HL Deb 24 March 1835 vol 27 cc155-64
The Duke of Richmond

wished to ask whether it was the intention of Ministers to propose any measure for the amendment of Prison Discipline throughout the country, so that one uniform system of discipline should be observed in all gaols; for if such were not their intention, it would then become his duty to move for a Select Committee on the subject, to inquire into the state of prison discipline, and to report their opinions thereon. Their Lordships could not forget, that in the course of the last Session his noble Friend, who now held the Privy Seal, had introduced a discussion on a Motion of a similar kind, when he moved that an humble address should be presented to his Majesty, praying him to appoint a Commission of Inquiry. The question was then discussed at some length, and the arguments as to the propriety of such a measure were fully gone into. The arguments in favour of the course he now proposed were stronger than those which his noble Friend had urged in support of the Motion for a Commission, for their Lordships had now the advantage of the Report of the Gentlemen who had been sent by Government to examine the prison discipline of the United States of America. He had never been an advocate for long or severe imprisonment for offences, but he thought, that some principle of uniformity ought to regulate the system; and if a particular mode of imprisonment had been found beneficial in some places, he did not see why it should not be tried in all. There certainly should not be a severe punishment in one gaol, and a very lenient one in another. Yet such was the fact at the present moment: and how was this evil to be remedied without an inquiry, and without a selection of the best mode of discipline, and a recommendation, be that mode what it might, that it should be adopted throughout the country? It was their duty to endeavour to Reform those individuals who violated the law of the country. The punishments of such persons should be calculated not only to Reform them, but to deter others from the Commission of the like offences. But would any man be bold enough to say, that the system now in operation throughout the country would have any such effect? The Returns now on their Lordships' Table showed that no such effect was produced. Let them apply to the keepers of the gaols in different parts of the country, and ask them whether they did not know, that men who at first went into prison comparatively innocent were, by the present system, returned upon their parish with increased power of mischief, and with more depraved dispositions than before. He pressed for this inquiry with no party feeling; but he really thought, that the time was arrived when the Legislature ought to direct its most serious attention to this subject. He was convinced, that if this was not speedily done, and if the mischief was not specifically provided against, still greater mischief would rapidly and inevitably ensue. He should not detain their Lordships longer with any suggestions of a particular plan as to the selection of gaols, solitary confinement, more frequent gaol deliveries, or the establishment of intermediate tribunals, at which minor offences were to be tried; neither should he say anything on the subject of economy. All those different means could be fully discussed in Committee, and he felt sure, that some good plan might be provided, or at all events, that the matter could not be worse than at present. He thought, that a better time than the present for the prosecution of these inquiries could hardly present itself. Under these feelings, he should move that a Select Committee be appointed; and in making the Motion, he should take the liberty of availing himself, as far as possible, of the very words used by his noble Friend, now holding the Privy Seal, in the Motion of last year. He therefore moved "that a Select Committee be appointed, for the purpose of inquiring and reporting on the present state of the gaols and houses of correction in England and Wales."

Lord Wharncliffe

agreed most fully with what the noble Duke had said, as to the necessity of inquiry into the present system, and was not prepared to retract one word of what he had said last year on the subject: but then there was a difference between what he then moved for, and what the noble Duke now desired—namely, that he had moved, not for a Committee of that House, but for a Commission, to inquire into the state of the gaols, for the purpose of establishing a new and uniform mode of imprisonment. It was right, that their Lordships should know what had been done since that Motion had been made. The noble Viscount, then at the head of the Home Department, had ordered Esti- mates to be prepared as to the expense of fitting up the prison at Dartmoor, where the French prisoners had been confined, for the purpose of knowing what it would cost to put into operation an experimental mode of confinement that might be there tried, such as was adopted in the United States. The noble Viscount afterwards became the head of the Government, and before the end of the Session the House of Commons voted a sum of money for the purposes of that experiment. Some step, therefore, had already been taken on the subject. He agreed with his noble Friend, that the time had arrived when the Government ought to resolve on adopting one course on the subject; and he assured his noble Friend, and their Lordships, that, without more delay than was absolutely unavoidable, Government would take this subject into consideration. If, therefore, his advice was followed, there would be appointed, not a Committee of that House, but a Commission, consisting of one individual or of four, who might be sent to visit every prison in the United States, and to collect all the information possible—to look at every thing, and report thereon to the Government, so that these Commissioners might know from their own observation the actual state of facts, and have the means of putting them down, and declaring from their own observation what in all those prisons appeared the best state of discipline for the prisoners. All these things they ought to report to the Government. Having these impressions, he must suggest to the noble Duke whether it would be necessary to have a Committee of the House of Lords on this subject, and whether, in fact, a Committee would be the best means of conducting the inquiry. It seemed to him, that it would not; and as he believed, that an examination of witnesses would not be the most satisfactory mode of proceeding, he should object to the Motion of the noble Duke. He could assure their Lordships, that the Government had not lost sight of the matter, but that Ministers were prepared to do what might be found to be the best in the way of introducing a new or a different system of prison discipline, such as should he most likely to be effective for the prevention of crime, and the punishment of those who had committed it. The Government was now ready to take the best measures for procuring information, and for laying that information before Parliament. He must confess, that he had a great ob- jection to hasty legislation on this subject. The prison laws which had been recently enacted, were enacted after some, but not sufficient, information had been obtained; and he believed, that instead of good they had done a great deal of harm. He therefore recommended his noble Friend to withdraw his Motion, and to leave the matter in the hands of the Government.

