that order is likely to be issued.


Since the results of stopping birching have been, according to the flag officers, satisfactory, I would like to ask, Will they not also take the step of abolishing those canings which are not carried out in any Navy in the world but ours?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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


In his statement on the second reading the hon. Gentleman said that the detention buildings were to be at Devonport, Portsmouth, and Chatham, but he did not give us any particulars as to the places of detention on board ship to bring them up to the level of the detention barracks on shore.


We propose to spend £50,000 in dealing with Chatham, Portsmouth, and Devonport. With regard to any alterations made in ship's quarters for cases of detention, I could not say at this moment we have any particular scheme on hand for altering the ship's quarters, but I assume the main commitment will be in the three great detention barracks. I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety that this should be done thoroughly. Certainly, apart altogether from the quarters, it will be a great consideration for the men that they should be committed in their ordinary uniforms, and doing the sort of work we propose instead of shot drill and so on. I am as anxious as the hon. Member that this should be a real change.

Clause 2 (Printing and Construction of Naval Discipline Act) agreed to.