HC Deb 05 April 1877 vol 233 cc645-50

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, he did not now propose to enter upon the principle of the Bill—his object was simply to explain the course he proposed to take with regard to it. The English Bill having now gone through Committee, what he proposed to do with the present Bill was to read it the second time now, and then place it on the Paper for Committee pro formâ. It was then his intention to introduce into the Bill all the Amendments which had been made in the English Bill, in order that they might be placed as nearly as possible pari passû, any discussion that might be necessary being reserved until the House went regularly into Committee upon the Bill after it had been reprinted. He would, therefore, simply move the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Assheton Cross.)


said, the course which the right hon. Gentleman proposed would be satisfactory to the Representatives from Scotland—that was, provided the right hon. Gentleman would undertake that an opportunity would be afforded for a full discussion of the provisions of the Bill before the House went into Committee upon it.


must confess that it is rather an extraordinary mode of procedure to introduce a Bill and read it a second time, without any discussion whatever taking place upon it; but it is very much the course that has been adopted in regard to Scotch legislation for the past few years, and of which we have been always complaining. Indeed, we have been systematically told that if we are to get any legislation at all for Scotland, we must accept it without discussion. That has been the process going on every year, and for some years past we have been obliged to accept all our legislation in that way. I hope that if we assent to the second reading of the Bill to-night, it will be on the clear understanding that there is to be an opportunity for a full discussion at some future stage. The Bill requires to be discussed. There are many things in the system of prison administration in the present Bill that I do not at all like. We may feel ourselves constrained in Scotland to accept the measure as England has accepted hers; indeed, I do not think there is much more to be said in favour of the Scotch measure than that the English Bill has been accepted. We should have liked very much to have had some information as to the principal thing which it seems to mo can be offered in favour of this—namely, the amount of saving which the right hon. Gentleman expects to make by the measure. My own opinion is, that that saving is the most utter delusion ever passed off on the House. In the first instance, there would be a large increased expenditure, and I want to know what surplus the Chancellor of the Exchequer has got to pay the extra cost. Whether it is raised by local rate or Imperial taxation, the money will still have to be paid. The economy shown in the English Bill is extremely small, and I am quite satisfied that when the measure comes to be analyzed, in place of this economy it will be found that there will be a much greater expenditure under the new system than under the old. Seeing that the money has to be raised somehow, either by Imperial or local taxation, I do not think it matters three straws to the country whether it is raised by one or the other. There are many points in connection with the Bill on which I should like to say a few words, but seeing that the English Members have accepted their Bill, and that the maintenance of the English prisons is to be henceforth paid for out of the Imperial Exchequer, it follows as a matter of necessity that the Scotch prisons should be paid for in the same way. We cannot undertake to take the Scotch prison expenditure all upon ourselves, and pay a share of the English also, and therefore the adoption of the Government proposals by England renders it necessary that we should accept the same principle in Scotland. I will not take up more of the time of the House, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give a distinct undertaking that full opportunity will be afforded for discussion upon a future stage of the Bill, at a time when the Scotch Members can be present to take part in it.


