HC Deb 28 May 1908 vol 189 cc1364-73

2. £127,889, to complete the sum for Reformatory and Industrial Schools, Great Britain.

3. £400,345, to complete the sum for Prisons, England and the Colonies.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

said it was very unfortunate that when this Vote came on the latest Report on Prisons was invariably from fifteen to eighteen months old, and he did not know any substantial reason why that state of things should continue. There were one or two matters to which he desired to call attention. In the first place he did not think that there had ever been an occasion before when this Vote was discussed in the absence of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. At the present time in consequence of a dispute which had arisen between the Home Office and the London County Council a very large number of women who were habitual drunkards and qualified to receive treatment under the Habitual Drunkards Act were being sent to prison instead of being treated under that Act It seemed to him to be little short of a public scandal that in consequence of this dispute there was not sufficient accommodation for the large number of women whom the magistrates of London would prefer to send to reformatories instead of prisons, if that accommodation were provided.


on a point of order, asked whether the hon. Member's remarks were in order and whether they would not be more appropriate under the Home Office Vote. He was afraid that he would not be able on this Vote to reply to the hon. Member's Questions.


said a large number of women were being sent to prison who would not go to prison at all if an arrangement was come to between the Home Office and the London County Council. He certainly thought that this question affected the Vote for prisons, because in case this provision was made the amount required in this Vote would be reduced.


I think that what the hon. Member is raising is a question of policy that does not come under this Vote.


said, that being the case, he would leave that point. Last session he pressed the Home Office to make two appointments. One of them was in regard to a woman inspector and the other was to appoint a woman as a member of the Board of Commissioners. The woman inspector was appointed, but the right hon. Gentleman declined to appoint a woman as a member of the Board of Commissioners. He desired now to press that question upon the notice of the Department. Unfortunately, the number of women criminals was increasing in this country, and he believed the same remark applied to most countries on the Continent. There was, therefore, all the more reason why the interests of women should be protected by having one of their own sex on the Board of Commissioners, which was the central body controlling prisons. The interest of women prisoners suffered from the fact that there was no one of their own sex on that Board. He wished to call attention to one aspect of the treatment of women prisoners. Anyone who had visited the women's side of a prison must have noticed the pitiable object which the women prisoners presented as regarded their clothes and their boots. It might be unreasonable to suggest that women prisoners should be measured for their clothes, but one would imagine that the clothes which these women wore might more closely approximate to the figures on which they were placed. It was not wise that the natural instinct of the sex to present a decent appearance should be so ruthlessly disregarded, and it did not tend to preserve or encourage the self-respect of the prisoners. One of the ladies who was recently put in prison, a Doctor of Medicine, wrote, in regard to Holloway Prison— There are some habits and arrangements in Holloway prison which are neither cleanly nor sanitary and which would not be allowed in any factory, and would be reported at once by the sanitary inspector. He was sure if a woman were appointed upon the Board of Commissioners the interests of women would be more carefully guarded than they were at the present time, and that was a point which he wished to press upon the Department concerned.

MR. TOMKINSON (Cheshire, Crewe)

said that he found in the Report of the year under notice in this debate that there were still in our prisons twenty-six cases of corporal punishment, sixteen in local and ten in convict prisons. Sixteen of them had been birched, with sentences varying from twelve to thirty-six strokes and ten were punished with the cat-o'-nine tails with strokes varying from twelve to thirty. The subject of corporal punishment in various branches of the public service had been a matter which had been contested for a good many years. They all knew the great struggle which had been made to obtain a reduction of this form of punishment, and finally its abolition, in certain quarters. Thirty years ago it was held that discipline in the Army could not be maintained without the odious punishment of flogging, and it was only within the last few years that that form of punishment had been finally abolished in the Army and in military prisons. The abolition of flogging, wherever tried, had been a success, and there was no one who would advocate a return to it in the quarters where it had disappeared. He asked the representative of the Home Office to say whether it would not be possible in time to get rid of the practice altogether. He noticed that in every case where flogging had been ordered the offences were against discipline. They had always been told that corporal punishment was necessary, and that without it discipline could not be maintained. He believed he was correct in stating that flogging in Irish prisons was absolutely unknown. He hoped that as time went on this method of punishment would fall more and more into disrepute.


