§ Order for Consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now taken into Consideration."—(Mr. Assheton Cross.)
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
moved—That, in the opinion of this House, no legislation dealing with the management and discipline of Prisons can be satisfactory which does not extend to convict establishments.The hon. Member said, that it had been his duty in every Session of the present Parliament to endeavour to call the attention of the House to the hardships endured by a particular class of prisoners undergoing confinement in Her Majesty's prisons; but he did not recollect that any opportunity so favourable as the present had heretofore presented itself of placing before the House anything like a complete statement on this very important subject. After the many representations made to the Government with reference to the cruel and unnecessary punishment inflicted on political prisoners in various prisons in England and Ireland during the last 11 or 12 years, it might justly have been expected that any legislation which Ministers submitted to the House would contain ample provisions against practices so revolting to justice and humanity. But what did they find? He had carefully examined the Prisons Bill for England and the Prisons Bill for Ireland, and it seemed to him that in the construction of those Bills the Government 1310 had not given a thought to the complaints of prison treatment so frequently made by hon. Members in that House, and in resolutions forwarded from meetings held in every considerable town and city in Great Britain and Ireland. He was in his place on that day to accuse Her Majesty's Government, in direct and explicit terms, of being the upholders of a system of prison discipline under which cruel and barbarous punishments had been inflicted, were now being inflicted, and might at any time be inflicted so long as the present system was maintained. It must be remembered that during the recent Fenian excitement thousands of men mere incarcerated in the various prisons of Ireland for periods ranging from three months to two years. He spoke of prisoners who were never brought to trial, and consequently were never convicted. Many of those prisoners, confined without an appeal to either Judge or jury, were tortured to death or driven to madness by the barbarous treatment they received. If hon. Gentlemen suspected him of exaggeration, he had only to remind them that in the Sessions of 1874 he moved for Returns bearing upon this subject, and the Home Secretary refused to grant them, thereby withholding from the House official information on a subject of great national importance, and cloaking with the authority of his position the outrages that were committed by brutal gaolers, and condoned and connived at by Government Inspectors. He would quote some official information on the subject. In 1867 Dr. Robert M'Donnell, the medical superintendent of Mountjoy Convict Prison, furnished a Report to the Directors in which he drew attention to the state of health, mentally and bodily, of those untried prisoners who had been in custody for many months. Dr. M'Donnell stated that those untried prisoners were kept confined by themselves all day long, except when at exercise or religious service; that at these times they were not allowed to communicate with each other; that they had not, as the convict had, the comparative recreation of school; that they were emaciated and worn-looking; that some had shown unmistakeable signs of mental disturbances; and that the lengthened period of their confinement made their case unlike that of ordinary untried prisoners awaiting trial. Dr. M'Donnell recommended on medical 1311 grounds that the severity of the prison discipline should be relaxed. And what was the result? Instead of there being any relaxation in the discipline the humane officer who advocated the better treatment of the prisoners was dismissed. He (Mr. Power) asked the House to consider carefully the magnitude of such cruelty and injustice—innocent men condemned to a state of perpetual solitary confinement, and this was done by the Irish Government under both the Liberal and Conservative Administrations. The shadow of this great wrong rested alike on both Parties in the House, and the time had now come when both should unite to remove it by just and humane legislation. Some correspondence on the treatment of political prisoners had appeared recently in The Times, and that leading journal said, very justly, that the statements made on the subject could not be read without a keen sense of indignation. But it was a remarkable illustration of the indifference to Irish affairs felt by the Press and the public of Great Britain. The Times on a recent occasion treated these statements as if they were only then made for the first time. When the punishments, the evil effects of which Dr. M'Donnell had described, were being inflicted, the Irish papers and people frequently and loudly called for redress, but none came. Her Majesty's Government was now bound to take one of the two courses in reference to the question—either to justify the perpetration of horrible outrages on political opponents on the atrocious principle that the end justified the means, or to propose such legislation as should, in the language of The Times, render it impossible for the future. When Mr. O'Donovan Rossa and his companions were in prison the country never would have heard of the illegal and shocking treatment they received but for information brought out of prison surreptitiously by discharged prisoners. Some of the national journals had published this information, which in the course of time led to inquiry, and from inquiry to the partial liberation of the political prisoners—an act which the half-hearted and shortsighted policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) deprived of the character of enlightened statesmanship which would undoubtedly attach to a full and com- 1312 plete amnesty. Some letters which were written 12 months since, and brought out from Dartmoor Prison by discharged prisoners, had been placed in his hands, from which he should read extracts to the House. The writers knew very well the consequences that might follow the announcement of their violation of the prison rules, but their patience was exhausted. They contended, with reason, that as the prison