HC Deb 23 May 1907 vol 174 cc1211-28

2. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £407,605, 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, 1908, for the expenses of the prisons in England, Wales, and the Colonies."

present arrangement they scarcely ever had a Sunday at home.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 21; Noes, 87. (Division List No. 172.)

Barnes, G. N. Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Wardle, George J.
Bignold, Sir Arthur Jenkins, J. Watt, Henry A.
Bowerman, C. W. M'Callum, John M. Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)
Bull, Sir William James Parker, James (Halifax)
Byles, William Pollard Pickersgill, Edward Hare TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr.
Cave, George Remnant, James Farquharson Summerbell and Dr. Rutherford.
Cooper, G. J. Richards, T. F. (Wolverh'mpt'n
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness Thorne, William
Glover, Thomas Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent
Armstrong, W. C. Heaton Hardy, George A. (Suffolk) Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)
Balfour, Robert (Lanark) Harrison-Broadley, H. B. Robson, Sir William Snowdon
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Hart-Davies, T. Rogers, F. E. Newman
Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight) Haworth, Arthur A. Rose, Charles Day
Beauchamp, E. Hedges, A. Paget Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland
Beck, A. Cecil Higham, John Sharp Sears, J. E.
Bellairs, Carlyon Hyde, Clarendon Seaverns, J. H.
Bertram, Julius Idris, T. H. W. Shaw, Rt. Hn. T. (Hawick B.)
Bethell, Sir J H. (Essex, Romf'rd Jackson, R. S. Shipman, Dr. John G.
Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon) Jones William (C'rnarvonshire Sinclair, Rt. Hon. John
Boulton, A. C. F. Kearley, Hudson E. Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, East)
Brodie, H. C. Kekewich, Sir George Stewart, Halley (Greenock)
Burns, Rt. Hon. John King, Alfred John (Knutsford) Strachey, Sir Edward
Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H. King, Sir Henry Seymour (Hull Straus, B. S. (Mile End)
Carlile, E. Hildred Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester) Thompson, J W. H. (Somerset, E
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Lambert, George Torrance, Sir A. M.
Channing, Sir Francis Allston Levy, Maurice Tuke, Sir John Batty
Cheetham, John Frederick Lewis, John Herbert Walker, Col W. H. (Lancashire)
Cherrry, Rt. Hon. R. R. Lloyd-George, Rt. Hn. David Weir, James Galloway
Clarke, C. Goddard (Peckham) Lough, Thomas White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire
Clough, William Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J. Whitehead, Rowland
Corbett, C H (Sussex, E Grinst'd Markham, Arthur Basil Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)
Cotton, Sir H. J. S. Morpeth, Viscount Whittaker, Sir Thomas Palmer
Courthope, G. Loyd Norton, Capt. Cecil William Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbrough)
Cox, Harold Pearson, W. H. M. (Suffolk, Eye Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)
Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S. Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlingt'n
Edwards, Clement (Denbigh) Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr.
Everett, R. Lacey Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel Whiteley and Mr. J. A.
Gilhooly, James Rees, J. D. Pease.
Gladstone, Rt Hn. Herbert John Ridsdale, E. A.
Goddard, Daniel Ford Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green)

