§ SIR FREDERICK MILNER
, who had given Notice of his intention to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the powers given by the Naval Discipline Act of 1866 ought not to be used to inflict penal servitude on voting men and boys of good character for offences against discipline involving no moral guilt,said, that it was high time that this serious question was looked into. It was causing agitation throughout the country; and a Petition, which had received 8,300 signatures, had been, or would be, presented to the House. He readily acknowledged, as every Member in the House would, the great necessity for enforcing discipline by severe punishment, and no one would take any objection that this should be the case. But they must remember that their soldiers and sailors not only exposed themselves to dangers, and hardships, and privations for their country's sake, but they volunteered, in joining the Service, to give up some of the most valued rights and privileges of citizens; and he thought that it was the duty of their countrymen, to interfere when undue severity was exercised towards their sailors. He would remind the House that the Naval Discipline Act of 1866 became law without any debate either in this House or the House of Lords, upon the different stages of the Bill. The Houses considered that it was right that extraordinary powers should be granted; and he supposed that on that account they did not think it necessary to examine too closely into the 331 details. It was read a first time on the 20th July, 1866, and it received the Royal Assent on the 10th August. By it insubordination might be punished by imprisonment not exceeding two years or penal servitude; but he contended that the framers of the Act could only have intended that this extreme penalty should be applied to extreme cases and to old offenders. The sentence of penal servitude could be for life, or for any term not less than five years; and it involved dismissal with disgrace, the forfeiture of pay, allowances, gratuities, &c., and incapacity to serve Her Majesty again in either civil or military service. This was a terrible punishment to pass upon a young seaman who had previously borne a good character, and who, in a moment of rashness, had assaulted an officer. It was never expected by those who advocated the abolition of flogging that a far more cruel and degrading punishment should, be substituted and inexorably enforced. Previously, when a man had received a flogging he resumed his duties, and some men who had been flogged had attained to honourable positions, one having become post captain of a ship. But now men, who formerly could have regained their position, were sent to penal servitude, and obliged to herd with felons of the lowest class, and their lives were blasted and ruined. He had carefully gone over the Returns from the 1st January, 1870, to the 31st December, 1882, and found that for the offences to which his Motion referred 75 men during that period had been sent to penal servitude, and of these 29 had previously had very good characters, and 34 had had fair characters. Of that number seven were boys under 20, five of whom previously bore good characters; 10, five having good characters, were 20 years of age; eight, two having good characters, were 21 years of age; eight, three having good characters, were 22 years of age; 11, one having a good character, were 23; eight, two having good characters, were 24. Of the boys under 20, therefore, more than one-half were of good character before they were convicted and sent to penal servitude. Since the existence of the present Admiralty the number had increased. In the time of the late Government the average yearly number of cases was seven; but during the present Government the average yearly number was 12, including six cases where the 332 young man's character was good. Previously, no boy of 18 or under was sent to penal servitude; but under the present Administration there had altogether been four boys under 18 years of age sent to penal servitude. With reference to the case of the boy Lewis Price, who was convicted in March, 1882, he believed that the offence which the youth committed was more or less a serious one, as he knocked down his senior officer. The boy threw himself on the mercy of the Court, and no evidence was produced; but he understood that the youth had received a good character from the captain of the ship on which he served. There was no evidence to show that he was drunk at the time; but as he was cook of the mess he would not only receive his own allowance of grog, but also part of the rations of the other men. It was therefore reasonable to assume that a boy of his age, 18 years, could not have consumed that grog without suffering from the effects of it. The offence was committed before the Order of the Admiralty that the allowance of grog should not be given to boys of 18 years reached the youth's ship. He thought the House would agree with him that to send a promising lad, who had received a good character from his captain, into penal servitude was a very serious thing. A Report had been made concerning this boy's case; but the Admiralty had declined to produce it. He submitted that a document of that character ought not to be kept secret, and that if it contained anything which tended to exculpate the boy, the Admiralty should make the fact known. There were three other boys who were undergoing the terrible punishment of penal servitude at the present time; and he could only fear that when they were set at liberty they would be added to the criminal classes of the country. Last November a Petition was presented to the Prime Minister, signed by no loss than 12 Members of Parliament, earnestly praying that this matter might have the serious consideration of the Government. He was informed that no notice was taken of that Petition, and that it was not even acknowledged by the right hon. Gentleman or by his Secretary. There was, undoubtedly, a serious agitation going on in the seaport towns with regard to this question; and he had little doubt that the quality of the seamen who were to 333 join the Navy would be seriously interfered with unless the Admiralty did something to stop this terrible penalty being inflicted for slight offences. He would again remind the House of the splendid services rendered by our sailors on land and sea; no one could think of the gallant, heroic conduct of British sailors without feeling that too much could not be done to promote the interest and welfare of such brave and noble men. He thought it terrible that for an offence against discipline young men in the Navy should be ruined, when in civil life a small fine would have been considered sufficient punishment for an offence of a similar nature. He considered that for a young man of 18 or 20 a sentence of two years' imprisonment at the very most in a naval prison would be a sufficient punishment in all conscience for the offence, especially if he had borne a good character. The lad could then be permitted to rejoin the Service, and show that his first boyish offence was one he would never seek to repeat. He sincerely trusted that the Admiralty would consider whether some steps ought not to be taken immediately to remedy such a terrible state of things as he had shown to exist.
