§ The EARL of SHAFTESBURY,
on moving that their Lordships should resolve themselves into Committee on the above Bill (on recommitment), said, that if they would be good enough to give him their attention for a very short time, he thought he would be able to show them that it was a measure worthy of their fullest and most serious deliberation. The Bill was intended to consider and remove one of the prime causes of the crime which prevailed in town and country, and more especially in the large towns and cities—to open a new career to thousands of your juvenile population—to spare the nation the disgrace of this enormous mass of juvenile delinquency, and ourselves the pain, and he might say the peril, of its adult life. Now, such a policy as this, desirable and important as it was at all times, was indispens- 1203 able in the present day, when, as he believed, they were about to abolish the system of transportation, either altogether or to a very great extent. One of two courses must be adopted. It would be necessary to restrain our felons with greater severity, or to do something to reduce their numbers. But the country appeared to him to be quite weary of speeches, of pamphlets, and of Select Committees on the subject of secondary punishments, and he thought it would be well to see if they could not introduce some measure to meet the end in view, and to check this growing evil. The class of children brought under their Lordships' consideration, and contemplated in the present measure, were not to be considered actual delinquents, but as those who were, so to speak, ante-delinquents— as those who were placed in a state in which it was almost inevitable they must become so, by their parents or by those who had the care and custody of them, thereby forming the seed-plot of half, nay, almost all, the crime perpetrated in the realm. He thought it might be safely affirmed and easily proved that two-thirds of all the crime in this country took its first commencement in the early years of the perpetrators, showing that, if they had been trained in the way they should have gone, they would not have departed from it in their old age. He thought he could show, further, that of the causes of this juvenile delinquency the first and greatest were the parents, the next society, and that, last of all, and least, were the culprits themselves whose case was before the House. He held in his hand a very remarkable paper, which clearly illustrated the rise and progress of the criminal class in the kingdom. It was a table which contained the statements made by ninety thieves now living in one institution, and it might be regarded as being in some measure the record of their past lives. Without entering into the minute details of the document, it would be sufficient to state that sixty-two of these began to thieve when under fifteen years of age, and that fifty began to thieve when between twelve and sixteen. He believed, indeed, that if an inquiry was instituted into the general state of that class, in any part of England, and over any surface, it would come to the same result, and that it would prove crime almost always commenced in the earlier period of the culprit's life. That view was much confirmed by the answers given to him by 100 of the city missionaries and ragged school 1204 teachers in reply to a question which he put to them. He had been anxious to ascertain how far their experience proved that crime commenced at an early period of life, and he had, therefore, asked them this question:—"How many lads do you estimate are there who, having lived honestly up to the age of twenty, afterwards fall away, enter upon vicious courses, and turn out criminals?" And the answer he had received from every one of these 100 gentlemen was, "Not two in a hundred." That was the experience of 100 gentlemen conversant particularly and practically with that class, who gave it as their opinion— the result of long experience; and this was a manifest proof that childhood was the seedtime of crime, and, that if they wished to remove children from temptation, they must either abate the noxious influences to which they were exposed, or remove the children from its reach; and it showed very clearly, as he thought, and in the most forcible manner, that if they protected the early years of the child, principle, good sense, experience, and habit would protect him in his maturer life, and that it was but the ill-trained and neglected child that grew into the desperate uncontrollable man. There was not one of their Lordships who could have failed to see a large number of children at all times of the day or of the night, mischievous and neglected, wandering in the streets and localities of the metropolis—whether they were increasing, were diminishing, or were stationary, was little to the purpose—statistical returns would, on this subject, be very difficult to get, and, after all, might prove fallacious; but no one could say they were not more than they ought to be, and that they should not be reduced. Children of this class might be divided into two great divisions—the mendicants and the vagrants. Of these the mendicants held a higher rank—first, because they had a certain semblance to a profession, and appeared to belong to one, too, which had its grades, honours, and emoluments; and, secondly, because the mendicant might, by assiduity in his