HL Deb 04 June 1946 vol 141 cc699-709

2.54 p.m.

LORD FARINGDON rose to draw the attention of His Majesty's Government to the excessive use of flogging as a penal sanction in dependent territories; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is, it has been said, no argument in favour of the lash which does not apply equally in favour of the rack or the thumbscrew. To-day I think I am in a very fortunate position because, in view of the recent announcement of the Home Secretary, I have every hope and expectation that I shall receive from the noble Lord who will reply to my Motion a wholly favourable answer. It therefore seems to me unnecessary to go into any great detail about the frequently debated points in favour of and against corporal punishment. I will merely remind your Lordships that it has been maintained on various occasions and in various places that corporal punishment is effective as a special deterrent in special types of cases. I suggest that in fact this is an argument which has very little weight, because of the total number of persons flogged in this country fifty-five per cent. come up subsequently for reconviction.

It is maintained, too, that flogging is a general deterrent. The figures for England in, I believe, 1934, were thirty-three per cent, of the average figures for 1890–1894, whereas in Scotland, where flogging did not exist, the figures for the same offences were only six per cent. It is sometimes said, in criticizing those figures, that flogging is applied only to the worst type of offender. Inquiry will show that this again is a contention without foundation. In fact, in the ten years between 1921 and 1930, forty per cent. of the offenders condemned to be flogged had no previous serious conviction against them. There can, I think, be little doubt that in fact flogging is a practice which tends, so far from deterring, rather to harden the offender. To-day, when we have an extremely important debate to come on shortly, I will not give a number of cases to support this thesis, but, if your Lordships wished, I could give a large number of cases where floggings have been repeatedly and ineffectually imposed upon the same criminal.

In addition, there can be little doubt that this practice serves to poison the public mind. Your Lordships will remember, no doubt, cases which have been much reported in the papers and which have received from the public what is quite clearly an excessive amount of interest, indeed, I may say a morbid interest, as shown by letters to the Press and so on. In this connexion I would like to quote Dr. Havelock Ellis, the well-known psychologist, who says: Flogging is objectionable because it is ineffectual and because it brutalizes and degrades those on whom it is inflicted, those who inflict it and those who come within the radius of its influence.

To-day I am drawing the attention of your Lordships' House to the excessive use of flogging in our dependent territories.

Those of us who have taken an interest in the Colonies know well that a great numberx—I will venture even to say the majority—of the reproaches that are levelled against our Colonial administration by foreigners are ill-founded and are largely based on lack of experience, lack of knowledge of the conditions and circumstances, and lack of appreciation, too, of the difficulties which present themselves in the Colonies. But there is one reproach which I regret I have to state is undoubtedly well-founded, and it is the reproach that we in our Colonies have tolerated and supported this type of brutal and old-fashioned punishment. Moreover, there is a particular objection to this type of punishment in Colonial territories. It is not only that the same objections hold there that hold against its infliction in other countries, but in the dependent territories themselves this type of punishment is most deeply resented by the Colonial peoples who feel that it is inflicted upon them by an alien Power and is, as it were, a symbol of their subjection.

I appreciate that the immediate abolition of corporal punishment in the Colonies presents formidable difficulties. There is a lack of probation officers, and there is a lack of approved schools. I was happy to receive recently a letter which I think I am quite at liberty to quote from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, in which he gave not only a most encouraging 'account of the appointment of probation officers (whose number is still, I suggest, extremely inadequate in view of the size of the Colonial population) but, and this seemed to me to be perhaps even more encouraging, a long list which I will not quote in detail to your Lordships, of the legislation which has been recently introduced in our Colonies dealing with offences by children and young persons, probation of offenders and so forth. This long list of legislation is an extremely encouraging symptom of a new attitude towards our Colonial Empire. Indeed, were it not for a particular case to which I feel bound to draw your Lordships' attention, I should expect that to-day I should get from the noble Lord who will reply for the Government an answer which I should certainly find to be wholly satisfactory.