said, he believed that throughout Scotland this Bill was regarded with a considerable amount of dissatisfaction. The transference to the Home Secretary of the powers and jurisdiction hitherto vested in local prison authorities was looked upon as a marked advance towards a bureaucratic, as opposed to a local system of government. In the debate on the English Prisons Bill the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department said that the prison authorities should be glad to get quit of their prisons, as they would be saved the cost of maintaining them. He (Mr. Holms) could assure the right hon. Gentleman that in that part of the country with which he was more immediately connected there was no such feeling. On the contrary, these who took an interest in this question believed that Imperial would be more costly than local management, and that consequently taxation would not be diminished, but increased. It was true that local rates would be reduced; but as those prisons must be maintained at the cost of the public, we should have increased Imperial taxation. As a similar measure for England had passed through Committee in this House, he did not intend to oppose the second reading of this Bill. He wished, however, to call the attention of lion. Members to the unsatisfactory mode of legislating for Scotland, of which the measure was a good example. It was, ho thought, most desirable that, as far as possible, the laws of England and Scotland should be assimilated, and instead of having one Act for England and another for Scotland, they should, in the words used on a recent occasion by the Home Secretary, be "rolled into one," when practicable. Now, he ventured to think that a Prisons Bill might have been passed for both countries, with such modifying and explanatory clauses added with reference to Scotland as might be found necessary. Such a course was successfully adopted in the Employers and Workmen Act of 1875; but if this course could not be followed, then it appeared to him that we should endeavour to make the two Acts precisely the same in every respect, except in so far as the difference in the laws and customs of the two countries rendered it absolutely necessary that they should be different. He found, however, that instead of this having been done, the two Bills were different in many cases in which the circumstances of the countries were precisely the same. For example, in England Commissioners were to have the management of prisons under the Home Secretary; in Scotland they were to have managers, and as they were to have the same duties to perform, why not call them by the same name? In Scotland a prison manager might, under pains and penalties, require the attendance of persons and the production of papers. He could find no such claim in the English Bill, or in the unrepealed Acts to which it referred. In England, too, an officer of a prison who had been in the service for not less than 20 years might receive a retiring allowance not exceeding two-thirds of his salary, while in Scotland, in order to become entitled to this allowance, he must serve at least 40 years. In England the Secretary of State might relax the law relating to hard labour; there was no such provision in the Scotch Bill. Again, in England the Home Secretary might from time to time repeal or alter rules with respect to the classification and treatment of debtors; there was no corresponding clause in the Bill for Scotland. On the other hand, juveniles under 14 years of age might be whipped in Scotland in accordance with regulations made by the Lord Advocate; there was no such provision in the Bill for England. When the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary introduced the English Prisons Bill, one of the strongest arguments which he used in its favour was, that it would ensure uniformity in the treatment of prisoners and the management of prisons. It was, he (Mr. Helms) confessed, difficult to see how, in the face of such a declaration, the condition of prisoners in the two countries should be different, and why offi- cers of prisons when discharged should be treated differently. He had to ask whether there was any reason why this opportunity should not be taken to assimilate the laws of the two countries? Such a course would not only be just, but he believed would give general satisfaction. In connection with this question he had received a number of letters and suggestions from parties in Scotland well qualified to give an opinion on the subject, and these suggestions had invariably been in favour of Amendments which, if carried out, would remove those differences to which he had alluded.


said, he was quite satisfied with the course which Her Majesty's Government had taken on this Bill. Throughout the discussion on the English Bill he had had it in his mind that we were at the same time discussing the Scotch Bill; and he had entertained the hope that when they came to the Scotch Bill there would be very little discussion except upon a few matters of detail. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow in the reasons he stated for introducing this change—namely, putting them on economical grounds. These were important grounds certainly, but he thought there were other grounds to be urged for the change of law—namely, the grounds of the great variety of prisons without the power of classifying them. This ground applied in a far greater degree in Scotland than it did in England, and he believed there was a strong necessity for a change. There was one point to which he desired to refer—namely, the absolute necessity that there should be some "doubling" of counties, in order to introduce some better administration than existed at present. Then, as to the mode of administration, the prisons of Scotland had hitherto under the Act been under the management of the Commissioners of Supply. This anomaly arose from the circumstance that hitherto the Commissioners of Supply were the only bodies dealing with the "grievances" of the counties; but as they were now relieved from this obligation, he submitted it would be better to assimilate the law of Scotland to that of England, and to commit the duty to the justices of the peace instead of to the Commissioners of Supply.


begged to ask whether, as there were a great many Amendments to be moved to the Bill, when the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary reprinted the Bill, would he reprint the Amendments on a separate paper?


desired to say on behalf of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that he felt it to be his object to meet as far as he could the views of the Scotch Members generally, and at the same time to assimilate as nearly as possible the Scotch law to the English law. His right hon. Friend desired not only to introduce those Amendments which had been made in the English Bill, but to consider how far other Amendments might be introduced which would apply more especially to Scotland. He had only further to say that should the Bill be read a second time now, his right hon. Friend would take care that the Committee on the Bill should be taken at such an hour as would give ample opportunity for a full discussion of its provisions.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.