§ Mr. Hume
said, he had given notice, on a former occasion, of his intention to propose a clause to be added to the Mutiny bill, when that subject should again be brought under the consideration of the House. Pie should now read to the House the clause which he meant to propose: it was this—"And be it further enacted, that it shall not be lawful to inflict corporal punishment, by flogging, on any private soldier, corporal, or non-commissioned officer, in the army or militia of the United Kingdom, any thing herein contained to the contrary notwithstanding." In a former stage of the bill, when he had endeavoured to obtain the consent of the House to this clause, and unfortunately without success, he had stated all the arguments which presented themselves to his mind, as likely to prevail upon the House to adopt it. He was not aware of any additional argument which he could urge on the present occasion, in favour of the view which he took of this question; but, since he had last addressed the House on the subject, he had had the good fortune to meet with an officer who had served in the army of Wurtem-berg, from whom he had obtained some information which might not be uninstructive, in considering this subject. It appeared, then, that during the reign of the late king, the system of flogging had been carried to a great extent: it was frequently resorted to, but the severest punishment rarely exceeded a hundred canes. However, this species of chastisement was considered so disgraceful, and had so demoralising an effect upon the men, that they became callous and indifferent to the value of character; and it happened not unfrequently that, from day to day, the punishment was repeated on the same individual; and the only effect ft produced was, to harden the offender, without in the least degree restoring that discipline, to accomplish which, this severity had been resorted to. Upon the accession of the present king, however, a different course was adopted, and at present no man in the army was subjected to this dis- 1032 graceful chastisement. The consequence was, that the character of the men had considerably improved, and the state of discipline had become much superior to what it was at any former period. The punishment which had been adopted in its stead was solitary confinement; and the House would be surprised to hear, that eight or ten days was generally the longest period of confinement. There were three stages of imprisonment: one of three days, one of six, and a third of ten days, during which, the offenders were kept in solitary confinement, and subjected to irons and alterations in their food according as the case required. Whenever a man was punished twice for the same offence, there were two condemned battalions to which he was reduced; the one was kept for characters of the worst description; to the second, soldiers were sentenced from whom reform and improvement were expected. But even in these regiments, corporal punishment were seldom resorted to; and the consequence was, that officers who formerly had been adverse to the abolition of the practice, and who had been convinced that, without flogging, discipline could not be maintained in the army, had now completely changed their opinions, and had become converts to the more humane system, by which they found the character of the men was much improved, and the system of training rendered less difficult. Now, he saw no reason why the same effects might not follow the same cause in the English army. He could not say what hope was held out of promotion in the army of that country, but with respect to the British army, the encouragement and prospect of promotion was very trifling: in fact, the door of advancement was almost closed, and no man would now enter our service as a private soldier with any hope of promotion. But even in the absence of all such expectations, if the odious practice of torture and flogging were abolished, many men would go into the army for six or seven years, and then, after the experience they had gained, and the discipline to which they had been subjected, they might return to civil society much improved, and enabled to confer a service upon the community. But, no man could now enter the service and say, that in an unguarded moment he might not commit some act which any officer might interpret into an offence deserving of serious punishment, in consequence of which he might be disgraced 1033 for life, and disqualified for returning to an intercourse with society. Surely now, when the civilized views of modern times were calling for a reform in our criminal code, we should not be backward in endeavouring to try it in the military system. He did not ask the House to interfere with the troops abroad; but, at a period of profound peace, he thought the experiment might be tried with advantage on the army stationed within the united kingdom. At a time when we were legislating for the brute creation—a measure which he was disposed to support as far as it was practicable—it would ill become the House to turn a deaf ear to the interests and happiness of their fellow creatures. This barbarous punishment was productive of no advantage whatever to the service, and had a most injurious effect upon the soldiers. Disgrace followed each infliction, and it must, in a certain degree, blunt the feelings of those officers who were compelled to witness such disgraceful scenes. The proposition which he submitted, would not, in his judgment, be an innovation upon the privilege of the Crown. The king, he admitted, was the guardian of the discipline of the army; but that discipline was laid down in the Bill which they were now discussing, and the House had consequently the power to mark out any course which it might think prudent to adopt. He trusted that, unless it could be shewn that some danger would arise from the proposition he was about to submit, the House would consent to his motion with which he meant to conclude, namely, for leave to bring up a clause "to prohibit corporal punishment in the army."