Those of us who are interested in the Colonies have been very deeply disturbed by the recent re-introduction into Trinidad of a flogging Ordinance. A good deal of protest has been voiced in another place against this particular Ordinance and I myself find it difficult to understand quite what were the circumstances which induced the Colonial Secretary to give his consent to it. There have been, I need hardly remind your Lordships, extremely authoritative protests against that Ordinance in the Press here. In particular, two ex-Governors of Trinidad have written to The Times newspaper protesting and declaring their belief that the use of flogging is no deterrent and will not be effective. Moreover, it is possible to quote the experience of Kenya and Jamaica, where flogging has been re-introduced within recent years, but where no benefit has resulted and where crime has actually increased. In particular, it is useful to consider the situation in Jamaica. The figures for Jamaica are a little difficult to follow, and do not seem to be Very satisfactorily compiled. The re-introduction of this punishment into Jamaica was apparently largely to deal with what is called predial larceny or the theft of growing crops. That is a crime which is obviously an extremely serious one, affecting, as it does, the feeding and subsistence of the people, but it is also a crime which arises from poverty and from a shortage of food.

It has been found in Jamaica that this crime has been in no way diminished but rather has increased as a result of the reintroduction of this penalty.. It would appear from reading reports from Trinidad that the re-introduction of this penalty there was largely the result of the intervention of the new Attorney-General. I will venture to quote what he said in supporting this measure: We can produce no statistics, but I maintain myself, and sincerely believe, that the threat of corporal punishment is a deterrent. I believe that any man who is appointed to the position of Attorney-General in an important Colony ought really to inform himself of the recommendations in the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee of 1937 which was set up in this country. It seems to me that he should have done so, and if he had done so, he would have found that that Committee came to the conclusion that, after seventy-five years experience in this country, there was no evidence of the effectiveness of flogging as a punishment, or as a deterrent.

This Trinidad case is one which causes considerable anxiety to all of us who are interested in this matter. The Colonial Secretary has assured us that it is his intention to reduce the use of this penalty, but it seems difficult to understand how an officer of the Crown in a Colony was able to speak so far out of harmony with the Colonial Secretary here as to support its re-introduction. Moreover, we are told that it was re-introduced as a result of a free vote in the Council in Trinidad. I submit to His Majesty's Government that if the Colonial Office had, as I understand it had, a definite policy in this matter, it was improper that the Governor and his officials should have left this matter to a free vote, and have themselves voted freely upon it. It seems to me that the official representatives on any Colonial Council should be the spokesmen—and surely that is the reason for their presence there—of official Colonial Office policy in that Council. We have been promised that there will be a report on the operation of this new legislation in six months. I am not sure how much time has elapsed since its re-introduction, but I think the six months is now very nearly up, and I shall be interested if His Majesty's Government can tell me anything about it.

There is one other particular blot on our record in this matter—one which has in the past always been a particular reproach against the Government in one of our dependent territories which otherwise has an extremely good record in many respects. I refer to the Government of the Sudan. Unhappily, throughout Africa, the record of the Sudan in this matter of flogging is one which is constantly quoted to one by Africans, and indeed by foreign critics of British administration. Recently, the Sudan Government put out an Order directing that this punishment was only to be inflicted in such cases as those in respect of which it could be inflicted in this country. I should like here to pay tribute to the Sudanese Government for their enlightenment in this matter; they are now ahead of any other British dependent territory. I realize, of course, that the Sudan is not a British dependent territory, but a condominium. I may add, incidentally, that the position when it became condominium was particularly invidious, because no such freedom in the use of flogging existed in the territory of the other Power in the condominium, namely, Egypt, where flogging was allowed only in prisons for prison offences and where the whipping of juveniles could be ordered by the Courts. It therefore was, alas, only too apparent that the responsibility for this practice lay on the other member.

Unfortunately, what the Sudan has done in the civil sphere has not yet been followed in the military sphere, because this practice still continues in the Sudan Defence Force. Some of your Lordships will have been present when I received a reply from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in response to an inquiry which I made into this matter. Your Lordships will understand how serious it is when I inform you that the figures for the Sudan Defence Force alone are larger than the flogging figures for the whole of the rest of the Empire. I do not know if your Lordships are aware of the nature of the instrument that is used for the infliction of this punishment. It is a rhinoceros-hide whip of the type which some of your Lordships may have seen brought back by friends, or perhaps has been brought back by yourselves as souvenirs from Africa. It is an instrument which, I am quite certain, all of your Lordships would hesitate to use upon a dog. What is more, if any of your Lordships were found to be inflicting upon a dog a whipping such as can legally be inflicted upon a member of the Sudan Defence Force, you would (and in my opinion, justly,) be prosecuted by the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. During the war certain difficulties were experienced by those in command of our own troops in Khartum who objected to this treatment of their coloured comrades in arms. I have heard of V.A.Ds. who asked to be transferred out of the S.D.F. wards in hospitals because they could not bear to have to nurse the victims of this abominable treatment.

