HC Deb 20 March 1812 vol 22 cc101-3

On the motion for going into a Committee on this Bill,

Mr. Kenrick

moved an instruction to the Committee, that provision should be made, that persons convicted of felony, without benefit of clergy, should be kept to hard labour.

Mr. Holford

rose, in consequence of in-formation he had received, that it was in-tended to oppose the principle of the Bill. He entered into a minute examination of the plan of Mr. Bentham, which, he contended, was wholly inadequate to the object; and he drew a comparison between it and the scheme he had the honour of proposing to the House this session. He dwelt particularly on the benefits likely to result from the management being placed in the hands of a committee, instead of an individual controulable only by the court of King's-bench.

Sir S. Romilly

lamented that the subject should be discussed in so thin a House. One of his principal objections to the plan now suggested had been removed, namely, that the institution was calculated to receive so few offenders. Still, however, the objects to which it was to apply were too much restricted, as criminals convicted in London and Middlesex were only to be received. He admitted that the management being left to a committee was preferable, but still the public ought to possess a full right of inspection and controul. He would not now enter fully into Mr. Bentham's plan, but it was to be remembered, that lightly as it had been spoken of, it had on mature deliberation been approved of by Mr. Pitt and by lord Melville. He had only recommended the plan of Mr. Bentham to the consideration of the House on account of the advantages it had over other plans of a similar nature, on account of its superior economy, and the prospect it held out of furnishing the convicts with employment when the term of their imprisonment expired. In support of the utility of prisons being subjected to public inspection, he referred to a recent work of Mr. Neild's, which disclosed practices on the part of gaolers and others, that could not take place if the public eye had been upon them; for he believed in every case, that there were no inspectors or guardians so good as the public themselves. With regard to the erection of Penitentiary Houses, he believed he might advert to the warm and zealous support with which such a plan had been maintained by Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas; at least if he was wrong, he saw a right hon. gentleman in his place who could set him right. He wished that the Bill might not be committed that evening, on account of the thinness of the House, and that members might have an opportunity of fully possessing themselves of its object; and he should therefore move as an amendment, that the House should go into a Committee upon it on Wednesday the 15th of April.

Mr. Long

observed, in reply to the reference of his hon. and learned friend, that certainly no person was more anxious than Mr. Pitt, that some plan similar to that now proposed, should be adopted. Mr. Dundas was also of the same opinion, but he was not prepared to say that they were particularly attached to Mr. Bentham's plan, (which though it had many good parts, and contained much that might be adopted) it was impossible any person could wholly approve, who had attentively examined it.

Mr. Abercromby

spoke in favour of Mr. Bentham's plan, though he had never recommended its unqualified adoption. He would vote with his hon. and learned friend against proceeding farther that night, and hoped he would take the sense of the House on the subject.

Mr. Secretary Ryder

stated his objections to various parts of Mr. Bentham's plan. He strongly opposed the amendment, on account of the delay it would occasion. He was desirous of making the plan as perfect as possible; but he could see no advantage likely to result from postponing the Committee on the Bill, as he conceived the thinness of the House was to be in a great measure ascribed to a feeling on the part of the members absent, that to attend on this occasion was unnecessary.

Mr. Wilberforce

gave his testimony to the value of Mr. Bentham's plan, not indeed without amendments, which it had ever courted, and could not, therefore, be considered as pretending to perfection. He particularly eulogised that part of it which provided for the restoration of the criminal to society in a manner which would not, as it were, compel him to a renewal of his vicious courses. He trusted this system would put an end to transportation, except for life, to those whom it was expedient to banish altogether from their countrymen.

Mr. Bathurst

was against any further postponement. It had appeared, from the report of the Committee, that the situation of the felons in the several gaols of the metropolis called for the most prompt attention. He objected to the plan of making the prisoners a public spectacle, which, in his opinion, had a tendency to defeat the main object, namely, that of affording them every opportunity of solitary reflection upon the nature of their offences, and the justice of their punishment.

Mr. C. Adams

supported the amendment, on the ground of the absence of many hon. and legal members on the assizes, whose opinions it would be satisfactory to receive on this question.

Mr. W. Smith

saw no inconvenience in putting it off for so short a period as that proposed by his hon. and learned friend.

The House divided on the amendment.

For the Amendment 18
Against it 35
Majority 17

The House then resolved itself into a Committee, in which the various clauses of the Bill underwent a discussion.

The House having resumed, the report was ordered to be received on Monday.