MR. ASSHETON CROSS
, in rising to move for leave to bring in a Bill for amending the Law relating to Prisons, said: In a paragraph of Her Majesty's most gracious Speech it was intimated that a measure would be introduced into Parliament, in the first place, for promoting economy and efficiency in the management of Prisons; and secondly, at the same time for effecting the relief of local burdens. I therefore now rise to lay before the House the measure we have to propose in regard to England. Of course, some analogous measures will follow in due time, both with regard to Ireland and to Scotland, which will be brought in respectively by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland and by the Lord Advocate. I shall confine my observations to-night entirely to the case of England. The subject resolves itself into two questions; first, the condition of our prisons, and, secondly, the expense of their management. Both of 1537 these matters have been brought before my notice not only as a Member of Parliament, but as a magistrate of some standing. They were specially brought before my notice in 1874 by a deputation which waited on me at the Home Office from the Social Science Association. That deputation pointed out that, although the Act of 1865, which has done so much to improve not only the discipline of our prisons, but their entire management, has worked very well—and in its main features we do not propose to interfere with it, subject to certain exceptions—still there was a great want of uniformity of discipline in the prisons throughout the country, a great want of efficiency in many of those prisons, and a great amount of unnecessary expense, owing to the excessive number of our prisons. Further, that there was a great mistake made in having regard too much to penal labour as opposed to industrial labour; and perhaps the result of that may be traced and may be seen very visibly, not only financially, but also morally, as far as our prisons were concerned. Therefore, this matter demands our attention with the view to two objects—first, to secure more uniformity of discipline in prisons, and secondly, if possible, to reduce expenditure on their management. The subject was brought forward in a different shape in 1872 by my hon. Friend the Member for South Devon(Sir Massey Lopes) when the celebrated Resolution upon Local Taxation was passed by the House. And one of the main points that was insisted upon by my hon. Friend at that time was the fact that all the expenditure incurred for prisons, and which amounted, as he gave it, on an average of the previous four years, to £590,000 a-year, less, of course, the sum which must be deducted as being the grant from the Treasury—namely, about £99,000 per annum, was fairly an Imperial and not a local charge—that is to say, that our prisons and our whole system of gaol discipline were kept up for the safety not only of real property, but of personal property, which did not pay its share, and not for the safety of property simply, but for the protection of life. The great aim of my hon. Friend's speech was to show that many charges were Imperial charges and not local ones merely, as they had been hitherto regarded. Now, both of those considerations must be 1538 borne in mind when we come to deal with the question of prisons. I have certainly no wish to squander public money in any way that is not useful, neither would I ask the House to consent to give any money from Imperial funds except for Imperial purposes. I do not think that money ought to be granted from the Imperial Exchequer, unless there be good reason for granting it, and unless it can be shown that not only will it improve the discipline in our gaols, and also reduce the expenditure upon them generally, but likewise that some substantial advantage will accrue to the country from the Imperial Exchequer giving greater aid than it now gives. Now, what is our system of gaols in England at present? We have 116 county and borough gaols. That gives one gaol to an average of 22 square miles, and one to about every 200,000 of the population. The average cost, I think, this year or in some previous year, for all the gaols, is about £27 2s. per head for the prisoners. The greatest number of prisoners in gaol in England at one time was 52,500, while the daily average number in gaol was 18,500. But when you come to look at the question of gaol accommodation you will find it very unequally distributed throughout England. I will take, in the first place, the distribution and proportion of prisons that exist to the population. I find that in Rutlandshire there is one gaol to 20,000 inhabitants. In Lincolnshire there are seven gaols, or one for every 48,000. In Worcestershire there is one gaol for 338,000. In Lancashire there are six gaols, or one for469,000. In Middlesex there are five gaols, or one for 507,000. In Surrey there are two gaols, or one for 445,000. In Stafford there is one for 858,000. But the distribution does not quite stop there, because I find that in some places the proportion is different. In Leicester there are two gaols, one for the borough and one for the county. The county gaol is for 174,000 inhabitants, the borough gaol for 95,000. There is sufficient room in the county gaol for the whole of the prisoners, so that there is a great waste in respect of the gaols in Leicestershire. In Northampton the county gaol is for 199,000, and in the borough for 5,000. Therefore, all the borough prisoners could be accommodated in the county