HC Deb 07 August 1879 vol 249 cc423-9

, in calling attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on the working of the Penal Servitude Acts, and to the rules for the management of county and borough prisons in England, Scotland, and Ireland, said, he had purposed, if the Forms of the House had permitted, to move— That, in the opinion of this House, no sufficient necessity exists for the continuance, of flogging for the punishment of prison offences. He was not quite sure whether the punishment was much resorted to in borough prisons; but in convict prisons it was very extensively inflicted. Flogging, he might add, was first introduced in the Irish convict prisons by the Penal Servitude Act of 1856; and he saw no good reason why, as a variety of other punishments might be put in force, it should be continued. He referred to the case of a prisoner named Murphy, who had been knocked down by a warder. When five men who had seen the assault made some exclamation they were marched off to punishment, which consisted of three dozen lashes of the cat, 28 days' bread and water, and the wearing of cross irons and chains night and day. He called that a case of horrible brutality, and a disgrace to the Government. The punishment of flogging was resorted to for the most frivolous offences, chiefly in consequence of the want of independent inspection. He asked the Home Secretary if he meant materially to reduce the punishment of flogging in the prisons under his control, restricting its infliction to cases of assault on warders, and only after careful investigation. Military men ought not to be employed as Governors of prisons, or as warders. Those brought up in the military school were not the men for reforming our criminal population. He strongly disapproved the power given to gaolers and Governors of inflicting upon prisoners the punishment of close confinement with bread and water in the prisoner's own cell. The Chairman of the Visiting Justices of Middlesex complained of this power. Another matter was this—the Irish Prisons Act of 1877 required that a Return should be made every year of the punishments inflicted and the offences for which they had been inflicted. They had no Return from the Irish prisons which complied with the requirements of the Act; for though there was a Return of the number of punishments there was none as to their nature, or as to the offences for which they had been imposed. The hon. Gentleman then referred to the case of Patrick Grimes, who had died in Armagh gaol, and said that the Chief Secretary had thrown a slur on the verdict that had been returned by saying that the jury was largely composed of prisoners in the gaol. [Mr. J. LOWTHER: Half-and-half.] That long interned prisoners should be put on a jury was open to objection, as they might be under the influence of the prison authorities; but it would be useful, he thought, to have prisoners undergoing short sentences acting on such juries. It would be also better if the authorities showed greater regard for the verdicts of juries. A representation on the case of Patrick Grimes had been drawn up by 12 jurors, citizens of Armagh, among whom was the foreman of the jury; but the only answer that had been received from the Castle was an acknowledgment that the statement had been received. The dietary in all the Irish prisons was entirely insufficient.


said, the hon. Member had a great objection to corporal punishment in all its shapes and forms; and, therefore, it was quite natural that he should raise the question. For his own part, however, he was not prepared to give up that punishment, which was very useful, and had not been carried to excess. His own opinion was that, in the long run, a man was more likely to be improved by a punishment being sharper and shorter than if it were of a prolonged kind. As to the way in which corporal punishment had been inflicted in convict prisons, the hon. Member seemed to think that punishment had been excessively employed even of late years. The facts, however, did not bear out that opinion. The number of whippings inflicted in convict prisons in 1877–8 was only 39, as compared with 92 in 1871–2, and 81 in 1872–3. The Returns, in fact, showed that since 1871 there had been a gradual and progressive decrease in the amount of corporal punishment inflicted in their convict prisons. The whole question had been examined by the Penal Servitude Commissioners, who were gentlemen most competent to deal with such a matter, and not at all likely to recommend undue rigour or harshness in the treatment of prisoners. In their Report the Commissioners said that corporal punishment was inflicted only for grave offences; that the evidence they had received showed that in many cases it produced a salutary effect; and that they saw no reason for thinking that it was inflicted more frequently than was necessary for the maintenance of proper authority over the worst-conducted class of convicts. With regard to local prisons, the gaoler had no power of flogging, and no prisoner could be flogged, except for the more serious kind of prison offences. If a criminal had been guilty of repeated offences in prison, or of an offence which the gaoler was not empowered to punish, then the Visiting Justices might, after inquiry upon oath, order him to be punished by personal correction. He had not yet received the figures with respect to corporal punishment in local gaols during the last year, but before Parliament separated he hoped to obtain them; but the Reports relating to the old local prisons showed that in very few of the smaller prisons was flogging resorted to at all. It was confined, principally, to the large prisons. He had ordered a careful investigation to be made of all the cases in which corporal punishment seemed to be more largely used than in other prisons, with a view to prevent any mischief or abuse arising in those gaols; for no one was more anxious than he was that this punishment should be employed as seldom as possible with a due regard to discipline. With respect to the instrument used for corporal punishment, he had had long conversations, before the recent debates occurred, with the Director of Convict Prisons and the Chairman of the Prisons Commission, and he had come to the conclusion some time ago that if there were no knots on the "cat" used in the Navy there should be none on the "cat" used in prisons; but he made up his mind to introduce no alteration until the Commission reported. The Commission had reported, but they did not touch this part of the subject; and he saw no reason now why he and the Director of the Convict Prisons should not now act on the conclusions at which he had arrived. The Report referred to would be laid upon the Table before the end of the Session. The prison at Spike Island had been condemned, and the prisoners would be removed elsewhere as soon as a suitable place for their reception had been determined upon. In conclusion, he could assure the House that every endeavour would be made to secure that the prisoners should be properly treated and discipline fully carried out. On the one hand, prisoners must not be allowed to say that any unfairness had been practised towards them; and, on the other hand, care must be taken that when they left prison, whether as reformed characters or not, they would go away with the feeling that the gaol was not a desirable place to which to return.