authorities had violated a rule in treating them worse than ordinary criminals, they were justified in disregarding the rules for the purpose of self-defence, and they had therefore sent out word that he (Mr. Power) was at liberty to make what use he thought proper of the letters. The hon. Member proceeded to read extracts from these letters. Mr. Michael Davitt, a prisoner convicted of treason felony, and had been in penal servitude for the last seven years, wrote complaining of the treatment he received from the prison officials, and stating that he had been set to stone-breaking, of which, in warm weather, he did not complain; but in winter he was compelled to work in a large open yard, the very coldest in the prison; his cell, seven feet long by four broad, iron sides, and slate floor, was directly opposite the water-closet, 10 or 12 feet distant, where the fecal matter from 10 wards (74 men) was kept in tubs for manure: he had asked the principal warder to remove him a little higher up, but no change was effected, although there was an empty cell. The hon. Member then read further extracts from Michael Davitt's letters, one of which stated that that there was not one prison official, from the Visiting Director to the lowest of the crowd, that would not lie to save themselves from blame or exposure. Another stated that he suffered much during the long winter from catarrh and incessant spitting of phlegm, which must inevitably end in lung disease; that the climate was so severe, and the food so abominably bad and filthy, that the wonder was how men could bear up against two of the greatest hardships of life—cold and hunger; and that they were regaled with the potatoes which had become unfit for the pigs in the neighbourhood to eat. The hon. Member then alluded to the case of Sergeant M'Carthy, and read a letter from that prisoner, dated Chatham, April 1877. The letter stated that the position of the prisoners was be- 1313 coming desperate; that they were subjected to such systematic annoyances that if they were allowed to go on, they could only have one ending—namely, death; that the melancholy conclusion had forced itself upon them that nothing less than their lives were aimed at, and that, too, in a cowardly, assassin-like manner; and that it was a significant fact that this persecution dated only from the time the Governor of the prison became aware that he (M'Carthy) was suffering from heart disease. The hon. Member then referred to the case of Corporal Chambers, who, for the five months during which he was in custody before trial, was treated worse than a convict during his imprisonment. Chambers had been made to mop out filthy dens of dirt; and when in the hospital, suffering from chronic rheumatism, he complained of 10 ounces of food per day as inadequate, he was declared to be cured and turned out of hospital. It was impossible to read those documents without indignation; but Chambers' case spoke for itself. It was only Davitt, with his superior cleverness, who bad made himself heard. This man was weekly obliged to act as charwoman to a lot of very dirty people. Even a glance of the eye, a look, was deemed a crime in Dartmoor. Chambers had been held by one gaoler while he was being ill-treated by another gaoler. "Worthy sons," said Chambers, "of worthy sires;" and he made an allusion which he (Mr. O'Connor Power) did not understand. Amongst other matters it was stated that of 1,000 prisoners in Dartmoor, nearly one half suffered from heart and pulmonary diseases, owing to insufficient clothing during the cold weather, excessive labour, and bad food. It might be said that the language in which the complaints were couched was very strong; but he did not think it was too strong to be repeated to the House of Commons. In 1868 orders were received to treat Chambers with greater severity, and those orders had been carried out, and were in force so recently as 13 months ago. According to Davitt, the man Chambers was not allowed to give evidence before a Commission of Inquiry, nor was Chambers produced before the Commission in 1870. In June or July, 1868, Chambers received, in reply to a Petition asking to be allowed to attend to his religious 1314 duties, the words "No grounds." In view of the fact that Members from Ireland had once or twice called the attention of the Government to the circumstances and treatment of these treason-felony prisoners, and nothing had been done, it did appear to him that the time had come when the feelings of the English nation should be stirred up on this question. Meetings on the subject had been held, and over one of them the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) presided. About 200,000 persons attended that meeting in Dublin, and they were men who had a stake in the country, and who knew that the treatment of the political prisoners as convicts and malefactors was not the way to stamp out disaffection. Those prisoners were men who had exhibited excessive patriotism, and adopted measures to remedy admitted grievances not sanctioned by the Constitution of the country. The agitation of last Autumn, whatever might be the motives of its promoters, showed that the English people were capable of sympathizing with suffering humanity; and he cherished the hope that his feeble words would find an echo in the constituencies of England and Scotland, and that they would not sanction any adverse vote of the House of Commons denying those reforms in prison discipline which he believed were absolutely necessary to prevent the recurrence of such deeds as he had recited. He considered himself justified in bringing forward the Amendment he had put on the Paper, and in saying that the time had come when the Government should introduce something more comprehensive than the present paltry measure, and something that should, in the first place, deal with the crying evils such as those to which he had referred. This question ought not to be dealt with piecemeal, and he thought the Government ought to defer legislation on this subject until they could remove the great evils of which he complained. He knew he would be told that inquiries had been made and a Commission issued to investigate the complaints against prison officials, and that it had been found that the most serious accusations had not been verified. But the inquiry was of the most unsatisfactory character. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had stated that if the inquiry were to be 1315 conducted in the manner proposed it could not fail to be regarded with distrust; for that when the prisoners asked to be allowed the assistance of counsel in preparing their statement, which assistance the hon. and learned Gentleman said was necessary, they received a reply stating that the Commissioners could not comply with the request. As the hon. and learned Gentleman had well stated, an investigation of complaints without hearing the complainants could not fail to be regarded as a mockery and a delusion, if not also a snare. If the inquiry had been conducted in a full and fair manner, he ventured to say that it would not have been his duty to get up in that House Session after Session and occupy the attention of the House in the hope of obtaining some much-needed reforms. Up to this point the Government had determined to keep the political prisoners in gaol; but he did not think they would determine to keep them there much longer. But however long they kept them in confinement, he urged that they should be treated as men, and not as brutes. It was time that the question should he taken up as to how far the Government was justified in detaining political prisoners. If the House of Commons at the latter part of the 19th century was About to assert that there was no difference between political offences and ordinary crimes, they would do what was not done in any other nation; and if they did so to-day, they would be rolling back the tide of civilization. He trusted that the result of any division which might be forced upon them on this question would show that the feeling of the House of Commons was on the side of humanity and justice. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.
Amendment proposed,To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, no legislation dealing with the management and discipline of Prisons can be satisfactory which does not extend to convict establishments,"—(Mr. O'Connor Power,)—instead thereof.
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
willingly paid a tribute to the generous sympathy 1316 and belief in the truth of the statements made to him which induced the hon. Member to bring forward this question year after year, and to express himself so strongly. He (Mr. Cross) declined on the present occasion to go into the question whether or not political offences should be treated in the manner in which they were now treated by the law of the land. The object of the Motion was, however, not to say that the House ought not to legislate on the subject, or that the Government ought not to introduce a Bill like that now before the House; but that, if they dealt with county and borough prisons, they ought also to deal with convict prisons. His answer to that was that he preferred to do one thing at a time, and the Bill now before the House dealt with a very large number of prisons and many large questions. Moreover, it was a measure which would in the long run greatly ameliorate the condition of those unfortunate persons confined in them. The hon. Member talked about the barbarous manner in which persons who had not been convicted of any crime had been treated, especially in Mountjoy Prison. The hon. Member said they were subjected to certain discipline which no person except a man who had been convicted ought to be subject to. He (Mr. Cross) must, to a certain extent, demur to the statements made as to the treatment of prisoners in Mountjoy Prison. The question as to the treatment of prisoners in that prison was brought before the House in 1867, when it appeared from the Report as to the state of things in that prison, that with reference to untried prisoners there was not a single case requiring treatment in the hospital; that they were permitted to obtain their own food; that the prison scale of diet was tolerably liberal and varied; that during the hours of exercise the untried political prisoners might associate with each other; and that they might read books obtained from the library or sent to them by their friends. The 39th clause of this Bill provided that wherever there were political prisoners, whether for safe custody before trial or after conviction, special rules should be provided for that class of prisoners. The Bill, therefore, did meet the precise evil brought before the House by the hon. Member. With reference to the attack made by the hon. Member generally on the management 1317 of the convict prisons, he (Mr. Cross) would remind the House that this question had been discussed by the House when in Committee, and that the Committee decided that it was better to confine the Bill to county and borough prisons; but it was competent for the hon. Member to open the question again. With regard to Dartmoor Prison, where Davitt and M'Carthy were confined, he could have wished that the hon. Member had given him Notice that he meant to refer to those particular cases. Except his attention was called to particular cases, the knowledge of the Secretary of State was mostly limited to the general condition of the prisons. He warned the House against being led away by statements that the food was bad, the cells filthy, and the prisoners treated more like brutes than human beings. Those were broad statements and grave accusations, and he was bound to say that from his own personal inspection he was able to give them a most emphatic denial. He had examined the cells and the food and the condition of the prisoners themselves, and having besides been a Visiting Justice for a great number of years, he did not believe that such complaints as those of Davitt could possibly be substantiated. That prisoners were induced to make complaints he did not deny; and that prisoners from a class of life like that of Davitt found the discipline, the restraint, and the food of a prison irksome and distasteful was likely enough; but it must be remembered that the man had been convicted of felony. [Mr. O'CONNOR POWER: Of treason-felony.] That was felony in law. He would not discuss now how the treason-felony ought to be treated; but when a man had by the law of England been convicted of felony and been sent to a convict prison, it was impossible for the prison authorities to treat him differently from the other prisoners; otherwise the Home Secretary would be deluged with many more complaints than