HC Deb 22 February 1877 vol 232 cc871-86

Prison Commissioners.

Clause 6 (Appointment of Prison Commissioners).


said, he wished to ask for an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman. There were a great many public Departments already, and this Bill created a new one and appointed a fresh Commission. Now, there were men at present charged with the superintendence and management of the convict prisons, and it had been asked last Session why a new body of Commissioners were to be appointed to manage the prisons taken over by the Secretary of State. Although the question had been put several times, so far as he could see no answer had been given either by the Home Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why could they not be put under the same management? This measure was advocated on two grounds—to secure uniformity of discipline, and to obtain greater economy. It would tend more to both that there should be only one Board to superintend all the different prisons under the control of the Home Office than that there should be two Boards, one of which was proposed under this Bill. He trusted the Home Secretary would afford some explanation as to the reasons which induced him to have a fresh body of directors under this Bill, and to afford the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity for doing so he would move, in page 2, line 13, after the word "appoint," to insert the words "under the directors of the convict prisons."


said, he explained last Session, and would now repeat, that the directors of convict prisons had already ample work to do, as they acted not only in that capacity, but as prison justices. If the whole of the duties to be discharged under this Bill were imposed on the directors of convict prisons, it would be necessary to add largely to their numbers and to their staff of clerks. It would be better in a transfer of this kind that the prisons should be under an independent body of Commissioners, because they would stand upon a different footing. In time it might be possible to amalgamate the two administrations; but it would be unwise to do it now, because a general impression would prevail if the prisons were put under the directors of convict prisons that the prisoners were about to be treated in a different way. The transfer of the whole of the gaols would cause an enormous amount of work to be done at first; and, therefore, for two reasons—because it would disarrange the work of the convict prison directors, and because he did not want it to be thought that the treatment of the prisoners would be any more severe than at present—he could not accept the Amendment.


could not see why the management of the prisons should be transferred from an experienced body like the visiting justices and placed in the hands of a body consisting of Commissioners, who might or might not be experienced in prison management.


, while not quite satisfied with the right hon. Gentleman's argument, intimated his readiness to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On the Motion of Mr. ASSHETON CROSS, the Clause was amended by the insertion of words providing that the Commissioners should be appointed with the approval of the Secretary of State.


moved, in page 2, line 16, to leave out "five," and insert "three." The Government seemed very fond of establishing new Boards and putting on them more members than were needed to do the work, whilst, for political and other reasons, unsuitable persons were often appointed. He considered that a Chief Commissioner and two Assistant Commissioners would be sufficient to perform all the duties that would be required of them.


could not support the Amendment. If it were withdrawn he would move that three should be the minimum number of Commissioners and five the maximum number.


observed that the hon. Member for Birmingham, who was not just then in his place, had informed him that he did not intend to propose his Amendment. He did not think any alarm need be entertained in regard to the number of Commissioners to be appointed under the measure.


preferred the clause as it stood to the proposed Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 (Appointment of inspectors, officers, and servants.)


moved, in page 2, line 33, to leave out "inspectors." The present Inspectors were to be continued and others were to be appointed; it was, therefore, desirable to have some explanation as to the number of Inspectors to be appointed. The number of prisons was to be reduced by 60 or 70, and it seemed to him that there would be less work for those men to do than heretofore. Besides, Commissioners were to be appointed, who would discharge the principal duties, and to whom Inspectors would necessarily be subordinate. If there was to be a large staff of Inspectors in addition to Commissioners, no one knew the expense that would be incurred.


admitted that the question was a reasonable one. At the present moment there were three Inspectors, one of whom was told off to reformatory and industrial school work. They were appointed under the old Act. It was necessary to repeal that Act and appoint Inspectors under this Act. The Inspectors would have to visit the prisons all round, and their periodical visits would be more frequent than before. The Inspectors would have to report to the Commissioners where anything was wrong in order that it might be set right. It would not, however, be necessary to have many Inspectors to perform these duties, and a jealous watch would be kept over the number of them by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No Inspector could be appointed without the sanction of the Treasury.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


moved an Amendment the object of which was to vest the appointment of storekeepers and accountants as well as Inspectors in the Home Secretary.


said, that these officers were entirely subject to his approval, and he would be responsible for their appointment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 8 (Duties of Prison Commissioners).


