HC Deb 02 March 1903 vol 118 cc1150-62

MR. WHITLEY asked the Home Secretary to give the Committee some information as to the reasons for so substantial an increase on the original Estimate, which was £160,700. He was glad to see from a note at the bottom of the Estimate that the increase was not due to any increase in the number of prisoners, but to the increased cost of food. Although the Committee were aware that food had been at a high price during the current year, they could not see that that reason alone was sufficient to account for the substantial increase now asked.

MR. EUGENE WASON (Clackmannanshire, Kinross)

asked how much of the increase in the price of food in connection with the prisons was due to the tax placed on corn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


asked whether there was a large percentage of difference in the price of food, and whether any change had been made in the dietary under Head E. If there had been an alteration in the dietary, that would account for the supplementary estimate.

MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

asked whether arrangements were now completed whereby no soldier guilty of a military offence would be incarcerated,' in the common jails of the country; and also whether there had been any changes made in the method of conveying prisoners from one prison to another; whether, in other words, they were less before the public at a time when the members of the public were about the streets.


said the increase on the whole Estimate amounted to £20,300, and was made up of the following items:—Victualling £12,800; lighting, water, cleaning etc., £3,500; and escort and conveyance £4,000. The chief increase was for victualling, which had accrued under the new form of dietary. The Committee would remember that two or three years ago there was considerable excitement in that House in regard to the question of the dietary in prisons, and in consequence of the discussion which ensued a Committee was appointed, of which his hon. friend the Member for Ripon was Chairman. Having considered the question, the Committee arranged for a very much better dietary than that hitherto in use. The first complete year's estimate of the cost of this new dietary had undoubtedly been understated, and that was chiefly the cause of the item under the first head. Then greater attention had been paid to lighting for the comfort of the prisoners in their cells and workshops, and greater expense was now incurred for the conveyance of prisoners. There had been a general opinion in the country for some time that the conveyance of prisoners through the open streets under escort was not desirable, and in consequence they were now taken in cabs and other conveyances. His hon. friend the Member for Shore-ditch had asked about military prisoners. He was quite aware of the feeling that existed on that matter. In fact they all shared the feeling against allowing soldiers convicted of military offences to be herded with common criminals who wandered from one jail to another. At present, though soldiers had not been entirely removed from the civil prisons, the only men there who would return to the Army were those convicted of ordinary civil offences. The number of military prisoners in the civil prisons was 417. These were entirely prisoners dismissed from the Army or soldiers convicted of civil offences—and in regard to these his hon. friend had no cause of complaint. It was in consequence of the carrying out of the policy recommended in that House in regard to the escort of prisoners, the lighting of prisons, and the better dietary, that the extra charge appeared on the Estimates this year.

MR. EUGENE WASON asked whether the Home Secretary could answer the question he asked.

*MR. AKERS DOUGLAS said it was a technical question, and it was very difficult to answer. He himself thought that there was absolutely no extra cost in consequence of the corn duty. He did not think that he could work out in a few minutes in the House the amount they had paid more this year than last year for farinaceous food.

SIR ALBERT ROLLIT said he should like to point out that the note to the Estimate was inaccurate and misleading. He mentioned that, because they had heard a great deal about efficiency and the necessity for conducting Government Departments on business lines. He thought the best way of checking expenditure and arriving at real economy was always to protest and ask the Minister to account for the differences between the original and the revised Estimates. Whenever he was in the House, his contribution in the way of practical efficiency would be in requiring a rigid account of material differences in the Estimates.

*SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

said this increase was so serious that the Committee should look at it in the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman opposite had spoken. The increase in the charge for victualling was one-eighth of the original amount. That was to say, for every £1 estimated there had been £1 2s. 6d. paid. That was pretty nearly the state of things that existed for every working man in the country. For what he formerly paid a sovereign he now paid £1 2s. 6d. That was largely due to the altered conditions of taxation, during the last two years. But that was not an excuse for the under-estimate that had been made in this case. The original estimate was made on a dietary scale carefully prepared and sanctioned by a special committee. That scale was before those responsible for the original estimate, and they ought to have had foresight enough to give an accurate estimate of the actual amount that would be required for victualling the prisons. No business man would conduct his business in this way. it would necessarily lead him into the bankruptcy court. This kind of thing was going on, not only in connection with the Home Office, but in many other Departments, and thus the national expenditure was increasing year by year. He thought they had a right to demand from the Government more foresight, in order that the money of the country might be expended more efficiently than it had been.

MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S. W.)

said no one would argue that the Estimates should not be made up with the greatest care, and with the view of avoiding the waste of public money. But he could not agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite in regard to this particular Estimate. It was well known that in consequence of the alteration which had been made in the dietary of prisons there was bound to be an increase in the cost for food. That was the first year in which the extra diet had been provided, and those who framed the Estimates had had no experience. Therefore it was not by any means strange that the Estimate should have been exceeded as it had been. He thought it must be very difficult for the Department to tell, except by average, how many prisoners there might be, although he was sorry to see that these were increasing in numbers. While he agreed with what the hon. Member for Ilkeston said in regard to the increase in the Estimates for the Public Department generally, yet he thought that in this particular Department it was unfair to attack his right hon. friend, who, of all criminals charged with this particular offence, was possibly the last who ought to be condemned. He did not think his right hon. friend's Department had been very largely responsible for the great increase in the national expenditure. Arising out of the reply made to the hon. Member for Islington, his right hon. friend said that the instructions of the Department now were that, when prisoners were being removed from one gaol to another, they should be removed in cabs, and as far as possible kept out of view of the general public. He had no doubt that these instructions had been given, but they were not carried out in many parts of the country. In his native town of Manchester prisoners could be seen being removed by train and not by cabs, and sometimes even on the top of tramway cars, when being transferred from country districts to the city. This practice was greatly to be deprecated, and he asked his right hon. friend to see that more careful instructions were given as to the removal of such prisoners. There was no excuse for their being removed by train in the middle of the day when it was possible to do so early in the morning, as was done in the Metropolis.

MR. KEARLEY said that when they examined the original Estimate they found that there was already an increase in this particular item of food of £6,500. Now they had a Supplementary Estimate, which they were told arose from the fact of the increase in the dietary. But it occurred to him that when the increase of £6,500 was made last year that increase of dietary was contemplated, and that the paltry provision made brought out the incompetency of the Department. Nobody said that the number of prisoners had increased in proportion to this large increase in the Estimates. Any business house would have allocated the amount of additional expenditure required to a penny piece. What was the reason this was not done? It was stated in the footnote that when the original.

Estimates were framed, a reduction was anticipated in the prices of food stuffs generally after the war in South Africa terminated. He should like to know who imagined that the prices of victualling would be reduced at the close of the war. On what data did they work? The commercial conduct of all the Departments was wrong. No Government Department had the most elementary knowledge of what was called "good buying" There was no foresight, or the faintest conception of the principle of "good buying." He had seen it in the Navy Estimates, where money might have been saved if the Government had contracted in advance for the supply of, say, serge, without taking delivery. He wanted to know on what articles the increase of price had taken place. The Government seemed always to be caught by any rise in the market, but never had the advantage of a fall.

MR. FLOWER (Bradford, W.)

said that, as his hon. friend the Member for Manchester had pointed out, the spirit of reform had not penetrated to the great provincial centres. So far as the transport of prisoners was concerned there was room for a great deal of reform. He would bring to the notice of his right hon. friend the question of the conveyance of prisoners from Bradford to a neighbouring prison, half a day's journey distant. They were conveyed in the day-time, and the male and female prisoners were placed in the same van. He was sure his right hon. friend deprecated that practice, and he appealed to him to use his influence with the local authorities responsible in the matter to carry out a suitable reform. He did not know whether he would be in order in suggesting to the Home Secretary that it would be well if there were an extension of technical education given to the prisoners.


No, that is not a question pertinent to the Vote.


I was afraid I was not in order.

MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea District)

said he had to complain of the explanatory Note under the heading of "Victualling." Certainly, the excuse for the underestimate offered by the Home Secretary was not properly expressed in the Note before the Committee. Indeed, he could not understand it. Even supposing this was the only justification put forward by the Department, he felt it very difficult, from an economic point of view, to comprehend how anyone in office should suppose that, at the end of a long war, the prices of food-stuffs would go down. He should have supposed that a study of history and of former Estimates would have shown that the prices of the necessaries of life went up after the close of a great war. It could not be that the mere fact of the cessation of war, and the demands of the victualling yards falling off, would have made so great a difference. It seemed to him that the Note was wholly misleading. He understood, from the point of view of the Home Secretary, that there must have been an underestimate, because the change in the dietary must have been taken into account in framing the original Estimate. Then he came to the note on the Vote for "Escort and Conveyance, £4,000." The continued high number of prisoners, and consequent removals to prevent overcrowding, and heavier claims from local authorities for conveyance of prisoners to prison, account for this excess. As he understood him, the Home Secretary stated that at the time the original Estimates were framed none of these things were known to the Department. But there had been no change. The words did not even suggest that there had been a greater number of prisoners; the words were, "the continued high number of prisoners." Then the words, 'heavier claims from local authorities," were highly ambiguous. He hoped the Home Secretary would explain the note, which was neither intelligent, logical, nor clear.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