I come to the third principal place in which this punishment is taking place and for which we are responsible, and that is in Eritrea. Six months ago flogging of juveniles was re-introduced in Eritrea. There are in Eritrea, under Military Government, no juvenile courts. There is one reformatory school housing 200 children, and the reports that I have received of conditions in that school in respect of food, medical care and general conditions, are such that I would suggest to His Majesty's Government that it is essential that some inquiry should be made into this matter. I am told that the police in Eritrea are not, as police, open to any criticism at all. They are keen, conscientious men trying to do their best, but they are not, and I am sure no one would expect them to be, experts in child psychology. Therefore there should be, I suggest—and I press the Government to appoint—some person with expert knowledge in this matter who can direct the Military Government in order that errors of this kind may not be made.

In conclusion, I would like if I may to quote from a well-known psychologist, Dr. Glover, who, writing on this subject of corporal punishment, says the following: And now, with all due submission, let us state briefly the ex-cathedra opinion of medical psychology on corporal punishment. It is first and foremost that flogging is a crude form of homœopathy. It is an antiquated and conservative form of treatment which blocks the way to understanding the pathology of crime. So long as we flogged our lunatics we were unable to understand the pathology of insanity. And however ethically justifiable may be an attitude of moral indignation against crimes of violence, this should not be allowed to obscure the fact that punishment by flogging is an indulgence of a passion motivated by the same criminal tendencies in ourselves. When the puzzled citizen seeks to evade an odious responsibility, or washes his hands of the matter, saving 'After all the punishment fits the crime,' the modern psychologist is bound by canons of scientific objectivity to remind him that his appeal to talion law does not fit the facts. He is certainly entitled to say that the punishment resembles the crime. Even then he has not reached the acme of objectivity. The psychological truth, by which alone penal policies should be measured, is that punishment by flogging repeats the crime. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, it falls to me to make such reply as I can to the noble Lord, but I must confess that I confined my preparation of a reply to the terms of the Motion on the Order Paper, and therefore I did not acquaint myself with the researches perhaps necessary to give a general reply to his case at large. I do not propose, myself having been the victim of this chastisement in my early days, to apply myself further to the pursuit of the doctrine which psychologists have enunciated. I am sorry therefore that I cannot reply to some of the points raised by the noble Lord but I will do my best to cover the ground generally indicated in the question. I am sure he will think, after he has heard the reply, that it is on the whole progressive and encouraging.

I understand that the War Office is not yet able to give us the particulars about Eritrea, but as soon as we can get any I will take care that they are supplied to the noble Lord. On May 7 the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, replied to my noble friend on the points raised with regard to the Sudan. I notice here that it is said that the Sudan Government were requested to furnish this information, and in order to obtain it it will be necessary to consult military authorities, many of them in outlying districts. I am sorry to say that it has been reported to me that they have not yet received the further information, so in that case I cannot reply to the noble Lord as I otherwise would have sincerely wished to do.

On the case generally I am afraid I shall have to confine myself largely to reading from this brief as I am not myself thoroughly acquainted with the particulars of the various matters referred to. In certain Colonial territories corporal punishment may be imposed, as in Great Britain, either by an order of the Court or for prison offences. A Court order may impose it upon a male adult for serious crimes, in general for crimes of violence or for sexual offences. A Court order may also impose it upon a juvenile in addition to or in substitution for some other penalty but no authority can award corporal punishment to a woman or a girl. Corporal punishment may also be imposed as a penalty for prison offences by male offenders normally either for mutiny or for violence to a prison officer. In practice I am glad to say this is a diminishing offence.

There is a report as to the action taken by the Colonial Office to reduce imposition of corporal punishment. The reduction of corporal punishment is no new preoccupation, and legislation in Colonial territory had made considerable progress prior to 1940. After publication of the report of the United Kingdom Departmental Committee on Corporal Punishment in 1938, and the introduction in the same year of the Criminal Justice Bill, Colonial Governments were approached on the subject of corporal punishment and urged to make a reduction in the use of this form of punishment. They were at the same time asked to consider alternative methods of treating juvenile delinquents. The Secretary of State has lines of action open to him by receiving in detail annual reports and reviews from the Colonial authorities. So far as juvenile offenders are concerned, there are also alternative forms of treatment in the Colonial territories either by probation or by admission to an approved school. As a result of this, European probation officers with Home Office training and experience have already been appointed to ten Colonies and more appointments are contemplated. The difficulty there is to find suitably trained people. However, three of them have already trained local probation officers and three other Colonies have local men either trained or in training in the United Kingdom under the Home Office.

