§ MR. MONTGOMERY (Somersetshire, Bridgwater)
I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that at Leighton Buzzard Police Court, on Tuesday, 18th February last, a girl of thirteen years of age was sent by the magistrate to a reformatory for five years for stealing; whether he is aware that the theft was more of a childish raid; that the articles stolen were mainly of no use to her and have all since been returned; and whether, under the circumstances, he will take steps to hand over this child to its mother.
§ MR. THORNE (West Ham, S.)
I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if his attention has been called to the sentence on Dorothy Downing (the only child of her mother), a child of thirteen, who has been sent by the Leighton Buzzard magistrate to a reformatory for robbery; and if he can see his way to reduce the sentence.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
I have made inquiry into this case, but am not prepared to take the action suggested by my hon. friend. It appears from the proceedings in court that the girl in question was sent away from school for misconduct, including intoxication, and that she has since been running wild and associating with lads of undesirable character. A month ago the girl was found beating her mother, who has informed the police that she is quite unable to control her. When she stole the articles for which she has been convicted she had with her two little boys, aged ten and eleven respectively; she herself is thirteen, and is described as precocious for her age; she appeared to be utterly callous when in court. The bench, which consisted of six justices, considered the question of sending the girl to an industrial school, but were of opinion that in the interests of the other inmates they were not justified in adopting this course. It appears to me that in committing the girl to a reformatory school the magistrates exercised a wise discretion, and that the training and care she will now receive offer the best chance for her future. The letters on this case which have appeared in the newspapers show a total misconception of the reformatory school system. The object of committal to a reformatory is not punishment but reformation, and the result of the work of the schools has been most encouraging.
§ * MR. BYLES
Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that last year this House with some labour passed a Probation of Offenders Act and does he not think this is a case in which the child might have been dealt with under the gentle operation of that Act?
§ MR. GLADSTONE
The case was very carefully considered by six justices, who no doubt considered whether that was practicable or not.