HC Deb 06 June 1861 vol 163 cc691-4

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 7 inclusive agreed to.

Clause 8 postponed.

Clause 9 (Description of Children liable to be sent to School),


expressed an opinion that the wording was too vague, and asked how it was intended that the commission of "an offence punishable at law" should be proved? Was it by the record of a previous conviction, or by hearsay evidence of some person, who had been told by somebody else, who had heard from the relieving officer that an old woman had informed him that the child had stolen an apple? The description "frequents the company of reputed thieves" was likewise vague and objectionable. These institutions were really doing a great deal of good, and the managers of them would do well not to make the drag-net too wide, otherwise they might raise up some feeling against them.


replied that if the wording of the clause was confined to previous convictions it would limit the operation of the existing law, which conferred on magistrates a power of committing under the Vagrant Act, though, in practice, that power was inoperative, as magistrates felt afraid to exercise it. The definition having regard to "reputed thieves" had been introduced with the same object, of increasing the discretionary power of magistrates. "Reputed thieves" was a phrase having a perfectly recognized meaning in the police courts. But if it is was feared that these words were so loose that they might be used arbitrarily he had no objection to their being altered.


as a magistrate, bore testimony to the difficulty which was felt in administering the existing law.


hoped the clause would be retained in its present shape, as it was very desirable that the class referred to should be brought within the provisions of the Act. "Reputed thieves" were, in fact, very well known characters. Their appearance was as familiar to the police as that of any hon,. Member. If any Gentleman chose to accompany a police-officer to their haunts he could point them out one by one. They were, in fact, as notorious as the leaders of that House.


was glad his hon. Friend had so explicitly stated the operation of the clause. The objection which he felt was levelled precisely at this discretionary power of locking everybody up. He had no doubt the policeman at the door entertained his own opinion of every hon. Member who passed him, and that not in all cases of a complimentary character. Policemen were like mad doctors, who thought everybody mad, and would prove it too, if they were paid for it. He felt sure, if they accompanied a policeman, as proposed, they would hear him say of a good many persons, "That feller ought to be locked up." "As for such a one, he ought to be hanged." How were they to know anything, about "repeated thieves," unless they lived with them? He supposed the fathers and mothers would be "reputed thieves," and would be locked up too.


moved to omit the third paragraph of the clause, "Any child apparently under the age of twelve years that has committed any offence punishable by law or frequents the company of reputed thieves."


said, that those only were to be sent to an industrial school who had been brought within the cognisance of the law. In point of fact, the provision was a mitigation of the present state of the law. The justices would have a discretionary power, and it was not likely that they would send all the children brought before them to these schools. He wished the first part of the clause to be retained, but the other portion might be very well omitted.


supported the Amendment. The Committee had not been told that this was a substitution of industrial for reformatory schools.


said, that children could not be sent to a reformatory until they had been convicted. But they might be sent to industrial schools under this clause, if they had committed an offence punishable by law, which might be felony or even murder.


must remind the Committee that to reject this paragraph would be to destroy the efficiency of the Bill. It was left within the discretion of the justices whether children of this tender age were to be committed for trial or sent to an industrial school. The object of the clause was to withdraw from corrupt influences and from association with reputed thieves children who might otherwise become the inmates of prisons and reformatories.


thought the clause as it stood of great value. Any one familiar with reformatories must have been struck with the small and trifling character of the offences with which the children were usually charged. He considered that these industrial schools would be the proper places for many of these children; they would be kept at a smaller expense, and, therefore, so far from increasing the Estimates would have a tendency towards economy.


said, he thought the Bill offered a premium to crime, inasmuch as a child would only have to commit a crime punishable by law, to be at once provided for by the State, without punishment, and without loss of character. He hoped the clause would be rejected.


thought it worthy of consideration whether the managers of these schools should not come upon the parents for a certain amount where they were able to pay.


thought that the clause gave too large a discretion. It would be better to define the sort of offences with which the magistrate should be allowed to deal.


asked, was the magistrate to convict the child before he could send him to school?


apprehended that the magistrate would not convict unless there was an information laid before him.


observed that, in cases of petty theft, when the offender was brought up by a policeman, there was no information.


said, that there was what amounted to an information in the cases referred to by the right hon. Gentleman—namely, a statement on oath before the magistrate. In the cases to which this clause was intended to apply the magistrate should be satisfied on credible evidence that there had been an offence against the law.


observed that such evidence could only be evidence on oath.


said, that the intention was to avoid the stigma of a reformatory.


thought that the wording of the clause was too wide.


said, that the clause was only intended to apply to children under 12.


suggested that the sum to be paid by the parent should be, not "such as the justice shall think fit," but "sufficient for the child's maintenance at school."


promised that words to that effect should be introduced.


moved that the Chairman report Progress.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 20; Noes 63: Majority 43.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again on Monday next.

House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.