HC Deb 29 April 1864 vol 174 cc1961-6

Bill, as amended, considered.


said, that in moving the clause of which he had given notice, he had no wish to interfere with what was called the Irish system, but he should pause before introducing it in its integrity into this country, and certainly should not be willing to adopt one portion only, and that the most objectionable part of that system. According to Sir Walter Crofton's view, expressed in a letter to The Times after the debate the other evening, what was needed in this country was a department of supervision, an argument which he thought would not be very consolatory to Gentlemen already complaining of the growth of the Estimates. But if supervision was introduced, he thought it would become absolutely necessary to provide the convicts with situations after they were discharged. This, except by voluntary effort, would be highly objectionable, but what alternative would there be if by interference with convicts in possession of tickets-of-leave they were debarred from competing freely with others in the labour market? A Return relating to the re-committal of persons discharged from the intermediate prisons for the years 1856–62 showed at first sight a very startling result — namely, that they did not amount to more than 7 per cent. But if the cases of persons who were stated in the Returns from Ireland to have gone abroad were eliminated from the list, and the Return compared year by year, it would be found that the re-committals began with less than 1 per cent in 1856, and, after steadily increasing, ended with more than 100 per cent in 1862. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, he feared, had been guilty of a piece of refined cruelty in compelling the man to retain his ticket-of-leave and in creating a new offence if he laid it aside. A navvy, unlike a statesman, had no bureau or pigeonholes to keep his papers in, and yet he might just as well be found with his neighbour's gold watch in his pocket as with his ticket-of-leave. The question of emigration, too, was one of some importance. We had hitherto had no serious representations either from our colonies or from foreign countries as to ticket-of-leave men going there, but there was no doubt that a great many of them went abroad, and they did so upon a gratuity of money, voted by Parliament. If exception was taken to that, we could neither assert that they went as free men, nor deny that they were enabled to do so by money provided; by the State. He therefore thought that it would be desirable to adopt such a provision as he proposed, under which, when a man came out of prison, he would be absolutely free and at liberty to go to any part of the world. The last part of his clause provided that if, during the period of sentence which had been remitted, a man committed any offence for which he was summarily committed to prison for three months, or convicted upon indictment, he should return to prison and complete the term of his sentence. To this provision it had been objected that it was too sweeping, and that it would interfere with the Royal prerogative, but he did not think that either of those objections was well founded. If a man committed an offence within a short time after his discharge, it showed that he was not a proper subject for a remission of any part of his punishment; and, as the Act was to be read with those of 1853 and 1857, the words in the former of these Acts which saved the Royal prerogative would apply also to this measure. The proposal was founded upon the broad principle that it was the duty of the State to punish convicts, but that after their discharge it ought neither to debar them from employment or to provide it for them, and he hoped that it would receive the sanction of the House. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the following clause:— It shall be lawful for Her Majesty, by an order in writing under the hand and seal of one of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, to grant to any person sentenced to penal servitude after the passing of this Act a remission of such portion of his sentence, not exceeding one fourth part, as to Her Majesty shall seem fit, provided that if any person to whom such remission has been granted shall, before the time at which his original sentence would have expired, be convicted either by the verdict of a jury, or upon his own confession, of an indictable offence, or upon summary conviction of an offence punishable with imprisonment for three months or for a longer period, he shall, after undergoing the period of imprisonment to which he may be sentenced for such offence, further undergo a term of penal servitude equal to the portion of his original sentence so remitted to him; and shall, for the purpose of his undergoing such last-mentioned punishment, be removed from the prison of any county, borough, or place in which they may be confined, to any prison in which convicts under sentence of penal servitude may lawfully be confined, by warrant under the hand and seal of any justice of the peace of the said county, borough, or place, and shall be liable to be there dealt with in all respects as if such term of penal servitude had formed part of his original sentence.

Clause (Application of Acts to Licence,) — (Mr. Whitbread,) — brought up, and read 1°.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."


