HC Deb 21 June 1839 vol 48 cc705-11
Lord John Russell

moved the third reading of the Prisons Bill.

Mr. Pakington

had already stated the strong objections he had to the 14th clause, enabling the Dissenting ministers to visit the gaols, but as that clause against which he had already recorded his vote might form the subject of a specific motion by the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Teignmouth), he would not now trouble the House with any observations in support of his objection to that particular provision of the bill. His further objections were to the second and third clauses, which gave magistrates the power to order separate confinement without any limitation or restriction whatsoever. He assured the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department that in objecting on that ground to the further progress of this bill, he had no intention or wish to get up a vexatious or groundless opposition; he gave the noble Lord every credit for a desire to improve the prison discipline of the country; but he submitted that this important change in the principle of the prison discipline throughout the kingdom admitted of very considerable doubts as to its propriety. The noble Lord, he believed, relied in support of this measure on the results which had been shown to attend the system of separate confinement in the Penitentiary at Philadelphia, and in the report of the inspectors of the prison at Glasgow. That being the case, he (Mr. Pakington) must be allowed to refer to authentic returns in reference to the results of the system in the Penitentiary at Philadelphia; and in doing so, he did not trust to persons who might be supposed to be led away by their prejudices or private bias, but to documents the authenticity of which could not be questioned. In page 334 of the book he held in his hand, and to which reference on a former occasion had been made by the hon. Member for Lambeth, he found it distinctly laid down that the system of separate confinement in the Penitentiary at Philadelphia had not produced those effects in the suppression or diminu- tion of crime which its early friends had anticipated, and that for the last three years prior to 1837 the mortality in that prison had regularly and constantly increased, thereby showing the injurious effects of the system upon the health of the prisoners. Again, in page 241, the letter of a medical gentleman showed that its injurious effects were not confined to the bodily but extended to the mental health of the prisoners, for it was stated, that while seventeen out of 318 prisoners had died, there had been no less than fourteen cases of insanity within a very short period of time. Indeed the returns showed the important fact that the mortality in the Philadelphia Penitentiary had been twice as great as in the prison of New Hampshire and other states where the separate system was not practised. The first proposition then he laid down was, that whatever degree of punishment might be fixed, the Legislature had no right to adopt any system which might incur danger to the bodily; still less to the mental, health of prisoners whose offences brought them under the lash of the law, and he opposed this bill because he thought, and he was justified in the opinion by the results he had stated, that it would produce both those effects. Objecting also to the provisions of the bill with respect to the discipline of persons committed for safe custody, and not convicted—provisions which had been left in a most unsatisfactory manner, and having his strong feeling against the system fortified by the results which had risen from it in America, he felt it his duty to resist the adoption (at a large expense) of the system throughout England, and he should, therefore, move that the bill be read a third time, this day six months.

Mr. Darby

seconded the amendment The bill would impose large expense on the country, with very little chance of success. Neither the results from Glasgow nor Philadelphia afforded sufficient evidence to show, that the system was practicable throughout the country, and on that ground he must support the amendment.

Lord J. Russell

said, the objection of the hon. Member opposite, was directed to the system of separate confinement, though that system had been approved by persons of the highest authority, who had seen it in operation in America. What was proposed by this bill was to enable the proper authorities in each county to introduce this system into the prisons under their superintendence, if they so thought fit. The hon. Member, however, seemed determined that the system should be totally excluded from the prisons of this country. He had reduced the powers conferred by the bill to the lowest possible degree; and now, after the question had already been so much discussed, he did not think it necessary to prove facts which had already been as much made matter of demonstration as anything could possibly be.

Viscount Dungannon

expressed his entire concurrence in the humane and considerate view which had been taken of, this question by the hon. Member behind him (Mr. Pakington), and must also express his disapprobation of the principle of intrusting to individuals connected with the government of prisons the power of inflicting solitary confinement.

The House divided on the original Motion: Ayes 126; Noes 21: Majority 105.

List of the AYES.
Adam, Admiral Duncombe, T.
Aglionby, H. A. Easthope, J.
Aglionby, Major Elliot, hon. J. E.
Anson, hon. Colonel Eliot, Lord
Archbold, R. Ewart, W.
Baines, E. Fenton, J.
Baring, F. T. Fitzroy, Lord C.
Barnard, E. G. Fleetwood, Sir P. H.
Barry, G. S. Gibson, T. M.
Beamish, F. B. Grattan, H.
Bellew, R. M. Greenaway, C.
Berkeley, hon. H. Grey, Sir G.
Bernal, R. Hawes, B.
Bethell, R. Hector, C. J.
Bewes, T. Hobhouse, T. B.
Blair, J. Hoskins, K.
Blake, M. J. Howard, P. H.
Blake, W.J. Hughes, W. B.
Bodkin, J.J. Hume, J.
Bowes, J. Hutt, W.
Bridgeman, H. Hutton, R.
Broadley, H. Kemble, H.
Brodie, W. B. Langdale, hon. C.
Bruges, W. H. L. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Buller, C. Lemon, Sir C.
Burroughes, H. N. Macleod, R.
Butler, hon. Colonel Marshall, W.
Callagan, D. Marsland, H.
Campbell, Sir J. Melgund, Viscount
Chalmers, P. Miles, W.
Chester, H. Morpeth, Lord
Clive, hon. R. H. Murray, A.
Collier, J. Nagle, Sir R.
Dalmeny, Lord O'Brien, W. S.
Davies, Colonel O'Connell, J.
Donkin, Sir R. S. O'Connell, M. J.
Douglas, Sir C. E. O'Connell, M.
Duke, Sir J. O'Conor Don

Bill read a third time.

