HL Deb 30 July 1838 vol 44 cc760-71
The Marquess of Lansdowne

, in moving the third reading of the Juvenile Offenders' Bill, said, that he wished to correct a statement which he had formerly made respecting the number of children lost or abandoned in the town of Manchester. He had stated the numbers correctly, according to the police returns, but the inference which he had drawn was incorrect, for the number of children returned as lost or abandoned included the whole number every day in the year; and, consequently, it was not to be inferred, that that immense number was the actual number of children permanently lost or abandoned; for the fact was, that a great number included in the returns were afterwards claimed by their parents and returned to their homes.

Bill read a third time.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, that he was desirous before the bill passed of calling their Lordships' attention to it. The subject was one of great interest and importance, and he was ready to admit fully that the object of the bill was in every respect laudable. Its object was to have a separate prison for offenders under a certain age; and nothing could be more desirable than that offenders of that class should be enabled to avoid that influence and example, which were found to be prejudicial to their morals, when they were kept in the same custody with the general class of offenders. Looking at the preamble, he found, that part of the object of the bill was to reform and instruct juvenile offenders. The object, therefore, was highly laudable, and in proportion to the importance of the object was the importance of considering the manner in which that object was to be effected; but he did not find on the face of the bill, nor in the statement of the noble Marquess, either today or on a former occasion anything which could give them any insight into the system which was intended to be pursued. In the first place, however, he wished to remark, that the observations of the noble Marquess with regard to the town of Manchester were founded in a total misapprehension; the fact was, that there were scarcely any instances of children being lost or abandoned there. A humane regulation existed in the town, by which the police took any children whom they found wandering to the nearest police station, that parents might know where to claim them; for this purpose they were taken there; and though it was true, that in that manner upwards of 8,000 had been found within the last four years, still he understood that all of them, with the exception of a single instance, had been claimed and had returned to their parents. Now, considering the importance of this subject, he submitted that there ought to be, either on the face of the bill or in the statement of the noble Marquess, some explanation of the course which was intended to be pursued. If they intended to adopt anything like the separate system, he protested vehemently against it; but further, there was a principle now introduced for the first time in this bill, to which he very strongly objected. In all the prisons of this country whether county gaols, houses of correction, or penitentiaries, a system of inspection was established, which had been of the greatest public benefit. Nothing was so liable to abuse as imprisonment, sometimes from negligence, sometimes from indifference, sometimes from cruelty, sometimes from passion, and therefore the law had wisely provided for the strict inspection of all the gaols of this country. By the 31st of George the 3rd, visiting magistrates were appointed, who were bound to inspect the prisons three times in every quarter, and individual magistrates had the right of inspecting them at any time. That system had been found to work very beneficially; and it applied to all the prisons of England, with a single exception, and that exception was the Penitentiary at Millbank, which the magistrates had no right to visit, and which did not come under their jurisdiction; but so anxious was Parliament on this subject, that a committee had been appointed by the Privy Council for that purpose. Now, what was the principle which was attempted to be established for the first time by this bill? That no magistrate should have any right to enter the juvenile prison, which was to be liable to the inspection of no one but the individuals appointed by the Government, and in the pay of the Government. It would, perhaps, be said, that there was already persons appointed as inspectors of prisons; but they were appointed by the Government, and dependant upon the Government; and as the existence of their offices did not interfere with the visiting power of the magistrates in regard to other prisons, he protested most strongly against the principle which was sought to be established. He knew some noble Lords considered this bill an experiment, which ought to be made on the responsibility of Government, and that that responsibility would be diminished if they admitted the magistrates to have any control or influence in the management of this prison; and he admitted, that it was an experiment which should be made on the responsibility of the Government; but how were they to know in what manner the system worked, and with what success it was attended, unless some persons were allowed to witness its operation besides those who were dependent on the Government and favourable to their views? Another point which rendered this inspec- tion still more important was, that the governor was to have the right to inflict corporal punishment: it was true, the Secretary of State was to lay down certain regulations, but who was to apply them? The nature and extent of that corporal punishment was left in the breast of the governor, for anything that appeared to the contrary. For these reasons he submitted, that the general rule ought not to be departed from in this instance, but that the visiting magistrates should be required to report either to the bench of magistrates, if the noble Marquess pleased, or to Parliament, or to the Secretary of State, from time to time, upon the success of the system. He had said, that if the separate system of punishment were to be adopted for the reformation, instruction, and improvement, of juvenile offenders, he protested strongly against it; and why? He had had his attention drawn to this subject by being a member of a committee of their Lordships, which sat early this Session; and he would advert to the separate system established in the Penitentiary which was then examined. He did not mean to make any charges against any individuals or body of men connected with that prison, for he believed that the persons superintending the Penitentiary were persons of great humanity, and discharged their duty well and faithfully; but his objection was to the system; and he would state the instance of one of the persons to whom that inquiry before their Lordships