§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the treatment of convicts on board the hulks at Woolwich, and said, that he regretted to hear that it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to grant him the Committee for which he asked, because to concede it would not only save him the necessity of making painful statements to the House, but would save the House from hearing what was both distressing and disgusting. He should not, on the present oc- 512 casion, go into our general system of prison discipline; but he should confine himself to the abuses of the system of which he complained. The House had been furnished with a return made by Mr. Capper in 1845, in which he stated that the prisoners generally had continued very healthy throughout the past year, with the exception of those at Woolwich. Now, the House would bear in mind that the hulks at Woolwich were established for what were called the invalid prisoners, and what he wished to call the attention of the Secretary of State to was, the medical neglect and cruel treatment inflicted on those prisoners. Some there were whose fate was not already decided, but, generally speaking, they were invalids. From the reports which had been made to him on the subject, he was satisfied that the medical treatment was so brutal, both as regarded the treatment of the prisoners while living and after death, as to be a disgrace to any country calling itself a civilized and Christian country. In the return to which he had alluded, it was stated by the person making that return, that the mortality on board the hulks in 1845 was only eleven persons. This mortality was contrasted in the report with the amount of mortality in the prisons of France, Philadelphia, and of Millbank Penitentiary. This morning, however, a return, for which he had moved some time since, was laid upon the Table of that House, which would serve to show the House the fraudulent manner in which these returns were sometimes made, and how much calculated they were to deceive the public. The return for which he had moved was a return of the number of persons who died on board the hulks from the Millbank prison alone; and instead of the number being eleven, as stated in the former report, the number of deaths on board the two hulks, the Justitia and the Warrior, was twenty-eight from Millbank prison alone. Yet Dr. Bossey, the surgeon of the hulks at Woolwich, took credit for the death of eleven prisoners only. How happened it that this had been the case, and why was it not discovered before? That was attributable to the system of which he complained, and under which these persons were placed. In all our other prisons, there were visiting magistrates, and there were inspectors appointed under an Act of Parliament to visit these prisons, and to make annual reports. These parties went round to the prisons, and asked the prisoners whether they had any complaint to 513 make. With regard to the hulks, however, there were no persons to visit them, and no one to ask whether the convicts had any complaints to make, except the doctor, and occasionally the inspector from Millbank prison. The duty of endeavouring to effect the reformation of the prisoners was totally neglected. There were no prayers; nothing was done for their spiritual instruction. The only divine service on board the hulks, in which, on an average, 650 prisoners were confined during the year, took place on Sunday morning. There was no instruction of any other sort; neither was anything done to educate the prisoners. That nothing was done for them when dying, he should show by particular instances; but the chaplain seldom visited them in their last moments. There was generally what was considered the great protection of a coroner's inquest for all other prisoners; but there was none in the hulks. With respect to the medical attendant of the convicts at Woolwich (Dr. Bossey), nothing could be more cruel than his neglect of the prisoners, and when he was present, nothing could be more brutal than his conduct. There was no one to control him but Mr. Capper, who was appointed by Government superintendent of the hulks. He had been in that situation many years; but his control and superintendence had been most inefficient, and he believed that his duties had been altogether left to a nephew of his, who was his clerk, and a grocer in the Strand. Mr. Capper, notwithstanding, signed his name to the return, stating that only eleven prisoners died in 1845 at Woolwich. He had further to complain of the irresponsible power which the overseers of those ships had over the prisoners. The overseer could inflict any amount of corporal punishment which he thought proper, and there was no magistrate before whom the prisoner could go and state his case. There was a poor lunatic, named Hetherington, who was flogged by the overseer of the Justitia hulk. He was reported for some misconduct, and was ordered a dozen by the overseer. The moment he was taken down, the man being, it should be remembered, a lunatic, ran at the overseer, and kicked his shins, upon which the overseer ordered him another dozen. What happened then? The man was ironed, and carried to his cell, where he attempted to cut his throat. Fortunately, however, he did not do it effectually, and he was now an inmate of Bethlehem Hospital. A few years back, 514 six men were flogged by order of the overseer, and received three dozen apiece, for being five minutes too late at muster in the morning. A former overseer of the Justitia ordered a man three dozen, and he said, "I am very sorry that I have not time to give you them just now, but I will give you them