HC Deb 10 February 1857 vol 144 cc474-7

in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to make better provision for the care and education of vagrant, destitute, and disorderly children, and for the extension of Industrial Schools, observed that it was not his intention at present to trouble the House at any length, because this measure was in principle the same as one that had already been passed for Scotland, and was commonly known as Mr. Dunlop's Act. Its details were, indeed, necessarily somewhat different, in order to adapt them to the circumstances of England; and although they would require the careful consideration of the House, yet that consideration would be more satisfactorily bestowed on them when the Bill was in the hands of hon. Members. It was, however, incumbent on him now to state very briefly the main grounds why such a measure ought to be introduced. The large class of children to whom the Bill referred was one peculiarly demanding their care and attention, not simply from motives of humanity, but from reasons of State policy connected with our criminal legislation. The difficulty of dealing with our criminals would be materially diminished if we could cut off the supply of those criminals at its source; and, as the worst of them were those who had been trained to crimes from their earliest years, the best interests of society would be consulted by taking them in hand before they became hardened. It might be asked, why not leave it to the reformatory schools to work out this object? Those schools were no doubt doing great good; and, though much was yet required to bring them to completion, it might perhaps seem better to allow that system to perfect itself before we dealt with another class. But, looking to the large number of children who were now running about our streets, and constantly swelling the ranks from which those schools, supported as they were, in part at least, from the public purse, were recruited; and looking, moreover, to the likelihood of those ranks being thinned by the adoption of a measure like that now operating in Scotland, it would be well to reflect whether it would not be wiser and move economical to apply such an Act at once to England. The Reports of our prison inspectors appeared to show that about 7,000 were annually added to the criminal class of this country; that might be, and he hoped was, an overestimate; but the number, whatever it was, represented a much larger body of children who ran about the streets, getting constantly into trouble, and continually coming into the hands of the police, and on whom our present schools failed to make any impression. In Bristol, last year, there were apprehended of this class 525 children under sixteen years of age, of whom only 126 were committed for trial or summarily convicted, the remainder being left to wander about uncared for. In Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and other populous towns a similar state of things unhappily prevailed. This class not only constituted a dangerous element in our society, but, from their neglected condition, had a strong claim on our pity. How, he asked, did our existing institutions meet the wants of this class! The national schools did not meet the demand, for they were too high to reach the children in question. The children with whom his Bill proposed to deal would not choose to mix in their rags with the children of a superior class who now attended the national schools, neither was the discipline of those schools such as was necessary for the proper government of children of the lowest class, who required not a high scale of education, but the training of strict discipline and control. Neither on the other hand were the reformatory schools suitable for those children, whom, not having yet committed crime, it would be unjust to associate with those who had. The ragged and industrial schools which had been established throughout the country were the proper places for the children with whom his Bill proposed to deal; but the difficulties at present attending those institutions were a want of power to compel children to attend, and a lack of means for the full development of the schools. He proposed to adopt the principle of the Scotch Act, which gave the magistrates a power to commit to industrial schools all children found in the streets begging or committing acts of vagrancy. It was true great care must be taken to define the class of children who should be subject to the exercise of this power; but if that were done he had no doubt that schools of the right kind would spring up in such numbers as, with those at present in existence, would be sufficient for all purposes. A large proportion of the children who were to be found wandering about the streets had been either deserted by their parents or were encouraged by them to beg or steal; therefore he proposed to introduce into this Bill that which was a principal feature in the Scotch Act, a provision that would make the parents liable in every case for the maintenance of their children in those schools. Allusion had been made to the small sums collected from parents under the Reformatories Act, and the difficulty of collecting even those; but he submitted that the principal object of requiring those payments was not so much to relieve the Treasury as to operate upon the minds of parents, and in that respect he thought that that provision had not been without effect. He found from a letter he had received from Mr. Dunne, the chief constable of Newcastle-on-Tyne, that since the Act had been enforced in that district the number of juvenile criminals had diminished one-half, and Mr. Dunne stated that he knew that many parents who formerly sent their children to beg and steal about the streets had discontinued the practice, and sent them instead to some of the free schools of the town. The head constable of Liverpool had given similar testimony, and therefore he (Sir Stafford Northcote) thought, as the effect of the provision in the Reformatories Act, rendering the parents liable for the maintenance of their children, had been so beneficial, there could be little doubt as to the desirability of extending it to children who were idle and vagrant, but not yet criminals. In support of this Bill he would call the attention of the House to the successful working of the Scotch Act, the operation of which had been attended by a marked decrease in the committals of juvenile offenders. In Aberdeen, before the establishment of the free schools, the average annual number of juvenile vagrants taken into custody by the police was 342, while the average annual number in five years after their establishment was only six. In Edinburgh and Glasgow similar results had been produced. With such evidence of the successful operation of the system in Scotland, he thought the House would regard its extension to England as a wise measure of economy and humanity. The subject was one which had excited much interest. A Committee had been sitting at Birmingham, and the matter had been taken into consideration by the Law Amendment Society, by a committee of which the Bill he now asked leave to introduce had been prepared. The hon. Member then moved for leave to bring in a Bill to make better provision for the care and education of vagrant, destitute, and disorderly children, and for the extension of industrial schools.


confirmed the statement of the hon. Baronet as to the admirable manner in which the Scotch Act had been found to act, and mentioned that eighty per cent of the children who had been sent to the House of Refuge at Glasgow had been found, after quitting that institution, to be pursuing an honest career of industry.


also bore testimony to the excellent effects of the Scotch Act, and thought its extension to England would be of the highest advantage to the country.


said, he should not object to the introduction of the Bill, but must withhold any promise of support until he had seen the details upon which so much would depend.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE, Mr. ADDERLEY, and Mr. HEADLAM.

Bill read 1°.