§ MR. WARTON
believed that in the case of the boy Price the sentence was reduced from five years' to three years' penal servitude. But the Admiralty had committed no act of mercy in reducing that period of penal servitude; for the dreadful nature of the punishment lay not in its duration, but in its character. He was in favour of strict discipline, and in the olden times there was a sharp, short, and effectual remedy for boyish offences, which did the youths a world of good and did not ruin their lives. Nemesis was pursuing a Radical Government in this matter. A Radical agitation with regard to this matter was got up by the Radical Member for Birmingham; and the result was that when the present Government came into Office, they were thwarted by the very agitation which they helped to promote. Such was the result of an ill-considered agitation got up for Party purposes, which had proved a difficulty to those who created it when they found themselves in Office. There was an increasing number of young men who were subject to this terrible punishment of penal servitude; and he hoped that if the Ad- 334 miralty authorities could devise any other punishment in its place they would not be ashamed to retrace their steps.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, he could not conceive how it was logical to lay the recent increase of sentences by courts martial to penal servitude to the abolition of flogging, and to assume that, if Hogging were now permitted in the Navy, a sentence of 40 or 50 lashes would be the equivalent punishment infletedd in cases where a court martial now deemed that five or seven years' penal servitude was a necessary punishment. Therefore, the argument that because that punishment was taken away, courts martial were driven to give five, seven, or ten years' penal servitude, seemed to him not to be supported by facts. When a discussion of this kind occurred, in which discipline was concerned, the opinion was almost always expressed that it must be secured by "severe" punishment, meaning, by that, some punishment out of all proportion to that which would be given in civilian life for some breach of the law. This was always assumed by naval and military men, who, no doubt, thought that they knew more about punishments and their effects than other hon. Members. He begged to contest that. On the civil side of life, in the administration of the law, they claimed to know more about the matter than naval men. Their experience was greater. There were many more offences and temptations to them possible than were contained in the Naval Code. The law, in those cases, was duly enforced by a moderate punishment, and many lawyers would be positively shocked at the length of imprisonment inflicted by courts martial; and he wanted to call the attention of military and naval men to the fact that a feeling existed that a lighter amount of punishment might be adopted quite efficaciously to produce the results which were desired. The Admiralty had the matter in their own hands, and they ought to revise the sentences passed on men tried by courts martial. There ought to be a permanent officer at the Admiralty, like the Judge Advocate General for the Army, to go into these matters, and whoso duty it should be to call the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty to the punishments ordered. At present, instead of the sentences being revised by a responsible 335 officer, they were handed over to some clerk or other, who was vouched for to the House as being a gentleman of some experience and knowledge on the subject. Having entered his protest against the present mode of inflicting punishment, he would ask his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), when he replied to the observations which had been made during the debate, to state whether it was a rule of prison life that a man sentenced to penal servitude had, by good behaviour, an opportunity of securing the remission of three months of every year? If that was not the case in naval and military prisons it ought to be. It was so as regarded every criminal sent to other prisons. He thought it right to ask the question in order that this privilege might be secured as a right to naval and military offenders. Another excuse for his rising was, that he was about to call attention to the cognate matter on the military side on the Army Discipline Act.
§ SIR H. DKUMMOND WOLFF
, in supporting the object aimed at in the Notice of the hon. Baronet (Sir Frederick Milner), said, that nothing had created a greater sensation than the punishment which had been inflicted on a number of young men for offences against discipline. The class of punishment introduced of late was far more degrading in its character than the former punishment for such offences. In the town of Portsmouth there had been two or three cases of this description which had caused the greatest sensation; and he had been asked to present a Petition signed by many thousands of the inhabitants of that town, protesting against the unnecessarily degrading character of the sentences inflicted for offences which were not in themselves morally disgraceful. Formerly these offences would have been punished with a few strokes of the cat; but now young men of good character, for only losing their temper, were punished with penal servitude, and sent to herd with rogues and felons. He had made an application to the Admiralty with reference to some of these cases, and the response was that they would reduce the sentence from five years to three years. But it was not so much the length of the sentence to which he had desired to call attention as to the fact that these young men—whose characters were not bad, and 336 whose offence was committed in a moment of haste and ill-temper—had entailed upon them such disgraceful and painful consequences. It would have been more desirable, instead of shortening their sentences, to have committed them to imprisonment in some naval gaol, where there would not be the same deteriorating influences. He thought that it would be a very desirable tiling that orders should be given to officers who were likely to sit upon courts martial not to use their power of inflicting penal servitude. Offenders might be sent to naval prisons, where they would not be associated with that unhappily degraded set of men who filled our penal establishments. He thought that some method might be found for avoiding the degrading necessity of penal servitude, and the danger of men being deterred from entering the Navy by a sentence so terrible in its nature.