another day." Three months afterwards, a gang were returning from work when this man caught the eye of the overseer. "Oh," said he, "I owe you something, come here;" and he had this man stripped and flogged with three dozen lashes, for an offence which had occurred three months before. Now, with respect to the medical treatment of these prisoners by Dr. Bossey, he must say that more brutal treatment could not be conceived. He would now read to the House some cases in illustration of this statement. The first was that ofGeorge Monk, or Taylor, belonging to the Warrior, a lunatic: he was admitted on board with a broken leg; he was allowed to lie in bed in his own water and filth until such time as a piece fell out, putrid with his urine, from the bottom of his back bone; he was sometimes handcuffed to each side of the iron bed which he lay on, at other times with a strait jacket on: he, if he were living, bore the mark on his back. This man was afterwards removed to Bethlehem.The next case which his informant mentioned was that of—An old man of the name of Peter Bailey. When Mr. Perry called, he told Mr. Bossey that the poor man ought to be sent home, and they passed on to other prisoners. This poor man got daily worse; he asked Mr. Bossey if he could see religious persons belonging to his own persuasion? He asked him what that was? He told him he belonged to the Wesleyan Methodists; and said, laying great stress on his words, what brought you here? He then began to relate a life of the most simple nature, at which Bossey began to laugh. 'Sir,' said he, 'you have more occasion to pity me than to laugh at me.' Bossey turned round to him and said to him, 'It is of no use you imagining that you will ever go home, for home you will never see; you will die on that bed you are lying on, for were your friends at the gates of the Arsenal they might come to see you: that would be all the consolation you should derive.' He died a few days afterwards. I called to see him the Friday before he died. He told me that he had had a pain at his heart every since Mr. Bossey's conversation with him, and said, 'he has broken my heart.' The next man that came under my notice was Wm. Theobald, belonging to the Justitia. This man was subject to apoplectic, fits, besides great weakness of body. Mr. Bossey called one day when he was in a fit, and said, 'he should soon cure him.' He ordered a bucket of water to be brought to him; he got upon his bed; he ordered a tin to be given to him, and he commenced pouring the water on his head, which had no effect. The next day he saw him he told him he should have him well flogged if he found 515 him in any such fits as those again. He died on the 31st of July, 1844. The diet that he was receiving at the time of his death was three pints of skim-milk, and three quarters of a pound of bread. The next was James Brandish, a maniac. This man was admitted while in a fit, roaring out very lustily. This was his second time of admission into the hospital. When I saw him he was shouting out on each occasion. The first time when Mr. Bossey saw him he began to laugh at him, and told him, 'those fits would not do there.' Brandish had a fit after this which appeared to deprive him of the power of opening his jaws. Bossey placed his thumb on his cheek, and pressed against his teeth; he then opened his mouth. Bossey began to laugh, and said, 'It's all gammon, Mr. Brandish. I will have you well flogged if you don't alter your course of conduct. I will have you sent to the 'Institution,' and well flogged.' After the doctor went away I examined his mouth, and I found that his cheek was cut opposite where he pressed it with his thumb. They frequently handcuffed his hands to each side of the bed, and kept him lying in this position in his dirt and water until a large piece mortified out of the bottom part of his back, about the same place as that of George Monk. He became completely childish. The doctor frequently threatened to have him flogged. He allowed him wine before he died, a part of which he took off a few days before his death, with his usual threat of having him flogged. He died Oct. 6, 1844. The next was William Cooper. He was nurse in the hospital. I will here state how the office of nurse is fulfilled. On a man being admitted to the hospital he is put on what is termed low diet, which consists of eight ounces of bread, two pints of tea, and one pint of mutton soup. This is diet for the day. The medicine which is prescribed for all diseases when they enter is a purging draught and a calomel pill. The patient is then confined to his bed for three or four days, perhaps, when Bossey pronounces him to be recovering. He then orders him to get up and make himself useful as a nurse in waiting on the other patients, and keeping watch at night. Those watchers sit up all night, three of them taking it in turns, and dividing the watch into two hours and a half each; at this time the poor man perhaps is not able to walk, which I have frequently seen the case, the nurse often worse than the patient whom he is attending. This Cooper was one of these nurses. When he arrived at the hulks he was bad with a liver complaint, which was swelled to an enormous size. It projected two inches. I heard Bossey tell some young men who, I believe, were his and his brother's apprentices, that there was a bag of matter lying in the pit of his stomach, and he then ordered him to lie on a bed, and to strip his breast, when he commenced knocking and squeezing his sides and breast, but in particular that part where he said the bag of matter was. The next day this poor man was unable to get up. He complained bitterly to me of the treatment that Bossey gave him in bruising and pinching in the way that he did, and he ever after complained of the pain that he endured from that pinching. He said he believed that Bossey wanted to break that bag of matter which he had described to his apprentices. He died shortly after.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
