(8.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £111,253, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1879, for the Expense of the Superintendence of Prisons, and of the
Maintenance of Prisoners in Prisons in Ireland, and of the Registration of Habitual Criminals.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, he noticed that there was an item of £500 in the Vote which represented the salary of the Governor of Spike Island Convict Prison, and he would move to reduce the Vote by that sum. He would not at so late an hour have troubled the House with any observations in reference to the management of that establishment, had it not been for the fact that the public in Ireland had been startled by recent revelations made by a person who was detained there for a number of years. It had been his painful duty to call the attention of the House to the treatment of prisoners in Spike Island before, and he thought the facts now made public on the matter justified him in doing so again. The case of Robert Kelly, who was recently liberated, had attracted a great deal of attention, and he (Mr. O'Connor Power) had a good practical object in alluding to it now. A Commission was already engaged in making inquiries into the Penal Servitude Act. They had made inquiries of a very elaborate character in England, and he expressed a hope that when they entered on similar duties in Ireland, they would recognize the necessity of making thorough investigation, especially into the management of Spike Island Convict Prison. There were certain gentlemen, professional and otherwise in Ireland, who were competent to give some very valuable evidence respecting the management of these prisons. And he appealed to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and to the Attorney General for Ireland, to see that this inquiry was made. He knew very well what would be said on the first blush of the question. He should be asked where was his evidence; and he would reply from a long statement in a Dublin newspaper. After reading that Report, he considered a full investigation necessary, and an investigation made by a Commission and not by officials who, although with every desire to do their duty, had, in two cases to his knowledge, held inquiries which led to no satisfactory results. The case of Spike Island should attract the serious attention of the Government. He believed, a few years ago, there was something like a riot in the establishment, 1588 not among the political prisoners, but ordinary convicts, and from what he had read he was not surprised that there were riots and disturbances. There must be something wrong in that island home of these unfortunate men. He wished to call the attention of the Committee to a few statements made by Mr. Robert Kelly since his release from prison, and if the Session had not nearly arrived at its close, he would have taken other means to bring the matter before hon. Members. It might have been proper first to put questions to Ministers, and ask if there was any ground for the allegations which had been made public? But, knowing what official answers in that House were, knowing the extent to which Ministers had to depend upon information supplied to them by the officials inculpated, he confessed he could not look upon such a mode of procedure with unlimited confidence. Seven years ago, Kelly was sentenced to 15 years' penal servitude, and he had been liberated after serving seven years. In so far as that act of the Government represented an act of clemency towards a man who had committed a grave offence, and for which he should have been punished, he (Mr. O'Connor Power) returned his thanks. Now, it was stated that Kelly went into prison a strong, healthy man; but at the end of seven years, just as in the case of the others which had been brought before the House, he had been turned out of prison in a deplorable condition. It was stated in The Freeman's Journal, and other newspapers, that immediately after his release, he was induced to submit himself to an examination at the hands of Dr. Kenny, a well-known physician in the city of Dublin. The paper states—Dr. Kenny found the patient almost faint with weakness. The heart's action was poor and thready, registering 100 heats per minute. His limbs displayed no muscle, and the flesh was limp and flabby. He was badly affected with angina, or severe spasms, and his digestive system was completely disorganized.This, then, was the man who, seven years previously, went into the hands of the gaolers in a perfect state of health. Of course, it would be said that one of the effects of penal servitude was to considerably impair the health of those who were subject to it. If that was acknow- 1589 ledged and recognized, this country was responsible for permitting a system of prison discipline which robbed a man of what he would call the fee simple which he had in his constitution. He could not be satisfied with an answer to the effect that the system of penal servitude must materially impair the health of persons subject to it—mentally or physically. Then it might be said that Kelly had a peculiar constitution, and that seven years' penal servitude would have an extraordinary effect upon him. But what was particularly deplorable was that this shattered health generally came to men who had been imprisoned for political offences. It was a well-known fact in Ireland that prisoners convicted of murder, burglary, or the worst of offences, were better treated than those whose crimes were of a political nature. Why was this done? He did not say in every case that the action of the prison officials was the result of villainy. But he did say that sometimes when a man was recognized as a political offender, passions were excited against him, which induced the prison officials to strain their rules, if for no other reason than that it was necessary to take special precautions in the treatment of this class of prisoners. There was a record of the way in which Kelly was treated. He would spare the Committee a full recital