§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Heading read.
§ * THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir M. WHITE RIDLEY,) Lancashire, Blackpool
. The principal object of this Bill, which has been some time before the other House, is to diminish the number of cases of imprisonment among youthful offenders under the age of sixteen after conviction,, and so far as possible also to diminish the necessity of remanding juvenile offenders or committing them to trial. I am sure that these are objects which will commend themselves to every Member of this House. There are many cases of first offences, which I am thankful to say are now dealt with under the First Offenders. Act, and I think that the figures of recent, years establish the fact that that Act is being made use of more and more to the great advantage of our youthful population, and I hope also to the diminution of crime. I think that is a policy which ought to be constantly maintained. In another way a great deal of good has been done by the system of collecting together in various prisons throughout the country where convenient, young boys who have been obliged to be sent to prison. They are now kept at Bedford and sundry other prisons under special treatment, very much indeed to. their advantage, and also to the diminution of crime. But there are offences which cannot be altogether dealt with simply by discharge or by sending to a reformatory. There are, for instance, cases where the home from which a boy comes is a good home, where the influences are likely to be good and where he is likely after his first offence to be well looked after, and in such cases it is much better that he should not be sent to a reformatory; but these cases include many in which some punishment is necessary and, I think, desirable, not only in the interests of society, but of the boys themselves. Accordingly one of the proposals in this Bill is to extend the power of whipping, which now exists to a considerable extent under the Summary Jurisdiction Act, to other offences stated in the Bill. As regards indictable offences, the House is probably aware that an Act passed last session considerably increased the number of offences for which whipping could be administered, and there 809 is no very great change made in this Bill in that respect. The effect of the Act of last year was to provide that certain indictable offences previously punishable in another way could be punished by whipping, and this Bill materially simplifies the law on the same lines. But there will be a great change made in this Bill in respect to offences not indictable—against byelaws and so forth. By a strange anomaly there is now no power to administer the simple and effective remedy of whipping to incorrigible boys. On that part of the Bill there may be some difference of opinion, but I think with reference to the other provisions there will be very little. Among other things it is proposed to make parents criminally responsible where their neglect is shown to have contributed to the criminal acts of their children. The law will also be strengthened for the purpose of enforcing the duty of parents to contribute towards the maintenance of their children in reformatory and industrial schools. The Bill also provides—which I think is a very useful provision—that power should be given to magistrates to remand children awaiting trial to other places than a prison, if persons are found to take charge of them, and a contribution will be made by the Treasury for their maintenance. I am confident that if the House will give its assent to this Bill it will prove to be a very useful measure, and to the advantage of youthful offenders as well as to society. I beg to move its Second Reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Secretary White Ridley.)
§ * MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Nottinghamshire, Mansfield)
I move the rejection of this Bill with the greater confidence, because since it was brought into the House of Lords, another Bill of a kindred character—I mean the Corporal Punishment Bill—has been rejected by a decisive majority in this House. The same objections which were taken to that Bill are applicable to the present measure, and I am curious to see how those who condemned the one can support the other. The Home Secretary in particular, said that it was an unanswerable objection to the Corporal Punishment Bill that it would be uncertain in its operation, because of the unwillingness of some judges to inflict the punishment of flogging; but there will be equal unwillingness to order 810 the whipping of children. Some magistrates may be hard-hearted, and others tender-hearted, and they will act accordingly. The Bill is unequal in another respect; in that the punishment will be more severe in some cases than in others; because of the physical and the mental differences among children; so what would be a comparatively light punishment for some would be absolute torture in the case of others. There is another inequality in the Bill, in that the whipping is to be inflicted only on the non-payment of fines for offences. Those who can find the money will escape; while the poor will be left to suffer. Another objection to the Bill is that it will inevitably lead to cruelty. The only precaution taken is that an inspector is to be present when the punishment is inflicted. It is true that the parents may, if they like, witness the punishment and the degradation of their child; but they will have no right to remonstrate or to interfere. I think it a hardship on the police that they should have to discharge so disgusting a duty, and on the other hand, I can imagine that some of them may take a professional pride in making the punishment as severe as possible. I have lately read a painful description of the flogging of two boys, which appeared a few years ago in the Pall Mall Gazette. I shall spare the House the pain of hearing it and will only state that the writer says that he knows of similar cases in other gaols, and also that the police who whip the offenders are chaffed by their brother policemen if they fail to make the punishment effectual. It is said of mercy that it is twice blessed, in that it blesses him that takes and him that gives; but in my opinion the public whipping of offenders is in many cases a curse for both the administrators of the law and those who suffer under it. It is contended that the punishment does not, as is alleged, inflict indelible disgrace, because it does not do so at the great public schools; but the two things are widely different, so that there is no parallel between them. It is surely a great anomaly that, when corporal punishment has been so largely abolished in our homes, it should be extended in our gaols. We have gone a long way from the dictum of Solomon, that "foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, and the rod of correction must beat it out "; for you may travel far before you find a birch rod in a single home, though they used to be 811 common in my youthful days. Why has there been this change? It is because we have become more humane, and more tender and considerate in our treatment of child life, and because we have discovered other and wiser ways of dealing with juvenile delinquents. It is insisted that whipping is better than imprisonment; but is there no other alternative? Why, this very Bill points to one, in the fourth clause, which provides that, instead of a youthful offender being sent to prison to await trial, or on a remand, he shall be placed in the custody of a fit person, the parents contributing to his maintenance. In that you have the germ of a system which is capable of extension, and which would provide a substitute for both whipping and imprisonment. Sir, this Bill is a retrograde Bill. It is opposed to the spirit of modern legislation. It is a clumsy and superficial way of dealing with an admittedly difficult problem. There is also a provision in the Bill which is as extraordinary as it is novel; the third clause providing that if parents have conduced to the commission of an offence, by neglecting to exercise due control over a child, they also shall be punished, by the infliction of a fine. Are magistrates really going to be required to inquire into the family history of the young offenders brought before them? And why should such an inquiry be confined to the youngsters and not also apply to the older members of the family? But really the proposal is so impracticable as to be hardly worth discussing. There are, no doubt, some provisions in this Bill which are unobjectionable, and if I thought that the Government would take my advice, I would recommend them to eliminate the whipping clauses of the Bill, and then we could probably agree in making it not merely an unobjectionable but an admirable measure. I move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
To leave out the word ' now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words ' upon this day six months.'" — (Mr. Carvell Williams.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S. W.)
think this Bill has been introduced to the House under a very mislead- 812 ing title. Instead of being called the "Youthful Offenders Bill" it ought to have been "The Whipping Bill." It is true that there are some few clauses in it to which no objection can be taken; but the main purpose of the Bill is that whipping may be administered to young; persons convicted of certain offences. The right hon. the Home Secretary commended the Bill to the attention of the House favourably upon the ground that it would prevent the children being sent to prison. But we have already the First Offenders Act, under which it is possible to deal with youthful offenders without sending them to prison. The Home Secretary paid the most marked tribute to the First Offenders Act and its application throughout the country. He said it was being largely applied and with very satisfactory results; that it was tending to reduce youthful crime. The Home Secretary suggests that the effect of this Bill, if passed into law, will be to still further discredit the practice of passing a sentence of imprisonment on children; but I think the effect will be that magistrates, instead of dealing with youthful offenders under the First Offender's Act, will disregard that Act and inflict on them corporal punishment. Now, this Bill enormously extends the discretion of the magistrates in courts of summary jurisdiction. The measure provides that with regard to any offences whatever, with the single exception of homicide, the magistrates may inflict a sentence of corporal punishment. My hon. friend the Member for Mansfield has pointed out that the way in which the Act would be applied would be very uncertain, and he cited in support thereof the argument of the right hon. the Home Secretary against the Corporal Punishment Bill. This Bill will, however, have an unequal operation in another sense. If you take a strong, robust, healthy boy, he will snap his fingers at any corporal punishment you. may give him, and you will only harden his heart. But take a child physically weak and of a nervous temperament, the effect of corporal punishment on him would be not only disastrous to begin with, but life-long in its results. I notice with surprise that, in one respect, this. Bill is even worse than the Corporal Punishment Bill, which we discussed a few weeks ago. There was a provision in that Bill that a surgeon was to be present during the whole time of the 813 punishment; but there is no such provision in this Bill. Therefore the argument I am using that the effects of a whipping on a nervous child might be life-long applies all the more strongly if the whipping is to be administered in the absence of a surgeon. Then it is said that birching is practised in the public schools. But I need hardly point out that there is no analogy between the two cases. The schoolmaster has always been regarded as in loco parentis to the child, and there cannot be an analogy between the punishment administered by a parent or schoolmaster and that administered by a policeman in the execution of a sentence of a police court. But it is notorious that corporal punishment is not now administered in public schools to anything like the same extent to which it was some time ago. In fact, in the most successful public schools it has been discredited and abandoned. Now, why should the punishment of birching, which is discredited in the public schools, be applied for the first time on a very large scale as a punishment to those who offend against the criminal law? Again, I would point out that this is, to a large extent, class legislation. I do not think anyone would be bold enough to say that the child of any Member of this House, or of any person occupying a good position in society, or even the child of a member of the comfortable classes, would over for a moment be subjected to this degrading punishment. It would only be reserved for the children of the poor; and therefore I maintain this is class legislation. Then, I say the bench of magistrates do not make sufficient allowance for mischievous acts committed by the children of poor parents. I notice that these mischievous acts are regarded in a very different spirit when committed by the children of the comfortable classes than when committed by the children of the poor. There is a tendency to make a jest of them and to laugh at them when committed by children of the comfortable classes, but not in the case of the children of the poor. Again, Clause 3 introduces, so far as I know, an entirely new principle into our criminal law— namely, to make a parent responsible for the criminal act of his child. My hon. friend has already pointed out how delicate an inquiry that opens up, and which it will be for the magistrate to undertake. I do not think that any more difficult question has been submitted to 814 the courts of summary jurisdiction since, some thirteen years ago, this House gave to them in Ireland jurisdiction in regard to alleged cases of conspiracy. Courts of summary jurisdiction are usually composed of persons who have not had even a nominal legal education, and they ought not to have imposed on them the very delicate and difficult inquiry as to whether or not a parent, from want of due control of his child, has or has not conduced to that child's criminal conduct. It is true that Sub-section 4 provides that the parent may appeal to Quarter Sessions, but everybody who has any knowledge of the subject knows that that is a mere mockery; that the poor parents could not appeal. But supposing Clause 3 is given effect to by the magistrate, what would be the result? A fine may be imposed in the first place, and that fine may be as high as £5. Now, how is the labouring man going to pay £5, or even a fifth or a tenth of £5? Therefore, in the case of the poor man the real punishment would not be a fine, but imprisonment. Though by this Bill it is professed to keep people out of prison, the effect would be to send these people to prison; and that is an object which I would not be willing to support. At the present time, if my statistics are correct, there are 75,000 persons annually sent to prison, not because they have committed any offence which, in the first instance, is deserving of imprisonment, but because they are not able to pay a fine. That is an appalling state of affairs. The effect of this Bill, I believe, will be to very materially increase the number of those persons. For these reasons, and specially because I believe it a piece of class legislation, I object to this Bill and support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mansfield.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.)