were made now, as to how one prisoner was treated as compared with another. Moreover, that matter had been discussed over and over again, and it was not as if there had been no inquiry into it. The hon. Member said the inquiry that had been made had not been satisfactory, as the prisoners had no opportunity of substantiating their allegations. Now, in the case of the Devon 1318 Commission the most complete facilities for stating their complaints against the prison officers were given to the prisoners. They were supplied with unlimited pens and paper, and had the fullest freedom of communication with their friends; while the prison officers, on the other hand, were, in fact, put on their trial before the Commissioners without having any knowledge whatever of the charges to be brought against them. Well, after patient investigation the Commissioners found that there was no ground for believing that the treason-felony prisoners in English prisons had as a class been subjected to any exceptionally severe treatment, or that they had suffered any hardship beyond what was incidental to the incarceration in a convict prison of persons sentenced to penal servitude. On the contrary, it appeared that the prison authorities had sanctioned from time to time certain relaxations of the convict-prison discipline in their favour. It was true that on certain points the Commissioners recommended certain alterations, but those did not affect the treason-felony prisoners more than anyone else. The Commissioners, having visited Dartmoor and the other convict prisons, reported favourably of their general administration in respect to treatment, diet, and discipline. They said that the officers as a body were qualified for the efficient discharge of their duties; while they were under such careful and responsible supervision by the Central Department as provided a sufficient safeguard against abuse. They observed that there was nothing to justify the charges which had been made of undue severity, of hardship, or neglect of due provision for the preservation of health, although they qualified their general expression of approval on certain points as to which they suggested some alterations. But that was not all. In consequence of complaints made of the treatment of certain prisoners, the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole), when he filled the office of Home Secretary, appointed two perfectly independent men, Mr. Knox, the police magistrate, and Dr. Pollock, of Pentonville, to inquire into the state of the convict prisons. These gentlemen reported that they found the cells perfectly clean, the beds and bedding comfortable, and the 1319 prisoners were allowed the use of some books to read when not occupied in their daily work. The dietary at Pentonville was emphatically good and sufficient. Portland Prison was a perfect model of order, cleanliness, and propriety; the cells were sufficiently large, the bedding ample for health and comfort. The prison fare, as far as they saw it, was excellent of its kind; and if it was not sufficient to satisfy the full desires of the inmates, it was at least sufficient to sustain them in the robust health they exhibited when the Commissioners visited them. The Commissioners remarked that it was much to be desired that all the honest labouring classes of this country were as well fed and cared for as the 300 convicts on the Island of Portland. The sanitary arrangements were excellent, and so was the food, and the hours of labour were not unreasonable. The hospital arrangements were as good as any in London. Every care was taken for the spiritual welfare of Protestants and Catholics alike. Books of all kinds were to be had and the superior officers were all good and civil, and the Governor was a well-tried servant of the Crown, and had risen to his position by his own merits, and the other officers were men of rank and character. The superiority of Portland over Continental prisons was so marked that a comparison between them was out of the question. The Commissioners said it was their distinct opinion that the charges brought by the treason-felony convicts against the prison officials at Portland could not be sustained; and that, although many charges were made against the Governor and the warders, they did not remember a single instance in which those charges were not of so frivolous a character as to be unworthy of serious consideration. The Commissioners said they had visited Welting Prison, and that nothing could excel the general arrangements there for cleanliness, order, and good management. Anybody, therefore, who wished honestly to come to a correct conclusion on that matter would surely give weight to the testimony of an independent inquiry. For himself, he hated imprisonment, and nothing would induce him to send a man for imprisonment if it could be avoided. The statements made from time to time to this House of harsh treatment were, as a rule, unfounded. 1320 There might be, in some particular cases, a warder who might have harshly treated a prisoner; but they might depend upon it such a warder would be sure to be punished, and if the case came to his (Mr. Cross's) knowledge, such a warder would be dismissed. Hundreds of complaints came before him every year, and they were all inquired into and dealt with according to their merits. The superintendence of the Home Office over the convict prisons was not a mere matter of form, and the prisoners knew it was not. It was not a fact that a letter addressed by a convict to the Home Secretary would not reach him, and there was not a governor of a convict prison from one end of the country to the other who did not know that such a letter must come to him. The unfortunate class who had to be confined in gaols consisted largely of persons who, from the circumstances in which they had been brought up from infancy, would be most likely to suffer in their health, and it might, therefore, be expected that there would be a high death-rate among them. But what was the fact? He found from the Report issued in 1875 that the daily average number of male convicts imprisoned was 8,572, and that the average annual deaths were only 135. That was a lower death-rate than could be shown by any city in England. Apart, however, from this proof of the health of the prisons they had independent testimony attesting the same fact. Dr. Richardson, an