extended—he meant the case of Matilda Seymour. She had been instigated by her mother to commit a trifling theft, and her mother received the goods which she stole. Both were tried and convicted; and the mother was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and hard labour, which consisted, he believed, in being kept at the washing tub. The child was sentenced to be transported; but her sentence was commuted into a sentence of imprisonment for three years. That child was scarcely an object of punishment; at the most she was about ten years of age, and she had acted at the instigation of her mother. Accordingly, it must be said, by way of defence, that the sentence was not intended as punishment, but for her reformation and instruction. She was sentenced to the Penitentiary for three years for her improvement and reformation. But if the Government undertook the reformation and improvement of chil- dren, it should establish a different system from that pursued in the Penitentiary—a system entirely different from the separate system. What was the evidence of the resident governor himself? He had said, that the system was not generally applicable to children; and Mr. Russell, another governor, had expressed the same opinion, even in stronger terms. Was he not right, then, in saying, that if the Government undertook the reformation and instruction of children, they ought to establish a different system? Some exercise was necessary for the preservation of health; but what description of exercise ought it to be? Merely putting one leg before another was not sufficient for a child. The exercise ought to be of every kind and variety; every part of the body ought occasionally to be brought into activity; and at the same time the mind should be employed to render the exercise beneficial, Their Lordships, assenting to these observations, would be surprised at the kind of exercise which was allowed to this child, who was put there not for punishment but improvement. For half an hour in the morning, she was allowed to walk in single file round a small yard, enclosed by a high wall; and if the weather permitted, for half an hour in the afternoon. That was all the exercise she was allowed in the twenty-four hours. Again, he had made a calculation of the average number of hours out of the twenty-four during which she was shut up by herself in a cell not much larger than that table. If they added together the hours for attendance in chapel, for instruction, for washing, and for walking, the amount would be twenty hours in the week, or less than three hours each day; so that this child, not more than ten years of age, was to be confined for twenty-one hours out of the twenty-four during three successive years, in a cell not larger than that table; and in order that the child might derive no instruction from without, the window-cills were so high as to prevent her from looking out, and there was that child kept for twenty-one hours out of the twenty-four—not kept there for punishment, but for the reformation of her morals and the improvement of her mind. Was he wrong, then, when the Government was presenting a bill respecting the imprisonment of juvenile offenders, to call their attention to these matters, and to urge the necessity of adopting a different system? There was a beautiful passage of a French author, St. Pierre, in which he spoke of the impression produced by external objects on the mind of a child, and of the manner in which the young mind gradually expanded under the influence of those impressions: but here they had acted on a directly contrary principle; they acted on the principle of shutting out all external sources of improvement from the mind of the child, and of barbarising and stupifying its mind. He hoped, therefore, the noble Marquess would have the kindness to tell them, that a system of this kind was not intended to be established under this bill. The beautiful lines of their great epic poet, afforded almost a literal description of the situation of that child placed under the cruelties of that system:— Thus with the year Seasons return; but not to me returns Day, or the sweet approach of eve or morn, Or sight of vernal bloom or summer's rose, Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine; But cloud instead, and ever-during dark Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair Presented with a universal blank Of nature's works to me expunged and rased. Almost literally did these beautiful lines apply to the situation of that child. The effect of the confinement had been this—that in a short time she was afflicted with scrofula, and the medical man had said that she would not recover as long as that confinement was continued; and he had further said that scrofula and consumption arising from confinement, were the prevalent diseases of the establishment. Would she not have been better if she had been allowed to walk in the garden of the establishment? Undoubtedly she would; but then the strict rules of discipline would have been broken. He had called their Lordships' attention to this matter for the purpose of mentioning the evidence of the Chairman at the Middlesex Quarter Sessions (Mr. Sergeant Addams), who was a member of the Children's Friend's Society. What was the evidence of the learned Gentleman? Why, that in that society they acted on a principle directly the reverse of that adopted at the Penitentiary, that they allowed the children to associate together, they indulged them in all the amusements of childhood, that they treated them with great kindness, and that the effects that that system produced were perfectly maryellous. One child, who had experienced the benefits of that system, had expressed his gratitude in these natural terms:—"You have changed me entirely, and I love you all." Why had he called the attention of their Lordships and of the Government to these subjects? For the purpose of inducing the noble Marquess to tell them what system it was intended to adopt in the prison regulated by this Bill. He called on the noble Marquess to give that explanation, for, if it were intended to adopt the separate system, he desired to enter his protest against it; but, if, on the contrary, the noble Marquess meant to say that the more benevolent and wiser system acted upon by the Children's Friends' Society were that which he proposed to introduce, he would heartily join with him in pressing forward this measure, which only proposed to do that which ought to have been done much earlier. Whatever that explanation might be, he had merely done his duty in calling the attention of their Lordships to the subject. The noble and learned Lord then moved the insertion of certain clauses providing for the appointment of visiting magistrates, who were to inspect the prison three times every quarter, and to report on its state from time to time.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

