HC Deb 12 February 1839 vol 45 cc343-5

Mr. Fox Maule moved for leave to bring in a Bill for the Improvement of Prisons and Prison Discipline in Scotland. The principal alteration contemplated by the bill was in regard to County Boards. We had now County Boards and Boards under these County Boards: it was his intention to unite the two. He proposed, in regard to assessments, instead of leaving the law as at present, to give to Commissioners of Supply for the county, the power of asses- sing for the purposes required; and he would give in all counties a power of raising the assessment to the extent of a penny in the pound on real property. These were the principal alterations he intended to make. He had, during the recess, visited Scotland, and from the inquiries he had made there he was not convinced that the mode of assessment adopted there was good. This bill would of course include other matters, but sufficient time would be given for understanding its details during its progress through the House.

Sir George Clerk

entirely approved of the main objects of this bill, and the necessity of introducing better discipline into prisons, and providing further accommodation therein. No person who had been in Scotland but must regret the state of the prisons there; but the hon. Member had introduced some things into his bill which were not connected with the main object, the improvement of prisons. He approved of the alteration as far as it went, but he wished to call the attention of the hon. Gentleman to the propriety of separating that part of the bill which went to provide for the improvement of prison discipline in Scotland, from that which provided for the building of one or two, or three other prisons for the confinement of prisoners after trial, and wherein an improved system of discipline was to be carried into effect. He thought the providing by an assessment for the building these additional prisons, without immediately raising the question as to the propriety of throwing the burthen of the expense upon the people, was premature. No person knew the proportion of expense which would be thrown on the people, because in former bills, he believed the returns from the different counties were made up on different principles and for different objects, and did not offer the means of judging of the present case. He regretted, the principal Secretary of State for the Home Department was not in the House, because he should be fortified by an observation made by the noble Lord to the House on his intended measure for building prisons. The hon. Gentleman had much better have divided his bill into two parts, and he hoped before the bill passed he would see the propriety of so separating it. He would add, that as little time should be lost as possible in carrying through the measure con- nected with the improvement of central prisons discipline. He thought this improvement should be under the direction of a central board; and in this respect he approved of the bill but he was not satisfied with the expense thrown on the people. He was friendly to the experiment of improved prison discipline being tried on an extensive scale, but he thought, that experiment might be tried in the building in the Isle of Wight, which was large enough to contain all the persons condemned for crimes in Scotland, without imposing on that country the heavy burthen of building additional penitentiaries. If, as the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department had announced last night, he meant to call upon Parliament for a grant of money, for the purpose of building prisons, let the experiment in regard to Scotland be tried in the same way' and at the same time. The prison in the Isle of Wight would incur an expense of about 20,000l., but it would hold all the prisoners of Scotland for many years to come. Let the experiment be tried, and let it be paid out of the public purse, and not paid for in this unsatisfactory manner by an assessment. He hoped for the sake of Scotland, that the right hon. Gentleman would divide the bill into two parts. He thought the erection of prisons in Scotland should be a charge on the Consolidated Fund, and not be paid out of the county rates.

Mr. Fox Maule

was surprised at the course adopted by the hon. Gentleman. A new light seemed to have dawned upon him. He viewed with alarm the proposition of the hon. Member as it led him to anticipate an opposition to the measure which he had not anticipated. Notwithstanding all that had been said by the hon. Baronet, he considered it better, that the bill should be proceeded with in its single shape.

Leave given.

Bill brought in, and read a first time.