HL Deb 18 July 1853 vol 129 cc348-53

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved—"That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee upon the said Bill."


begged to express his dissent from this suggestion. In the course of a short conversation which was inaudible, Lord Colchester was understood to have suggested the Falkland Islands as suitable for the reception of convicts. To such a proposition he could not give his consent. There should be a sufficiently large and virtuous society in the place to which their convicts were sent, to be able to take up into the general moral circulation of the country the bad blood which the convicts would bring into it; and the Falkland Islands were, he conceived, in want of that essential quality. They would require a large force to guard them, and the place would be essentially a prison, and not a place for the reformation of criminals. They should improve upon their reformatory system at home, because the alterations introduced into the management of the Pentonville Prison had been signally injurious, and tended in the long run to increase the expense and defeat the very purpose for which the nation, at a great expense, founded that prison. He would urge upon the Government the propriety of returning to the system which had been originally in successful operation in that prison.

On Question, agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

Clauses 1 to 7 agreed to.

On Clause 8,


said, he had already stated the nature of the Bill, and that its object was to meet, as far as the nature of things would admit, the difficulties of the case. At present transportation implied three distinct stages of punishment: first, imprisonment under the separate system; secondly, employment at very severe labour on the public works, with reformatory discipline for a certain portion of the sentence; and, thirdly, transmission to the Colonies generally with tickets of leave. From that last portion of the sentence they were now cut off, and the Executive Government had now to propose a substitute for it. It was intended that the punishment in the first and second stages, by imprisonment and hard labour on the public works for a certain period, should be continued, and if the parties were ill conducted, the labour on the public works might be continued until the end of the sentence; but as an inducement to the convicts to conduct themselves well, the Government proposed to adopt a middle course between absolute pardon and the continuance of severe labour on the public works. The great difficulty was, that if they gave a man an unconditional ticket of leave in this country, he would in all probability return back to his old haunts, and become again involved in crime. The great advantage of transportation was, that it afforded a place in which employment could be given to a person of damaged character; and labour being in great request, he might not only obtain employment, but become a useful member of society, and there was not the temptation which a return to his old haunts offered him. The only mode which presented itself to the Government of supplying the want that was created by the discontinuance of transportation, was to provide as it were a colony, or at least a place in their own country where they could enjoy the same benefits as in a colony—that is, where labourers damaged in their character might obtain employment. This was a very serious question to decide upon; for, unless it were adopted with great safeguards, they would be interfering with the labour market. But what was proposed, was, that upon the public works at Gosport 400 or 500 labourers, not convicts, should be employed, and that at Portland as many more should be received, making altogether, say, 1,000 between them. It was suggested, that, before their terms of punishment expired, the opportunity should be given them of obtaining employment at harder work and lower wages than other persons, so that if a ticket of leave were given them, for instance, for fifty miles from Portland, it should not be said that persons were turned loose who could do nothing but plunder, because the means of work would have been provided them. They thought it best thus to define the limits; and it could not be said that they were throwing upon the inhabitants of the districts loose persons who could do nothing but plunder, because they would not do so without providing the means of giving them some work, and would thereby remove from them the objection that they were obliged to steal. They might gradually make them fit to be received into other places where they were not under a sort of ban; but great discretion should be left to the Secretary of State in dealing with them, and great hopes were entertained that as their characters became improved, other persons would be willing to take them; and, if so, the tickets of leave would be so extended as to enable them to be employed by those persons. The great apprehension in dealing with criminals was, that if they were turned loose in that great metropolis, they would return back to their old haunts. They would guard against that by direct- ing that they should not come within a certain distance of the metropolis, and that they should not be admitted to certain districts into which experience showed they should be restricted from entering. The great hope was, that, after going through the reformatory system in the prison, and, in the next place, the hard labour on the public works, they would be qualified to work in an orderly manner on their tickets of leave, and would become gradually absorbed into society as reformed characters.


