HC Deb 30 July 1908 vol 193 cc1885-903

Postponed Proceeding on Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," resumed.

Question again proposed.


hoped everything he said would appeal to their instincts of humanity. He wished to express his regret that the Prime Minister did not think it consistent with his duty to allow the day for the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill to pass without the intrusion of other business. He wished to direct attention to the treatment of the women now undergoing sentences of imprisonment for various offences connected with the woman suffrage movement. These women wished, rightly or wrongly, to make certain alterations in the constitution for which the majority of the House had already voted. They might have acted illegally, but they should be located as political offenders and not as ordinary criminals. They were suffering indignities that he had no notion of until he saw a letter from an old Member of the House describing the treatment meted out to his daughter. He had received a letter from one of these ladies in which there was a pathos and a dignity which must appeal to their hearts, because, whether they liked speeches in Palace Yard or not, they certainly did not like cowardly and vindictive treatment of women who were as honourable as any in the land. This lady, whom he did not know, said they did not complain of their treatment, for to them the supreme wrong was that in the twentieth century it should be necessary for women to suffer as they were doing for citizen rights. The Home Secretary's replies to Questions were not accurate. The clothing was very badly washed, especially the stockings, and one was in constant fear of infection. The outer clothes were not washed and, as there was no lining in the bodice, the serge, which might have been already worn by dozens of prisoners, was in actual contact with the naked skin. It was quite untrue that new shoes were given. When this lady went to prison she spent quite a long time hunting through a basket full of old shoes, most unpleasant to touch and smell, for a pair likely to fit her and finally had to take odd ones, one being without a heel. It was not the case that all the prisoners were in good health, one being in the isolation ward, suffering from measles, probably contracted in prison. They had all been stripped in the presence of warders and searched as if they were convicted thieves. That was the worst they had to endure. After that hardly anything else mattered. That was a very pathetic and shocking letter. Did a lady of high culture, ability and good position, no matter what she had done, deserve that punishment, or did they like to see women punished in that way whom they would receive in their drawing-rooms and who were guilty of no moral offence? No other torture was comparable to this. These women were kept from all knowledge of their friends. They were deprived of their boots and only allowed to read after five o'clock in the evening. For highly cultured, sensible women this was almost sufficient to drive them into a lunatic asylum. Without saying whether he approved of their action or not he had no hesitation in saying that under a Christian Government such treatment in dealing with women was outrageous. These women were only trying to get the ordinary rights of citizenship. One lady who had written to him said that the shoes supplied to them were so wretched that the nails used to rise up in them and pierce the soles of her feet, and walking about became really torture. The conditions were rendered worse by the orders to which they were subjected. For these women such treatment was absolutely wrong, because after all their object was only to reform society and make the body politic better than it was. Why should they be degraded in this way? If would be enough for his purpose if hon. Members would take to heart what he said, and he would not delay the House. It was sufficient for him to state that for the mere chance of speaking these few words he had stayed in London two days longer instead of going over to Ireland, because he could not have enjoyed his holidays if he had not raised his voice to condemn such action as he had complained of action not worthy of this country. There was another question in regard to which he had given the Home Secretary plenty of notice—he referred to flogging as a punishment in prisons. A number of sentences of flogging had recently been given by Judges in regard to which the right hon. Gentleman had not in the exercise of his duty thought it necessary to exercise the prerogative of the Crown. They did not know half the horrors in regard to what went on under this system of flogging. It was very painful to him to read such cases. He had taken special means to find out what the ordinary flogging in a prison consisted of, and he could assure the House that it was a very shocking affair. A triangle was fixed up, the prisoner's legs and feet were tightly bound to the arms of the triangle and there was attached a pulley and cords and two leather handcuffs, and the body was drawn up. The cat-o'-nine tails was a whip with a very long handle and nine cords, one-sixteenth of an inch thick, and at the end they were not waxed but tied together by hard, strong strings. Flogging with the cat-o'-nine tails had been utterly abolished in Scotland, it was not known in Ireland, where no Judge would inflict such punishment. In England it was only permitted in two classes of offence, namely, for attacks on the Sovereign and for offence under the Garrotting Act—robbery with violence. It was well known that two-thirds of the Judges of England would never inflict the penalty of the lash under any circumstances, and they had often protested against it. Flogging had been denounced in the strongest possible language in that House. It had been denounced by an ex-Home Secretary, Sir Matthew White Ridley, who, in every case of a prisoner sentenced to the penalty of the lash never allowed it to be carried into operation without carefully weighing the evidence of the case, and he generally reversed the decision. Sir Matthew White Ridley once said he would never forgive himself if he allowed the sentence of the lash to be inflicted upon a man where there was the slightest possibility of his being innocent, because the punishment was inhuman, and made the person who was punished never have the spirit of a man again. The present Prime Minister got up in the House of Commons on 28th March, 1900, and said that in all cases would wish the lash never to be inflicted, because it was a punishment in which the moral degradation of the man after its infliction was irremediable. That was on a Bill which authorised flogging, and the House of Commons rejected it by 100, expressing at the same time its strong disapproval of the penalty of the lash. At Cardiff assizes last month fourteen prisoners were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment and various inflictions of the lash. When he heard of those sentences he immediaately sent a special messenger to the Home Secretary in order if possible to have the punishment stayed. He impressed upon the right hon. Gentleman that in none of these cases should the lash be inflicted until he had himself looked into the circumstances. In his judgment flogging was more degrading than death. He would rather be put to death than be flogged. If the Court of Criminal Appeal had been in operation when these fourteen men were sentenced it was certain that the convictions would have been quashed because there was no legal evidence of violence. They were sentenced in March, in the first week of April they were flogged, and the appeal court was not constituted until the 18th April. There was, therefore, no remedy except through the intervention of the Home Secretary, who was the depository of the prerogative of mercy exercised by the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that he would not interfere in such cases now that there was a court to which a prisoner could appeal. In reference to that matter the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken. The appeal would be on a mere matter of law, and the discretion of the Judge would be rarely, if ever, interfered with in cases of flogging. The Home Secretary had a higher privilege than even a Judge or the Court of Appeal. He was able to pass over mere technicalities, and, after taking into consideration all circumstances, advise the exercise of the Royal prerogative. He regretted that since the right hon. Gentleman's régime began there had been a considerable increase in the infliction of flogging for offences in jail.