would produce his authority if the House would grant him a Committee. He had authority for all that he had stated. But he had not concluded his cases:—Henry Heighten. Treated for six months for consumption, and kept from the hospital to the last moment. When on his death-bed was ordered out to work, which he declared he was unable to do. Dr. Bossey threatened him with punishment. He got up, and in a few hours death eased him of his troubles. In his last moments he declared he was 'a murdered man.' He entered the hospital on the 25th of May, and died the 9th of June, 1846—fifteen days. Henry Driver (Millbank prisoner).—Died through similar treatment; said to be a schemer by Bossey. Entered hospital the 21st of May, died the 26th of May, 1846—four days. This unhappy wretch had no sooner departed this life than the body, still warm, was carried over to the dead-house, and the knife at work, operating and dissecting. Entrails taken from the body, and thrown into the river, where dozens had gone before. When the dissection was over, the vacuum was filled up with flannel, then sewn up for the jury to sit on.Was not such an inquest a mockery? He (Mr. Duncombe) wished to know too, whether this was legal under the Anatomy Act. He believed it was there said that forty-eight hours must elapse before a dissection took place, and more particularly so when a coroner's inquest was to sit. He had said that there was no medical man in attendance upon the prisoners in their dying moments. They were watched by convict nurses with the eyes of a hawk, and when they fancied the last breath had gone, the yet warm body was drawn out of bed or laid on the floor, and the bed was ransacked for money or other valuables, and then the body was conveyed to the dead-house for dissection. These people were entitled to a portion of their earnings in the dockyard and arsenal; he believed 6d. a-week; so that they frequently had a little money. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Department, whether he had any idea of these things, and whether they could exist if there were a proper system of control or inspection? There was a feeling among the prisoners that they were allowed to die for the sake of their bodies to go to the school of anatomy. He should like to know what number of bodies had been sent from the hulks at Woolwich, and to what schools of anatomy they had been sent. If the House would grant him a Committee, he would prove that Dr. Bossey had directed the mates of the ships not to answer any questions if they were asked how a death had occurred, but to refer the coroner and jury to Dr. Bossey. That officer had stated, 517 that among the six hundred persons employed in the hulks at Woolwich only eleven had died in 1845; but he could prove by his own return that twenty-eight deaths occurred in 1845, and in 1846 the deaths were forty-one. It was totally impossible, he thought, after the statement which he had made, that the system which he had described should be allowed to continue. If the right hon. Baronet doubted the truth of the statement, let him grant the Committee, and the statement should be proved. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman admitted that such were the facts, then he would no doubt agree with him (Mr. Duncombe) that they were a disgrace to this country. The hon. Member concluded by moving for the appointment of the Select Committee.
§ SIR G. GREY
had certainly felt considerable difficulty in following the hon. Gentleman in the statement which he had just addressed to the House. The hon. Member was much mistaken in supposing—assuming the account which he had just read to the House were true—that there could be any objection on the part of the Government to a searching inquiry, for he agreed with the hon. Member in thinking that a system such as he described was utterly unworthy of a Christian country, and could not be reprobated in language too severe. At the same time, he must say, that he had not received the least intimation till the present moment of the grounds on which the hon. Member's Motion for a Committee was based. There was not one of the charges which the hon. Gentleman had made, of which he had heard before. The hon. Gentleman had gone through a series of cases; but he thought the House would receive with some qualification statements of this kind, made probably on the authority of prisoners who were now on board the hulks, or who had been there. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to the powers of the overseers to inflict corporal punishment. He had stated that some severe punishment was inflicted some years ago. He should like to be furnished with the dates. He found from a report of the superintendent of the hulks at Woolwich to his hon. Friend the Secretary of the Admiralty, that there had been only one case of corporal punishment during the last four years. The hon. Member for Finsbury had gone into the particulars of the cases, with respect to which all that he had to say was, that it was utterly impossible to believe that the gentlemen 518 whose duty it was to superintend the convicts could be guilty of the conduct imputed to them. Had the hon. Member given him an opportunity of becoming acquainted beforehand with the charges which he had determined to make, those