HC Deb 05 May 1887 vol 314 cc1081-91

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Power to court to release upon probation of good conduct, instead of sentencing to imprisonment).

Amendment proposed, In page 2, line 10, to leave out all after ''will" to "report," in line 11, and insert, "if required, appear before the court, or some specified future court, to answer privately or otherwise."—(Mr. Howard Vincent.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

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

I must say that the words, "privately or otherwise," are, in my opinion, most objectionable; and I am greatly surprised that the Government should be willing to allow such words to be inserted. Why, in the case of a juvenile's first or second offence, should we introduce expressions of this character, which are repugnant to our ideas of justice? If juveniles got drunk or pick pockets, why are we to provide that they shall appear before the Court "privately or otherwise?" Why should they not take their chance like anybody else who commits an offence? I do say that such a provision is most objectionable. The juvenile may be a sprig of the aristocracy. The offences of juveniles of that class commit generally take the form of breaking windows, or getting drunk, or something of the kind. Why should the investigation of such a case be made "privately or otherwise?"

MR. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will allow me to explain that the words, "privately or otherwise," do not apply to the arraignment for a first offence before the magistrate, but to the appearance made after the offender has been out on probation. In such circumstances, it would be exceedingly hard upon him that his name should appear in the papers as having been a second time before the magistrate when he may have been behaving himself well since his release on probation.

Question put, and negatived.

Question proposed, That the words, 'if required, appear before the court, or some specified future court, to answer privately or otherwise,' be there inserted.

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

It is, of course, a pity that there should be any controversy respecting a measure which we admit to be humanely intended, and which is proposed with the best intentions. But I must say this—that the magistrates who will have to carry out this measure belong chiefly to the class of gentlemen who sit on the Benches opposite, and not to the class who sit on these Benches. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland is engaged, at the present moment, in wiping off from the Bench every magistrate who has any sympathy with us. We, therefore, object to giving to magistrates any invidious powers which will enable them to dispose of eases differently in regard to their own class than they would do in regard to other classes. I think that the Gentlemen opposite, who are in charge of this Bill, ought to meet us in this matter, and ought to take no strong opinion in regard to it. I think that the hon. Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield (Mr. Stuart-Wortley), the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, is placed in a difficult position in regard to opposing any Amendment brought forward by his Colleague (Mr. Howard Vincent) in the representation of Sheffield. I do not say that they are either of them biased by the fact that they are Colleagues in the representation of the same town; but that there is, perhaps, more communication existing between them than between two ordinary Members. At all events, I beg to move the omission of these words, "privately or otherwise."

Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "privately or otherwise."—(Mr. T. M. Healy.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment."

MR. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

If the hon. and learned Member objects to the inclusion of these words, I will not press for their retention. At the same time, I should like to say that this matter has been very carefully thought out. I may, perhaps, be allowed to explain, in regard to the number of Amendments in my name, that after the second reading of the Bill my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews) authorized the Parliamentary Counsel to consider with me how the measure could be improved, and it is only after long consultation with him that these Amendments have been placed on the Paper. I may say that I have this evening received a letter from the Minister of Justice in New Zealand, stating that a similar measure to this proposed by me has been unanimously adopted by the Legislature has been working well for some months, and that it has already saved the Colony a considerable sum in prison expenses.


I think it better that the words which the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes to omit should be left in the clause. The object of the measure is to enable juvenile offenders to take advantage of the means provided for reformation, and to remove the stigma of the original conviction where an intention has been shown to do better in the future. I hope the hon. Member will see that it will be well not to omit the words to which he has raised an objection. Of course, to say that these words must not go into the clause is to say that we cannot trust magistrates anywhere. We must trust the magistrates.


Sir, this is one of the curses of a United Parliament. When applying a Bill to all three countries, you are under the disadvantage of speaking about countries you do not understand. But still, as I do not wish to prejudice those admirable young gentlemen, the first offenders of England, if the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Central Division of Sheffield (Mr. Howard Vincent) will consent to leave out these words now, I shall be willing on the Report stage, when we shall be able to consider the Bill as a whole, to give my attention to the re-introduction of the words.

SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

I hope the hon. Gentle- man (Mr. Howard Vincent) will keep these words in the Bill. If they are omitted, a juvenile offender who has behaved himself properly since his first offence will be liable to have the disgrace of a second public appearance before the magistrates cast upon him.

MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

It seems to mo that the retention of the words is almost necessary, in order to make the Bill what it is intended to be. The object of allowing the first appearance to be made privately is to exempt the young offender from the stigma of a public appearance, and to prevent his being branded as a criminal and a felon. Unless these words are retained, the whole of the section will become either mischievous or surplusage; because a magistrate will never make use of the power conferred on him by the clause, and, if he does, it will be an act, not of kindness, but of great severity to the young offender. For the sake of my hon. Friend the promoter of the Bill, in his errand of mercy to the young offenders, I hope those words will not be omitted.

MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

The objection we take to this provision is that, whilst we consider it perfectly reasonable that an offender who has been allowed to remain out of prison should be called up afterwards to answer for his subsequent conduct, we do not think that the greater number of the magistrates ought to be trusted with the discretionary power to call one offender up publicly and another privately. I understand the contention to be that an offender ought not to have cast upon him the stigma of a second appearance. If so, why retain the power of calling them up a second time at all? Would it not meet the case to strike out the words "or otherwise," so that all should have to come up privately? If this were done, the object of the promoters of the Bill would be served, and the magistrates would have no power to make invidious distinctions. I trust that my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. T. M. Healy) will withdraw his Amendment to the proposed Amendment, and then move to leave out the words "or otherwise."


I am quite willing to accept that suggestion. Let us have them all examined privately, and I shall be quite happy. What I object to is allowing a magistrate to make fish of one and flesh of another.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


then moved to amend the proposed Amendment by omitting the words "or otherwise."

Amendment proposed to proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "or otherwise."—(Mr. T. M. Healy.)

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment," put, and negatived.

Amendment, as amended, agreed to.

On the Motion of Mr. HOWARD VINCENT, the following Amendment made:—Page 2, line 15, to leave out from "exceed" to end of line 18.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, after line 19, add the following sub-sections:— (3.) "The authority to whom an offender is required By the court to notify his residence, or report himself, shall be either an authority which is hound to they the orders of the court or an authority which consents to undertake the duties imposed on it under this section. (4.) "It shall be the duty of any such authority—

  1. (a.) To make, if required, a report to the court, or to some specified future court, as to the conduct of the offender since his release;
  2. (b.) To report immediately to the court, or to some court of summary jurisdiction, any breach of the conditions with which the authority was concerned; and
  3. (c.) In the event of any breach of any such condition, to take or assist in taking such steps as may be necessary for bringing the offender to justice."—(Mr. Howard Vincent.)

Question proposed, "That those subsections be there added."


Sir, there is an immortal expression which is supposed to have come from a transpontine theatre—"We don't expect grammar, but you might join the flats." In the House of Commons we do expect grammar. The way in which one of the sub-sections is put is as follows:—"The authority to whom an offender is required by the court to notify his residence," and so on, "shall be either an authority which." An authority cannot be both "who" and "which," and if it be "who" it cannot be also "it." It seems to me that the hon. Members for Sheffield, one of whom is a Member of the Government, and the other of whom has been a distinguished official, might, at the least, have consulted Lindley Murray, and have made the subsection read properly. That is all I have got to say about this Amendment.


Does the hon. and learned Member propose an Amendment?


I beg to move the omission of the word "whom" in the first line, and the insertion, instead thereof, of the word "which."

Amendment to the proposed Amendment agreed to.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid.)

I really think, Sir, that after my hon. and learned Friend has pointed out in such an efficient way the faulty manner in which these Amendments have been drafted the time has come at which to report Progress. I think that Progress should be reported, in order that another measure, which will be of infinitely more service to the public, and one which is looked forward to by many people, may be gone on with.

Amendment, as amended, agreed to.