said it appeared from the last Report that there were seventy of these sentences, and that only three were remitted. He hoped his information was wrong.


There were twenty-eight.


said that in all there had been 120 cases in three years. That was a very terrible state of things. He had received a letter from a prison governor stating that in many cases where the punishment of flogging was inflicted the warders were the aggressors by striking the first blow. The prisoners who were sentenced to be flogged for offences against prison discipline suffered the most terrible suspense during the ten or twelve days that elapsed between the passing of the sentence and the carrying of it out. The prison governor stated in his letter that he knew of a case in which a prisoner from that cause went stark mad. He hoped that these facts would be considered by the Home Secretary and that he would make an effort either to abandon as far as possible this form of punishment, or to abolish it.

EARL WINTERTON (Sussex, Horsham)

said he desired to call attention to what he regarded as a most serious leakage of information which had recently taken place in the Navy. He referred to communications which had recently appeared in a leading newspaper. He intended merely to refer to the message and to the circumstances which enabled it to be made public. He had no intention to refer to the unhappy state of affairs in the Navy, because the House was doing, and had done, well to leave that matter entirely alone, as it had left alone a similarly unhappy state of affairs in the Navy in March last and the correspondence which appeared in the Press upon it. He would make no reference to the remarkable feature of that correspondence, which constituted a combined attack in the whole Press on Lord Charles Beresford. The only instance to which he would refer was the statement which appeared in a leading newspaper, giving an account of an incident that took place in the Fleet, upon which a Question was answered by the First Lord of the Admiralty earlier in the day. That statement, according to rumour, had been hawked round Fleet Street before it finally found a home in Printing House Square, a statement so improbable on the face of it that one would have thought that any newspaper would have hesitated before printing it. But the point which he wished to emphasise was not so much how the statement got into the newspaper, but how it leaked out of the Navy. As the House was aware, during the recent naval manœuvres no civilians were permitted on board any ship in the Fleet, and, therefore, the information must have been got from someone serving in the Navy. Some officer or man in the service might have made some communication to a friend who had sent it on to the newspaper, so that it might not have come to the newspaper at first hand. At any rate, it must have come from some ship at sea. It was exceedingly difficult to trace the authorship of such a statement. He did not propose to go into the question fully, but it was a most serious state of affairs when a statement of this nature, obviously proceeding from a member of the Navy, appeared in the public Press. The statement which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty said was without foundation, was that Lord Charles Beresford had jeopardised the safety of two of His Majesty's ships. His sole desire in bringing the matter forward was to urge on the right hon. Gentleman the necessity of taking drastic steps to put a stop to this constant leakage of information on naval matters which found its way into the Press. The time had come to root out the mutual recriminations which appeared. The right hon. Gentleman should endeavour to discover the person or persons who gave to the Press this entirely ruinous, inaccurate, and cruel statement, and do away with Press agents in the Navy. The right hon. Gentleman would agree with him as to the gravity of the position when there could be a single man in the Fleet who would make such a communication to the Press reflecting very grossly on his Admiral. He hoped the First Lord would alleviate the anxiety which was felt on this matter and give an assurance that every effort would be made to discover who had caused the Memorandum to be published, and that he would do something to prevent such a breach of the Admiralty regulations in future.


