HC Deb 08 July 1831 vol 4 cc988-91

The next Vote proposed was for the sum of 8,565l. to defray the expense of the Penitentiary at Milbank.

Mr. Hume

opposed the expenditure of a large sum of money on such an object. The country was paying 32l. or 33l. a year for supporting convicts, whilst honest and industrious people were not able to procure a livelihood. The experiment tried by the institution of the Penitentiary had failed, and therefore it ought to be abandoned altogether.

Mr. Spring Rice

did not think the establishment had failed; it had been erected at great expense, and was very useful to keep convicts in. It certainly was not a total failure.

Mr. Hume

recommended, that the convicts should be sent to Botany Bay.

Mr. Spring Rice

feared the hon. Member would find reason to believe, when they came to the votes for maintaining the convict establishment, that there was nothing to be gained by that recommendation.

Sir T. Fremantle

contended, that the experiment had not failed; much good had been produced by the establishment.

Mr. Briscoe

wished to seethe Committee, which sat last Session on the question of secondary punishments, renewed. The present system required alteration. It was an anomaly, that when we possessed a large surplus honest population, we should scruple to raise funds to employ them, while we paid large sums to keep the vicious employed. The number of convicts employed in various branches of the public service supplied the places of honest and industrious labourers. Some plan should be adopted to remove from this country that part of the surplus population which had disgraced it by their vices.

Captain Harris

thought, much employment would accrue to the honest if convicts were sent out of the country, and this could be done without much expense, if they might be employed in producing materials for rigging his Majesty's ships, and he was ready to prove, if they were transported to New Zealand, they would pay their expenses by producing hemp or flax, which, by this means, could be obtained at a less expense than was now paid to other countries for it.

Mr. Sadler

considered it much preferable to employ convicts in the cultivation of land, than to maintain them within the walls of a Penitentiary, where their labour was of no use to themselves or to society. By employing them in other places, they might be accustomed to habits of industry.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

thought, the House required more information than it possessed, before it could do any good on this subject.

Mr. Spring Rice

considered it an inconvenient course, to bring the subject of secondary punishments, which was most importnat, under discussion. The vote could not be altered or withdrawn, during the present year, with propriety. He hoped a Committee would be appointed to inquire into the whole affair, in the mean time, the House would agree to this vote.

Mr. Hunt

thought, the Penitentiary cost the country a great deal too much. At his instance, a Committee of that House had inquired into the expenses of a gaol in which he had been confined; they had previously amounted to about 7,000l. per annum; but, after that, were reduced to less than 2,000l., and the prison better conducted than before. The expenses of keeping up this Penitentiary was 90,000l. per annum, and this vote contained 5,000l. for officers' foes. On that point great savings could be made. 200l. per annum was also charged for the payment of labourers for cleaning the yards within the walls, which ought to be done by the prisoners themselves. It would be well to inquire how prisons were managed in the United States, where, it was said, a profit was derived from the prisoners' labour.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, the expenses of the establishment had considerably increased, though an expectation had been held out that they would be decreased; but, year after year, they went on, without any diminution. The establishment could not be broken up now without great additional expense. He could add, from personal acquaintance, that the inspectors of the Penitentiary performed their duty with great zeal and unvaried perseverance; and if the system was calculated to produce any benefit, the public might look for it from the labours of these persons.

Mr. Alderman Wood

considered the assertion of the hon. Baronet who spoke last most extraordinary, when he stated, the establishment of the Penitentiary could not be abandoned without incurring additional expense. There was the enormous expense of building the gaol, and the great expense of supporting it; and it was kept for the accommodation of a few select persons. The visitors took the best of the prisoners from Newgate, and then confined their select few with the refuse. It was the hobby of gentlemen who liked to try experiments in prison discipline. Was there any instance of any person having been reclaimed by its operation? He believed not. If Government would come to a proper determination, it would save much money.

Sir Thomas Fremantle

was one of the amateurs alluded to by the worthy Alderman, and was therefore enabled to give him some necessary information. He had stated, that few or no persons were ulti- mately reformed or improved by the discipline of the prison, but the returns before the House proved the contrary. By them it appeared, that nearly one half were reclaimed. The charge for the establishment was undoubtedly high; it contained 1000 persons, with officers in proportion; a strict regard to discipline was preserved, and an improvement generally took place in the feelings of those confined within it. A prejudice existed with regard to this prison, and no reasonable objections had been urged against it.

Mr. Hume

said, the prejudice was derived from between 8l. and 9l. being in other instances paid for the expense of a convict, while in this it was 26l. or 27l. for pretending to reform him, without success. The House ought to get rid of the expense altogether.

Vote agreed to.