gaol. In Lincoln there are not less than three prisons— 1539 one for the county, one for the city, and one for the parts of Lindsey; but the county gaol at Lincoln is capable of accommodating all the persons in the other two prisons. If we look at the distribution of the gaols you will find a very great difference in the way they are accommodated according to the population and the number of prisoners in those gaols. Take another test as to whether the gaols are well distributed or not at the present moment. Take the average daily population of prisons; there are only 12 which have an average population of more than 400. On the other hand, there are 12 which have an average population of 12 or under 12, and there are about 49 of the small prisons whose daily average varies from 49 to 2. We find that some of the prisons are very large. In Coldbath Fields there is room for 1,674; in Liverpool for 1,016; in Wakefield for 1,253; whereas in Rutland the average proportion is 5, and in Tiverton 2. Therefore, when we have to consider this matter and compare the large gaols with the small ones, it is evident that there must be a great waste about our gaols. In 40 gaols there is a daily average of 15,000 persons. As you might expect in this state of things, the expense of the prisoners in the different gaols must vary very much, and it could not be expected to be otherwise. Take some of the larger of these 40 gaols and the average number of prisoners, the expense of each in Stafford is £22 19s. 8d.; in Manchester, £17 1s. 5d.; in Salford, £15 1s. 1d.; whereas, in the smaller prisons—as, for instance, in Tiverton—the cost per head is £104 11s. 7d., in Lincoln it is £114 11s. 7d., and in Oakham it is £150 4s. 2d. You have not to go very far before you find the reasons for these heavy charges. You have, first of all, a staff of officers for the small prisons which must be more expensive in proportion to the population than those for the large prisons. I find that in Tiverton there are five officers for the daily average of less than two prisoners; in Lincoln there are nine officers for a daily average of 11 prisoners; in Oakham there are six officers for a daily average of five prisoners. That is to say, in 30 small prisons there is one officer to every two prisoners, and in the large prisons there is one officer to every nine prisoners, and in the Lancashire gaols there is one officer to every 12 prisoners. 1540 The result of this difference in the proportion of the staff to the number of prisoners is that there is a corresponding difference in the amount of the cost of each prisoner. Another reason why the expenses are so great in some gaols is that in the smaller gaols it is necessary to keep a larger staff to provide for the fluctuations in the number of prisoners than is required in the larger gaols. It is also quite clear that the smaller prisons cannot command the services of such an efficient staff as the larger gaols, and it is also self-evident that from want of occupation the staff of the former must occasionally be subject to deterioration. I think that I have, at all events, shown the House that there is room for improvement, and that if we are to make any grants of money, we must expect to see a better prison system established. But there is another matter as important—that which regards the discipline of the gaols. Every one knows that the Gaols Act of 1865 was most carefully drawn, and that its provisions were very carefully considered, and that it has worked well in every way. But there is no doubt that the subject of discipline is a difficult one. There is a conflicting jurisdiction given to the Secretary of State as opposed to the Justices. In some instances the Justices have too many restrictions imposed upon them, and in some cases the Secretary of State does not possess sufficient power. It is, however, difficult to draw the exact line. There is a very great difference in regard to the sentences on prisoners. When a man is sentenced to 12 months' hard labour the Judge supposes that he will receive the same treatment as other prisoners. But the contrary is the case, for what is hard labour in one gaol will be found easy for the prisoner in another. So far as regards the tread-wheel, the ascent at Carlisle is 14,000 feet per day. At Edinburgh it is only 9,600 feet. At Derby it is not more than 7,500 feet. In some prisons the hard labour is three hours per day. In others I find it to be 10 hours. In the case of stone-breaking in some gaols, a prisoner has to break 10 cwt. daily, whilst in others he has to break 20 cwt., whilst in other gaols there is no particular fixed quantity. In some prisons a prisoner is allowed an interest in work, whilst in others he is allowed nothing of the kind. Then, with respect to another kind of 1541 work—the crank—there is a great difference in the way in which the prisoners are treated. In 36 gaols they are employed in this manner, and in 75 they are not employed at all, in some cases only for a few days, and in others for a few months. The result is that anyone who examines into the subject will find that what is called hard labour is not uniformly carried out in our gaols. Then again in the matter of diet there are great differences. It is true the dietaries are sent to the Secretary of State, and they are drawn up by the Visiting Justices, guided it may be by the supervision of the medical officer; but anyone who goes through these dietary tables will find great differences which have escaped the notice of the