HC Deb 07 June 1906 vol 158 cc599-612

II. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £26,953, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1907, for the Salaries of the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, and of the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District, and the Pay and Expenses of Officers of Metropolitan Police employed on special duties, and the Salaries and Expenses of the Inspectors of Constabulary."


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he would consider the possibility of adding to the addenda of the Commissioner's Report which gave the statistics of crime over the whole area. At present those statistics were all lumped together, and were of little value by themselves, as the vast area was so diverse in character. He would suggest, therefore, that the information should also be given separately for each Metropolitan borough. He also desired to urge that the Metropolitan Police should have one day's rest in seven. At present they had only one day off in fourteen, which was altogether inadequate for the wearying work they had to perform. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that to grant this concession would involve a large augmentation of the force, and that the cost would be so great that it could not be met without exceeding the statutory limit. He thought there were many directions in which economy could be practised in the police force. He remembered the appointment some time ago of four chief constables, and he never could understand why they were necessary. There were many other directions in which economy could be effected right at the top of the tree. Whether the change they wore asking for could be achieved by some new distribution of duties or by removing the present statutory limit did not matter so much, but it could not be denied that there was a strong public feeling that these men ought to have at least one day's rest in seven. He begged to move to reduce the Vote by £100.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £26,853, be granted for the said service."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)

MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)

supported the Amendment. He hoped the Home Secretary would persuade the Commissioners so to reorganise the duties of the police that they might have one day's rest in seven. He would not be a policeman under any circumstances. Surely it was not too much to ask for one day's rest in seven. At a great meeting over which the Archbishop of Canterbury presided an earnest appeal was made that there should be at least one day's rest in seven for all classes and sections of the community. He did not think that there was any class who deserved so well of the community as the police. He knew that there were exceptions here and there, but taking them in the aggregate the Metropolitan Police force were a faithful, honest, useful body of men, and were fully entitled to the concession which was now being asked for.


said the difficulty in this matter was that of expense, not of organisation. If the Committee thought it right to add £150,000 a year to the cost of the Metropolitan Police, and so to increase the rates, the matter could be dealt with. He was informed that with the police force as it was at present the difficulty of providing one day's rest in seven was extremely great, if not insuperable, and it would be quite impossible without a very large accession of strength. The organisation of the Metropolitan Police was an extremely complicated and difficult matter, and only those who were connected with it really knew what this change meant. So far as he was concerned, he would be extremely glad if he could meet the views of hon. Members upon this point. He would look into the matter closely, but as at present advised, he would be misleading the Committee if he held out hope of meeting the demand of his hon. friends.

MR. C.DUNCAN (Barrow in-Furness)

said that working so many days in the week continuously had a demoralising effect upon men, and lowered their tone. To him the whole point seemed to hang upon the number of policemen they appointed. In the provinces, as a rule, there was one policeman to each 1,000 of the population, and therefore he did not see where the difficulty came in when they were dealing with the Metropolis. He hoped the Home Secretary would be able to give more consideration to this question, and he suggested that if he could not give one day's rest in seven he might be able to arrange for two days rest every three weeks.


did not agree that the policeman's duties were of such an exhausting character as had been made out, and it should not be forgotten that in England the term of service was twenty-six years, whereas in Scotland it was thirty-two. He had always felt that perhaps it would have been better if they had moved in the Scottish direction. He agreed with the hon. Member for Woolwich that if there was any body of men to which the community were indebted, it was the Metropolitan Police. A six days working week ought to be regarded as an inflexible standard. He was not one of those who had supported an eight hours day as the legal limit for everybody, but he did say that no man or woman should work seven days in the week. A seven days working week, no matter what the duties might be, should not be imposed on the people of this country. He asked the Home Secretary whether he could not give a definite promise that he would have an inquiry made into the matter, and that he would get a report upon it. The men had a right to demand a six days week whatever the cost.


said that if one day's rest in seven could be allowed it would be very acceptable to the police force, but there could be no doubt that if it was granted there must be a considerable augmentation of the force, and that would mean a considerably increased expenditure. He could not help feeling that he would have more respect for the opinions of the hon. Gentlemen below the gangway if they would only practice what they preached. Notwithstanding assiduous attention to their duties in the House, they were often to be found making speeches on political subjects on Sundays. The hon. Member for Woolwich constantly worked seven days a week. It was only the other Sunday that the hon. Member addressed a large meeting in Sheffield on political subjects.


I was acting as a missionary.


said he did not find fault with the hon. Member for acting as a missionary. He thought the hon. Member for Burnley had also been making political speeches on Sunday.