Probation is a constructive contribution to reducing offences by children and their punishment. At the same time the interest in youth organizations is rapidly extending and is contributing to the reduction of juvenile delinquency. It should be mentioned that the Secretary of State has tried to reduce the number of offences for which corporal punishment may be awarded and legislation has been passed to this effect in British Honduras, Gold Coast, Nigeria, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Sierra Leone and Trinidad. Incidentally, corporal punishment may not be awarded at all by the courts either in Malta or Palestine. In Trinidad, to which I will refer again, corporal punishment was abolished in 1941, though a limited reinstatement was authorized in 1946, only by order of the Supreme Council for grave offences, and only for a limited period of two years, and for a six months period for report—and I may say in reply to the noble Lord, that the period for report, I understand, ends on July 1.

Amendments to prison rules making reductions of a similar kind in respect of prison offences have been passed in Gold Coast, Leeward Islands, St. Vincent, Sierra Leone and Trinidad. It is to be observed that to put in hand any legal drafting during the war was a matter of considerable difficulty complicated by acute staff shortages in the colonies. No comparable changes as regards corporal punishment were enacted in this country. Moreover some of the difficulties arise from awards by native courts, often in Colonies in which owing to the strain of recent years it has not always proved possible to watch as effectively as is desirable these awards. But local governments are alive to the matter and the staff is being increased as far as possible.

May I now say a word about some recent legislative changes. Owing to special individual circumstances, it has been found necessary in three places, Jamaica, Kenya and Trinidad to make alterations which to some extent increase corporal punishment. In Kenya, where housebreaking and burglary had shown a marked increase, the imposition of corporal punishment on conviction for burglary or housebreaking was authorized in 1945. In ten months—and this shows the necessity for not exaggerating the case—with a population of 5,750,000 it was imposed in only twenty instances. In Jamaica a serious increase of crime occurred in 1942, and was met by the passing of an Ordinance authorizing magistrates to impose corporal punishment for certain crimes of violence. Corporal punishment previously could be awarded only for theft of growing crops and for witchcraft. During the following year there was a considerable drop in crimes of violence (roughly from one quarter to one third). Later figures, I am glad to say, show a similar drop.

In Trinidad, a serious outbreak of violence occurred towards the end of 1942, less than a year after the abolition of corporal punishment. The Government of Trinidad tried to control this by Defence Regulations providing increased terms of imprisonment, and otherwise. The success of these measures was doubtful until the end of 1943, after which there was a definite reduction of crime. Unfortunately, however, the situation deteriorated, and towards the end of 1945 a situation as serious as in 1942 had arisen. As a result of strong representations made by the Governor and his Executive Council, the Secretary of State did not withhold his consent to introducing into the Legislative Council of Trinidad a Bill authorizing, within narrow limits, the reintroduction of corporal punishment, and the Bill became law in January. It provided that, in the first place, corporal punishment could be imposed only by the Supreme Court, and that it could be awarded only for robbery with violence and offences involving violence, likely to do grievous bodily harm, and rape. In addition—and this is very important—at the express request of the Secretary of State, the Ordinance has a limited life of two years only.

There are many other measures in contemplation. The Secretary of State is desirous of eliminating and reducing this kind of punishment as rapidly as possible, and he is taking constructive measures to that end. It is, I am sure, to be recognized that in a varied Colonial empire like ours the problem is complex and exceedingly difficult. Nevertheless the Secretary of State is doing all that is in his power at the moment. The whole question of corporal punishment has been referred to the Treatment of Offenders Sub-Committee, and they are advising him as to any further steps which he can possibly take in the matter.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount for his very full reply though it is not, I think, quite as satisfactory as I had hoped that it would be. The noble Viscount's statement was not, if I may say so, very clear on one or two points. I find him in one breath saying that the offences for which flogging could be inflicted have been reduced in Trinidad, whilst in the next breath he said that it had been reimposed for other offences. However that may be, what I had hoped was that he would say that the Colonial Office was doing for the Colonial Empire as the Home Secretary is doing for this country. Clearly, he is not prepared at the present moment to go quite so far as that. However, he is evidently considering the matter and I have no doubt—or at least I have every hope—that the arguments which brought the Home Secretary to his conclusion will have a similar effect upon the Colonial Secretary. In the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.