said that, of course, he had no knowledge as to how the communication was made from the Fleet to the Press, and it was impossible to ascertain that, even if he were to try. No doubt the actual communication that was originally made to the Press was in every respect a true one. He assumed that the original communication was sent by some person in the Fleet to someone on shore.

MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

By wire?


No; had it been sent by wire I must have known of it.


By wireless telegraphy?


said it could not have been sent by wireless telegraphy without its being known to the Admiralty. He assumed it was made by a private letter, and the recipient communicated the information to the Press, and all the comments which the noble Lord rightly described as untrue were made not by the original communicator, but by writers for the Press. For those comments it would be most unfair to suggest that any officer or other person in the Navy was in the least responsible. The whole gravamen of the charge did not lie in the signal, but in the comments made upon it. There was no danger in the manœuvre itself. He trusted that the whole incident, which had been a most unhappy one, might be allowed to drop.

MR. CLYNES (Manchester, N.E.)

said he was anxious to make an appeal to the Home Secretary further to consider the case of the three men who were undergoing sentence of imprisonment on a charge of conspiracy, with a view to some modification of their sentence. The case he was referring to was that of three men who were now undergoing twelve months imprisonment, and he wished the House to understand that the issues were larger than appeared at first sight. Those issues included the higher questions of reasonable treatment for men who were driven into taking very injudicious steps in connection with the business in which they were engaged. The Home Secretary had stated in reply to Questions which he had put during the course of the session that the men who were sentenced to this term of imprisonment deliberately committed an act of conspiracy. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman said, they were condemned not for something rash and uncontemplated, but for a very serious offence against law and property. The view he (Mr. Clynes) had come to alter going fully into the matter was that the men were smarting under a sense of great wrong inflicted upon them, and were driven by the conditions of the moment into what were acts of folly rather than conditions of crime. There had been in Manchester an agitation arising out of very acute conditions of unemployment in that city. These men held meetings, which were to a great extent unconnected with the responsible and representative labour movement of that centre. They frequently met in one of the outer squares of the city, but they were driven on one occasion by the weather to another place. The situation on that particular occasion was stated in the course of the trial in the following terms by Superintendent Lauder, who said that on Sunday, 15th March, he attended a meeting of the unemployed in Stevenson Square. He reached the Square at 3.30, when the meeting had opened. When it had been some time in progress snowfell, and the men adjourned to another place. On being told that they could not remain there they re- turned to the square and speech-making was resumed. Batty and Brown (two of the three men in prison) arrived about five o'clock. Up to that time the meeting had been orderly. When they came Smith (the third man in prison) said: "Come on, we want a revolution." He (Mr. Clynes) need not read further from the statement of Superintendent Lauder. The men were scattered and they made their way to the house of Smith. There they indulged in a great deal of talk about what they would do, some even going to the extreme of rashly speaking of blowing up the Town Hall, and visiting the House of Commons for a similar purpose. The outcome of this kind of talk was that in the course of a day or two some of the men smashed some windows in Market Street, the talk being of committing a dramatic act in order to call attention to the grievances under which so many persons were smarting. The three men were afterwards brought into Court, were condemned on a charge of conspiracy, and were now undergoing a sentence of twelve months in prison. He suggested to the Home Secretary that these men were incited by a state of despair, and by the conditions under which they were harassed to commit these acts, which he, of course, did not seek to defend. The point he wished to make was that the men had been unduly punished, and that the sentence was harsh. What he desired was that the right hon. Gentleman, who had shown in the course of his frequent association with questions of punishment and crime a strong sense of humanity, should use the authority which his great office gave him, to secure that in this instance the punishment should be made a little more to fit the crime. The language of the men was, of course, inflammatory and boastful, but the example they set was in no way followed. It should be made clear that the representatives of organised labour in the city had in no sense endeavoured to excuse the acts which were committed and which were isolated instances of folly on the part of a few men, who had been severely punished for their fault. The evidence on which the men were condemned was the unsupported evidence of one man, who was himself a party to the business. This man, who was at Smith's house along with the rest of the men, was of a discreditable character, and had been twenty-four times in gaol. As a matter of fact, since the trial he had been in gaol once, if not