of the facts, but he must bring some of them before it. Speaking of the severity of the prison regulations, Kelly remarked—I knew one poor fellow from Ship Street, Dublin, named Branagan, to be handcuffed with his hands behind his back for eight months.He invited the attention of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to that statement, because it had received a very full share of public attention. Of course, he would be met with the remark that these were mere allegations. Be they allegations or not, they had been made, and published to the world, and the Government now had an opportunity of making a thorough investigation of the statement. The Governor of Spike Island should feel that his conduct was open to suspicion at all events; and it would be the duty of the Commissioners, when they went to examine the Irish prisons, to see that their examination was not a sham 1590 one. Well, to continue Kelly's observations about Branagan. He said—I once heard him pray aloud to the gaolers to take off the manacles, if even for a few moments. That night I saw him reclining in his cell, and he died. A coroner's jury said that death was natural.There were only two other prisoners at the prison who had been guilty, not of a political offence, but of an offence arising out of excitement. Kelly said of one of them—Edward O'Connor—The poor fellow suffered from a running abscess upon one hip, which is most painful, and for which he is under constant medical treatment; but the authorities do not deem his case sufficiently bad to remove him to the hospital. Ho has also been sentenced to confinement for the smallest offences; and for certain statements which this prisoner made to his sister regarding his treatment, on the occasion of her last visit, he was sent to the punishment cell for three weeks, and fed on bread and water.Such a thing was almost incredible, and that such a thing should be allowed made him lose all confidence in the Government. The whole system of prison discipline was discussed by Parliament last year, and the Home Secretary flattered himself he had dealt a death-blow to the obnoxious features of the system, which was something to be thankful for. But what did they find? That the rules, as carried out in the Spike Island gaol, were of the worst character. Once, at Spike Island, Kelly, for a period of four days, was confined in a filthy, foul-smelling cell, without chair or table, his only seat being a low footstool or boss. His food was served to him on the floor, and he said—" When I could, I ate it like a beast—off the ground." Such an allegation was surely enough to bring the blush of shame to everyone connected with the management of the prison. The man also stated that for days he was compelled, notwithstanding that he was in very bad health, to work in the rain until his clothes were soaked through. That he was subject to a system of persecution was undeniable, seeing the condition in which he had returned to his friends. Who was responsible for all this, and by whom would a remedy be enforced? There was the case of James Dillon, brought under the notice of the House some time ago. Then the Home Secretary 1591 said an investigation was made by the Inspector, who said the report was not true. But what was wanted was an investigation by a Royal Commission— a thoroughly impartial investigation. In his opinion, if they wanted to arrive at the truth in regard to any matter involving criminal responsibility, they must have an impartial body to investigate the matter, and then the whole thing would be thoroughly sifted. He did not say that the statement of Kelly was to be accepted in preference to that of any official, nor was he going to advance the absurd proposition that a prison official, because he was such, was to be discredited. But he said it was still more absurd to ask a man who was charged with a certain thing whether it was true, and then come to the House and say it was not. There ought to be something done by which the public would become aware of the management of these prisons. It was suggested, in the discussion on the Prisons Act, that a complaint-book might be kept, where a prisoner could write his complaints every week, and that the public might be able to demand an examination of the book on payment of 1s. It was also suggested that facilities should be given to Members of that House to drop upon the officials when they were not expected, thereby securing something like public supervision of what was going on. All these proposals were rejected by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, who undertook to devise means by which there should be visits to prisons by impartial persons. There were the Visiting Justices before; but now, in their stead, there was a regular body of Inspectors. It was only by the greatest possible effort that anything like a candid statement of the facts of a case could be obtained, and hence he wanted an inquiry by the Royal Commission. The object he had in moving the rejection of the salary of the Governor of Spike Island was that he was the only person who appeared to be responsible. He had received letters from persons who had many opportunities of having occasional glimpses of what was going on, and there was a concurrence of testimony which satisfied him. Whatever decision might be taken now with the view of getting through Supply, he 1592 trusted hon. Gentlemen would hold their judgment in reserve, and would expect the Government to see during the Recess that there was a thorough investigation into the management of Spike Island and other prisons; so that next year the House might be able to congratulate themselves that they had done something to prevent a repetition of such deplorable occurrences.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £110,753, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1879, for the Expense of the Superintendence of Prisons, and of the Maintenance of Prisoners in Prisons in Ireland, and of the Registration of Habitual Criminals." —(Mr. O' Connor Power.)