Secretary of State. Then in the case of discipline; in some cases there is entire separation; the men work in masks, and no speaking at all is allowed; in some the labour is done in association; in some there is imperfect separation. There are just the same differences in education, punishment, and supervision. I do not for a moment contend that all gaols should be carried on according to one stereotyped pattern; but I think there should be a greater approach to uniformity in our gaol management throughout the country. On the whole, it is pretty clear that the public pay more for their gaols than they ought to do; and it is equally evident that they do not get the best article for their money. But the great difficulty of dealing with this question arises from the fact that these prisons are maintained mainly out of the local rates raised under local jurisdiction. It would be very easy for us to do what we are often asked to do—namely, to pay the Treasury allowance for convicted prisoners, which amounts to 4s. a week, for unconvicted prisoners, and to increase that allowance. Such an increase, however, would in no way increase the efficiency of the gaols, although no doubt it would tend largely to increase the expenditure. It cannot be doubted that great waste results from the maintenance of the smaller gaols by the local authorities, and that that waste is so great that the Government would not be justified in asking Parliament to grant a further charge upon the Imperial revenue, unless they stated their intention to adopt a course which will materially improve the discipline of the gaols, and will reduce rather than in- 1542 crease the expenditure upon them. The Government have seen these great discrepancies in the numbers of the populations for which the prisons are built. They have seen that it is perfectly impossible in the present state of things to alter this, because you cannot expect one district to build with a view of accommodating its neighbours. It would be absolutely impossible, as things are now, to bring the expense of each prisoner to the same level, and it is therefore better to make considerable changes. It is proposed, therefore, that the Government itself, instead of supplementing local rates for the purposes of prisons, shall take the whole expenses of all prisoners from the moment they are committed, and take the management of all the gaols into their own hands. That, of course, would give the Government this power. It would enable the Government so to arrange that there would not be waste in the first instance in building prisons where they are not wanted; it will enable the Government so to arrange the prisons that they shall be adapted to the populations in which they are situated; it will enable the Government to save all the waste of staff appointments, and practically enable them to carry out a system of discipline equally in all the goals in the country. Besides that, there would be a great saving of expense, and I think I shall be able to show that by this proposal there will be saved to local jurisdictions a much larger sum than will be charged by the Government to the Treasury. The first item in which saving would be effected is the closing of unnecessary prisons. This was done to a limited extent by the Gaols Act of 1865; but the Secretary of State had no power under that Act to order them to be closed. If the measure which I am now explaining to the House is passed, we shall be able to close over 50 of the 116 prisons now in existence, the remainder being quite ample for the reception of the prisoners we have lately been in the habit of having in gaol, or we are likely to have for some time to come. This would effect a great saving of money in many ways, and, among others, in reference to the staff of officers it will be necessary to maintain. We have considered the question very carefully, and we do not think that the abolition of the prisons to which I have alluded will 1543 materially increase the cost of conveying prisoners from the places at which they are committed to the prisons in which they will have to serve their sentences. The next item on which a saving would be effected is the earnings of the prisoners. I find that in one prison the earnings of prisoners are close upon £10 per head per year; in another the sum is a little over £6; in a third the average earnings amount only to 6s. 9¾d. per head per annum; whereas in the Convict Prison at Pentonville each prisoner earns, apart from the labour on buildings, which would materially increase the amount earned, on an average £9 a-year. We have no reason to doubt that if all these prisoners were under the same discipline and properly grouped together the amount of money they earn would not be as large as is now earned in the best managed convict prisons, and we believe also that it would go on continuously increasing. Again, it is quite obvious in the small prisons they cannot afford to pay for instructors to teach the prisoners. The third item of saving which will arise from doing away with 50 prisons will be considerable—that is to say, in the cost of repairs. The result of all this, if the House sanctions the scheme, will be that we shall not make any serious inroad on the Imperial Exchequer, and we shall save very much more to the local jurisdictions than the present charge. The total average cost for 1872, 1873, 1874, and 1875 of the county and borough prisons is £592,390; and deducting from that the interest on the loans obtained for building