§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Gulland.]
§ Mr. LYNCH
The prison system of this country is an unhappy compound of modern benevolence and archaic brutality. The benevolence is tepid, insipid, tentative, but the brutality is full-blooded, and retains all its pristine vigour. That is the main reason why, at this time of day, we have this state of affairs, that a man in London breaks a window and in two months is driven insane. That is the whole text of what I have to say to-night. There is the question, which has been mooted, of predisposition. That is a very important question, and it has been answered variously by the Home Secretary. In his first reply he said that, so far as his memory served him, there was no predisposition at all, that there was nothing in the prisoner's conduct at the time of his admission which would lead a medical officer to think that he was not of sound mind. Two days afterwards the Home Secretary changed his mind, and then found that the prisoner had a predisposition to insanity, and he made the remark, no doubt intended to be humorous and which made the House laugh, that prisoners, like a great many other people, sometimes became insane at certain periods of their lives. That is a perfectly true proposition, which applies to all, to Members in this House as well as to prisoners, and which no doubt applies even to a Minister of the Crown. And since the Home Secretary altered this in aphoristic form I will reply with another aphorism: A brain, like an aeroplane, may fall from a moderate height as well as from the clouds. The question of predisposition is important for this reason, that if there was a taint in the man's mind prior to his imprisonment, it would require very little prison to upset the balance. But, after all, there are only three great causes of predisposition to insanity. One of these is heredity. In the 1318 case of this prisoner that would be entirely excluded. His family history is not only good, but, as is shown by the letter which has been read out, exceptionally good. Another cause is alcohol. That, according to the inquiries I have made, can be eliminated in this particular case. The third is a specific disease which is rarely alluded to in this country, though not on that account less prevalent. That, also, can be entirely eliminated in this case. Therefore here was a man, perfectly normal, who entered prison quite sane, and within two months he was driven mad. That is an extremely serious state of affairs, and one which requires to be investigated to the very bottom. It involves not merely this case, but the whole prison system, and this case should not be allowed to drop until the matter has been entirely sifted and until we find what is radically wrong with our prison system. As far as I know prison warders they are humane men. So far as I know, prison doctors are very humane men, and I believe that the general tendency of prison management is towards humanity. I blame, not the prison officials nor the Home Secretary, but the prison system under which it is possible for a man to enter one of the prisons of London and within two months be driven mad. I have eliminated the great cause of insanity—predisposition. If a man has no great predisposition to insanity, it requires very exceptional treatment to drive him off his balance. I have known men receive worse treatment and for longer periods than this man has been declared to have received and retain their sanity. In a case where a man is driven mad there must be something exceptional in his treatment. It requires very exceptional stress to drive him insane. I think we ought to see what was the treatment meted out to this unfortunate man. At the time of his committal, and for some time afterwards, he was supposed to be in his usual health, although during that time he was forcibly fed. There was afterwards a rapid decline in the state of his health, and during that brief period his wife was not communicated with. No change whatever was made in the prison system, and if there is anything in the plea of the Home Secretary that the man was predisposed to insanity that was a therapeutic reason why it was necessary to relax the prison rules, because you were not dealing with a sane man, but with a mental patient. I would like to call the attention of the House to 1319 the human side of this distressing case, because it is an exceedingly unfortunate tragedy that a sane man should be driven insane in this way. Victor Hugo has a story of which the title is Une tempête sous un crâne—a tempest under a skull. Picture that poor man in prison! Just imagine the tempest that is under the skull of that unfortunate man who feels his reason tottering. Every time the door opens he sees the enemy enter, or one who comes in the guise of an enemy to torture him, and during that month the poor man is struggling to retain his reason, yet the enemy enters day by day and no relief comes. I should like to say one word also about his wife who sees her husband hale and strong enter the prison. The next she hears is that that man has been driven out of his mind. That man she sees enter the prison is the breadwinner, the mainstay of the family, and she finds in less than two months that he has gone out of his mind. I hope that the Home Secretary will remember the human side of the case, that he will utter some words of sympathy, that he will hold out some hope of compensation, and that he will give us to believe that the whole matter will be investigated.