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
was glad his hon. Friend had taken this opportunity of bringing under the consideration of the House, before the close of the Session, the present state of prison discipline. He quite admitted the inconvenience, and even the absurdity, of being compelled to propose the reduction of the salary of one of the Government officers, who, after all, was not the person to blame, because he was only a servant of the Government; but he believed that, at the present time, our prisons were as much in need of the exertions and investigations of a Howard as they were at the time of that distinguished philanthropist. Though the statements now being made to the House would have little weight, though they would not be reported in the public Press, and though those who were listening might wish those who troubled them at this hour—1 A.M.—would cease to address the Committee, he would not on that account be prevented from stating what he believed it was his duty to state to the House. During the last three weeks, he had had occasion frequently to trouble the House in a way very unpleasant to himself. It was his habit not to call attention in that House to public wrongs until he had first tried to have them redressed by efforts made outside the House. With regard to the 1593 new Prison Rules, he had done his best privately to get the Home Secretary to make explanations, and to enter into reasonable discussion. He was now convinced that the Government knew nothing whatever about what was going on in prisons. He could come to no other conclusion; because, if they were not ignorant, they would be wilfully deceiving the House. The answers given to the Questions he had asked had simply had the effect of deceiving the public.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
I object to that statement, that the answers of the Government are given for the purpose of deceiving the public.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
explained that he never said that. It was impossible that hon. Gentlemen like the Home Secretary or the Chief Secretary for Ireland would wish to deceive the public; but he said it was because they did not know what was going on that they gave such answers. The reason why they did not know was evident. The right hon. Gentleman had so much other work that he had delegated the work of inquiry to one particular Commissioner. [Mr. ASSHETON CROSS: No.] The right hon. Gentleman said "No." He was quite aware that there were associated with that Commissioner two other gentlemen who had made a Report; but there was always a master-mind, who, on this occasion, was Sir Edmund Du Cane, who, he believed, was one of the most injudicious and hard-hearted men that ever had the management of prisons. The result was that a system of torture had been introduced into our prisons. A system of torture had been introduced into this country and Ireland, which was a disgrace to civilization, and which would not be endured by the House of Commons when they fairly knew what was going on. The ordinary beds upon which, in Ireland, prisoners had been accustomed to sleep and been taken away from them, and a bare board given, on which they slept, either in their shirts or, as the Chief Secretary for Ireland said, in nightshirts. But the answer given by the Chief Secretary was deceptive. Bedding was talked of, and that expression was used in a manner calculated entirely to deceive the House, and to make them suppose that bedding was something on 1594 which prisoners lay. Covering, however, was the proper name for the kind of bedding these prisoners had. Men and women, and children, also, until this week — when the Government, having their attention called to this subject, chose to order that children should not be so treated—were compelled, under the new Rules, to lie for a month on bare planks. That was torture; for why had the plank bed been substituted for the hammocks and mattresses of former times?—to deprive men of sleep; and to deprive men of sleep was to bring them to the verge of insanity. There were numbers of prisoners who had already been driven into insanity by the discipline of our prisons. This matter of the plank-bed had been commented on in Ireland in a way that ought to produce some impression on the Government. It had been said that this prison treatment was the result of a recommendation of a Committee of the House of Lords. It was true that in the Report of that Committee there occurred this passage—The Committee recommend that during short sentences, or the earlier stages of long confinement, the prisoner should be made to dispense with the use of a mattress, and to sleep upon a plank.That Report was dated 1863. He turned to the evidence upon which the Report was based; and here was a specimen of it. The Committee asked the then Inspector of Prisons—Are you aware that in military prisons they take away the soldier's bed, and when the soldier is obliged to be on duty once in three nights they do the same?