HC Deb 25 February 1869 vol 194 cc313-4

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether, since his Letter to the Mayor of Salisbury, in which he informed him that he had advised delay in the removal of the prisoners from the Salisbury Gaol until after the Report of the Judicature Commission had been issued, he had seen reason to alter his opinion, and upon what grounds?


said, in reply, that the magistrates of Wiltshire, who were the prison authorities, having come to the conclusion that one prison was sufficient for the requirements of the county, took steps to close Salisbury Gaol either wholly or partially, and to commit prisoners in future to that at Devizes. The Act of 186t5, no doubt, empowered them to order commitments of any particular class of prisoners to be confined to that prison only, but a doubt arose as to whether they had power under the Act to remove those who were actually undergoing sentence in the prison it was proposed to abandon. They therefore applied to the Home Office, under the 65th section of the Act, for an Order under which such prisoners might be removed. But before that application had been made, a memorial had been presented against the abolition of Salisbury Gaol, and subsequently he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had received a deputation which opposed the granting of such Order of removal upon three grounds:—First, that a mandamus was about to be applied for, to compel the prison authorities to put Salisbury Gaol into proper repair; secondly, that it was understood that the Report of the Judicature Commission, which was shortly expected, would recommend Salisbury as the assize town for three counties, and that in such case the prison authorities would probably be ready to spend money upon it; and, thirdly, that in consequence of this expectation, the October Quarter Sessions had resolved, by a majority, to suspend further proceedings in the matter until the Report of the Judicature Commission had been published. Upon that the Home Secretary wrote a letter to the authorities of Wiltshire suggesting that the litigation and expense might be avoided if the Order for removal were deferred until the Judicature Commission should issue their Report. In answer to this letter a very influential deputation of Wiltshire magistrates waited upon the Home Secretary, and stated that a large sum of money had been already expended on the gaol at Devizes, which had been duly certified in all respects as fit for occupation; they showed that the action of the prison authorities had been consistent and uniform, pointing to the establishment of one gaol and the abolition of another; they showed that the resolution of October last had been carried by what is usually called a "snap division," and that the proposal to ask for an Order of removal had been carried by a much larger majority in a larger court at the last Session; and they urged that very great inconvenience would be occasioned if the said Order for removal were not put in force. They gave an assurance, moreover, that whatever the Report of the Judicature Commission might be they would not be inclined to expend money on the Prison of Salisbury. The Secretary of State, therefore, felt that, as litigation and expense would evidently not be avoided by the further suspension of the Order of removal, and as the Act of Parliament intended that the local prison authorities should regulate their own affairs, it would hardly be right for him to take upon himself the responsibility of over-ruling their decision. He had given no opinion on the merits of the question, but simply carried out the decision at which the prison authorities had arrived.