HC Deb 01 February 1856 vol 140 cc92-101

On the Question that the House at its rising should adjourn until Monday next,


said, he rose, pursuant to notice, to ask the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department what were the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the future support and regulation of Juvenile Reformatories? He would not detain the House at any length upon that occasion, when he was aware that he could not address them except by an abuse of the forms of the House, although that abuse was one to which the House itself had repeatedly given its sanction. His object was to ascertain what were the intentions of Her Majesty's Government upon a subject which was at present exciting very considerable interest in the country, and which, in his opinion, required the careful attention and the decided action of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Office. It was his belief that the House and the country were hardly aware of the magnitude which that question had assumed within a very short period of time. He believed he was not at all exaggerating when he stated that upwards of thirty counties had already either established reformatory institutions, or were engaged in doing so. But he believed he was also right in saying that hardly any two of those counties acted in the matter exactly with the same objects, or exactly on the same principle. Some of them had raised the necessary sums of money to build very large establishments, while others had appropriated mere cottages for the reception of juvenile offenders. Again, some of them had resolved on subscribing considerable sums annually for the maintenance of those establishments, while others had made no such provision for the future. It appeared that in some counties a strong opinion prevailed, in which he confessed that he shared, that the support of those institutions ought not to be left to the efforts of private charity. He wished further to remind the House, that while those establishments were springing up in every direction, they were springing up without any regulation having been laid down for their government; and he doubted whether the public were aware of the very large powers which the Act passed two years ago had conferred on all the Courts of this country—not only on the principal Courts—not only on the Courts of Assize and the Courts of Quarter Sessions, hut on every Court of Petty Session—on every Court in which two justices sat. These latter Courts, as well as the superior Courts, had the power, without the intervention of a jury, of confining those juvenile criminals for a period of five years; and that large power was given without any regulation having been laid down by the Government or by Parliament for the purpose of providing that due care should be taken of those youthful criminals during the time of their detention. They were left to the discretion, or the want of discretion as the case might be, of men who were animated, he admitted, by the most admirable motives, but many of whom were enthusiasts, who ought hardly to be trusted with the duty of carrying out such a system. Then, again, he was not aware that the scanty security taken by Parliament for the proper management of those establishments in requiring a certificate in their favour from a prison inspector—he was not aware that that scanty security was enforced by the Government in a manner that could ensure its operation. He believed the inspector might recall within a certain time the certificate he might have given. But he wished to know from the Home Secretary whether the Government had called for any Reports with respect to those establishments. In his opinion it was not only desirable that such Reports should be obtained by the Government, but they ought even, he thought, in consequence of the magnitude which the question had assumed, to be laid before Parliament from time to time. Another point was that there was no security for the continuance of these establishments when once they were set on foot. The Government at present allowed 5s. a week for each boy confined in those establishments; but it was notorious that that sum was insufficient to defray the expenses actually incurred, and it was generally understood in the counties anxious for the establishment of Juvenile Reformatories, that a sum of £300 to £400 a year should be raised by charitable contributions for their maintenance, in addition to the sum obtained from the State. Now he wished to remind the House and the Government that the existence of those establishments involved two most important social questions. It involved the administration of the criminal law, and it involved the care and the training of thousands of young criminals scattered all over the country; and that being the case, it appeared to him that the matter ought not to be left in its present state, but that the Government were bound to extend to it their care and supervision. He thought it was most desirable that the House and the country should know at once whether Her Majesty's Ministers intended to propose any further legislation upon that subject during the present Session, lie believed that legislation with respect to it was necessary, and he wished to know whether the Government coincided with him in that belief, and, if so, how far they were disposed to carry it into operation?


said, that the question to which the right hon. Gentleman had directed the attention of the House and of the Government was one of undoubted importance. But before the House committed itself to the opinion that the present law upon the subject ought to be altered, and before the Government could pledge themselves to propose any such alteration, they should recollect what had already passed upon the matter. Only two years ago the Act had been passed, chiefly through the exertions of the hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley), by which the present system of dealing with juvenile offenders had been established, and established avowedly as an experiment. It was then thought desirable that institutions should be sanctioned in which juvenile offenders who had undergone a penal sentence on correction, should afterwards be subject to a training, having for its object to redeem them as far as possible from those habits of vice and crime in which they had been early initiated. By that enactment, it was provided that if a prison inspector should report that any such institution was useful and efficient for the purpose of a juvenile reformatory, after a certificate to this effect from the Secretary of State, juvenile offenders on the expiration of their sentence might be committed to it for a term not exceeding five years, and a certain sum might be paid by the State for the maintenance of the children confined in it. The right hon. Gentleman wished to know the course pursued in these cases. In reply to that question, he could state that a detailed report was made by the inspector, stating the grounds upon which he considered that the particular reformatory school was entitled to a certificate, and there had been instances in which, upon the report of the inspector, the certificate had been withheld.


said, he wished to know whether any steps would be adopted to prevent the increase of such schools, until the general principle upon which they were to be conducted should he settled, and also if there were to be periodical reports as to the state of the existing reformatories?