said there was more than one class of persons who had been committed to prison who were not usually found there. These casual occupants of prison cells had often been the means of bringing about valuable reforms in the discipline and management of prisons, because they had frequently called attention to a large number of points in prison life which the outsider might think unimportant and trivial, but which after all were of the greatest value. He did not propose to deal with thorn in detail, but he desired to refer to two features of prison life with which these unusual prisoners had been specially impressed. The first was what they described as the terrible loneliness of prison life. For hours and hours the prisoner had not a soul to speak to. He would probably be told that there was the chapel, the visit of the chaplain and special visitors, and the visit of the schoolmaster, but the fact remained that the prisoner was left alone for a large number of hours. The more light and air, and the more work in the open air they could give to the prisoners, or the bulk of them, the better it would be for everybody concerned. He would have thought that everybody would have said that solitary confinement was peculiarly mischievous in the case of children. Some of the casual occupants of the prison cells had stated that there was in one of the prisons a child fifteen years of ago who was constantly crying in her cell and in the chapel. He would have thought that prison was not the place for a child of tender years. At all events, everyone would agree that a child of fifteen years of age was not a proper subject for solitary confinement. The second point which mainly impressed these unusual prisoners was that the treatment in prison was calculated to destroy the self-respect of the prisoners. It would not do to say that the prisoners had lost all self-respect before they entered prison, because every year there were about 83,000 persons who were committed to prison for the first time. But apart altogether from that consideration, the treatment in prison ought not to be such as to crush out of the prisoner the last lingering remains of self-respect. He would be the last person in the world to desire to make prisons comfortable places, but he did want to make them human places. He wanted prison life to be more humanised than it was now. It seemed to him that they ought to do all they could to encourage the better instincts and feelings of the prisoners. He suggested that visitors and letters should be allowed in a more liberal fashion. It would be well to encourage and foster, as far as possible, the ties which united the prisoner to the family and the home. Success in the management and discipline of a prison depended largely, if not entirely, upon the staff. He found with some regret that governors were usually appointed from the class of naval and military officers. He did not think that the qualities which made a good officer were those which were required in the governor of a prison. He would like to see every governor a civilian. On the other hand, it was sometimes said that it was well to have officers as governors of prisons because they were accustomed to control men. In answer to that he would say that as a matter of fact the governors who had been most successful as disciplinarians had been civilians. One very important object which should be aimed at in prison was the reform of the prisoner, so that when he obtained his liberty he would run straight. He did not think that members of the naval and military profession were the most likely to effect that object. The object of military discipline was to teach men to act together, while the object of prison influence was to enable men to act advantageously separately. The lower officers in prisons were perhaps more important than the governors themselves. The warders played the most prominent part in prison life, and it was impossible to exaggerate the power for good or evil which the warders had. This fact was emphasised in the prison memoirs of Mr. Jabez Balfour. Those memoirs were characterised by a fair spirit. There was nothing vindictive about them. It was most important that all that could be done should be done to attract the best class of men and women to the ranks of warders. He thought that the interests of women prisoners were prejudiced by the fact that there was not a member of their sex upon the higher executive of the Prisons Department. The members of the Prisons Committee and the inspectors were all men. That seemed a little unfair and unreasonable when it was remembered that over 50,000 women passed through our prisons every year. The number was increasing, for it was only about 42,000 ten years ago. He thought the women's side of the prison was not so well managed as the men's side. In particular it seemed to him that the prison industries for women were not so well organised as those for men. The only kind of work in which he had seen women employed in prison was washing clothes. They were doing that in a listless way, which contrasted very unfavourably with the manner in which work was done by women in an ordinary laundry. He suggested that there should be a woman on the Committee, and that there should be one woman among the inspectors. When he raised the question on a former occasion he was told by the then Home Secretary that it was not necessary to have women in those positions, because the interests of women were sufficiently protected by the lady visitors. He was glad that the system of having lady visitors had been adopted. But the lady visitors had no right to interfere with the discipline or the management, and, indeed, if they did interfere in any way, they would probably very soon cease to be visitors at all. It was no answer to say that the lady visitors were sufficient for the purpose. Most of the subjects dealt with by the inspectors fell within the domestic sphere and were more within the purview of women than of men. He hoped he would receive amore favourable reply from the present Home Secretary. He appealed to the Committee itself to press for the change which he had suggested. The House was largely composed of hon. Members who were pledged to maintain the interests of women; they had not yet had an opportunity of redeeming their pledges in the political field, but they had an opportunity now, in a sphere not less important perhaps, of carrying out the spirit of the undertakings they had given by supporting the reasonable suggestion he had made in the interest of the nation at large and of women in particular. He begged to move.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £407,505, be granted for the said service."—(Mr. Pickersgill.).

