HC Deb 09 February 1877 vol 232 cc132-42

, in rising to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to Prisons in England, said, he wished to remind the House that he introduced a Bill on that subject last Session, and after the very strong opinion which was expressed on the second reading by a majority of 200 in favour of the views of the Government on that matter, he would not take up the time of the House in explaining it again. But during the Recess he had had an opportunity of hearing what had been said about the Bill in the country, and he had thought it right to give expression in the measure itself rather more to what he had always stated had been the intentions of the Government—namely, to bring the visiting justices and the Home Secretary in more direct communication with each other. Some objection was taken last year to the appointment of what were called assistant Commissioners, and he presumed that it was imagined that those officials would ride rough-shod over the visiting justices. That was not so, as he had always stated; and he had retained the original name of "Inspectors," and had made such alterations in the Bill as would show to the visiting justices, at all events, that when they came to any conclusion on a point upon which there might be any variety of opinion, the minds of the Home Secretary and the assistant Commissioners should be exercised thereon. He had also inserted in the Bill certain words for carrying out what he had always said was the intention of the Government, that the Secretary of State should himself define what should be the duties of the visiting justices, in conjunction with himself, in the carrying on and management of prisons. Several Amendments, suggested by what had taken place last year, were well worthy of attention. For instance, a good deal was said about intermediate prisons, and the desirability of the Secretary of State having a prison for every county; and in reference to that point, he had thought it right to provide that that Minister should have one prison in each county, unless there were some special reasons why he should think it unnecessary, and those reasons he would leave the Home Secretary to lay before the House. He did not think it right to take away summarily a gaol from a county. Some question had also been raised as to whether the Home Secretary had a right to make certain rules with respect to the hard labour of prisoners for the first three months of their sentence; and, though he still believed he had the legal power, he considered it better not to strain the statute, but to put in the Bill a special provision enabling the Secretary of State, under certain conditions, to remit the rigorous rule of hard labour with regard to the first tasks, and the first months of confinement, so as to make labour more industrial than penal. He had also inserted provisions enabling him to make certain regulations with respect to the food and treatment of prisoners in custody who were confined but not convicted, and for the purpose of regulating the treatment of persons who were imprisoned, not for criminal offences, but simply under order of the justices for non-payment of money. These were the main alterations of the Bill, the Preamble remained the same, and in carrying it into effect, it was the desire and intention of the Government to co-operate cordially with the visiting justices throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


thought it would be discovered that there was not one of the Amendments of which the right hon. Gentleman had spoken which would be found in the Bill, and the whole object of the right hon. Gentleman could be effected by a mere communication from the Home Office to the visiting justices. The gigantic and almost unparalleled centralization introduced into prison management by the Bill was not called for by the voice of the country. The Return which he (Mr. Whalley) had obtained in answer to a Motion of last Session furnished the key to the right hon. Gentleman's whole position. A deliberate bribe was offered in the payment of a portion of the expenses out of the Imperial Exchequer, and the real object of the Bill was to give the Government an opportunity to appoint the prison chaplains. The right hon. Gentleman had given up the assistant Commissioners and all the other changes which were put forward on the ground of economy, but he would not surrender the right of appointing these chaplains. There were only 10 gaols in England in which Roman Catholic chaplains had been accepted, against 99 where they had been refused, which showed the beneficial action of the local authorities.


