HL Deb 01 August 1951 vol 173 cc166-70

3.5 p.m.

LORD FARINGDON rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the infliction of corporal punishment in Hong Kong, and to ask what steps they propose to take to bring practice in the Colony into line with that in this country. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is not my intention to delay your Lordships very long. The reason why I have not put down a starred Question is that I thought I should give your Lordships a little of the background which is behind the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper to-day. In this matter of corporal punishment, Hong Kong holds a bad pre-eminence. I am glad to say that the figures are very much reduced—that is to say, the figures for 1950 show a substantial reduction over the figures for 1949 so far as the whipping of juveniles is concerned, a reduction from 4,367 to 405, which I welcome most heartily. Unfortunately, the figures for the flogging of adults shows an increase of nearly 100 per cent. as between the same two years. Therefore the improvement is, unfortunately, rather one-sided. In fact, the corporal punishment figures for Hong Kong are the highest for any Colonial territory with the exception of Nigeria, and your Lordships will realise that there is no comparison at all between the populations of the two Colonies.

In official statements—and I hope this will not be repeated by my noble friend when he comes to reply—this punishment is described as "whipping with a light cane." It sounds very much like a school- boy punishment, and I therefore think it worth while to read to your Lordships an extract from a Hong Kong paper which describes exactly what corporal punishment in Hong Kong means. It says: … the caning, or flogging as it might more appropriately be termed, is far from being 'light' punishment. The cane used is thick and long, the administrating officer is big and strong, and the weals inflicted are deep and inflamed. … This is not to be compared with schoolboy caning. … To begin with, something about the 'flogger.' There are three or four prison officers trained for this work, and at least two attend each flogging. Generally these two men take alternate strokes. The main reason for this is that caning is exhausting work—especially in hot weather. The officers are chosen for their fitness and strength. They are then trained for several weeks on a dummy before being permitted to cane a corporal-punishment prisoner. The technique of flogging is to swing the cane like a golf club and to follow through with precision on to the target—in this case the fleshy cheeks of the buttocks. The aim is to strike approximately the same area with each stroke. Strength is useful when the technique has been mastered, but strength alone is ineffective. On the day arranged for the caning the prisoner is brought into the punishment room and examined by the doctor. If pronounced fit he is securely strapped to a heavy wooden rack. The buttocks are then bared and the flogging commences. At one time the exposed buttocks were covered with a damp cloth to prevent the skin from being cut. But … this softening of the punishment has been abolished. During the flogging the Superintendent of Prisons, the Chief Officer and the M.O. are in attendance as well as the European Officer-in-charge of the punishment block. … The condition of the posterior at the conclusion of the flogging is not a sight to be described here. … Hong Kong is a Crown colony. Therefore we have a very special responsibility for what goes on in Hong Kong. I think your Lordships must have been shocked by this account. I am sure that all of you will have been surprised and shocked by the figures which I have given. That this little Colony should have such enormous figures for this particular type of punishment seems to me, at any rate, to indicate that something is seriously wrong. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, it is the policy of His Majesty's Government to secure the complete abolition of corporal punishment as a sanction imposed by the courts, and a despatch has been sent to all Colonial Governments advocating this course. His Majesty's Government are, however, fully cognisant of the position in Hong Kong. By far the largest number of cases of such punishment there in recent years has been in respect of hawking offences by juveniles, for which the penalty was normally three strokes with a light cane—in spite of my noble friend's description of it. For an experimental period, this penalty for such offences has now been suspended.

As your Lordships know, Hong Kong is open to the mainland and there is little let or hindrance to people coming in, and the hawkers, and especially the juvenile hawkers, have constituted a problem in Hong Kong which has caused some embarrassment and worry to the authorities, particularly the police authorities. These hawkers have no licence, and they clutter up the narrow streets with their barrows, baskets, boxes or whatever it may be. There are only certain ways in which one can deal with problems of this kind. One can send boys to reformatories; but, as the minimum period is two years, that would seem far too grave a punishment for this offence. Then, one can fine them, in which case, normally, it is the parent who pays—and in Hong Kong it is not always easy to find the parents of the respective offenders. Finally, there is whipping. Up to 1949 it was the practice to give the juvenile hawkers three strokes on the buttocks with a cane. There was no necessity for the police officers who inflicted the punishment to go into training on a dummy for this purpose: they were quite capable of giving three light strokes without any preparation whatsoever. Since 1949—a fact which I presume the noble Lord knew but did not think fit to acquaint your Lordships with—


I beg the noble Lord's pardon: I started by giving the figures of the reduction.


Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to finish what I was going to say. It has ceased altogether to be the practice to cane juveniles, so that, however many there may have been in previous years, at the present moment there is no caning of juveniles for this offence.


Then what does the noble Lord say about the 405 cases in 1950?


I said "for this offence."


Will the noble Lord say what the offence is?


The offence is obstruction—obstruction by juvenile hawkers without a licence—and for that offence, which is the one with which I am now dealing (I will deal with others a little later) corporal punishment is not inflicted. That was the main class of case for which juveniles were punished. That accounts for the surprising reduction in the number of cases in which juveniles were punished in this way, and which has already been quoted by my noble friend. Now there are, of course, other offences for which juveniles may receive corporal punishment, and it is in relation to those other offences that the figure given by my noble friend stands: it is not in connection with obstruction. I will give your Lordships the breakdown of the figures of cases of corporal punishment in Hong Kong for 1950. Sexual offences: there were no persons punished corporally; violence: 205; offences against property: 93; prison offences: 1; juvenile offenders: 405. Those were the number of cases making a total of 704, in which corporal punishment was inflicted during the year 1950.

As I say, on the general question the Government are hoping that measures will be taken by all Colonial Governors towards the progressive attainment of the objective of restriction of the use of corporal punishment. But circumstances being what they are in Hong Kong, it means that we must, to a large extent, depend upon the advice of the Governor and his Council as to the rate at which the existing order can be changed and at which the progressive attainment of the Government's objective can be carried out. I think your Lordships will agree that Hong Kong is a special case; that there are circumstances there which are widely different from the circumstances in this country; and that, so far from being censured, both the Governor of Hong Kong and His Majesty's Government should, in fact, receive an unwonted measure of praise both from the noble Lord and from all your Lordships for their action in this field.


Does the noble Lord challenge the description of this punishment in adult cases which was read out by my noble friend?


I can neither affirm nor challenge it, for I have no knowledge of the nature of it; but the Secretary of State for the Colonies will have his attention drawn to the matter and no doubt will look into it in due course.


In thanking the noble Lord for his reply, I must say I should feel easier if, in fact, he had replied.


Order, Order!