HC Deb 21 June 1844 vol 75 cc1207-9
Mr. W. O. Stanley

, seeing the Secretary of State for the Home Department in his place, hoped he would allow him to ask a question which he had put to him at an early period of the Session, as his question related to so great a public grievance. He alluded to the state of the Prisons attached to the Court of Requests at Kidderminster and Birmingham. When he had previously questioned the right hon. Gentleman upon the subject the right hon. Barotnet had promised to do all that lay in his power, and stated that he was in correspondence with the Magistrates to remedy the abuses complained of. He had the fullest confidence in the sincerity of the right hon. Baronet to do as he had stated, but the attention of the public had been directed to the subject, and it would be satisfactory to have an assurance upon the subject. He would state the condi- tion of the prison at Kidderminster. That statement he had received from a person of whom he had no knowledge, but he believed it to be correct. The prison, or rather dungeon, attached to the Court of Requests there was a small building so constructed that very little sun could reach it or the inmates. The dimensions of the yard were about twelve feet square, the wall about sixteen or eighteen feet high. There was a small room level with the yard, which was both the day-room and the bed-room. The prisoners were not allowed blankets nor fire, and this prohibition extended through the winter season. All they had beyond their own clothing was an old coat; nor were they allowed to have any food beyond their regular allowance (except a little tea), which was a half-quartern loaf for two days, and water. Their bed was loose straw, and they were locked from six o'clock in the evening until eight or nine next morning. There was no resident keeper. The beadle of the court in whose custody they were, lived at a distance, nor had they the least means of calling for assistance should sudden illness overtake them. This evil had existed as long as the Act, which had now been in operation for sixty-six years. The questions which he wished to put to the right hon. Baronet were—first, if Lord Cottenham's Bill would abolish these Courts of Requests, and the prisons, or rather dens, which were attached to them, and which were a discredit to the country? Secondly, if any inquiry had taken place at Kidderminster? Lastly, if the correspondence respecting the Birmingham Court of Requests' prisons was concluded to the satisfaction of the Home Secretary?

Sir J. Graham

said, that as to the prison attached to the Court of Requests at Kidderminster, the information of the hon. Member rested upon the statement of an individual who was unknown to him. Inconsequence of a communication which he had received he had sent an inspector to Kidderminster to report. This step had been taken at a recent period, and be had not yet received the Report, although it was about to be made. As to the prison attached to the Court of Requests at Birmingham, he had informed the House of the Report made by the inspector whom, he had sent down there upon the imperfections of the system prevailing in that prison, and that he had called upon the authorities to rectify them. He had not, however, since received any satisfactory report that any person had been appointed by the authorities to remove the abuses complained of. It would therefore be his duty to apply to the Court of Queen's Bench to enforce the alterations required. The House would be aware that the Secretary of State for the Home Department had no power in himself to act. As to the state of the law upon the subject, the County Courts Bill then before them would remove many of the imperfections complained of; and in the other House there was a Bill in an advanced state for regulating similar matters. It would soon come down to that House, and it would be for hon. Members to consider the principle, and the efficacy of its provisions for removing these abuses in Prisons.

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