HL Deb 02 April 1868 vol 191 cc683-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Marine Mutiny Bill be now read the second time, said, their Lordships would be aware that discussions occurred almost annually on the subject of corporal punishment in the army, when this measure and the other kindred measure which also now stood for a second reading—namely, the Mutiny Bill—were presented to the other House of Parliament. By the Bill of last Session the power of sentencing prisoners to corporal punishment was restricted to a very few cases of aggravated offences. This year the House of Commons had adopted a further Amendment, one not proposed by the Government, and not supported by any considerable authority—the effect of which was that sentences of corporal punishment in time of peace were wholly abolished for all classes of offences. It might be doubted whether it was altogether wise to withdraw that power from the military authorities; but he did not ask their Lordships to reverse the decision of the House of Commons. He could only hope that its effect would not be prejudicial to the efficiency and discipline of the army.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Longford).


said, that before the House agreed to the second reading of these Bills, he wished in addition to what had fallen from his noble Friend (the Earl of Longford), to point out to their Lordships the rather awkward position in which matters now stood. He certainly had no intention of asking their Lordships to make any change in the Mutiny Bill as sent up by the House of Commons; but it was only right their Lordships should understand the position in which the military authorities stood now that corporal punishment had been wholly abolished, without any other punishment whatever having been substituted for those offences for which it had hitherto been inflicted. Accodring to the wording of the Act as it passed last year, the power given to pass sentences of flogging was extremely limited, but it was still retained for the very grave offences of mutiny and insubordination accompanied by personal violence. The cases, therefore, to which that punishment was applicable were cases of the most aggravated kind: and the position in which the Bill in its present form placed them was this—that whereas the power of inflicting that punishment for those offences had ceased to exist, no punishment of any other description had been substituted for it. There was a Royal Commission now sitting whose attention had been directed to that subject, and if that Commission had thought fit to report in favour of the total abolition of flogging, he apprehended they would have at least recommended or suggested some other mode of dealing with the class of offences which he had just indicated. But, as things now stood, nothing of that sort had been done, and those very aggravated cases under the Mutiny Bill were really unprovided for. It might perhaps be said a soldier could be shot for mutiny; but he asked their Lordships whether so extreme a punishment as that could be inflicted when flogging had been deemed too severe? The power of shooting a man on the spot was so grave that it could be justified only in the most serious cases. Therefore the military authorities were now placed, as he had said, in the most awkward position in this matter; and should they have any instance—as he hoped they would not—of aggravated mutiny or anything of that kind, in consequence of that portion of the Mutiny Act having been expunuged, he trusted their Lordships would clearly understand that the fault did not rest with the military authorities. At the same time he could not help thinking—though he was not the person to propose any alteration in the decision of the House of Commons—that this subject had hardly received the amount of attention which its importance deserved. He certainly admitted that the punishment of flogging was in itself degrading; but it was the deterring effect of a punishment to which they had to look, and he did believe there really was an immense deterring power exercised over the men by the knowledge that this punishment would be inflicted for gross misconduct. The civil law had lately adopted corporal punishment for various offences, and with what result? Since "garotting" had been visited with flogging they had had far fewer cases of that crime than before. That exactly illustrated what he meant by saying that this punishment had a great deterrent effect; and it was on that ground alone that the military authorities felt it was undesirable wholly to abolish it. Another serious point was this. He understood that the present Mutiny Act was not intended to do away with that species of punishment when the army was in the field; but if it was done away with in time of peace, it seemed to him very questionable whether it should be inflicted the moment the army took the field—the time, above all others, when they desired to raise the tone and morale of the troops. The object of them all must be to keep the army efficient, not only in respect to general duty, but especially in its discipline. In this country an army not in thorough discipline would be most distasteful to the people, and they might depend upon it it would give great trouble not only to the authorities but to the public at large. He therefore hoped, as that punishment had now been struck out of the Mutiny Act, that the Royal Commission now sitting would give the subject its very gravest consideration. That punishment having been expunged from our military code without waiting for their Report, he repeated that he did trust the Royal Commissioners would now more than ever devote their most anxious and serious attention to the question of what substitute should be adopted for the very powerful means which had been placed in the hands of the authorities for preventing dangerous, troublesome, and undisciplined men from committing themselves in the way they sometimes did. He was the last man to stand up for any improper punishment; but he had thought it right that their Lordships should know the exact position which they now occupied as regarded the whole question of punishments in the army.


said, he was not surprised that the illustrious Duke who was responsible for the discipline of the army had brought that subject forward. Very great concessions had been made by the Government in respect to it. Before last year, corporal punishment was applicable to no fewer than twelve different offences; but the Government on that occasion consented to restrict it to two—namely, mutiny and gross insubordination. It was true that under the old Mutiny Act flogging could be commuted to penal servitude, and he believed that under the present Bill also a soldier could be sentenced to penal servitude as well as to dismissal from the service. But penal servitude could be applied only in extreme cases; and as to dismissal from the service, even with ignominy, many soldiers would actually commit gross offences in order to get dismissed. Therefore, under that Bill, there was positively no substitute for corporal punishment. He felt sure that it was always a painful duty for the illustrious Duke and for officers of the army to advocate the retention of corporal punishment in time of peace, but they felt that without it the discipline of the army could not be kept up, and he for one believed that a very large majority of officers were of this opinion. He regretted that the other House should have decided this question without waiting for the Report of the Royal Commission; and that the matter should there have been treated as a party question, the announcement of the numbers having been, it was stated, received with loud cheers from the Opposition. He trusted, however, that the change would not be detrimental to the service.


also regretted that the result of the division had been received in "another place" with loud cheers. Of late years new notions seemed to have sprung up as to the duties of an Opposition. It was certain that, in old times, it used to be considered the duty of those who had held high office under the Crown to be present when Motions of this kind came under consideration: but, on consulting the Division List, he found that not a single Gentleman who held office under the late Administration was present, to take part in the discussion, or to vote on one side or the other. Thirty years ago, when he was Secretary at War, this question of corporal punishment occasioned a great deal of excitement. There was a strong opposition to the continuance of corporal punishment; but he thought it his duty to resist the Motion for its abolition. He wished to restrict the punishment as much as possible; but he believed that entirely to do away with it in extreme cases would be dangerous to the service and disadvantageous to the really good soldier. The father of the noble Viscount (Viscount Hardinge) gave him the most able and efficient support in meeting this Motion, and it was very much owing to his aid and assistance that he was able to convince the House of the danger of agreeing to the Motion. When he subsequently sat upon the Opposition Benches he thought it his duty to assist the Government in resisting a similar Motion. Of late years, however, a new doctrine had sprung up, as to the responsibility of the Opposition. It used to be thought that the Members of the Opposition who had served the Crown were not less responsible than the Members for the Government, and that they were bound to use their best efforts to prevent the passing of any measures prejudicial to the public service, and to give the House the benefit of their advice and official experience. These remarks were, he thought, called for by the conduct of those who were in Opposition both on one side and the other.


said, he presumed the remarks of the noble Earl applied principally to his noble friend Lord Hartington, the late Secretary of State for War. But the fact was that he was a member of the Royal Commission to inquire into the question of the discipline of the army, and at an early period of the debate Colonel Wilson-Patten, also a member of the Commission and a Cabinet Minister, laid it down that no member of the Commission ought to take any part in the division. On Mr. Otway's Motion Mr. Gladstone paired against the Motion during the dinner hour, and the division came on unexpectedly during his absence. The noble Earl's own practice must have told him that Members who had held high office occasionally paired during the dinner hour. As the division came on sooner than was expected, perhaps this would account for the absence of the names in question from the division.


said, he could confirm from his own experience the necessity for substituting some other punishment if they abolished corporal punishment. When he was at Gibraltar some men in certain regiments were in a highly insubordinate state, and two separate Courts martial were appointed to try the offenders. One of these Courts martial was presided over by a field officer of the Line, and the other by himself. Some of the men insulted the Court, and the only way in which order could be preserved was by sentencing one man to corporal punishment, and another to three months' imprisonment. This was effectual; but if flogging were done away with, he feared that scenes such as he had witnessed would often occur, greatly to the inconvenience of the service.


explained that he had not particularly alluded to the Marquess of Hartington; but it was the fact that no Members of the late Government voted against the Motion of the hon. Member for Chatham.


said, that his noble Friend (Earl de Grey) had, he thought, entirely vindicated Lord Hartington. Without entering into the question of the expediency of corporal punishment, it appeared to him that Her Majesty's Government might have inferred from the debate and division of last year, that whenever the question came on this year, there would be a very considerable majority in favour of the abolition of flogging. He thought that after the division of last year the Minister of War ought to have immediately appointed a Royal Commission to sit during November and December, and then, when the House met in February, they might have had the Report of the Commission, and their suggestions as to the best substitute for corporal punishment.


said, that the Secretary of State for War had been taken by surprise by the impatience of the House of Commons, and was not prepared to recommend at once a change in the system of military punishments. As a Royal Commission now had the subject under consideration, with the best means of forming a judgment, the Secretary of State would await their Report without taking any further steps. With regard to the conduct of the front Opposition Bench, as he might not be a good judge, he would rather leave that question in the hands of the noble Earl on the cross Benches (Earl Grey).

Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly; Committee negatived, and Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.

MUTINY BILL read 2a (according to Order): Committee negatived; and Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.