HC Deb 10 February 1818 vol 37 cc260-4
Sir W. Curtis

brought up the report of the committee upon the petition of the Sheriffs and Common Council of London with respect to the completion of this prison.

The hon. baronet then moved, "That leave be given to bring in a bill for raising an additional sum of money for carrying into execution the acts of parliament for building a new prison for debtors in the city of London, and for extending the powers of the said acts."

Mr. H. Sumner

considered that the city of London, like other places, ought to find and provide for its own gaols. Unless, therefore, he could find some sufficient grounds laid for this bill, he should feel it his duty to oppose it.

Sir W. Curds

said, that the petition alluded to contained an ample explanation of these grounds. The fact was, that the erection and alteration of the new prison for debtors had cost no less than 130,000l. and it was in order to provide for the excess beyond the former grant, namely, for 30,000l. that the motion was brought forward. The city of London was always ready to support its own prisons; but the misfortune was, that it was too often called upon to support numerous prisoners from other districts. Still the citizens of London did not seek to put their hands into the pockets of the public, but only for the liberty of raising the money required among themselves through the medium of the Orphans' Fund, as it was improperly called; for this fund had nothing whatever to do with orphans, and should rather be denominated a Fund for the Improvement of the city of London. It was proposed through this fund to raise the sum to which this bill alluded; and those belonging to the city, who did not think proper to contribute to the raising of that sum, might, if they thought proper, have their coals from any other place than the port of London.

Mr. Bennet

said, that upon this subject it was necessary that the House should consider, first, the propriety of granting the money required, and secondly, the manner in which that money was to be applied. He was enabled from personal observation to say, that of all the gaols in England, that in White cross-street was the most unfit for its object, and the most incommodious for the prisoners, while it was by far the most expensive in its construction. It was only necessary to examine this clumsy edifice to be satisfied of the fact; for would it be believed, that a prison intended for the accommodation of hundreds of prisoners, was not even fire-proof? He had the honour of being a member of the committee of that House, which visited this prison, and recommended certain alterations, but those alterations could not require such a sum as the hon. baronet alluded to. The hon. baronet had remarked, that those who did not think proper to contribute to the sum proposed to be raised, might go elsewhere than the port of London for coals. This, he thought a very extraordinary remark, especially considering the number of comparatively useless turnpikes which had been already erected upon the Thames. He alluded to the new locks, many of which were mere jobs; for although those locks professed to have in view the security of the navigation and trade of the river, it was a fact, that no one who had a barge of coals to convey, could deem it safe from robbery, without employing persons for its special protection. The city of London had, it was known, been profuse in the expenditure of its funds. Whenever any ministerial object was to be promoted, it was always ready with its presents, its swords, and its snuffboxes—but it would become this city to be just before it was generous—to rescue its gaols from that disgraceful state in which they notoriously were, before they stood forward with ostentatious and unnecessary donations. The state of Newgate was really scandalous; but all the gaols of the city were in a melancholy condition, and especially the Borough Compter, in which there was scarcely an unbroken window or pane of glass. Before, then, it was agreed to let the corporation of London raise more money, for the porpose of the city prisons, he hoped the House would desire to know how the sums already granted had been disposed of, and would also demand a statement of the city funds.

Sir James Shaw

expressed a hope, that neither that House nor the country, would ever be found to concur with the hon. gentleman in condemning the city of London for its liberality towards the liberators of Europe. If the House agreed in the principle upon which the money alluded to in the motion was paid, he could not see upon what grounds that motion could be opposed.

Mr. H. Sumner

felt it to be his duty to oppose the motion. The Orphans fund was a charge for the government of the city, and if that fund were found insufficient, the cause of that insufficiency ought to be explained before any additional grant were acceded to. But the improvident manner in which money was raised by the corporation of London, suggested the propriety of limiting its discretion, and watching its operation, for of the 100,000l. which this corporation was enabled by parliament to raise, for the erection of the prison alluded to, 10,000l. was disposed of in an unaccountable manner, and this, too, at a time that the chancellor could raise money in the city at much less than 5 per cent. Now, as the interest upon loans to the city was quite as punctually paid as that upon the public funds, he could not conceive a reason for such extreme difference. There was but too much reason to believe, that the loans to the city were mixed with a spirit of jobbing, and therefore he proposed to move that the names of the subscribers to the last loan should be laid before the House. The House would be surprised to learn, that among the contingencies upon the last loan, no less a sum than 3,000l. was set down for the expense of carrying the bill through parliament which authorized that loan. But there was another charge in the contingencies which appeared equally unaccountable, namely, 3,000l. for the expense of making out the bonds upon this loan. With such facts before the House, was it too much to suspect the existence of a job in this transaction, somewhat similar to that which characterized the plan for building the New Post-office? It was due to his constituents, who paid at least one-fifth of the tax exacted upon coals for the Orphans' fund, to take care how this fund was administered; he would therefore move, by way of amendment, "That the Report be taken into consideration on the 13th of March."

Mr. Alderman Wood

observed, that he had often been in company with his hon. friend in the prisons of London, but he must say, that he had never heard his hon. friend point out such faults as he had that night alluded to. With regard to the prison in White cross-street, he was enabled to state, that it stood upon as much ground as any prison in London. The yards were all spacious, and the apartments as commodious as could be reasonably desired in such a building. But he wished that this, as well as the other city prisons, were examined by a committee of that House, in order to prove the justice of his representation. It was known that at the White cross-street prison, to which his hon. friend particularly alluded, the prisoners were accommodated with coals, bread, meat and bedding, without any expense, and he apprehended that no such accommodation was afforded to debtors in any other prison in Great Britain. This prison was originally intended for the accommodation of 544 prisoners, and it occupied, including the outer walls, about an acre of ground. Yet, in consequence of a recommendation from the committee of that House, the city committee for superintending the construction of the prison, bought some more ground, at an expense of 17,000l. This expense, together with the loss upon the bonds connected with the last loan, formed the ground for the proposed bill. The hon. member for Surrey had dwelt much on the fund of the city, but he had taken no notice of its indispensable expenditure, and was not, perhaps, aware that the annual expense of White cross-street pri- son was no less than 3,000l. which, added to the expense of the other city prisons, formed an aggregate of about 30,000l. which the city of London annually paid for the maintenance and police of its several gaols.

Mr. S. Thornton

should not oppose the motion, but thought it rather hard that the city of London should have the power of taxing to such an extent, all the adjoining counties.

Mr. N. Calvert

agreed with the observation of the last speaker, as to the taxation to which other counties were subjected, merely for the accommodation of Middlesex and the city of London. That was the more to be regretted, as this taxation being imposed upon coals, operated most oppressively towards the poorer classes. This tax, upon coals was indeed, of such a nature, that he thought it peculiarly worthy the consideration of the chancellor of the exchequer, as well as of the House itself, in order to devise a diminution of its pressure.

A division was called for, but upon the understanding that the accounts of the Orphans' fund should be laid before the House, Mr. Sumner consented to withdraw his amendment, and the original motion was carried.