said, that many such schools were now in the course of being established, and meetings had been held throughout the country in promotion of the object. The existing Act provided for the revocation of the certificate in case they should not be conducted in a satisfactory manner. It was clear, therefore, that there must be a periodical inspection and periodical reports from the inspectors as to the condition of those institutions. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that those reports ought to be laid before Parliament. As Parliament had decided two years ago that the experiment should be tried through the agency of gentlemen actuated by very benevolent motives, who had devoted a great deal of time and money to the object of reforming offenders, and as their efforts had hitherto been attended with success, twenty-five reformatory schools in Great Britain having been certified under the provisions of the 17 & 18 Vict., see. 38, in addition to those certified under another Act of Parliament, applicable to vagrant children in Scotland, it appeared to him that it would be inexpedient to interfere with an Act that was working upon the whole most beneficially, until some further experience had been obtained of the effect of its operation. The right hon. Gentleman had remarked that some of those institutions were very large, while others were very small. Undoubtedly such was the case, but as an experiment it was desirable that it should be tried in establishments of different kinds. He did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman was correct in stating that some of those which had been certified were held in mere cottages—although there might be temporary buildings hired for the purpose—because such buildings would be inconsistent with the safe detention of the inmates. In connection with this subject, he noticed that there had been a petition presented that night by the hon. Member for East Somersetshire (Mr. Miles), praying that power might be given to county magistrates to establish reformatory schools out of the rates. If this were done, he (Sir G. Grey) doubted whether the result would be beneficial. The institutions in that case must come within the penal establishments of the country, and the Government must frame the regulations under which they were to be conducted, which would take the management of them in great measure out of the hands of those benevolent individuals to whom he had before referred, and would, therefore, hardly meet the views of the right hon. Baronet opposite. Then, again, he was by no means satisfied that a permissive power to establish and support such institutions out of the county rates would be generally exercised, and it would be necessary to make it compulsory upon counties and boroughs to establish and support those institutions as they did prisons and lunatic asylums. What had been the result of the Act passed two years ago for the purpose of establishing a reformatory in the county of Middlesex? Although the powers of that Act were not permissive but compulsory, it had not yet been established. A committee of the magistrates had taken measures for its formation; but though a year and a half had elapsed since the Bill was passed, nothing decisive had as yet been done in the matter, while in other counties where no such power existed such institutions had already sprung up. He wished, however, to guard himself from saying that, after the experiment had received a fair trial, an alteration of the law might not be desirable. He had likewise been asked whether the Government were willing to alter the mode of passing sentence, the Act at present prescribing the insertion of the name of a particular reformatory establishment to which the boy should be sent. There must be some limit as to the place; and if, under the present state of the law, the system should become general, he did not anticipate that any inconvenience would arise, inasmuch as a magistrate of Devon would naturally send a boy convicted before him to the Devon reformatory, or if any difficulty arose in consequence of overcrowding the establishment, the Secretary of State had always power to remove the children to another reformatory. He thought there would be great objection to repeal altogether the existing restriction in the Act as to the reformatory to which a boy is to be sent, though this point may require further consideration.


said, he thought the suggestions contained in the petition to which reference had been made by the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) were such as were calculated fully to carry out the objects contemplated by the Legislature. When the House considered the enormous number of children to whom such institutions were applicable, and how few were at this time in existence, it would perceive that at present it was impossible that anything like justice could be done to the boys themselves. The right hon. Baronet had stated that no county reformatory had yet succeeded; but he (Mr. Miles) would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the Devonshire Reformatory, which had accomplished a vast amount of good. The difficulty of getting proper persons to superintend and manage such establishments was well known, but that difficulty would in a great measure be obviated by the establishment of large county reformatories, where masses of children might be placed under one general treatment and discipline. He hoped that, notwithstanding what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet opposite, the House would recognise the necessity of such institutions, which had become more than ever apparent since the cessation of transportation; and that, as it was much to be feared that the older classes of criminals were in too hopeless a condition to be influenced by such measures, care would be taken to endeavour to influence the minds of juvenile offenders, and thus rescue thousands of miserable children from the gulf of sin. In order to show that reformatory schools on a large scale would be beneficial, he appealed to the success of the establishment at Redhill, and asked whether anything could be better conducted than that institution? Yet Redhill was an uncertified reformatory school, promoted by private individuals, and only sanctioned by the Government to the extent of sending children there in certain cases. Why then, having that power, did they hesitate to put the magistrates in the various counties in a situation to establish similar institutions for the instruction and reform of the young criminals convicted under the Juvenile Offenders Act; and why nut allow them to raise rates for the support of such establishments? So strongly were the people of the county of Somerset in favour of their establishment, that for three years they had contributed £500 a year, in the hope that the Government would take the matter up and introduce a general system. In his opinion, the question was one of vital importance, and ought to be taken into consideration as early as possible; he trusted, therefore, that if the right hon. Baronet would not listen to the solicitations made to him from various quarters, and submit a Bill himself, he would not impede the introduction or progress of any sound measure brought forward upon that question, either by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) or any other hon. Member of that House.