Lord Brougham

considered, that a Commission would be of great advantage to the end they had in view. A Commission sees with its own eyes, hears with its own ears, and has the opportunity of examining into the various methods employed in different prisons; but yet he was a little in doubt, that it would by no means be necessary to have a preliminary inquiry for a somewhat different object in a Committee. His noble Friend had suggested general matters, and general principles, and an inquiry into those should be made among persons who never would be examined by a Commission. Commissioners could examine into what was actually done in gaols; but he expected from a Committee a more general inquiry than that, and one not less important than the examination into prisons. He would expect to see examined before that Committee persons who had applied their minds to the subject of secondary punishments. He hoped such persons would be examined; and that the inquiry would embrace that most important investigation, the efficacy of secondary punishments. He was always of opinion, that the Legislature was wrong in only altering capital punishments, as they had already done in so many cases, and were prepared to do in others, without providing a better system of secondary punishments. It was with this view, that his noble Friend, then the Secretary for the Home Department, with his entire concurrence, had adopted the plan which had been referred to. He thought, that the Committee should be intrusted with an inquiry into secondary punishments, with those of a severer nature, and with the amendment of prison discipline. An inquiry, by all the means which the Committee would have, must not only be calculated to be of great advantage, but it would also prepare for the local inquiries, and the details of the Commissioners. He could not help suggesting to his noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond) before his Motion was granted, that he did not see how it was possible to enter upon the subject of prison discipline, and yet omit that which was important, secondary punish- ments. It was wise to make a distinction between persons who were not tried, and those who were convicted. Amendments might be made in the one case; but in the others, where the capital punishment was removed, the guilty should suffer in such a manner as to deter others from the Commission of the same crime. He defied them to separate the two questions—prison discipline and secondary punishments. This subject had been considered much elsewhere. When he had the honour of a seat in the other House of Parliament, he had heard it very much discussed, and yet he never heard of any one who dreamed of severing the subject of secondary punishments from prison discipline. He did not see how in the course of inquiry they were to be left apart. As a Committee was absolutely necessary to prepare for a Commission, he considered it not the less necessary to have discussion. Though he did not complain of the few observations made by his noble Friend, yet the subject required a more extended discussion. He did not think that a Committee of that House could effect much good upon this subject, unless the attention of the House was previously directed to it. He confessed, that when they were not overburdened with business, it would be a great advantage if his noble Friend had deliberately discussed a subject not yet sufficiently mooted there—upon which there had been no enlarged view taken, but which was generally brought on in snatches, in the same manner that their present conversation was conducted. It was as if they were resolved to give the subject of capital punishments the go by, and never would say a word upon the subject of secondary punishments at all. But he took his share of blame for this—he was waiting until the return of the Commissioner. He believed the Report of that Commissioner was in part presented. He now made these few observations to show that he was not abating in his zeal and interest upon the question of capital punishments, and also that of secondary punishments to be substituted in their stead.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, that still he considered that a Commission would be better than a Committee. His noble Friend had proposed to take the words of his (Lord Wharncliffe's) Motion, but how did that Motion run on?—"And also on the rules and discipline therein." This was not mentioned in his noble Friend's Motion; yet it was most important. Now, it was manifest, that men who saw and examined into these prisons would be better fitted to form an opinion on them than their Lordships, who merely examined evidence on the subject, and who sent for the gaolers to tell them what was the discipline existing in their prisons. The Motion then went on—"Whether sentences could properly and effectually be put into execution, and whether any and what alterations appeared necessary in the government of such gaols and houses of correction, or in their construction, in order to ensure uniformity of punishment throughout the whole." These were all matters better capable of being examined into by a Commission than before a Committee; and if his noble Friend pressed his Motion, he should oppose it.

