HC Deb 07 June 1887 vol 315 cc1334-9

Order for Consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered,"—(Mr. Howard, Vincent,)—put, and agreed to.


Are there any Amendments?

MR. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)


MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

Sir, we have got Ireland excluded from this measure; but I have not the smallest doubt when this admirable Bill reaches the House of Lords there will be an application to re-insert Ireland, as is always done in such cases. I wish to ask the Government and the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Howard Vincent) whether, when this Bill comes back from the House of Lords, they will undertake to remove any such Amendment?


Order, order!


Shall I be in Order, Sir, in moving the re-committal of this Bill?


The Question has been put, that it be now considered.


I was informed by the Clerk at the Table that I could move its re-committal at this stage.


The Question now, there being no Amendment, will be that the Bill be read a third time; and upon that Question being put from the Chair the hon. Gentleman can make a Motion.


Has the Motion been put from the Chair?


I will put that Motion. I will ask the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill when he proposes to take the third reading, and on that Question the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Radcliffe Cooke) can make a Motion.


I hope the House will allow the third reading to be taken to-night.


It is competent for the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Radcliffe Cooke), when I put that Question, to make a Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I hope the House will not now read this Bill a third time; and if it be competent for me to move that it be read a third time this day three months I will make that Motion. But perhaps the simplest course for me to pursue now will be to move the adjournment of the debate, in order that we may have a better opportunity than we can have, at this time of the morning (1.55), of considering this measure. I say "considering" this Bill, because, though it has been read a second time, and has been committed and re-committed, there are, I believe, many Members of this House who voted for it under a misapprehension of what its real effect is. None of us, I think, can have forgotten the incisive speech in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews) condemned this Bill, root and branch, when it was brought in. He said that from beginning to end of it there was nothing good; but that, if it were possible, he would, at the request of the promoters, do something to render the Bill as harmless as possible, though he did not hold out much hope that he would be able to render even that small service to its promoters. The Bill subsequently re-appeared in this House, and I suppose that, owing, perhaps, to the pressure of work from which we know the right hon. and learned Gentleman has suffered, he was unable to give the attention to the Bill which he promised the promoters he would endeavour to give; because, while he declared that it was a very harsh measure, and that he would try to remove its harshness, at the same time preserving what he presumed was the object of the promoters, when the Bill came back to this House it was a harsher measure than when it went out of it. But if I give an instance or two in proof of that, perhaps—["Oh, oh!"]—I hope I am not trespassing too much on the time of the House; but it does seem to me that the liberties of a good many people will be affected by this Bill, and it does seem to me that we are at liberty to discuss it, although there is another Bill on the Orders which other hon. Members wish to consider. The object which the promoters of this Bill have in view is to reform persons who, for the first time in their lives, commit some criminal act—an act of so trivial a character, and committed under such circumstances, that the Court before whom they are tried and convicted may think that justice would be done and the interests of society satisfied by releasing them at once without any punishment. This is the class of offenders intended to be reclaimed by this Bill, and the way in which the promoters of this Bill propose to reform these offenders is by subjecting them afterwards to provisions to be found in the most stringent Act on the Statute Book. ["No, no!"] Somebody says "No, no!" I do not know whether he has read that Statute. It is a Statute against hardened criminals—the Prevention of Crime Act of 1871, with the amending Act of 1879. That Statute provides that these criminals shall report themselves to the police—that they shall from time to time—every month—send in a report of their residence, where they are, and shall altogether be kept under the thumb of the police for a considerable period. What, in point of fact, the Legislature said in the Act of 1871 to the criminals is, in effect, this—"You are such a hardened criminal; you have been so often convicted; your offence now is of such a grave character, that not only must you be severely punished, but since the only associates you have belong to the criminal classes, society must be protected against you after the sentence we have passed upon you expires, and therefore we impose on you police supervision." What the promoters of this Bill say to first offenders is, in effect, this—"You are not a hardened criminal; you have not been convicted before; your offence is so trifling that we are going to let you out without any punishment at all; your associates are not criminals; society does not require to be protected against you; therefore we will subject you to police supervision"—and police supervision of a much severer character than that imposed by the Act of 1871. I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend below me (Mr. Matthews), who said the Bill was too stringent when it was first introduced, has ever read it and compared it with the Bill of 1871. The hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Howard Vincent) cannot have compared the two. In the Act of 1871 there is a regulation that prescribes that a person under police supervision shall report himself every month to the police authorities, but it is only the males who have so to report themselves. The Legislature shrank from imposing this in the case of women; but when the promoters of this Bill introduced it, in what form did they introduce it? They introduced the provision of the Act of 1871, including the exception; but when the Bill re-appeared in the House it no longer contained the exception. Consequently, under the measure as it now stands, a young woman—some domestic servant, for example, discharged—who, for some trifling act of misconduct, has been tried, convicted, and, in order that she may go into service again and reform her cha- racter, might be compelled to do that which the Legislature in 1871 shrank from imposing on the most hardened criminals of her sex. Men in this House have voted for this Bill under the impression they were voting for an act of mercy. An hon. Friend who was beside me just now said he would support me; perhaps he is in another part of the House. [A laugh.] The hon. and learned Attorney General laughs, but I do not think it is a very laughing matter.


