HC Deb 21 May 1830 vol 24 cc938-51

Mr. G. Dawson moved, that a sum not exceeding 21,135l. be granted to defray the expense of the Penitentiary at Milbank for the year 1830.

Mr. Hume

said, that he had on a former occasion objected to this vote, and it having then been postponed on account of the absence of the Secretary of State, he would now state his reasons for objecting to it. The establishment was at first only an experiment, and was warmly opposed in 1811, when it was first erected. It was then held that England ought to try an experiment which was said to have been eminently successful in the United States, and he had then given a conscientious support to the plan. The expense of the establishment, however, had been far greater than the estimate. In the first place, it had never contained much above one-half of the persons whom it was calculated to accommodate. It was intended for 1,000 persons, but there had never been more than 600 in it. This showed that there was something defective about it, and that it had not answered the end to the extent it ought. After it had existed nineteen years, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he thought the experiment had succeeded? He entertained no doubt on the subject, and he put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether it were not time to put an end to the system? Had the hopes conceived from the plan of a penitentiary been realized? He believed not; and those who recommended it in 1811, never could have supposed that in 1830 each person inclosed in it, making no allowance for the expense of the building, would cost the country annually 30l. In fact, according to the sum voted for the average number of prisoners, from 627 to 630, the amount per head was 32l. Including the expense for the building, the cost for each person accommodated was, annually 89l. In his opinion, it would be wise to dispose of the Penitentiary; and as the Middlesex Magistrates were sometime ago about to build a gaol, it might then have been transferred to them. They would have taken it, he understood, and the country might have been repaid part of the cost of the building. At present there was a governor, with 600l. a-year, besides perquisites; a secretary, with 400l.; a chaplain, with 400l.; and a medical staff greater than that of a regiment. The expense, he believed, for the medical attendance on 600 persons was upwards of 500l., being more than any regiment of 1,000 men cost, in any part of the world. On the whole, the expense of the servants of the establishment amounted to between 5,000l. and 6,000l. It was high time, then, that this establishment was put an end to. In fact, in his opinion, all persons sentenced to transportation should be immediately sent off to the colonies, and not kept one day in this country. That would be found the cheapest way of disposing of them, and the most advantageous, he believed, to the public morals. The expense of conveyance was now so small, in comparison with what it was, and with keeping people in the Penitentiary, or in the hulks, that they ought not to be allowed to remain in England after being sentenced to be transported. But if the expense were even much greater than it really was, he should think that of little importance, compared to the advantage which would accrue to public morality. He knew that it was the opinion of many magistrates, that the convicts, liberated from the hulks or from the prisons, however well they might have behaved there, soon relapsed into their old courses, and ran another career of wickedness before they were arrested by the arm of the law. They did more injury to society than could be compensated by the very trifling saving which might accrue from keeping them at home. He looked on transportation less as a source of economy than as a means of preventing contamination. The persons who learnt the trade of stealing in prison were a great means of spreading a knowledge of the art through the country; and when he looked at the return of commitments then on the Table, he was sure that the subject deserved the attention of the House. The number had increased during the last year, as compared with the preceding year, 2,600; and people would hardly believe the frightful progression since 1800, when the number was only 4,000, up to the last year, when it amounted to more than 18,000. He could make allowance for the consequences of that distress to which the people had been reduced by taxation; but making every allowance for that, he still thought the increase of crime was most alarming. In particular, he would take care to transport those females who were convicted of crimes, and who, being very often here a burthen both to themselves and others, became useful members of society when transported to our colonies. By sending felons thither, we should put an end to some of our expensive establishments at home, and, if properly managed, they would pay for the expenses of the colony. Very soon the House would be called on to vote 130,000l. for New Holland, but by the plan of disposing of the labour of convicts there this expense might be saved. At present the governor gave the convicts to his favourites or his friends, or employed them on his own ground; but he believed that many of the settlers there would be glad to have their service on their arrival, giving for them a sum fully equal to the expense of conveying them thither. Persons could not, at present, have the service of convicts unless they were favoured by the governor. The public expense might be reduced very much by disposing of their services instead of allowing the governor to appropriate them, as was done by the present governor, among his relations and friends. The system he had recommended would put an end to this abuse of patronage, and would be attended with immediate advantage to the convict and the country. He would be reformed, the public morals would be improved, and the Revenue of the country benefitted. In the society of his companions here, he kept on in his old courses; there he was separated from them and became a new man. There was in the colony of New South Wales a great want of women, a great want of servants, and he would accordingly send all the female convicts off there directly. They should all go, young and old. He knew that they were improved very much in the colony, and women who were old here were made young there. The right hon. Gentleman might satisfy himself of tin's fact. It was of the utmost importance that these suggestions should be attended to. There these poor beings were removed from the haunts of vice; and, though he believed that the plan would be economical, as well as useful to public morality, even if it were expensive, he should think that of little importance, when compared to the benefit which would be conferred on these wretched women and the country. They would be such as would gladden the hearts of all benevolent and philanthropic persons. He believed, however, that, what with the expense of hulks, and with the expense of the Penitentiary, it would be found more economical, as well as more humane and benevolent, at once to transport all persons sentenced to transportation. The hon. Member concluded by recommending the subject to the serious consideration of the right hon. the Secretary of State.

