HL Deb 25 May 1835 vol 28 cc45-6
The Duke of Richmond

said, as he found that the evidence taken before the Select Committee, on the subject of Prison Discipline had not been delivered to their Lordships till that morning, he should postpone for a few days the consideration of the subject of which he had given notice. But he should take this opportunity of saying that he was most anxious to make a proposal to his noble Friend at the head of the Government, which, if acceded to, would be of great advantage to the country at large, and would be most satisfactory to all those who had directed their attention to this subject. Every one was now ready to admit, that the Gaol Act required amendment, and he believed that their Lordships agreed with him that that task would be best undertaken by the Government. The Government had greater facility than any Member of the House, and his proposal, therefore, was, that the Government should, without loss of time, introduce a Bill for the amendment of the 4th Geo. 4th, c. 64, commonly called the Gaol Act; that that Bill should enact one uniform system of prison discipline, for every gaol and house of correction in the kingdom; that the rules of the gaols, which had heretofore been submitted to the Judges of Assize, should in future be submitted to the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and that there should be an authorized person appointed inspector of prisons. He should then propose to refer that Bill to the select Committee on Prison Discipline, which Committee, from the attention its Members had already bestowed on the inquiry, and from their having visited most of the prisons, would be the best judges of the amendments that would be required in it. The motive which had induced him to recommend humbly, though strenuously, this course was, that he felt it to be almost impossible for any person, whatever might have been his career in life, to be imprisoned, under the present state of our prisons, without injury to his morals. The Committee of the House of Commons in 1831–2, had acknowledged the existence of these evils, and had recommended that measures should be forthwith adopted on the subject. He trusted, therefore, that his noble Friend (Lord Melbourne) would accede to his proposition. He was sure that that was the best course, and the right one; and that if such a measure were carried, it would remove one of the abuses and grievances which, in his opinion, they could not, consistently with their duty, allow another session to pass over without endeavouring to remove. The course he proposed would enable the Parliament to legislate this Session upon the subject, and to get rid of an evil which he considered a positive disgrace to the country.

Viscount Melbourne

said, that although he had not read the evidence which had that day been circulated among the Members of their Lordships' House, yet from all the knowledge and experience he had on the subject, he so entirely concurred in the recommendations of the Committee on the grounds stated by the noble Duke, and so strongly did he feel with him that there should be some effort made without further delay to change the present system, that he had no hesitation to pledge himself, on the part of the Government, to promise their Lordships that he would lay on the Table, a Bill in accordance with the Resolutions of the Committee. The subject was one of some difficulty, but the Bill should be presented as soon as the materials could be digested and prepared.