§ Sir H. Vivian
said, he fully appreciated those humane sentiments which had been expressed by the hon. gentleman. The policy of carrying into execution those feelings, as far as was practicable, he, as a commanding officer, freely admitted; and, he was sure, he might add, that there was no commanding officer in the service, who was not disposed to relax the severity of punishment, as far as was consistent with prudence and wholesome discipline. But, he must at the same time take leave to state, that it was no slight reflection on the character of the illustrious individual who presided over the army with so much advantage to the country; it was no trifling censure on those who held the rank of general officers, to suppose that they would not 1034 come forward at once, and endeavour to abolish the practice of corporal punishment, if it could at all be effected with safety to the army. But, let it not be supposed, by the gentlemen opposite, that they enjoyed a monopoly of humanity. He could tell those gentlemen, that the officers of his majesty's service were as deeply interested as they were, in the happiness of their fellows, and that their hearts beat as responsive to the best feelings of human nature. In his life he had never conversed with an officer on the subject, who did not, whilst he lamented the necessity of the continuance of the practice, declare at the same time, that he had never heard a proposal that could with safety be introduced as a substitute for the present system. But, if flogging was such a disgrace, why was it not sought to be abolished in our public schools? Did not gentlemen know that youths of sixteen and seventeen years of age—youths of education and refinement, and fine feelings too—were still subjected to this punishment? If it was a question of feeling merely, why did we not do away with capital punishment in our penal code? The reason was this, because all men were convinced that it could not be abolished, consistently with the public security. Gentlemen were very little aware of the consequences that would result from the system they were advocating. He would mention a curious circumstance that had come to his own knowledge. About ten years ago, he had been commander of a regiment, about a thousand strong: amongst the men considerable irregularities had manifested themselves of a sudden; the cause of which he was unable to discover, until, upon inquiry of the adjutant, he was informed that the men had got a notion into their heads that sir Francis Burdett had done away with corporal punishment in the army. It had been very truly observed, that "an army without discipline was more dangerous to its friends than its foes." In considering this subject, it was necessary to examine not merely the discipline, but the offences which soldiers generally committed. Details, he knew, on the subject, must be uninteresting; but he trusted the House would excuse him. It was well known that soldiers were recruited, generally speaking, from amongst the lowest class of the community, and almost always they were men of the wildest and most ungovernable description. 1035 He had no objection whatever to this; for to that he attributed (he said it without vanity) the superior valour and intrepidity of the British soldier over every other in the world. He had generally found that the soldier who was the first to break over the barrack wall, was the foremost on service to break into the enemies' quarters. Over men of this character it was necessary to exercise strong control; since, if they were not controlled themselves, it was not improbable they might attempt to control others. The besetting sin of this description of men was drunkenness. Now, he did not mean to say that every man who got drunk ought to be flogged, far from it; his practice in his own regiment had been very different; but he did mean to say, that the power to flog any man who had so offended should still remain in the hands in which it was now vested. It was said, that solitary confinement would have as strong an effect upon the men as severe flogging. He would ask the advocates of this new mode of punishment, what they would do under the following circumstances? It was well known to every officer in the service, that about the settling day, there was nearly always a great increase in the number of offences; indeed, it was not extraordinary to have fifty or sixty men offending at once. Now, could he place each of these men in solitary confinement? And if he could, what would be its effect? Why that he would be compelled to punish those who had not offended, by throwing upon their shoulders the duty of those who had. He must likewise object to the substitution of extra drills for corporal punishment. The drill was a necessary part of the discipline of a regiment, and he did not like the idea of bringing it into contempt with those who must be subjected to it, by making it an ignominious punishment. There was not, however, any of these objections to a punishment by court-martial; it hung over the head of every offender, and, as none of them knew on whom it might fall, it kept all in a state of salutary alarm. Allowing, however, that solitary confinement and extra drill might have the proposed effect in time of peace, what was to be done in time of war? Whilst an army was marching through an enemy's country, how was the straggler or the marauder to be consigned either to extra drill or solitary confinement? It had been argued a few 1036 nights ago, that the disorganized state of our army during the retreat to Corunna showed the inefficacy of the severity of our punishments. But, to this argument he begged leave to reply, by stating, that our army was at that time disorganised, not so much from want of discipline, as from the absolute state of exhaustion