said, that although not surprised at the re-introduction of the Bill, he nevertheless regretted it, because he thought that when a large majority in that House sanctioned the second reading of the measure last Session they had then hardly sufficiently considered the extent of the constitutional changes which it would effect. They ought to be careful how, by invading the province of the local authorities in the counties and boroughs, they might be sapping the foundations of the constitutional system which had grown up in this country, and paving the way for a system of centralization that had not been attended in France with a success which would justify us in rashly adopting it. The change proposed by that Bill, as he understood it, was that the visiting justices in the administration of prisons should cease to be, as heretofore, officers appointed by the Crown, directed by law, and under the supervision of the Lord Chancellor, and should become, quoad the administration of prisons, officers of the Home Secretary and the Government of the day. He was aware that since the abolition of transportation the accommodation in our convict prisons had grown wholly inadequate, and that it might be thought more economical to turn their county gaols into convict prisons than to erect new buildings at home or abroad. That was a consideration which, no doubt, ought to have due weight; but he rejoiced that the Bill was not passed last Session, as time was thus afforded both for the country and for Parliament to awaken to a sense of the important constitutional bearings of that measure.


denied that there was any ground for apprehending any undue proportion of Roman Catholics being appointed as chaplains, and would remind the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) that a Committee had reported two or three years ago that it should be compulsory on the magistrates to appoint Roman Catholic clergymen where a certain number of Catholic prisoners were confined, and that a Bill had been introduced in the House of Lords founded on that Report and passed without challenge, and was read a second time in this House, but was at last referred to that basket where the Innocents were destroyed.


asked when the Bill would be in the hands of hon. Members?


said, he did not gather from the right hon. Gentleman's statement whether he took powers under the Bill to control prison labour. It was to the interest of the prisoners that when they left prison they should be in possession of some handicraft whereby they could have recourse to honest labour when they were discharged.


I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not made better provision for the internal regulation and management of prisons. I believe that in nearly all our prisons a vast amount of moral and physical torture is inflicted on prisoners that was never contemplated by law. A prisoner who makes any complaint never receives any redress for his grievance, although there is a pretence of a tribunal that will hear him. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that when complaints were made some time ago, with reference to the treatment of the Fenian prisoners, the Home Office for a long time was deaf, but was at length constrained by public opinion to grant an inquiry into those complaints. A Commission and Commissioners were appointed, and evidence was taken, and a Report published; but I am informed that the whole Irish people did not heed that Report, and that they still believe that the complaints were well founded. These observations are preliminary to my mention of a name which in this House, I am sorry to say, is always received with laughter, with mockery, and with scorn, but which, in the homes of hundreds of thousands of the people of this country, is never mentioned without exciting the deepest sympathy and sorrow. I have seen strong men shed tears, and women weep, even to hysterics, when they remembered—what they, at all events, considered to be—the enormities of the Tichborne Trial. I bring forward this subject, not in the interests of that unfortunate man alone, but in those of humanity; and in these interests I hope I shall" be heard. I hold in my hand the copies of letters which have been written by two gentlemen, Messrs. Onslow and Helsby, who recently visited the prisoner in Dartmoor. The treatment and condition of that unhappy gentleman must awaken the sympathies of all persons who are really Christian men. I do not care whether they be Ortonites or Tichbornites; or how strongly they may feel against him; but I ask all in the name of humanity and common Christian charity to listen to the accounts given by these gentlemen, accounts which outdo in horror anything that we read of in foreign prisons. Mr. Onslow visited Sir Roger Tichborne in November last, and he thus describes the interview— After waiting some twenty minutes in the lodge, we were beckoned to by a warder who conducted us down a yard, and told us to wait in a stone recess about three feet square, where we were speedily locked in. We observed in front of us, behind some gigantic iron bars, a similar recess, and then again another, like a wild beast's cage, into which was ushered the best abused man in England. Now, here, Sir, I beg leave to ask, of what possible use, except to inflict cruel and unnecessary torture, it could be to immure persons behind iron bars of this description? It could not be for purposes of security, for precautions to the full are taken to secure that. When I was in Dartmoor with Mr. Onslow I learned that the warders who see to the prisoners have always their guns loaded, with orders to fire and kill them if they attempt to escape. It cannot therefore be against the risk of this, that prisoners are treated in this manner; and how harrowing it must be to the feelings of their friends or relatives, their wives or mothers or sisters, to see them exhibited "like wild beasts." Mr. Onslow goes on— The warder occupied the centre compartment with watch in hand, keeping a vigilant eye on the minutes as they rapidly flew by, when he informed us time was up and we must go.' The poor prisoner expressed his pleasure at seeing us, and declared, with tears in his eyes, he had seen no one, or exchanged a single word with any one, since we last had met in May. I never saw him so utterly and completely broken-hearted with a face oh ! so aged, he looked seventy; the iron had entered into his soul. He complained most bitterly at the cruel and malignant manner lie had been treated by the authorities of the prison, and in feeble words choked with tears he implored us to convey to Dr. Kenealy his earnest desire that he should move in the House of Commons for an enquiry into the causes of the shameful treatment which he had experienced; he absolutely cried for justice, and was about to relate the cruelties he had suffered, when the warder intervened and informed him it was contrary to the rules of the prison to touch on those topics. But we saw quite enough to assure us that something dreadful had occurred that had wounded his feelings to the quick. Now, Sir, I beg respectfully to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to this matter; and I hope that in his present Bill he will provide anew for it. I hope his iron-barred dungeons will not be preserved; they can have no other object than to infuse misery into the soul of the prisoner. So, too, it appears that by the prison rules—and I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman's Bill does not contemplate any alteration of these rules—if a prisoner's father or mother visits him, he is not allowed to give to that beloved relative any account whatever of the treatment which he receives from the prison authorities. I call that a very great grievance. I call it a grievous hardship for any man's mouth to be sealed up in that way: but Ho matter what insolence or tyranny he may have been subjected to in prison, ho is absolutely forbidden to give any information to those persons who might bring it before the public, so that inquiry might be made, and the grievances, if true, be redressed. I ask the right hon. Gentleman's particular attention to what I am now going to read. If it be true, as suggested here, it is one of the greatest scandals.