drew attention to the wages of warders in the Metropolitan prisons and in the other prisons of the country. Though the Home Secretary alleged that there was now no grievance, he asserted, on the contrary, that there was still a substantial grievance existing in the wages and conditions of employment, especially of the assistant warders, in respect of their opportunities to get on the establishment and in their conditions generally. He would like to know whether something could not be done to remove the grievances of that very deserving body of men. He also drew attention to the case of a warder who had been injured by a hammer stroke on the head in subduing a gang riot in Wandsworth Prison. The man had been laid aside from duty for some months, and now as the result of that injury, he was utterly incapable of performing any kind of work. He was sure all Members of the House would be surprised to hear that the Home Secretary had declared that no compensation was to be given to him. Some slight compensation had been mentioned, but it was out of all proportion to the serious injury which the man had suffered. He wished to know whether it would not be possible to reconsider this matter with the view to something being done for the unfortunate young man.


joined in the regret that had been expressed as to the absence of the Home Secretary. As the Committee were aware, certain functions connected with the visit of M. Fallières made it difficult for some Ministers to be as regular in their attendance at the House as they were accustomed to be. His right hon. friend had, he thought, never previously been absent during the discussion of this Vote, and hoped that the Committee would excuse his unavoidable absence on this occasion. Complaint had been made about the date when the Report on Prisons was issued. If the calendar year were substituted for the financial year in the date of the Report the House would suffer rather than gain, for it could not be presented to the House until later in the session. Either the discussion of the Vote would have to be postponed to a late period, which would not be an advantage, or else the Report in their hands would be that for two years previous, and would not be even so up-to-date as it now was. With regard to the treatment of women in prisons, the Committee would be pleased to remember that the present Home Secretary had in the last year carried out a great reform in the appointment of a woman prison inspector. The outcome of her investigations would, no doubt, be a considerable improvement in the details of prison administration so far as the female population was concerned. He was not sure that his hon. friend was wise in suggesting that the clothing of female prisoners should be made less unattractive. In view of the fact that the female prison population was increasing a more attractive, or less unattractive, dress was, perhaps, hardly to be desired. The allegation of a prisoner who had been to Holloway in connection with the suffragist agitation, that the sanitary state of that prison was not satisfactory was entirely unsubstantiated. The Prison Commissioners and inspectors took pains to secure that the sanitation of our prisons should be as perfect as it could be made. He had visited a considerable number of prisons throughout the country and he had been impressed by the almost apalling cleanliness of the prisons, the depressing spotlessness which characterised them. There was a marked distinction between the appointment of a woman Commissioner and a woman Inspector, but the question of appointing a woman Commissioner would receive his right hon. friend's consideration; he would not pledge himself that that consideration would be favourable. His hon. friend the Member for Crewe had again brought forward the question of flogging in prisons. The twenty-six floggings in prison in 1906 which had been referred to were a reduction on the number in the previous year, when there were forty-three. The hon. Member had stated that floggings were inflicted for offences against discipline. It was possible that some Members of the House who were not acquainted with the details of prison administration might not be aware that the offences for which flogging could be inflicted were of the gravest character. It should be remembered that the offences for which flogging could be inflicted were very grave, and were only three in number—mutiny, incitement to mutiny, and grave assault upon a warder. Flogging could not be inflicted on the order of a governor, but only by order of the board of visiting magistrates, who had to hear evidence on oath and the prisoner in his own defence. The sentence had to be submitted to the Home Secretary.


Was it not natural for a prisoner to attempt to escape?


said he hardly thought that in ordinary attempts to escape the prisoner was ever punished by flogging, but he would make inquiry. The cases of flogging were very limited and the infliction was carefully safeguarded. He wished to disabuse the minds of hon. Members that floggings were frequently inflicted for trivial offences. His right hon. friend was of opinion that, in view of the class of people committed, it would not be safe at the present time to deprive the warders of this protection. The position of warders had been improved in many particulars. The position of the London warders, however, was still under consideration. Later in the session there might be something to be said with regard to them. In the case of the injured warder referred to, it was disputed that he owed his incapacity to any assault made upon him. There was no riot. Medical examination had followed medical examination in this case. Six doctors, he believed, had once investigated the case, and their Report was unanimous that there was no reason to believe that the warder owed his incapacity to assault, and that there was no valid claim against the Treasury. An important improvement had been made in prison administration during the last twelve months. It had long been the rule that a remission of a portion of the term for which a prisoner was sentenced could be earned by good conduct and industry; but the application of the rule had been limited to persons in penal servitude or serving a period of at least six months imprisonment. The Home Secretary had made a new regulation reducing the period from six months to one month, so that now all persons sentenced to a term of imprisonment exceeding one month—and they formed an enormous proportion of the number of prisoners—were able to earn a remission. That afforded these prisoners an inducement, hitherto lacking, to be well-behaved and industrious, and it contributed to a reduction in the amount of the Prison Estimates owing to a large number of prisoners being released at an earlier date. Three years ago the Prison Estimates amounted to £775,000; this year the amount was only £720,000.

MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)

said that he regretted the absence of the Home Secretary, although the House was to be congratulated that the right hon. Gentleman had had so good an understudy and so extremely capable a representative of the Home Office in the person of the hon. Member for Cleveland. The question of flogging in prison had been raised. He thought that in this twentieth century that method of punishment should be entirely abolished from our prison system. The Under-Secretary had stated that the number of floggings had been reduced from forty-three in 1905 to twenty-six in the succeeding year. He did not know whether the Committee were to infer from that that the number of floggings was excessive in the former year, that they were larger than they ought to have been, or that more enlightened views were taken in the succeeding year, and that a number were therefore dispensed with. If the latter were the case, why not dispense with flogging altogether and substitute some other mode of punishment? Only on the previous day the Home Secretary had introduced a Bill which must have given pleasure to all prison reformers, on account of the humanitarian ideas which inspired it. He could not help hoping that that was an indication of the attention which was being paid by the Home Office to the general question of prison discipline, and that the more enlightened methods adopted in America and in some European countries in regard to prison rules and discipline would be thought out. A great many hon. Members had been very much shocked at the sentences passed at the recent assizes at Cardiff, where a large number of grown men, with a good deal of human capacity, were sentenced by, the Judge to the degrading punishment of flogging. He had long felt that flogging was a brutalising method of punishment, not only to the victim, but even more to the man who unfortunately was called upon to inflict it; and in his judgment, brutalising to the community and to the nation at large. He did not believe that they would drive out crime and wrong-doing from any individual by the aid of the lash. Yesterday's Prison Bill was not the only indication which they had had in the present Parliament of the existence of a more humanitarian spirit in our prison legislation. Some of them had been engaged for a number of days in thrashing out the details of the great measure for the protection of children, which had been taken charge of so ably by the hon. Member for Cleveland. There were signs that the conscience and the feeling of England towards individual items in it were becoming more tender and humanitarian than they used to be. He did not want to encourage crime, but he believed that wrong-doing might be got out of any man, and that such a man might be led into right courses, by other means than this ancient and brutal method of punishment. The Under-Secretary seemed to think that the appointment of a woman inspector during the past year was a sufficient substitute for the appointment of a woman Prison Commissioner. A year ago some of them had endeavoured to persuade the Home Secretary to include the female element in the Prison Commission, and it seemed to him that, considering the wide duties and the responsibilities undertaken by the Prison Commission, it was extremely desirable that the woman element should be introduced into that body, and he hoped that they would also have that reform by-and-bye. He was glad to find that the question of the condition of the warders and their discipline was being very carefully watched by the prison authorities. Only the other day a complaint had been forwarded to him of things going on in a great prison in his constituency, and amongst the authorities in the prison, which were not quite right. He knew that the servants in a prison were very liable to internal jealousies and favoritism, which might lead to unjust and unequal treatment of those under them. He had mentioned this matter privately to the Secretary to the Home Department. He hoped in next year there would be further reforms and the entire abolition of flogging.

MR. WARDLE (Stockport)

asked whether the right of association enjoyed by every workman in the country would be granted to the warders of the prisons. Up to the present time he believed the right had been denied. He desired to know whether the limitations which had been to some extent removed had been found to work properly, and whether the warders were now allowed fully and freely the right of representation. He also desired to ask a question as to the hours of warders. From the Return supplied by the hon. Gentleman, it seemed to him that the hours were too long; but he further understood that the Return did not cover all the facts. He was told that the warders in Dartmoor prison had been on duty as long as seventeen hours at a stretch. If that were so, then that condition of things ought not to be allowed. The warders should only be on duty a proper number of hours, and if necessary they should work in shifts, other warders being engaged for the purpose.


said that one of the improvements effected by his right hon. friend had been to allow the warders under proper conditions the right of association for the purpose of ameliorating their conditions. With regard to their hours steps had been taken to reduce the hours and the Treasury had recently increased the prison staffs in order that there should be a sufficient number of warders to prevent the continuation of the overtime that had existed.

Vote agreed to.

4. £28,781, to complete the sum for Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow; Committee sit again To-morrow.