to which it was reduced, by the almost incredible fatigues and privations it had undergone. As he had upon that occasion brought up the rear, he might be permitted to claim some credit with the House, when he stated, that many of outbrave fellows did not receive any provisions after leaving Astorga. Hunger, it was said would break through stone walls; and it could not surprise any reflecting person, that many of our poor stragglers did upon that occasion take by force those provisions which they could not get by any other means. The French army, however, whose high discipline had been so much extolled on a former evening, in their retreat through the south of France, a country which abounded in provisions, and from which we had drawn plentiful supplies after they had left it the French army, he repeated, in that retreat, not conducted in a hurry—had committed so many atrocities on the property and persons of the inhabitants that they literally welcomed the British soldiers as so many liberators. Indeed, French writers on the subject had recently admitted, that the perfect discipline which our army then observed was worth to it as much as 10,000 men. The gallant officer then proceeded to observe, that at present he thought that commanding officers might preserve the discipline of their regiments without flogging; because, in general, they did not consist of more than 250 men, who were, for the most part, selected for their good character, whose places could easily be filled up, and to whom it would be a heavy punishment to receive their discharge. But what would be the case, when regiments consisted of 1,400 or 1,500 men? or when, as in the last war, so high a bounty was offered, that it was no unusual thing for men to desert from one regiment, and enlist in another, for the mere sake of pocketing it? He would, with the permission of the House, mention an instance which had come under his own observation. One morning, some men dressed in smock frocks came into the barrack-yard to be enlisted. He thought they appeared rather suspi- 1037 cious. He asked them whether they had ever been in the army; they said no. It was no time to refuse men, and accordingly they were enlisted. However, they only got part of their bounty, and he gave directions that they should be strictly watched, and he found out that within six weeks they had received their bounty from another regiment, and had come down to them on furlough. Now, he should wish to know, what punishment was to be inflicted on men of that description, if we did away with flogging? There was one custom which he thought it would be very desirable to discontinue. It was the usage to send soldiers who had conducted themselves improperly at home, out to what were called the condemned regiments such as the 60th; and it frequently occurred that, if they were good soldiers, they speedily obtained promotion, by being made non-commissioned officers. The consequence was, that they wrote home to their friends, declaring that they were never so happy in their lives before; and this operated as a bounty on misconduct. He thought, therefore that no soldier sent abroad under such circumstances should be so promoted for three years. To conclude. If, by any means hon. gentlemen could instil into our soldiery an idea, not only that they were themselves disgraced by being flogged, but that a regiment was also disgraced by having a man flogged in it, no doubt it Would be productive of great advantage to the army; but, until such a feeling was generated among them, lie must contend for the necessity, much as he lamented it, of vesting in courts martial the power of corporal punishment. Entertaining such opinions, he could not give his consent to the proposition which had been submitted to the House by the hon. member for Aberdeen.
Sir R. Fergusson
, although he agreed in much of what had just fallen from his hon. and gallant friend, yet differed from him in some points, and should certainly vote for the amendment. He was persuaded that the proposed experiment could never be made at a properer time than the present. His hon. and gallant friend had told the House ho had done the utmost he could to prevent corporal punishment in his own regiment. He was well persuaded of that, knowing, as he did, his hon. and gallant friend's character. There was also, he was most ready to 1038 allow, a great change generally on this subject. When he (sir R. F.) first commanded a regiment, it was conceived requisite to punish every venial offence by flogging, and he was sorry to say, that he had too frequently consented to the infliction. But latterly he saw the folly of the thing, and had tried as much as he could to do it away; and, since that period, he had seen several regiments highly disciplined, in which corporal punishment was wholly unknown. As the clause was restricted to our troops at home; and as the vote was an annual one, on those grounds and on those alone, he would support the clause. He knew there were difficulties attendant on the question. But really, in the present state of the army, it was much better, when a man committed any serious offence, to send him out of the regiment, it being so easy to supply his place. If his hon. friend's clause had extended to regiments on service abroad, he would have opposed it? For no man who had seen any thing of military service, could believe that it was practicable to preserve order on a line of march, without a power of inflicting summary punishment. In what other way could marauders and felons be kept down under such circumstances? He sincerely believed, that when an army was on foreign service, the fear of the summary punishment was necessary for its security. But his hon. friend's proposition was only for an experiment at home and he should therefore vote for it.