charges would have undergone a most thorough and searching investigation, and he might have been prepared, which he certainly was not at that moment, to make some statement in regard to them. If, however, the hon. Gentleman would furnish him with a detail of the facts of the various cases, with the names of the parties who were prepared to vouch for the truth of the statements made, he would promise the hon. Member that the very fullest investigation should be made, when the hon. Gentleman should have every opportunity of substantiating every charge which he had brought forward. The hon. Gentleman asked for a Committee, not for a Commission. He did not wonder that the hon. Gentleman did not altogether like the idea of a commission. The hon. Gentleman had last year demanded an inquiry into the State of the Millbank Penitentiary, and a commission was appointed to investigate the case, which commission was empowered to examine witnesses upon oath, in which case, if he recollected right, the charges of the prisoner Baker were not made out. He believed that the hon. Gentleman was sincere when he intimated his belief in the charges which were then brought forward; but certainly the result of the investigation, although not satisfactory in all respects as regarded that prison, showed that the statements made against the governor were utterly unfounded. He did not think that a commission, before which the witnesses could be examined on oath, was a less satisfactory mode of arriving at the truth of statements like those just made, than was a Committee of the House, before which the witnesses could not be so examined. The statements just made, should have been communicated to the Executive Government, so as to have enabled the department of the Executive Government charged with the responsibility of examining into matters of such nature to make a counter statement, if any grounds existed upon which such counter statement could be based, instead of leaving that department ignorant until that moment of the facts upon which the charges were intended to be grounded. In his opinion the method adopted by the hon. Gentleman in this case, was not the fairest 519 way of proceeding, and was not the mode most likely to oppose an efficient check to practices such as were complained of. There were some points of the hon. Gentleman's speech with which he partly agreed, and one of them was, that the hulk system was not, on the whole, the most efficient system. From 1843 there had been a diminution of the number of prisoners, whilst the staff of officers since that period had also diminished. In the course of November last, however, Major Jebb had commenced an investigation of the system, under his (Sir G. Grey's) direction; and the report which that officer had presented contained a recommendation that Government, in connexion with the necessity which existed for more accommodation, owing to the proposed discontinuance of the transportation system, should appoint an efficient staff of officers for the hulks. That recommendation of Major Jebb had been sanctioned by the Government, and it was at present in course of being carried into effect. With respect to religious instruction, the system had also been somewhat deficient. The chaplain was a very excellent man, but he had a very small salary, and he had not sufficient time at his disposal to devote to the religious instruction of the convicts, and he had consequently resigned the situation; a successor, however, would be appointed, with a better salary, who would be required to devote his whole time to the moral and religious instruction of the convicts. In other respects, every pains had been taken to render the establishment efficient. But even yet the inspection to which the hulks were subjected was very inefficient; but he (Sir G. Grey) was prepared to do everything in his power to remedy this evil. The hon. Gentleman was aware that the superintendence of convicts, whether at home or abroad, was devolved upon an officer designated the superintendent of convicts, Mr. Capper. It was impossible to speak of this gentleman in reference to the discharge of his important duties but in terms of the highest eulogium. He had been now for fifty or sixty years at the head of that department, and had devoted the best part of his life and all his energies to the discharge of the important duties which were devolved upon him. He was not, perhaps, now as active as before, but still there was no man more anxious to acquit himself of his duties. He saw no reason why the hulks, under a proper system of management, should not be made as ef- 520 ficient for their purpose as were the other prisons of the country. He was prepared to submit a Bill to the House, which Bill would contain provisions by which prisoners confined in the hulks should be subjected to a most vigilant superintendence and inspection, such as prisoners in the ordinary jails of the country were now subjected to. He had nothing more to say at present upon the subject, except to repeat his promise that if the hon. Member would furnish him with the particulars of the cases which he had just given to the House, and of other cases, come from what quarter they might, with the dates of the occurrences, a most searching investigation would be made, such as would be satisfactory to the hon. Member, to the House, and to the country. He thought, however, that it was not desirable to disturb, as the granting of a Committee would disturb, the arrangements which were now going forward respecting convict discipline and management, by disturbing and exciting public feeling, without the best grounds for so doing.
