HC Deb 22 February 1839 vol 45 cc812-7

Mr. Fox Maule moved the Order of the Day, for the second reading of the Prisons (Scotland) Bill.

Captain Gordon

did not rise for the purpose of opposing the motion; although there were many alterations in it, they were by no means all improvements upon the Bill of last Session. All parties were agreed on the propriety and necessity of having good and sufficient prisons in all parts of Scotland. There were, however, several parts of the bill which he did not approve of. He did not like the separate system; and he thought it hard that Scotland should be made the scene of experiments on this subject. He objected therefore to all that part of the bill which went to provide three general prisons for carrying the separate system into effect. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would consent to have the bill divided into two parts, and bring that part of it which referred to the separate system as a bill by itself and on its own merits.

Mr. Fox Maule

had considered the proposition made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but he did not think he should consent to it. The case of Scotland was totally different from that of England. In England the country gentlemen had devoted themselves to the state of the prisons, and had spared no expense in bringing these establishments to perfection. The system of visiting justices was one of the best that could be adopted, in order to place those prisons on a proper and correct footing. In Scotland they had done nothing of the kind; they had a system which was confessedly and notoriously a disgrace to that country. When the hon. Gentleman said it was hard that Scotland should be made the scene of experiments with respect to the silent system, he should recollect that the Central Board in Scotland would have a power of discretion, and that they would remain subject to the control of the Secretary of State, which control would be subject to the revision of that House. He could not consent to divide the bill into two parts.

Mr. Pringle

protested against the statements of the hon. Member for Elgin, that the counties of Scotland had done nothing for the improvement of prisons, and that great strides had been made in England to effect that object. Great sums had been laid out by the counties of Scotland, and all of them, more or less, had made great exertions. He would refer to the report of Mr. Hill, to show, that large sums had been laid out in the improvement of prisons, and that the prisons were in good order. If the hon. Member for Elgin would consent to divide his Bill into two parts, there was no doubt but that it would be carried through both Houses of Parliament, to the great satisfaction of Scotland; and he wished to see this question settled at the earliest possible period.

Sir George Clerk

was sorry that the hon. Member for Elgin was not disposed to adopt the suggestions that had been thrown out. He wished to see some important improvements made in the state of the Scotch prisons, but he did not think the hon. Member was warranted in stating that nothing had been done by the county gentlemen of Scotland. By the former state of the law the whole expense of building prisons was thrown upon Municipal Corporations. He was ready to support that part of the bill which made it compulsory on the counties to contribute their fair proportion of the expense of building prisons in Scotland. He thought however that it was unnecessary that the building of penitentiaries and large prisons should form any part of the bill. The noble Lord opposite had stated, that it was the intention of the Government to call upon Parliament for a vote of money to erect penitentiaries in England, and if such a course were necessary for England he could not see why it should not be adopted for Scotland. If such experiments were necessary they ought to be made at the public expense.

Mr. Hawes

said, the object of the right hon. Baronet was to saddle on the general taxation of the country, the expense of erecting those prisons which the Scotch land-owners had for so many years neglected to build. The object of this bill, undoubtedly was, to erect certain prisons at the expense of the land-owners of Scotland, with the view of amending the system of prison discipline, This had been constantly opposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite—He recollected their opposing this bill last year, and he recollected that the great landowners threw out the bill in the House of Lords. It was proposed by the hon. Gentleman near him, and advocated by many on the same side of the House, and the only opposition made was by hon. Gentlemen opposite, on account of the little paltry assessment on their property." He wished it to go forth to the public, that the object sought was to assess Scotland to the amount of 30,000l. in one year, which would not be a 1d. in the pound, and on that account an opposition was made to one of the most useful measures ever brought forward.—The report of Mr. Hill had been referred to in order to show how much had been done by Scotland, but that report showed exactly the reverse, for it stated that the different recommendations which had been given had been wholly neglected, and when this bill was brought forward it was met with decided opposition by the hon. Gentlemen opposite; every delay was thrown in the way of the bill, and when it got into the Lords how was it treated? Did the Lords meet the hill on its merits? No. It was referred to a Select Committee, and there the whole inquiry was cushioned.—The Report on the table of this House contained the most flagrant instances of injustice. The county of Aberdeen had been referred to as a kind of pattern county, but what said the inspector? The gaol was built in a very substantial manner, bu not with a view either to the employment or the separation of the prisoners. It was built in the middle of the town, and there were no means of inspecting the prisoners without their being cognizant of the fact. [An hon. Member—it was not worse than Newgate.] He was not one of those who defended Newgate, for he had always denounced it as a disgrace to the corporation of London, but he suspected it would be found to be an excellent prison compared to many of the Scotch prisons. In many of them every species of irregularity was carried on, and the prisoners could even communicate with persons outside the walls. He hoped the Under-Secretary would press this bill, and that the Scotch counties would be obliged to build and support their prisons. They were not asked to do more than what was done in the English counties—The present assessment in Scotland was far less than in the English counties. In many of the latter it was not less than 3d. or 4d. in the pound, whilst there it was not more than 1d. He earnestly hoped that the Under-Secretary would not be intimidated by the opposition which was now offered, and that the country would perfectly understand that this was neither more nor less than a refusal on the part of the Scottish land-owners to do that justice which had been done in every other part of the country.