prisons—namely, £42,472—it will leave the actual cost of the prisons at £549,918. Now, the funds that have hitherto been made have run as follows:—The profits upon prison labour amount to £50,312, and some small contingent receipts, in round numbers £8,000. From the rates there have been paid £392,000; from the public revenue £99,100. We propose that the gaols shall be handed over to the Government, and it will be carried out in this way. We have no doubt that by closing superfluous prisons we should be able to effect a saving at once of £50,000 or £60,000. We have no doubt also that there will be an increase in the value of labour of £50,000. This, therefore, would only leave a charge upon the public revenue of £385,000. Taking the small contingent receipts into 1544 account, this will be somewhat increased, so that practically there would be a saving from local rates of £392,000, and only an additional charge upon the public revenue of £285,000. In doing this, therefore, we should, in round numbers, save to the local jurisdictions something like £100,000 more than the expenditure which we propose. I think that this alone would be a satisfactory result, taking into consideration the improvement which will, no doubt, be brought into existence in discipline and good management, and also in the good conduct of the prisons and of the prisoners themselves, for we should go much more into the question of industrial as against penal labour, and this would practically be a great matter, and would, we believe, tend very much to the diminution of crime. Of course, two or three questions will be asked, and I would very shortly state the provisions of the Bill that have been framed to carry out our scheme. We propose that this Act shall come into operation at the commencement of the next financial year. It will be quite impossible that in undertaking this scheme you should take immediately all these things over. You must have a certain number of months for carrying out your scheme of reduction, therefore we do not propose to take the matter into our own hands until the end of March, 1877; but from that day all the expenses incurred on prisons and for the prisoners therein will be defrayed out of monies to be provided by Parliament. As to local jurisdictions, from the time of a man going to prison as a committed prisoner they will practically cease. Of course, we have no notion of buying the gaols, for if we did that we should have to pay a very large sum of money; and therefore we say that the prisons and the furniture and effects belonging thereto shall be handed over to the Secretary of State for the purpose of keeping prisoners there. Although I say that they are to be handed over to the Secretary of State, and he shall act in reference to the appointment of all officers, and shall have the control and custody of the prisoners and all the power of the Quarter Sessions and the Visiting Justices shall be primarily vested in the Secretary of State, I do not mean to propose that the Secretary of State should administer a matter of this kind. I propose—following the recom- 1545 mendation of the Commission that sat a long time ago—that there shall be established Prison Boards, which shall practically carry out all the details of this question. I propose that there should be Prison Boards composed of a certain small number of members for this purpose, and to be called Prison Commissioners, and that they should have the general superintendence of prisons under this Bill vested in them, but subject to the control of the Secretary of State. One question to be considered will be the appointment of officers, for the question of patronage will, no doubt, be considered. As Secretary of State I have no wish to have the slightest amount of patronage more than I can help, for nothing more encumbers a Minister or gives him more trouble and anxiety; but I propose that the appointment of the superior officers should be in the Secretary of State, of course taking the opinion of the Visiting Boards, but all the rest of the subordinate officers shall not be appointed by the Secretary of State, but by the Prison Commissioners themselves. This will take a vast amount of patronage from the Secretary of State, and the Boards would administer it more satisfactorily than he could. One advantage of this will be that, by being all together, there will be a much greater flow of promotion in the service, and a much greater inducement to officers to work well than there is at present, and practically you will get a much better staff of officers than you have had down to the present. I do not, however, find any fault with the existing officers, who I think are exceedingly satisfactory. But there is another question which hon. Members will be asking—What are you going to do with your Prison Inspectors? It is quite clear that there must be Inspectors. You cannot well work even 50 gaols from London without some one to visit them. We propose not to keep up the Prison Inspectors as at present, but to give the Prison Commissioners certain assistants, who will visit periodically the gaols, reporting to the head quarters in London. There is also one valuable body that I should be very sorry to lose, I mean the Visiting Justices. It is absolutely necessary when dealing with prisons of this kind that there should be that supervision and constant visiting that you cannot get except from the Visiting 1546 Justices. You must have an army of Inspectors without this; and although the whole control of the prisons and