§ Lord Palmerston
observed, that his hon. and gallant friend near him (sir H. Vivian) had so ably stated the merits of the question that it remained for him only to add a very few words. In fact, the last part of what had just fallen from the hon. general opposite, almost exceeded the principle for which he (lord P.) contended. The only difference between I them being as to the extent. The hon. general considered the power of inflicting the punishment applicable to foreign service. He (lord P.) thought it as applicable to home service. It was allowed on all hands that the punishment was not abused: that the practice of inflicting corporal punishment was much less frequent than formerly; and that it was in consequence of the efforts of the commander-in-chief that it had been so diminished. The proposition of the hon. member for Aberdeen went to take away a power, which he (lord P.) contended was absolutely necessary. It went to 1039 abolish it too, not in remote stations, where the power of inflicting corporal punishment might be more liable to abuse, but to abolish it at home, where its abuse must of necessity be less, subject as it was to so much more immediate and operative a check.
§ The House then divided—For the Clause 47: Against it 127: Majority 80.
|List of the Minority.|
|Allen, J. H.||Monck. J. B.|
|Althorp, visc.||Newport, sir J.|
|Baring, Alex.||Nugent, lord|
|Barrett, S. M.||Parnell, sir H.|
|Bennel, hon. H. G.||Phillips, G.|
|Birch, J.||Philips, G. H.|
|Bond, J.||Rice, T. S.|
|Bridges, sir. J.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Colborne N. W. R.||Robarts, A.|
|Denison, W. J.||Robarts, G.|
|Duncannon, visc.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Fergusson, sir R.||Smith, J.|
|Grenfell, P.||Smith, R.|
|Gurney, H.||Stanley, lord|
|Hutchinson, hon. C. H.||Sykes, D.|
|James, W.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Kennedy, T. F.||Warre, J. A.|
|Lamb, hon. G.||Western, C. C.|
|Lennard, T. B.||Williams, W.|
|Lloyd, S. J.||Wood, M.|
|Lushington, S.||Wrottesley, sir J.|
|Maberly, W. L.||Hume, J.|
|Martin, J.||Hobhouse, J. C.|
§ Mr. Hume
next adverted, to the manner in which the purchase of commissions was at present effected, contrary to the regulation of the commander-in-chief, by which a certain sum only was allowed to be given for them. He believed many gentlemen were not aware of the declaration which officers made when they purchased promotion. That declaration was as follows "I do declare and certify, on the word and honour of an officer and a gentleman, that I did not allow in any way or manner, more than the sum of—as the fair value of the said commission." And underneath were the following words—"I hereby also declare, that I have made no clandestine bargain with respect to the said commission." Now, notwithstanding this declaration, there was scarcely one case in ten, in which officers received their commissions at the regulation price, though they thus certified that fact. The commander of the forces and the secretary at war could not be ignorant of what was done, and ought, therefore, to cancel such a useless declaration. 1040 Year after year, the jobbing and traffic in commissions was carried on. He believed there was not an officer who did not consider this to be a regulation which ought immediately to be discontinued. With a view to the attainment of this object, he would move for the introduction of a clause stating, "That officers be not required to make a certificate, that they have purchased their commissions at the regulation price." The situation of officers, in consequence of the existence of the present declaration, was exceedingly unpleasant. They were obliged to certify on their word, that which, if they were placed in a jury-box, they would be compelled on oath to deny. He therefore hoped that a respect for the honour of the army would induce the House to approve of this clause.
§ Sir H. Hardinge
admitted, that under the present order, officers were placed in a most unpleasant situation. Fully persuaded of this, he had made it his duty to inquire into the matter, and he found it was under consideration in the proper quarter, to recall this very objectionable declaration or certificate [hear]. Gentlemen should, however, recollect, that this certificate was introduced to remedy a great evil; namely, the constant traffic in commissions, by which the officers of the army had been most seriously injured. The duke of York was anxious, by the regulation relative to the price of commissions, to preserve and secure the interests of the less wealthy officers. Under that regulation, it was impossible for a junior officer however rich, to step over the head of a senior officer, so long as the latter had the means of putting down the stipulated price for his commission, which was a point of very great importance. It certainly was fitting, in altering the system, to take care that the door should not be again opened to that extensive jobbing which prevailed before the certificate was introduced. He knew, however, that that form was viewed with hostile feelings by the army; and he had learned from a source on which he could implicitly rely, that measures were in contemplation for recalling this objectionable certificate. Under these circumstances, he conceived it would be wrong to agree to the clause proposed by the hon. gentleman, and he should therefore vote against it.
said, he was certainly desirous that this declaration should be 1041 done away with without the interference of the House, and he was glad to hear his hon. and gallant friend say, that it was to be so. But he wished to hear it also from the noble Secretary at war; for unless he heard it from him he must vote for his hon. friend's motion. His hon. and gallant friend said, that the declaration was intended to prevent jobbing. But, did not jobbing exist at present? Could a young man in the army, who desired promotion, obtain it, except after endless year of delay, unless he paid double the regulation price? Every person who had a friend in any of the cavalry or hussar, or what were called crack regiments, knew the enormous sums that were given for promotion.
