HL Deb 25 May 1883 vol 279 cc882-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that it was introduced for the purpose of making certain alterations in two Acts of Parliament—the Naval Discipline Act of 1866, and the Naval Enlistment Act of 1853. Under the latter Act, men were engaged from the age of 18 for the term of 10 years. The Bill gave power for them to engage for 12 years. At the end of that period men would be allowed to reengage for a further period of 10 years. Thus, under the Bill, the whole time of service would be enlarged from 20 to 22 years. One advantage of the change would be to reduce the amount payable in pensions; and that more than compensated the disadvantage of a slight decrease in the disadvantage of a slight decrease in the numbers of the pensioner Reserve. It was hardly necessary to say that the new Regulations as to length of service and pension would not affect any man or boy now in the Navy, but would only apply to new entries. The other part of the Bill proposed numerous Amendments in the Naval Discipline Act of 1866, which had been in force for a considerable time. Many inconveniences had been found in the present state of the law which would now be remedied. He would have been glad if he could have introduced a Bill for consolidating all the Acts relating to naval discipline and enlistment; but that would be a very long and complicated Bill, and it had been thought desirable to pursue the not unusual course of first of all introducing an amending Bill. In the present condition of Public Business he regretted to say it would be impossible for him to indicate when a consolidating measure would be brought forward; but, to prevent inconvenience, the present Bill had been so drafted that every section that had been amended had been re-enacted; and if the Bill passed, the Naval Discipline Act would hereafter be printed as amended, and not in its old form, showing the exact state of the law. Among the alterations he would mention the most important. It was proposed, first of all, to make certain changes in the proceedings and powers of ordinary courts martial, for the purpose of facilitating the trial of offences and preventing delay. It would be no longer necessary that there should be three ships assembled together in order to hold a court martial. Then, in the trial of an officer of the rank of lieutenant and under, the presence of a captain would suffice without that of a commander. Then power was given to hold a court martial on shore instead of on shipboard, which, in some cases, would be desirable. Then, as flogging had been practically abolished by the action of Parliament as regarded the sister Service, and by the orders of successive Boards of Admiralty, it was thought desirable that certain powers should be given to summary courts martial, and they had been inserted in the Bill. No doubt, the conduct of our bluejackets had, on the whole, been excellent; for example, during their three weeks ashore at Port Said, a place of very doubtful reputation, there was not a single case of punishment. But it would not be right to conceal the fact that, during the last five or six years, there had been a considerable increase in the number of the serious offences of striking or threatening a superior officer, and wilful disobedience to orders. The Bill conferred on the Navy, for the purpose of dealing with such cases, powers similar to those contained in the Army Discipline Act of 1881 with respect to the Army. In some respects, those powers were greater than the corresponding powers given to the Army, and in others less. They were confined to cases of mutiny, striking a superior officer, and certain military offences; but the power of dealing with the most serious offences was not confined to "active service." Ships in commission were, for practical purposes, always on active service, and the powers of summary courts martial would extend to all ships in commission. Corporal punishment would be abolished; and, the punishment of solitary confinement having become practically obsolete, it was proposed by the Bill to abolish it altogether by legislation. It was further proposed to give a power to summarily punish minor offences to officers in command of tenders and boats on detached service, as well as to officers in command of forces on shore. This latter proposal would meet the difficulty that had arisen during the recent operations in Egypt, and enable the officer in command of a force of Marines on shore to deal with the men under him. The Bill also provided that no sentence of imprisonment with hard labour should exceed two years. This would bring the Naval Criminal Law into harmony with the Civil Criminal Law as regarded the length of sentences. It was further proposed that where a sentence of imprisonment was pronounced at a place where there was no prison in which the sentence could be carried out, the punishment should not be held to begin until the offender reached a place where a prison existed; provided, however, that the offender was not subject to imprisonment during the voyage. If their Lordships were good enough to read the Bill a second time on that occasion, he should be most happy to afford any further information that might be desired with regard to the measure in Committee. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2ª" —(The Earl of Northbrook.)


said, while admitting that some of the provisions of the Bill would be beneficial, he did not think that this was a good time for quite getting rid of corporal punishment in the Navy, though it was not an agreeable subject to discuss. As their Lordships were aware, the punishment had not been abolished by law, though Orders of the Board of Admiralty had virtually abrogated it. But was this the time for giving it up altogether? In his opinion, the noble Earl had made out a very bad case for its entire abolition. What was the result of the action of the Admiralty in this matter? Was not this shown by the admission of the noble Earl, that during the last three or four years the offence of mutiny had largely increased?


said, that he had stated that the offence of striking a superior officer had increased; not the offence of mutiny.


wished to know what more mutinous act could be com- mitted than that of striking a superior officer and this offence had increased 10 per cent since the punishment had been abolished? The offence of theft on board ship had also largely increased. He could not conceive why, when Judges and magistrates could award corporal punishment, the power should be taken away from officers. His experience was that for a certain class of offences there was no greater deterrent than corporal punishment. He firmly believed that the opinion of all Naval non-commissioned officers and sailors were in favour of the retention of the punishment, and that its abolition, for all times and under all circumstances, would strike a serious blow at discipline. He also saw with regret that it was proposed to take away the power of reprimand from commanding officers. He would like to know what power officers would have on boat service?


explained, that the power to reprimand would not be restricted, but extended by the proposed clause.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2ª accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.

House adjourned at Five o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.