calling, rise to the dignity of belonging to the begging-letter department, than which there could be nothing more lucrative, profligate, and comfortable; and he begged to say that the noble Earl opposite, the First Misister of the Crown, had few things to give away more really enviable, more comfortable, or more profitable than the post enjoyed by the real begging-letter writer; and that he knew 1205 from persons who were well acquainted with them, who saw them going out to their business, and saw them returning home to dine on the fat of the land, and on all the luxuries of the season. Successful mendicancy, too, required a great deal of cunning, experience, cleverness, and ingenuity. There were many tricks practised which required much experience and art before they could be attempted. One boy told him he never received so much money as by putting on rags, assuming a melancholy face, and then standing before the door of a cook-shop, and gazing into it with wistful looks. Their Lordships might easily imagine what a source of vice, fraud, and deceit, such a life must be. The vagrants came next, and made up the whole seedplot of crime of that great metropolis, which furnished such an abundant crop for our magistrates, our gaols, our hulks, our prisons, and transports, and gave them seven-tenths of their occupants. These children might be considered in another light. Many of them were orphans; some had only one parent; some had both. Very many of them were driven from home, and turned into the street by the ferocity of their step-parents; for, remarkable it might be, but most true it was, that there was no cause of vice, misery, or suffering, more common than the domineering temper of stepmothers, who would not allow their step-children to remain in the same house with them. Some of these children were turned out from home and abandoned, and some were regularly trained up in habits of mendicancy; and it was a fact that there were artisans in receipt of large wages who were in the habit of turning their children into the streets early in the morning, forbidding them to come back till late at night, and telling them to live as they could on the exercise of their wits during the whole day. Now, all vagrants, from whatever cause they were such, were exposed to the greatest temptations. The history of the vagrants and mendicants of the metropolis was the history of the race everywhere; they might differ in numbers, but in principle and proportion they were the same; and they might infer, from the statements of any large town, the condition of any, or every other. Now, such facts as the following were very illustrative. The Rev. Mr. Clay, of Preston, whose excellence and experience were known to all the world, said, in quoting the testimony of a very practical thief—A third class, who were the dregs of society, 1206 form about 80 per cent of all professional thieves.…The whole of this class, with few exceptions, have been nurtured in crime from their cradles. Dirty, filthy, ragged, hungered, and neglected by their parents, they commence a petty career of pilfering.A city missionary had lately informed him (the Earl of Shaftesbury) that there were—In his district at least 100 families, where the parents daily send out their children with every species of smallware for sale—boxes, oranges, matches, &c.—giving them to understand, and acting on the advice they give, that nothing will come amiss, however obtained.This might be well illustrated by another statement of Mr. Clay, in his 27th report. Speaking of a family, he said—The parents, as is too usual, bestowed no moral nor religious care upon the children, who, in consequence, soon picked up bad companions, and thus gradually entered on a course of crime; at first the parents scolded, and gave good advice, but never hesitated to accept all that was offered to them of their children's ill-gotten gains; the mother encouraged and assisted practices which provided means for enabling her and her husband to live in idleness and luxury.Letters from all parts of England were received; one from Staffordshire said—A greater boon than the suppression of juvenile vagrancy could not be conferred.…The practice of sending poor children out to beg prevails most extensively in this district; vast numbers are daily despatched from the filthy lodging-houses, and spread themselves all over the surrounding villages.The report of 1852, from Newcastle and Gateshead, said—There is a considerable amount of the juvenile population exposed to the most demoralising influences; parental neglect and advice, utter ignorance, brutal intemperance, filth. Children growing up in such an atmosphere cannot be otherwise than criminal.Mr. Clay, in his report for 1851, said—There are hundreds of poor children in all great towns training up as thieves. The children are sent out in the morning with watercress, chalkstones, cocoanut husks, &c, and at night with firewood. The whole of these children are dirty, ragged, without covering to head or feet. They must bring home a certain sum or value, whether obtained by begging, selling, or stealing. Nothing comes amiss to them—anything, if left exposed…Many of the boys are only six or seven years of age.Evidence of this kind could be indefinitely multiplied, but it was surely needless to detain the House by longer statements of such things. It was very