HC Deb 13 February 1865 vol 177 cc212-23

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to consolidate and amend the law relating to prisons, said: In the course of last year I proposed and obtained leave to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to prisons. That measure was founded mainly on the recommendations of the Select Committee of the House of Lords, which sat in the preceding Session; and the object of the Bill was to give effect to certain of those recommendations with' a view to insure greater uniformity both in the construction of prisons and in the discipline and treatment of the prisoners, and also to insure the enforcement of sentences of hard labour, with respect to which the evidence taken before the Select Committee showed that there had been, in some instances, great defects under the existing law. The Bill contained some provisions, also in accordance with the Report of the Committee, for the discontinuance of certain prisons, either unnecessary from local circumstances, or which from their construction and size, or from the smallness and inefficiency of their staffs, were utterly inadequate for the purpose for which they were intended—namely, the proper confinement of prisoners. That Bill was read a second time by a considerable majority, and its principle generally approved. But among those who approved its principle and supported the second reading, there were differences of opinion with regard to the extent to which it should be applied, some thinking that it did not go far enough, and that certain provisions were omitted which ought to be included in any efficient Bill for the amendment of the prison law. The Bill was committed pro formâ, when certain alterations were made in it; but, at a late period, after the discussion which had taken place, it was thought better to withdraw the Bill for the Session, with a view to give greater consideration to the subject generally, during the recess, and especially to consider how far the suggestions to which I have referred could be embodied in the Bill. The only difference of opinion between myself and those who made these suggestions was not as to the objects to be attained, or the expediency of attaining them, but simply as to the practicability of laying down rules in an Act of Parliament which would effect the objects in view. During the recess, I have given a great deal of consideration to the subject, and as the result of that consideration I am now moving for leave to introduce the present Bill. The first suggestion—one which must naturally occur to any one who endeavoured to extract from the many Acts through which they are scattered the provisions affecting the construction of gaols and the treatment and discipline of prisoners—is that it was desirable to consolidate the existing law. The present law is scattered over a great variety of Acts. It is forty-two years since the last consolidation on this subject was attempted. In the year 1823 the 4th Geo. IV. c. 64, was passed, and the preamble to that Act is very nearly applicable to the state of things which we have now to deal with. But since that period much experience has been obtained upon the subject, and a great alteration of opinion has taken place, in some respects founded upon that experience. I may add, that great improvements have been made both in the construction of prisons and in the enforcement of prison discipline since that period. That Act was deficient in an important particular, for it only applied to county prisons, and to a limited number of prisons in cities and towns, omitting the great bulk of what we term borough prisons. No sooner was that Act passed, than it became necessary to amend it. Other Acts were passed in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and succeeding years of the reign of George VI., adding supplementary provisions to those contained in the 4th Geo. IV. c. 64. In fact, scarcely a year passed that some enactment applicable to prisons was not sanctioned by the Legislature. The principal Act passed since the consolidating statute was that passed in the second and third years of the reign of Her present Majesty, extending the former Act to all county and borough prisons, except those appropriated exclusively to debtors. Even with regard to statutory rules, forming but a small portion of the rules applicable to prisons, it is necessary to look into these two Acts passed at so considerable an interval; these rules, moreover, are not classified according to their different nature, so that it is exceedingly difficult to ascertain exactly what is the law upon any particular point. I propose, therefore, in the present Bill, to consolidate the main provisions of the existing law on these subjects—as to the construction and maintenance of prisons, as to the appointment and duties of officers, and as to the discipline and treatment of prisoners; in doing which it will be necessary to repeal, wholly or in part, a variety of statutes, thirteen, I believe, in number, which are now in force. The Bill is essentially one of great detail, and I will not do more on the present occasion than sketch the outline of its provisions; I shall not enter into minute points until it is printed and in the hands of Members, which I hope will be the case in a very few days, for the Bill is now in type, and