Viscount Stormont

thought the hon. Member opposite could not have paid any attention whatever to the Act: for if he had, he could not have been so totally ignorant of all its provisions. All parties were agreed as to the defective state of the prisons; there was nothing which the landowners wished so much for as a good and substantial system of prison discipline. The landed interests of Scotland were not opposed to the objects of this bill, as far as the improvement of prison discipline went; but they were opposed to being charged with the expenses of experimental prisons.

Mr. G. W. Hope

said, that the landed gentlemen of Scotland considered it was injudicious that the general prison system and the local prisons—objects which were quite distinct, and which would work better separately, should be united. The aspersions which had been cast upon the landed interest of Scotland on this subject were undeserved. The bill which had been introduced last Session on the question did not reach the. Lords till August, and their Lordships felt, that it was a bill of too much importance, and requiring too much consideration to be passed then. The bill which was now before the House was varied from the bill as it came from the Lords in several important respects—and on all these points the bill ought to be opposed.

The Lord Advocate

observed, that the large general prisons, so far from leading to an increase of expense to the country, would, in his opinion, greatly diminish the expense. It was alleged, that crime had increased in Scotland; but he denied the fact, unless so far as that increase was occasioned by the shameful state of the prisons. In every other respect crime had decreased. Convictions of the same individuals often occurred, because no system of moral correction had been adopted in the gaols. There might certainly be a greater number of convictions than formerly in some parts of Scotland, but that was no evidence of an increase of crime. It was in consequence of a better system of police that a greater number of prosecutions and convictions had taken place. Many crimes, which formerly passed unnoticed, were now prosecuted. He knew, that in many parts of the country, where there was not a good police, the number of persons apprehended was diminished, while in those places where the police had been improved, the number of persons apprehended and convicted was increased, although crime had actually diminished. Nothing, therefore, could be more fallacious than to argue, that because there was an increased number of convictions, there must necessarily be a great increase of crime. He was prepared to show, that even in Edinburgh, crime had greatly diminished; and he believed, that if a better police were introduced throughout Scotland, crime would be still further diminished in that country. There could be no doubt, that the present imperfect state of the police, together with the defective system of prison discipline, very materially contributed to keep up the number of criminals in Scotland. He would not inquire as to what might be the cause of this unsatisfactory state of things; all he would say was, that if the people of Scotland, and their Representatives in Parliament, were prepared to remove this disgrace from the country, it behoved them to contribute, as far as they could, towards carrying this measure forward, which he was convinced was calculated to promote the safety, the character, and he would add, the economy of the country.

Mr. Gillon

thought the objection to the bill on the ground of expense, came with a very bad grace from the country gentlemen of Scotland, when the fact was, that the prisons were kept up at the expense of the boroughs of Scotland. It appeared to him very extraordinary, that the Conservatives, who had been in power for many years without feeling it to be their duty to apply a remedy to the evils existing in Scotland, should now, when a Liberal Government was attempting to introduce an improved system there, try to throw every obstacle in their way.

Bill read a second time.