Sir R. Peel

rejoiced in the opportunity afforded him by the hon. Member, of entering into some explanations on this subject. He confessed he felt as deeply as the hon. Member, the importance of the subject, not more from the circumstances connected with it to which he had adverted, than from others to which he had not directed his attention. The whole question was so connected with that other most important question—the infliction of secondary punishments—that he really thought it worthy of the strictest investigation; and that investigation he courted, not to relieve himself from any responsibility, but in order that the best information might be obtained respecting the infliction of secondary punishments, and the prevention of offences. He had, indeed, been at all times most anxious to further the admission of strangers and foreigners into all places appropriated to the punishment of offenders; because he thought it of great importance that the country and the Government should be able to avail themselves of the information and suggestions which such visits might call forth. The hon. Member had put to him a number of questions on the subject of the management of the Penitentiary, as connected with the present system of punishment; and he would answer these questions with all the fairness and candour which the hon. Gentleman could desire. The hon. Member commenced by asking him to say, if it were his opinion that the advantages of the Penitentiary were not counter-balanced by the expense attendant on its management? Now, certainly, if the question to be agitated at the present moment were—whether or not it would be expedient to expend 500,000l. on a building of that descript ion—he confessed he should pause before he gave his assent to it. But the real question to be considered was, whether it must not be more advantageous to avail ourselves of the benefits which the possession of such a building afforded, than to abandon it at once after so great an outlay, which could not be recalled? It ought to be known that the Penitentiary was not in reality governed by the Secretary of State, but by a committee appointed by the Privy Council for the purpose of giving advice to the Secretary of State on every thing connected with the management of prisoners. These gentlemen performed their duty gratuitously, but with great advantage to the country; and although he confessed very candidly that he, at one time, entertained a very strong opinion on the propriety of placing every department connected with the administration of secondary punishments under the immediate control of the Secretary of State, still he had no reason to regret the decision of the committee of the House, which had been appointed at his request to inquire into the subject. The members of that committee were gentlemen, a great majority of whom were not favourable to the Government. Mr. H. G. Bennett, who, at that time, took a prominent part in the discussions of the House, was their chairman; Mr. Hobhouse, and many others of the Opposition were among its members; and he was bound to confess that they differed with him on the propriety of placing the Penitentiary under the government of the Secretary of State, and thought it better and more satisfactory that it should continue under the management of a number of gentlemen of high character and experience, such as those who formed the committee. Having said thus much with respect to the management, he would now proceed to notice some of the hon. Member's other objections. The hon. Member complained of the salary of the Superintendent. He differed with him on that point. He believed that some reductions might be made in the general establishment; but when it was considered that the committee acted gratuitously, and that the whole expense of management was the salary of the Superintendent, he thought it of great importance that they should have in that office a gentleman of education and character, and of such a situation in life as would be a guarantee for the proper discharge of the very important duties appertaining to his office. The hon. Member, however, objected to the establishment altogether. What would he do with it? If it was offered for sale to the Middlesex Magistrates, he apprehended they would give for it but a very small portion of the worth or of the money it had cost. [Mr. Maberly said, "give it to them; make them a present of it."] Now, really considering that the hon. Member who made that suggestion was a great economist, it was a little surprising that he should offer to give away a building which cost so much, when they must immediately after erect another of some kind, although perhaps, not quite so extensive. They could not transport all who were found guilty of offences, although the propositions of the hon. Member for Montrose would go to the extinction of all imprisonment, except for life. There were some classes of offenders who must always be excepted. Young females for instance, who might probably be sentenced for a first offence, and who did not come within the description of hardened criminals. He begged, however, to admit at once, that while he denied the propriety of the hon. Member's suggestions on the subject of transportation, he had not the slightest objection to the appointment of a Select Committee for the purpose of inquiring into the comparative advantages of the convict