MR. PIKE PEASE (Darlington)

said he wished to call attention to the treatment of first offenders. He understood that at the present time there were regulations as to the classification of prisoners immediately on their entering prisons, but they were not in every case complied with. He suggested some rearrangement in the administration of the law. At the present time prisoners were being manufactured at an enormous rate, because they were herded together with old offenders in the same cells, met them in the exercise ground, in railway carriages, and in prison infirmaries. He asked the Home Secretary whether he could not find some means by which the committal paper which the police sergeant brought with the prisoner might be altered. If "first offender" was printed on the committal paper in cases where the police were absolutely certain the prisoner had not been in prison before, it might be the moans of enabling the governor to know that the man was a first offender. In many cases the governor had to wait a considerable time before he found out whether a prisoner was a first offender or not. He also asked the Home Secretary to take into consideration the Report of the Vagrancy Committee in regard to short sentences, and to consider whether it would not be possible in future to send certain prisoners to labour colonies instead of to prison. If that were done he believed it would do a great deal to prevent first offenders from offending again.

MR. MARKHAM (Nottinghamshire, Mansfield)

desired to make an appeal to the Home Secretary as to the amount and quality of the food given to prisoners. Could the right hon. Gentleman assure him that no prisoner who was sentenced to a term of eighteen months or two years imprisonment with hard labour suffered from physical deterioration on discharge on account of the short supply of food? Was it not possible that punishment could be given in other ways than through the stomach? He contended that no man who had been sent to prison for any offence should on leaving prison be found to be a degenerate from want of food. From inquiries he had made he discovered that the scale of food given to prisoners sentenced to comparatively short terms of hard labour was less than that given to prisoners in South Africa. He himself had come across many men who under such circumstances had been quite unable to do any work for a month or two after discharge. As a visiting justice his experience from what he had seen and heard was that eighteen months or two years imprisonment with hard labour was a much harder sentence than five years penal servitude. Another point was as to the employment of women inspectors of womens' prisons. Why should women prisoners not have one of their own sex to look after them? He hoped that on these points the Home Secretary would be able to give a sympathetic reply. Another point was as to the character of the class of warders employed in prisons. Any one who had gone round the prisons of late would admit that the present class of warders were not as humane as they used to be. They had deteriorated and become brutalised. There was, in his opinion, a lack of sufficient kindness on their part to prisoners. He believed that that was due to the fact that the warders were now largely recruited from the military and naval services. They ought to be recruited from the ranks of civilians.