desirable, in cases such as these, to estimate, so far AS was possible, the numbers with which they had to deal. The imagination of mankind expanded very rapidly; it was astonishing what proportions a difficulty assumed, and 1207 persons were frequently deterred from undertaking a cause by the terrors of its apparent magnitude. He had heard this objection a thousand times; he would not say that he had ever felt it himself. He trusted, however, that it would not be allowed to prevail in the present instance. In the second report of Captain Hays, that gentleman said—The number of children 'at large' in the metropolis, and living in idleness without education, and apparently neglected by their parents, of the lower classes, who are generally in the receipt of wages, amounts, as near as can be ascertained, to 20,641 under 15 years of age.Now, this number, though large and perilous, is not any immediate concern. The total number, as stated by the police, of trained mendicants and vagrants, frequenters of lodging-houses, nearly, if not actually, is about 3,098; of these, without parents, 148; with parents able to maintain them, 336; with parents able to contribute to them, 1,770—making of children whose parents could maintain them, but did not, 2,106; the number whose parents sent them out to beg, and live in idleness and profligacy on their earnings, equal the remaining 844. This is confirmed by the testimony of a person engaged last year to perambulate the town, and examine the vagrants. He stated that of several hundred children traced to their homes, a very large proportion were of parents who could maintain them—"many earning as much as 16s. a week and upwards." He (the Earl of Shaftesbury) was assured by Mr. Serjeant Adams that it was the result of his judicial experience that "the ability of these parents to support their children was the rule, and not the exception." This was an important fact, because it showed the evil to be within compass, and, if it were so in the metropolis, it was equally so in all parts of England. It was worth while to verify the table by another important statement—one, too, on which great exaggeration had prevailed. He was desirous to ascertain whether the total number of professional, not occasional, thieves—he meant, of course, those who, having no other calling or means of subsistence, lived entirely by plunder— bore any proportion to the numbers of these juveniles. He found that it was so; and that in the metropolis the number of them was under 6,000, a crop not greater than might be expected from such a seed-plot; and, like the other, within the reach and compass of remedial legislation. The 1208 truth was, the number of offences stated in the returns did not show the number of offenders. The number of habitual offenders was far less than most people imagined; the heavy aggregate was made up by the repeated offences of the same individuals. This, while it showed how small a number might disturb the peace and shake the security of a whole community, proved also how reachable was the evil, if taken at its source. It was very difficult to restrain or reform 6,000 adult thieves, but it was not difficult to insist on the education of 3,000 children. Now, it was the concurrent testimony of every one, whether by written or oral evidence, before Parliament or in conversation, that such was the destiny of these children. Small as the number was, compared with the whole population, it was enough, if unchecked, to devastate and disgrace the whole kingdom. And where lay the fault? Was it not manifestly with the parents? The very statement would seem to involve the proof; but he would adduce the testimony of experienced persons; but, first, let us get rid of the notion that mendicancy and vagrancy and the beginning of crime were the effects of poverty —of the poverty, he meant, of the parents. It was no such thing. In the first place, the returns he had quoted amply snowed it. Mr. Clay asserted that his informant, a very practised thief, knew but one instance of actual distress as the cause of crime; the inspector he (the Earl of Shaftesbury) himself employed told him that he found the parents of about 200 earning 16s. a week and upwards, and as many more, quite capable of work, living in idleness and dissipation on the earnings of their wretched children. Now, was it not manifest that the parents were the true criminals? He knew nothing on which all testimony was so concurrent; it had passed into a proverb at all meetings and discussions—always asserted and never disputed—that we "should never do any real good until we should have a new generation of parents." The children were despatched with orders to bring back a certain sum of money. Should they fail to obtain enough, they feared to go home, and wandered about the streets for days and nights together. Well, then, see the temptations to which they were exposed. It appeared, from a return of some offences within the metropolitan police district for 1852, that the number of larcencies of goods exposed for sale was 1,479. Here 1209 was a very fruitful source of juvenile crime. Could it be otherwise? The neglect and carelessness of the shopkeepers were most reprehensible. Stealing from unfinished houses, 596; from carts or carriages, 211; linen exposed to dry, 228; by doors being left open, 1,912. Now, consider that these children were hungry, naked, untaught, without any moral sense or any definite ideas of meum and tuum, and all these opportunities placed before them! He had already stated Mr. Clay's opinion. Then came the penny theatres, the prime source of corruption, many a child having committed its first offence to obtain money for that amusement. It was unnecessary to set out these things in detail; they must be evident to every thinking mind. Now, the culpability of the parents could not be more truly and unanswerably exhibited than in the answers he received to queries submitted to 100 persons who had been professional thieves and misdemeanants. The questions he submitted were these—1. What is the cause of children begging in the streets? 