HL Deb 01 June 1883 vol 279 cc1456-62

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

House in Committee accordingly.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 (Abolition of corporal punishment and solitary confinement).


, in moving, in page 1, lines 15 and 16, to leave out ("corporal punishment or,") and, in line 17, after ("repealed,") insert— ("Corporal punishment may be inflicted by sentence of a court-martial for the following offences:—(1.) Striking a superior officer; (2.) Mutiny; (3.) An unnatural offence; (4.) Theft,") said, all naval officers who had mixed with blue jackets as he had done must be actuated by kindly and almost affectionate sentiments towards them. Therefore, nothing but a strong sense of duty could lead any officer to wish for the retention of corporal punishment. His opinions on the subject were shared by, perhaps, a large majority of the officers who took command of Her Majesty's ships, and who were experienced in the Service. He held that the retention of corporal punishment in certain cases was absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the Service; and he felt sure that in a general war the Admiralty would have to resort to it in extreme cases. Flogging in the Army had been abolished by law; but the Admiralty had assumed the responsibility of causing the punishment to cease in the Navy without having a Parliamentary sanction for so doing. The Articles of War, which were under an Act of Parliament, had never been repealed, and were still in force in the Navy. The noble Earl opposite stated the other night that there had been a considerable increase of such offences as striking superior officers. That was an offence which, when he entered the Service, was regarded with a degree of horror that the expressions of the noble Earl the other night appeared not to support. Such offences were formerly considered to be the most serious that a seaman could commit. Men who committed them were liable to be sentenced to death, and in all cases flogging was immediately inflicted for such offences. He would not say anything with respect to the third class of offences, which every now and then appeared on board ship. But theft, he believed, had, since the abolition of flogging, considerably increased in the Navy. There was a good deal of property on board ship belonging to sailors who had no lock-ups, and no facilities for protecting their goods. He could not understand why a power which was exercised by magistrates on land should not be intrusted to officers on board ship. Still, he admitted that there would be great difficulty to reestablish corporal punishment after it had been done away both in the Navy and in the Army. If naval officers had been consulted, he did not think corporal punishment would have been entirely abolished. Sir William Martin had in a pamphlet urged the authorities not to take a step, by abolishing all corporal punishment, which would materially affect the efficiency of the Navy. What punishment could be substituted? In time of war, was there always to be a vessel in attendance to carry home prisoners to be tried and sentenced? When men were flogged they ceased to think anything about it after a few days, and suffered no degradation like that which was entailed by imprisonment and the society of criminals. He therefore protested against the proposal.

Amendment moved, In page 1, lines 15 and 16, leave out ("corporal punishment or,") and in line 17, after ("repealed,") insert ("corporal punishment may be inflicted by sentence of a courtmartial for the following offences:—(1.) Striking a superior officer; (2.) Mutiny; (3.) An unnatural offence; (4.) Theft.")—(The Viscount Sidmouth.)


said, he was willing to admit that in theory it was desirable to do away with corporal punishment; but they must look at the matter as practical men, and if flogging were abolished in the Navy he asked what punishment the Government would substitute for it, and what they proposed to do with the culprits? If, for instance, a sailor struck an officer in the Pacific, what would be done with the culprit? He should like to know how discipline would be maintained in the Navy? If discipline was not maintained it would be a serious thing for the Service. For his own part, he failed to see what effective punishment short of flogging could be inflicted for the worst class of offences.


said, he agreed with the noble Viscount (Viscount Sidmouth) that it would hardly be possible now to restore corporal punishment in the Navy. It was no longer a practical question to discuss whether it was wise a few years ago to do away with corporal punishment. It had been done, and now they must deal with the subject as practical men; and, so dealing with it, it would be quite impossible, in his (the Earl of North-brook's) opinion, after the expression of opinion in the country and in the other House of Parliament, to retain corporal punishment in the Navy. It should be remembered that their Lordships, almost without discussion, agreed to abolish this punishment in the Army; and, looking at that fact, and that it had, by Orders, been practically abolished in the Navy, this Amendment should not be accepted. There could be no doubt that some offences were of a most serious kind, and must be dealt with; but the best mode of dealing with them was to give increased power of inflicting punishment in other forms. He was sorry the noble Viscount had misunderstood some words which he had spoken the other night. He had said nothing to imply that striking a superior officer was a trifling offence. But it should be remembered that the term "superior officer" was used in a different sense on board ship from the usually-accepted meaning. It included petty officers. What he did wish to point out was that striking an officer was a different offence from mutiny, and was treated separately from mutiny in the Naval Discipline Act. If the present Board of Admiralty had erred in making recommendations to courts martial not to award corporal punishment, they had erred in very good company, because a similar course had been adopted by successive Boards of Admiralty. There had been very few cases of corporal punishment in the Navy—two or three at the most—during the last six or seven years. As to the remarks of the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset), he could only say that there had been no substitute so effective, in certain cases, as corporal punishment. There could, he feared, be no question that since the abolition of such punishment certain grave offences had seriously increased in the Navy. The punishment, however, had practically ceased to exist, and it was only right that the law should be assimilated to the practice. On the whole, this was a practical question; and whatever might be said upon the merits, nevertheless, having regard to the state of public opinion and the circumstances in which they were placed, he submitted that the Government had done rightly in bringing the clause before their Lordships in its present shape.