§ VISCOUNT MAHON
thought that the right hon. Gentleman had given valid reasons against the House concurring in the Motion just presented to it by the hon. Member for finsbury. The hon. Member having brought forward certain charges without naming his authority, and without giving previous notice to the Government of what was the nature of these charges, was scarcely entitled to expect that the House would acquiesce in the appointment of a Committee, and should rest satisfied with the assurance given him by the right hon. Baronet, that on giving him the dates and particulars of the charges, they would immediately receive the most attentive consideration. He must at the same time, however, express his decided opinion that the working of the system of the hulks was anything but satisfactory. In every aspect in which that system of punishment could be viewed, it had been, as hitherto conducted, found inefficient, or worse than inefficient. He would state one point in reference to it, which he deemed of the greatest importance—he meant the re-imprisonment of offenders. The House would find, in Mr. Capper's report of 1842, that of the total number of convicts confined at the beginning of that year, 1,625 were known to have been previously convicted of various offences, and 487 were known to have been before in custody. Only 1,451 of the whole number were not known to have been in prison before; and 521 even from this small number must again be deducted all those who had changed their names, or assumed an alias, or succeeded in concealing the fact (and all had an interest in concealing it) of their previous guilt. He must say that that single fact, to which he would now confine himself, spoke volumes. But it would be premature now to discuss the question. The discussion should be reserved until the papers bearing upon the subject were laid before the House. He only wished at the present time to guard himself against having it supposed that in resisting the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, he approved of the system pursued in the hulks, and against being precluded hereafter from urging upon the Government the necessity which existed for taking immediate steps towards its amelioration.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
regretted that the Committee demanded by the hon. Member for Finsbury was to be refused by the Government. He thought, however, that the statement just made by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) was very fair, and he was glad to hear that the hulk system had been amended in some degree, and that the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly willing to make the necessary inquiries, in reference to the charges just preferred by the hon. Member for Finsbury. If the hon. Member divided the House, he (Mr. Aglionby) would divide with him, as he thought a Committee of the House was the preferable tribunal before which to make the desired inquiry. He had no doubt but that the right hon. Gentleman was sincerely desirous of making the inquiry; but when an hon. Member in his place in the House chose to make a statement, referring to a subject which he had previously thoroughly investigated, and thus in some degree implicated himself before the House in connexion with his allegations, in his opinion he was entitled to a Committee, instead of having his charges laid before a Government Commission. The right hon. Baronet preferred that the inquiry should be before a commission. It was satisfactory to know that an inquiry of some nature was to be instituted in reference to statements of so very serious a character, although the inquiries before commissions were generally of a secret nature, the public press being excluded, and the public being consequently left in ignorance as to how far justice was done to them. He hoped the inquiry, in some form or other, would proceed at once and without delay. He wished that the 522 names and dates bearing upon the cases specified had been furnished to the right hon. Baronet. It was necessary to have the inquiry in order that justice should be done not only to the public, but also to the parties who had been so seriously implicated by the charges of the hon. Member for Finsbury.
§ MR. WAKLEY
thought that after the statements which he had made, his hon. Colleague (Mr. Duncombe) was bound to divide the House. Such a course was due both to the House and to the country, and he could not adopt any other course. He had given them to understand that he himself had made the inquiries; and he (Mr. Wakley) believed, to a certain extent, the validity of the charges adduced by the hon. Member. He confessed that he was surprised at the course which had just been taken, in reference to so serious a matter, by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. He was altogether dissatisfied with that course, and dissented from the statements which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman. It was not the duty of any Member of that House, when he had charges of this nature to prefer, to go to a Government office, in the first place, and make his statement there. The Post Office inquiry which his hon. Colleague had originated, had been conducted before parties appointed by the Government; and what had happened to the man who had given important evidence on that occasion—to Mr. Mitchell? He had been dismissed from his situation after having filled it for ten years, without having been guilty of any offence or dereliction of duty during that period. His hon. Colleague alleged that the law had been violated in every respect, in reference to the treatment of prisoners who had no means of protecting or defending themselves. So far as regarded the medical officer implicated, he did not believe in the validity of the charges preferred. He could not believe that a member of the medical profession could have acted as represented. But if he disbelieved these statements, was that any reason why he should not press, with his hon. Colleague, for an inquiry? Was a case of that kind to be left in doubt? One half of the allegations made to the House, would be more than sufficient to induce him to press for an investigation. But the right hon. Baronet alleged that he knew nothing of the facts charged before—that to most of them he attached no credit—but that he concurred with some of them. But the hon. Member who had brought them for- 523 ward averred that they were all true; and was not that sufficient to induce the right hon. Gentleman to grant the required investigation? It was monstrous that, when so many helpless creatures were looking to the House for protection, that protection should be withheld. He thought that the conduct charged upon those implicated was cruel and brutal to the last degree. It was due to them that a proper investigation should take place. He entreated the right hon. Baronet to recall the opinions which he had just expressed, and to say, that when an independent Member of the House brought forward charges of this description, it was the duty of the House to grant him a Committee of Inquiry. He (Mr. Wakley), for one, would not be satisfied with such an inquiry as the right hon. Gentleman recommended, and he thought that it was the plain duty of the House to concur with the Motion of his hon. Colleague.