The question raised by my hon. friend who has just sat down has formed the subject of different inquiries at various periods, and was thoroughly investigated by a special Committee appointed two years ago. I am not prepared to say at this moment, and I do not suppose that the Prison Commissioners themselves would say, that, as a matter of fact, the present prison system is the best that could be devised. Everything is capable of improvement, and I can assure the hon. Member that all matters connected with prisons and their management are being carefully watched by the Board, and suggested improvements are welcomed and carefully considered. The hon. Gentleman asked a question as to whether the want of food and its quality given to prisoners sentenced to hard labour had caused actual physical deterioration; and whether prisoners left prison at the expiry of their sentence in a weak condition. So far as my information and experience goes, I can only say that that is not the case. Considerable improvements have been made in the dietary. Statistics show that 60 per cent. of the prisoners actually gained weight when serving their sentence, and only 30 per cent. lost weight. In regard to that 30 per cent. I need not remind hon. Members that a good many prisoners lose weight with great advantage to themselves, and because they have lost weight it does not follow that they have deteriorated physically, or sustained permanent injury to health. I might say that if a good many of the hon. Members of the House were to lose weight within the next six weeks it would do them a great deal of good. The death rate of prisoners from natural causes is only .37per 1,000, which is the lowest on record. and, therefore, is extremely satisfactory Of the 252,795 prisoners who passed through local prisons in 1905–6, only 8,241 were admitted to the hospital, and 17,246 were treated in their cells for periods of seven days and over. That came to thirty per 1,000. It must be remembered that a great many of these prisoners go to prison in a weak condition of health. The average weigh and average height of a prisoner are very much less than those of the average man outside, so that the material inside is not so good as the material outside, but in spite of that I think the figures that I have given conclusively show that while we may arrive at some further improvement there is nothing radically wrong in our prison treatment at the present time so far as we can discern. My hon. friend the Member for Bethnal Green raised in his speech a large number of questions, which I think he will agree with me are of very great importance and difficulty—too much so to be dealt with in the course of one speech. I always find it difficult to deal with these prison matters, because the more you go into them the more you find the necessity of further consideration. At the present time we have a system which has grown out of the past and is handicapped by many disadvantages. If we were able to pull down all our prisons and build them afresh, at immense cost, no doubt we should be able to effect a great improvement in the treatment of the prisoners. I agree that it is important to give them light and air, and improvements are continually being made in that respect. As to the loneliness of prisoners, there is a special class, those in the first division, who must necessarily be more lonely than the other prisoners, because that can only be avoided by bringing them into association with criminals. I agree that wherever we can get reasonable, rational association which we can be sure will improve the condition of the prisoners, it is, within reasonable limits, desirable. But we must, of course, not lose sight of the penal side of imprisonment. Still, the ideal of every prison reformer is to raise the prisoner rather than to punish him. Association has been largely encouraged during recent years, and whether it can be encouraged more without considerable danger I am not quite sure. I agree with the principles of my hon. friend who has addressed himself to this topic; and if I can do anything to improve matters I shall be glad to do so. It is most undesirable to send children to prison, but it is a constant puzzle to know what to do with them. I hope a remedy will be found in the Probation Bill, which has been read a second time and referred to a Committee. The view that governors should be civilians rather than military or naval men is one which I formerly shared; but after hearing numerous witnesses at an inquiry which was held some fourteen years ago, I came to the conclusion that we can get men as suitable from the Army or Navy as we can from the ranks of civil life. Experience shows, on the whole, that one class is as successful as the other. The greatest care is taken to select men with qualifications fitting them for the position. I do not agree that the warders are, as a class, unsatisfactory. It is, of course, essential that they should be carefully selected, because they need to have good temper, patience, and diligence in their work of dealing with those in their charge; but I cannot agree with my hon. friend that the present staff of warders is unsatisfactory, although there may be unsatisfactory men among them. You always find that. My hon. friend quoted the opinion of Mr. Jabez Balfour; but he praised the general humanity of the warders and the general good temper and kindness with which they discharge their duties, and said that if the existing system could have succeeded they would have made it a success. As to the question of appointing women to superior positions, I am not in favour of making a woman Prison Commissioner. I think there is great force in the contention that we should not be content with the present system of women visitors, excellent as that system is. I recognise that in a prison with a population of 700 women of a most difficult character to deal with the responsibility is a heavy one. I think the time has come when there ought to be some woman in a higher position of authority than that of chief matron, in order that special regard may be paid to the needs of the women. Another way of meeting the difficulty is to appoint women inspectors. I cannot commit myself in this matter, but I shall be glad if I can get the assent of the Treasury to my view. In my opinion the time has come when there ought to be a woman inspector. It is quite true that there are only two prisons which are wholly given over to women; but at the same time there are a large number of other prisons in which women are received. The hon. Gentleman opposite raised the question of the treatment of first offenders. I would remind him that under the present system every care is taken to separate first offenders from habitual offenders. Elaborate provision is made for this purpose in the Prison Rules. In a paragraph of their Report this year the Commissioners say— The complete separation of first offenders from the habitual criminals, which commenced in 1897–98 by the establishment of the star class system in all local prisons, has been continued during the past year. In the nine years in which the system has been in operation, 54,173 males and 10,108 females have been placed in the class, of whom 4,507 males, or 8.3 per cent., and 1,403 females, or 13.9 per cent., have been re-committed to prison under fresh sentences. Since the formation of the star class in convict prisons in 1879 up to the 31st March last 3,479 male convicts have been placed in it, of whom only 43, or 1.57 per cent. of those discharged, have returned to penal servitude under fresh sentences, and only 33, or 1.2 per cent., have had their licences revoked or forfeited. Of 155 females only one has returned to penal servitude. I believe that I can give the assurance to the hon. Gentleman that everybody concerned is most anxious to maintain all the ground that has been gained in respect of this question, and, as far as possible, to improve it. All are agreed that it is most undesirable to bring young persons, especially those who are in prison for the first time, into contact with old offenders. I can give the definite assurance that the most constant and vigilant attention is paid to securing that those people shall be, as far as possible, kept apart, and that nothing will be wanting on my part to make any improvement that can be made. There are difficulties in country districts, where you have not the same power of organising separation; but I think I can assure the hon. Member that he need be under no apprehension that that very important matter will be neglected. The hon. Gentleman spoke in rather general terms; but if he will give me specific cases I will have them inquired into.