2. Is the money appropriated to the use of the parents or of the children?He would given the answers in the writing of one, because it was a sample of the rest. To the first he replied—I believe the cause of children begging in the streets is on account of the parents being addicted to drink and to idle habits.To the second—The money is generally appropriated to the parents' use, to spend in drink and all sorts of debauchery.Now the only law by which they could reach this state of things was the Vagrant Act of the 5th Geo. IV., chap. 83, a brief summary of which he had taken from a digest by Mr. Parker:—Vagrant, Rogue, Vagabond—Section 3. Idle and disorderly persons committing certain offences herein mentioned, how to he punished:—Every person being able, wholly or in part, to maintain himself, or herself, or his or her family, by work, or by other means, and wilfully refusing or neglecting so to do, by which refusal or neglect he or she, or any of his or her family whom he or she may be legally bound to maintain, shall have become chargeable to any parish, township, or place; every petty chapman or pedlar wandering abroad and trading without being duly licensed or otherwise authorised by law; and every person wandering abroad and placing himself or herself in any public place, street, highway, court, or passage, to beg or gather alms, or causing, or procuring, or encouraging any child or children so to do— shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person within the true intent and meaning of this Act; and it shall be lawful for any justice of the peace to commit such offender (being thereof convicted 1210 before him by his own view, or by the confession of such offender, or by the evidence on oath of one or more credible witness or witnesses) to the house of correction, there to be kept to hard labour for any period not exceeding one calendar month.But this was not sufficient—it provided for a moderate punishment of the parents, but did not secure the peace and welfare of society by the better care and instruction of the child. We required, therefore, a power to take the child in such circumstances; a power to detain him or her for purposes of education, and to make the parents responsible for the maintenance and education necessary. This was what he proposed to do; and he found very general concurrence in this view. It seemed founded on justice and common sense; nor could he do better than produce a continuation of the evidence he before adduced. The questions proceeded:—What would be the most likely way to suppress begging and vagrancy?—To punish old offenders.What do you know about children being hired for the purpose of begging?—I have known of half-a-crown a day being given for the hire of one child.What is your opinion of a fine being inflicted on the parents?—It would be the best means of suppressing mendicancy.Would they be able to pay it?—In some cases they would.What sum of money can they gain a-week?— I have known children getting 3s. a-day.
said—Truly something must be done to make the parents themselves sensibly, if not painfully and penally, alive to the conviction that society ought not to submit, and will not submit, to the consequences of their conduct.Well, then, they had come to the conclusion which few would gainsay, that the source of nine-tenths of the juvenile delinquency, and through that of adult crime, were the parents of the children. Why should we not, then, come unanimously to another conclusion—no longer to deal with results, but to attack the causes; not to filter the stream, but cleanse the fountain, and lay hold of the parents themselves? Various remedies had been tried and been found ineffectual, and so they would ever be so long as they continued penal and reformatory, and wanted an anticipative and preventive character. Now the Vagrant Act, which gave considerable powers to the magistrate, did not confer the powers precisely wanted—a slight addition was required; and on that addition the whole difference, if any, would arise. They wanted the power to supersede the autho- 1211 rity of a corrupted and corrupting parent— to place the child in a safe place of education, and make, at the same time, the parent responsible for all charges. This was no new principle; it had been asserted at various times, and specially in the case of Mr. Long Wellesley. Here was the legal language on that occasion, heard and assented to by Lord Chancellor Eldon:—It cannot be denied that the Court has authority to control the legal rights of the father, if the welfare of the infant renders its interference necessary. If a father is abroad, or purposes to send