said it seemed to him that the explanation offered for the Supplementary Estimate given in the Paper would have to be thrown overboard by the Home Secretary. If the increased expenditure were due to an increased prison population, that was an interesting fact on which he hoped the Home Secretary would give the Committee some information. With reference to the increase in the cost for the conveyance and escort of prisoners, it had not been pointed out that a largely increased sum had already been taken under the head, and that now the Committee was asked to vote twice as much as had been estimated. Was any explanation obtained as to the increase in the prison population? He thought the Home Secretary should throw some light upon that matter. Two of the largest prisons in England were situated in his constituency; and his constituents were bringing to the notice of the Home Secretary certain matters which had excited very great public interest. There had been a great outburst of public feeling with regard to the manner in which executions were carried out in one of the prisons; and his constituents asked that executions should not be carried out locally if they were not carried out with sufficient respect for public feeling. It would be much better that executions should be carried out in some decent place and in such a manner that the melancholy ceremony would not shock public feeling. A notice was posted on the prison door or a black flag was hoisted immediately an execution took place. Such things should, in his opinion, be discontinued; and he hoped that the Home Secretary would give attention to the matter.


said that, in answer to his hon. friend, the question as to the travelling of prisoners had received the careful attention of his right hon. friend, and instructions had been issued to the responsible officials to see that every means were taken to secure privacy in order that the prisoners should not be unnecessarily exposed to the public gaze. Care was also taken that they should be removed from the railway termini either in a van or in cabs; and particular instructions were given that while at the railway termini they should, as far as possible, be placed in a separate part of the station, and not be kept standing about. Generally, as far as possible, separate compartments were engaged for them. With reference to the hour at which they should travel, an hon. Member suggested that they should travel in the morning; but it was found that, as a rule, station platforms were more crowded from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and instructions had been issued that prisoners should not be brought to a railway terminus between those particular hours, as the congestion of traffic was greater than at a later hour of the day. Every possible means was taken to secure that a prisoner should not be subjected to an unnecessary degree of degradation, and that the public should not suffer. As regarded the cost of travelling, from the 1st of" April, 1901, to the 13th of April, 1902, 7,210 prisoners were removed to prevent overcrowding; but during the corresponding period ended last month it was found' necessary to remove 8,654, or an increase of 1,444, That accounted for the increased expenditure, though not for the whole increase, as the cost of the greater provision which was made to secure the privacy of prisoners should also be taken into account. Then, as to the details, the increase in the estimate for prisoners' food had arisen from the increased cost in the price of commodities, which was estimated at £5,000. They hoped, however, that the Estimates would be more accurate in future. There was very great difficulty in framing them, owing to the increase in the dietary scale. It was not such an easy matter as hon. Members seemed to think, to estimate for various scales of dietary, as the number of prison threats might be in any particular scale had to be guessed at, and that made it extremely difficult for the first year or two on a new dietary to be exactly accurate. A much closer estimate for subsequent years would, he had no doubt, be framed.

MR. LOUGH asked what about the increase in the number of prisoners?

*MR. AKERS-DOULAS said that there was an increase in the number of prisoners, but they were quite unable to assign any specific cause for it. It was general, and was distributed all over the country. The Prison Commissioners, in their Report, stated that they had endeavoured to ascertain if any local causes existed that would account for it, but they found it was impossible to assign any specific cause for it except the growth of population in large industrial centres. There was not, however, any serious increase of crime; certainly not of serious crime. The Prison Commissioners stated that serious crime, as shown by the number of persons sentenced to imprisonment at Quarter Sessions and Assizes, had fallen from about 37 per 100,000 population for the five years beginning 1880 to about 23 per 100,000 for the year 1902, and the persons imprisoned on summary conviction had similarly fallen from 566 per 100,000 to 489 per 100,000. No doubt there was a considerable increase in the number of prisoners. That increase was distributed all over the country, and was chiefly due to small and petty offences in the large industrial centres, and especially in boroughs where the police supervision had been greatly extended. He did not think himself, and he had been in close communication with the Prison Commissioners on the subject, that there was any serious danger or fear on that score, and he did not think the increase would continue.