I rise to Order. I wish to call attention to the fact that during the statement of the hon. Member for Stoke—a statement which I will not believe; if I did, I should deem it no satisfaction to sit in this House amongst the Gentlemen around me who are laughing at it; but it is at least worthy of attention, and is most harrowing to the minds of those men who listen to it—the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cross) has been deliberately occupying himself by speaking to the hon. Member by his side.


I understood the hon. Member to rise to a point of Order. He has not stated the point of Order.


I beg pardon. It is intended to attract the right hon. Gentleman's attention to what I think concerns the honour of this country.


Sir, I have made no complaint. I am bound, in justice to the right hon. Gentleman, to say that whenever I have called his attention, as I have already, to any particular portion of this letter, he has listened. The passage which I now read has not been suggested by the prisoner, because, as we have already seen, he was forbidden to complain; but it is the common talk at Dartmoor and the neighbeurhood, and has probably its foundation in what the prison warders have themselves said— Report says he has been subjected to the indecent inspection of his person for mere motives of curiosity to see the malformation which undoubtedly existed in Mr. Roger Tichborne; whether this report is true or not I cannot say, but we heard sufficient from the Claimant himself to show us that an immediate inquiry is necessary. Sir, I can only say that if this horrible story be true, and if the prisoner has been, indeed, subjected to this indecent treatment, that it is the incumbent duty of the right hon. Gentleman to make immediate inquiry; and if he finds it to be true, I hope he will visit it with his marked displeasure. Mr. Onslow continued— The miserable and wretched box we were forced to stand in for twenty minutes was a disgrace to a civilized country; the dungeons of Spielberg, and the strangers' room in the vaults of the convict prisons of Naples, were comfortable in comparison, and what a contrast to the kindness and civility which we have always experienced at the hands of the late governor of the gaol, Major North, who always placed his private room at our disposal on every occasion of our former visits. It was so dark in this detestable and abominable place I could scarcely see to read out the questions I had taken the precaution to write. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman must know whether or not this is a true description of those particular dungeons in Dartmoor in which prisoners are exhibited. I say that no man, no matter what crime he may have committed, ought in this England of ours, which affects to be so free, and professes to be so civilized and humane, to be shown to any of the outside world in dungeons of this description. I do not see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich in his place; but I remember how he excited the anger, the indignation, and the sympathy of the whole country when, some years ago, he published a volume describing the atrocities that were perpetrated in the Neapolitan dungeons under the late Monarchy: but I say that there is nothing in Mr. Glad-stone's volume, and nothing that the Italian lawyer, Pœrio, fled from, that was a greater disgrace to a civilized and professedly Christian country than dungeons such as those that Mr. Onslow described existing among ourselves. It might be said that Mr. Onslow was a man of sanguine temperament; and that he probably saw things under the influence of an over-heated fancy, but his statement was fully corroborated by Mr. Helsby, who accompanied him. Now, I know Mr. Helsby, and I can say that a man of more clear, calm, and collected judgment England does not possess; or one less likely to exaggerate in the least what he saw. And thus Mr. Helsby describes this painful scene— We entered the prison about 2 o'clock, Mr. Onslow giving our names to the authorities, but it seems that both the governor and deputy governor were absent. After waiting several minutes we were