moved in page 3, line 21, after "work," to insert— Provided always, "That such work shall be for the service of the State only, and that no trade have more than a fair proportion of prisoners employed thereon. He observed that other Amendments with a similar object had been placed on the Paper, and that he had no special preference for his own Proviso if the principle which he had in view were introduced into the Bill. He thought, however, that it was a most dangerous principle that the prison labourer should not be allowed to compete with the labourer out-of-doors. If such was to be allowed, in the smallest degree, it would tend to create a feeling in the minds of the honest workmen that they would do better to become criminal as well. He was aware that it might be said that all they sent to the market would produce no effect. That he most strongly denied. All that went to the open market from the prisons was bound to produce evil results. If the right hon. Gentleman could give him some assurance that under the new regulations some such rule as that sketched in his Amendment would be adopted he should be content; but otherwise he should feel it his duty to go to a division.

Amendment proposed, In page 3, line 21, after the word "work," to insert the words "Provided always, That such work shall be for the service of the State only, and that no trade have more than a fair proportion of prisoners employed thereon."—(Mr. Macdonald.) Question proposed, "That those words be there— inserted."


As this is a subject to which I have given great attention, perhaps I had better at once state my views upon it. I would first point out an error into which the hon. Member (Mr. Macdonald) and others have fallen, in supposing that of necessity if a number of men in a gaol are set to any particular work it will interfere with free labour, because if the prisoners do not do it somebody else must do it. So that that objection is untenable. We are, I think, all agreed that it is wise to introduce industrial labour rather than merely penal labour into our prisons, because our object is to reform the prisoner; and I admit, on the other hand, that care should be taken in its use in some respects. Prison labour, for instance, should interfere as little as possible with the free labour of the country; as no doubt if all the prisoners in gaol were put to work at one trade that trade might be seriously injured. I have lately had conversations with the directors of labour in the convict prisons, and I understand that they are giving up mat-making, because too many have been made, probably because it is more easily learnt than other trades. It would be the desire of any one holding the office I have the honour to hold that prison labour should be spread over many kinds of employment, so that no one trade should suffer. So far as concerns borough and country gaols, I am not responsible for what has been done, since the direction of these matters has been long under the control of the county and borough visiting justices, who have generally taken measures to secure the greatest amount of profit from the prisoners labour. One of the advantages which I hope will result from the Bill we are now considering is, that it will enable us all over the country to spread the labour in a better way than it could be done under a great number of separate jurisdictions. But when the hon. Member asks me to consent to his Proviso, that prison labour shall be employed for the service of the State only, and that at no time shall its produce be sold, I must object to the insertion of any such words in any Act of Parliament. In the first place, as I have shown, work done for the State in any case must compete with other work. ["No, no!"] The hon. Member says "No;" but it does. Supposing a new wing to a prison were built by the labour of prisoners, would not that take so much work out of the general market? Then as to the rest of the Proviso—"that no trade shall have more than a fair proportion of prisoners employed thereon," it would be impossible to put such words into an Act of Parliament. Who is to decide which is a fair proportion? I can, however, assure the hon. Member that this question has been under the consideration of the Home Office from the time we undertook this measure; and I have several persons of experience and standing looking into the matter; so that the regulations under this Bill which relate to labour may be framed so as not to interfere, if possible, with free labour.


said, the explanation given was to a certain extent satisfactory; but as the matter was one of great importance and interest, he would suggest that it would be advantageous if the House were made acquainted with the regulations, at any rate before the Bill was reported. The question was a very difficult one, and the House ought to be able to give some opinion as to whether the regulations would meet the difficulty. The general principle of employing prisoners in remunerative labour was one that could not be given up without injury to the reformatory character of prisons; but, on the other hand, the persons concerned in some of the trades which were adopted had a right to complain, and he did not wonder at their complaints. He thought there not only ought to be a strong endeavour to prevent prisoners from being set to an employment that interfered with labour out of the prison, but that great care should be taken that prison labour should never be in any way used so as to affect a labour dispute. What little knowledge ho had on the subject was not as to mats, but as to brush-making, and he was bound to say, that he thought the brush-makers made out their case. Care should also be taken to prevent an article made in prison from being sold under the market price.