The hon. Member is quite mistaken.


said there was a consensus of opinion as to the success with which the police coped with their duties in the regulation of traffic, the preservation of order, and the detection of crime. It was quite evident that an additional holiday could only be given by incurring a considerable amount of additional expenditure. He was informed that in the last three years not a single fugitive from justice who had come from France to London had failed to be arrested here. That was an extraordinary tribute to the great success with which the Metropolitan Police coped with their duties.


said that the ratio of police to population varied in different places. Why was it that provincial places had not given their police a six days' week? If the ratio question was so easy of solution, why had they not adopted the principle of one day's rest in seven? Anybody responsible for a Department naturally found great pleasure in making concessions if they could to those over whom they had control. There was no finer body of men in the world than the 16,000 men comprising the Metropolitan and City Police. He was only too ready to give the assurance for which hon. Members asked. He had inquired into the matter already and he would inquire into it again and see if there was any means of getting in the thin end of the wedge if he could not get the whole thing at once. He agreed that every worker ought to get one day's rest in seven, though there were numbers of people who often worked the whole seven days. He could assure hon. Members that he had already inquired into this matter, with the result he had stated, and while he agreed to a great extent with what had been stated by the hon. Member, he would undertake to look into it again and see whether anything more could be done.


said that the general feeling in this country, outside of religious matters, was that there should be one day out of seven in the week for rest. And he thought that the police perhaps might be granted that one day's rest without very great expense; but he (Mr. Morton) fully recognised that the Home Secretary was right in considering the ratepayers.

*MR. CORRIE GRANT (Warwickshire, Rugby)

asked the Home Secretary, in the course of his inquiry to call for confidential reports from the medical officers of the police as to the effect on the physical condition of the police officers of working all these long hours. We had already paid very dearly by way of sick pay for the men working seven days a week. He knew men who had been turned out of the force after ten or twelve years service on the ground that they were physically unfit for the work, and although they got a gratuity they received no pension. Everybody believed that by shortening hours of labour more efficient service was obtained.


said he accepted the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that he would look into this matter, and therefore he asked leave to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Resolutions to be reported.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £394,255, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1907, for the Expenses of the Prisons in England, Wales, and the Colonies."

*MR. ERNEST H. LAMB (Rochester)

said he gave notice of Motion some weeks ago to move to reduce this Vote by £100, in order to draw attention to the long hours worked by the prison warders in his constituency—hours considerably longer than were provided for by the standard regulations and much in excess of those worked by warders in other establishments. Since putting down his notice of Motion, however, his constituency had been honoured by a visit from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, who had been down personally to Borstal Prison to see things for himself; that being so, he was satisfied the Home Office were looking into the matter, and he would not, therefore, on this occasion move the Motion standing in his name. He appreciated the fact that they had at last a Government in power who were really anxious to look after the interests of the workers. Perhaps it was only natural, considering the short time they had been in power, that thye should desire time to look into the many grievances that had been brought to their notice. He hoped, however, that before this Vote came up for discussion next year shorter hours and better conditions would have been conceded to the warders in Borstal Prison, otherwise it would be necessary to draw attention to the matter again.