introduced into a sort of cage and the door closed on us; there was barely room for the three to stand abreast of each other in front of the iron bars which faced us, nearly as thick as one's wrist; then came a passage into which entered the warder by another door; beyond the warder another row of thick iron bars, and beyond that, as it were in another cage, Tichborne was shown like a wild beast in a menagerie; as he stood leaning with his arms on the stone wall that supported the iron bars, his face was illuminated from a small window on his right hand side, this being the only light in either of the compartments. I did not remove my eyes from him during the time Mr. Onslow asked and received answers to sundry questions—excepting to glance occasionally at the warder, who stood with his watch in hand during the twenty minutes this painful interview lasted—when he had finished I read a message from his wife, who denied ever having been near the prison with little Roger, or making any attempt to get permission from the authorities to do so. He was much affected when I told him that I had kissed his children for him before leaving home. Tichborne is slightly stouter than when I saw him in November last year, but he looks considerably older. I observed that his neck was much swollen, and a number of sores or ulcers round his throat—one on the right hand side appearing to be about the size of a sixpence. I have no doubt at all that he is being cruelly treated by his task-masters—and he would have told us all particulars, if he had been free to speak—but the warder prevented it, and in- formed him that it was against the rule of the prison to make any communication. He replied that he would not and did not wish to break any rules; and so confined himself to imploring and beseeching us in strong and earnest tones to ask Dr. Kenealy or some other kind friend to move the House of Commons for a Commission of Inquiry into the matter. From the nature of the various rumours current in Plymouth, coupled with the prisoner's protestations, the request is nothing but a reasonable and just one, as I am quite sure that he would not complain without good grounds. Although the enemies of this unfortunate man have placed him beyond the pale of the law, they have no right to attempt to put him beyond the pale of humanity. We besought him to have courage and to place confidence and faith in God—that we represented the feeling and sympathy of countless thousands of true-hearted Englishmen and women, who would never abandon him or his cause; he seemed to quite understand that, and expressed his gratitude, but at the same time he is of opinion that he is in his living tomb—'For you may depend upon it,' he said, that after spending so many hundreds of thousands of pounds by the Government to get me here, they never intended to let me out again.' Sir, I must ask the House whether this is not perfectly dreadful? Was it ever contemplated by the Legislature that prisoners sentenced to servitude were to be thus shown covered with sores and ulcers? If the great philanthropist of the last century, Howard, were now alive, and were to visit Dartmoor, in what burning language he would put forth the indignation of his soul at scenes like this! language that would produce such an effect, that the right hon. Gentleman, even with his powerful majority, would have to yield to, and abandon the maintenance of such an institution. With the greatest respect for the right hon. Gentleman, and confidence in his spirit of justice, which I hope is not destroyed by his being a Cabinet Minister, I put it to him, whether he will not, for the sake—for the honour of our common country, in the interests of common humanity also, do something by his Prisons Bill to prevent the possibility of recurrences of this kind. I believe, from all I have heard, that they are substantially true: and I again entreat the right hon. Gentleman to make such provision in his Bill as will effectually prevent its being in the power of bad and cruel-hearted men—for such are sometimes appointed under Governments — to render the life of a prisoner a perfect hell upon earth.