independent witness, who had given great attention to the subject, declared that the modern prison was a perfect dwelling-house from the point of view of health, except that it was insufficiently lighted from without, and that our prison population were healthy above all other classes. The only complaint which Dr. Richardson had to make was that all prisoners should be put upon one standard of work, as if their physical faculties were all alike, and in that he (Mr. Cross) agreed with him. The facts being as he (Mr. Cross) had stated, the hon. Member who had introduced the subject could not fail to perceive that where any remedy was needed it was applied, and that the general management of the gaols was above reproach. He must declare in the most emphatic manner that the charges made against the prison officials were utterly false and unfounded, and that they ought 1321 not to be made again. He could not speak too highly either of the gallant officer who was at the head of the Convict Department, or of those who served under him. If any individual case of hardship did arise, they might depend upon it that as soon as it came under his (Mr. Cross's) notice, he should cause it to be strictly inquired into and, if necessary, remedied. He might say that so far from fearing investigation, he courted it; because he was convinced that the more complete and thorough it was, the more admirable and satisfactory would our prison system be found to be. And that, he believed, was the feeling of the prison officials themselves. He hoped, in these circumstances, that the House would now allow the Bill to proceed. As regarded untried prisoners, he might add that he was certain they had been carefully attended to by the Visiting Justices; but the Bill would tend to ameliorate their condition by enabling the Secretary of State to employ the most competent servants, and to introduce in borough gaols a system of administration superior to that which had hitherto provailed.
§ DR. WARD
said, that the Home Secretary had just stated that the Government was always willing to grant a full investigation into the alleged charges of cruelty in convict prisons. It certainly was very remarkable that the Commission appointed some years ago to investigate some of these charges refused to do the only thing which, as was shown by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), would make the investigation of any worth. Still more remarkable was the circumstances connected with Dr. M'Donnell, who had reported on the harsh treatment of unconvicted prisoners in Mountjoy Convict Prison. Dr. M'Donnell, who was a gentleman of high position in science, and with a large and first-class practice in Dublin, was told, after he had sent in his Reports, that unless he consented to live in the prison, and become a mere prison official, he must cease to be medical officer to the prison; and Dr. M'Donnell was, in fact, dismissed. Such was the way in which an honourable and distinguished gentleman was treated because he ventured to object to the cruelties practised in Mountjoy Convict Prison. Then as to the denial of the Home Secretary to the specific charges brought 1322 by the hon. Member for Mayo, they unfortunately found by experience, that where prison officials were guilty of cruelty, they were quite ready to shield themselves by falsehood, and they did not even hesitate to put a falsehood into the mouth of Secretaries of State when answering Questions in the House of Commons. They had a case in point when the case of O'Donovan Rossa was brought before the House. The then Home Secretary (Lord Aberdare) categorically denied, on the authority of the prison officials, that O'Donovan Rossa had been handcuffed for 34 days consecutively, and that the prisons were most unhealthy. It should be remembered that the specific charges brought forward by the hon. Member for Mayo were not affected by the statements of the Home Secretary. A prison might be ever so healthy, yet the officials might carry on a system of cruelty to the unhappy inmates. That had been established before; and he doubted not if a full and fair investigation were granted, it would be found that such cruelty was practised in the convict prisons of England.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, the powers of qualifying the rules and regulations of prisons at present in force in England were very various. The Bill of 1865 dealt to some extent with the rules and regulations of prisons, but not as to their treatment to the extent that he should like. No doubt some modifications had been made, and some of the power had been taken out of the hands of the Home Secretary. For his own part, he brought forward Amendments in Committee as to the treatment of political prisoners, and they were, as a consequence, put under the Prisons Act of 1865. In some instances the Committee decided upon making rules themselves, but that principle was pushed far enough; and he should like to see as many of the regulations as possible under the borough and county gaols under the operation of this Bill, and framed by that House. The Home Secretary had just told them that his object was to make uniform the regulations of the various prisons throughout the country. It was an interesting matter in connection with the subject that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had carried a Motion for a Return of all the prison rules in force in Ireland, and his hon. and learned Friend just now in- 1323 formed him that the Return was now before the House. He could not help thinking that it was very desirable for an English Member to move for a similar Return for England. He only referred to the question of the rules for borough and county gaols in order to show that a much greater necessity arose why the rules governing the treatment and discipline of convict prisons should be brought under the attention of the House of Commons. It was somewhat remarkable that the Government had considered that there should be a difference in the case of Ireland between the Board which was to carry out the directions of the Irish Bill as regarded convicts, and the Board which was to deal with borough and county gaols. If they had been put under the same Board, he should have thought that upon the score of economy the Government would have seen the necessity of having only one Board, as in England. As to the necessity for