said, he had paid great attention to this question, and from his observation and experience, there was no question that so much interfered with and seriously affected industrial labour as prison labour. He asked whether the Secretary of State had considered what the effect would be upon the criminals themselves and the general crime of the country. It was a great advantage to keep prisoners cheaply, but it was also a great advantage that they should be treated in such a way as to prevent them from coming back to gaol again. If prisons were made agreeable, instead of deterrent, their inmates would not mind coming back again. In those countries where prisoners were employed and profit was made to the State out of their labour there was a larger amount of criminal population in proportion to the population, and also a larger number of re-committals. There was nothing prisoners liked so little as to be employed on unremunerative labour, like picking up stones, or turning a crank; whereas industrial labour, which they could see was useful, and out of which they might perhaps hope to get something, was comparatively no punishment. He fortunately lived in a county where for the last 30 years crime had diminished more than one-half, and they had no industrial labour in their prisons. The suggestion had often been made, but the question always followed—what effect would it have upon re-committals? The use of a prison was to diminish crime and not to make a profit out of prison labour. And if, besides making labour less deterrent, they put honest men out of work, they would add to the thieves, for thieving was as catching as small-pox. He hoped the Government would take care not to press this industrial labour to far.


, who had the following Amendment on the Paper:—page 3, line 21, to leave out "the amount of their earnings," and insert— So as to provide that any work upon which they shall be employed shall be for the purposes of the prison only, and not for profit or sale, said, he would not press it, as the Amendment of his hon. Friend now under discussion, and several other somewhat similiar Amendments, would in a considerable degree meet the object he had in view. He thought very little had been done with this question. It was as far back as 12 years since he first brought it under the consideration of the House and moved in it, and it always appeared to him that the Government threw it aside as soon as they could, and the country heard no more about it. His right hon. Friend, however, had now said that he meant to make some change and improved arrangement in the matter, and he hoped the right hen. Gentleman would do so in such a manner as to do away with the present system. Prisoners were very easily taught, and the articles in which they worked were sold at very low prices. It appeared to him that a very large number of prisoners were employed in that way, and in the competition of their labour the industrious tradesman suffered.


agreed very much with what had fallen from the hon. Member for Stafford who had moved the Amendment. He felt that convict labour came severely into competition with industrial labour, and in illustration of that he might instance the industry of the blind, which was principally employed in mat-making, but which was almost destroyed by the article produced by prison labour being brought into competition with it in the market, awl sold at a much less price. The hon. and learned Member quoted statistics showing a large proportion of prison labour employed in the article of mat-making, and to the great injury of poor blind mat-makers. At a reformatory in Bristol the labour of the inmates was let out to a brush-maker, who supplied the materials for brush-making. This he considered was unfair to those who were engaged in that trade. He thought a Proviso ought to be inserted to the effect that the number of prisoners employed in any branch of industry should be in fair proportion to the numbers employed in other trades.


said, he hoped the Secretary of State would lay down in the Bill a principle as to the proportion in which useful trades and employments were adopted as part of our penal system in prisons, and so as not to press unduly upon the trades and industries outside. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) had a clause upon the Paper to give effect to this object, and he begged to call the Secretary of State's attention to it. There was undoubtedly a well-grounded complaint on the part of some trades of the undue competition set up by prison labour, and he thought that the Bill should lay down some general principle for the guidance of the Secretary of State in making new rules and regulations on the subject.


said, he was glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had taken up the case of the brush-makers, because he had himself had many representations made to him on the subject. Brush-making and mat-making were easily learnt, and that was the reason why the prison authorities taught them to the prisoners. He thought employment of that sort was too light for persons who had been sentenced to punishment, and that it was the duty of the House to protect honest industry, and not allow the hard-working artizan to be driven down into the pauper class by the competition of prison labour.


trusted no Secretary of State would ever give up the remunerative employment of prisoners. He admitted, however, that mat-makers and brush-makers were hardly pressed by the results of prison labour. Both those trades only gave employment to a small number of persons, and it was a pity that the work of prisoners should come into competition with free labour. If prisoners were to be taught any trade at all it should be one in which a majority, rather than a minority of men were employed. But this could only be done at some sacrifice of prisoners' earnings. He urged the right hon. Gentleman to sacrifice some portion of the prison earnings in order to give the prisoners who were learning trades a better chance when discharged, and thereby remove the objection which outside trades had against prison labour. With regard to limiting the employment of prisoners to the making of prison clothing, if a prisoner was only to make his own clothing, and, perhaps, some part of the warders' also in a year, he would scarcely have to undergo much hard labour. As to the argument that prisoners ought not to be employed on any remunerative work lest it should compete with free industry, if it was pushed to an extreme, it would amount to this, that every prisoner must be put to the crank, the treadmill, or some other non-productive labour, in order that he might be kept entirely at the cost of the honest workman.