twice, so that very little real dependence or trust could be placed on anything he had to say about other people. The men who were condemned were unable to take advantage of the Criminal Appeal Act, on account of the hurried nature of the police proceedings and other limitations which existed in the case of poor men of this kind who were swiftly brought into Court, speedily tried, and disposed of with the least possible delay, without being able to use the aids and advantages which money often conferred in Courts of law. An application was made in Court for an appeal in this case on a point of law resting on the uncorroborated evidence given by the discredited witness to whom he had referred. No appeal was allowed, and he had been driven to make the present appeal in the House in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would use the power with which his office invested him to mitigate the severity of the sentence passed on these men. It might be mentioned that the spy reported certain things to the police with regard to the intended commission of various acts, and so little importance did the police, attach to them that no preparations were made to protect persons or property from the offences which it was alleged had been contemplated. Moreover, since these men were condemned, criminal records and police court proceedings showed that dozens of more serious cases of offences against life and property had occurred in which the guilty parties had been much less severely punished than the men whose cause he was now pleading. He could cite cases in which serious crimes had been committed and yet the offenders had been punished with no greater sentence than three or six months imprisonment. He suggested that in this case the purpose of the law had been served, and that the feeling prevailing in Manchester—the sympathy surrounding these unfortunate men—ought to have some weight with the right hon. Gentleman. He understood that memorials had been signed and that there was a considerable volume of opinion in favour of presenting a powerfully signed requisition in the hope that the Home Secretary might be induced to reconsider his decision. He hoped it would not be supposed that he was condemning the right hon. Gentleman for what he had done so far, because he was putting the case in no contentious spirit, but rather in a spirit of hope that as these men had served a period of five months imprisonment the right hon. Gentleman would exercise his power to secure that the term of their incarceration should be shortened.

MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

desired to call attention to two matters, one of which was the case of the crofters of the Island of Vatersay. He was glad that arrangements had been arrived at under which these men had been released from gaol, but he thought that if matters had been properly managed and arrangements had been arrived at with the proprietor when negotiations were commenced there would have been no necessity for these men to have broken the law. He was most anxious that a similar state of things should not come to pass in the Island of Lewis. The Vatersay crofters were small in number compared with the landless men in the Island of Lewis, where there were 7,500 landless people, or 25 per cent. of the total population. He had brought the matter before the Secretary for Scotland time after time, and the reply he invariably received was that it was being considered. The Government could never get further forward than the consideration stage. The difficulty in Vatersay was that, the farm wanted by the cottars was held under a lease, but in the Island of Lewis there were 20,000 acres of land, none of which was under lease. What he suggested to the Secretary for Scotland was that he should take energetic and active measures to secure the whole or part of these lands for the people before leases were granted by the proprietor. His fear for a long time past had been that the men would break the law, though he had always advised them to agitate in a constitutional manner, and so far they had acted in accordance with that advice. But the Secretary for Scotland should do something to ensure that these 7,500 landless people should not be forced to live under the present unsatisfactory conditions. If negotiations were entered into without delay, he believed there would be little difficulty in obtaining the required quantity of land, but he feared that unless something was done trouble must ensue. These men were coming home from the fishing with very little money, and as they would be in a half-starved condition, during the winter it was quite likely that they might be tempted to break the law. No legislation, was required to provide for a case of this kind, because the Congested Districts Board had full powers to negotiate with the proprietor and to secure possession of vacant farms. In 1899 he moved an Amendment, to the Queen's Speech asking for legislation for the crofters, cottars and fishermen of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, in support of which 142 Members voted, including the late Prime Minister and several right hon. Gentlemen who now sat on the Treasury Bench. The Government majority was only five. He therefore felt fully justified in urging the Government to take some action on these lines. If the Government did not intend to give effect to their pledges let them be honest and say so. What he asked was that the Secretary for Scotland should not rest on his oars but should do something for these people. He (Mr. Weir) had done his best to see that the law was obeyed. Matters would not have come to the present pass if the Scottish Secretary had been more active.