—Yes. Could that be applied in prisons? Would it be desirable to take away part of the bed, and leave nothing but planks?The Inspector answered that he did not think this would be desirable. It would not contribute to health to do so. In reply to the Marquess of Salisbury, the witness said it would be the reverse of healthy, for it would keep men awake, and give them bad nights. This was the kind of evidence given to the Committee, and he had been unable to discover on what grounds the recommendation of the Committee had been made. No one could have believed that such treatment could have been applied to women. When he first gave attention to this subject, he supposed that it 1595 affected men exclusively, and suggested to the Home Secretary that, at any rate, a hole should be made in the plank in which the hip bone could rest; for anyone who had had occasion, in campaigning or otherwise, to lie out, knew that it was a great alleviation of pain and distress to make such a hole for the hip bone. The suggestion was not received as it ought to have been. The right hon. Gentleman did not know whether there was a hole in the plank or not; but promised to inquire, if he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) wished, and to inform him. He remonstrated gently; stating his regret that the Home Secretary should not think it necessary that he should know this for himself, and that no kind of desire should be expressed to make even a reasonable concession like that. Now, after Question upon Question had been put to the Government, and something like an angry feeling raised in the country, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland said that the suggestion would be taken notice of. At that time, however, he had no notion that anybody could be so barbarous as to put women on these bare planks; and if this were a specimen of the discipline to be enforced under the new Rules, the sooner that discipline was altered the better. With regard to diet, he had never read a book so absurd, in many respects, as the Report made to Sir Edmund Du Cane, by his direction, on the subject of dietary. The dietary was already as bad as it could possibly be, and under present regulations, no food was given between 4 o'clock in the afternoon and 8 in the morning. Here was a passage from the Report of the Committee who made the recommendations on which the dietary had been reformed—In the course of our numerous visits to local gaols, we have conversed with many prisoners; we have watched them all hours of the day, and we cannot avoid the conclusion that in a large number of cases, imprisonment, as now generally conducted, is a condition more or less akin to 'physiological rest.' The struggle for survival is suspended; and the prisoner appears to feel that the prayer for daily bread is rendered unnecessary by the solicitude of his custodians. Tranquillity of mind and freedom from anxiety are leading characteristics of his life. From the moment that the prison gates close behind him, the tendency, in most cases, is to lessened waste of tissue; he lives, in fact, less rapidly than before.1596' He is insensibly subduedTo settled quiet;'and finds, in many instances, a peace and repose to which, as a law-abiding citizen, he was perchance a stranger.We have found that the work exacted of prisoners is never excessive; and here we may remark that it is not work, bodily or mental, that kills men; it is worry; and from worry prisoners, as a rule, are free. ' Work is wholesome, but worry is like rust, which eats into the blade and destroys it.'Most prison medical officers, when first appointed, experience a certain fluttering when called upon to see one of the inmates at night, and are oppressed with the thought of conscious criminals tossing upon troubled beds; ' Multi per somnia sœpe loquentes aut morbo delirantes peccata dedisse;' * but they soon find that the prisoners nestle very comfortably in their hammocks, and that however guilty their consciences may be, they do not trouble them. Each prisoner seems to be able to say—'I feel within meA peace above all earthly dignities,A still and quiet conscience.'This was the rubbish upon which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Assheton Cross) pinned his faith. If stern and solemn facts could not have any effect in leading to a thorough investigation into these subjects, he hoped the additional element of ridicule which, for the first time, he believed had been thrown upon a subject of this kind in a Parliamentary Paper by the pedantry and absurdity of the gentleman whom the right hon. Gentleman had called upon to assist him, would prove as potent a weapon now as it had done in the reform of past abuses.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
I am only going to say a few words; but I wish to remove a wrong impression, which seems to be in the mind of the hon. Gentleman. That impression seems to me to be due to the fact that he is better acquainted with the Irish prisons than with the English prisons. As I understand, the use of plank beds has not been general in Ireland, but has only been resorted to in the case of punishment; and the hon. Gentleman seems to have fancied that England was in the same position. I want to remove that mistake from his mind. I have not yet got a complete list of all the prisons of England in which plank beds have been in use since the passing of the Prison Act of 1865. Therefore, not the slightest change has been made by the Prison Rules in that 1597 respect. [The right hon. Gentleman here read a long list of English prisons in which the plank bed had been used since 1865.] The only effect of the Prison Rules, so far as this matter is concerned, is this—that whereas there were prisons where the plank bed was in use only for three weeks, and others where a prisoner was compelled to be on the plank bed for three months, the new Rules introduced uniformity, and though, in some few cases, the period may now be a little longer in a great many prisons, the effect of the new Rules is to reduce the period during which the plank bed is in use. I am not speaking now of punishment discipline. In all the gaols which I have mentioned the plank bed is part of the ordinary discipline.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
Before the right hon. Gentleman goes further, may I ask whether I am to understand that for short sentences of a month or so prisoners in England have been compelled to lie on these planks, and that women have also before the present Rules been so treated?