pointed out that there were 2,600 prisoners concentrated upon the mat trade throughout the Kingdom last year, against 1,900 prisoners who were employed upon all other trades. In some gaols also the manufactured article was sold below the cost of the materials. In such a ease it became impossible for the honest labourer outside to make a living.


suggested that useful employment for convicts might be found in embanking and improving our navigable rivers. Such work would be the means of reclaiming much valuable land, and profitable to the State. He would recommend the Home Secretary to try the experiment in embanking the Thames.


said, that all unfair competition with trade should be removed; but the Amendment on the Paper stated exactly the principle on which the question should be determined—namely, that labour should be performed for the service of the State which was paid for by the State.


observed that the Amendment embodied a most important principle, which had engaged the attention of other Governments, and which deserved careful consideration in connection with the Bill before the House. In one Canadian prison convict labour was let by public auction at 18. a-day per man, which brought in a net profit of £50 a-day for 1,000 convicts.


observed that the making of cocoa-nut matting was originally a prison trade, and had existed many years at Wakefield, and in other prisons; but they could not now sell their goods in New York, and had thousands of pounds worth in hand. He thought it intolerable that ratepayers should be subjected to burdens for the support in idleness or useless labour of those who were breakers of the law. The usual result of prison labour was to induce criminals, when their term expired, not to labour, but if they taught men a trade, and, as they did in Wakefield, provided them with a home after they came out, so that they could carry it on till they obtained employment that would be the right means to adopt in reforming prisoners. In the case of those imprisoned under very short sentences, they could not look for any pecuniary benefit from their work, but must be content with simply inculcating the value of honest labour. Under this Bill he believed the Home Secretary would be enabled to make the best use of the labour of those who were under long sentences, and to distribute the work over all the prisons in such a manner as to interfere as little as possible with the traders outside.


said, that it did not matter whether the prisoners made goods for the Government or not, as, if they were made for private individuals, they would be paid for. With regard to the question whether remunerative or unremunerative labour was the more deterrent, his experience differed from that of the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), for in the county where he resided (Derbyshire) the system of remunerative labour had been adopted, and yet crime had greatly diminished even in an increasing population. At the same time, he believed it to be the case that when remunerative labour was first introduced in the form of stone-breaking the prisoners disliked it and preferred the treadmill, although the former might seem to be a much less irksome occupation; and perhaps the reason was that it grated upon their feelings to think that they were, to some extent, made to pay for their own imprisonment. As to the whole question, it seemed to him necessary to leave the matter very much in the hands of the Secretary of State.


apprehended that the object of the Bill was to secure uniformity of system, and thought that the decision respecting the kind of labour to be carried out should be left to the Secretary of State.


observed that the right hon. Gentleman had undertaken to solve the most difficult problem which perhaps had risen in our time. He had to meet demands of the most conflicting character, and to decide between the advocates of the penal view and of the remunerative view of punishment, and they were nearly in equilibrium. It had been said that night that articles ought not to be sold below remunerative prices but if large quantities were manufactured they must, by the mere knowledge of their existence, affect and lower market prices. It was also urged that they ought not to injure small trades such as brushmakers and mat-makers. Now, he should like to know what would be the result if large trades were attacked instead, and Government offered to enter into competition with them. The trade organizations would take care that the right hon. Gentleman should not move in that direction. He thought that House should itself decide this question, instead of entrusting the duty to the Secretary of State—who was, of course, honest in intention—aided by two or three unknown persons, supposed to be peculiarly acquainted with the subject. He hoped the idea that had been suggested that long periods of imprisonment should be reverted to as the best means of effecting an economical result and of making men better members of society would not meet with the sanction of the House. He argued that probably 30,000 persons were every year sent to gaol, not for crimes, but because they could not pay some trifling fine or expenses, and that if this were obviated, the demand for prisons would be vastly diminished.


said, he should have been glad if the Home Secretary had seen his way to acquiesce in the suggestions thrown out in the earlier part of the evening by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), and have promised to tell them on the Report the regulations he proposed should be framed to carry out what he thought was fair and reasonable, and have thereby saved the Committee the trouble of dividing. In utilizing the labour of our prisoners he hoped it would not be done by crushing any particular industry. He strongly depre- cated a return to the old system of unremunerative labour, such as turning a crank without producing any useful result, which he regarded as most depressing and morally injurious to the prisoners.


