HC Deb 23 May 1843 vol 69 cc841-3

On the Order of the Day for the Third Reading of the Millbank Prison Bill,

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, that those persons who had become insane in consequence of their confinement were by this bill to be removed to a lunatic asylum. It was also provided, that if a cure should be effected in the asylum before the term of imprisonment had expired, they should then be removed back to the prison. Now that was a cruel provision in any Act of Parliament, for it was very likely, he thought, that in such cases the insanity would return. Such a clause, in his opinion, ought not to be continued in the bill.

Sir J. Graham

said, the hon. Gentle man was mistaken if he supposed that this provision was peculiar to this bill. It was part of the general law of the land. When a prisoner was proved to the satisfaction of the medical officers of the prison to be lunatic, the Secretary of State for the Home Department had power to remove him to a lunatic asylum; and, again, when the officers of the lunatic asylum certified that he was recovered, to send Rim back to prison and let the law resume its force; unless in the exercise of his discretion he should advise the Crown to exercise its prerogative of mercy and to remit the rest of the punishment. He had every day to advise the Crown in such cases. He was not prepared to alter this general principle of the law. It worked well and safely, and its enforcement might with propriety be left to the judgment of the advisers of the Crown.

Mr. Henley

said, that Millbank Penitentiary was extremely unhealthy. Some years since epidemics arose there from shortness of food. What had occurred in it showed that we were not sure to escape great mischief because a prison was under the control of Government. Yet, this new prison was to be solely under the control of the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the inspectors appointed by him, and no other human being was to know what took place within it.

Sir J. Graham

hoped, after what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman, that the House would allow him to explain the real intent and object of this measure. The hon. Gentleman was right in stating that Millbank Prison was generally unhealthy. It was now quite clear that long confinement there on low diet was fatal to the constitution. Since the alteration of the diet experience had proved that, from the site of the prison, long confinement there with even the fullest diet could not be consistent with health. This was the unanimous opinion of the medical authorities and others who had been consulted. As, therefore, the idea of using this prison as a penitentiary was abandoned, the next thing which the Government had to consider was, what use might be made of it; for it was a large building and had many conveniences as a prison. He had on a former occasion stated to the House the earnest endeavours made by him and his colleagues for the classification of prisoners. For juvenile offenders there was the prison at Parkhurst, where they would remain till they were eighteen years of age, before which age it was not considered desirable that they should be sent to Pentonville, which was to be appropriated to adults; and for older offenders there were the penal colonies. They had lately introduced a complete system of classification which was known to the judges. Speaking generally of sentences of transportation at the sessions or assizes, the general rule was that the sentence was to be carried into execution. But the criminals were to be divided into three classes. The first was to consist of those who could get tickets of leave on their arrival on account of their general good conduct. The second class was to consist of those whose reformation was certain, and to whom tickets of leave would be granted after some probation in the colony, if their conduct should be satisfactory. The third class was to consist of those who were completely depraved, and who would suffer the utmost punishment awarded to them. It was desirable, with a view to classification, that there should be a term of probation before the classification should be determined. For this purpose there should be a general de pot for all convicts, in which they would not be kept more than nine or twelve months—experience showing that confinement in Millbank—which was selected for the depot; beyond that period would not be quite consistent with health. In that period some opinion might be formed as to the character of the convicts. From that depot the juveniles would be sent to Parkhurst, the adults to Pentonville, and the others on board the hulks. In making this classification, he acted in conformity with the views of the Committee of Management of Pentonville Penitentiary, who thought that the discretion as to classification should be left with the Crown.

Bill read a third time and passed.

Queen's Bench Offices Bill was read a second time.

House adjourned at a quarter past ten.