his children out of the jurisdiction—if their continuance under his care and custody is likely to prevent them from being brought up in a manner suited to their expectations in life—if he is addicted to habitual drunkenness or blasphemy— if their moral or religious principles are likely to be injured by living with him, or under his superintendence—in such circumstances as these the Court has never hesitated to exercise its jurisdiction. In the present case, the infant plaintiffs are designed to fill important situations in society; in the right formation of their character is involved the welfare of many others besides themselves.But how much stronger was the case here. The whole argument in the Wellesley case turned on the welfare of the child, on its right to education, on a fit preparation for its place in society, and on the duty of rescuing it from the influence of immorality and blasphemy. However much they might deplore such things, and desire the welfare of all these children, they made no such demand on the ground of their personal rights. The law sought for was grounded on the wants and rights of society, which prayed to be delivered from nuisances that endangered its peace, poisoned its morality, drained its pockets, and altogether impeded its healthy progress. These children were knowingly and pertinaciously brought up, not for their own ruin only, but to be pests to all mankind; and it was a monstrous perversion both of language and fact to say, that to take from these parents such a power was to deprive them of anything they had, or ought to have, by the laws of God, or by the ordinary principles of human justice. There was no distinction between nuisances such as these, and nuisances which were indicted, because a man was not to use property to the peril of his neighbour. Surely, parents who persisted in this course must be considered to have abdicated the functions of parents, and surrendered their right to some other authority; they disregarded every obligation of civilised and uncivilised life; they were neither Christians nor heathens; they were 1212 not men, nor even savages, but beasts. They had renounced their proper functions, nor could these functions be resumed, unless some competent tribunal should have previously inquired and given its assent. But though they had renounced the functions, they had not renounced, for they could not do so, the responsibilities of parents; society might, in self-defence, take the custody of the children, but society was not summoned to discharge the parents of the burden, and give them the ease they desired for indolence and debauchery. Now, on the power of detention, as demanded by the Bill, the necessity must be manifest. These evil and godless parents, having no object but their indulgences, would claim the children the very instant at which they could again be rendered servicable in the streets and alleys. A very striking case occurred under his own eyes, and might be taken as an illustrative instance of the whole system. A lad who had been discarded by his parents fell down with a fever on the steps of a house. A gentleman who was passing by had him conveyed to the Fever Hospital. The fever was a godsend to the lad. In the hospital he was placed under the care of his excellent and able friend, Dr. South-wood Smith. The kind Doctor had brought the case under his notice for the purpose of inquiring whether there was not some refuge in which the lad might be placed. He knew of one, into which the boy was introduced. The boy remained in the refuge until he was about 13 or 14 years of age, when he certainly was a most towardly youth, exhibiting great mental and bodily improvement. After he had been in the institution some time, his mother presented herself at the gate, and demanded that her son should be restored to her. Such cases frequently happened. He fortunately happened to be in the refuge at the moment, and resisted the woman's wishes. He found her a drunken, dirty person, and perhaps he went beyond the law, but he succeeded in frightening her by a threat of prosecution for neglect of her child. He mentioned this instance to show, in the first place, how the parents endeavoured to recover their children as soon as they could be made serviceable instruments, and also to prove how easily the children could be trained to good purposes. It would have touched their Lordships very deeply if they could have witnessed the agony in which the lad clung to the teacher and the other lads in the place, imploring that 1213 he might not be sent away. At this moment the lad was in the receipt of very large wages in a very respectable situation in Nottingham; and he no sooner was in this situation than he sent for his mother, took her to his home, and that woman was now as respectable a person as could be found in the neighbourhood of Nottingham. Many such instances would occur if such a measure as he now asked for were passed. What was said on such a state of things by our brethren in the United States of America, who were quite as much as ourselves sticklers for liberty and individual right?