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
For short sentences, in many gaols, undoubtedly. I will speak of women in a moment. I have been confining my remarks to the case of men. The women are to be considered. They are to have some covering on the plank, though not an ordinary mattress. With regard to short-sentence prisoners, it may seem hard that they should be treated with the same severity in this respect as those with longer sentences. But there are many short-sentence prisoners who must be made to know that a prison is a prison. I remember going into one prison last year. There was an old woman there, to whom the magistrate who was with me said— "Are you here again? You tell the gentleman here how many times you have been in gaol." "Well," she said, "this is the 96th time." Now, a prison is not a place for a woman of that kind, who had looked upon this prison, where she had been too leniently treated, as a kind of workhouse, and who invariably in winter committed some petty theft for the purpose of being committed to gaol. Then about the food. I stated the other day that there was no difference made in the hours at which it is given in any prison in England. In any prison where 5 o'clock may have been the latest 1598 hour for the afternoon meal, the reason there has been no alteration is that a Committee has been sitting for the express purpose of inquiring into this matter, and finding out, before any alteration is made, what hours are best. They have not yet reported. As to the Report quoted by the hon. Gentleman, I do not know that the flowery language has anything to do with the Report made to me. I think it a pity that these words are there; but, putting aside the flowery language, I do not think you will find better or more experienced men than those who have drawn up the dietary. Dr. Gower is a man very well known in London. I suppose the best regulated gaol in the whole of England before the passing of the present Prisons Act and the one which was the most respected by everybody who had anything to do with it was the gaol at Salford. The doctor there was looked up to by everyone who had the slightest business connection with that prison. He was specially chosen for that Committee; and I am bound to say that if this dietary table is compared with the dietary tables of 1843 and 1864, it will be found that it is greatly advanced. Although it has only been in force for a short time, I have had favourable Reports made to me as to the weights of the prisoners; and as another test of the diet, I have learned that in many prisons where formerly the surgeons had ordered extra diet for their patients, they had been able to dispense almost entirely with extra diet when the new dietary was introduced. If more time and fuller experience verified these favourable results, there will be strong and conclusive testimony in favour of the new dietary. I can only assure the hon. Member that the working of this Act will be watched with the greatest care, not by one Member of the Commission or another, but by myself. I am bound to say that I cannot really allow the words used by the hon. Member with reference to the admirable officer, Sir Edmund Du Cane, to go unchallenged. He is not a hard-hearted man. I can say that most positively. One hon. Member has made some observations as to convict prisons. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Childers) will bear me witness that at the time the present Act passed through Committee, I was pressed very much by him to have one Board for convict prisons 1599 and local prisons, and I refused because I did not want those local prisons to be treated on the same system as convict prisons. I chose out of a Commission of four, two gentlemen who were magistrates of long standing and experience, and of high probity in their respective counties. I was thankful to get them, so that their experience as old Visiting Justices of local prisons would be advantageous in the way of counteracting the influence—if any should be felt—of convict prison management on local prisons. I think I asked the hon. Gentleman to go and see them. They would remove some of his present impressions with regard to the working of local prisons. [Mr. O'CONNOR POWER: Would the right hon. Gentleman mention names?] Admiral Hornby, and Mr. Watlington, formerly Member for Essex. In the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just asked these names, he appeared to me to pass very rapidly from convict to local prisons, and he complains that there has been no system of visitation. Now, in the local prisons, the power of visitation is absolutely perfect at present. There are Visiting Committees, who visit these prisons as part of their duty, and every Justice could go into the prison at any moment he chose. Then there are Inspectors, who go round the country constantly; and there are four Commissioners, who divide the country among them, for the purpose of visiting the prisons. From the passing of the Act up to the present moment, he had never received from the Visiting Justices a single complaint of ill-usage. At the beginning of next Session I hope I shall be able to satisfy the hon. Member with positive proofs that he has no cause for complaint.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, the reason he did not go to see the gentleman named by the Home Secretary was that the right hon. Gentleman said he could not see the Chief Commissioner (Sir Edmund Du Cane) on account of his numerous engagements. His (Mr. Mitchell Henry's) experience of treatment in prisons was derived from this country much more than from Ireland. As a Middlesex magistrate he was very familiar with the discipline of several of the Metropolitan prisons. The Committee would have observed that the Home Secretary had not said that the 1600 system of laying on plank beds did not apply to women. True, the beds had been in use for men in England for many years; but Sir Edmund Du Cane knew no difference in the discipline of men and women. He believed the country would not stand such a rule, and that the planks would have to be abolished. There were a great many things on which he would not trouble the Committee; but he must allude to one—the hours during which prisoners were confined in their cells — a plan which was absolutely destructive of health. They were confined in a cell from 7 to 9 and 11 feet long and 4 feet wide, with a window at the top to admit the light. Those not sentenced to hard labour were kept in these cells, with the exception of one hour for exercise, for 24 hours. That was a thing which, if it occurred in Naples, would have excited the indignation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich; and surely the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary could not say it was a proper mode of treatment in England. It was disgraceful that a human being should be kept for 23 consecutive hours in such a place, because he had been guilty of some offence, but had not been sentenced to hard labour. Then, look how these Rules would work. People might be imprisoned in the county prisons for the non-payment of fines; a cabman might be sent to prison for loitering in the street, or for any other trivial offence; and yet these men or women or children were subjected to exactly the same discipline as the greatest offender, or the old woman who seemed to have made such an impression on the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. There was an old saying that hard cases made bad laws, and he believed this was one of the cases. There was a very melancholy side to the question of the old woman who had been imprisoned 96 times, and who was compelled to commit crime in order to get shelter. The majority of mankind, whether males or females, did not go to prison willingly, but very unwillingly, and a great number were imprisoned for the first time under circumstances which reduced their nervous system to a distressing condition. He maintained that it was wrong to punish those persons in the same way as they 1601 did habitual criminals at the suggestion of Inspectors of prisons—military men, like Sir Edmund Du Cane. He thought they should adapt their discipline to the nature of the offence they had to punish. It was wrong to treat a person sent to gaol for the non-payment of fines in the same severe manner as they would a convicted felon. It was manifestly unfair that those convicted for short periods should lay for a month on a plank the same as those who had long terms of imprisonment, the punishment in the first instance being very much harsher than in the second. In many cases of long sentences the month on the plank was taken out in instalments; whereas the unfortunate wretch who was sent to gaol for the breach of a municipal regulation, or who was unable to pay a fine, was compelled to lay for a whole month upon this plank. Such discipline could not be justified; it was not discipline at all. It was a clumsy attempt, on the part of men who really had no knowledge of what things ought to be, to carry out Rules which never ought to have been made.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, it was not a question of rules being at fault, but of the law. He should be glad to see in the Summary Jurisdiction Bill, if passed this year, a clause providing that persons sent to prison for non-payment of fines or similar small offences should not be treated as an ordinary criminal.
