§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £8,500, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1913, for the salaries and expenses connected with the County Courts."
§ Mr. PETO
I beg to move the reduction of the Vote by £100. The particular part of the Vote to which my Amendment refers is the charge for the conveyance of prisoners committed to prison. Although it shows a reduction on the original Vote, I claim that a very considerable additional expense has been incurred. That additional expense is directly chargeable on the Estimates on account of the action taken by the late Home Secretary in closing the prison at Devizes. The reduction ought to have been very considerable had it not been for the administrative action of the late Home Secretary who closed the prison in January, 1911, except in respect of prisoners committed for trial, and those only of the male sex. I am bound to take this opportunity to point out what are the disadvantages as regards the public interest of an arrangement which, I presume, was entered upon with the view to economy and convenience in the administration of the law. I am informed that it is greatly to the disadvantage of prisoners, and particularly poor prisoners, to have that prison closed. The small saving supposed to have been effected is really no saving at all, because there is immense cost, besides inconvenience which sometimes amounts to the holding up of the County Court altogether, if prisoners have 214 to be brought from Shepton Mallet or Winchester by special messengers. Sometimes the chief warder has to give evidence with regard to the mental state of a prisoner. Prisoners are placed at immense disadvantage by not being able to consult their legal representatives or to get counsel to defend them owing to distances they are sent. In the case of female prisoners that is a serious obstacle in the administration of the law. It is obvious that if we are to have the smaller prisons in the rural districts closed on the sole authority of the Home Secretary, and if such questions cannot be raised in the House, hon. Members interested in the poorer class of the population will have no opportunity—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is calling attention to the action of the late Home Secretary. It is not in order to deal with that on the Supplementary Estimate as it did not arise in the current financial year at all.
§ Mr. PETO
I am bound to say the question could not be raised at the time because nobody could tell what the effect of the order would be upon the cost of conveyance of prisoners until it had been a certain time in operation. It was a mere question of detail exactly how long ago this prison was closed. This is the first opportunity of raising the question. It would not have been reasonable to raise the question unless I was prepared to bring substantial evidence that the cost had increased, and therefore it was a mistake to close the prison at all. It is universally agreed, not only in the district itself, but in the surrounding country, that it is a grave disadvantage from almost every point of view. I very much question from the evidence before me whether there is any real economy. Certainly it is a great disadvantage in the administration of the law. So unless I can receive a satisfactory assurance from the Home Department that very considerable economy has been effected I shall feel obliged to press this matter.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I am not at all sure that the hon. Gentleman has substantiated his statement as to whether this sum was a saving, and that in the original estimate for this year £900 is included as a saving in respect of the closing of the prison at Devizes. I am not at all sure when it was closed.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
In that case I should think that no part of the saving could be included in the Estimate for 1912–13, and, therefore, it is totally out of order to discuss it on the Supplementary Estimate for this year. But if the hon. Member wishes to go into the matter bonâ fide I am reluctant to interfere with him. He did not tell me that he was going to raise it, and I have no particulars on the subject. I will convey the statements which he has made to my right hon. Friend and see that the question is looked into in the light of the criticism which has been given us to-night.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.