officers will be in the Prison Commissioners, or Assistant Commissioners, yet I do propose that in the counties and boroughs there should be, though in a somewhat different way, appointed by Quarter Sessions, Visiting Justices, as heretofore. I propose that this committee should not have the same extended powers of actually ruling the prisons as at the present moment; but the Prison Commissioners should visit from time to time any prison and report upon it. It is also quite necessary that prisons should be under the constant action of the visiting Justices, so that the public should be satisfied that the prisoners were properly taken care of, and that there should be an independent body of Justices, who would inform the Secretary of State if there was anything wrong. There is another point, and that is about the prisoners themselves. The House must know very well that counties are divided for prison purposes, that there are for this purpose boroughs, cities, and divisions of counties, and in every such case the Prison Board is bound to provide by the Act a prison. Most counties have built their prisons; but many places not having prisoners enough to build a prison for, have very properly not thought of building a prison, but have put their prisoners out in some neighbouring jurisdiction, paying a certain sum, not merely for their board, but also for the accommodation they have in the prisons. We propose that this Bill shall not come into operation until the end of the financial year, and we shall have time to see how this work is performed. We should then say to these places that if it could be shown that they had provided accommodation fit for the daily average of prisoners for the last five years, when they had done all that the law required of them, that the Government should take possession of the gaols. Those places which have not provided this accommodation, but have put out their prisoners into other jurisdictions, we should say this to them—We would take the daily average of prisoners for the last five years and that they should pay the equivalent of the cell accommodation that they would require. I would, however, also say that we should not propose that they should 1547 pay in cash, but that we should be perfectly ready to lend them money from the Public Works Loan Commissioners and that they should pay interest upon it at a certain rate. There are, of course, some jurisdictions which have provided prisons, and some which have not. Yet the latter have practically done so by contributing to the prisons of their neighbours. Where that course has been followed we propose to take that into consideration. When the prisons are discontinued we shall, of course, be perfectly ready to let the jurisdictions have their prisons back again under specified conditions. Or if it be preferred, we shall sell the prisons for them, and any surplus that may be received we shall hand over to the jurisdictions. I do not think I need trouble the House further with the provisions of this Bill. All I can say is that I believe if it is carried out we shall do exactly what was stated in the Queen's Speech—namely, produce a measure which will undoubtedly "promote economy and efficiency in the management of Prisons, besides being a measure which will largely relieve local burdens."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for amending the Law relating to Prisons."—(Mr. Assheton Cross.)
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, that, in so far as the Bill would secure greater uniformity in the management of prisons, and would enable them to shut up many costly and practically useless gaols, he thought it was a good measure. He was delighted to think that the Government were inclining more towards industrial than towards penal labour. He admitted that there would be a difficulty in shutting up these prisons and grouping them unless the Government took the matter up. The localities would not easily agree to a proposal for grouping the small prisons, and he really believed they would make a harder fight before giving up their gaols than in parting with one of their Representatives. The right hon. Gentleman had certainly bid high for the surrender; but he must enter his protest against the way in which he was dealing with this question of local government. He did not intend that the taxpayer should not be called in to the relief of the rate- 1548 payer. That must be the case; but when he was so called in he was entitled to make conditions that the relief given should be accompanied by such reforms that he should not be called upon for further contributions. He against rendering all these gifts from the Imperial Exchequer without insisting on those reforms which could be made palatable and possible by means of those gifts only. The right hon. Gentleman was proceeding in a very dangerous course in thus touching the question of local government here and there, and fragmentarily, instead of dealing with it in a statesmanlike and comprehensive manner. The Government gave largely out of the Exchequer last year, but had there been an equal corresponding diminution of the rates? He was afraid that an attempt was to be made to pass a Highways Bill without even that Valuation Bill which had a little modicum of reform in it, and without which it would only intensify the inequality between one Union and the other. He trusted that if the House surrendered the public money in proposals of this kind, it would insist on some useful reforms as part of the consideration.