only awaits revision on some few points requiring care and attention. The Bill will be not only a Consolidating Bill, but one for the amendment of the law. The object of these amendments will be to secure such a construction of prisons as will provide facilities for the separation of prisoners, and insure that separation; and, further, these amendments will secure the providing of means in every prison for enforcing sentences of hard labour, and will require that the prisoners are actually subjected to the hard labour to which they are sentenced. The mode in which it is proposed that this shall be done is that the Treasury allowance for the maintenance of prisoners shall be withheld, where it appears by a certificate of the Secretary of State that the requirements of the law in these respects have not been complied with. Ample opportunity will be given to the prison authorities for making a statement of facts in their own justification before any certificate is given; and in every such case the facts and reasons for the course pursued will be laid before Parliament. The procedure in these cases will resemble that under the Constabulary Act, which has worked so well that this principle may well be adopted with regard to prisons. It is also proposed that if, after a considerable interval, no efficient means are taken to comply with the requirements of the law, the prisons in question shall be discontinued, and the prisoners removed to other prisons; the prison authorities of the discontinued gaol becoming liable to the same expenses for their maintenance to which they would have been liable before. There will be a schedule attached to this Bill of prisons either unnecessary or so bad in construction and management as to make it undesirable that they should be retained. There are two subjects of great importance, regarding which suggestions were made in the course of the debates last year, to which I wish to refer. The first of these is the definition of "bard labour." A desire was expressed that this should be clearly defined so that no discretion should be left to those who have the management of prisons with regard to the manner of enforcing it. The second was that the rules, instead of being made under authority derived from Parliament, should, as far as possible, be made by Parliament itself, and be contained in a schedule to the Act. With regard to hard labour, I stated last year the difficulty I felt in framing an exhaustive definition of hard labour. It is very easy to say that certain employments shall be considered hard labour; but it is impossible, without subjecting the authorities of prisons to great inconvenience and depriving them of their fair discretion, to say, as recommended by the Lords' Committee, that hard labour shall consist of nothing else but the tread-wheel, crank, and shot-drill. There are, indeed, places where hard labour is enforced, and well enforced, where these particular forms of punishment are not adopted. It is, however, desirable that there should not be the same amount of discretion left to the authorities as to what is hard labour as at present. I propose, therefore, to enumerate certain kinds of hard labour, with a view to indicate generally the views of Parliament on the subject. After that I should propose to give to the visiting justices, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, a discretion as to what kind of hard labour shall be adopted where the enumerated kinds are not or cannot be enforced. A maximum of hours, during which certain kinds of hard labour can be enforced in a day, now exists by law. I propose that there shall be also a minimum to be undergone by persons during the earlier part of a prisoner's sentence. I have adopted this view after communication with persons of experience, who think it extremely desirable, in order to stimulate the industry and good conduct of prisoners, that power should be given to the magistrates to diminish even the minimum amount of hard labour after a certain period of the sentence has expired. I recently visited, in company with Sir W. Crofton, Winchester Gaol, where a new system has been brought into operation, and where, from all appearance, it is answering exceedingly well. I found there the treadwheel and crank in full operation. Prisoners sentenced to hard labour are employed in that way during the earlier period of the sentence, and that for a considerable portion of every day. But I found also that one-fourth of the prisoners—and that, I was informed, is the ordinary average—are placed on a noneffective list, and are never transferred to the effective list. The consequence is that though sentenced to hard labour they are not put to that kind of labour which applies to the ablebodied man, but to other kind of labour, such as oakum-picking, which men of no great physical strength are able to perform. I found that after some months of strict enforcement of hard labour, when a prisoner has been industrious and well conducted, the visiting justices make it a rule that there shall be a gradual diminution of the hard labour, and before the end of his imprisonment the prisoner may be altogether released from that species of labour. If this practice answers well, I think it would be inexpedient to deprive the justices of this discretion, by which the discipline of the gaol may be more