HC Deb 03 March 1865 vol 177 cc1087-91

, in calling attention to the recent appointment of Governor of the Wakefield Gaol, and generally to the patronage vested in Justices of the Peace, and the securities to be taken for its due exercise, said he did not wish to give any personal character to his observations, but only to refer to the Wakefield case as an instance of the defective mode in which patronage was exercised by the magistrates generally in this country. He took up the subject because, in consequence of the local animosity to which it had given rise, the Members for Yorkshire probably felt indisposed to interfere and to revive ill-feeling. For some years past public attention had been directed to the devising of some check upon the exercise of patronage by State Departments; but nothing had yet been done with regard to magisterial patronage. A vacancy had lately occurred in the Governorship of the Wakefield Gaol, which was the most important in England, and contained 400 Government prisoners, who underwent preliminary imprisonment before they were transferred to public works—besides the usual inmates of county gaols. It had been distinguished for the excellence of its management, in which the late Governor had taken a conspicuous part; but the late Governor having resigned, an advertisement was inserted in the papers calling on candidates to send in their applications and testimonials. A large sum—£300—was paid annually for the management of the Government convicts in that gaol, showing that to a very great extent it was a Government establishment. In his opinion the custody of prisoners was an Imperial duty, and even if the old traditionary rule that the custody of prisoners was co-extensive with the jurisdiction under which they were sentenced was still in existence, while the prisoners sentenced at the quarter sessions might be held local prisoners, those sentenced at the assizes must be deemed as Imperial prisoners. Attracted by the advertisements and by the emoluments of the office, nearly £1,100 per annum, the best Governors of prisons in the kingdom sent in their testimonials in the usual manner. They were referred to the visiting magistrates, who first selected eight names, including that of the successful candidate (Captain Armitage); but, on further discussion and upon personal conference, this number was reduced to five votes not including that of the successful candidate. When the election took place, 168 out of the 384 magistrates of the district were present, and the result after some rather warm discussion was that the gentleman whose name did not appear upon the list was elected by 125 votes. The successful candidate happened to be the brother of the leading county magistrate, while the Governors of several gaols were passed by. The gentleman elected had undoubtedly served with distinction in the Crimea, and had afterwards held the post of adjutant in a militia regiment, and evidently possessed the confidence and good opinion of the neighbouring magistrates. Perhaps, after a little experience, he might make a good Governor of a gaol, but the question was not one so much of positive capacity as whether the proper mode had been taken for the encouragement of those engaged in that branch of the public service. The disappointed candidates felt indignant that they had been trifled with, and had been made the laughing-stocks of the county, besides having been put to considerable expense in printing their testimonials, amp;c. He was aware that the magistrates of England generally acted on a different principle to that adopted by the magistrates of the West Riding—the general practice being to leave the nomination in the hands of a committee, and only to elect a candidate recommended by the committee—but he should nevertheless propose that the appointment of gaolers should in future receive the approbation of the Home Secretary, as the appointment of Chief Constable did. He did not make this proposition at the suggestion of the Home Secretary, who rather looked upon him as an officious friend, but on his own responsibility, as he thought the Governor of a gaol ought to be in a more independent position, and to feel that he was an officer of the public, not subject to the sometimes contradictory orders of the visiting justices and magistrates. If this change were not acceptable, he would suggest that the magistrates should leave these appointments to be made by a committee of justices composed of one from each petty sessions division. The magistrates appointed clerks of petty sessions, and he would suggest that these appointments should be given only to attorneys who had taken a certain class of certificate at their examination. Some attorneys passed their examination with higher marks of approbation than others, and it would be well to have regard to this circumstance in the appointment of clerks of petty sessions. In one respect he was for extending the patronage of the magistrates. He would give them the nomination of the clerk of the peace, which was now vested in the lords-lieutenant. Under all them cirumstances, he thought it would be very desirable to have an inquiry into the whole subject of the office, appointment, and jurisdiction of magistrates, and only to elect a candidate recommended by the committee.


could not concur with the hon. Member (Mr. Neate) in respect to what he had said about the election of the Governor of Wakefield Gaol. The charge was that it was something like a sham election, but it was nothing of the kind. He did not intend to go into the question whether or not the appointment should be vested in the magistrates. He should confine himself to the circumstances of the election which the hon. Gentleman had brought under the notice of the House. About this time last year the former Governor felt that from ill-health he could no longer fulfil the duties of the office. Advertizements for candidates were inserted in the papers, and the visiting justices were required to examine the testimonials of the various applicants. There were more than twenty candidates, and the visiting justices reduced the number to eight in the first instance and subsequently to five. The general body of magistrates were not, however, bound to confine their selection to some one out of the five names recommended by the visiting justices, and accordingly they selected Captain Armitage by a large majority. No doubt some surprise was expressed at the course taken by the magistrates. The truth was the captain's father bad been a most useful and respected magistrate, and his family was well-known in the Riding. He himself had not voted for Captain Armitage, but he felt bound to say that the gallant captain was a most distinguished officer, that he had served in the Kaffir war (not in the Crimea), and for some time had acted as Governor over some small district. Sir Harry Smith had spoken of him in the highest terms. In addition to the experience which he had gained abroad, he had been for some time staying with the late Governor of Wakefield Gaol (Mr. Shepherd), so that his want of official experience in gaol management was, to some extent, compensated for by the knowledge which he had gained while on a visit to the late Governor. Since Captain Armitage entered on his new office there was but one opinion as to the remarkable ability with which he had performed his duties. He did not think it was necessary for him to say one word with regard to the conduct of the magistrates in making the selection they had made. Had they done wrong in that respect, the Home Secretary could have corrected them. [Sir GEORGE GREY: No!] He found he was under a misapprehension in that respect; but results showed that the selection the magistrates had made was a remarkably good one.


said, the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Neate) seemed to think that the executive Government only could make proper appointments, but he thought that matters might not be made much better by taking from the magistrates the patronage they now exercised and transferring it to that authority. If it were given to a Lord Chancellor, he might appoint his own son, for they had seen by a recent example what could be done in that way. If it were given to an Archbishop, even he might appoint one of his own family. He had not voted for Captain Armitage, the successful candidate; but, having made inquiries on the subject, he was bound to say that the gallant officer had given great satisfaction at Wakefield by the efficient manner in which he had discharged his duty since his appointment.