said that he would be untrue to his strongest convictions if he did not speak on this Vote. He wished to refer to two events which had recently occurred. One was the release of Jabez Balfour and the articles which had been written by him, and the other, which was to him personally of a more painful character, was the lamented death of his very dear friend Mr. Michael Davitt. He was induced to enter into this question as regards Mr. Michael Davitt because that gentleman was a member of the Grand Committee of this House which sat and considered the Prisons Bill. Fifty years hence the prison treatment of to-day would be regarded with the same incredulity and horror with which we regarded the state of things under which a man was formerly sent to Tyburn for stealing a sheep. Some of the evils of the system which existed at the time of the Grand Committee to which he had referred and which were supposed to have been removed still survived. What was the first principle of the present system? It was that of starvation. It was only after conversation with an hon. friend of his that he began to realise what that item in our prison treatment meant. His friend was sentenced when a young man, in connection with the publication of an Irish newspaper, to a long period of penal servitude. He met his hon. friend some time afterwards and he gave him some details of what prison life was like, and although it was quite thirty years ago since that conversation took place, he remembered the effect which it made upon his mind at the time. His hon. friend stated that one of his companions, Michael Moore, a blacksmith, suffered so terribly from hunger, that he, being a smaller man with a smaller appetite, used to pick up snails and pass them on to Moore, who used to swallow them. His hon. friend also told him, as he had told this House in a memorable speech, that he saw men going to the sewers and picking up offal and rotten meat and bones and tearing the meat off the bones and eating that description of foul refuse in order to appease their hunger. When they brought these facts before the House and before the Grand Committee, after a struggle a number of members of that Committee succeeded in getting the "starvation scale" removed from the prison dietary. When they had done that, he thought they had accomplished something. They had accomplished nothing. He had heard many stories since which went to prove that starvation still existed. Oscar Wilde was reported to have said, speaking of this matter— Can you imagine what it is to have a, horrible sense of gnawing at your vitals all hours of the day—the very last sensation when you go to bed, the sensation that disturbs you in the watches of the night, and the sensation with which you begin the day? He happened to mention this statement to a gentleman who was a Member of the Grand Committee and he said, "Oh, Oscar Wilde is an emotional and impressionable person and you must not pay any attention to what he says," which was the characteristic way in which we often treated sorrows that we did not feel ourselves. But he thought a more recent justification for his action in calling attention to this matter was to be found in the articles by Mr. Jabez Balfour. He had read those articles with a keen and poignant interest, and there was one impressive statement in his letters which stood out He should state to the Committee that Mr. Jabez Balfour himself said that he was not one who suffered from the prison diet. Mr. Jabez Balfour was a brave man and had made up his mind to meet his punishment, and he was a man, who having a very poor digestion, made up his mind that the only way in which he could preserve his health and sanity was to take as little food as he could. He therefore made no complaint for himself and stated that he even gave his food to other people, but the article contained this terrible sentence, which he commended to the attention of the President of the Local Government Board— I solemnly declare that to a great number of prisoners penal servitude is one long hunger. Possibly the diet might be sufficient, taking the test of doctors and chemists, to keep body and soul together. But that was not enough. He himself had had the testimony of prisoner after prisoner that men of robust physique, large frame, and vigorous appetite constantly suffered from hunger. Mr. Lynch, whom he met the other night and who had suffered imprisonment, had supplied him with some particulars. Here again he had the evidence of a brave man who distinctly said he did not suffer from an insufficiency of food. In these notes Mr. Lynch told him that he had seen prisoners constantly around him suffering not merely privation but fierce physical torture from the want of sufficient food. The right hon. Gentle man the Home Secretary was, as everyone knew, one of the most humane of men; but they would find that the machine and tradition was more powerful than the humanity of the right hon. Gentleman. He warned him that, in spite of all his good intentions, the system would prove too powerful for him unless this Parliament used Committee pressure to adjust the balance. This feeling of hunger was constant. In one of these articles Mr. Jabez Balfour described how prisoners had come and begged of him, with tears in their eyes, to give them a few crumbs of bread. To inflict constant hunger on any man, whatever his crime might be, was not only torture but it was also a disgrace and a shame to the nation which inflicted it. That was only one of the many evils of the present system. He was not going to distinguish between the treatment meted out to political prisoners and ordinary criminals; but he would intrude upon the Committee some torturing effects of prison treatment which had been familiar to him for many years. One man who was imprisoned with his hon. friend was named Kelly. Two days after he was released he threw himself into the Liffey. Another man died two days after he was released from prison; and so he might go on with the horrible calendar of men who sought relief in death from the miserable tortures which they had suffered in body and mind in our gaols. In point of fact one of the things which occurred with painful regularity was the constant threat of the convict to commit suicide—a threat in many cases carried out. It seemed to him also that there were other ways in which it was sought as far as possible to torture these unfortunate prisoners; and torture might be as great if it were mental as if it were physical. Let them take the construction of the cells: they were so constructed that the light of day scarcely penetrated into them at all. There was a very small window and even that was so formed that the sunshine itself became almost darkness by the time it penetrated the cell. He did not know whether he differed constitutionally from others, but to him darkness, specially during the day, amounted to torture. And when they realised that hundreds and thousands of people every day were shut up at five o'clock in the evening in these cells for the night, at a time when other people were enjoying the translucent tranquility of the cool of the evening, they must admit that the torture to these unfortunate people must be very great. What was the reason? We were entitled to detain those people and keep them from mischief, but we were not entitled to torture them. So much was this the case that he believed when the time came round for the prisoners to exercise they rushed into the yard as boys rush out of school. He also objected very strongly to the rigidity with which the silent system, so-called, was maintained in the prisons. As a matter of fact conversation went on among the convicts, but with the knowledge that punishment might result. Provided the old criminals were kept from the young he did not see why these poor people should not have the consolation of talking twice a week. The late Mr. Davitt complained that this was one of the worst sufferings of convict life. What was imprisonment for? If the object of inflicting all this suffering on the convict was vengeance we had no right to call ourselves a Christian nation. If discipline and reformation it was brutalising and demoralising, making the criminal not better but worse. There seemed to be a contradiction. We seemed to go out of our way to find means of making prison a place of moral reform, and yet the whole system was brutalised. Everyone he had consulted on the subject agreed that the convict was always in a state of hysteria and sometimes on the border of madness. Murderous assaults upon warders, which of course must be kept down and severely punished, were frequently due to an outburst of insanity. In fact, one had only to study the history of prisons to find that lunacy was a terribly common thing, and that prisoners were constantly doing things which were more like the acts of hysterical girls than of strong men. They smashed the things in their cells and did all sorts of senseless and wanton things although they knew severe punishment almost immediately followed; but they were in such a state that they had no longer any proper control over themselves. He asked for a committee to inquire into the subject, but desired that it should not be a departmental committee dominated by officials who were always more or less under the influence of the system and the tradition which they inherited. The whole origin of our bad prison treatment was that it had been dealt with like so many other things. A rotten rafter had been taken out here, and a decayed foundation there, and we had always contrived to build a good fabric on a rotten foundation. He asked for a select committee by preference. He suggested that there should be on the committee a large representation of the Labour Party, who knew that crime was largely a question of environment. The criminal class was perhaps the most friendless class of the community. They were considered to be outside the pale of humanity. Human beings, whatever they did, ought not to be outside the sympathy of their fellow men and women. He believed he had only done his duty in trying to make the Committee feel the great wrong of an odious system that was being kept up in this country, and that it was unworthy of our civilisation to maintain it any longer without drastic reform.