efficiently kept up. The Bill will be so framed as to meet, as far as possible, such a system of discipline as prevails at Winchester. With regard to the rules applicable to prisons, there are some which are statutory rules, being contained in two Acts of Parliament, while others have been made by the visiting justices from time to time with the concurrence of the Secretary of State. Some rules are general, while others are applicable to one prison and not to others, and these rules are far more numerous than those which are statutory. I have had both classes of rules very carefully revised, and have endeavoured to make a code classifying them according to the subject-matter. I propose to insert them in the schedule of the Bill, so that they will, if the Bill pass, be generally-binding upon all prisons throughout the country. Still there may be, and must be, exceptional cases, and I propose still to reserve power to the visiting justices, with the consent of the Secretary of State, to make supplementary rules, provided they are not inconsistent with those enacted by Parliament. With regard to the question of dietary, I have found it impossible to insert any fixed dietary in the Bill. Dietaries differ very widely in different parts of the country, according to the food of the labouring population; and to have one uniform scale from north to south and from east to west would not be generally approved by those who have had the greatest experience. I sent the dietary tables suggested by the Committee to whom this subject was referred to the authorities of every prison in the kingdom. In some prisons they have been adopted, and in others reasons have been given for not adopting them. These reasons the House will have an opportunity of considering before the Bill is disposed of. They have brought me to the conclusion that you cannot lay down absolutely a fixed dietary scale, and that if you have a maximum and a minimum the difference would be so wide that it would be of little use. The recommendations of the Committee, however, have led to improvement in the existing dietary tables, and to a greater approximation to uniformity than has prevailed at any former period. With regard to supplementary rules, which it is proposed to leave the magistrates the power to make, they will be comparatively few. If the House adopt the schedule which I propose to add to the Bill, it will contain nearly all that is essential to the discipline and management of prisons. The Bill of last Session contained certain provisions with respect to the discontinuance of certain prisons. I have been asked by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Darby Griffith) whether I propose to include the prison at Abingdon in the schedule. Last year I inserted clauses in the Bill with regard to Abingdon Gaol, which I proposed should be discontinued. The Quarter Sessions for Berkshire had adopted a resolution in favour of the discontinuance of that prison, and it appeared to me that Berkshire is not a county in which it was necessary that two county prisons should be maintained. I have subsequently received many communications on the subject, and evidence from the proceedings of the Quarter Sessions, which showed that very great difference of opinion exists among the justices, and that their decision was by no means unanimous. As the question is chiefly one of expense, and, therefore, to be decided by the magistrates and inhabitants of the county; and as very conflicting opinions have been expressed in different parts of the county, I think that the case stands on an entirely different footing from that of the other prisons inserted in the schedule, and which, by the reports of the Prison Inspectors, are unfit for the reception of prisoners. I have not, therefore, inserted Abingdon in the schedule of the present Bill. At the same time, it is quite competent for the hon. Gentleman or any one connected with Berkshire to raise this question, and if they can show that a desire exists on the part of the magistrates or the ratepayers generally that the prison shall be abolished, I shall find it difficult to give a good reason why it should be retained. It is, however, a question of local convenience and local interest, and not one which necessarily forms a part of a Bill of this kind. I have now given the House a general sketch—and it would be impossible to do more—of the provisions of the Bill. It has been a work of great labour to effect this consolidation and revise the rules, and I can hardly hope that it has been accomplished in such a way as to prevent an experienced eye from discovering many imperfections in it. The question appears to me to be one eminently fit for the consideration of a Select Committee. If, therefore, the House should agree to the introduction and second reading of the Bill, I should propose to refer it to a Select Committee, by whom all matters of detail can be carefully considered. I hope that Gentlemen of experience will consent to assist in such a Committee, and I think that when the Bill comes down to us it will, if sanctioned by Parliament, effect a great improvement in the present law, make it easier of administration, and promote the great objects of prison legislation. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to consolidate and amend the law relating to Prisons.