said he quite agreed that the hon. Member for N. E. Manchester had stated his case with great moderation. He must, however, point out that he did not accept his version of the case, though he was not able at that hour to discuss the matter. He had, as the hon. Member knew, very carefully examined it. The main allegation against the men was, as the hon. Member had stated, one of conspiracy. The Court held that there was evidence of a previous agreement to do damage. By pre-concerted action these men began breaking windows, causing damage to the extent of £100. The learned Recorder was most careful to warn the jury that they must not attach weight to the particular witness to whom the hon. Member referred unless his evidence was corroborated. The Court held that that evidence was corroborated and a conviction followed. The hon. Member said these men were smarting under a sense of wrong. Did he really think that the men (Brown and another) were acting under any such sense? He was not going to go into the record of these men further than to say that so far as he could ascertain neither of them appeared to have wished to get work, and in one case when work was got the man was found not capable of taking it. With regard to the third man, he (the Home Secretary) agreed he was a man of it very different order. He was in good employment at the time. He (the Home Secretary) was aware that he associated himself with the unemployed movement, but he did not at all question his bona fides or his belief in the rightness of his action. But still he was one of those men who did in fact meet together and who were proved by the Court to be guilty of serious conspiracy. It was really very difficult to draw a distinction between his case and that of the other men. He was afraid he could not at the present time see his way to interfere, but if, by petition or otherwise, any new information or argument was brought to his notice he would of course, consider it. His hon. friend the Member for Donegal had raised rather large questions that evening and he would not expect him (the Home Secretary) to go into the whole question of flogging which he had raised. Let him say this one word. His hon. friend quoted a letter which he said was from a prison governor in which the governor said, presumably speaking from his own knowledge—if he did not speak from his own knowledge his evidence was of no value—that in many of these cases of prison flogging the first blow was struck by the warders. If that was true how gravely it must reflect upon the prison governor. He need scarcely point out to his hon. friend that the prison governor was responsible. He was head of the prison. He reported the cases of flogging to the Home Secretary. If it was within his knowledge that provocation was given by the warder, and if, knowing that, he held his tongue and allowed the man to be flogged, then all he (the Home Secretary) could say was that he deserved to be dismissed from his post at once. He left his hon. friend to clear up that position. On the general question his hon. friend knew perfectly well there were two aspects of the matter, and the question was raised in two forms. The first was whether flogging as a punishment was desirable in the public interest. That was a very large and very interesting question. If there was to be any change in the present system he would desire a change in the direction of mitigation, but he was bound to say he did not take the view of his hon. friend. What was the last case which came before him? A young ruffian who had taken a large handful of mud and stuffed it into the eyes and mouth of a young girl and then robbed her. Well, that man was flogged, and he (the Home Secretary) would waste no sympathy upon him, though he did sympathise with his victim. There was the general question. He differentiated his views from those held by his hon. friend, who held strong views on that matter. He did not take up such a strong position. His duty was to act under the law, and when these cases came before him by way of appeal he was bound to look into them, and he did look into them. He sanctioned only two days ago the remission of a second sentence of flogging which had been imposed upon a, prisoner. He was sure his hon. friend would not expect him to go further into the matter. One of two words on the hon. Gentleman's remarks as to the treatment of the prisoners in Holloway. He did not quite gather from his hon. friend whether he said what he did by way of protest against the system generally or whether he was arguing for special privileges to the particular persons to whom he was alluding.


said that what he wanted was that the suffragists should be treated as political prisoners as Dr. Jameson was treated.


said that the treatment of Dr. Jameson came before the Act of 1898. That was a constitutional question upon which he and his hon. friend must agree to differ. His hon. friend made several declarations about the treatment of the ladies in prison. He must tell him he did not think they were accurate. He would not refer, of course, by name to the informant of the hon. Member, except to say that he observed the period spoken of was not the last period.