—The law permits some things, and compels some things. It permits a man to select his own occupation, religion, and mode of life; it compels him to respect his neighbour's occupation, religion, and rights. But how is it with his own children? It compels him to support them, to furnish them with raiment, food, and shelter; it permits him utterly to neglect their training and occupation. It compels him to be responsible for their acts, until they shall attain a certain age; it permits him to suffer them to become vagabonds and culprits. It compels him to provide for their physical necessities; it permits him to allow them to grow up in idleness and vice; compels him to provide for the body that shall perish, permits him utterly to neglect, nay, worse, to deprave the spirit that shall live for ever. If the parent, guardian, or master of the child is intemperate, incompetent, or indifferent, the law should take their place, and sec that the child is properly trained. If they are avaricious, and desire to speculate for gain out of the tender bones and sinews of the child, to the entire neglect of its mental and moral culture, and the debasement of its character, the strong hand of the law should restrain that avarice, and enforce the child's just rights.Was not the whole principle contained in the ancient Saxon law of frankpledge? Could they desire for the present case stronger and more constitutional precedents than those set forth in the earliest times? He found the case well stated in Miss Carpenter's excellent book on juvenile delinquents, in a quotation from Mr. David Power, Recorder of Ipswich?—Wherever a number of persons, "he says," are gathered together, so as to form a community, whether in a village or a town, it is their Christian duty to take care that none of their younger members are growing up untrained, and, therefore, in circumstances to become criminal; and if such be their duty, the consequences of its breach should fall on those who commit it, and upon no others.…Our ancestors were wiser in their legislation in this respect. By the old law of frankpledge, the existence of which has been traced nearly to King Alfred's time, the freeholders of a tithing were sureties or free pledges to the king for the good behaviour of each other; 1214 and if any offence were committed in their district, they were bound to have the offender forthcoming,In all his private communications he had heard but two objections stated by persons in authority, and they were not to' the principle, but to certain details of the Bill. It was urged, in the first place, that workhouses were not houses of detention, and that they ought not to be, in any way, considered as prisons. In the second place, it was urged that the accommodation would be neither proper nor sufficient to meet such a pressure of fresh inmates. Now, to the first, it might be replied that it was detention, not of the person as a prisoner, but against the demand of the profligate parents, who would seek, as in the instance quoted, to recover possession of their children for the worst purposes. To the second, he would reply that, for so good an end he would incur some slight hazard, believing that the means would be easily adapted to the events—-the district schools would alone, these being a union-charge, suffice; but he was convinced, from the most minute inquiry, that nothing of the sort would occur. It had been seen that the parents were, in almost all cases, able to sustain their children; they might depend upon it that the terrors of this law, after two or three convictions, would cause the removal from the streets of two-thirds of these mendicant children; the numbers really taken into charge would be very few—very few, indeed; and, even though they were many, it would be a wise economy, for it would cost far less to educate a child as a Christian, than to punish him as an established felon. But he might add here, and he rejoiced that he had the permission to do so, the full approbation of several of that zealous and intelligent body—the police magistrates of the metropolis. In the principle and object they heartily concurred; a few of them only had suggested some slight alterations in details. He must strengthen his case by the quotation of their names. They were—Mr. Henry, Mr. Trail, Mr. Paynter, Mr. Long, Mr. Corrie, Mr. Brode-rip, Mr. Tyrwhitt, Mr. Bingham, and Mr. Hammill. He had reserved them to the last, because he considered their authority as the best winding up to the arguments he had adduced. Never could they have a more favourable opportunity. The Lodging-house Act was clearing out these sinks of iniquity and abodes of vice; the increasing demand for labour and increasing wages 1215 were taking away the slight pretext for mendicancy and almsgiving. The police were never more active and experienced, nor the magistrates more watchful and zealous. "Now was the accepted time— now was the day of salvation." It would be a happy undertaking to maintain, not only in principle and in argument, as we had hitherto done, but also in execution, a measure which avoided all talk of penalty upon mere children, of reformatories, houses of correction, and prison discipline for juvenile delinquents, which was one altogether of mercy and prevention, and which, by the blessing of Almighty God, would anticipate in a great measure both the gaoler and the hangman. The noble Earl concluded by moving that the House go into Committee on the Bill.
§ House in Committee.
§ On Clause 1,
The LORD CHANCELLOR
said, he thought the words "any child," were too vague! There ought to be some definition of what was meant by a child.