§ MR. PELL
said, he agreed with a good deal that had fallen from the hon. Gentleman, but he had omitted to apply his remarks to the Bill. The Home Secretary had clearly shown the enormous waste in prison management and the inequality and want of uniformity in the treatment of prisoners. The scheme of the Government would, he thought, effect an enormous saving of expenditure on local funds by means of a comparatively small contribution from the Imperial funds. He had himself reckoned up from 55 to 60 small prisons that might be disposed of, and which had only 1,600 prisoners among them, although they had a staff of 487 officers. This gave an average of three officers for 10 prisoners, a number for which in larger prisons one officer would be sufficient. The reduction in the number of prisons proposed by the Government would leave an adequate proportion of prisons to the population. In some prisons the prisoners were maintained for 1s. a-day, and their earnings still further reduced their cost from £16 to £10 a-year; but at Lincoln the cost was 6s. 3d. a-day and there were no earnings 1549 at all. No Government could rightly permit this state of things to continue without making an effort to change it, and if it involved any charge upon the Exchequer it was for purely national purposes. There could be no valid objection to the principle of the Government assuming the cost of maintaining prisons. So far as he understood the proposal of the Home Secretary, it appeared to be good, proper, and timely.
§ MR. WHALLEY
complained that the Home Office did not co-operate with the Justices in matters of this kind, and hoped the House would not be deluded by statements such as those made by the Home Secretary, for the design seemed to be to carry out further the system of centralization. The practical effect of centralization had been to disqualify the local bodies from managing their own affairs, and the right hon. Gentleman was now seeking to carry the system further. He never heard such a weak and inefficient case put forward for centralizing the management of matters which were now regulated by the magistrates, and of all business taken in hand by the Government there was none that, according to his experience, they administered so unsatisfactorily as that relating to prisons, so that there was the greatest danger in the transfer of authority which had been proposed that evening. The perversion of central government, in some cases, where the management of prisons was under the control of the Roman Catholic party was notorious. The Home Secretary had exercised most unwarrantable strictness in respect to a certain remarkable case, and he could only attribute that to special influences brought to bear upon the right hon. Gentleman outside the House. In the three counties in which he took part in the management of prisons he had heard of no complaint which could not be remedied by local action.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
remarked, in answer to an observation made by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) that the proposal of the Government was to relieve certain rate papers from the exceptionally unjust contribution they had hitherto been required to make. There was no reason why owners of real property should be required to contribute more than other classes to the maintenance of prisons.
§ MR. DODSON
said, the financial proposals of the right hon. Gentleman offered what was per se a distinct advantage; but the price they would have to pay for it was centralization; and, without committing himself now to a final criticism upon the scheme, he must say that he should have liked to see relief given to local rates by some measure which, instead of weakening, would have strengthened and extended local self-government. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman would not only weaken, local self-government, but would actually lead to the suppression of a branch of it that was by no means an unimportant one. It was true that the Visiting Justices would be retained, but a great deal of their present power would be taken from them and they would be in reality unpaid Inspectors. He would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman when he had reduced the number of prisons from 116 to 66, what he was going to do with the surplus staff of those prisons—governors, gaolers, chaplains and other officers. Were they all to be absorbed under the now system, or were they to be pensioned off; and, if so, at whose cost? A great fear was that the maximum of the existing salaries would become the minimum of the future salaries, when the officials now employed by the different local authorities were taken into the service of the Government. He foresaw that the right hon. Gentleman would find it more difficult than he supposed to reduce the number of prisons to 66, because considerable pressure would be brought to bear upon him on all sides to induce him to maintain existing prisons. He gave the right hon. Gentleman credit for having made his calculations with the greatest care and skilfulness; but recollecting what had been the result of the Government undertaking heavy responsibilities of this nature in the past, bearing in mind particularly what had happened in the case of the Telegraphs, he doubted whether, without the exercise of the greatest caution, the experiment would prove a financial success. He hoped the suggestions he had thrown out would be carefully considered by the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill before the House was asked to proceed further.