The Marquess of Salisbury

said, that if the Government appointed a Commission, he hoped it would be with powers sufficient to sift the matter to the bottom. He was understood to say, that he was in favour of a Committee, but hoped that his noble Friend would postpone his Motion for a few days, to see what the Government intended to do.

The Duke of Buckingham

thought that all points as to the effect of prison discipline and also a knowledge of what the law really was on that subject, were matters that ought to be ascertained; and he thought that they could not be ascertained better than in a Committee. The clerks of the peace might be called before their Lordships, and full information obtained on this subject, so far as this country was concerned. He did not object to a Commission, and he should like to see what the Government would do; but if his noble Friend pressed the Motion, he should certainly vote in its favour.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, that he entertained the same opinion which he had expressed last year—namely, that it was the duty of their Lordships to constitute one, if not both these modes of inquiry. If they were to institute both, then, in his opinion, the Committee should precede the Commission. There was a great deal of evidence already prepared on the subject—there was a detailed Report on the state of our prisons—there was a Report on secondary punishments—and, lastly, there was the valuable Report of the Gentlemen who had been sent by the Government of his noble Friend (Earl Grey) into the United States—a Report containing not only a most full, able, and satisfactory ac- count of the prisons of that country, but a comparison of them with those of this country, and a statement of their relative effects, and for that purpose introducing a most able, and, as he was informed, accurate view of the state of the prisons of England. In his opinion, therefore, their Lordships were now in a state to consider what circumstances were essential to produce an effective system of prison discipline. He was consequently in favour of the appointment of a Committee, and if a Committee did no more than recommend a perfect assimilation of discipline in all the gaols of the country, a very good object would be attained. At present, while the system of discipline was different in each prison, their Lordships, in awarding a certain term of imprisonment for any offence, were legislating in the dark, and could not tell what was the amount of the punishment they were inflicting, for that would depend not so much on the mere length of the term of imprisonment, as on the will, he would not say the caprice—for he believed that the power was honestly and fairly exercised—but on the will and the difference of opinion of different Magistrates, under whose authority these gaols were placed. There was at this moment such a variety of punishments, caused by these means, that of the number of persons undergoing hard labour, he believed the amount varied from ninety in 100 to twenty in 100; so that the chances were equal whether a man should undergo a severe pnnishment or not. It was the same thing with respect to the diet of prisons. The comparative expense of different prisons varied extremely. In one, the expense was at an average about 1s. 6d. per week, in another, it was 3s. 6d.; a difference greater than could be accounted for by the different price of provisions in different places. So that it clearly involved the question of a different mode of treatment of the prisoners. He was, therefore—considering all the means of information now possessed—in favour of the appointment of a Committee, which he thought might be most usefully employed in this investigation.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that if he had been aware that it was intended to introduce any discussion on this subject, he should have come down better prepared upon it. In his opinion the Motion of the noble Duke went exactly to those points which could be best inquired into by a Commission. It seemed to him that a most material distinction had been lost sight of in this discussion, and that was the distinction between prison discipline and secondary punishments. In his opinion, prison discipline was the ordinary state of discipline of a prison applicable to all the persons who were confined in it. Secondary punishment was the punishment they underwent while confined there. It was necessary that this latter should be well understood before the House proceeded to legislate in any manner on the subject of secondary punishments, and they must see if the statutes now existing would enable the Magistrates to inflict a secondary punishment. He did not think that the inquiry into prison discipline ought to be taken before the inquiry into secondary punishments. He certainly preferred the inquiry by Commission in the present instance, and thought it would be more effective than the other mode of a Committee.

The Earl of Roden

conceived that a Committee of that House was preferable to a Commission, and he thought that their Lordships could not be better occupied than in investigating such subjects.