said, that, in order to show the inconvenience attending the present system, he would mention a case which had been brought under his own knowledge a fortnight ago. A boy had been convicted by the magistrates of Dorsetshire, in which county there was no reformatory, and had been ordered to be sent to the Devonshire school. When the communication was made to the magistrates connected with the Devonshire Reformatory, they replied that they had not room. A request was then made to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, that the sentence might be altered, so that the boy should be sent to another reformatory, where accommodation could be found; but the right hon. Baronet had replied that he could not make the order unless he was received into the Devonshire school in the first instance. As it happened, they were enabled eventually to get him received there; but such might not have been the case, and their object would then have failed altogether. The Act as at present constituted was extremely defective, and he could not see why it should not be permitted to the magistrates to sentence a boy to be sent to some reformatory establishment, leaving the precise school to be afterwards named, apprehending that no difficulty would arise from overcrowding, because the managers of the school would have to certify in the first instance whether they had room or not.


said, he wished to correct a mistake into which the right hon. Baronet below him (Sir G. Grey) had fallen, with respect to the formation of the Middlesex Reformatory. The right hon. Baronet had stated that no practical steps had been taken towards the establishment of a reformatory school for the county of Middlesex, an Act having been obtained enabling its promoters to support it entirely by means of a county rate. So far from that being the case, the very day after the Royal Assent was given to the Act, a committee was appointed to carry it into effect, but extreme difficulty was experienced in obtaining a proper site, which had retarded its establishment. That difficulty had, he was happy to say, now been entirely overcome, and in a short time plans would be submitted for the erection of a school in all respects conformable with the wishes of those who had promoted the scheme. He entirely agreed with the observations which had fallen from the hon. Member for East Somersetshire (Mr. Miles), and entertained a strong opinion that the House ought not to allow the present Session to pass away without giving its sanction to a general measure for the establishment of reformatories.


said, he wished to point out an anomaly in the present law, in consequence of the existence of which the managers of reformatories had the power to refuse admission to boys who had been sent there by the magistrates. In any alteration of the law such an anomaly ought to be abolished.


said, he must deprecate an irregular discussion on so important a subject at the present moment; but such a discussion having arisen, he thought it right to mention, as a matter of complaint, that a large portion of the West Riding of Yorkshire derived no advantage whatever from the law as it at present existed in reference to this matter, and were obliged to seek a remedy for the evil by other means. If a proper system were adopted, thousands of young men might be prevented from entering into criminal courses which could end in nothing but their own misery and ruin.


said, he joined in the regret that the subject had been brought forward prematurely, but, at the same time, he must admit that there were great defects in the present law; he thought, however, that the Secretary of State would do wisely to wait until he had consulted those practically acquainted with the subject before he attempted to make any alterations. It could not be denied that hitherto the Act had been most successful, and he did not believe that any measure had met with a more speedy adoption by the country. In little more than twelve months there had been established, in consequence of that Act, twenty-five reformatories, and what was wanted was, to develop the system more comprehensively throughout the country. The hon. Member for East Somersetshire thought that an Act to enable county magistrates to levy rates, which should be devoted to the establishment and support of such institutions, would be the best plan that could be adopted; but he (Mr. Adderley) did not believe, in spite of what the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord R. Grosvenor) had said, that institutions founded upon such principles would be successful. Hon. Members must bear in mind that the existing Act enabled the Treasury to make grants that would defray the whole cost of such institutions, and therefore it was in their power at once to meet the object of the hon. Member for East Somersetshire, and he would tell the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary that, before many days were over, several gentlemen interested in the subject would request an interview with him, with a view of inducing him to increase such grants. The experience, however, of those most competent to judge, induced them to believe that it would not be wise to dispense altogether with private benevolence, but that the Government grants might be considerably increased with great advantage to the community at large. Whatever might be the plans proposed for the amelioration of the law upon the subject, he hoped that the right hon. Baronet would, as he had promised, take the matter into his grave consideration, and not bring forward a measure till he had well considered it. Redhill had been mentioned as an instance of the success of the voluntary system; but although Redhill was governed by a private corporation, it received a greater amount of money from the Government than all the rest of such institutions put together, and had more advantages generally than any other reformatory.


said he wished to ask whether it was the intention of the Government, in any changes in the law, to do away with the necessity of a previous servitude in prison before sending boys to reformatories? The object, as he understood, was to prevent them from receiving the contamination of a prison, and it seemed an anomaly to send them there as a condition of their being admitted into a reformatory.


said he must decline, on the present occasion, to go into the merits of the question suggested by the noble Lord who had last spoken. The Act was passed only two years ago, when he had not the honour of holding his present office, and he remembered it had then been fully discussed; and he agreed with hon. Gentlemen opposite, that it was inexpedient to treat a question of such a nature with petty legislation and perpetual meddling. All he could say was, that if anything were done by Government on the subject, it should only be after due deliberation, and on the opinions of men possessing knowledge and experience on the subject.

The Motion for the adjournment of the House to Monday was then agreed to.