I will do so. I would rather do it privately than in this House.


I can quite understand that. If he will let me know the cases they will be inquired into. The hon. Member asked a question about the Vagrancy Committee's Report. It is a most interesting and valuable Report, and I have been anxious to find time, along with my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board, to deal with it. It is a subject which has interested me, and I hope that in many respects the important recommendations of the Committee will be adopted. I am living in hope that we may be able to give consideration to the subject before long. I can only say, as bearing on the subject, that we are endeavouring to meet the case, if not directly, at least by legislation which indirectly touches the matter. We have on the stocks a Bill for applying the reformatory system to our prison system in the case of young offenders above the age of sixteen. There has always been a difficulty in regard to young persons of that age. A great deal has been done under the Borstal system, but there has been a great hiatus in our prison system. There is a strong recommendation in favour of the establishment of State reformatories, and now we are preparing a Bill to establish that principle. The age will be sixteen to twenty-three. It is known that the worst criminals are made criminals at the period of their lives. Anyhow, it is when they are adolescent that they seem to drop into habits which lead them to live a life of crime, and I think the Borstal system is an efficient means of getting hold of those young persons. I hope that by including in our prison system reformatories where the conditions will differ from the penal conditions at present in force, and by bringing influences to bear on young offenders while they are fresh, we may redeem them from criminal habits, whether manifested in the shape of the more formidable kinds of crime or in the degeneration of the offenders into vagrants, who were the main subject of inquiry by the Committee to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded.

MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)

said he was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had stated on the question of the appointment of governors. The experience of men chosen from naval and military ranks fitted them for the duties they had to perform in controlling the men who came under their charge. He was interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he proposed to appoint a female inspector to look after the female prisoners. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman in any steps he took in that direction to be careful not in any way to discourage the women visitors who were now doing such noble work, not only while the offenders were in prison, but by assisting them after they were liberated. No reflection should be cast on the ladies who had been engaged in that work. He had himself inquired into the food question, and he did not think that any fault could be found with what was done for prisoners in that respect. He was quite sure that in many cases they were better fed in prison than were the class outside from which they came. The food was admirable in quality, and in quantity it was ample to meet the requirements of prisoners. The Report of the Commission on Prisons had not been presented to the House this year, and it was most inconvenient to discuss the Vote without it. He wished to know whether the decline in the number of prisoners still continued, and whether they might hope that the number of criminals, which sharply increased some years ago, would steadily diminish. He would only echo what the right hon. Gentleman had said about the reformatory system for the treatment of juvenile offenders. It would be interesting to know how far the right hon. Gentleman might be able to extend the system to prisoners outside the age limit which he had mentioned. The reformatory system under which young offenders were taught trades which fitted them for civilian life had been of the greatest advantage in reducing the number of habitual criminals, and he would be glad to see the system extended as widely as possible. He believed that at one time there was an intention to introduce the Borstal system irrespective of the length of sentence. He was not sure but that the system had been tried during certain portions of sentences. He thought it might be desirable to remove the limitation. No one acquainted with the subject of prison discipline and management could complain of the quality of the warders or of the admirable way in which they performed their work. He thought a great deal more might be done to make their life tolerable. Any expense incurred in providing recreation rooms for the warders would be money well expended. He thought it was most desirable that warders should have their dwellings within the products of the prison instead of having to go long distances. He believed that about many of our prisons there were vacant lands on which suitable dwellings could be built in which the warders could live in decency and comfort with their families. The interest on the outlay for such buildings would not be more than the amount of the allowances which were now made to enable the warders to go long distances to their homes. He asked the right hon. Gentleman in subsequent Estimates to take into view the desirability of housing the warders in buildings which were the property of the Government. He did not desire to delay the Vote, but he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would take into consideration the several points which he had raised.

*MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)

said he must also express thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, and he believed that a good deal of what he had said would give satisfaction to those interested in prison reform. They were especially glad to know that he looked with favour on the appointment of women to superintend women's wards in prisons and in hospitals entirely occupied by female prisoners. He was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman had not gone a step further and agreed to the suggestion of his hon. friend to appoint one woman Commissioner. He thought there were women who were competent to bring different ideas from those perhaps entertained by the male Commissioners, and they might be able to suggest means by which the treatment of women in our prisons would be greatly ameliorated. What seemed to him by far the most important point which they had heard that night was that relating to the extension of the reformatory principle in our prisons. In his judgment all prisons should be reformatories. He did not see why they should stop at the age of twenty-three; he would treat every prisoner as a potential citizen; he would give him some work to do of which he would be able to see the value, and he would keep him associated with other people. On that point he was disappointed at what the right hon. Gentleman had said. The Home Secretary had said that he did not think that association could be carried much further, and the inference was that the solitary system must be maintained. He was certain that the solitary system had a most demoralising effect upon the prisoners. Prince Kropatkin, a great authority with regard to prisons in other countries, went so far as to say that the demoralising effects of prisons were such that a man was worse when he came out of prison than when he went in. He said it was only because people were in ignorance of the realities of the case that they were so absolutely foolish as to maintain at their own expense institutions which turned out men worse than when they went in, and he added that almost in all cases, by proper reforms, they would be able to improve the character of prisoners and turn them out useful citizens. He was aware, however, that he could not discuss that question on this Vote, though a great deal might be said on it. We had no business to do anything with a prisoner except curtail his liberty for our own protection, and then we should do all we possibly could to reform him and make a better man of him when he came out of prison than he was when he went in. What was the meaning of men going back to prison time after time? It was something appalling. Prison at present was a hardening institution. He hoped that the Home Office and the Government would take a wide and humane view of the whole question and try to alter our present system in a very radical manner. The right hon. Gentleman himself had said that no doubt the present system was not the best possible, but that it had grown out of the past and so on. Let them get rid of the past idea of punishing vindictively and revengefully those people who had offended against society. The conditions under which many had to live brought them into contact with the criminal classes, and they were often driven into crime. It should be remembered that when they got men into prison it was not merely to hold them there as long as they could, but that they ought to pursue the work of reforming the criminal. He hoped that his hon. friend would not press his Amendment to a division, though he trusted that the promise of the right hon. Gentleman of a Bill to extend the reformatory principles in connection with our prisons would be fulfilled, and that the measures would be introduced shortly and receive strong support.


asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

3. £127,105, to complete the sum for Reformatory and Industrial Schools, Great Britain.

4. £24,128, to complete the sum for Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

Resolutions [16th May] and Resolutions of this day to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.