reminded the Committee that any reference to the English prisons would be more appropriately discussed on the English Vote.
THE O'CONOR DON
trusted his hon. Friend would not think it necessary to divide the Committee against the Vote. His hon. Friend had pointed out complaints which were made with regard to the treatment of prisoners in Spike Island, and he had appealed to the Government to order an inquiry into these complaints. He trusted that the Royal Commission appointed at the commencement of the Session would be instructed to make such an inquiry, and knowing the character of the gentlemen upon that Commission, he believed their investigation would be above suspicion. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) that more confidence would be felt in the inquiries of an independent Commission, such as that which had 1602 been appointed, than in the results of an inquiry by any official. He had no doubt that this Commission would investigate the treatment of convicts at Spike Island; and, therefore, the object of his hon. Friend the Member for Mayo would have been secured. In England, the convict prisons and the ordinary county prisons were kept distinct, and under the new law they were not to be amalgamated. But such was not the case in Ireland. Under the new law, the governments of the two sets of prisons were to be amalgamated, and one Board was to govern the whole. Up to the present time there had been a system of Board Superintendents in each county to govern the county prisons, corresponding to the Visiting Justices; but these had been done away with. If the system was to work well, it was essential that they should give some sort of power to those visiting the gaol, or give them an opportunity of communicating with the Prison Board. He suggested that the Visiting Justices should have the power of going to the prisons and have an opportunity of meeting the members of the Prison Board.
§ MR. H. SAMUELSON
desired that the Home Secretary should explain one passage in his statements, which, as it stood, was not clear or satisfactory. He wished to know whether, before the new Rules were initiated, women had not to sleep upon planks, and whether, since the passing of these Rules, they had so to sleep?
§ MR. DILLWYN
wished the Home Secretary had said something in answer to the serious allegations made by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power). He had stated that one man had had his hands chained behind him for eight months, and if that were true, it was nothing else but a system of torture, into which a serious investigation was necessary. Flogging had been done away with to a great extent, and this country would never allow to be substituted for it a system of slow torture.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
considered that the hon. Gentleman had been led away by the discussion which had taken place. After the able and moderate speech of the hon. Member for Mayo, which was within the scope of the Vote, the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell 1603 Henry), as an illustration of the adage that blood is thicker than water, abandoned the land of his adoption and rushed headlong to that of his birth, and regardless of the rules which regulated discussions in Committee of Supply, had brought up a subject which might more appropriately have been discussed upon the English Vote. He should not follow the hon. Gentleman, after the very clear statement of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, further than to point out a few observations he made in reply to questions upon the subject. He then stated that children in Ireland were not placed upon a plank bed. As for Robert Kelly, he had every reason to believe that he was treated with great care, in consequence of his state of health, and his condition was the subject of special inquiry. As to the various details of the treatment of prisoners mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, by facts brought to his knowledge, he had every reason to believe that they could not be supported. After the statement of certain alleged facts, the hon. Gentleman had urged that the matter should be brought before the Penal Servitude Commission. Neither he nor any other Member of Her Majesty's Government had any control over the movements of that Commission; but he should be very glad if they saw their way to conduct an inquiry into the Irish prisons, including that at Spike Island. He need scarcely say that every facility for doing so would be afforded by the Government.