§ The EARL of SHAFTESBURY
said, that he had taken the Vagrant Act as his model, and that Act contained no definition of a child.
heartily concurred in the object the noble Earl had in view, but he thought the language which had been employed in framing the Act was very loose. It was impossible to tell what was meant by a child. Why, Childe Harold was a child. Then, no provision had been made for those children who had no parents or guardians, or whose parents or guardians it was impossible to trace. They would, in effect, be sentenced to perpetual imprisonment. If the Bill remained in its present shape, although he concurred in its principle, he should be bound to say, "Not content" to the third reading, for it would be impossible that it could work if it were placed on the Statute-book.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
also objected to the working of the clause, providing that the child should remain in the workhouse until an order should be made upon the parent or guardian. He was sure that the objects which the noble Earl and the rest of their Lordships had at heart, would be defeated rather than promoted by the passing of the Bill as it now stood. He should suggest that it should now be reported pro formâ in order that it might be amended and recommitted.
said, he entirely 1216 approved of the object of the noble Earl, to whom he was extremely grateful for the statement he had made, which must have removed all the doubts that might have existed in the minds of their Lordships on the subject; but he also felt the weight of the objections which had been stated by his noble and learned Friends. The last objection, he thought, might be removed by the addition of the words, "or any person having the care of the child." He thought, also, that the effect of the Bill would not be to sentence some children to perpetual "imprisonment," as the Lord Chief Justice had stated, as it was only detention in a workhouse. It was obvious that some definition was required of what was meant by a child; but this might be given by a statement as to age. He thought the best course would be to adopt the recommendation of his noble and learned Friend, and recommit the Bill, in order to remodel it. He was strongly impressed with a sense of the immense and incalculable importance of this subject. The system of juvenile mendicancy was, in fact, at the root of nearly all the miseries of society in great towns; and the receptacles for such mendicants were the nests and nurseries of criminals. Various plans had been suggested to meet the evil; different descriptions of punishment had been proposed at various times as specially applicable to these cases; and he was perfectly certain that some such measure as that now before their Lordships was the only mode of laying the axe at the root of this giant evil. He believed that if children in the condition referred to were separated from bad parents, not only would a reform of the children be effected, but indirectly, and to a certain degree, an improvement and reformation of the parents themselves might be anticipated.
§ The EARL of HARROWBY
said, he thought the defects pointed out might easily be amended: for instance, there could be a definition of the word "child" by some limitation of age, as thirteen or fourteen, or the clause might be referred to a Select Committee, who, in a couple of hours, especially with the aid of the noble and learned Lords opposite, could easily obviate all difficulties. It would be a great pity if a Bill, in the object of which all concurred, should be lost by reason of slight defects not inherent in its nature, nor connected with its principle.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
said, the 1217 Government had not the least desire to get rid of the Bill, for they thought it would be a most useful one; but, on the other hand, they considered that in its present form it would be inoperative, and, perhaps, more than inoperative.
might mention, by way of encouragement, that, in the City of Glasgow Police Act, there was a clause in reference to the suppression of mendicancy, which had been attended by very beneficial consequences. The clause in question permitted the apprehension of all young persons found begging, or sent out for that purpose, and also the parents or other relations of such young persons, or any parties by whom they were so sent or suffered to go out, and, on the complaint being established, made it lawful for the magistrates to punish such young persons, parents, or relations, by imprisonment for any period not exceeding sixty days, or that the young persons should be sent to houses of refuge.
§ The EARL of SHAFTESBURY
was quite ready to leave the definition of a child to the Committee. Two suggestions had been made as to the course which he should adopt: the one that he should refer the Bill to a Select Committee, and the other that he should withdraw it, and introduce it in an amended shape. He had brought forward the measure simply for the purpose of obtaining discussion, and his noble Friends whom he had invited to come down, knew that was his object. He wanted to set before them the whole circumstances connected with the Bill, and to induce all the active spirits in the country to put their heads together in order to see if they could not devise some good measure on the subject. He would add that he was perfectly willing to consent either that the Bill should be withdrawn, or that it should be referred to a Select Committee.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
suggested that it would be expedient to lay the Bill before the Poor Law Board, in order to obtain their opinion upon it. So far, however, from the Government wishing to show any hostility to the Bill, why, they would be unworthy the position they occupied, if they did not desire to give every facility in their power to its passing.
§ House resumed; and to be again in Committee, on recommitment, on Tuesday next.
§ House adjourned to Thursday next.