§ MR. B. ESCOTT
was quite convinced that after the statement made by the hon. Member for Finsbury, the public would not be satisfied without an inquiry being instituted. The right hon. Baronet doubted the existence of the alleged facts, but admitted that if they were true they were disgraceful to a Christian nation, and that no strength of language he could employ could adequately describe them. Why not then grant a Committee of Inquiry? The noble Lord the Member for Hereford, who was going to vote against the Motion, expressly stated that gross mal-practices existed in the Penitentiary. The noble Lord had certainly made out a case for taking a course opposite to that which he had promised. As the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State had referred to a commission of which he had had the honour to be a member, he begged leave to express a hope that hon. Members would refrain from passing any opinion upon the report which had been presented from that commission that morning till they had read the evidence which ought to have accompanied it. He wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman why that report had been presented without the evidence?
§ SIR G. GREY
replied, that he was not responsible for the act to which the hon. Member had referred. All he knew was, that the evidence had been given to the printer along with the report; and the only reason why the report had been presented first, he supposed, was probably because the evidence was rather long, and would occupy a considerable time in the printing, and it was considered desirable to 524 lay the report before the House at as early a period as possible.
§ MR. FERRAND
agreed with the hon. Member for Finsbury as to the mode in which commissions were generally trumped up, and as to his right to demand at the hands of the House that a Committee be forthwith appointed to inquire into the charges which he had brought forward. It was well known that if a commission were appointed, the evidence before it would be taken in secret. Even the hon. Member himself who made the charges, could not in all probability be present. Was it likely then that either he or the parties who had instigated him to bring forward his charges, would be satisfied with the inquiry which would be had before such a tribunal? If the hon. Member pressed his Motion, he would divide with him.
§ MR. HUME
thought that it was highly desirable to come to a proper understanding in reference to this matter. It appeared to him that the shortest way to take was to grant the Committee, and to receive the evidence. The result of that would be to bring the desired information before the House; which information might be found useful, not only with regard to the points now immediately before the House, but also with regard to what had been said by the noble Lord the Member for Hereford (Lord Mahon) in reference to the great number of convicts sent to the hulks after several previous imprisonments. It was most desirable that an efficient check should be exercised over persons entrusted with so great a degree of power.
§ SIR WALTER JAMES
thought that the hon. Member for Finsbury had not behaved with that courtesy which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Department had a right to expect, in refusing to state to him the allegations which he intended to make in his place in the House. He (Sir W. James) believed that the hon. Member for Finsbury had been guilty of a grave omission in not having performed this duty. At the same time, however, it appeared to him, upon carefully weighing the different sides of the question, that the House had better accede to the Motion for a Committee, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would come to the same conclusion. No doubt the hon. Member for Finsbury had frequently made mere ad captandum statements of grievances. 525 He might instance the Post Office charges of the year before last, which were much exaggerated, if not unfounded; but he thought that the present was a case which ought to be inquired into.
MR. OWEN STANLEY
urged the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Department to accede to the Committee. Considering the statements which had gone forth to the country, he thought that a case for inquiry had been made out. Inquiries by departments, he might add, were seldom satisfactory.
