HC Deb 02 March 1900 vol 79 cc1594-9

10. £1,440, Supplementary, Prisons, Scotland.


asked for some information upon this Vote. He noticed that there was an increase of £ 1,440 over the original Estimate, and the under estimate was apparently due to the increased number of prisoners. The Estimate of 1899-90 showed a decrease of £300 on the preceding year in respect of "clothing," but it was now discovered that in place of that decrease there should have been an increase of £279. He desired to know the reason why a decrease had been assumed in the Estimates of the present year, when, as a matter of fact, there had been an increase. If those who prepared the Estimates had gone back to the statistics of the previous year they must have seen that prisoners in Scotland were increasing, the increase being most considerable during the last half of the year. They might have assumed, therefore, in the Estimates for the current year that there would be a large increase of prisoners during the present year. The Estimates for the ensuing year had now been issued, and seemed to be based on the footing of there being a decreased number of prisoners as compared with the current year; but no doubt the Lord Advocate would have to come later on for an increased Supplementary Estimate when he found, as he would find, that crime had increased with the increased expansion of trade. Of 49,569 persons convicted there were only 9,666 who were illiterate, and ninety-nine were of superior education. It was interesting to observe the close connection between wages and drink. When wages, were high the consumption of drink increased, and there was a close connection between drink and the number of convictions. The increased prosperity of the country led to increased drinking and to an increased number of commitments in respect of those particular crimes—drunkenness and breaches of the peace—that accounted for four-fifths of the prisoners in Scotland. Wages in Scotland were paid mostly on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and in 245 cases inquired into by the Secretary for Scotland, 101 of the crimes were committed on Saturdays, and forty on Wednesdays, leaving a balance of 104 to be distributed among the other five days of the week. The largest number of commitments were in respect of drunkenness and breaches of the peace, which occurred mostly in those districts where the public-houses were open till eleven o'clock, a smaller percentage occurring where they closed at ten o'clock. In Glasgow and huge cities the proportion of committals was eighty-three in 10,000 persons, while in the smaller boroughs the proportion gradually declined, till, in country districts, where the ten o'clock closing was universal, the percentage was only thirty-four in 10,000. That was an important difference, and it was impossible to overlook the connection between the supply of drink, the hour of closing of public houses, and the increasing number of prisoners for whom they were asking for extra provision in this Supplementary Estimate. He wished to know whether the Scotch Office had been considering this increased number of prisoners, and how far they could reduce the number in the future? He did not ask them to produce legislation, for that would be out of order on this Vote, but, short of legislation, had they any other method of dealing with the difficulty? They had tried moral means, such as visits by ministers of various denominations and female visitors, and also the institution of Bible classes and other agencies; but he was afraid they were not doing much to arrest crime. With regard to the increased cost of escorting and removing prisoners, if the number was likely to go on increasing it would be better to increase the cell accommodation instead of having the expense of removing the prisoners from one prison to another. He should be very glad to hear from the Lord Advocate what the Scotch Office proposed to do to deal with this great increase of drunkenness and breaches of the peace. His own view was that much good might be done by leaving to local authorities the power to close public-houses at an earlier hour.

MR. PARKER SMITH () Lanarkshire, Partick

I think the points alluded to by the hon. Member opposite raise an important question which ought to be considered by the House. For several years past this Vote has fallen under the action of the guillotine, and I do not think the Supplementary Estimates is the proper place to raise this question. I hope we shall have a chance of raising it on the Estimates, because it involves matters that require careful consideration. There is the question of the great increase in the number of prisoners, and the question whether short sentences produce any good at all. Last session some of us were anxious to raise this question, and the Secretary for Scotland, in view of the anxiety of Scotch Members, appointed a small Committee, which is now inquiring into some of these questions. Before the Estimates come on I hope we shall have made our report, so that the result of our investigations will be in possession of hon. Members at large. There are other questions outside the scope of our reference, but in the course of our investigations we have been able to form opinions on other matters, which opinions I hope we shall have an opportunity of expressing to the House. I would appeal to the Lord Advocate to exercise the power which the Government have of alternating the Votes so as to give us this year an opportunity of discussing these questions.