system, and of transportation. The hon. Gentleman said, he would transport all, both young and old; the young to increase the population of the colony, and the old to become young. He would be glad to know, however, what benefit was to be received from transporting offenders of seventy or eighty years of age, or of what advantage they could be to the colonies. He was convinced, that a system of secondary punishment, by compelling convicts, under good discipline, to serve at the public works, was one calculated to prevent crime, and to prove beneficial to the offender, as well as profitable to the country. By a letter from the Navy Board, which he held in his hand, he found that the expense of the convicts in the Hulks was 70,500l., while the produce of their labour amounted to 67,570l.;and to this was to be added the labour in the Ordnance Department which produced 9,092l.At Bermuda, too, the labour of the convicts had been found highly productive. The hon. Member blamed him, too, for not sending every female, offender to the colonies, where they were so much wanted. Now, in order to show how much difference of opinion prevailed on this subject, he begged the hon. Member to hear the language applied to a system of transportation of that kind, by Mr. Halford, a gentleman who had lately published a pamphlet on the subject. Mr. Halford there says, he wanted language to express his objections to the monstrous principle which seemed to be adopted by the Secretary of State, in sending out females to the colonies, with a regard to the wants of those colonies rather than to the nature of the crime. He mentioned this, not for the purpose of combatting Mr. Halford's arguments, but to show that the situation of a Secretary of State, amidst such conflicting opinions, was not a very agreeable one; for, although he had adopted the practice of sending out a number of female convicts in consequence of overwhelming considerations of morality, repeatedly urged on the Home Office, he was here charged with the crime of defrauding the Penitentiary in order to increase the number of female convicts. It was obvious, however, that New South Wales had long outgrown all the objects for which it was chosen as a place of transportation—for if young and active profligates were to have the assurance that they could support themselves in ease and comfort the moment they were sent out of this country at an expense of 30l. or 40l. to the Government, transportation became an object to be coveted rather than avoided. It was, indeed, in the contemplation of the Government to endeavour to make the punishment of transportation, when had recourse to, much more severe than at present, not only as a punishment, but as an effectual preventive of crime. In England transportation was not much dreaded: in Ireland it was. The inhabitants of that country seemed to have a peculiar dislike to be separated from their country and their kindred. In all agricultural countries this feeling seemed also to prevail; but in England the people of large towns were little affected at the prospect of being sent to a distant colony, and the change of scenery appeared rather to possess attractions for them. It was for this reason that he thought the infliction of secondary punishments at home was preferable to transportation to New South Wales. But then the hon. Member recommended the selection of new colonies for that purpose. If the Government were to adopt that recommendation, it was much to be feared that the hon. Gentleman would not be much satisfied with it on the score of economy. If convicts were sent to a colony there must be labour for them, or the object of transportation would be lost. When, however, this difficulty was surmounted, the necessity of providing a surgeon, a chaplain, a guard, and all the other requisites for the settlement, would lead to an expense which the hon. Member would not be prepared for. The cost of the establishment at New South Wales had taught them the danger of embarking in plans of that kind. Bermuda, however, was admirably calculated for all the purposes of transportation. There labour was needed, and by a judicious system it was supplied in abundance, and he believed there were now above l,200 convicts employed in the works. In other places—in Canada for instance—the same facilities were not afforded for that purpose, because, if the convicts were to be moved from place to place, they must have a guard of some strength to accompany them, and buildings must be provided for their reception. He mentioned these things, not to prevent inquiry, but to encourage it. He thought the subject one of great importance, well deserving the most serious investigation. He knew that many dif- ferent opinions were entertained respecting it, but he stated his opinion, that the labour of the hulks was the most economical method of disposing of the time of the convicts, and that it deserved encouragement. He repeated, however, his former declaration, that if the House was of opinion that a sufficient time had elapsed since the last inquiry, and that the state of New South Wales was so much altered as to render it inexpedient to make it longer a place of transportation, although he did not by any means wish to relieve himself from the responsibility of his situation, yet he should feel glad to see the whole of the subject thoroughly investigated by a Select Committee.