said, that his hon. Friend appeared to desire remission of sentences without subsequent supervision. He confessed he would himself rather have remission without supervision than none at all. If probation was valuable, especially when carried out by means of intermediate prisons, be should be sorry to lose it. The ticket-of-leave system failed, not so much in consequence of want of supervision, as because the probation was really worthless. The prisoners were, in fact, discharged before their time because the gaols were overcrowded. But if remission of sentence without supervision were resolved upon, there would be the inconvenience of having different regulations for England and Ireland; and besides this, there would be a feeling of insecurity, which he thought the public would not tolerate. Independently of this, supervision was advisable on these two grounds: — In the first place, the clever rogue would frequently work himself out of prison sooner than the really penitent man. He would have sufficient control over himself to go through the whole probation, but that self-control would not last beyond the prison. Once out, he would be a dangerous character, a corrrupter of the young, and the sooner he was brought back the better. It was cheaper for society to keep such a man in prison than out of it. He quite agreed with a remark of Lord Dudley, at Worcester, though not with his conclusion. "When they gave prisoners a fair trial, and found that all that had been done had been thrown away, the least they could do would be to render them incapable of doing any further harm for some time." The Prisoners' Aid Society would be useless in such a case, even if Government ought to intrust so important a part of their system to anything so uncertain, transient, and irresponsible as voluntary agency. There was no force in the objection to the espionage of the police. The police now kept a watch over thieves, companions of thieves, and suspicious characters of all kinds, except those which have given so much ground for suspicion, as convicts on licence. He thought the supervision should be intrusted to the police, or to Government agents, backed by the police (as in Dublin, and, he believed, once in Scotland), which was much the same thing. The plan proposed might not be the best. It might be that a single report to the police on each change of residence might be sufficient, with the understanding that a conviction for an offence in a place where the licence-holder had not reported himself would be more severely punished. But, in the second place, supervision would be useful to the reclaimed convict. The police would be of great assistance to him in obtaining work, if they had proper instructions; and if any hon. Member doubted the wish of many of these poor people to lead an honest life, let him go to the Refuge, established by Captain Shepherd just outside Wakefield Gaol, and he would there see men patiently labouring for the hardest fare and roughest shelter, determined to bear anything rather than return to crime. At the same time, he was not of opinion that a large number of licence-holders would find it easy to obtain employment here; he thought their future career would generally be more hopeful out of England, and here the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society would find its proper work. A man leaving the country partly by means of his own gratuity would give better securities for his future good conduct than if sent at the expense of the State. His mind would be enlisted in his own reformation, and he would work with, and not against us. Fault had been found with the Irish Returns, on account of the large emigration. He thought that was the greatest success of the system. And though no doubt the Irish were more migratory, the English could scarcely be said to be unduly wedded to the soil. In Sweden, where he had once been, the scarcity of workmen was so great that prisoners were in some instances farmed out to contractors on public roads and other works. Yet the disinclination of the people to employ discharged prisoners was so extreme, that the clergy were in the habit of inculcating from the pulpit the duty of giving these poor men a chance of earning a living, as a work of Christian charity. If, then, their difficulty was so great in a thinly peopled country, how much greater must it be in England where every kind of employment was already over-filled. He hoped honest men would always be preferred; he should be sorry to see a stainless character lose its value; therefore, he looked for a solution of this difficulty beyond our own shores. He would be sorry to speak confidently; the subject was a very embarrassing one; the fluctuations of crime depended very much upon external causes mostly beyond our control; but he thought the experiment worth trying, and he was not without hope that it would in time make some impression upon the regular professional crime of this country.


said, he thought the House had expressed a very decided opinion that remission should not be conditional, and that a ticket-of-leave should be given subject to regular supervision. He believed the effect of the supervision as proposed would be, that the greater number of these ticket-of-leave-holders would be driven out of the country. What the effect would be in the colonies he did not know, but, at all events, we should have the benefit of their leaving the kingdom. He hoped his hon. Friend would not press the Question at this moment.


said, he thought it highly desirable that some supervision should be exercised upon the ticket-of-leave man in order to see that he did not associate with criminal characters. It was very often difficult to find superior labourers in England, whilst it was not so frequently the case in Ireland. He thought that the isolation of the ticket-of-leave man was, to a great extent, asserted by the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. He, nevertheless, thought the Bill would be better without the clause now proposed.


said, that the Irish system had not prevented the convict from getting employment in Ireland. He trusted the hon. Member would withdraw the clause.


said, he would withdraw the clause.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn

Clause withdrawn.


said, he would propose several Amendments in Clause 4, which would make the clause stand thus— If any holder of a licence granted under the said Penal Servitude Acts, or any of them, who shall be at large in the United Kingdom shall, unless prevented by illness or other unavoidable cause, fail to report himself personally to the chief police station of the borough, or police sta- tion to which he may go within three days after his arrival therein, and subsequently once in each month, at such time and place, in such manner, and to such person as the chief officer of such station shall appoint, or shall change his residence without having previously notified the same to the police station to which he last reported himself, he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanour, and may be summarily convicted thereof, and his licence shall be forthwith forfeited by virtue of such conviction, but he shall not be liable to any other punishment by virtue of such conviction

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Bill to be read 3° on Monday next.