said that on this important question he could speak from his experience as Chairman of a Committee which in 1893 went exhaustively into all these questions. At that time he visited a great number of prisons and looked into many practical questions, using his own judgment without official loading. He had not, however, had sufficient notice that the question of diet would be brought forward that day.


said he must apologise, as he did not know the subject was coming on, and had himself to send for his papers in the course of the evening.


said he only stated the fact. He must ask the Committee to observe that in the course of his very eloquent and interesting speech the hon. Gentleman had not entered into any detail with regard to the question of diet. He had founded his observations on the evidence of two or three gentlemen, who no doubt—especially the late Mr. Davitt; whose death they must greatly deplore— spoke with great authority on prison treatment. Nearly all of them, how ever, had their experience under the old system of diet. Mr. Jabez Balfour had five or six years experience under the new system. The old system, under which he agreed food was somewhat deficient, was altered in 1901, but naturally the experience of the deficient system would make a lasting impression on him. Mr. Oscar Wilde was also imprisoned under the old system. As his hon. friend had brought serious charges against all who were responsible for the prison methods, he would ask hon. Members to suspend their judgment until they had had an opportunity of satisfying themselves whether the charges made were true today or not. The hon. Member had said that fifty years hence people would be simply amazed when they considered the prison treatment at the present time. It was equally possible and probable that fifty years hence people would be wondering at the dress they wore wearing, and the life they were now leading in the House of Commons. They had to judge the system now. His hon. friend had spoken of the prison diet and prison treatment as if they were too dreadful for words. The language used might have some application to the quality of the diet in prisons 100 years ago; but from his own knowledge he could say that the language used was an exaggeration if applied even to the experience in prisons ten years ago; for he had tasted the food himself in prison after prison, and had examined witness after witness. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division did not mention the Committee appointed to inquire into this question of diet. Such a Committee was appointed, and reported to the Secretary of State, with the result that in 1901a new dietary was introduced. In 1904–5 the average cost of food was £5 1s. 9d., or £1 9s. 9d. more than the old diet. That was a very large change which his hon. friend never even mentioned. Other large changes were also made in 1901. The opinion of the medical authorities was that the new diet had had an extremely beneficial effect. Under the present system only 30 per cent. of the prisoners lost weight, whereas 60 per cent. gained weight. Under the old system 73 per cent. lost weight. Then the "silent" system had been changed. Long-sentence prisoners were allowed to talk at meals and at exercise. New regulations had been made in regard to the number and the character of the books supplied. The crank and the treadmill had gone, and prisoners could now acquire technical knowledge of a trade. Moreover, a prisoner could earn money, which he could take with him from prison; he could earn marks by which he could obtain a remission of his sentence; and there were greater privileges in regard to visitors. The Borstal system was being applied to all the prisons in the country. No prison official had ever done such valuable work in the cause of the prisoners as the present Chairman of the Prison Commissioners. He was sorry that the hon. Member had not recognised the great work which Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise had done, and was continuing to do. He hoped the Committee would reserve judgment, and look carefully into this matter.

And, it being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Resolutions to be reported to-morrow; Committee also report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.