Colonel Davies

, having commenced by saying that the right hon. Gentleman had changed his opinions on this subject, because he had formerly rejected all inquiry into the general management of County Penitentiaries—

Sir R. Peel

denied, that he had expressed any opinion with respect to them now, and observed that any meddling with the management of county jails by the local magistracy, after the counties had been persuaded to expend 20,000l., or 30,000l. in their erection, would be calculated to destroy all confidence in the Government.

Colonel Davies

, in continuation, said, that the right hon. Gentleman had totally misunderstood him. His object was, to have an inquiry into our system of secondary punishments, which it was admitted wanted improvement. Every day, complaints were made of the rapid increase of crime, which was to be attributed to our secondary punishments, as they were called, holding out inducements to its commission. The state of our prison-discipline was such, that a man of the labouring class who committed an offence, and was confined for it, had better food, better clothing, and less work to perform, than whilst he was at large, and he was free from the taint of crime. He should like to have it ascertained how far the existing prisons might be made subservient to a better system. He was the last man who would wish to, put the country to expense, his feeble efforts had always been pointed to its diminution; but he wished for an inquiry, to see whether a more rigid discipline could not be enforced, and prisons made what they ought to be, places of punishment, instead of places of refuge and recreation. The work of captain, Basil Hall upon the United States, contained some accounts of American prison-discipline, which he would recommend to the perusal of the right hon. Gentleman, and which would afford useful suggestions for the improvement of our own. In nine cases out of ten the American plan might be adopted here without difficulty. In the United States prisoners were not allowed to meet together in what in this country was called a clay room, where those who had killed a hare, or, like the sportsman he had perhaps often accompanied, had shot a pheasant, or been guilty of a transgression against some law which involved no moral turpitude, became the associates of the most abandoned characters. This might happen even to individuals who had been guilty of no offence whatever, but who had by some mistake been committed for trial, In America the men were locked up in separate cells; in the morning they were marched out to labour, and were allowed no communication with each other; in the evening they were marched back again to their cells, and were all compelled to take their meals in solitude; the next morning they were again marched out to work, and so flowed on the term of their imprisonment. The consequence was, that a prison in the United States was looked upon with horror, and those who had been once confined were not generally anxious to return. With respect to our hulk system, it was decidedly defective, not only because the convicts, particularly the boys, came out worse than they went in, but because they got a portion of their earnings, and had their situation made much too comfortable. A remarkable fact was elicited in a committee appointed some years ago to inquire into the condition of the labouring poor, of which he was a member. It was stated by a witness from the neighbourhood of Sheerness, that the condition of the convicts on board the hulks there was so comfortable, that it was a common thing for the labourers in the vicinity, even when they were earning 15s. a-week, to say that they should like to commit some offence that would just send them to the hulks. It could not be matter of surprise, then, that the convicts at their discharge should return to their former course of life, which would only carry them back to the hulks, or out to New South Wales, where they were equally well off. With respect to that colony, nothing was clearer, from what the right hon. Gentleman had just said, than that the whole system of management there wanted changing. It was the interest of the colonist that there should be a large importation of convicts, for he was anxious to get his labourers as cheap as possible. As soon, therefore, as a convict-ship arrived at Sydney, there was a general rush and a demand for its passengers. Not long back, he had inquired of a military officer who had been in that colony, how they justified the system by which the convict was made so comfortable; and why he was allowed so much meat, bread, tea, sugar, tobacco, and other things? He replied, that if they were not kept well, they would not work well; and that the colonists made them comfortable to keep them serviceable. If transportation were to be preserved as a punishment, a different system must be adopted. In the prevalent feeling as to capital punishments he participated; but whilst he wished that the infliction of death should be less frequent, he thought it necessary that our secondary punishments should be more severe than at present.