reform in the management of some of the convict prisons, he would call the attention of the House to a Report issued by the Howard Committee in reference to convict prisons, in which they directed attention to some of the evils of the English convict system. They said that the convict prisons were distinguished from borough and county gaols receiving criminals undergoing penal servitude. The Report referred to the Irish prisons, which were five in number, and which were to be placed under a Board under the Irish Prisons Bill. Then the Report went on to advocate the separation of the different classes of convicts. It said—The custom was to herd prisoners together in dens, in which there was a considerable amount of association, and then the warders were generally old soldiers, too apt to rely on force.Upon this The Lancet remarked—Soldiers are not the most suitable persons to deal with criminals; they dealt with men as raw material to be beaten into shape, and they overlooked the fact that they had minds. There is no place for mind in the military system; but it is the mind which is at fault in the criminal.The Association then pointed out the necessity of a closer inspection of convict prisons; and he (Mr. Parnell) wished to point out that this was a subject of the utmost importance, because under this Bill the power of Visiting Justices had been curtailed and almost nullified, 1324 and in their stead there was no one to make an independent inquiry into cases of hardship. Really reliable Reports were a sine quâ non. As an instance of the truth of the assertion of the Howard Association, he would refer the House to the Report of the Devon Commission on the alleged ill-treatment of O'Donovan Rossa, who was confined in Portland Prison; and, when that case was brought before the House, the Predecessor of the present Home Secretary (Lord Aberdare) promptly denied that there was any foundation for the statement, though he was afterwards compelled to admit there was foundation for it, and he was obliged to consent to the appointment of the Devon Commission to investigate the charges. That Commission reported that in every instance of specific charges as to ill-treatment of O'Donovan Rossa, and other persons, they were thoroughly established and well-founded. It was unnecessary for him to go further into the question, for the complaints of the Fenian prisoners were fully established before the Devon Commission; but before he sat down he wished to say that the Irish people were deeply interested in this question; that it was a question on which they could go to such extremities as they could not go on any other Irish question; it was a question that they would push on the attention of this House, and that they would make inconvenient to this House if necessary. While no exertion of theirs would be left undone to ensure that the attention of the Home Secretary should be directed to the consideration of the treatment of the few political prisoners still in prison, they would ask fairly and temperately that Parliament should look into the treatment of these men, that there might be some alleviation of the terrible and cruel lot and fearful treatment they had hitherto experienced.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he thought that this convict question was the only point in connection with prison reform that had ever interested the country. Convict establishments were an experiment which was forced upon the country against its experience and judgment, in consequence of the breakdown of transportation. The present Home Secretary was one of the most harsh, most unreasonable, and unjust administrators of the Office during the 25 years he had been in the House; because he had 1325 thought fit to lay down, in reference to the conduct of his business as a Court of Appeal in cases of miscarriage of justice, a rule which had never been laid down before, which was perfectly unreasonable, and which could not be justified for one moment, if the object of the law was to administer justice fairly and equally.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I fail to see the relavancy of the line of argument which the hon. Member is now pursuing to the Question before the House.
§ MR. WHALLEY
replied he would make every possible effort in his power to enable the Speaker to see its relevancy. It was disgraceful that prisoners suffering from a miscarriage of justice had no Court of Appeal for redress. It was a thing that could not for a moment be tolerated. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary stated to a deputation which he (Mr. Whalley) had the honour to introduce, that he would not listen to any questions of evidence that had been given in one of the Courts of Law.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said he was glad to hear it, because it would have the effect of mitigating much of the feeling that existed out-of-doors, and more especially if the right hon. Gentleman would begin to act upon it. As other Members had been allowed to refer to particular prisons, he might perhaps be permitted to refer to the case of a prisoner confined in Dartmoor Gaol. Lord Rivers and Mr. Onslow visited him a few days ago, and they found that he desired to complain of his treatment, but that he was immediately stopped by the warder in attendance.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
Mr. Speaker, it is not that I should wish to interrupt the hon. Member in the course lie is taking, if it were a fitting occasion, but out of respect to your ruling—that the observations of the hon. Member are not relevant—I think the House ought to support you in that ruling.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he thought he was going on quite successfully. It was most unintentional on his part if he had in any way departed from Order. He bad only been adducing the case in question, as an illustration of the manner in; which convict establishments were at present administered. He regarded the 1326 case referred to as one of the worst instances of injustice and cruelty that had ever occurred in this country. He must say that he thought the hon. Members for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) and Meath (Mr. Parnell) were entitled to the thanks of the country for bringing before the House the cruelty of the treatment to which persons were subjected in our convict prisons.
