HC Deb 28 March 1814 vol 27 cc372-5
Mr. Eden

rose, in pursuance of notice, to move for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the state of the gaol of Newgate, and the Poultry, Giltspur street, Ludgate and Borough compters; and to report their observations thereupon, together with any improvement which may be practicable therein: in doing which he observed, that after what had been said on this subject on a former occasion, he did not think it necessary now to make any remarks whatever.

The question having been put,

Mr. Alderman Atkins

expressed his surprise that the hon. gentleman had not assigned some reason for this motion. He was aware, that when the subject was last before the House, the gaols in question were in a very crowded state, both the debtors and felons being extremely numerous.—Since that period, however, another gaol, in which the city proposed to place all the debtors, had been building, and was now in a very forward state. His Majesty's ministers too had taken every means in their power to thin the crowd with which Newgate had been filled, by removing to another situation all those convicts who had received judgment. This being the case, and every necessary precaution having in fact been taken to remedy the evils complained of, he could have hoped that the hon. gentleman would not, by the motion which he had made, have conveyed an indirect censure on the magistracy of London.

Mr. Alderman C. Smith

also expressed his surprise that the hon. gentleman should have introduced his motion without giving some reason to the House, which would justify them in adopting his proposition.

Mr. Eden

said, he could have no difficulty in assigning a reason for his motion. The papers, for which he had moved some time ago, contained a catalogue of the grievances under which the prisons to which he alluded laboured. From these it appeared, that the women were without clothing, and frequently without bedding; and it further appeared, that the whole of the gaols were crowded to an extent truly uncomfortable. Since that period he had himself visited those prisons, and found full scope for the humane interposition of the legislature. He found that great neglect had subsisted in the management of those receptacles of the unfortunate, and more particularly in a prison in another place, he meant that in the Borough; beyond this he did not think it necessary to state. He had no wish whatever to cast any reflection upon the magistrates of the city of London; nor did he apprehend that any reflection on them could be conveyed by his motion. Indeed, when he first introduced the subject to the consideration of the House, the gentlemen who represented the city gave their most hearty acquiescence to the investigation he sought. Why they were now disposed to secede from that acquiescence he was at a loss to imagine.

Sir William Curtis

was far from wishing to shrink from the enquiry proposed; convinced, as he was, that the conduct of the magistracy of the city of London, and of the persons connected with the gaols alluded to, would, on investigation, prove highly creditable to themselves. The gaols, it was true, had been crowded in a manner extremely inconvenient to the unhappy persons who were confined; but every means had been taken to lessen that hardship; and the moment the sheriffs heard that the females were without clothing and bedding, they entered into a contract for the procuration of every thing that was necessary.—(Mr. Whitbread here cried, "Aye!")—The hon. gentleman might say aye! but the fact was so; and he defied any person to say that neglect or inattention was imputable to any of the persons under whom the prisoners in question had been placed.

Sir J. Shaw

said, that he for one acquiesced in the motion, but he could have wished the hon. gentleman had postponed bringing it forward till the magistrates of London had matured the plan which they had in view for remedying the evils complained of. It was in their contemplation to build a new prison for debtors, by which Newgate and Ludgate would be much relieved from the inconveniency they had lately laboured under from the great numbers confined in them. It was their intention also to make such arrangements as should prevent in future the recurrence of such distresses as had been lately experienced. These arrangements were next to be submitted to the consideration of the lord chancellor, the two chief justices, and the lord chief baron of the Exchequer; and from the wisdom of their united judgment, little doubt could be entertained but the evils complained of would be effectually done away. He repeated, therefore, that it would have been better if the hon. gentleman had not been so pressing in bringing forward his motion.

Mr. Whitbread

expressed his surprise that the worthy aldermen should have found fault with his hon. friend for having brought forward the present motion; especially as it appeared from their own declarations, that not one of them meant to oppose it. He was still more surprised that while they seemed convinced that no blame whatever was imputable to the magistrates of London, they should appear to feel so sore at what his hon. friend had said. His hon. friend had moved for a paper which when produced rendered it still more incumbent on him, in his own mind, to take a personal view of the gaol; and in so doing he had found it more particularly his duty to put the subject into a train of inquiry. Nothing could be more candid and liberal than the mode in which his hon. friend had proceeded. He had abstained from giving any opinion on the subject, and contented himself with barely moving for a committee to make enquiry into the case, and to report their opinion to the House. The hon. baronet, who spoke last, had wished that the motion should have been postponed till the magistrates of London had matured the plan upon which it was their intention to act. He (Mr. W.) differed from the hon. baronet on that head: he, for his own part, would rather be inclined to look into things as they were, than to wait for the intentions of any set of men whatever. Where evil existed, they could not too soon be removed; he thought, therefore, his hon. friend had acted most prudently in not permitting any further delay to take place.

The question was the agreed to, and the committee appointed; of which the four city members were to form a part, and five to be a quorum.