I have no general criticism to make upon the Bill, but the mover of the Amendment made one suggestion from which I strongly dissent. The object of the Bill is to substitute whipping for imprisonment. We did not know this in our early days as whipping, for it used to be called swishing. The hon. Member made a suggestion that there should be in place of either imprisonment or whipping what practically moans solitary confinement upon bread and water. Now I happen to have had some experience of what happens in schools abroad, especially 815 in France, and I do wish most strongly to raise my protest against it ever being made the law of this country that children should be placed in solitary confinement either with or without bread and water. I believe that the evil of the present system is acknowledged in every part of France, although the practice continues to prevail to a considerable extent. And yet it is admitted in France that the practice of locking up children in the cachot is about the very worse system that could possibly be adopted with regard to children. That is really the only reason why I have risen to take any part in this debate. I do not wish it to go forth that anything approaching solitary confinement is a proper remedy for any child's offence whatsoever. The only other observation I should like to make upon the Bill is in regard to Section 3. This provision in Section 3 strikes me as perhaps a rather strong method, and I hope that the Home Secretary will see his way to reduce, to a certain extent, the severity of it. We must remember that it is not the Home Secretary who has framed this Bill. This measure has come down to us from the House of Lords in its present form, and although the Home Secretary must approve of its general provisions, there is no particular reason why he should approve of every word contained in it.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON
It is starred as a Government Bill, but I will toll the hon. Member why a star does not necessarily prove that the Government have adopted every single line of the Bill. I brought in myself a similar Bill and tried my best to get it through, but I failed owing to certain opposition which was offered to it. That Bill was starred by the Government, and it is quite clear that the starring of my measure did not necessarily indicate that it was a Government Bill. I know, as a matter of fact, that the Government do sometimes adopt Bills that come from the House of Lords without necessarily approving of every line of them. Clause 3 provides—If a child or young person commits any offence and it is proved that his parent or guardian has conduced thereto by neglecting, without sufficient excuse, to exercise due control over him, the parent or guardian shall be deemed to be guilty of having contributed to the commission of the offence.816 Those are words which are a little difficult to construe, and I have very little doubt that the Home Secretary will see his way to modify them in some way so as to protect the parent or guardian a little more than they are protected in this proviso. But if I object to the wording of this clause absolutely and entirely, that would be no ground whatever for objecting to the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a purely subsidiary clause in the Bill to meet the case in which parents have been found to be more or less actually conducing to malpractices on the part of their children. We all desire to stop that, but I venture to express the opinion that this proposal goes a little too far, and will require some modification in Committee. The chief reason why I rose was simply to express my great abhorrence of the idea of ever introducing solitary confinement, whether upon bread and water or not, in cases of children's offences.
§ * MR. JONATHAN SAMUEL (Stockton)
I feel very much surprised that the Government should introduce this measure for the punishment of youthful offenders. We should take into consideration the fact that, in the early part of this session, there was a similar measure brought in by the hon. Member for Ripon, which had for its object the punishment by whipping of boys under sixteen years of age, and that Bill was rejected by a majority of 123, and only 72 Members voted for the principle of that Bill, while 195 voted against it. Under these circumstances, one can hardly understand that the Government should introduce this measure in another place and bring it forward now to give power to the magistrates to order the whipping of boys under the age of sixteen. I regard this Bill as a very serious measure, and one which in this enlightened age should certainly not be adopted by the House of Commons. I believe that the country is anxious that the Government should bring in a great many measures to solve the social problems of the people, but I do not believe that in all the promises which were made at the last election there was a single promise made by any Cabinet Minister or by any hon. Member on the opposite side of the House that they were in favour of bringing in a measure providing that the 817 children of the working classes should be punished by whipping. The Home Secretary in the short speech he made tonight gave his reasons why this Bill should be introduced, and he said it was brought in with a view of attempting to stop the large number of children who were now sent to prison. But when we look at the criminal statistics which were published quite recently for the year 1898, we find that they do not bear out the view which has been given by the Government for the introduction of this measure. We find, I am happy to say, a very large reduction in the prison population of our country. According to the last Return, between the year 1883 and 1893 the prison population—that is, the persons imprisoned—decreased to the extent of thirty per cent. during those ten years. I think that is a very happy state of affairs, and it shows that the growth of education—although we should like to see it a much in broader sense—is having a good effect upon the population, and we have not so many crimes at the present time as we formerly had. I think that is largely due to a more humane treatment of criminals by our judges. Now let me take the class of boys who will be subject to this punishment. The Home Secretary referred to the class of boys who are sent to the reformatory schools. I find in looking through the same return of the criminal statistics that in the year 1898 there were 1,017 boys sent to reformatory schools, and out of that number there were 801 boys sent there without being imprisoned at all. Those boys were sent to the reformatory schools without suffering any imprisonment, and there were only 102 boys who suffered ten days imprisonment and under, and 112 boys who suffered one month's imprisonment and above ten days. This is a strong indication that the magistrates in these cases have adopted a more humane policy, and that when these boys have been brought before them for committing petty offences or crimes, the practice of sending them to reformatory schools instead of to prison is increasing. The fact that you had 801 boys sent to reformatory schools, who were not sent to prison before, is an indication that the magistrates did not consider the crimes they had committed were of serious import. The same return states that of the boys sent to reformatory schools for simple larceny and minor offences there 818 were 717 cases. Those who have the privilege and the right of sitting upon the magisterial bench know what these simple larcenies are. They are simply minor offences boys sometimes commit, which, as one of the speakers before me stated, in the case of boys belonging to the leading families are overlooked and not punished at all. What does this Bill mean? It means that under Section I. many of the boys who would come under the same category as the 801 who were sent to reformatory schools last year without having any imprisonment at all would be subject to be whipped, that is to say, the magistrates would have it in their power to order that these boys should be whipped. I regard this as a retrograde measure in respect that we should not in this age give power to the magistrates to order that boys should be whipped in addition to being sent to reformatory schools. We all know that boys who are sent to reformatory schools are subject in these schools to humane influences and a better class of education than they have been accustomed to. Many of these boys come out bright and intelligent, and become useful citizens of the country. You propose in this Bill first of all to give power to the magistrates to order a child to receive six strokes with a birch rod, and you also give power to increase the number to twelve and up to eighteen strokes. I ask any member of this House, are we anxious that our children should be whipped in this way? There is no question that the working classes are more sensitive upon than the whipping of their children. If their children are whipped in the Board Schools they resent it. The proposal to give power in this measure that a constable should whip these children, and that the parents should have the right to go and witness the punishment of their own children, is a step which no House of Commons in this part of the century should pass. By Clause 3 of the Bill it is proposed to give a new power. I quite agree with the hon. Member for South-west Bethnal Green when he stated that this measure will have a tendency in a great many cases to cause a large number of parents to be sent to prison for crimes they are practically not responsible for. Under these circumstances, as has been already pointed out, you create the new offence that where it has been proved that a parent or guardian conduces by the neglect of his child to 819 the child committing a crime he is to be subject to a fine of £5 by the court for this neglect. If you gave this power to magistrates it would simply mean that the magistrate would inquire into the past conduct of parents towards their children. In many cases they would bring prejudice to bear, and parents very often would be punished without having been guilty of any crime whatever. We all know that, under the Act dealing with cruelty to children, we have already great powers, and many parents are brought up for neglect. I think there is ample power under that Act, when put in operation, to punish any parents or guardians who have neglected their children. To give them this power to inquire into the conduct of parents because a boy steals apples or commits any other small crime would certainly cause very great hardship to a great many parents. I also agree with the views expressed by the hon. Member for South-west Bethnal Green in reference to the clause giving power to parents to appeal to quarter sessions. We know quite well that now we have a large number of cases where poor men or women have a right to appeal against the judgment of a lower court, but in the vast majority of these cases no appeal is taken. They pay the fine or suffer the imprisonment, because they cannot undertake the cost of going to quarter sessions. I regard this protection of giving them the right of appeal as very delusive. I do appeal to the Home Secretary. We regard him as a very humane man, but I cannot understand his action now, looking to the speech which he recently delivered on the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Ripon when there was a similar proposal made for flogging or corporal punishment of boys under sixteen. He stoutly opposed that measure, and it was defeated by a very large majority. I hope the House to-night, without distinction of party, although the measure has been brought in by the Government, will vote against the second reading, and place upon record the fact that the House will not tolerate such measures, introduced by any hon. Member.
§ MR. MOSS (Denbighshire, E.)