§ MR. EWART
thought that under such circumstances it would be wrong for a Member of Parliament to entangle himself in the labyrinths of a public office. Having made statements which he believed to be true, an inquiry should be made into the truth of those statements; and he believed that the good of the parties accused, and the satisfaction of the community at large, required that that inquiry should be made before a Committee of the House.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
protested against the principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Department—a principle utterly subversive of all inquiry, inasmuch as, were it to be established, it would be laid down that no independent Member of Parliament who had a complaint to make in that House on behalf of the public, could do so, until first—whether he possessed confidence in the existing Government or not—he had gone to a Secretary of State and laid the whole case before him, in order that he (the Secretary) might communicate with the accused parties, and be thus enabled to answer the charge. Such was not the duty of an independent Member of Parliament. All that the House of Commons had a right to require was, that he should make out a primâ facie case for inquiry; and if he failed in that, the discredit would rest with him. He was astonished at the allusion which the right hon. Baronet had made to the Millbank Penitentiary Commission. He had not said a word about it in his opening speech; and it was, under the circumstances, most indecent and indiscreet on the part of the right hon. Baronet to express an opinion with respect to the report of that commission. What was the state of the case with respect to that report? It had only that morning been laid upon the Table of the House. The Commissioners were three in number, namely, Lord Chichester, Lord Seymour, and Mr. B. Escott. He attended during 526 the whole of the inquiry, and he was as good a judge of its bearing as the Commissioners themselves. But how stood the report? Why only two of the Commissioners had signed it. The third was about to make a distinct and separate report. Yet the right hon. Gentleman stated, with reference to the petition which he had presented from Mr. Baker, that most of the allegations contained in that petition were greatly exaggerated or utterly unfounded. He could tell the House, with reference to this business, that there was going on a gross and shameful attempt to persecute and harass the witnesses who had given evidence before the commission; and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had received a memorial from one of the officers, who bore testimony complaining of his having been persecuted ever since. He was sure that the public would suspend their opinion with reference to this matter until they had seen the evidence adduced. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he did not know why the evidence had not accompanied the report. But he it was who was responsible; for the document emanated not from the House, but from the Home Office. Here, however, was a clear attempt to prejudice the public mind in reference to this commission. If the evidence were to be properly and fairly circulated, he was ready to leave it to the public to decide whether his original statement was either greatly exaggerated or altogether unfounded. So much for the right hon. Gentleman and the Millbank Commission. The hon. Member for Hull (Sir Walter James) had hinted that his charge against the Post Office had also been proved to be unfounded. He might be permitted to ask whether the hon. Gentleman had seen the evidence adduced at that investigation? Was it not conducted by a secret committee? Why of course it was, and yet the hon. Member pretended to say, that his statements were not borne out by fact. The hon. Gentleman knew nothing of the facts proved. What business, then, had the hon. Gentleman to give an opinion—to say that his statements were exaggerated? Let them have the evidence, and then it would be seen whether all he had said on the subject of opening letters in the Post Office had not been fully confirmed; for it was now admitted by all that a system of espionage as regarded letters was carried on in the Post Office department, but which had now been discontinued. On the subject of his Mo- 527 tion, he regretted to have heard the special pleading of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department; the reasons thus given to the House by the right hon. Baronet for refusing his Motion should have been stated a few days ago, when he conversed with the right hon. Baronet on the subject of his Motion. The right hon. Baronet on that occasion asked him, "What was this notice about the convicts on board the hulks at Woolwich?" He stated that the Motion had originated in the cruelty inflicted on the prisoners, and the deaths which had occurred in consequence of the brutal treatment they had received, and that his hope was that a Committee would be granted to inquire. The right hon. Baronet said, "We must hear first what you have got to say;" while now his objection was, "that in place of calling for inquiry, I should have first called at his office there to deposit the documents, the authors, and the acusers." He considered he had done all that ought to be required of an independent Member of Parliament. From the statements he had made to the House, he confidently asked a commission; but it must be a commission of which he himself was a member. It was not to be expected that those who had narrated to him the facts detailed to the House, would give their evidence free and unfettered, unless they had one to protect them in whom they could confide. Unless, therefore, the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department would appoint one member, the Speaker a second, himself being the third, he would feel it his duty to divide the House. Let such a commission be appointed, and he would be guided by the opinion of the other two. As he found that proposition would not be conceded to, he must divide, and he hoped the House would support him.
§ SIR G. GREY
should be sorry to differ from the hon. Gentleman upon a question of fact. Had it not been that the hon. Member had stated certain expressions as having been used by him, he should have been under the impression that no such sentiments had fallen from him. As it was, he was bound to believe the statement of the hon. Member. According to the hon. Gentleman's statement, after having been told that the notice had been given, he had inquired what its nature was, and the hon. Gentleman had told him that it had been given in consequence of the number of deaths on board the hulks at Wool- 528 wich. Now, to the best of his (Sir G. Grey's) recollection, all that the hon. Member had said was, that he considered the inspection to be defective, and wished the hulks to be placed on the same footing as prisons.
§ House divided:—Ayes 44; Noes 121: Majority 77.