On the Motion of Mr. HOWARD VINCENT, the following Amendments made:—In page 2, line 20, leave out sub-section (3); line 23, after "excuse," insert "(proof whereof shall lie on him);" line 21, after "conditions" insert "of his recognisance;" same line, leave out "imposed upon him on his release;" and in line 28, after "released," insert "and order his recognisance to be forfeited."

Amendment proposed, In page 2, line 30, after "jurisdiction," insert "and the term 'authority' includes any person or body of persons, official or otherwise, required or consenting to undertake the duties of an authority under this section."—(Mr. Howard Vincent.)

Question proposed, "That those words be then; inserted."


This appears to be an Amendment of very great importance, and I shall beg the hon. Member in charge of the Bill to state clearly to the Committee what it is exactly that is proposed. In this section the term "court" implies a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, and it is now proposed to insert a provision that "authority" shall include— Any person or body of persons, official or otherwise, required or consenting to undertake the duties of an authority under this section. That appears to me to involve something absolutely foreign and novel to our Criminal Law. I confess that at the first blush I do not understand it, and I, therefore, will not pronounce upon it until the hon. Member for the Central Division of Sheffield (Mr. Howard Vincent) explains what it means. At present I look upon it with repugnance, as I think it unusual and, unless it can be explained, dangerous.


I am glad of the opportunity of explaining to the hon. and learned Member the meaning of this provision. I think that many cases might occur in which it might be very beneficial to appoint as the authority the Secretary or Manager of a Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society a clergyman, or a priest, or some other non-official person having knowledge of the individual, and means of assisting him to obtain an honest livelihood, without exercising undue control over his movements. Any such undue control might hinder the offender from gaining his livelihood. As to the expression, "official or otherwise, "it might possibly occur that a police superintendent, or some other person under the orders of the Court, would be able to exercise the duties of an authority under the section. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman, however, will understand that it is exceedingly desirable not to make it a question of police supervision. That is distinctly cut out of the Bill in every shape and form. The great object of the measure is to enable private persons to come before the Court and say to the magistrate—"This is a first offender. I know his history, and if the Court will suspend its judgment on him and look over this offence, I shall be able to make him a respectable member of society."


I think this provision is extremely objectionable. I regard this also as a proposal to make flesh of one person and fish of another, because, under it, one offender may have to report himself at a police station and another to his own father. That is what we object to. We think it invidious, and we think it too large a power to give to an unpaid magistrate.

MR. HOARE (Norwich)

I think it is desirable that we should, as far as possible, provide for relieving these first offenders from being placed under police supervision. At present magistrates, in dealing with a case, are often applied to by some person in whom they have confidence, and, rather than send a first offender to prison, allow that person to be responsible for placing him in a reformatory. If that can be done on the present occasion, I hope the Committee will approve of the work being left in trustworthy hands.


It is an extremely dangerous principle, in my opinion, to leave it to a lot of amateurs to say what persons who have been convicted shall be allowed quietly to merge into the honest, peaceable population, and be heard of no more. Who are these authorities, these "officials or otherwise," these bodies of persons—who may be priests, clergymen, women, perhaps secretaries of institutions, and the like, persons wholly unacquainted with our forms of law, who will have to report as to the conduct of persons of whom they may know very little? And if they report in the contrary direction—adversely, that is—what is to happen then? I consider the whole of this Bill—this part of it especially—to be a most abominable piece of amateur legislation. Instead of being an Act of mercy—as an hon. Friend beside me called it—it is an Act of the greatest hardship towards those whom, apparently, my hon. Friend (Mr. Howard Vincent) wishes to benefit. I intend to move the rejection of the clause at the proper moment. That is all I have to say with regard to this mischievous Amendment.