said, that he must enter his protest against the line of policy adopted by the First Lord of the Admiralty. The noble Lord himself believed that corporal punishment was the most effective method of maintaining discipline, and yet he was prepared to erase it altogether. The arguments on the other side would be all very well if it were proposed to make it compulsory to use corporal punishment; but it was recommended only as an alternative punishment. His noble Friend behind him proposed, not that they should adopt the practice generally, but that they should leave the power to be used at the discretion of the superior officer in certain grave cases of emergency. Than that proposal nothing could be fairer. The First Lord had said nothing, for example, with reference to the crime of theft, and not one word about unnatural offences. It was argued that corporal punishment ought to be done away with, on the ground that it was degrading to the subject upon whom it was executed; but when they came to such an offence as an unnatural offence, it was absurd to argue on the ground of degradation, the offence itself being the most degrading and bestial that could be conceived.


said, he would certainly vote for the Amendment of the noble Viscount; and he wished to add drunkenness as No. 5 to the list of offences for which corporal punishment might be inflicted. No adequate substitute had been found for it, and imprisonment could not safely be carried out on board ship or abroad. There had been in the Army the case of a man who was brought home in a ship to be imprisoned in England; he had been guilty of drunkenness and looting in Egypt. He, with other prisoners, had broken into the spirit receptacle on board, and had been so drunk that even the stomach-pump could not relieve him, and he died; but if that man could have been flogged in Egypt his life would have been saved.


said, that he quite admitted it was very alarming to ignorant laymen like the noble Earl who spoke last but one and himself, when they heard professional men like the noble and gallant Viscount (Viscount Sidmouth) and the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset), who had had so much experience, say that a step had been taken which would be fatal to the discipline of the Navy; but he owned he was a little hardened to this alarm. He remembered being told a fact by a most distinguished gentleman, whom their Lordships all remembered, the gallant Admiral who was so long Black Rod in this House, and it was one which a good deal exercised him at the time. Admiral Clifford told him that when he was first put in command of a vessel, every time the men were sent up aloft, the last man who came down was flogged. The gallant Admiral was so horrified at this, that he made a representation to the Admiralty, and the proceeding was put an end to. When the change came to be known his brother officers declared that the step would be utterly fatal to the smartness of the British Navy, and the gallant Admiral experienced no little unpopularity for a certain time. That was a fact which was impressive and suggestive. He owned, as an ignorant layman, he had confidence in the post captains of this country; and he believed they would be able to maintain the discipline of their ships without flogging, as much as the Trench, the Germans, the Italians, and the Russians were able to do under similar circumstances.


wished to point out that the action of the late Administration had been only to diminish the number of lashes, still leaving the power to inflict corporal punishment.


said, he would appeal to the noble and gal-land Viscount to consider what he meant to do. There was no doubt what the House of Commons would do if they inserted this Amendment in the Bill. He was not now discussing the question as a political one, but simply as a matter concerning the proceedings of the House. It did not seem desirable that the House should adopt Amendments, on a question of this gravity, unless they were prepared to go through with them. Was the noble and gallant Viscount prepared to reject the Bill?—because that would be the inevitable result if he adhered to the Amendment. For himself, he was very much of the noble and gallant Viscount's opinion, and, he gathered, the opinion also of the First Lord of the Admiralty, as to the importance and the power of punishment by flogging; but, considering what they had seen with respect to the infliction of that punishment in the other branch of the Service, he could not say, looking at the matter merely as a political spectator, that there seemed the slightest chance, for the present, of retaining the punishment of flogging in the Navy. Whether that was a desirable result he did not know; but the blame must be laid on our political institutions, and on the present aspect of public opinion. The public might get wiser. They might have some sharp reminder of the fasts: they might some day be taught that this mealy-mouthed and sentimental legislation was not the way to conduct the great Services of a great Empire. He did not think, however, that it was of very much use for them to make alterations in Bills of this kind. They would merely be prolonging the period of irritation without obtaining any practical result, and thus delay the period when the public might come to a wiser mind.


said, he should certainly not press the Amendment to a division after the opinion expressed by the noble Marquess, but would content himself with entering his protest against the clause. He, however, could not help thinking the noble Marquess was wrong in the present instance.


in supporting the Amendment, said, there was no officer in either Service, unbiassed by political opinion, who personally approved of the entire abolition of corporal punishment, if he had held a command for even a very short period. The noble Earl the Leader of the House might as well have alluded to the time when men were executed for sheep-stealing as the obsolete custom of men being liable to corporal punishment for being the last to come down after being "mast-headed."

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 6, inclusive, agreed to, with Amendments.

Clause 7 (Amendment of s. 58 as to constitution of courts martial).


expressed a fear that the clause would have a tendency to restrict the power and exercise of reprimand by junior officers, especially as each case of reprimand would have to be reported to the Admiralty.


said, that by the present law reprimand was administered by commanding officers only; but this clause of the Bill would give the power to officers of lower rank who might be in command. Instead of restricting the power, the clause extended it.


said, there would be no ground for the fear entertained by the noble Viscount. A record of such cases of reprimand would only appear in the log book of a ship.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to, with Amendments.

House resumed.

The Report of the Amendments to be received on Tuesday next; and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 70.)