was glad of the opportunity of giving an explanation on the points to which the noble and learned Lord had alluded, and first he would notice the statement made by the noble and learned Lord in reference to his explanation of the returns from Manchester which he had cited on a former occasion; he had given the explanation nearly in the terms of the noble and learned Lord himself. He had said that which was confirmed by the noble and learned Lord, viz. that a great proportion of the children included in that return, had been reclaimed by their parents, but he had no authority to go to the extent of saying that there was scarcely any exception. But now he again reverted to that statement as bearing out his argument, that in great cities there must constantly be a vast number of children freed from the care and control of parents, and that that was the class which supplied the materials out of which arose that tremendous increase of crime amongst children, which it was their Lordships' province to check. The noble and learned Lord had proceeded to express doubts as to the character of the remedy which was to be applied, and he had rather unnecessarily argued before their Lordships that which was admitted by the Government and all persons who had attended to the subject—that a new system was necessary to be introduced. It was surely unneccessary for the noble and learned Lord to use so much of his eloquence to prove that common prisons were not the places in which either male or female children should be confined. The noble and learned Lord had referred to an inquiry into the cases of certain children in the Penitentiary, and he had told them that the result was that even in the opinion of the best officers connected with the administration of that prison, they were not proper places for juvenile offenders. The noble and learned Lord might have added, in the particular instances inquired into, such was the care, the vigilance, the attention paid to those children, that though they were necessarily restricted to obey the peculiar rules of discipline established there, they stated themselves to be without complaint, and to be comparatively happy; and especially with regard to the particular case of Matilda Seymour. By the care and attention which had been paid to her she had been placed in a situation to earn her own livelihood; she had received various kinds of instruction, and had been rescued from a woman from whom she would have learnt nothing but depravity. It was nothing new to condemn the system of prisons, as inapplicable to the cases of children, and that was the very groundwork of the present bill. The noble and learned Lord had referred to a society of which he had been a member for several years; he had presided at its meetings, and he had observed the operation of its system to be most beneficial; but the noble and learned Lord should have stated that these establishments were confined to children wandering about, not having actually committed any crime, because the society had no authority to receive children convicted of any offence. It would be, therefore, rather unfair and illogical to suppose that precisely the same results should attend the operation of that system in the case of children already in some degree hardened in crime. The noble and learned Lord had asked him whether a system different from that adopted in the Penitentiary were to be introduced. Why the whole object of the measure was that it should be different. But did he state that for the first time? As almost doubted whether the noble and learned Lord had attended to him; because he had formerly stated that the object of the Bill was to introduce a system totally different, and he had adverted to a document in explanation of that new system, which, if the noble and learned Lord had read, it would have given him complete satisfaction. The first thing he found in that document was, that a system of separation was not applicable to children; the commissioners said that they did not advocate the application of the separate system generally to young children, though for very short periods that species of disciple might be necessary. That was the document to which he had referred a fortnight ago as forming the basis of this bill. As to air and exercise for this particular prison, no less than eighty acres of land were to be provided for the purpose. Most beneficial results had been produced by the Society of the Refuge for the Destitute, of which he was chairman, which afforded a better example than the Children's Friends' Society, inasmuch as they would receive convicted children. It might be interesting to their Lordships to know that at this moment there was a considerable tradesman in a neighbouring town who was an arrant thief when ten years old, and had been taken into the Refuge for the Destitute, and there taught the trade which he now followed, he had nine apprentices, some of whom came from the Refuge for the Destitute. He objected to the clauses proposed by the noble and learned Lord, because they introduced the authority of the local justices of the county in which this prison happened to be situated, though the prison itself had nothing to do with the country. It was a national prison, subject to the inspectors of prisons, who were under the control of Parliament; and it was placed he believed, on the same footing with the Penitentiary, and all similar national establishments, independent of the local authorities. All that he wished was, that whatever authority the noble and learned Lord proposed to establish, it should be an authority of a central nature, that it should report to the Government or to Parliament should it be preferred, and that it should be under the control of the Government as well as of the Parliament. The other amendment provided, that a child escaping from confinement should be liable to punishment. Now, he had no doubt that when a child so circumstanced was brought back to the place of confinement the original punishment to which he was liable would revert, and consequently there was no reason to introduce that clause. There were various degrees of offence and penalty, and he thought it would be more uniform if the original punishment should revert in the case of such parties than that they should all be subject to one particular punishment for having escaped, and that this punishment should be fixed without reference to their various grades and degrees of guilt.