I wish the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Howard Vincent) could see his way to omit this provision. These young offenders will have to report themselves to somebody. But we know very well that if we introduce such a system as is now proposed, the amateur inspector will grow neglectful. Suppose any offender agreed to report himself to me, does anybody suppose that I should take care to look after his record? Certainly not. Then how much less will the clergyman and the village doctor? Everybody must commit his first criminal offence some time. The most hardened offenders have to make a beginning. Well, then, in London, where the magistrates are not to be imposed upon, he will, perhaps, be looked after. But in the country he will, perhaps, learn the 100th Psalm, or something of that sort, and the village clergy- man will send a good report at once. We all know that it is the most astute and the most dangerous offenders who play off most successfully upon the parson and such people. Suppose the parson's wife makes out such a young gentleman's report, what sort of guarantee have you got? You are about to introduce a system into the English Criminal Law absolutely unknown, before. I look upon it as a curious innovation, and I think the Committee would be well advised to put some limit upon its operation. Let the Act remain in force, say, for two years and no longer, and then it might be put into the Continuance Bill for a year or two longer, if it was found to be working fairly. I look upon the Bill with great suspicion, I must say, even though emanating from the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Howard Vincent). I would ask the hon. Gentleman to throw overboard this "old nobility," so to speak—that is to say, the unpaid magistrates and others, who do not look with too tender an eye even upon juvenile offenders.


I do not wish to press this Amendment against the general wish of hon. Gentlemen; but I would point out, in justification of it, that the most successful man of to-day in dealing with these discharged prisoners is one of these very unofficial members—I mean Mr. Wheatley, the secretary of St. Giles's Mission, who has been enabled for many years to do much good in that way.


Yes; but that is all done now. When a prisoner is discharged, there is nothing to prevent that discharged prisoner being taken care of by friendly societies and friendly persons. That is clone now; and if my hon. Friend (Mr. Howard Vincent) had practised in a Criminal Court, he would have seen, as I have constantly seen, the gentleman of whom he speaks before the Court. He would have heard Judges hesitate to decide, until they had heard what this gentleman had to say; and not until Mr. Wheatley had told the Judge whether the prisoner would be benefitted by his discharge or not, is any decision come to. If all this can be done now, I do not see what is the use of this Bill at all.


We have already decided that a first offender is to report himself to some authority—either an official or an amateur. Now, we must have some definition of what an amateur authority is. It would be idle to withdraw this Amendment, and leave that point undecided.

SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells)

I am desirous of pointing out the great difficulty in which we shall be involved if this Amendment is withdrawn. I would beg the Committee to remember that when the Bill was first introduced there was no such authority, and the Bill was taken exception to on the ground that the supervision of first offenders would, under it, necessarily be by the police. I, for one, distinctly object to dealing with first offenders in this way; and that is the reason, I take it, that the Bill has been altered to its present shape, and the word "authority" introduced. The whole object of this Bill is, instead of punishing first offenders by sending them to prison, to provide for their release and supervision, so that you are bound to introduce some new authority; and even if this Amendment be withdrawn, you must introduce some provision that the authority shall be duly recorded and defined. These persons are, for the first time, invested with statutory power, and it will be necessary to provide that, in the case of any person accepting an appointment under this Bill, there should be some record of the fact.


I quite recognize the difficulties which have been pointed out by some hon. Gentlemen; but the House has placed itself in its present position by deciding the general principle of the Bill on the second reading—namely, that first offenders shall not be sent to prison, but be subjected to friendly supervision. I may say there is no existing machinery known by which that can be carried out. I think, however, that if this Amendment is withdrawn, we may safely leave it to be discovered by the Court whether this or that body of persons is qualified by public opinion to undertake these duties, which, be it remembered, is simply the duty of making a periodical report. They are bound to make sworn reports, but that is the extent of their duty.


But that is not the whole duty. Under Sub-section 3, the amateur authority is to take steps, or assist in taking steps, to bring the offender to justice in certain circumstances. And suppose, after a bad report, the first offender is committed, what is to prevent him finding an enterprising country attorney who will bring an action against the amateur authority for false imprisonment? It is absolutely necessary that before you give this amateur authority power to do what no one else can do without a warrant, that you should define who this amateur authority shall be.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I beg to suggest that Progress be reported. I think it would facilitate the eventual settlement of the question.


I beg to move, Sir, that you report Progress. There is evidently very great difference of opinion on this important point, and I do not think we can be expected to thresh the matter out fully and satisfactorily at this point.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do now report Progress, and ask leave to sit again,"—(Mr. Chance,)—put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.