said, that there had been one gratifying feature in the speech of the Home Secretary—namely, that in future a cat-o'-nine-tails without knots was to be used. He (Mr. A. Moore) had not been able, during the recent discussion on the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill, to support the proposal for the total abolition of flogging; but when the various specimens of cats were exhibited in the Library of the House he was horrified at the fearful character of these weapons. There were certain other matters affecting prison discipline which he hoped would also receive attention from the right hon. Gentleman. In England a prisoner was allowed to ap- peal to the authorities; but the Prison Commissioners, referring to Irish prisons, reported that a certain Captain Barlow never allowed a prisoner to appeal. Now, who was this Captain Barlow? Was he the Captain Barlow who had recently been placed on the Irish Prisons Board? He should be glad to have a distinct answer from the Government on that point. Then he found in the mouth of the Governor of Chatham Prison the astounding statement that "under no conceivable circumstances" would he accept the word of a prisoner against that of a warder. That was a point to which he would also direct the attention of the Home Secretary. Another was the regulations relating to the putting of a prisoner on bread and water. In Ireland this could not be done twice by a Governor without the consent of the superior authority; but in England a Governor might sentence a prisoner repeatedly to three days' bread and water, allowing only an interval of a day between each infliction of the punishment, and it had sometimes been the case that prisoners had been subjected to a bread-and-water diet for what was, practically, a term of 60 or 70 days. It would be well, he thought, to have a distinct understanding as to how far a Governor's powers in this direction extended. Then there ought to be some understanding as to whether prisoners should be handcuffed in front or behind. He protested against the mixing of prisoners of all kinds indiscriminately, and pressed upon the Government the necessity of providing for the classification of prisoners, and for some outside, unpaid, independent inspection of prisons. Did the Homo Secretary propose to remedy the state of things of which he complained? With regard to the present system, he felt that nothing could be better calculated to turn out a continual supply of criminals.


said, it was a very unfortunate circumstance that the Report of the Penal Servitude Commission was not in the hands of hon. Members when they had now to discuss the subject. However, he would not complain of that, because, no doubt, the labours of the Commission had been excessive. He had heard with satisfaction the careful and conciliatory statements made by the Home Secretary. In the early Sessions of the present Parliament it had been all but impossible to make any impression on the Treasury Benches on the subject of prison discipline; but now incredulity was about to yield to facts. A number of recommendations were made on the subject of prison reform, and he joined with other hon. Members in appealing to the Government as to whether they intended, during the Recess, to prepare what he might call a Prison Reform Bill, for the purpose of carrying out their recommendations. What they desired was the classification of prisoners, accompanied by independent inspection. It ought, for instance, to be impossible to make prisoners for treason-felony associate with common criminals. He had been advised by the Home Secretary to bring in a Bill to repeal certain portions of the Treason-Felony Acts; but, perhaps, it would be better if the Chief Secretary for Ireland found time to do so. They were justified in demanding that the regulations which would apply to habeas corpus prisoners should be specified, and that they should be treated similarly to prisoners awaiting trial. If the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. A. Moore) did not repeat his Question at Question time, he should himself ask what steps the Government proposed to take to give effect to the recommendations of the Commissioners on that important subject. His strong conviction was that no measure on this subject could be satisfactory that did not provide for an independent medical inspection.


said, of course, the Report of the Commission would receive the anxious consideration of the Irish Government. In reference to what had been said as to the absence of flogging in Irish prisons, other than convict prisons, he only wished to add that in prisons corporal punishment was only inflicted in cases especially inquired into by the Board of Commissioners, and such cases of punishment were exceedingly few. With respect to the case of the death of a prisoner named Grimes, which had been referred to, he explained that the jury empanelled by the Coroner consisted of six convicted persons suffering sentence in Armagh Gaol, and six other persons; and at that inquest the evidence of the medical officer went to show that the death was in no way duo to the treatment of the deceased in prison, and that probably confinement in prison had little to do with the death. The diet adopted was that recommended by a Royal Commission which, inquired into the subject, and which, had been adopted by the Home Office for the English prisons. The only portion of the verdict of the jury which would present cause for further inquiry was the reference to the diet; but that would not apply, because the deceased convict was not, from the state of his health, put upon that dietary.