§ MR. H. SAMUELSON
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary did not answer his question. He wished to know whether women had to sleep on plank beds before the new Rules were initiated? The reason he asked this was that the right hon. Gentleman had said that the new Rules made no change in this respect.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he had stated that there was no change with regard to men; but that in the case of women it was different.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, the Home Secretary had been very anxious to prove that the Rules made in 1865 were made by others than himself, and he seemed desirous of putting those Rules upon a former Government. This was in great contrast to the statements which were made when a change for the better was effected, for then every credit was taken 1604 for what had been accomplished. There was no doubt that the present Rules were very unpopular, and the right hon. Gentleman did not like his Government and Party to bear the onus of the extreme unpopularity of the system. It had been said in a former discussion that soldiers had to sleep upon these plank beds; but that was only once in six or seven nights, and then only for a portion of the night. It might be a necessity to adopt such a plan in the case of soldiers; but the whole tone of the discussion in the House had been that they were not good in every case. If they did good, no doubt the Government would say they were a necessary and useful system, and they would take the whole responsibility for their use. But that had not been done by the Government on the present occasion, and he could well understand the reason for it. These Rules as they stood must bear very heavily in some cases. For instance, under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, a respectable farmer might be imprisoned and come under these Rules, and have to sleep for a month on a plank bed. He was glad to be clear of all complicity in the passing of such Rules, and he trusted his hon. Friend would divide the House as a protest against such a system.
§ MR. MELDON
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had not sought to defend the system of plank beds in England. He pointed out that he found it in force, and the action of Government had been to make punishment less severe. Severity of punishment had on the whole been decreased; but how did that bear on Ireland? In trying to assimilate the Prison Law in England and Ireland, the greatest indignation had been excited from one end of the country to the other. The Lord Chief Baron and Mr. Baron Dowse had stated their opinions distinctly. The Lord Chief Baron said, as far as women were concerned, he would not be a party to sentencing them to imprisonment except for crimes of violence, and Mr. Baron Dowse said he should inflict much shorter terms of imprisonment in consequence of the torture prisoners had to go through. It was perfectly indefensible that whereas a prisoner sentenced to two years' imprisonment had to sleep on a plank for a month extended over the whole period, an individual 1605 sent to prison for one month had to sleep for the whole time on a plank. He objected to the introduction of such an abominable and atrocious system of torture into Ireland, and he thought they must take a division, either then or subsequently, to mark their opinion as to the treatment which the Irish prisoners had received at the hands of the Government, by having such a species of torture inflicted upon them.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, the sentiments of the Chief Secretary for Ireland were quite out of unison with the sentiments of the humane and enlightened people he had to govern. He did not accuse the right hon. Gentleman of desiring to mislead; but he did mislead to such an extent that the placards of some of the Irish newspapers announced the abolition of the plank beds. The answers given were couched in such language that they bore a double meaning, and were understood by partizans of the Government in one way, and by those behind the scenes in another way. He wanted to know whether these questions could not be answered in a full and straightforward manner? If the Government said—"We have adopted the plank bed. We think it the right thing, and we mean to stick to it," there would be no misunderstanding. He was now in some doubt upon the whole subject; but what had been elicited had been elicited only by piecemeal, and in a way which he thought not at all satisfactory. He hoped hon. Members would make a protest by their votes.
§ MR. A. MOORE
did not think there was cause for the remarks made by the previous speaker as to the straightforwardness of the answers to questions. The question was not raised by the hon. Member for the first time, for before he had taken up the subject he had brought it under the attention of the House. He would now say to the Ministry that prison managers having done so long without these plank beds in Ireland, it was a pity that they were not dispensed with altogether. The way in which the extra punishment they inflicted was introduced by a side-wind, as it were, and without the Judges knowing the extent of the punishment they were inflicting, was most improper.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken was entirely mistaken in saying that he 1606 (Mr. Mitchell Henry) took up this question after him. Long before he had moved in it, he had gone to the Home Secretary on the subject. He was not, however, so easily satisfied by official answers as the hon. Member.
§ MR. LEEMAN,
though he did not see how this question of plank beds could rise out of the particular Vote on which the Committee was asked to express an opinion, thought the discussion would result in good, even in England. The Home Secretary had promised to give his own attention to the subject of prison treatment. He was glad of that, because anything more barbarous than Prison Rules rendering it necessary that persons who had been sent to prison for a month should be subject to the plank bed he could not conceive. In the large prisons in England a large proportion of the commitments were for one month.
I must point out to the hon. Member that, although the question of plank beds as affecting Ireland is before the Committee, the question of plank beds as affecting England is not.