§ MR. BUTT
said, he could not but feel some little embarrassment as to the vote he should give upon the question. He, for one, thought that hon. Members should feel indebted to the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) for the manner in which the Amendment had been brought forward. From the beginning he had entertained very strong objections to the present convict-prison rules, as introducing a great constitutional change in the country. There was, however, a strong feeling in favour of saving some addition to the county rates, and he regretted very much that the Bill should pass on such grounds. If the Motion were carried to a division, he must vote for it as a protest against the present system of convict establishments. He knew of cruelties that went on at Mountjoy Prison under the discipline of the authorities, and inflicted upon persons confined there upon an arbitrary warrant, perfectly innocent, and yet subject to severe treatment as convicted criminals. He thought the time had come when this question should be considered without reference to political prisoners only, for the cruelties might be inflicted upon prisoners committed for no offence. Without going into the changes which might be introduced into convict establishments by the Bill, he thought the House would have been better satisfied if they had obtained from the Home Secretary an intimation that the rules of convict establishments would be subject to revision. The system was established as an experiment at the time when transportation was abolished, and in some degrees was forced on by philanthropists, who were influenced by kind motives towards the prisoners, although, unfortunately, their tender mercies had turned out to be very cruel. He could not, therefore, refuse to vote for the Motion as a protest; but he would appeal to the hon. Member for Mayo whether, if he pressed this Motion to a division, he would have a satisfac- 1327 tory decision upon it? The question he wished to raise was, that the present convict system required revision. He felt sure that there were many in the House quite willing to support a Motion for such a revision, but who could not bring themselves to vote for the Motion then before them. There were many who would share the reluctance he felt, and yet who would not with that reluctance vote in favour of the Motion, but against it. Therefore, a division would not decide the great question whether the whole system ought to be revised, or the treatment of the Irish prisoners, which had been incidentally raised. He wished to say one word in reference to the Commission. He thought that some person on behalf of the prisoners should have been permitted to put questions to the prison officials, and elicit the truth. He had offered to undertake that office, and in carrying out the duty, he would not have proceeded in a vexatious manner, and he regretted that his offer had not been accepted. By that means the truth might have been arrived at, and it might have led to the removal of many abuses. The conduct of the officials might have been entirely vindicated, though he did not think that would have been the case, and some satisfaction would have been given to the people generally. Upon the grounds he had given—namely, that a vote taken then would not fairly represent an opinion upon the question sought to be raised, he hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Motion to a division.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER,
after the appeal which had been made to him, did not intend to put the House to the trouble of dividing. He presumed he would not be in Order if he proceeded to make a reply to what they had heard from the Home Secretary; but he appealed to the indulgence of the House for the opportunity of making a few observations in the nature of a personal explanation. In the course of the statement he had felt it to be his duty to make he had said he would lay before the House some personal experiences; but he had been so completely carried away by the details of prison cruelties that he had forgotten that promise at the time. For a period of six months he had been a political prisoner untried, and four months of that time he had passed in solitary confinement, without 1328 means of communication, and subject to severe treatment if he attempted any mode of breaking the silence of his prison. On a previous occasion when he had felt it his duty to submit this question to the House, he did not like to trouble the House with his own experience, because at that time he, with others, was looking forward for that act of amnesty and clemency which would wipe out the recollection of all such cruelties, and remove all the bitter feelings in regard to them. He begged leave to withdraw his Motion.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ (New rules to be made by visiting justices.)
§ "All prison rules now existing shall be repealed, and Visiting Justices shall be empowered and required to make new rules for the internal regulation and discipline of their respective prisons."
§ The object of this Amendment was to make convicts independent of prison officials, who must always have a certain interest in stifling any complaints which those persons might wish to make. The hon. Member was referring to a subsequent Amendment he had on the Paper, when—
§ Clause brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now read a second time."
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
pointed out that they were not now discussing convict prisons. The Bill dealt entirely with county and borough prisons. At present the rules for these prisons were not really made by the Visiting Justices but by the Secretary of State, for though the Visiting Justices had the power to initiate rules, they must be approved of by the Secretary of State. If they allowed the Visiting Justices to make separate rules all over the country, they would be defeating that which was the great object of this Bill—namely, the establishment of uniformity of discipline throughout the country.