SIR ALBERT ROLLIT said he understood that the Supplementary Estimate was because of the increased price of food. Now he understood it was because the ingredients were changed.

*MR. AKERS DOUGLAS said that undoubtedly there had been an underestimate. He did not conceal that fact, and greatly regretted it. It occurred because they had to estimate for a new dietary on which they could not take an average over a period of years. Moreover, the conditions of the dietary were very changeable, because they might have a certain number in one class one day, and a different number the next day. He had no doubt that, when the new dietary had extended over a longer period, it would be very much more closely estimated. At any rate, he would not be satisfied until they had succeeded in framing a much closer Estimate.

*SIR WALTER FOSTER said he thought the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman had very candidly met the arguments that had been advanced. He desired to dwell upon the loose way in which the original Estimates were arrived at. Those brought up last year were inadequate and insufficient. In each of the items in the Supplementary Estimates now before the House they had the same glaring inadequacy. The original Estimate for victualling was £86,200, it was now raised to £99,000, and the extra amount now required was an amount of £12,800. That was the amount required to make good the deficiency in the original estimate, which showed that there must be some serious error on the original calculation. The same thing occurred with regard to the estimate for "lighting, water, cleaning, etc.," in respect to which a further £3,500 was now required. Again in the Estimate for Escorts, etc., an additional £4,000 was asked for. Every one of these items was an illustration of a very loose method of estimating the expenditure, which must result in a loss to the nation.

MR. KEARLEY said, as he understood, this increase had arisen owing to an increase in the price of grain and meat. Would the hon. Gentleman under those circumstances divide the items and say how much was due to the increase in the price of grain and how much to the increase in the price of meat? They had had a very nice definition of the word grain when the corn duties were imposed last year, when grain was held to cover sixty-four articles, and although he did not suggest the whole increase was due to the duty, no doubt it contributed to it. He believed these increases, and the whole tendency towards the increase of the Estimates, were due to the fact that what were practically commercial departments of State were managed by uncommercial men. He believed that all these increases were due to the fact that those who had to purchase these various commodities for the State did not watch the markets.

MR. COCHRANE said he was unable to give the information asked for. He had given the amount of increase in regard to each item, and inasmuch as the total was only some £5,000 or £6,000 he thought it was hardly worth while to go into the matter.

MR. KEARLEY could not accept the suggestion. If the hon. Gentleman had proper details the Committee was entitled to have them. If he had not


No, I have not.

*MR. KEARLEY said he would accept the answer, hut he thought the hon. Gentleman should have admitted it before, because the Committee would remember that these increases of £5,000 here and £5,000 there went to make up the millions of increase that they were trying to reduce.

MR. WHITLEY suggested that in the Estimates there should appear an item showing the number of prisoners provided for each year, and the cost per individual for food and these other items. That might surely be done. The Home Office had their own statistics, and it was the first thing a business man would do if he desired to have a check on things of this kind. The increase this year on food alone was actually 25 per cent. upon the cost of twelve months ago, yet so far as he knew the prison population had not increased. That was a serious matter, and it was desirable to know how these unfortunate convicts had managed to eat in a single year 25 per cent. more, food than they consumed in previous years. He asked that when Estimates of subsequent years came before the House they should contain the cost per head for the current and the two or three previous years in order that a comparative estimate might be made.

*MR. HERBERT SAMUEL (Yorkshire, Cleveland)

drew attention to the fact that this Vote was headed "Prisons in England and the Colonies," and asked whether any prisons were still maintained in the Colonies, and, if so, would the hon. Gentleman state where? If that was only an historic title, a survival from the days of transportation, would the hon. Gentleman see if the Estimate could be altered?

MR. AKERS DOUGLAS said that although the estimate was headed "Prisons, England and the Colonies" that was merely historic, and he would see what he could do to get it altered.

MR. COCHRANE said he could give the information asked for from the hon. Member opposite. The cost per head now was £5 5s., as compared with £4 last year.

Vote agreed to

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