I can assure my hon. friend who last spoke that I think it is desirable that we should have a discussion upon the management of prisons this year, and I hope we shall have it upon the Estimates. I would remind him, however, that some of the questions alluded to are scarcely pertinent to prison management. Short sentences have been mentioned, but I do not see how anything done or left undone by the Prison Commissioners can affect the question of sentences. I am quite aware that it is a very important matter. A well-known authority has declared in favour of short sentences, and others take a different view. In the same way the question of drunkenness is again scarcely a question of prison management. There is, however, a Committee sitting upon the subject, and I hope we shall have an opportunity of discussing that on the Estimates this year. The hon. Member who raised this discussion, in a very interesting and painstaking speech, scarcely touched upon the question of prison management. But he has furnished his own answer. The Supplementary Estimate before the House is necessary because of the increase in the number of prisoners, and the increase in the cost for escorts and conveyance is caused by a greater number of commitments and transfers. The policy which has been steadily maintained by my noble friend is that, so far as possible, the expense of the transfer and escorting of prisoners shall be avoided. The rest of the hon. Member's speech cited statistics, and he complained that the estimates had been prepared with a certain want of care, because they had not foreseen that this increase would be necessary. I do not think that the present commissioners can be very much to blame for that. It was impossible to foresee the prosperity of the country. The hon. Member said that there was really no increase in serious crime, but in minor crime there was a great increase, which was due to the increase in prosperity and to drunkenness and breaches of the peace. His speech seemed to come to this that wages and drink were closely associated; that Scotchmen were not so bad as Irishmen; and that Irishmen, if they had not a double dose of original sin, had a good deal more than other nations. When the hon. Member asks me what we propose to do apart from legislation really the answer is rather a difficult one. He speaks of Bible classes, and asks if we rely upon Bible classes and female visitors to remedy this evil. He unwillingly admits that these good efforts have not had the success that you might have expected, but I notice that he did not work out the percentage, as he did in the case of the ten o'clock and eleven o'clock closing. Had he done so he would have found that the increase of crime varied inversely according to the increase of Bible classes. It is asking me rather too much to state what we propose to do to stop what is, I am afraid, only human nature. Whenever there is prosperity in the country minor crimes, such as drunkenness and breaches of the peace, will be increased, and I am afraid that, as long as human nature is human nature, that will probably be true. So far as the question of this estimate is concerned the hon. Member has completely found an answer for himself, and I should not be justified in detaining the Committee any longer in replying to his arguments.


I regret that the Lord Advocate has not treated this subject more seriously, and I think these figures might have been more carefully Estimated. The connection of crime with intemperance in Scotland raises a very serious question, and the Lord Advocate has been good enough to promise us an opportunity of discussing it upon the Estimates. I am aware that the granting of those opportunities does not lie with the Lord Advocate, for we all know that the time is so limited and occupied by larger Votes of wider scope and greater interest, which are likely to monopolise the whole time, and I am extremely sorry that we have not had a better opportunity this evening of considering this very important point. It could not have been better introduced than by the speech of my hon. friend. He has disclosed the whole situation, and shown the manifest connection between prosperity, high wages, and lax expenditure, and the results in Scotland. His theory is supported by the reports of inspectors and superintendents of police in every borough in Scotland. It is a very serious matter, and I am sorry the Lord Advocate did not take a more serious view of it. He would have immensely encouraged those struggling with this difficulty if he had given it some support. He would not have been acting rashly if he had helped my hon. friend to draw public attention to the fact that there is this constant connection between prosperity, drink, and crime, for a great deal can be done here by stimulating, directing, and guiding public opinion to form a healthy judgment on these matters, and by encouraging a more vigilant administration to aid the efforts of those who are deeply concerned in this matter.


I find fault with those who prepared this Estimate, because they have not taken into consideration the increase of crime in Scotland in 1898. For that year the number increased to 5,000 over the previous year, and it was greatest during the last half of 1898. When preparing the statistics for 1899-1900 they should have known of this increase in crime. The Estimate for the ensuing year is practically upon the same erroneous basis, which gives an erroneous impression, because it will appear that next year we are calculating upon a diminution of prisoners when there is not a vestige of reason for believing that this will be the case.

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