Sir George Murray

observed, that the hon. member for Aberdeen had spoken of the system adopted in New South Wales, as one of favouritism, but he could assure him that it was not so. If the Committee considered the nature of the population of that colony, it would be sensible how likely it was, that there should at all times be complaints made against persons in authority there; and those who fancied that they had complaints to make, were encouraged to prefer them by the readiness of the hon. member for Aberdeen to bring them forward in that House. He did not complain of that readiness, on the contrary, he was glad that there should be, at all times Gentlemen in the House willing to bring forward any grievances, as the best way of making them known, and getting a remedy applied: but the hon. Gentleman ought not to bring forward sweeping accusations without proof against the Government of that or any other colony. As to the convicts being distributed on a principle of favouritism, the fact mentioned by the hon. Member who had just sat down, of the great anxiety of parties to obtain them, might account for the accusation. It was impossible that all could be satisfied; it was natural that those who were disappointed should complain, but as it was absolutely necessary that a certain control of police should be exercised over the convicts, the Government must not be deprived of the discretion of distributing them to whom it thought fit. Every person who applied, was not proper to be trusted with convicts. The hon. Gentleman had also thrown out an insinuation, that the Governor of the colony was surrounded by a crowd of relations—but he thought that the fact of the Governor having some connexions there hardly warranted such an insinuation. The situation of civil engineer was filled by the brother-in-law of the Governor. He performed his duties in a most exemplary manner; but it was a mistake to suppose that he was appointed by the Governor, for he was sent out from the Government of this country. It had been represented that another relation of the Governor filled an official situation, but there was no truth in that representation; and he had resisted the appointment, because, as there was a strong feeling in the colony both for and against the Governor, it was necessary that the patronage should be distributed so as not to give the appearance of partiality to either side. With regard to the female convicts, there was certainly not so strong a desire felt for their services as for those of the other sex; and it had been difficult to procure situations for them. This had led the Colonial Department to direct the Governor to make it a condition with those who took a certain number of male convicts, that they should employ one female.

Mr. Maberly

said, that the 500,000l. voted for the Penitentiary, was one of the greatest pieces of extravagance imaginable, considering that we had abundance of hulks, where all our convicts might be maintained at a less expense, and in a more orderly and healthy state than at Millbank. The right hon. Secretary for the Home Department seemed, however, to keep up the establishment more because he had found it in existence, than because he approved of it, or would have set it on foot; but when he considered the expense of continuing it, he ought, perhaps, to conclude, that it would be better to give the 500,000l. up for lost, and abandon it at once. Its inmates cost us 33l. per head, per annum; and if that was not extravagance, what was? If the right hon. Secretary would even take its management under his own department, its cost would probably be much less than under the di- rection of unpaid commissioners. The charge for management amounted to 11l. per head; a sum which was greater than was incurred for the management of any county gaol in the kingdom. But although he thought that the right hon. Gentleman would manage the establishment more cheaply than the present commissioners, that right hon. Gentleman had given the House a specimen of his notions of economy, of which he could by no means approve. The right hon. Gentleman said, that we must have for a Governor, a man of talent, of character, &c. with 600l. a year, besides perquisites, for managing 600 people, whilst a Lieutenant-colonel, who had to overlook 700, only received 300l. a-year, whilst even a General officer received less, this did seem to him most extravagant. He was convinced that there were many half-pay officers well qualified to discharge the duties of the situation who would be glad to take it for much less, and thus relieve the country from the charge of their half-pay. If a motion were made to reduce this specific salary, he did not believe that the House would support it at its present high rate. We had abundance of hulks, which, at very little expense, might be made fit to receive all our convicts, and he hoped that when the committee to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded should be appointed, it would take this vote into its consideration.

Sir R. Peel

said, there was no analogy between the situation of a Colonel in the army and the Governor of a prison; he had experienced great difficulty in getting a gentleman of the attainments and character he deemed necessary, to fill the situation.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

said, the subject of secondary punishment was one of considerable importance, and deserved the best attention of the House.

Mr. Ross

observed, that great reductions had been already made, and more were in contemplation. The estimate for this year was 600. less than last year.

Mr. Hume

objected to the salary of 400l. a-year, enjoyed by the Secretary of the Governor. This person was Secretary to another establishment, and did not reside in the Penitentiary.

Sir T. Freemantle

remarked, that many persons had been restored to society by means of the Penitentiary.

Sir T. Baring

said, the charge for convicts in the Penitentiary was exorbitant as compared with the expense of supporting prisoners in the county gaols.

Vote agreed to.

The House resumed. The Report to be taken into consideration on Monday next.