HC Deb 09 August 1867 vol 189 cc1217-9

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, If the prisoners in the Government Prisons under sentence of penal servitude for political offences have the right of making complaints through memorials, and if it be the duty of the authorities of those prisons to forward these memorials to the Home Office; if any such memorials have been made by such prisoners, and forwarded to the Home Office, since the publication of the Commissioners during the present Session; and, whether the Government have it in contemplation to authorize or propose any difference in the mode of treating prisoners convicted of political offences from that of treating prisoners convicted of such crimes as robbery with violence, burglary, forgery, or murder?


Sir, the general course is that in the cells of prisoners in the Convict Department notice is given that they will have permission to memorialize as to any complaint which they have to make, and these memorials when made are forwarded to the Home Department. With, respect to the second Question, I have to state that no such memorials have been forwarded since the publication of the Commissioners, with one exception, to which I shall refer in answering the Question which the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Blake) is about to put to me. The Government have not in contemplation to make any change in the treatment of political offenders such as that which has been suggested. I may, I apprehend, be allowed to refer on this point to the Report of the Commissioners, which says— As convicts we found them, and thought of them, and have spoken of them throughout. Viewed in this light we are satisfied that they have been treated with exceptional kindness and forbearance. That has been so: and I believe any Gentleman who will take the trouble of reading the Report of the Commissioners upon the treason-felony convicts will see that, with the exception of some few who have been rebellious and insubordinate, the great majority are in robust health, though they have been in confinement for a long time.


said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, If he can state why John M'Afferty, now undergoing his sentence for treason-felony at Millbank, has not been permitted to sign a document necessary to enable his counsel to make an effort to set aside his conviction; and, whether it is the intention of Government to preclude the prisoner from having any further legal steps taken in his behalf by not allowing him to attach his name to the instrument essential for that purpose? With a view of saving the right hon. Gentleman the trouble of coming down again at the Evening Sitting, he would beg to ask him now, Whether there is any objection to produce Copies of a Petition to this House and to the House of Lords, transmitted to the Governor of Millbank Prison for the signature of John M'Afferty, a convict confined in that prison; of letter of Mr. John Lawless, his solicitor, to the Governor, accompanying said Petition; and of any Correspondence between Mr. Lawless and the Home Office in reference to the same?


Sir, the hon. Member is mistaken as to what took place. There has never been any impediment to John M'Afferty signing any document with reference to his legal position. It is necessary that there should be an application to the Attorney General for leave to bring a Suit of Error; that is a matter entirely for his decision, and he thought there was no case for it, and declined to assent to the application. But the question which arose was whether John M'Afferty should be entitled to sign a Petition to this House and the House of Lords. Whenever petitions are sent to prisoners from persons outside the walls they are always forwarded for approval to the Home Department; but when they are made up by the prisoners themselves within the walls they came at once from them as memorials or petitions. In this case the Petition coming from without the walls was sent to the Home Office, and referred, as a matter of course, to the Irish Department; as soon as it was returned to me, I gave the authority required to John M'Afferty to sign the Petition to the Houses of Parliament. With reference to the Correspondence asked for, it contains nothing beyond the letters forwarding the Petition to the Home Office, and that conveying the Answer which I have now given to the hon. Member.