I assure the hon. Member I did not laugh.


It was a sound, then, that I mistook for laughter; but I have no doubt he will see the justice of my remarks, as he is fully acquainted with the effect of the various Statutes upon the subject. Another reason why we should adjourn this debate and have an exhaustive discussion upon the third reading is, that the Bill professes to create a class of amateur authorities, responsible to no one, and over whom there is no control whatever, and upon whose report the first offender may be subject to at least a year's imprisonment with hard labour. That is a power which should not be entrusted to such an authority. If hon. Members look at the 1st clause, Subsection 3, they will see that not merely may the Court order the offender to report himself to such authority, but that such authority may delegate his power to someone nominated by himself. That is to introduce a new principle into our English law, and to create an authority that ought not to be created. And what is the Bill to do; what is the necessity and reason for it? The hon. Member for Central Sheffield has done me the honour of communicating with me on several occasions, though I regret to say that, owing to some action on his part, I found it my duty to lay this matter before the House. I thought I should have had an opportunity of going into the matter in Committee. The hon. Member assured me, before breaking up for the Whitsuntide Recess, that he did not intend to go on with the Committee until well after Whitsuntide; but on the 21st of last month my hon. Friend took it in Committee and passed it through Committee, after I was fully assured by him that it was not to be taken. I ought to have been here during the Committee. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes; well, I was asleep. I relied on the assurance given me by the hon. Gentleman; and after sitting up until 4 o'clock in the morning every day that week I went into the Reading Room and fell asleep. When I asked the hon. Member afterwards when he would put it down for third reading, he said he would, if he could, put it down for some day when I could not be present, or when I was not likely to be present. I have gone through sufficient points now to show the House why we ought not rashly, and without further discussion, to pass this Bill to-night. There are other points which I could go into—some of them very serious. The whole policy of the Bill is a complete reversal of what I think the sensible and reasonable policy of our present law. What happens now? When first offenders have been tried and convicted, and their faults are of such a character that the Court thinks they should be let out, they are let out on their own recognizances to come up for judgment when called upon. Does the hon. Gentleman think that proceeding is a failure? For my part, I think it a great success. Everyone who has any acquaintance with our Courts knows that when a prisoner is discharged, to come up for judgment when called upon, the Judge addresses him thus, and says—"John Smith, the effect of this is that you will now be discharged. If you behave yourself well, and lead henceforth an honest and respectable life, you will hear no more of this." And, as a rule, no more is heard of this man; he sinks into the mass of respectable fellow-subjects. The law thinks it is better he should so sink, rather than be perpetually harassed afterwards by police supervision. The policy of the promoters of this Bill is the exact reverse of the policy of the present law; it would result in preventing them from becoming respectable persons again. I now beg to move the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question, "That this Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Radcliffe Cooke,)—put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Thursday,