§ MR. LEEMAN
could only say that if he were to be put down on a reference to that question which had constituted the principal feature of the debate by an objection of this kind, he would certainly avail himself of another opportunity of seeking to have the question really discussed. He said without hesitation that the largest number of committals was the number of those for one month, and many of those committals were not for felony, or anything approaching to it; but for minor offences, for which the plank bed punishment should not be put in force. He therefore thought the Committee ought to be obliged to the Members for Ireland who had brought this question under the notice of the Committee. Such cases as that of the old woman, to which the Home Secretary referred, were unusual; the commitments for short periods being generally commitments for offences of a very venial nature. He trusted that before next Session the use of the plank bed in these commitments would be abolished.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
was anxious to take the course most suitable to the Committee in reference to the Vote. In reply to the hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don), the Chief Secretary 1607 for Ireland made a statement which, as far as it went, was a very fair statement. He declared, on the part of the Government, that if the Commission thought proper to investigate the management of Irish prisons, every facility would be afforded them. In fact, as he (Mr. O'Connor Power) understood him, he expressed a hope that they would see their way to make that inquiry. Now, that was a point gained. The right hon. Gentleman was not in a position to contradict the grave accusations he (Mr. O'Connor Power) brought against the the Governor of Spike Island, and there he supposed the matter must rest; and having regard to the turn the discussion had taken, he thought he would be justified in asking the leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment he had proposed, but with a view to its being discussed again. Against the introduction, under these Prison Rules, of the barbarous plank bed, he wished to test the feeling of the Committee; but he would withdraw his present Amendment.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
The hon. Member will be departing from the practice of the Committee in proposing such a Motion. I understand him to wish to raise an issue equivalent to negativing the Vote.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
We only propose to negative the Vote as an expression of our opinion on the subject of plank beds. I should like that to be understood.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
appealed to the Home Secretary, before the Question was put, to say whether he was prepared to tell the country that he had assented to this new mode of punishment in Irish prisons without a reason for doing it. Could he not rise in his place and give some assurance that it would be stopped?
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he had nothing to do with the Prison Rules so far as Ireland was concerned.
THE O'CONOR DON
said, he believed the Rules were sent over from England to the Board in Ireland, who had to adopt them. They were not originated 1608 by the Board in Dublin. They were English Rules which came over to them in order that, for the sake of uniformity, they might be adopted in Ireland. His hon. Friend proposed to take a division on this Vote for the whole amount of the expenses of the Irish Prisons, in order to make his protest against the plank beds; but he confessed it seemed to him that this was not a very satisfactory mode of expressing an opinion. There might be a strong opinion that these beds should be discontinued, and, at the same time, there might be an indisposition to stop the supplies for the expenses of the Irish prisons. He would not be inclined to vote against the whole Vote because he objected to plank beds, and he feared a division taken against the Vote would be a bad one; whereas, if the question were raised directly, the division might be a good one.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
asked leave to move that the Vote be reduced. He noticed on the Treasury Bench some indication of dissent from his hon. Friend's (the O'Conor Don's) remark that the Prison Rules were sent from England to be adopted in Ireland. It was true that the Prison Rules were elaborated in England and sent over to Ireland. The Privy Council in Ireland, however, was not nearly unanimous, though a majority adopted the Rules. He would move to reduce the Vote by £100, as a protest against plank beds.
Motion made, and Question put,
That a sum, not exceeding £111,153, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1879, for the Expense of the Superintendence of Prisons, and of the Maintenance of Prisoners in Prisons in Ireland, and of the Registration of Habitual Criminals." —(Mr. Mitchell Henry.)
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 21; Noes 51: Majority 30. — (Div. List, No. 253.)
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
intimated that as the happy moment of going out of Committee of Supply had now been reached, it would not now be necessary to have a Morning Sitting.
§ MR. M. BROOKS
asked, whether any opportunity would be given to hon. Members to bring forward Private Bills on Saturday?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It is as well to be clear upon that point. I think, considering the position in which the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors on Sunday (Ireland) Bill stands, and considering all that has passed in relation to that Bill, it would not be right that the Session should close without our endeavouring to give the House an opportunity of considering the Bill on its third reading. I should propose, therefore, to take that Bill on Saturday.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The Irish Sunday Closing Bill will be taken first on Saturday, and some other Business afterwards. The Appropriation Bill will be brought in tomorrow. Its second reading will not be taken on Saturday; but, perhaps, it will be taken on Monday.
§ In reply to Mr. LEEMAN,
§ MAJOR NOLAN
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in rather a communicative mood, can he make a good guess at the date of the Prorogation?
§ DR. O'LEARY
said, it had been reported that the discussion of the Irish Sunday Closing Bill would be made to extend over Saturday night, and carried on during Sunday. He was anxious to know whether it was possible that this Bill would be brought on under the auspices of the Government at such an hour that its discussion might be possibly continued for the time suggested?
§ MR. M. BROOKS
wished to know whether, in that case, the Rule applicable to Wednesday Sittings would apply 1610 so that the Sitting would terminate at 6.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
There is no limit, I believe, to such a Sitting as is proposed for Saturday.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.