, in reply, said, he hoped the Bill would be in the hands of hon. Members to-morrow morn- ing, or on Monday at the latest. With regard to the question put by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), the whole question of prison discipline was carefully discussed in 1865, and certain rules and regulations were then laid down. He had not interfered with the Act of 1865, except to this extent—that whereas at present the very stringent terms of that Act with regard to penal labour could not be relaxed under a period of three months, he had taken power to have them relaxed after one month, if the conduct of the prisoner would warrant such relaxation. With regard to the question of industrial labour interfering with the smaller trades throughout the country, that was a question which had been for some time under his most careful consideration. He had been in communication personally with gentlemen who were well acquainted with the subject, and he hoped to be able to put the matter on a satisfactory footing—at all events, when all the gaols were in one hand—by taking care that the employment was of a sufficiently varied character and by inducing Government to adopt the judicious course of supplying its own wants, as far as possible, by means of prison labour. The making of clothing for the Metropolitan Police had been carried on in some of the prisons with great advantage, and, in connection with labour of this sort, there was the satisfaction of knowing that the prisoners engaged in it were learning a trade which they would be able easily to carry on when they were set at liberty. With regard to what the hon. Member for Stoke (Dr. Kenealy) had said as to the treatment of a particular prisoner, he could only say that no complaint of the kind had ever reached him, and that he did not think it possible such a complaint could be true. With regard to the cell accommodation in convict and county and borough prisons, ho could honestly say that the cells were kept thoroughly warm and well ventilated, and, as far as places of that kind could be, they were comfortable and provided with everything that was necessary. He rather gathered from the hon. Member that Mr. Onslow found fault, not with the cells in which the prisoners were confined, but with the places in which they were allowed to see their friends and those who visited them. Dartmoor, he (Mr. Assheton Cross) was sorry to say, was one of the prisons he had not yet personally visited, and, therefore, he was not able to say what was the fact as to the bars which had been mentioned. He would, however, remind the House that the character of the persons ordinarily confined in convict prisons was such that it was absolutely necessary to have them separated from their visitors in such a manner as to prevent the latter from passing to them tools with which they might effect their escape, or any other articles of an improper character. He would, however, make inquiry as to Dartmoor, and hoped to be able to show that there had been nothing unusual in the treatment of the prisoner mentioned by the hon. Member. The prisoner in question had undoubtedly had the advantage of every medical advice that could be given, and extra food and comforts had been more than once allowed him. He could assure the hon. Member that nothing would induce him (Mr. Assheton Cross) for one moment to allow that particular prisoner, or any prisoner, to be treated in any harsh manner, or in any manner different from that in which other prisoners were treated; and if he found the rules of the prison had been disregarded in that respect the offenders should be visited with his severe displeasure. He would also remind the hon. Member that the visiting justices who would go round to the gaols from time to time would have the fullest opportunity of hearing any complaints which might be made, and of setting matters right if those complaints were well founded. He deeply regretted that he differed from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) on this point. The objection of the hon. Member was similar to the one he made to the Act of 1865; but no one who compared the state of the prisons then with their condition now would find that the centralization, which undoubtedly existed under the present law, had produced any evil effect on the country. He relied most confidently upon the assistance of the local visiting justices to carry out the Bill, which ho now asked permission to introduce.

Motion agreed to. Bill to amend the Law relating to Prisons in England, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary CROSS and Sir HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON. Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 1.]