wished to remark with regard to Abingdon Gaol that the Court of Quarter Sessions had expressed an opinion that it was unnecessary. The average number of prisoners in it was only five. Large counties found one prison quite sufficient, and the question was whether the county of Berks was to continue to be taxed for the benefit of a few inhabitants of Abingdon and the officers of the gaol. He trusted that Abingdon would yet be inserted in the schedule.


said, there had been repeated discussions of the subject at the Quarter Sessions in the last ten years, but out of ten divisions there had been six in favour of the gaol, and four only for its removal. The county was almost equally divided on the subject: the majority of the magistrates were desirous that the Sessions should always be held at Reading, but the majority of the inhabitants desired that they should be held at Abingdon, and, therefore, desired that the gaol should be retained. Now, as the convenience of the ratepayers was involved in the retention of the gaol, he hoped no further steps would be taken to do away with it.


thought that the reasons which had been just alleged by his hon. Friend were quite sufficient to induce the House to consent that Abingdon Gaol should be included in the schedule, with a view to the subject being considered by the Select Committee. That was all the favour he (Mr. Walter) sought. The county of Berks had been in a state of dissension for many years past, owing to the continuance of the gaol, which had been a great bone of contention. The specific advantage which his hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Norris) claimed for the gaol would scarcely be sufficient to induce the House to retain it. His hon. Friend did not speak of it as a gaol required for the accommodation of prisoners, for that was not the case, but merely looked to the local convenience of jurymen, who would have to come twice a year to Abingdon. That was about the sum and substance of the advantage of retaining the gaol. But, on the other hand, it entailed a loss upon the county of £500 a year. As it was impossible to dispose of the question except by legislation, he thought the House would hardly refuse to refer it to the Select Committee, and when the time should come, he should make a Motion with that object.


said, that when Bills were brought in referring to statutes which required great alterations, all the former laws ought to be repealed, and the whole brought under one Act. His brother magistrates would bear him out when he spoke of the great difficulty which was felt when they had to wade through a great many Acts of Parliament. Now the gist of the present Bill was the consolidation of all the statutes into one. With regard to the questions of dietary and hard labour, it would, in his opinion, be dangerous to lay down one stringent rule. The visiting justices, with the sanction of the Secretary of State, should be allowed some slight power of alteration, if they found it necessary. The Government at present paid only the cost of prisoners who were sent to penal servitude, and that was a point upon which they would do well to be more liberal. He saw no reason why Government should not pay the whole cost of those who were convicted both at Quarter Sessions and Assizes.


said, that one of the great difficulties at present experienced was the want of uniformity in the treatment of prisoners. The Lord Chief Justice had recently stated that the treatment was so different in different counties that the Judges did not know what they were sentencing a prisoner to when they sentenced him to twelve months' imprisonment. Now he (Mr. Neate) did not think the provisions of the Bill sufficient to secure that uniformity. The only security for ensuring uniformity was that the Treasury should withhold its payments if the regulations were not complied with. He agreed with the hon. Baronet who had just spoken, that the State ought to be more liberal in its dealings with the country magistrates; but, in return, the State ought to exact a greater control over the treatment of the prisoners. He held that the appointment of the Governors of the county prisons ought to be subject to the approval of the Home Secretary, in the same manner as the managers of workhouses were subject to the approval of the President of the Poor Law Board, and they should not be dismissed without the approval of the Secretary. A very remarkable election to a county gaol had lately taken place in the West Riding, and it was his intention to bring that subject under the notice of the House, if possible, to-morrow, by moving for a Return in connection with that election.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had faithfully redeemed the pledge which he gave to the House in the last Session, to deal with this important sub- ject by a Consolidation Act. The right hon. Gentleman had had last Session a difficult task in dealing with two Reports—the Report of the Royal Commission on Penal Servitude, and the Report of the Lords' Committee on Prison Discipline. He had, in fact, to revise at once our whole secondary system of punishment. The right hon. Baronet had dealt first with penal servitude, but not so as to dispense with tickets-of-leave, but retaining them with conditions which he himself condemned, and he did not deal with the subject by way of consolidation. Since the end of last Session the last trace and vestige of transportation had been absolutely abolished, and now that the substitution of penal servitude was complete, it was high time to consolidate the law relating to it. But with regard to prison discipline, it was satisfactory to know that the right hon. Gentleman was about to attempt to consolidate the law. The Acts of George the Fourth and William the Fourth were the two principal Acts on that subject, and both contained schedules of gaol rules; the last, to a certain extent, repealing those of the first—so that it was very difficult for any one to say what were the prescribed gaol rules for the whole kingdom. There were many minor Acts in the statute-book upon prison discipline which would all be repealed by this Bill, and the law relating to prison discipline, if the Bill passed, would be in future contained in one statute only. That would be a most uesful piece of legislation, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would succeed. He did not quite gather that the Bill carried out fully the recommendations of the Lords' Committee in all points. The most material recommendations were, uniformity of rules, uniformity of classification, and the definition of hard labour. He understood the Bill provided uniformity of rules in all the gaols in the kingdom, as far as possible. With regard to dietary, however, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think it difficult to adopt the Report of the three Medical Commissioners to whom he referred this subject, and fix a maximum and minimum dietary, the effect of which would be to restrict the wide discrepancies which had hitherto existed. He would find, however, that on an approximately uniform dietary depended the possibility of a definition of hard labour. He thought the discretion of the magistrates and of the Secretary of State with respect to the treatment of prisoners in gaols should be limited, and that such treatment should, as far as possible, be defined by law. He understood the right hon. Gentleman had attempted to define hard labour. He hoped he would receive the cordial support of the House in carrying out a measure of such signal importance.