The Duke of Richmond

replied, that he had not introduced this dicussion with a long speech, because he was not so fond of making long speeches as the noble and learned Lord, but if the House would grant him the Committee, and would appoint the noble and learned Lord upon it, he would promise, if necessary, to listen to the noble and learned Lord from ten o'clock in the morning, when the Committee first met, till the hour of their rising. His reason for proposing to have a Committee appointed to take the subject into consideration was, that he did not wish that any time should be lost. If the Committee were now appointed, something might be done during the present year to resist the evil which must be notorious to all, the increase of crime—an evil which, if not checked, would probably extend to a still more frightful amount. The noble and learned Lord objected to the Committee because the object of it did not include the consideration of capital punishments, that was a subject quite different from that which he (the Duke of Richmond) had in view. He wished another evil to be removed: and he certainly had not made a speech on capital punishments, when his object was only to improve the discipline in our prisons. At the present moment, he believed, that there were not, in the county of Middlesex, any two prisons in which the discipline was exactly the same. Surely that was a subject upon which the Committee might Report, so that a uniform system in all the prisons in the country might be adopted.

Lord Brougham

said, that he did not complain that his noble Friend's (the Duke of Richmond's) speech was too short, by any manner of means: what he complained of was, that the object of the Committee was too limited. With regard to the noble. Duke's offer to place him on the Committee, and allow him there to make long speeches, and expound his ideas of capital punishments, if he chose, from ten in the morning till five in the afternoon, he could assure his noble Friend that any noble Lords, whoever they might be, would be relieved of any such annoyance, as he (Lord Brougham) had something else to occupy his time from ten in the morning until five in the afternoon. He was engaged between those hours in attending to the judicial business of their Lordships' House. He would not give his views on the subject before any Committee. He would take an opportunity, when it suited his convenience, of bringing the subject of secondary punishments before their Lordships; and he would then make just as long or as short a speech as he chose, or as their Lordships chose to listen to. But he should not ask his noble Friend's opinion as to what the length of the speech should be. His noble Friend might make long speeches in his Committee, but he (Lord Brougham) would make a motion upon the subject of secondary punishments, in his place as a Peer of Parliament; for he considered the subject one of sufficient importance to occupy the attention, not only of a Committee, but of their Lordships' House. He held opinions upon the subject which he wished to state in his place in Parliament, and he would not state those opinions either in a speech before a wrangling Committee, nor by giving evidence before it; but he gave notice that in his place, as a Member of Parliament, he would bring forward a Motion upon that part of our criminal law which regarded secondary punishments.

The Duke of Richmond

said, that the noble and learned Lord might indulge in as many sarcasms at his expense as he chose, but that would not prevent him from doing that which he considered his duty. He was quite aware of the noble and learned Lord's great experience on the subject to be submitted to the consideration of the Committee, and he regretted that they should not have the benefit of the noble and learned Lord's assistance. He had given notice of the Motion which he was about to make, and the extent to which he wished the inquiries of the Committee to go. He would allow neither the noble and learned Lord, nor any other person, to make him the subject of sarcasm. He knew the noble and learned Lord well.

Lord Brougham

appealed to their Lordships whether they had ever known any person to have been more unjustly attacked—more unjustly dealt by, or treated than he had been by his noble Friend. Who had begun the attack? Was it not the noble Duke himself who had begun it? Was it not the noble Duke who commenced the sarcasm? All that he wished for was, that the inquiries of the Committee should not be so limited, as his noble Friend proposed; and did not his noble Friend get up, and in a tone which was certainly intended for sarcasm—it might not be sarcasm, but it was intended as such, and had the effect intended—for he observed that it created a laugh—a grin upon their Lordships' countenances—not at the expense of his noble Friend, but at the expense of the unfortunate individual who was the object of the attack—did his noble Friend not get up and say that it was unnecessary to delay the appointment of the Committee; for if he (Lord Brougham) wished to have an opportunity of making long speeches upon the subject of secondary punishments, his noble Friend would put his name upon the Committee, where he might have an opportunity of making as long speeches as he chose—where, as the noble Duke said, he might make speeches from ten o'clock in the morning until five in the afternoon—almost from sunrise until the setting of the sun? It was his noble Friend, then, who had attacked, and he (Lord Brougham) had merely defended himself. He considered, therefore, that his case was one of extraordinarily hard treatment on the part of his noble Friend. It was an instance, too, of the greatest forgetful-ness on the part of his noble Friend, not to remember who was the first to make the attack. His noble Friend, when he chose, was by no means forgetful—no one had a better memory—but this was an instance of marvellous forgetfulness, for which he could not account. His noble Friend certainly first attacked him, and he had merely defended himself.

Motion agreed to, and Committee appointed.

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