§ MR. WHALLEY
supported the second reading of the clause. He ridiculed the idea of the Home Secretary that it was possible to secure uniformity of discipline throughout the prisons of the country inasmuch as the varying circumstances of each locality would render all rules framed with that intention impracticable. He hoped this discussion would delay the further passage of the measure, which he thought had not as yet received that amount of consideration the subject from its very importance required.
§ MR. PARNELL
thought the proposed clause was a radically bad one and most mischievous—some of the existing rules might be very good.
Question put, and negatived.
§ (Prisoner to be tried by jury at sessions for breach of regulations.)
§ "In these rules it shall not be lawful to impose the penalty of flogging prisoners for infraction of prison regulations; but if any prisoner wilfully infringes or disobeys those regulations to an extent that, under the present system, would apparently authorise corporal punishment, the charge against such prisoner shall be tried by a jury at the next quarter or borough sessions for the district in which the offence has been committed, and the jury shall decide whether the prisoner deserves corporal punishment or not."
§ Clause brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now read a second time."
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, he could not support the clause as it stood, much as he desired to put down flogging in gaols. The clause was, in fact, impracticable. A man might wilfully break some prison rule within a day or two of the expiration of his sentence. The authorities could not detain him beyond that period for trial before a jury or at quarter sessions. Besides which, the clause would give the jury an authority which a jury never before had—the authority now vested in the Judge 1330 of determining the punishment to be inflicted upon the offender.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
thought, as a magistrate, that it would be quite impracticable to refer cases of breach of discipline to a jury. Many prisoners held in contempt every other mode of punishment but flogging, and were only kept in order by the fear of its infliction. He believed it had been the means of putting a stop to garotting. It would not be possible to keep up prison discipline without retaining the power of flogging at the discretion of the Visiting Justices.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
denied that the punishment of flogging had anything to do with the suppression of the garotting mania, as it had subsided before the Act making it punishable by the lash had passed the Legislature. It was, however, a strange coincidence, if nothing more, that immediately on the passing of that Act the crime it was intended to suppress, that of robbery with violence, increased.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
wished to amend the clause so as to make it altogether prohibitory of flogging as a punishment for the maintenance of discipline.
§ MR. SPEAKER
informed the hon. Gentleman that before he could move his Amendment the clause would have to be read a second time.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, he was disposed to support the clause, as it was a step in the direction of the total abolition of flogging. If the hon. Member for Stoke would consent to omit all the words after "regulation," and so direct the clause against flogging altogether, he would support it. Generally speaking, he was against these degrading punishments, for all such punishments tended to brutalize the victims. He was opposed to the corporal punishment even of garotters, and he was glad to hear that the repression of garotting was not due to its infliction. Surely other means of maintaining discipline might be found. It seemed to him that, of all places in the world, the last in which it should be necessary to resort to flogging was a prison. Let them take the case of a man imprisoned for an assault. Probably a passionate man, he might commit an assault on one of the warders, and would so render himself liable to be flogged at the discretion of the Visiting Justices.
1331 Thus a man might be flogged for an offence committed in prison, while he could not be flogged for the same offence committed out of prison. He thought flogging should never find a place in England except under the most dire necessity.
§ MR. BUTT
said, he was in favour of the total abolition of flogging in gaols. Even in the most refractory cases other and efficacious modes of punishment might be resorted to, but the lash hardened and brutalized a man. As he understood the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stoke was willing to omit the latter portion of the clause, the provisions of which were not objectionable, so as to meet the views of his hon. Friend the Member for Mayo, he would support the second reading of the clause. A prison was the last place where such punishment was or ought to be required. Surely they could keep up discipline without it.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
believed that flogging was not necessary for the preservation of discipline in prisons. Milder treatment and a system of rewards had been introduced into Manchester Gaol three years ago, and with good results. The punishments had fallen in one year from 3,745 to 746 by the adoption of a system of marks and of leniency, and it showed that prison government by means of hope and reward was the most successful.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
opposed the clause. The very fact of the prisoners knowing that they rendered themselves liable to be flogged for breach of rules prevented the necessity of having recourse to it. It was, however, a punishment which he should take care should not be unnecessarily inflicted.
§ stion put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 70; Noes 191: Majority 121.—(Div. List, No. 152.)
§ And it being after ten minutes before Seven of the clock, further Proceeding on Consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned till this day.
§ The House suspended its sitting at Seven of the clock.
§ The House resumed its sitting at Nine of the clock.