The Earl of Chichester

looked upon the bill which was now before their Lordships as a most important, wise, and salutary measure; and he had always considered it to be the fulfilment of a promise made two Sessions ago by the noble Marquess who had just sat down, in reply to some questions put to him by the noble Duke (Wellington) with reference to some children tried and convicted at quarter sessions. He had fully considered the subject of the noble and learned Lord's amendments; and it was his conviction that these prisons could not be subjected to that constant and vigilant superintendence which was so necessary to their well being, if they were left merely to the inspectors of prisons. He had recommended to the committee which sat upon the subject of prison discipline to appoint a board expressly for the purpose of inspecting and superintending these prisons, with inspectors acting under their authority, and representing to them correctly the state of the different prisons. At the same time he would not interfere with the authority of the visiting justices, whose advantageous local influence he should be most sorry to dispense with. It was, at the same time, however, most important, that the prisons should be visited by regular official inspectors; he certainly did not think that this was a matter to be left to the Secretary of State, who had so many other important matters to attend to. He would suggest, that a certain number of persons should be appointed at Quarter Sessions to the duties of this inspection of which they should report the result to the Secretary of State, sending also a copy of the report to be laid before the next Court of Quarter Sessions. He could not help thinking, that the publicity given to these reports would be productive of the utmost advantage. He would move, that the existing prisons for juvenile offenders, and any others which might be hereafter erected for the same purpose, should be referred to this board, of which he had spoken. He was most anxious that this experiment should succeed, and he hoped, that it would be extended, in that case, to other classes of criminals. From all that he had seen, he was more and more convinced of the unsatisfactory character of the secondary punishments now inflicted. He earnestly hoped that some system of penitentiary discipline might be adopted; and he hoped that his noble Friend the noble Marquess might before long propose to their Lordships some measure of this kind. The noble Earl concluded by proposing an amendment to the first clause, to the effect that two or more visiting justices be appointed, who should personally visit and inspect the prisons at least three times in each quarter of a-year, and should make a report once in each quarter of a-year to the Secretary of State; and that a copy of such report should be sent to the clerk of the peace; provided always, that such visiting justices should be empowered, at all reasonable hours, to visit and inspect the prisons, and to make a report upon any abuse to the Secretary of State whenever they deemed it necessary.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, that if the noble Marquess would assent to this amendment, he was willing to withdraw his own, in order that the noble Earl might propose his. He only wanted some proper and independent persons to inspect the prisons, and report thereon to the Secretary of State.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

would not object to the appointment of persons by the Privy Council for that purpose; nor did he object to any species of observation emanating from the public generally, and not from the particular county.

Lord Portman

wanted independent persons to be appointed. At the same time he thought that any justice ought to have the power of inspecting these prisons, and he should therefore submit to his noble Friend's consideration an amendment to the effect that any justice of the peace, acting for any county in England, should be allowed to enter into and examine such prisons as often as he thought fit, and if he discovered any abuses therein, he should be required to report them to the Secretary of State. He thought that this would secure that additional inspection which the noble and learned Lord and his noble Friend the noble Earl seemed to have agreed upon, and he thought it expedient that every justice should have the right of inspection. He hoped, that their Lordships would study the third report of the inspectors of prisons, than which no more valuable document had been laid on the table of that House for many years. He hoped the noble Marquess would turn his attention to the establishment of some general prison, where persons incarcerated for a long term of imprisonment might be removed, and where some corrective system might be applied. He would put his amendment in the hands of his noble Friend the noble Marquess, and would beg him to consider it.

Lord Brougham

objected to the practice of making material amendments in a measure after the third reading of the bill. He thought it would be better to postpone the debate on this subject to a future day.

Debate adjourned till Thursday.