said, he thought the discussion had gone far enough. All agreed that certain small trades had been very prejudicially affected by the competition of prison labour. He did not believe those interests would be effectually protected by putting words into an Act of Parliament, and thought it would be better to leave the matter in the hands of the Secretary of State. Then if there were any undue interference with any of the small industries of the country the subject could be brought under the consideration of the House.


denied that the prison labour would seriously interfere with labour out-of-doors, inasmuch as it would deprive any particular trade of only one customer—the State. Over and beyond that they would have no competition to contend against in either the home, or in the foreign market.


regretted he could not vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Staffordshire (Mr. Macdonald), as a palpable fallacy was underlying his argument. If prison labour was employed in work for the State, it was as much competing labour as if it were employed in other directions. He would, therefore, propose to amend the Amendment by leaving out the words from "that" in the first line to "that" in the second line, when the Resolution would run thus:—"Provided always; That no trade have more than a fair proportion of prisoners employed thereon."


appealed to the Home Secretary to accept these words. The right hon. Gentleman had already declared his acceptance of their general meaning, and he would do a great service in allaying a great deal of dissatisfaction and bad feeling if he would embody some words to that effect in one of the clauses of the Bill.


said, he would have been very glad to have accepted the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary only it, in his opinion, really amounted to nothing. He had the utmost confidence in the right hon. Gentleman; but if to-morrow he were removed, they would be placed in a different position, and no assurances or acts of the right hon. Gentleman would be binding upon his Successor. Unless he got a clearer promise from the Home Secretary he should certainly divide the Committee upon this subject. The present system had already driven the matmakers to a state of destitution. So it had the brush-makers. ["No, no."] Prison labour had done that. What trade was the right hon. Gentleman going to attack next? Was it the brewers? If he was going to attack them, he could assure him that they would make his tenure of office not worth a year's purchase. None knew that better than the right hon. Gentleman himself. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laughed; but was it the manufacturers? Was it proposed to weave cotton or cloth in the prison? If he would only dare to attempt it, all Manchester and the other large manufacturing towns of the Kingdom would be up in arms. The doors of the Home Office would never be closed till the arrangement was changed. There was one place for the criminals that were to be set to work—they should be made to work on the waste and uncultivated lands, there they would compete with no one, and they would do the nation a service.


said, what he had stated was that these prisoners must either sit with their hands before them, or they must work. Of course, the opinion of the House and the country would be that when a man went to prison he must work. Now, was he to work at carrying big cannon-balls, or was he to be employed in industrial labour? Great benefits would result from his being employed in industrial labour. He (Mr. Cross) quite agreed that prisoners should be employed in hard and disagreeable labour. When things were made in prison they must be sold, and the question was how they should be sold. He could only reply to hon. Members who had spoken on this subject, that he hoped they would remember that in the whole of the discussion not one word had been said about the labour performed by the 10,000 persons who were in the convict prisons. He thought that fact, at all events, might be taken as some guarantee that when the other prisons and their 18,000 prisoners came under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State, the same care which was now taken by the directors of convict prisons would be taken by the new directors proposed by the Bill. It was impossible to insert in an Act of Parliament, which might have to be construed in Courts of Law, a clause enacting that prisoners should only be employed in the service of the State, and that no trade should have more than a fair share of the prison labour. All he could say was that the same care which was bestowed on the distribution of the convict labour should be bestowed upon that of the other prisoners, and that, so far as it was possible to distribute the labour, it should be done.


could not vote either for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) or that of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright), but he did not think the opinion of the House would be at all fairly represented by the numbers which would be arrived at if they went to a division; because many Members like himself would be obliged to vote against these Amendments, and yet would think that something might have been done in the matter. He hoped the Home Secretary would consider whether, before the Bill passed its final stages, he could not introduce words which should embody a general principle regulating the distribution of labour.

Amendment amended, by leaving out the words "that such work shall be for the service of the State only, and"

Question put, That the words 'Provided always, That no trade have more than a fair proportion of prisoners employed thereon,' be there inserted. The Committee divided:—Ayes 70; Noes 218: Majority 148.


moved, in page 3, line 21, to leave out "the amount of their earnings" and insert— So as to provide that any work upon which they shall he employed shall be for the purposes of the prison only, and not for profit or sale. Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 9 (Reports by Prisons Commissioners) agreed to.

Visiting Committee of Justices.

Clause 10 (Appointment of visiting committee of prisons.)


moved that Progress be reported. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Sandford.)


said, if it were the desire of the Committee that Progress should be reported he should not oppose the Motion.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 217; Noes 27: Majority 190.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.