§ Lord Palmerston
observed, that this was a question full of difficulty. As to the clause proposed by the hon. member for Aberdeen, he really was at a loss to understand it as the hon. gentleman read it. The Mutiny bill had been described as a mass of unintelligible clauses; if so, he was sure its character would not be improved, if the clause proposed by the hon. member were added to it. He repeated, however, that the subject was full of difficulties. The practice itself of selling commissions was one which, fairly estimating all its advantages and disadvantages it decidedly appeared to be expedient to continue. It brought into the army many persons connected with the higher classes of society, and diffused a spirit that was very advantageous. If, however, commissions were allowed to be sold, it was obviously necessary to limit the price that was to be paid for them; for if not, and if every officer were permitted to bid according to his means and to his desire of promotion, abuses would take place beyond all calculation. An old and a poor officer would never get forward. Junior officers would overstep the most meritorious seniors. How, then, did the regulation in question apply? First, he would take the case of a commission sold by an officer in one regiment to an officer in another. There, there could be no difficulty—no danger of an infraction of the regulation. For the officer who wished to sell, applied to the commander-in-chief, and never came in contact with the officer who wished to purchase. He would next take the case of a regimental succession. Suppose it a majority that was to be sold. The senior captain had the pre-emption, if his means enabled him to purchase. Now, what temptation had he 1042 to give more than the regulation price? The only case where it was probable that a larger sum than the regulation price was given, was where an individual, not disposed to sell, was tempted by the subscription of persons who wished to obtain a step in promotion, and who knew that there were strong claims which rendered it infinitely probable that the commission would be given in the corps. In exchange to half-pay, the danger of infraction of the regulation was less than in any other case; for the officer never came in contact with the other party. He applied to the commander-in-chief, and the commander-in-chief took from the list in his possession some one individual to place in the situation of the officer who retired. It was, therefore, only in the case which he had described that it was likely an officer would be tempted to do that which was manifestly improper. As his hon. and gallant friend had stated, the expediency of recalling this declaration had been under consideration. The existing inconveniences had for some time been felt; and an attempt had been made to remedy them by increasing the price of commissions. Still, however, in a case in which a number of officers were exposed to a temptation to which they ought not to be subject, it was considered desirable that the declaration should be recalled. Of course when he said that this recall was under consideration, he should not be understood to describe any specific measure which it was intended to adopt. The very fact of the declaration being under consideration implied that no specific measure had been determined on. He decidedly objected to the hon. gentleman's clause, however; first, because as far as he could collect the import of it, it did not appear calculated to effect the hon. gentleman's own object; and, secondly, because that object was under the consideration of those to whom the consideration of such questions properly belonged.
§ Mr. Grey Bennet
said, he had some years ago, introduced this subject to the notice of parliament. It was one which nearly concerned the honour of the army; for nothing could be more galling to gentlemen than to be called on to put their names to a paper of this kind, well knowing, as they did, that the regulation to which it referred had not been obeyed Under these circumstances, he trusted that the commander-in-chief and the noble lord would turn their attention to the subject, and get rid 1043 of this declaration. It had been said that this traffic was not carried on,—just in the same way as they were told at times that a seat was never sold in that House, and that a voter was never bribed though every body out of the House knew that seats were sold; and there were not a few who could point out not only the seats that had been thus obtained, but the sums paid for them. Colonel Dawkins said, that the necessity of subscribing the certificate in question had long been a source of grief and shame to the army, and he was happy to hear that the commander-in-chief contemplated an alteration of system with respect to it. Under these circumstances he must oppose the clause of the hon. member for Aberdeen.
§ Sir H. Vivian
was anxious that the certificate should be done away with, but could not support the proposed clause, as it was not the proper mode of accomplishing the object.
§ The clause was withdrawn, and the bill was passed.