It was last February.


proceeding, said that in regard to second division prisoners he was not satisfied in every respect with the present regulations, and he had already taken some action with regard to that. He was referring now to the general prison regulations. That matter was under his consideration, and would be for some time. But in regard to these particular ladies he must tell the House that their treatment was not really what his hon. friend in his genuine honest enthusiasm would lead the House to suppose. Their treatment was in fact different from that of prisoners in the third division. They were kept apart, entirely from association with prisoners in the third division. Their clothes were now—whatever may have happened in the past—scrupulously clean, and he believed that in the case of most of these ladies they had actually new clothes and new shoes. His hon. friend had quoted the case of one prisoner who developed measles. That was true. There was a case of measles being developed by one of the prisoners, but there was no reason to suppose she contracted the ailment in prison. His hon. friend must remember that these ladies got two books a week in addition to the instruction books, besides which the chaplain could give them other books. They were associated together in work, and during that association they had an easier chair than was usually supplied. Their life was not of quite so ascetic a character as his hon. friend had sought to make out. They exercised twice a day, and they had writing materials. It must not be forgotten that after all the treatment was treatment in prison, and if prison discipline was to be worth anything it must be kept. He thought that, having regard to all the considerations it could not be said that the treatment of the women suffragists was cruel or inhuman. He had every reason to believe, though he had not had the Report, that almost without exception in the case of those particular ladies who had been sent to prison their health had in fact improved, and he had taken every care to see that if for obvious reasons they could not stand imprisonment so well as the more usual occupants of the prisons, they should be looked after, not to the disadvantage of other prisoners, but with very special care and attention by the medical officers. He thought that he had said enough to make it clear that his hon. friend had coloured the matter rather highly.


said that if the House would allow him at that late hour he would like to say one word on the criticism of his hon. friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty. Everybody was aware of the earnestness with which the hon. Member pleaded the cause of his constituents whenever there was a fitting opportunity in that House, and nobody would deny to him the credit which was his due on that account. But the hon. Member did not go properly into the facts and did not credit other people with the sympathy which he himself felt for the conditions under which those for whom he spoke lived. He wished to take first the question of the Vatersay squatters. The controversy which had just been concluded was merely the list incident in a long chain of events, and if his hon. friend had examined the whole history of the proceedings which had taken place in that parish and in that island for the last two or three generations he could not possibly get up in that House and hold the present Government responsible for what had recently occurred. He thought, with all respect, that his hon. friend had misunderstood the nature of the case. As regarded the Island of Lewis the conditions were difficult and serious in some respects, but they were not created yesterday. They were the sequel and result of a combination of circumstances and influences which had been going on in that island for many years, and for which no Government could be held singly and solely responsible. As a matter of fact, judged by many standards, the Island of Lewis, while he admitted there were great difficulties, had advanced and prospered. The people were better educated, the standard of life had been raised, the earnings of the people were greater, and there was more money going into the island than ever before. They found that the people made their way from that island earning their living in different parts of Scotland, and they found that they were not behind the people in other parts of Scotland in winning their way and making a successful business of their career in life. He quite agreed that there was a great deal which might be done. These islands were remote, far front the facilities of transport, travel and civilisation, and the other facilities usual near large centres of population but for all that the people had great grit and they did well when they met people from other parts of Scotland and from other parts of the world. The Government were not insensible to their responsibilities and duties to that part of the United Kingdom, and they were endeavouring to discharge their responsibilities to the best of their ability. He did not think that at that time of night he would be consulting the wishes of the House if he enlarged on the subject, but he could assure the hon. Member that the Government were no less awake than he was to their duties in regard to the parts of Scotland to which he had alluded, or than they were to their duties to other parts of the United Kingdom.