On the question that the bill do pass,

Lord Teignmouth

rose, to move the omission of the 14th clause. That clause had been hurried through the House without sufficient discussion, and the division was pressed on in the absence of many hon. Members on that side of the House, who would have voted against the clause. After the postponement of the discussion upon the clause upon a former stage of the measure, at the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, who objected to so important a discussion taking place at eleven o'clock at night, it could not have been expected that the clause would be afterwards disposed of in so summary a manner. Many hon. Members had been induced to support the provision by the argument, that as prisoners were deprived of the means of obtaining such religious instruction as they themselves might wish to receive, and such as they might if at liberty have been able to procure, it was right that means should be provided of supplying that which was thus taken away from them. But that was a perfect fallacy, because, in point of fact, religious teachers of all persuasions were permitted to go and did go into gaols. Besides, if the principle were worth anything, it would apply with much greater force to sailors in the navy, who were shut up in ships, and utterly deprived of the power of resorting to religious instruction of their own choosing, and it would also apply to soldiers serving on foreign stations. The real question was this—did there really exist any grievance? He had communicated with the chaplains of several gaols in different parts of the country, and particularly in London, Manchester, and Bristol, and he had learned from them, that complaints were never made by prisoners on account of their religious scruples being interfered with. By the introduction, therefore, of this clause, the House would not remedy any practical evil, and would establish a precedent which he could not but regard as one fraught with danger to the Established Church. He had thought it his duty to make these observations, but at the same time he would not put the House to the trouble of dividing.

Mr. Fox Maule

protested against the statement of the noble Lord, that any attempt had been made to smuggle this clause through the House. It had been fully debated on no less than four different occasions, and every opportunity had been afforded for the public consideration of it. With regard to the noble Lord's observations in reference to spiritual instruction for the army, it should be recollected that persons who entered the army did so voluntarily, and knowing to what extent they could avail themselves of spiritual instruction; whereas persons who were incarcerated in prisons were forcibly removed from society, and being thereby deprived of the ordinary means of obtaining that instruction, it became their duty to provide it for them.

Mr. Pryme

supported the clause. Although he respected the noble Lord's motives, he could not agree with him, that even supposing Roman Catholic prisoners had shown an indifference to religion, they were, therefore, to be refused the advantage of moral and spiritual instruction. He maintained the very contrary. Where the lives of individuals were at variance with the precepts of religion, it became the more necessary to teach them the value and importance of those precepts.

Mr. Langdale

observed, that in two long debates, in which the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, and the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Tamworth had taken part, this question had been fully discussed. The noble Lord, therefore, had nothing to complain of on that head. The noble Lord had said, that by this clause a blow was aimed at the Established Church. Now, that he had never attempted and never would. He had been informed, that in districts where Roman Catholics were numerous, the Roman Catholic clergymen were obliged to leave their congregations to attend to prisoners in the care of the State. It had, therefore, appeared to him just that the State should make provision for the religious instruction of those prisoners. It was now proposed to separate the inmates of prisons in order the more effectually to give them moral and religious instruction. That being the case, he would ask, could the House refuse to furnish them with that instruction which alone they would be willing to receive?

Mr. Estcourt

objected more particularly to that part of the clause which stated that whenever Dissenters of a certain denomination should amount to a certain number, a chaplain should be provided for them, than to the particular sect for which such chaplain was required. He saw no reason why fifty prisoners should be regarded, in this respect, of so much greater importance than five prisoners. Was the soul of one of the fifty more valuable than one of the five? Besides, the chaplain to a gaol was a very important officer, whose authority would be considerably diminished by the introduction of other chaplains. He regretted the noble Lord would not divide the House on this clause, against which he protested, as calculated to lead to very great inconvenience, and as being highly injurious to the prison discipline of the country.

Mr. Morgan J. O'Connell

thought it rather singular, that the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken should have reserved his objections in point of detail, while he advanced none against the principle of the clause, for this stage of the bill. If the hon. Member would move, that the number of persons to whom a chaplain should be allowed, should be reduced, he would support him; and, if in the operation of the bill fifty were found to be too many, he was sure no objection would be made to reduce it. The noble Lord had said, that danger to the Church would result from the principle of this clause. Surely the noble Lord, who belonged to the Irish peerage, must be aware that that principle was acted on in the gaols of Ireland; and if it did not endanger the Church there, he saw no reason for supposing it would in England.

Motion withdrawn, bill passed.