Unless we get a promise from the Home Secretary that the first clause will be eliminated, in other words, that whipping will not be part of the Bill, I shall support the Amendment of the hon. Member. I 820 object to the principle it introduces. It is a retrograde measure. The history of the criminal law of this country during the whole of the century has been a history of the application of the principle of the humane treatment of offenders. I am not going into all the statistics now, but the application of more humane principles to the treatment of offenders has in no way tended to increase crime. Apart from the fact that the Bill introduces a principle which, in my opinion, is retrograde, I object to the whole scope of the Bill as contained in, the first clause. The Bill proposes to give power to magistrates to order the whipping of youthful offenders for any offence under homicide. Not only so, but the first clause creates a most extraordinary kind of case. There is no power now, even in the High Court, or the county court, or the court of summary jurisdiction, to imprison for non-payment of damages, but it is proposed by this Bill to enable magistrates to order a child to be whipped because his father is too poor to pay if his son happens to break a window, if the window is valued at £5. If the magistrate imposes a fine of 5s.—and we know that many men can ill afford to maintain families, apart from paying costs for the offences their children may commit—and if any person is unable to pay the fine, the magistrate may order the child to be whipped. Look how this would work out. There are two children—one the son of a poor man and the other the son of a wealthy man. These two lads go into the streets and throw stones and break windows. They are brought up before the magistrates, and fined 5s. and costs. In one case the fine is paid, and the boy gets off' scot free; in the other case the fine is not paid, and the boy is whipped in prison by a prison official. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered the effect of this clause, which gives the magistrate power to order flogging or whipping for the non - payment of a fine and costs and damages. It does seem to me an extraordinary innovation in our criminal system that the magistrates should be empowered to deal with youthful offenders in the way this Bill provides. There is another objection to the Bill, and that is one which has already boon mentioned—the inequality and the uncertainty of its effect. It is impossible 821 to conceive the enormous gap there is between flogging, or whipping as it is called, a sensitive child, and whipping a child who may not care very much after the first infliction of pain has gone by. Men who have families know that even in the same families there may be children, one of whom you would not under any circumstances speak harshly to because the child is so sensitive that the effect might be injurious, while there may be others who would stand a deal of birching without suffering in any way from it. The natures of the children are so totally different that a whipping in one case might be almost fatal, while in the other case it might have a good effect. Does the right hon. Gentleman know what happens in cases brought before the High Court judges? It is impossible not to notice the inequalities in the course taken by judges in cases where flogging is allowed. If trained lawyers, men accustomed to the Criminal Courts all their lives, commit these inequalities, what are yon going to say about magistrates who have no legal training or legal experience? I say that the inequality which would be the result of this first clause would be sufficient to justify me in voting for the Amendment. I hope that before the Amendment goes to a division the Home Secretary will give the House an assurance as to the way this first clause will be dealt with.
§ * SIR WILLIAM ANSON (Oxford University)
If you get a group of lads who commit the same offence punishable by fine or imprisonment, or, if the lads are under 14, by flogging, is it preferable to send the boys to prison or to fine them, in which case the parents pay the fines? In cases where the fine is paid no doubt the boy receives the correction of the birch at home, while the castigation by the constable, which takes place in the presence of the parent, generally gives dissatisfaction on the ground that it is not administered with greater severity. Which boy suffers most—the boy who is flogged on the spot, or the boy whose fine is paid and who accompanies his parent home to suffer by flogging or otherwise when he gets to his domestic hearth? The truth is that this is really the most humane and satisfactory mode of treating the young offender. Any one who has to administer justice in the neighbourhood of towns knows that the magistrates have to 822 deal with groups of boys who, if not pulled up in time, might become members of the criminal class. You can deal with such cases most effectively by punishing the ringleader and letting off the minor members of the group. In that way you probably sent him back to live a respectable life. If a parent is fined, and the boy is simply talked to in a serious tone by the magistrate, I am afraid the results will not be perfectly satisfactory in instilling the necessary terror of the criminal law into the boy, who would then go on in his evil course and would find his character gone, and his chance of earning a respectable livelihood would be seriously diminished. I do hope the House will not be misled by those false notions, of humanity which have been uttered by hon. Members. Flogging is a form of corrective which a boy does not forget, but it has not any effect in diminishing the self respect of the individual. As to the diagnosis of the sensitive child, I am afraid it would require an amount of inspection which the most energetic Home Secretary could hardly hope to administer. Really the argument against flogging, in these cases of youthful offenders proceeds from a wholly mistaken kindness; it is likely to result in domestic disturbance at home, and in the possible-permanent degradation of the lads who. are sent to prison or allowed to continue in evil courses. This Bill really will assist in the administration of local justice which I cannot help thinking is administered with greater knowledge and discretion on the part of magistrates than the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down gives them credit for.
§ * SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
I have heard with astonishment the reactionary speech of the hon. Baronet, whom I regard as an eminent and enlightened man. I do not know whether, in the variety of his pursuits, he has had to deal with very young children. I have had some experience in that way, and I am perfectly satisfied that the infliction of the rod by a con stable, under the eye of an inspector, would be much more likely to degrade and demoralise for the rest of his life a child who was worth anything, or had any hope or promise of redemption in this world, than the infliction of punishment by either of his parents. I think it shows some ignorance, if I may be 823 permitted to say so with all respect, of children's nature to put forward such an argument. I cannot help observing that this Bill, which is brought down from the other House, is an illustration of how legislation is done for Ireland in the present Parliament. A few minutes ago there was not a single Member from Ireland in the House except myself, though now I am happy to see the Chief Secretary, the secretary of the Local Government Board, and other Members are present; yet this Bill deals with Ireland and creates new offences applicable to Ireland which is supposed to have statute-made offences enough already. I cannot help thinking that this case illustrates the disadvantage Irish Members are at when Bills of a not altogether Irish character, like some of the Bills in the orders of the day, with insidious sections applying to Ireland, are, as it were, sprung upon the House. Were it not that by chance some Irish Member happened to be present the Bill would probably pass without observation. I confess I am one of those who think that whipping should only be adopted in the last resort. I disapprove altogether of many of the sections of this Bill. There was an Act of Parliament passed in 1879 which limited the power of whipping to six strokes. I think the Government might have been satisfied with that Act. We are not now in a position to repeal that Act. I question whether if now brought forward it would pass, having regard to what happened with respect to the Private Bill lately brought forward by a right hon. Member opposite. It was rejected at an early stage of the session by a large majority. This Bill would enable every petty sessions in the very remotest corners of the three kingdoms to inflict the punishment of whipping. These courts are not exposed to the strong light of public opinion, and things might be done there which would escape public notice. In that way irreparable injury and injustice might be inflicted on a poor boy for a trifling offence. The very speech we have heard illustrates how some men's minds are constituted. Some magistrates entertain the same opinions which I am sure the hon. Member for Oxford University honestly entertains. If a child were brought before him there could be no possible doubt he would 824 inflict the rod without the slightest compunction, and to the utmost extent to which the law enabled him. Temperaments vary very much. In the eyes of some, to steal a rabbit or shoot a pheasant would be worse almost than shooting a man. Men vary according to their idiosyncrasies and education, and we cannot expect human nature, even in magistrates, to be quite perfect. The hon. baronet is probably a metaphysician, but he must know how one gets hardened if you are in the habit of perpetually flogging boys.
§ * SIR WILLIAM ANSON
May I inform the hon. Member that I am neither a metaphysician, nor am I in the habit of flogging boys?
§ * MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
I thought the hon. Member was a master of all sciences. But undoubtedly a constable would have a very different feeling in regard to inflicting the birch or rod, or whatever instrument it might be, from a father or an affectionate mother, while to say that a father would rather the child was flogged than fined says very little for the general humanity of the English people. As far as the Irish people are concerned, I repudiate any such argument altogether. The punishment of flogging is repugnant to the Irish nature and to the feelings of the Irish people, and it is preposterous that this Bill should be sprung upon us with an elaborate provision for its being applied to Ireland, the Chief Secretary being substituted for the Secretary of State in the exercise of the functions there in imposed. I do not know how far the fact of this Bill being applicable to Ireland was brought before the House of Lords, but I think if it had been properly appreciated the Bill would never have passed its Second Reading, and I trust it will yet be withdrawn. There is a still more preposterous provision which is quite a novelty in law. The Bill actually enables you to flog a boy because the parent is either unable or unwilling to pay a fine. That, indeed, is restoring the old whipping-boy theory. There is no precedent for such an idea, and it is a law which would excite the utmost indignation in Ireland. Then the third section says, that if a young person commits any offence, and it is proved that the parent or guardian has conduced thereto by neglecting, without sufficient cause, to exercise due control over him, 825 the parent or guardian should be deemed to be guilty of contributing to the commission of the offence. Therefore, according to the view of the hon. Member for the University, if it was proved to the magistrate that the parent had not thrashed the boy every day of the week before breakfast, he might be said to have conduced to the offence. Negligence is a very broad term. It would enable a hard-hearted stern magistrate to strain the law in such a way that there would be a perpetual conflict between the subject and the administrators of the law, and the evils we already suffer from in Ireland would be aggravated to a ten-fold degree without any advantage whatsoever ensuing. A new crime is created by this section, and I challenge the Secretary of State to show in the Statute Book any precedent for such a section or clause. I do not think that this is a Bill which under any circumstances can ever be—if I may use a vulgar expression—licked into any sort of reasonable shape, and I appeal to every man who has sympathy with children, who knows how they differ in temperament and disposition, to follow the precedent set earlier in the session and reject this Bill, which is an altogether cruel and inhuman measure.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
The right hon. and learned Member who has just spoken has, in the course of his speech, explained many things. He has said that the Irish people have an unconquerable aversion to being whipped as children. That entirely explains to me the attitude and conduct—the energy, I would call it—of the Members opposite who come from Ireland. I think if they had been whipped in their childhood, they would probably have been much more agreeable to us. [An Irish MEMBER: I think you were neglected, too.] I have no unconquerable aversion to whipping as a form of punishment. What are the other forms of punishment? Imprisonment, companionship with people already convicted of crime, and who are likely very much to deteriorate the moral tone of a boy who is forced to associate with them, and all the deteriorating effects of a prison. To my mind, a short and simple whipping is much superior to that. Instead of trying to restrict the number of persons to whom whipping could be administered, I think it would be an advantage to have 826 it extended. I can conceive many cases in which a couple of dozen would be a far more adequate and effective punishment than that now inflicted by custom or law. In fact, this is rather an indulgent measure. Consider what it does. A boy of sixteen is accused of attempting to murder or of high treason—for the Bill includes all offences of which the law is cognisant. The law will not try him unless it believes he is capable of understanding the offence of which he is accused. The law at present inflicts the utmost punishment upon that boy. This Bill proposes to substitute for that very serious and possibly fatal punishment a whipping with a birch-rod, and eighteen strokes is the limit. That is the very reverse of cruel. With regard to graver offences, at any rate, it is a very merciful change in the law. It might be an advantage if it applied, say, to political offences. I think that a couple of dozen would sometimes be better than permanent exclusion from office.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Oh! I am not a learned Member of this House, and therefore I will not attempt to go even so. far as a definition. I leave that to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I say there is an absolute strain of mercy passing through this Bill. It proposes to substitute for imprisonment or hanging the mild punishment of whipping, leaving it open to the boy to return to society without any serious deterioration, except in a cuticle form. But I do look with a certain amount of distrust upon Clauses 3 and 4. Clause 3 puts upon the parent a responsibility which should not be imposed upon him. The young person has been tried for an offence; it has been proved, to the satisfaction of the court, that he is a responsible person, that he adequately and fully knows the nature of the offence he was committing; consequently, the whole and full responsibility lies upon him. Therefore, it cannot lie upon the parent. But by Clause 3 you bring in the parent whom you have incidentally acquitted, and pretend to convict him of some contributory action in regard to the crime. That is a contradiction. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that by the laws we have passed with respect to education we have to a large extent taken the re- 827 sponsibility of the education and training of the children out of the hands of the parents. We have ordained that the children shall be sent to such and such schools, and we have taken very large securities for the moral training being given in those schools which alone can be given in connection with religious teaching. To that extent you have taken away from the parent the possibility of control he formerly had over his children, and instead of imposing a further responsibility you should rather relieve him of some of the responsibility he has at present. The clause sets up a sort of amateur gaoler. Where are you going to get him Is it to be the parent, who perhaps has been guilty of conducing to the offence? Surely not. If not, whom is he to be, and how will he be provided; with all the means and appliances that are required in a gaol? That is a dangerous position, and, with Clause 3, wants very serious amendment. But with regard to the substitution of whip- ping for the more serious punishment, it does seem to me that the measure is rather merciful than the reverse.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I confess I have had three disappointments in this debate. My first disappointment was with the hon. Member for King's Lynn. One of my first experiences years ago was to meet the hon. Gentleman when he was enjoying all the luxuries of a horse while I was engaged in the humbler exercise of the bicycle. My hon. friend, if it is not too personal a remark, used to be accompanied by his children. I would like to ask him whether in his private life, in his capacity as father, he exercised this doctrine of whipping with regard to these three charming children?