said, he thought there was point in the observations which the 1551 right hon. Gentleman opposite had made in reference to the question of compensating officials in existing prisons whose services would be no longer required if the Bill which had been described by the Secretary of State for the Home Department became law. In his speech, the right hon. Gentleman had only given a slight sketch of the Prisons Commission which was to have the management of the prisons after they had passed into the hands of the Government. It would be satisfactory to know whether the members of the Commission were to be paid for their services, and, if so, where the money was to come from. On the whole, he was much pleased with the statement which the right hon. Gentleman had made, in that it was a redemption of promises contained in the Speech from the Throne with which the Session commenced, and was, moreover, a continuation of the policy which in the past had worked well. Nothing was more thoroughly national than the making of provisions for the security of life and property; and, if one branch of the public was more interested than another in a measure of the kind, it was that branch which owned personal as distinguished from real property. It must be clear that if the Commission to be appointed did their work as well as the local authorities who at the present time had charge of the administration of prisons, the whole cost must be much less than if the existing number of prisons was maintained. This was undoubtedly a very bold measure, especially when they considered that it was brought in on the 1st of June. He did not know whether they could look forward to its being carried this Session. He foresaw the usual block of Business, and Heaven only knew which of the measures now before the House would be carried. He hoped the Government would not be dismayed by the denunciation of the principle of centralization which they would hear from the other side. He was quite ready to accept the centralization with all its drawbacks, when it was accompanied by a substantial pecuniary benefit. On the whole, he believed the Bill would largely improve the management of our prisons, and the Government had done well to introduce it.
§ MR. WHITWELL
thanked the Government for having introduced the Bill. 1552 It would, he believed, contribute to the better management of our prisons, and that was an object of greater importance than the mere saving of money—though, of course, if the two things could be combined, so much the better.
said, there was no doubt that the principle and details of the Bill carried centralization still further than it had been. The question was whether it was a good or bad direction. As far as he understood the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, though it might be exceptional in some respects, it was a step in the right direction. They could not have an Imperial grant without at the same time submitting to Imperial interference. He did not approve of the management of the prisons as proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, as he had a strong objection to the administration of public affairs by Commissioners.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
considered it would be unfair to take the second reading of this Bill before the Irish Bill was in print. In fact, unless the Irish Bill were printed in time the Irish Members would be voting in the dark.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he did not object to the measure on the ground of centralization, or because of the transfer of the cost from the local to the general taxpayer; but he did regret that the Government did not undertake to reform the whole system of local self-government, especially as the present Administration was, from its experience in such matters, peculiarly qualified to deal with it. Every day's delay would create a greater chaos, and render the work a more difficult one.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not gone further, and taken the matter entirely out of the hands of the Visiting Justices, who, under the Bill, would be reduced to the position of mere Inspectors. They had a precedent for it in the case of the convict prisons, which were entirely administered by the central Government. He entirely approved of the principle of the Bill.
§ MR. EARP
said, he thought it scarcely fair, Session after Session, to transfer the local charges to the Imperial Treasury. To that portion of the Home Secretary's scheme which dealt with prison reform he did not think there could be any objection; but the other portion, which 1553 dealt with financial re-adjustment, would be unpalatable to the country.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
, in reply, expressed his conviction that when hon. Gentlemen came to consider the Bill they would find all the objections urged against the measure entirely vanish. As to the question of centralization, even now the local justices had very little power in the management of prisons. If a prisoner were sentenced in Liverpool, it did not at all follow that he should serve out his sentence in Liverpool Gaol. He might, according to the circumstances of his case, be sent elsewhere, but be brought back and discharged there at the expiration of his sentence. The Government proposed that when the Bill became law the prison officers should come under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State. Any officer whose office would have to be abolished would, of course, be pensioned, very much in the same way as those officers were pensioned who belonged to the prisons that were discontinued by the Act of 1865. Practically, however, few of them except those who were aged would be deprived of their employment. The new prisons which might be required would be built with Government funds, but with prison labour. The Prison Commissioners would be in direct communication with the Home Secretary; their number should not exceed five, and he would be responsible for them. He did not propose to take the second reading of the Bill until the 22nd of June; and he had no doubt that before that date the analogous Bill for Ireland would be in the hands of Members.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary CROSS and Sir HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 180.]