was understood to suggest, that at the expiration of the sentence the party should not be discharged without receiving a certain sum of money to keep him from want, until he got employment. He also was understood to suggest that evil would arise from so large a number of convicts being congregated together.


said, the object was to disperse them as much as possible; but, at the same time, it was essential to be able to tell them that when they ceased to be convicts they would get employment, and would not be obliged to plunder. The object of the clause was, in fact, to give a conditional pardon, upon condition they should not go beyond certain districts. They proposed to tell them that if they did not get work elsewhere they should not go and thieve, and would get employment on the public works. Those persons would not be mixed in their work with the absolute convicts, and it was anticipated that they would obtain work in the harvest fields. All the arrangements were more or less tentative, the object being to enable those persons to obtain employment notwithstanding their damaged characters. In the first instance, probably no one but the Government would employ them; but it was hoped that the stain would gradually wear away, and that they would be able to obtain ordinary employment.


repeated that it would be by no means desirable to accumulate large bodies of convicts in particular localities. He thought the inhabitants of such districts would complain very loudly of such a thing. He would suggest that the convicts be sent out of the country, and that a certain punishment be imposed upon them if they returned.


thought the noble Earl had misapprehended the object of the clauses proposed, which were not at all constructed with a view to compel the congregating together of those persons in these particular localities. When they were turned adrift out of prison, it was important to furnish them with the means of subsistence; and the object of the Bill was to supply them, in the first instance, with that means of subsistence, and to supply them with every possible motive for leading an improved life in other parts of the country than those which had been the scene of their crimes.

After a few words from the Earl of CHICHESTER, Which were inaudible,


said, he thought that the plan altogether was exceedingly vague. By proposing certain localities where those convicts were to be located together, the Government would be placing the inhabitants of those places precisely in the same position as the inhabitants of the colonies who had protested against our sending any more of our convicts to those colonies. He was sure that if the system were carried out it would utterly fail, and that they would have similar demonstrations from the inhabitants of those places to which the convicts would be sent, as they had had already from many of our colonies.


said, the noble Earl had assumed an entirely false position. It was not at all proposed to congregate the convicts on one spot; on the contrary, it was proposed to give those convicts every opportunity of going to other parts of the country—to every part, indeed, except the scenes of their former crimes, or some other locality from which, by peculiar circumstances, it might be desirable to exclude them. He concurred in much that had been said by his noble Friend on the cross benches (the Earl of Harrowby), but he also believed that, looking at the state of the labour market in this country, those persons would find no difficulty at all in getting employment. The meaning of the clause was, that no man, on coming out of prison, should have it in his power to say he was unable to obtain work, and therefore was compelled to steal; but he thought, from the demand which existed throughout the country for labour, it would not be necessary to resort to the public works to any extent at all. Even under the present system precautions were taken on this point; for when persons were discharged from prison they had money in their pockets, the proceeds of their own work while in gaol; and he believed the system might even be carried to a greater extent by enabling those persons to remove themselves from the scenes of their former vices.


said, he believed that the practical working of the clause would be this—that when those con victs came out of prison nobody would employ them, and they would, therefore, be necessarily congregated upon certain public works.


was strongly of opinion that a proposal for the establishment of a uniform system of police throughout the country should go paripassu with a measure for turning out those, convicts upon the community. These persons, though in a state of incipient virtue might require the policeman's baton to control them, and the establishment of uniform and efficient body of police through out the country would be imperatively demanded. He thought the same objection would prevail among the virtuous society in England against taking in bad blood as had existed in our colonies; and he did hope that, while the position of those who had committed crimes was taken into account, some consideration would also be had for the uncontaminated portion of society, and that they would be protected from the consequences which might result from the establishment of such a system as that now in contemplation.


hoped that any measure for the establishment of uniform police system would be extended to Scotland. The letting loose of so many convicts upon society would be productive of the most serious evils, unless the police system were placed upon a sound and efficient basis.

Clause agreed to. Amendments made; the Report thereof to be received to-morrow.