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I put this to the House, and it is a question we ought to consider: Shall we apply to the children of other parents a discipline we would not apply to our own? My second disappointment was with regard to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, when he introduced this Bill. I confess I simply looked at the title in the Orders, and did not pay very much attention to what the right hon. Gentleman was saying, because, knowing what a perfectly straightforward and honour- 828 able English gentleman he is, I took it for granted the Bill meant exactly what it said. Therefore, when I knew he was introducing a Youthful Offenders Bill, I, in the innocence of my heart, thought he was introducing a Bill for the purpose of levelling up the legislation of this country—which, so far as humanity is concerned, is nearly always behind—to the legislation of other countries. My third and greatest disappointment was in the speech of the hon. Member for Oxford University. We all have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman, not merely because of his own high personal character and great attainments, but also because he is the representative of one of the great institutions of the country. I looked at the speech of the hon. Gentleman as throwing light upon one of the most important of all questions, namely, the mind and the psychology—if I may use that phrase—of the child, and the manner in which the education of the child should be conducted. I found the hon. Gentleman had no other solution to offer to the House with regard to the treatment of the child than methods which I supposed were dead and buried fifty years ago. What does this Bill propose to do? It has been represented by the hon. Member for King's Lynn that he would apply to the children of the poor — for it is with the children of the poor we are dealing —methods he would not dare to apply to his own children. This is a Bill for altering and almost revolutionising— and certainly degrading—the law of this country. It proposes to introduce whipping for children, and the defence of my hon. friend is that whipping is a less punishment than other punishments which might be inflicted. But is there no alternative? The advocates of this Bill have gone on the line that you have to choose between two things, that you must either have the child whipped by a constable or you must send him to gaol. But you need do neither the one nor the other. Even under the existing law of England you need not send the child to gaol, and under the law of Germany no child under sixteen years of age is ever sent to gaol for the first offence. The child gets a serious warning; the offence is recorded against him, and in time may be brought against him, but the humane! law of that country and of this country 829 comes to the reasonable conviction that a child of that age may not realise the meaning of what it is doing, and therefore, in order to save the whole of the life of the child from the stigma of imprisonment, he gets the opportunity of retrieving his character and of acting a better part when his reason is more mature. My hon. and learned friend who took part in the earlier part of this debate used an argument which has not been answered. I was astounded to hear the hon. Member for Oxford University throw scorn upon that argument, which was that a whipping meant one thing to one child, but quite a different thing to another child. It was said that the Homo Secretary could not make distinctions between one child and another, and that it would be throwing too much work upon the right hon. Gentleman. I would trust a great deal to the present Home Secretary, because I know he is a humane and an enlightened man, although this is an inhuman and a retrograde measure for which he makes himself responsible. But the cases do not come before the Home Secretary. The Bill proposes to give this discretion not to the Home Secretary, but to every magistrate in the country, learned or unlearned, merciful or merciless—or perhaps the proper expression would be, wanting in intelligence and sympathy rather than wanting in heart, not having the power of realising or knowing the mind and character of the child. The mind of a child is a very difficult and complex subject. I suppose the hon. Member for Oxford University is acquainted with the works of Herbert Spencer, and he will doubtless remember a most striking passage in one of his works, in which a child is described as going on a railway journey with its mother. The mother has seen everything before; the child, whose senses and mind are just awakening, finds everything around it novel and interesting, the result being that the child is always asking questions which seem to the parent—especially if she be an unenlightened parent—either embarrassing or absurd. A great many of the offences of childhood are the offences of ignorance; very often they are not offences at all, but a something done in ignorance, and very often are due to ignorance or want of understanding on the part of the parent. But now comes the Home Secretary, backed by the hon. Member for one of the greatest educa- 830 tional establishments in the country, and his answer to all these difficult and complex problems of the mind and disposition of a child is in those words—words which I say are shameful. The court may adjudge that the child—Be privately whipped with a birch-rod, and thereupon he shall be whipped accordingly by a constable in the presence of an inspector or other officer of police, and also, if the parent or guardian desire to be present, of that parent or guardian.Twenty-five years hence the words of this Bill—for it is only a Bill, and will never become an Act if the Members of this House of humane and intelligent views do their duty—will be looked upon as a proof of the comparative savagery in which we live in these days. The hon. Member for Oxford University says the objection of the parent may be that the constable would not punish sufficiently. That is a strange argument, and it is backed up by my hon. friend who has never applied corporal punishment to his own children. What parent in this House will get up and say that he regards corporal punishment for his own children as a good thing? I know of no decent home in which it exists, and I believe there are very few public schools of an enlightened character where it is still allowed. There are none in Ireland that I am aware of, and I do not believe that any magistrate in Ireland would dare to carry out such a measure as this. I will turn to the other clauses in this extraordinary Bill brought in by the Home Secretary as a measure of alleviation. It is provided that if a child or young person commits any offence, audit is proved that the parent or guardian has conduced thereto by neglecting without sufficient excuse to exercise due control, the parent or guardian shall be liable to a fine. The Bill cannot even be consistent. There is no "sufficient excuse" for neglecting a child. In London we know that a Bill like that would be very carefully watched if passed into law. The question is not how the measure will be carried into operation in the midst of an enlightened metropolis carefully watched by public opinion, but how it will be used for class interests in country districts. If this Bill were to be administered by enlightened magistrates in an enlightened community and under the supervision of a vigilant press, even then I should object to it, but my objection would be much less. We know that where this Bill will be abused will be in 831 the country districts. I hope opposition to this Bill will not be confined to these benches alone, but that hon. Members on the opposite side will be found ready to support this view. We know that a Bill of this kind is more dangerous in the country districts. I call this a class Bill, and I challenge contradiction. [An HON. MEMBER: NO, no.] Some hon. Gentleman says it is not a class Bill.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Then I will read the section which provides that the court may—In lieu of committing him to prison for non-payment of any fine, costs, or damages, adjudge that he be privately whipped with a birch rod.A wealthy parent can pay any fine, costs, or damages, and therefore the question whether a child shall be whipped or not depends upon the ability and willingness of the child's parents to pay the fine.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
The words are—Where a child or young person, being a male, is convicted either on indictment or summarily of any offence other than homicide, the Court may, in lieu of sentencing him to penal servitude or imprisonment, or instead of committing him to prison for nonpayment of any fine, costs, or damages.I do not see that that alters my argument or my statement. I say that where a parent can pay the fine the child is saved from whipping, and a parent who cannot pay the fine cannot save the child from being whipped. Therefore, I think I prove my statement that whether the child be whipped or not depends on whether the parent of the child is willing to pay the fine or not. This is the very worst form of class legislation which is being brought forward by the Home Secretary under the guise of a Bill for alleviating the punishment of children. With regard to the responsibility of parents, there again I would not object if I knew the law was going to be exercised by enlightened magistrates, with an enlightened and watchful public opinion to safeguard it; but a law like this, placed in the hands of a magistrate with strong class and social personal prejudices might be used with serious and terrible 832 consequences. Now I come to the fourth clause, which provides—A court of summary jurisdiction, on remanding or committing for trial any child or young person, may, instead of committing him to prison, make an order that he be placed in the custody of any fit person named in the order who is willing to receive him, and be detained in that custody for the period for which he has been remanded.I will not say that that is meant to-encourage baby farming, because I do not suppose that that is the object of the clause. But what I do say is, how are we to know what kind of a person this is to whom you entrust these children? In Texas the punishment is inflicted that prisoners should be hired out to certain employers, with the result that a horrible system of oppression has been the result. This very day I was reading very hurriedly the biography of a man whose name is on the lips of every Englishman to-day—I mean the gallant defender of Mafeking, and I find that his biography brings out the fact that his splendid mother was largely accountable for the greatness of the son, for she made it a rule never to inflict corporal punishment. I was also reading a biography of Napoleon I., and I find that his mother made corporal punishment the very gospel of the whole family, and I traced the very different careers of these two great men. (Laughter.) I do not know why hon. Members laugh, but I presume that they would be the first to admit that their mothers had a great deal of influence upon their character. That was the inference I was drawing. If you treat a child in this brutal manner in its childhood you create a brutal nature, but if you lay a good foundation in other ways it will not only be effectual in the case of the child itself but it will spread kindness and enlightenment everywhere.
MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
It seems to me that we have a mistaken theory of what the object of this Bill really is. If my hon. friend who has just spoken will show me any method by which whipping can be avoided without imprisonment I should be very glad to support him. This proposal is put forward as the only alternative to imprisonment. Much as I dislike whipping, I dislike sending a child to prison even more, and it is only in a case where the child would otherwise be sent to prison that the magistrate is authorised to inflict whipping. My hon. friend says 833 that the rich man's child gets clear because he can afford to pay the fine, whereas the poor man's child gets flogged. But what is the alternative? Why, that the rich man's child still gets oft' under the present law, but the poor man's child goes to prison. Suppose two children commit the same offence, and one is the child of a wealthy parent, and the other the child of a poor parent. The wealthy father pays the fine and the other does not. If this Bill is not passed then the poor child goes to gaol. My point is that this Bill enables that child to be whipped with five or six strokes of the birch-rod instead of being sent to gaol. I would prefer a child to have eighteen strokes with a birch-rod rather than send him to gaol for even twenty-four hours. That being; so I am in favour of this Bill. Reference has been made to the case of the sensitive boy. I agree that there is a difference, and perhaps it is difficult for the magistrate to decide, but does not the same difference come in is the case of imprisonment? Suppose this Bill is passed, and a parent satisfies the magistrate that the particular child convicted is a very sensitive child. My opinion is that the more sensitive the child the more terrible would imprisonment be, and that child would think less of whipping. This Bill is more important in the case of delicate, sensitive, and nervous children than of any other, because, in all cases, as I said before, the alternative that is avoided by this Bill is imprison- merit. My hon. friend referred to the letting of a child off in the case of a first offence. But magistrates almost invariably do that now. I have never known a case where the magistrate did not always let off a boy on the first offence. But what would my hon. friend do in the case of a second offence ' Would he say that the magistrate must send him to gaol, and that there is no other alternative? Speaking as a magistrate, I should shrink from sending a second offender to gaol, because perhaps the boy has misused the leniency of the magistrate on a previous occasion, and because the boy has been led to believe that the magistrate would be equally lenient a second time. I would shrink from sending him to gaol when he might be punished by half a dozen strokes with the birch rod. Objection has been taken to Clause 4, but what does that mean? It means that where a child is remanded, instead of being re- 834 manded to gaol, the child may be taken care of by somebody else, possibly by the wife of the inspector of police, some relative, or perhaps some philanthropic person. I say again that the alternative of being remanded to a private house is much better than being remanded to a gaol. Still the power of remanding to the gaol remains. Reference has been made to unintelligent and cruel magistrates, but I would remind the hon. Member that these magistrates have the power without this Bill of sending those children to prison. What you do with the present law is that you fetter the hands of the kind-hearted magistrate and the intelligent magistrate, and the magistrate who desires to alleviate the child's punishment as much as possible. Under these circumstances I feel that I must support this Bill. My hon. friend has contrasted the punishment under this Bill with the punishment inflicted in former years, and he has made reference to people who do not punish their children in their own homes as if that was an analogous case. I venture to say that there is not a man here who would not prefer to have his own child whipped in his own presence in preference to being sent to gaol.
§ * MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, N.)
The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool has stated that this is a cruel Bill and a hardship to children. I venture to say that it is just the reverse, and that if it is passed it will be clearly in the interest of the children. Instead of sending these children to gaol, and making them hardened criminals, it offers the alternative of whipping, and thus prevents these children being sent to gaol and being mixed up with other criminals and hardening them until they become criminals as well. Surely it would be better to give them a good birching. At the present time the sons of the upper classes—oven Dukes' sons— are birched, and why should not other people and the children of other classes be birched? The hon. Gentleman went on to say that this Bill would be very harshly administered in the country districts. And why? Are the children worse there than in the towns? I venture to say that the children in the country districts are better brought up and do not commit such offences as the children in the towns do. Who is it that puts obstructions on 835 a railway line, and stands on the rail- way bridges outside large towns and throws empty bottles and stones at the engine-drivers as the trains go by? I heard of a case of one of these stones thrown from the bridge just outside London which hit the engine - driver and knocked him down, and he is in the hospital at the present time. Such children are brought up before the magistrate. If fines are imposed, generally the parents or the friends of the boy pay them, and the children get oft' scot free. How are you to make any impression upon such children? You must inflict some punishment upon them, and if you are to punish them at all it is very much bettor to birch the child than send him to prison. The Act says that the child—Shall be whipped accordingly by a constable in the presence of an inspector or other officer of police.It has been said during the course of this debate that children are of a very different temperament, and flogging may have little effect on one child, while it might very seriously injure a nervous child. Therefore, I think that instead of being flogged in the presence of an inspector, the medical officer or the divisional surgeon of police would be letter able to tell whether a child can stand flogging or not. I hope the alteration I have suggested will be made in the Bill. I intend supporting this Bill, because I thirds it is a much more humane thing to give a child birching—which all boys have had more or less, instead of imprisonment, for many centuries, and which has made the British boy what he is —it is bettor and less degrading to birch a boy than send him to prison to mix with other classes of criminals. I hope my right hon. friend will adhere to this Bill, which, with the slight alteration I have suggested in Clause 1, I hope will be passed into law.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
I have had some experience in connection with existing law for inflicting punishment of the kind which the Government propose to extend. In the first place, I think that any attempt to put upon the statute book a Bill which would make flogging a more common method of treating young persons before our police courts is a very inhuman step. We talk about whipping as a very effective 836 method of checking crime, and all of us who have been at public schools have experienced the effects of caning- Birching, as applied to these unfortunate children, is very different from caning, for it is an inhuman practice of the grossest kind. I will give the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman who are doubtful about it a case which is on the records of Parliament. When I was elected in the year 1887 for Ilkeston, my attention was called in my own constituency to a case which I brought before this House, and which a former Home Secretary inquired into. This Minister himself introduced a flogging Bill, which I am glad to say we were able to drive out. In the case to which I refer there was a boy seven years of age accused of stealing a watch. He was brought before the magistrates, who, under a somewhat mistaken view of giving him a milder form of punishment, said they would not send the boy to prison, but ordered him to receive four strokes with the birch rod. That was a comparatively mild sentence. I saw the boy two or three days after the infliction of this punishment, and his little back was covered with wounds which extended right through the skin to the muscles, and not only was his back a mass of rawness, but the wounds had come round to the front of the abdomen, and they had cut down to the muscles on the front of his frame. If that kind of thing is to happen in this country, I say that any Bill which supports it is an inhuman Bill. After I saw that case and brought it before this House, and saw the boy afterwards, I determined on every occasion to oppose this system of flogging children. I hope we shall have strong opposition to this Bill as regards the flogging of unfortunate children. In the year 1891 there was a Bill introduced for the purpose of flogging children, and it made a most opportune election card for the Liberal party. [Ministerial cheers.] Hon. Members may cheer, but when they go to their constituencies and speak to people in the agricultural districts, and consider with them how small offences under the game laws would be treated under this proposal, administered by those whose sympathies are rather with the game than with the children, they will be forced to oppose such legislation unless they wish to have plenty of raw and scarred backs in every 837 village in England. I object to that as demoralising alike to the people who inflict the punishment and to those who receive it. This is a method of the dark ages, and we ought to be able to do now without inflicting this kind of physical torture. We ought to be able to manage our affairs without having to resort to such punishment. There is hardly a school board where the managers would not look askance and get rid of a master who could not maintain discipline in his school without inflicting corporal punishment. If a schoolmaster cannot manage children without corporal punishment he is regarded as not fit for his post. On that account I shall oppose this Bill as a retrograde step in the legislation of this country. We have already upon the Statute Book sufficient powers for the flogging of young persons, and we do not want greater powers in that direction. In other respects it is not so bad a Rill as hon. Members have made out. I have a great desire that children should not be sent to prison, but under an Act passed last year we can send them to reformatories, and magistrates can meet the difficulty by applying the Act which was passed last year. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham first came into this House he made his reputation here by resisting flogging as applied to the military service of this country, and he did very splendid work in opposing the flogging of our soldiers. In Birmingham at the present time they do not send young persons to prison, and for years past the efforts of the magistrates have been directed towards avoiding the sending of young persons to gaol. There are other ways in which you can deal with young offenders, and as far as this Bill is concerned in dealing with children by sending them to industrial schools and reformatories and giving greater powers in that respect I think the Bill is a good one. But when you put in the forefront of this Bill this flogging clause, then it will be certain to receive most determined opposition from everyone who has the interests of the people at heart, because this Bill will affect the poor more than the rich, and we therefore ought to resist it as a measure of class legislation. In some respects the Bill is a good one, and if the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of it would give us an assurance that he will do away with the first clause we should be leas inclined to 838 resist it. But if he insists on carrying this Bill with the first clause, I must say that I myself and, I believe, many hon. Gentlemen behind me, will feel bound to offer all the resistance we can to a measure which we consider both retrograde and inhuman.