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. McKenna)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken asked for some word of sympathy with regard to Mr. Ball. I need hardly assure him that nobody can be familiar with the facts of Mr. Ball's case without having full sympathy. But the question now before us is not the natural sympathy which we have with Mr. Ball, but whether or not the prison treatment which he has endured has been inhuman. That is the gravamen of the charge made, and I will endeavour to reply to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), last night, as well as the hon. Member who has just spoken. I might remind the House that, with the exception of perhaps the first two days, Mr. Ball was in hospital the whole time he was in prison, and the language used about the door closing upon him and the relaxation of the prison rules does not, in fact, apply. The question is whether he was medically treated with humanity while in hospital. Before entering into that I have something to say on the quasi-legal argument addressed yesterday by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley. My hon. Friend alleged that a prisoner sentenced to hard labour 1320 must be sentenced either in the first, second, or third divisions, and that therefore the regulations made by my predecessor last year apply equally to prisoners sentenced to hard labour as well as to other prisoners. In answer to that argument I must refer my hon. Friend to Section (6), Sub-section (1) of the Prison Act of 1898, which provides:—Prisoners convicted of offences, either on indictment or otherwise, and not sentenced to penal servitude or hard labour, shall be divided into three divisions.It is perfectly clear from that language that a prisoner sentenced to hard labour is not included among the categories of prisoners sentenced in the first, second or third divisions. The consequence obviously is that the regulations made last year apply only to prisoners sentenced in one of these divisions and not to prisoners sentenced to hard labour.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
Is the Home Secretary prepared to make these regulations apply to prisoners sentenced to hard labour?
§ Mr. McKENNA
If I were to do so I should be overriding by my Ministerial action the intention of Parliament as expressed in an Act of Parliament, and I have no right to act in that way. It is quite clear from the Act that there is no power in any Minister to avert under a general rule the conditions of hard labour. What the Home Secretary can do is in every case after conviction with sentence of hard labour is to consider it on its merits, and he can remit the sentence of hard labour, but he cannot deal under general regulations with sentences of hard labour before they are given.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
Are prisoners convicted with sentence of hard labour for these offences which involve no moral turpitude to have the benefit of the regulations?
§ Mr. McKENNA
I must not for one moment be understood to admit for a moment that in a case of sabotage, whatever the political motives may be—
§ Mr. McKENNA
Breaking windows and violent destruction of property, whether it be a coal mine or whether it be breaking a window, differs only in degree, and I am 1321 not prepared to admit, where a responsible person commits violent acts of destruction of property, that that prisoner is not morally guilty. I am not prepared to admit that as a general statement. I recognise that there may be individual cases in which there is no personal moral guilt, but it must not be assumed that because a prisoner pleads that he was actuated by political motives that therefore he is not to be found morally guilty whatever acts of violence he may commit.
§ Mr. McKENNA
In the first instance it is not for me to apply the rule. It is for the magistrates; and I have to consider in every case what the evidence was before the magistrate which made him come to the conclusion that he should give a sentence of hard labour instead of a sentence in the second or third division, and no general rule ought to be laid down by any Home Secretary in advance of the decisions to be given by the magistrates in each individual case. In the case of Ball no representation whatever was made to me to reconsider his case. Had application been made to me I should have considered it on its merits as to whether it was a case in which sentence of hard labour ought to have been given. No such application was made to me; in fact it never came before me from that point of view. Now comes the question of the treatment in prison while he was in hospital. Here again I cannot agree with those who think that where a prisoner refuses to be fed, refuses to take food, that that prisoner should be discharged. That is the view of the Noble Lord opposite. I cannot assent to that. It would mean a general gaol delivery on the expiration of four or five days. I cannot see any reason why any prisoner should be allowed to have control over his or her sentence because the prisoner chooses to break the prison rules. Therefore I think we must get our minds clear on all those points. Mr. Ball's case is a very sad one. There have been charges made that his treatment in prison has not been governed by the ordinary rules. I have, myself, upon all the evidence I have been able to examine, perfect confidence in the action of the Prison Commissioners and the officers concerned in this case. I am so confident that I am more than willing to grant my 1322 hon. Friend's request to institute an inquiry. I am perfectly satisfied that the result of an independant inquiry by an independant medical man, who may be appointed not by the Home Office, but, I suggest, by the Royal College of Physicians, will show that there is no ground for the fears and suspicions and alarms suggested with regard to Mr. Ball's case. I am quite convinced that the result of such inquiry will prove that there is not the slightest foundation upon which a charge of inhuman conduct can be brought against the prison officials.
§ And, it being half-past Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock.