HC Deb 13 July 1876 vol 230 cc1421-5

in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for amending the Law relating to Prisons in Scotland, said: The prisons in Scotland are at present administered under the Prisons (Scotland) Administration Act, 1860 (23 & 24 Vict. c. 105.) They are divided into two classes, the first consisting of the general prison at Perth, and the second of the local prisons throughout the country. The general prison at Perth is administered by the prison managers for Scotland, four in number—namely, the Sheriff of Perthshire, the Crown Agent for Scotland, the Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, appointed under 5 & 6 Will. IV. c. 38, and the manager and secretary. The prison is administered under rules made by the Secretary of State, in terms of the Act of 1860. The Act itself also contains few detailed provisions on the subject. The Perth prison consists of a prison proper, or penal department, and an establishment for the criminal lunatics of Scotland, or lunatic department. The penal department is constituted for the reception of (1) prisoners sentenced to nine months' imprisonment and upwards, and (2) convicts under sentence of transportation or of penal servitude. Male convicts under sentence of penal servitude are at present detained in this prison only for the period of probation—nine months—unless on the occasion of an unexpected pressure upon the accommodation available in the convict prisons in England. The buildings of the general prison were originally erected in the beginning of the present century as a depôt for French prisoners. Large additions have been made to them from time to time, and a hospital is in course of erection. The number of cells is 743 in the penal department, and 58 in the lunatic department; but as that does not afford sufficient accommodation for all the prisoners appropriate for the general prison, the managers have contracted with the County Board of Ayrshire for the maintenance in the prison of Ayr of a certain number of female convicts during their period of probation—namely, 12 months—and with the County Board of Renfrewshire for the maintenance in the prison of Paisley of a certain number of male convicts during their period of probation. The net annual cost per prisoner in 1875, after the deduction of the profits of prisoners' labour was £20 11s. 5d.; the average cost for the five years 1871–5 was £20 12s. In 1874 the prisoners' net earnings amounted to £3 6s., and in 1875 to £5 12s. 2d. per head, the variation in other years being equally great; but the average of the five years 1871–5 was £3 13s. 1d. Then as to the local prisons, they are administered by the County Boards elected annually in certain proportions set forth in the schedule to the Act of 1860 by the Commissioners of Supply of each county, and the magistrates of the larger towns within it. The County Boards are bound to provide sufficient accommodation for the prisoners within the district, and if they fail to do so the obligation may be enforced in a Court of Law. They are also bound to appoint and pay the necessary staff of prison officers, and to provide for the maintenance and removal of the prisoners under their jurisdiction. The prison officers hold their appointments at the pleasure of the Board, but the Secretary of State has also the power of dismissing any of them. The Secretary of State may order the discontinuance of any local prison, or may limit its use to certain classes of prisoners, the others being provided for elsewhere by the Board. No new prisons can be opened without his consent. The details of prison management are regulated by rules made by the Secretary of State in pursuance of the Act of 1860. These rules are binding on the County Boards, and their observance is the condition on which the grant of the Government is made towards the cost of maintenance of convicted prisoners. Certain latitude has hitherto been allowed in enforcing new rules, and at present several of the rules have been suspended by the County Boards subject to the deter- mination of the Secretary of State. Pending early legislation, the Secretary of State has delayed disposing of the suspensions; but if legislation is postponed, they must be disposed of. The prison assessments, amounting in 1875 to £46,000, and on the average of the five years ending 1875 to £41,000, are divided between the counties and the burghs in proportion to their respective rentals, and are paid in counties wholly by the owners, and in the burghs one-half by owners and one-half by occupiers. The number of local prisons in Scotland has been gradually reduced since 1840, when, including all places of detention, it exceeded 200, and it now stands at 56, in addition to seven places at which police cells have been legalized by the Secretary of State as places in which convicted prisoners may be detained for periods not exceeding three days. In 1874 there were five prisons, of which the average daily population was less than one. Of these, one has since been closed. There were eight with an average population of one. Of these, three have since been closed. There were 36 prisons in all whose population did not exceed 10; there were 16 between 10 and 50;two between 50 and 100; and three between 100 and 200. Above 200 there were two—namely, Glasgow with 739, and Edinburgh with 323. The waste of money involved is very great, and opportunities for using prison discipline and employing the prisoners in remunerative labour proportionately small. It is probable that an entire re-arrangement of the Scotch local prisons will be necessary, and the whole prison population of Scotland, which for the five years ending 1875 was on the average only 2,902—that is to say, 2,035 in the local prisons, 752 in the general prison at Perth, and 115 convicts in Ayr and Paisley—may be advantageously accommodated in a greatly reduced number of prisons placed at convenient points over the country. These prisons, it is obvious, will be much smaller than those contemplated for England; but the scattered nature of the population in Scotland renders this unavoidable. To obviate, as far as practicable, the inconvenience which will result from the reduction of the number of prisons, it is proposed to extend the operation of the provisions now in force for legalizing police cells as places of detention by legalizing them for prisoners before trial and even for short periods after sentence, extending perhaps up to 10 or 14 days. These police cells would continue under the charge of the local police authorities; but the cost of maintaining and removing the prisoners would be repaid by the Government. The net annual cost of a prisoner in a local prison after deduction of the profit of prisoners' labour was in 1875, £20 18s. 6d., and the average for the five years ending 1875 was £21 15s. In 1875, the prisoner's net earnings amounted to £1 16s. 11d. in the local prisons, as against £5 12s. 6d. in the general prison. The average of these earnings for the five years ending 1875 was £1 13s. 10d. in the local prisons, against £4 13s. 1d. in the general prison. The Bill which it is now proposed to introduce is on the same general lines in most respects as the English Bill; but it differs from it in this respect—that it proposes to put the general prison at Perth, and the transferred local prisons, under the management of the same persons, subject, of course, to the Secretary of State. For this purpose it proposes to re-constitute the present prison managers in the manner set forth in the Bill. The management of the existing managers has been very satisfactory, and I gladly take the opportunity of specially referring to the able services of Dr. Hill Burton, the stipendiary manager. The Bill contains ample provisions for the transference of the local prisons, for their subsequent maintenance by the Government, for the continuance of the present prison officials, and the adjustment between the Government on the one hand, and the counties and burghs now represented on the Local Prison Boards on the other, of all questions as to obligations and assets of the local prisons. As by far the greater number of the clauses in the Act of 1860 and the various amending Acts are repealed by this measure, it has been thought the better course to repeal those Acts altogether, and to re-enact in the present Bill such of their clauses as it is desirable to keep in force. This renders the Scotch Bill somewhat longer than the English Bill. But it will be productive of very great convenience to all connected with prison management and discipline in Scotland. I beg to move for leave to introduce the Bill.

Motion agreed to.

Bill for amending the Law relating to Prisons in Scotland, ordered to be brought in by The Lord Advocate and Mr. Secretary Cross.