§ MR. VIGARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)
I can at any rate guarantee to the Home Secretary that he will have the most cordial and hearty support of many Members on this side of the House for this Bill. I understood the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken to say that he had experience of caning. I can give evidence on the point also, because as a schoolboy I have had experience of both caning and birching. I have been caned at a private school and flogged at a public school, and all I can say is that if I had not gone through either unpleasant operation I should have infinitely preferred to have been birched rather than have to undergo the degradation of prison. An hon. and learned Member opposite said, most courageously, having regard to his position, that this is a case of alternatives. These children commit crimes. They have got to be punished and deterred, and how is it to be done in the best interests of the child? Is there a single father in this House who, if his child committed a crime, would not rather that the child should be birched than sent to prison? If there is, a more injudicious parent does not exist. There is no degradation in punishment; the degradation is in doing wrong. When boys steal or break into houses, then they degrade themselves; not when they are whipped or flogged for it, and it is nothing more than cant to talk about the degradation of whipping. The hon. Member also talked about this being a retrograde Bill. I do not care whether it is retrograde or not if it is an improvement. I have not the immense conceit to suppose that we are superior in every respect to our forefathers. We are advancing, I hope, in the main, but it is quite possible to make mistakes, and why should we not correct them? Why should we be afraid to be retrograde if we are improving? [Cheers.] I do not mind the cheers of hon. Members opposite in the least; they think that wisdom is bound up with them and will die with them, but they will soon find out that they are wrong. An hon. and learned Member near me reminds me of a case in 839 which a number of boys broke into a house with loaded revolvers and stole £300, and he himself had to deal with them. No doubt the elder boys deserved imprisonment, but what about the younger boys who had been led away? Why should they be branded with the mark —[An HON. MEMBER: Of the birch?]— Oh no, I have been branded with that myself and I do not consider it in the least a disgrace; but why should these young boys be branded with the stigma of having been in prison? That is indeed a cruel thing, and it can be avoided by this sensible and humane measure. Hon. Members talk of this Bill as a question of class legislation. That is perfectly ridiculous. It is admitted on all hands that the sons of the richer classes are subjected to corporal punishment in their schools, and why should it be any degradation to the sons of the poorer classes to be subjected to the same treatment? To talk of this Bill as affecting the country districts principally is to show a complete ignorance of the situation. Juvenile offenders, as a class, do not exist in the country districts at all. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman opposite to try and frighten us with an electioneering bogie. I do not mind if he sends out posters when I am engaged in a contested election. I will not alter my course in the least through any such contemptible methods as are suggested to us as a means of influencing our votes. We have got to do our duty here, and hon. Gentlemen may, at least, give mo credit for honestly and sincerely opposing them with reference to this Bill. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool ridiculed Clause 3, and asked how could there be any "sufficient excuse" for neglect, but it seems to me that ill-health would be a sufficient excuse. Surely that stands to reason and common sense. We have got to choose between sending these boys to prison and stamping them for life with a brand which will never be effaced, or else stamping them with a brand which they will get over very easily, as I have had to get over it.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
The hon. Member for the Basingstoke Division has stated that he will move an Amendment when the Bill is in Committee to substitute a surgeon for the police inspector as a witness of the birching. No self-respecting surgeon in the 840 country can ever be hired for any such purpose as to see a poor child stripped and whipped for an offence which if committed by a child in another class of society would be merely regarded as childish play.
§ MR. BROADHURST
Flogging an adult in prison is a very different thing to flogging the tender flesh of the young children of the poor. Greater nonsense cannot be imagined than that which has been talked by the hon. Member for St. Albans just now. He seems to wish us to believe that he was proud of his caning and his birching. But whenever flogging in schools takes place it is administered by an educated person and under circumstances which carry no disgrace with it when the boy who was punished leaves school. That is the difference between flogging at school and flogging at a police court by a constable, or even a superior police officer. I have sat for more than ten years in the discharge of my duty as a magistrate, and so far as my experience has gone there is no difficulty in effectively dealing with young offenders without going to the extreme either of sending them to prison or of inflicting corporal punishment on them. We have never had, so far as my memory carries me, a single one of these youthful offenders before us a second time, and I do not remember a single case in which a youthful offender was sent to prison. The hon. Member for the Basingstoke Division stated that serious offences by youthful offenders are less frequent in rural districts than in urban districts. That I believe is perfectly correct, but his argument went on to show, as far as I understood it, that most of these offences are committed in big cities. Why is that? If the homes of these offenders were discovered they would probably be found to be very poor and overcrowded, and how can you expect proper control and moral training in the case of children who are living half a dozen in a room, and often sleeping in a room with adults of both sexes. That may easily account in large measure for these serious offences being located in crowded centres. I object to the Bill altogether. I am not a lawyer, but I have some elementary knowledge of the criminal law. As I understand it, Clause 841 3 creates a new criminal offence altogether. I am really somewhat surprised at the introduction of a clause of this kind into a Bill so innocent, and coming from the quarter it does. Parents and guardians are to be made co-offenders with the children if they have not exercised sufficient and due control over them. Who is to judge whether they have exercised sufficient control? How are we to arrive at that knowledge? Then, in the next place, what is "due control," and who is going to define it? We should have to call upon the most experienced criminal lawyers to interpret that phrase. Parents and guardians, if they have not exercised due control, have to be placed in the dock with the children, and dealt with at the same time, and they are to be liable to pay a fine not exceeding £5 and the costs of the proceedings against the young person. I would ask whether the payment of the costs is in addition to the fine of £5. The costs may run up to three or four pounds, and if the parents or guardians are to be made liable to pay them there is scarcely any limit to the costs which a magistrate's clerk might pile up in order to punish the parents and guardians of the children. Perhaps the Home Secretary may in his reply before the discussion concludes, if it does conclude to-night, be able to give some further information in regard to that sub-section. Clause 4 appears to me to be a most serious one. Under it an accused child may be sent into the custody of some person of whom it knows nothing, and may be detained as a prisoner, and if he is escaping, or thought to be escaping, he may be run down by the police without summons or warrant, captured, and restored to his place of keeping, very much like a runaway slave. That is a most ominous clause. It seems to bring into British law the apprenticeship system known in South Africa and other parts of the world. I would require a great deal of assurance on these points before I agreed to that clause. It must be amended so as to define more clearly by what persons and under what circumstances these children may be detained. Who is to decide what is a "fit person"? A "fit person" might be some taskmaster or task-mistress who had some menial work which he or she wanted done, probably without any remuneration. I look upon Clause 4 with the gravest suspicion, and I sincerely hope that it will never become law. The right hon. 842 Gentleman in charge of this Bill is a humane Minister, a Minister who during his term of office has exercised his prerogative of mercy on many occasions with great discretion and with very general approval. If this Bill was to be administered by the Home Secretary, I know of no other man to whom I would more readily entrust it, or any other Bill of a similar nature. But who are the men who are likely to administer this law? [AN HON. MEMBER: You are one of them.] If it were limited to the judges of the High Court there would be some guarantee, in some cases, but not in all, that it would be administered with care and discretion, and with some amount of justice. But it is to be administered by magistrates in the courts of summary jurisdiction, and by the stipendiary magistrates. I would rather trust the children under the care of the county magistrates than I would under the stipendiary magistrates. I believe, as a rule, we should get more justice, and certainly a great deal more mercy and consideration for the children from the former than the latter. But all county magistrates are not persons qualified for this work. It is perfectly well known that many young men are made magistrates immediately after attaining their majority, and in a year or two they come and sit on the bench to administer the law, although they have never been outside their own parishes since they left school or university, and have had no experience of the ways and byways of human nature. Their only experience has been to give a word to their servants, gamekeepers, and grooms on their estates, and that word is obeyed. These men are totally unfit to entrust with the administration of a Bill so far-reaching and serious as this is. No one regrets more than I do the disappointment felt by many of us at the speech made by the hon. Member for Oxford University. For a man so cultured and so refined to stand up in this House and advocate a measure which I think so cruel, is one of the amazing things connected with human nature. I certainly expected quite a different lead to the House on a subject of this kind from a Member for a University than that which he gave us to-night. I trust that this Bill will never reach the Committee stage. It is said that it is not a class law; but does anyone for a moment suppose that the backs of any children above the class of workmen will ever be submitted under this 843 Bill to the castigation of a village policeman? Nothing of the kind. We can legislate on the sure and certain faith and knowledge that that is not going to be the case. Who will suffer under it, then? The hon. Member for St. Albans says young criminals. I am surprised that the hon. Member should talk of children of tender years as criminals. I do not know of anything more degrading to the House than to use language of that kind in regard to children of ten, twelve, or fourteen years of age. It is because of out ignorance or indifference, or neglect to study the minds of our children that we are brought at this time of day to the point of asking the great British House of Commons to pass severe laws enabling magistrates to inflict a most severe and painful punishment upon the tender backs of these little ones. It is a shame and a disgrace to us, and I regret that the name of the Home Secretary is in any way associated with this measure. I only hope that, in the exercise of his discretion, before the next stage is reached, he will be able to give such assurances to the House as will enable us to agree at least to the skeleton of the Bill. In my judgment, the whole after part of the Bill is inserted for the purpose of carrying the first part. It is only the first part that is wanted, and not the second. Take the appeal to quarter sessions against a fine of five pounds. That is a matter of impossibility in the case of a farm labourer earning ten or twelve shillings a week. I remember the Act of 1866, giving an assurance of equality in criminal offences between employers and employees. This is a similar and parallel case. What happened between 1866 and 1875? Many men and women suffered imprisonment, but no employer in the country was ever once reached and dragged to the police court under that Act, much less was sent to prison for the offence of breach of contract. Precisely the same thing will happen under this Bill if it becomes law. It would be only the backs of the poor that would suffer at the hands of this law. My hon. and learned friend the Member for Eifion is the only Member on this side of the House who has supported the Bill. How is that? It is because he has had no personal experience; he is neither a husband nor a father. It is very easy to discuss how wise it is to inflict punishment upon other people's children 844 but a man, before he can speak with full feeling and knowledge on this matter, must at least have been responsible for the up-bringing of children if he has had none of his own. It is for these reasons that I oppose this Bill, and I resume my seat with an earnest appeal to the Home Secretary that he may to-night, before the debate closes, be able to assure the House that if this Bill goes to a Committee he will move to omit all portions of it which have any reference to the infliction of flogging on children of tender years.
MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanarkshire, Partick)
I have had the honour of sitting on a Committee of Inquiry into the treatment of prisoners in Scotland, and one of the most difficult and pressing points brought before us was the treatment of juvenile offenders, and how to deal with and punish them. Our feeling was that nothing was more injurious to the whole future of a child than to send him to prison. That being so, what are we really to do with him? Take the case of a set of boys who smashed plate-glass windows to the value of £40 in a single night. Are you to set these boys scot-free, and allow their parents to escape all responsibility? You cannot send these juveniles to prison, and yet they have to be punished in some kind of way. We found that boys do much more mischief than girls; in fact, we were told that the girls were as good as the boys were bad; but girls have sometimes to be dealt with also. At present there is an excellent rule by which the case of any girl of fourteen years and under is reported straight away to the Home Secretary; and I think that rule ought to be extended to girls over fourteen, and all these cases ought to be taken to the Home Secretary and dealt with on their merits by him. They should be sent to a reformatory school, or at any rate come under the direction of the Home Office. The real question is whether in the case of boys we shall use corporal punishment, flogging or birching. I have no particular objection to cither. Like other hon. Members, I might confess that I have undergone something of the kind in my past history. And yet I think there is a very great difference between what hon. Members may have been accustomed to in their callow youth, and the punishment which would be inflicted under this Bill. To be 845 flogged by your father or your schoolmaster, or by a bigger boy at school, is an absolutely different thing from being flogged by a policeman; and we ought to keep that in mind. There would be an immense difference, also, in being flogged by a footman or a gamekeeper and that to which most of us have been accustomed in public school life. There is in certain places so strong a feeling against flogging that the magistrates would not inflict it. In some places in Scotland they flog boys quite freely, and without any harm to the boys; but in other places the magistrates would not order a whipping on any account. We cannot, therefore, have whipping as a universal remedy. We must look further. I think the provision in the Bill in Clause 4, by which children and young people can be sent somewhere other than to a prison, is a most excellent one, if only it can be carried out; in fact, it is attempted in Scotland very largely. In many cases, in order to avoid sending young people to prison, they are kept in police cells for a few hours in order to give them a good fright, and then they arts dismissed. Now, a police cell is a most unsatisfactory place to put children in, but there is no other place at present to put them; and to whip them does a life-long injury, and therefore in many cases the boys are left to go free. If something can be done in the direction of making provision for sending untried and unconvicted lads to places untainted, where they could be received for a time, that would be an improvement. I would like to go further, and would send lads who had been convicted to some such place, provided I was sure they would be well treated there; and you would find magistrates would convict far more frequently than they do now. Magistrates would send boys there who are not criminal but mischievous; they would like to give them some punishment, but not such a punishment as would do far more harm than by leaving them go free. Of course, we have industrial and reformatory schools. I think these want looking into, and that something better is required. We might take a bit of a lesson from the United States and aim at some such institution as Elmira, where young people are sent of an older age even than that mentioned in the Bill, and where the accounts show far more attention is given to improving the character and turning them out as really fit citizens at the end of the period of detention, and where the success 846 in accomplishing these objects is often surprising. It is in that direction that our whole system of punishment wants to be amended.
§ * MR. C. P. SCOTT (Lancashire, Leigh)
We are told that, as the law at present stands, we are bound cither to send the children to prison or to flog them. I do not think that is the case, because it is open to us even now to send the children to a reformatory or an industrial school, and I believe that it is rather in that direction that our thoughts ought to turn than in the direction of greater severity. The effect of the Bill would be extremely unfortunate, for it would remove the security which we at present have that not only must the flogging be carried out in the presence of a surgeon, but by the sanction of a judge and jury. The Bill, in my opinion, is a retrograde step in the fullest sense of the word, and not a step in advance. We do not want simply to punish a child because he has committed an offence; we want to reform him. That has been the whole tendency of modern legislation. We endeavour to bring influences on the child which will really improve his character, and make him less liable to commit similar offences in the future. I hold that principle not merely on sentimental grounds, not because flogging is necessarily a degrading thing, but because we want to influence permanently the springs of character in the future life of the child. I do not think the hon. Member for Oxford University regarded flogging as a desirable thing in itself, or that imprisonment is in itself desirable. If we were tied down to these alternatives, the matter would be very difficult to decide. There is no civilised country in the world that I know of which inflicts a penalty of flogging for petty offences under summary court jurisdiction, and I do not see why we should be called upon at this time of day to adopt such a measure. What is the necessity, or urgency, or motive, or difficulty unfelt before for coming to us and asking us to do it now? Has there been an increase in juvenile crime? On the contrary, in recent years there has been an immense reduction of juvenile crime, and that has been the effect not of severe punishments, but to a very large extent of education. We have got, in this way, at the root of the evil, and we may look forward to a still further reduction in juvenile 847 offences. It is, therefore, wholly inappropriate to ask us now to inflict on children the punishment of whipping. We have been told to-night about gentlemen who have received birchings in their youthful days. That is an argument that ought not to be considered, because it is perfectly well known that a birching at school is an absolutely and totally different thing from a birching by a policeman. A birching from a policeman is not such a thing as a man would speak of with pleasure or a smile in after years. Such a punishment as was described by an hon. Member would score the back of a child in a terrible manner. The instrument, as everybody knows, is a very severe one, and is wielded by the hand of an uneducated man; and the punishment may be more or less severe according to the temper of the man and the strength of his arm. It is quite possible that a child may receive torture which he will remember with shame to the last day of his life, and I do not think the House is called upon at this time of day to agree to that. The hon. Member for St. Albans was very angry when he was told that the electors would take this Bill to heart, and he spoke of the feelings of electors as not to be considered in a matter of this kind. I think that when an election comes round the hon. Member will be inclined to modify his opinion on that point. I think the feelings and convictions of parents ought to he considered, so far as they are just and reasonable. Parents feel strongly and reasonably that it is not right that, by the decision of a single magistrate, paltry offences should be punished by inflicting a whipping on a child which may be totally unsuited from physical health or temperament to receive it. It will be in the country districts where this Bill will be most felt, because it is there the magistrates are more inclined to be autocratic, whereas in towns the magistrate is generally a trained legal expert. I should not have the same objection to this Bill if it were to be administered by the judges with the safeguard of a jury. In the country districts children are brought up for offences which do not seem very heinous to magistrates in urban districts, such as the taking of a partridge's nest of eggs, or robbing an orchard. I do not say that the majority of rural magistrates would inflict the punishment of flogging for offences of that kind; but I say that 848 some would, and that there is a greater danger of undue severity being shown in the punishments of petty offences against the game laws or property by magistrates in the rural districts, where they are not so much under public control as in the towns. I am sure that if hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to furnish us with a good election cry in the country districts they will pass this Bill. We must remember that the electors have a right to have their opinions considered. I think that we should be spared at this time of day a Bill of this kind, which is uncalled for by circumstances, and which will increase and, to a certain extent, popularise a form of punishment which we all admit to be undesirable, and sometimes degrading, and wholly ineffectual.
§ * SIR M. WHITE RIDLEY
The course of debate has developed a difference of opinion in regard to the matters dealt with in the Bill. Of course, I was quite prepared to know that there are a certain number of Gentlemen inside and outside the House who have such a horror of the infliction of corporal punishment that they will not look at a question like this as a matter of common sense, and more than that, as a matter of experience. Hon. Gentlemen have spoken as if this were the introduction on a wide scale of a new principle—conferring power on magistrates sitting in summary jurisdiction cases to give whippings. It is nothing of the sort. This kind of punishment is adopted in many cases throughout the country. A great addition was given to it by some legislation passed last year, and I have yet to learn that there is more abuse in the administration of that particular form of punishment of juvenile offenders than there was in the administration of other laws in other kinds of courts. I have been asked what is the motive of the Government in introducing this Bill. I should have thought that this Bill was not sprung as a surprise on the House. It was introduced before, and met with a good deal of discussion in another place on several occasions. It met with an enormous amount of discussion throughout the country last year and the year before. I have received many representations with reference to it not merely from magistrates sitting in petty and quarter sessions, but from societies of all kinds who are interested in the question of juvenile crime and of keeping young 849 offenders out of prison. The Bill was introduced with the distinct object of finding a, better means of punishment for some of the young offenders than that of sending them to prison. It is not true to say that it is merely an alternative between sending them to prison or to a reformatory. We all know from a speech I made in the early part of the session that we have the Juvenile Offenders Act, under which it is possible for them not to be punished in any way. Let that be taken advantage of to the fullest extent, and those who have followed this question know how much the Home Office has endeavoured to sec that that Act has been carried out. We have the power of sending these juvenile offenders to reformatories and to industrial schools, but there are a good many cases in which there is a better way of dealing with them. And, assuredly, some of the cases mentioned in the course of the debate are examples in which it was better to give the boys a short and sharp punishment, such as is contemplated by the Bill, than to send them to a reformatory for four or five years, where some of them are led away by older and more criminal boys than themselves. This proposal has been recommended by Committee after Committee, and is intended to be a humane proposal. It is intended to work in the direction of keeping these boys out of prison. We have done a good deal by associating, in four or five centres throughout the country, some of our juvenile offenders who are sentenced for periods of more than a month. It has done a great deal of good, but that remedy is much more fit for the older class of juvenile offenders than for the young. It must be within the knowledge of the hon. Members who act as magistrates that there are cases where a sharp and short punishment of this kind affords the best chance for the boy. I do not draw any inference from any experience which might be derived from public schools. I admit that the experience is not parallel; nor is it parallel with the cases provided for in the Corporal Punishment Bill, which an hon. and learned friend behind me recently introduced to extend flogging to certain offences against women and children. I myself was unable to support that Bill, but this is a very different case indeed, and when we have 850 a chance of keeping a boy out of prison and of dealing with him summarily in a way that is not cruel, and can be carefully watched, I maintain that the House should avail itself of that treatment which is not inhuman, but, on the contrary, humane. Of course we all have our opinions. I can of course understand the convictions which animate hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I say there are others who hold the contrary opinion, and that there are a great many throughout this country who believe that this is not a cruel, but on the contrary a judicious and humane way of dealing with juvenile crimes. I have had put into my hands this evening a resolution from the Council of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a society which is well-known to many hon. Members. The resolution states—That in the opinion of this Council it is very desirable to authorise the substitution of corporal punishment for imprisonment for offences by boys as proposed by the Youthful Offenders BillI do not say that the Council is necessarily right, I do not say hon. Gentlemen opposite are right, but I am entitled, when we are charged with introducing a Bill which is retrograde and inhuman, to bring forward a resolution passed by a society which is foremost in advocating the cause of the humane treatment of children throughout the United Kingdom. The society by the unqualified terms of its resolution takes the same view of the Bill which we take. I can assure hon. Members that, although I was prepared for some little dislike, I was astonished to see hon. Gentlemen so carried away by their dislike for that kind of punishment as to visit the Bill with what I venture to think is unfair criticism. There are several other points of detail, such as the question of parental responsibility. That clause is possibly susceptible of amendment, but I believe it is entirely in accordance with the conviction of most reformers who have given attention to this subject, and that one of the best ways of doing something in the direction of the suppression and control of juvenile crime is to increase parental responsibility. This is an attempt to do that. I will not say that the words are altogether satisfactory, or that I am pledged to every word of the clause, but I believe it is a step in the right direction. Here, again, I may quote the Council of the Society for 851 the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. They state—They regard with satisfaction the recognition in this Bill of the principle of enforcing the responsibility of parents for the offences of their children.I was surprised to hear the criticisms on Clause 4, because it surely is not an inhuman thing to provide when an unfortunate boy has to be committed for trial for an offence of which he is prima facie guilty that, whereas now he is obliged to be sent to prison—of course I am assuming a case where there cannot be bail—the magistrate should have power to hand him over to a decent man or woman to take charge of him until his trial. Could anything be more fair to that boy? You avoid sending him to prison, and you also take care that the persons who take charge of him—it may be the wife of some inspector of constabulary, or it may be the wife of the governor of the prison—shall be adequately paid. I think it is reasonable that there should be Treasury help to pay for the custody of that boy rather than that he should be sent to prison. I cannot imagine when the clause comes to be considered, that any objection can be taken to it. No doubt we can have a fight on the main question of corporal punishment, but I am not without hope, after all, that the Bill may be found to be not the retrograde measure that has been described, but really a step, as it is honestly intended to be, in the direction of the better control of juvenile crime. I realise to the full, and authorities throughout England realise to the full also, that we have a great deal to do in the direction of checking crime on the part of persons between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. I understood the hon. Member for the Partick Division of Lanarkshire to favour the extension of the age for reformatories. That may not be the right step in the desired direction, but I am persuaded with him that if we can do something to get hold of and improve young men who get into prison between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, we shall have done more to solve the question of how to decrease crime in this country than even by getting hold of boys at the age of fourteen or sixteen. Without going further into details I may say that the Bill has been conceived and drawn up as a means of correcting boys who are unruly and 852 unmanageable, and who ought to be corrected in some way or other. The means adopted in this Bill cannot, I think, be described as harsh or cruel. If their cases are not fit for reformatories or industrial schools, and if they have homes to which they can return with safety, I think it is bettor to try and correct them at the moment and let them go home rather than to send them to prison, or even to an industrial school I am persuaded that when this Bill comes to be considered, and subjected, no doubt, to amendment, it will be found to be a Bill carefully and honestly conceived, and that, if passed, it will enable us to do justice to our juvenile offenders and to be really humane towards them.
