HC Deb 06 July 1908 vol 191 cc1243-4
MR. D. A. THOMAS (Merthyr Tydvil)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether it is the practice in Ireland to treat political prisoners as first-class misdemeanants; and if he will give instructions that the suffragists sentenced in London on Wednesday last be accorded like consideration.


I am informed that in Ireland where prisoners are imprisoned for offences against the ordinary law which were committed in the course of a political campaign, no special treatment is accorded them on that ground. I cannot grant any special treatment to the ladies committed for refusing to find sureties.


I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in the case of prisoners sentenced by police magistrates, he is empowered to order that they should be treated as first-class misdemeanants; whether he or his predecessors have exercised that power within recent years; and, if so, in what cases and on what grounds.


In the case of a person committed to prison in default of finding sureties I am advised that I have no executive power to make such an order. The division in which a prisoner shall be placed must by law be determined by the magistrate in his discretion. As regards convicted prisoners also, the Home Secretary has no executive power to alter the division in which these prisoners have been placed by the Court. In two cases which occurred prior to the Prison Act of 1898 the treatment of prisoners convicted on indictment was, for special reasons, varied by means of the grant of a conditional pardon from the Crown; but I should be acting unconstitutionally if I advised his Majesty to exercise this power in such a way as to over-ride, with regard to any class of prisoners, the discretion now given by the law to the magistrates.


Can the right hon. Gentleman state how it came to pass that Dr. Jameson and the other leaders were treated as first-class misdemeanants, after having been convicted of a most serious offence; and seeing that they were so treated, surely these ladies might be treated in the same way?


I have already stated that Dr. Jameson was a convicted prisoner before the passing of the Act of 1898, which directly put the responsibility of deciding in which division a prisoner should be placed upon the magistrate.


But the Act of 1898 did not in the slightest degree arrogate the power of the Home Office to advise the Crown to mitigate any sentence whatever.


I hold that it would be perfectly unconstitutional on my part, if I suggested the exercise of the Crown's prerogative in order to over-ride the decision the responsibility for which under the law rests with the magistrate.

MR. MORRELL (Oxford, Henley)

But cannot the right hon. Gentleman make representations to the magistrate?

MR. KILBRIDE (Kildare, S.)

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House if in any of the numerous cases in Ireland under the Statute of Edw. III. a single person convicted was treated otherwise than as an ordinary prisoner.


That Question should be addressed to the Chief Secretary.