said, that in reference to Abingdon Gaol the point to be considered was, whether the Home Secretary should take the opinion of a gentleman who was avowedly interested in the locality, or whether he should act on the authority of the Government Inspectors and of a Committee of the House of Lords. As the right hon. Gentleman now seemed inclined to hear both sides, he had no doubt he would be favoured with much further information. The dissension that prevailed in the county on this subject had resulted in a compromise of a peculiar nature—namely, that the civil business should be transacted at Reading, and that then the proceedings should be adjourned to Abingdon to complete the criminal business. In this way twenty-two prisoners had been taken from Reading to meet two prisoners at Abingdon and be tried there. Such a state of things ought not to continue. He must, therefore, support the proposal of the hon. Member for the county (Mr. Walter) that this gaol should be restored to its place in the schedule, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would in the meantime take an opportunity of learning what the opinion of the county was upon this subject.


said, he had represented to the right hon. Gentleman that this was not a question to be dealt with by Act of Parliament, but that it ought to be left to the decision of the magistrates of the county. It had been represented to the Home Secretary that the magistrates were agreed as to the necessity of abolishing Abingdon Gaol; but he had informed the right hon. Gentleman that this was not so, and that the Inspector had been completely misled in the Report he had made. The fact was, that at the Reading end of the county property was much divided, and the consequence was that the magistrates there far outnumbered those at the Abingdon end; so that the question of Abingdon Gaol having been for many years a sort of party question, when a whip of the magistrates at the Reading end was made, no sufficient force could be brought up on the other side to counterbalance them. But the interests of the Abingdon end of the county ought not to be forgotten; and he trusted, there- fore, that the right hon. Gentleman would persevere with his intention of leaving the question to be settled by the magistrates instead of dealing with it by Act of Parliament. If Abingdon Gaol were done away with, the sessions and assizes must be held at Reading, and the sessions for Abingdon could not be held at all, so that the criminal jurisdiction would be entirely taken away from that end of the county, and great inconvenience and hardship would thus be inflicted upon jurymen and witnesses there resident. There was a tendency to take everything to Reading, but he thought that exceedingly unjust, and he should always continue to resist that encroachment on the part of the Reading end of the county. At present there was an agreement between the borough of Abingdon and the county, by virtue of which the gaol could not be abolished; and if Parliament stepped in to break that agreement it would be exceedingly unjust. [Mr. DARBY GRIFFITH:: It might be a subject for compensation.] He did not see how any money payment could be a compensation to the jurors and witnesses. The inconvenience sustained by jurors and witnesses could not be made the subject of a money compensation. It was to be hoped that the Member for the county would not interfere to inflict a hardship upon a large portion of his own constituents, for if so he would very likely hear of it at the next election.


reminded the House that it was discussing a point not as yet raised in the proposal of the Government. Abingdon at present was only conspicuous by its absence from the Bill, yet five speeches had already been made on the subject, and promises had been made of many more on the same subject on future occasions. With respect to the Bill itself, the country would be deeply indebted to the Home Secretary if he succeeded in consolidating, in a satisfactory manner, the law relating to gaols. He had attended carefully to the statement of the right hon. Baronet; and seeing many of the difficulties he had alluded to, he agreed that a Committee of the Whole House would not be so likely to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion as a Committee upstairs.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to consolidate and amend the Law relating to Prisons, ordered to be brought in by Sir GEORGE GREY and Mr. BARING.

Bill presented, and read 1°. [Bill 15.]