§ MR. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)
If the reason put forward by hon. Gentlemen on the other side in support of this Bill—namely, that it is an alternative for a sentence of imprisonment, were correct, there would be something to say in defence of the measure. But it is quite evident that that is not a just view to take of it. It is not an alternative, and the very reason for its introduction is because magistrates have from time to time inflicted terms of imprisonment on juvenile offenders for their first offence, and I very much fear that if you give the alternative in this Bill the system of corporal punishment will grow to be a regular system and a disgrace to the Empire. There can be no question about it, that numbers of magistrates have been dealing with first offenders in a manner never intended by the law. In numbers of cases in Ireland magistrates without the slightest consideration send a young lad for a trivial offence to a reformatory for a period of five years. There is nothing in this Bill which says that, before ordering corporal punishment, the magistrate must be satisfied that the boy has been guilty of different offences, and that he is of such a character that there is no chance of reforming him without corporal punishment. Magistrates now hesitate about sending a boy to a reformatory for a long period of time, and instead of giving him the benefit of the First Offenders Act they will have another alternative under this Bill. Everyone who knows anything of the First Offenders Act knows that a more humane or beneficial measure was never passed in this country. I have had considerable 853 experience of it in the criminal courts in Ireland, and recently in defending some prisoners before the Recorder of Dublin, who has immense experience in the criminal law, I made an appeal that some of the prisoners should be dealt with under that Act. The Recorder said: "Oh, this is too serious an offence. Too many men seem to be getting off under the First Offenders Act." I drew his attention to the fact that although he had been administering the Act since it became law to a greater extent than all the other judges in Ireland together, he did not let one single offender off under the Act who came before him a second time. At the moment he was unable to verify that observation, but he looked into the records and informed me next day in Court that no person let off under the Act had ever come before him again. The necessity for this measure is this: a number of magistrates get the idea into their minds that they are bound to inflict a term of punishment of some kind on any youth coming before them. They consider that a caution will not do, although a gentle word very often is much better than corporal punishment. It is because magistrates are too severe and insist on inflicting some form of punishment that you have this application to go back to the degrading system of corporal punishment, and the moment you give that power to the magistrates you bring disgrace and discredit on the administration of the law. I must confess I was very much amazed to find the Home Secretary attempting to defend Clause 3. It introduces a new principle which is subversive of every principle of law. The father is going to be punished if by his neglect he in any way conduces to the crime of his child. How can that clause be administered? The same neglect would conduce to the theft by a child of sixpence or a £5 note. The child will get a greater punishment if he stole £5 than if he stole sixpence, but the father, whose measure of neglect must be the same, must also be punished according to the gravity of the offence of the child. Surely that is a principle subversive of all law. There is one other consideration in connection with this Bill which is of great importance to Ireland. If a father is accused of neglect in connection with his children there are various laws which can deal with him at present. In addition, we are now going to intro- duce a system of punishment for the 854 working man who cannot remain at home to watch his child. You make him subject to be haled before a Court and have his day's wages stopped and be subjected to an investigation as to whether the offence of his child should be attributed to his neglect. But the law will tell unequally as between England and Ireland. In this country a man would be a competent witness in his own behalf; he could come forward and satisfy the Court that there was no evidence against him. In Ireland he would not be a competent witness, and the mere allegation that he had been guilty of neglect, with the fact that his child had been found committing some crime, would be regarded as an offence. I sincerely hope, whatever happens, the Bill, and I believe Clause 4 if it stood by itself, would be useful, that the extension of the system of corporal punishment will not be sanctioned because it would be certain to develop into a disgrace to the administration of the law in this country.
§ SIR J. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
I heard with pleasure the few remarks addressed to the House by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Partick Division of Lanarkshire. They contrasted in an extremely pleasant way to my ears with what fell from the hon. Gentleman the Member for the St. Albans Division. I was also heartily pleased to hear from the Home Secretary a repudiation of this notion that flogging at a public school is on a par with flogging at a police court at the hands of a police constable. I do not believe that any argument has ever been used with more transparent insincerity, unless indeed it was used more by way of a joke than anything else. But there was something which fell from the hon. Member for the St. Albans Division which was by no means a joke. He spoke of our opposition to the Bill as cant. I am sorry to have to tell the Home. Secretary that our opposition will be continued if the clause extending corporal punishment is retained. As regards our being guilty of cant, that word has been used with reference to every opposition to all the infamous punishments that blackened the pages of our statute book. When the abolition of capital punishment for sheep stealing was fought for in this country, those who favoured that splendid reform were accused of cant. I might go over a very 855 long list of amendments of the penal laws, and it would be found that every one of these amendments, proud as we are of thorn to-day, wore supported by men who were accused of cant. I hope this subject can be discussed without bandying back wards and forwards accusations of such a character. I am bound to say I detest the idea of the extension of the system of corporal punishment, and I am thankful to the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken for his practical remarks on the subject. If a boy who breaks a pane of glass is to be branded as a criminal I think we ought to reflect seriously on the tone which should be adopted in discussing a measure of this kind. I would ask the Home Secretary, whose kindliness we all admire, and whose administration of his high and honourable office we also admire, whether this principle embodied in Clause 1 is so sacred in his eyes, and is so extremely desirable from any man's point of view that he should force it upon a very large body of unwilling members, as he will have to do if this Bill is to be carried as it stands? I would beg him to consider whether it is for the benefit of the country that this system of corporal punishment should be extended, and I would ask him in a spirit of good feeling as between one side and the other to drop that part of the Bill.
§ MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
I have listened to a considerable part of this debate, and I am really astonished that we should to-night, after a very extended Easter holiday, and with the prospect of a very extended Whitsun holiday, and with the knowledge that there is a large amount of business of a really urgent and useful character in arrear, be spending all this evening upon a Bill which is, I think, a reactionary attempt to deal with the question of such enormous importance as that of juvenile crime. I am beginning to see light in this matter. Throughout the length of tin's Parliament the working classes have been wondering at the small amount of beneficent and remediable legislation which they are getting from the present Government. But this is the irony of the whole situation. After the fathers have waited all these years they now find that the Government fails to give them anything, but are prepared to give their children a sound whipping. Although we have a lordly disdain from hon. 856 Gentlemen opposite and a supreme and refined contempt for the electorate, I venture to say we shall be able to turn that contempt into something of a very different nature if the Home Secretary presses this Bill; and when he has broken down the opposition with which, I believe, it will be fought line for line, and when he passes this Bill into law, I can promise him that I will do my very best to hold up to the admiring gaze of the British democracy this monument of Tory legislation. My hon. friend who referred to juvenile offenders in the country districts appeared for the moment to forget that there are generally two magistrates on the bench. The hon. Gentleman opposite thought that was a splendid protection for youngsters who may have stolen apples from an orchard. On the bench will be found the best Christian in the village—the parson—and you may be quite sure he will not mete out justice tempered with mercy. Then there will be his traditional ally—the squire—who represents all that is great in our village aristocracy, and between the two it is certain the youngster will get the full benefit of this Bill. What I am really astonished at is that in the first place we are told that these juveniles are to be saved from imprisonment and penal servitude, and to be whipped with the birch-rod instead. Could anything indicate more clearly the lack of appreciation of the problem of juvenile crime than that? If whipping is a sufficient punishment, then surely penal servitude must be an awful crime. The fact is, under this Bill you are going to give police constables additional powers.
§ It being Midnight, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.