HC Deb 22 May 1857 vol 145 cc773-7

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


appealed to the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, on account of the lateness of the hour and the great importance of the Bill to postpone the third reading.


said, the Bill was virtually unopposed in its previous stages, and inasmuch as Lord Campbell would in a short time be compelled to go on circuit, he was anxious that the Bill should reach the House of Lords while that noble and learned Lord could attend there. He hoped that the Bill might pass into a law, so that the regulations to be framed under it might be made before any sentences were passed at the next assizes, and with that view he asked the House not to delay the third reading.


was not hostile to the Bill, but he was anxious to express his opinions upon it. It was already almost midnight, and unless the right hon. Baronet consented to postpone the third reading, he (Mr. Warren) would feel compelled, owing to the many hours of exhausting attention which he had that evening given to the public business, to let the Bill pass sub silentio. The assizes would not take place till July, and there was no ground for the haste of the right hon. Baronet.


said, that postponement would involve indefinite delay, since there would not be the slightest chance of bringing on the Bill either on Monday or Friday next week, as the army Estimates would probably occupy the whole of these sittings.


urged postponement on the ground that many hon. Members were anxious to express their opinions on the subject of the Bill.


said, if the right hon. Gentleman should persist in his intention of going on with the Bill he should feel it his duty to divide the House against him. No one denied that the Bill was in the right direction, but he did not regard the question as to how our criminal population was to be dealt with as settled by the Bill. The House had not yet fully discussed the question whether convict labour could be made remunerative.


would not do anything to oppose the Government on this question, but he was ready to sit up till twelve o'clock the next day to discuss the Bill, although he was not fond of sitting up. There was one subject in connection with it which had not yet been brought under the notice of the House, although it was of some importance. No doubt many hon. Members were aware that the rules and regulations in the different county gaols were all different one from the other, although they had received the approbation of the Judges of assize. The effect of this was to leave with the Judges the power of apportioning the punishment of offenders and of sentencing them to confinement in one gaol or another, according as they thought fit. But your humanitarians came in then; they said this was "an anomaly," and they insisted that all gaols should be conducted on precisely the same footing, and that all the regulations should be the same. Now, by this Bill they were giving the Judges no discretion to send prisoners to a place where the punishment would be peculiarly severe or otherwise, the Judges had simply power to sentence not to what in the second clause was called transportation, but in the third clause was described as conveyance beyond the seas. No doubt there was a difference between these two expressions which he could not discern. See, then, where the burden lay. It was thrown back upon the Home Department. If the power of determining the kind of punishment were to be vested in any individual in the world, there was no one against whom he should make so few objections as his right hon. Friend (Sir G. Grey). But Secretaries of State resembled ordinary men; they must eat, drink, and sleep like other people; and how was it possible they should rightly apportion the punishment of criminals, unless they went through, most inefficiently, by written documents the facts which had been elicited far more satisfactorily before the Judges by oral evidence? What was the necessary consequence? The right hon. Gentleman could not discharge such a labour. It would devolve, then, upon an official under him, upon whom would rest the apportionment of all those gradations of punishment which under the old system was left to the Judges—a system which had been abolished now for about forty years, and which was now about to be re-enacted in a most clumsy and inefficient manner. Such a provision was a very unsatisfactory one. Still, he should not oppose the Government. If they liked to pass a bad Bill it was their business.


did not wish to offer any factious opposition, but he must say he thought the Government were pressing on the third reading of this Bill with hot and unseemly haste, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) would divide the House against the Motion.


knew that many hon. Members were anxious to speak upon this subject, and suggested that the Government should arrange to take the third reading on Monday.


said, that the punishment of criminals would depend, under the provisions of this Bill, mainly on the reports made to the Secretary of State by the Prison Inspectors. The third clause of this Bill, which conferred these powers, had not been at all discussed; and, as those powers were entirely new to the constitution, he thought it was but reasonable that further time for the discussion should be allowed.


said, he acknowledged the importance of the Bill, but due notice had been given that it would come on that evening. There had been no reason to suppose that the other business would last till a very late hour, and if hon. Members had been so anxious to deliver their sentiments upon it, it was their duty to have remained in the House. He could see no reason why this measure should not be read a third time merely because some hon. Gentlemen had gone away, instead of staying to state their opinions on a subject in which they were described as feeling such a deep interest. The night was not then very far advanced—it was but a quarter past twelve—and this was a Bill the principle of which, as far as he recollected, nobody had opposed, nor had any material Amendment been proposed. A great many Gentlemen had, indeed, taken the opportunity at the various stages of the Bill to express their opinions upon the general question of transportation and secondary punishments, and no doubt they had conveyed to the House much useful and interesting information. Considering, however, the state of business for next week, and how important it was that this Bill should become law before the time when fresh sentences would be passed, he did hope the House would now either affirm or negative the third reading, even if they sat an hour longer for the purpose.


said, he was bound to admit the desirability of passing the Bill before the next assizes, and also that the Government had twice postponed it, but thought it inexpedient that a measure of this acknowledged importance should be brought on at midnight, when it was impossible to discuss it. The noble Lord had alluded to hon. Gentlemen having left the House; but it would have been of no use for them to stay, since they could not have spoken at so late an hour. He hoped the Government would accede to the arrangement proposed by the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), which would involve but a very short delay.


said, if the proposal to postpone the third reading would lead to any practical result—if it were still possible to amend the clauses, there might be some ground for this appeal; but inasmuch as by the standing orders it was not possible now to make any but purely verbal alterations in the Bill, he really could not see the object of further delay.


had certainly understood that the right hon. Baronet would not bring this Bill forward at a late hour that night, and believed this to be the impression of hon. Gentlemen who had left the House after the Navy Estimates were disposed of.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3°, and passed.

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