HL Deb 04 August 1854 vol 135 cc1293-306

LORD ST. LEONARDS rose to call the attention of the House to the present system of granting tickets of leave to convicts. The question, "What are we to do with our convicts?" was one of the most important social questions of the day. Previous to the introduction of the system by which transportation was in effect abolished, the practice, as their Lordships were well aware, was, after keeping a convict in prison in this country for a certain time, to send him to one of our colonies under sentence of transportation, but with a ticket of leave, which assured them of the means of earning a subsistence. The advantages of this system were numerous. In the first place, the convict was cut off from his old associations, and could not therefore in the new country to which he was transported come into contact with his former comrades or be led into the commission of crime by their companionship and example. In the next place, he found himself, on his arrival in the colony, under the control and supervision of the Government of the colony to which he was consigned. He was certain of being provided for, because, if no other employment offered itself, he was employed on the public works at good wages and liberal rations. He had at the same time perfect liberty to engage in private service whenever he found an opportunity; and such an opportunity was sure to offer itself almost immediately, because the demand for labour was always much greater than the supply in the colonies to which he was sent. He was employed at a fair rate of wages, excellent rations were insured, and he had a good prospect of bettering his condition. At the same time there was no objection to the granting of those tickets of leave, inasmuch as there were numbers of persons in the colony desirous of the services of convicts, and who took them with the full knowledge of their being ticket-of-leave men. He had thus every prospect of bettering his condition; and it was not unfrequent for men who went out in this capacity to become tradesmen, or in some instances to accumulate large property. Under this system there was, therefore, no impediment to the granting of tickets of leave. They had not the effect of turning a man loose into society without any means of living, or without the Government having any check upon him. On the contrary, he was sent to a new part of the world, where he was sure at once to meet with full encouragement for his labour and with full employment. Circumstances had, however, arisen, which had rendered it necessary to abolish convict transportation, and to substitute penal servitude for it. No one could find fault with the Government of the day for this change in the mode of punishment, because as the colonists had refused any longer to receive our convicts, it was clearly impossible to send them there. It was, indeed, a little singular that while the colonists as a body refused to receive our convicts, there was always an ample demand on the part of individuals for the labour of such of these men as were sent. When the late Government was in office, the subject of the change to be made in the mode of punishment necessarily occupied much of their attention, and it was their determination still to retain transportation as far as possible. They did not, indeed, intend to attempt to force convicts upon any colonies which objected to receive them; but they desired to keep some remote island as a penal settlement, and thus to maintain both the terror and, to a limited extent, the use of transportation. Under the system adopted by the present Government, convicts, after remaining in prison for a certain time, received a licence to reside in any part of the United Kingdom or the Channel Islands, under such conditions as the Crown might think fit to prescribe, the licence being subject to revocation at the pleasure of the Crown. Now, when their Lordships considered the great difference in the state of things under which tickets of leave were formerly granted and those under which they had been granted since the late Act was passed, he thought they would see how difficult it must be to bring the old system to bear upon the new state of things. After the Act was passed there was no penal colony where a convict could be sent to, and where he would be subjected to the inducements to lead an honest life which he (Lord St. Leonards) had already described; on the contrary, he was let loose, without any check or control, into a field where the demand for labour was much less, and where no human being would employ him if it was known that he had a ticket of leave. The Government had no means of employing him on Government works. Let them just consider in what a different position an unfortunate man turned loose in this country was from one who was sent to a colony under the old system? As he had already said, such was the unhappy condition of society here, and such was the unwillingness to give employment to a convict, that he must start with a falsehood. He must conceal his real condition, and invent some story as to where he had been and what he had been doing. Nor was it only to his employer that he must give this account of his past life. No man could go to work with his fellows in any workshop or manufactory without giving an account of himself; and if he gave a false account, he was almost sure to be discovered. An unfortunate man in this position was, therefore, almost without resources, and could hardly be expected to continue in the paths of honesty. Then with regard to the course to be pursued towards these men, it was no doubt difficult for the Government to decide what should be done. As their Lordships would remember, a short time ago, considerable discussion took place with respect to the case of a convict named Brown, who had been discharged with a ticket of leave, who stated that he was dogged by the police, who prevented his getting or keeping work by telling his employers that he was a discharged convict. On inquiry, the reverse turned out to be the case, and that the man had returned to his old habit of misconduct—but contrast the situation of such a man in this country with that of the ticket-of-leave men in a convict colony. They used to be under the control and protection of the Governor, and their ticket of leave, being a proof of good behaviour, obtained them employment instead of being a disqualification for employment, as in this country. It was, however, no doubt very difficult to know what to do with respect to these unhappy men, for if they were to be protected from interference on the one hand, society must also be protected on the other. He had not the slightest intention to bring any charge against the Government for the manner in which they had administered the present system; but he certainly did wish that he could say that they appeared to have applied themselves earnestly and seriously to the discharge of the duty imposed upon them. He had lately moved for certain returns stating the number of tickets of leave granted, and the number which had been revoked; also the number of convicts who had been convicted of any crime after receiving tickets of leave. From those returns it appeared that 1,200 tickets of leave had been granted during the last year; yet it was stated that no communication had taken place between the Home Office and the prison authorities with respect to the ticket-of-leave men committed for fresh offences. It also appeared that no condition was attached to the grant of these tickets, nor any regulations made with regard to the conduct of those holding them. It was, indeed, notified to such persons that the power of the Crown to revoke these tickets would be exercised in case of misconduct, and that if they wished to retain the privilege they enjoyed they must prove themselves worthy of it, Now, if this notification was intended to be considered as a condition attached to the ticket of leave, it should have been placed on the back of it, and then the convict would always have it present to his mind whenever he looked at his ticket. But, then, in order to make this of any value, the Government must have power to carry into effect these threats—for so he must call them. But how, under the present system, could the authorities know whether these men—over whom they exercised no surveillance—led a vicious or a virtuous life? Why, when he asked for a return of the number of convicts who, after having received tickets of leave, had been since convicted of any crime, what was the answer? That the Home Office had no means of answering the question. But, who should have the means of answering the question, if the Home Office had not? It was evidently utterly impossible for the Home Office to judge of the operation of the ticket of leave, or to act upon the conditions on which it was said these tickets were granted, unless they were in a position to trace the conduct of their holders. It was the duty of the Home Office to exercise a general superintendence over the criminal jurisdiction of the country, and have an account of every conviction of ticket-of-leave man as soon as it took place. There had, in his opinion, been no system; and if there had, he should be glad to hear from the noble Duke what the system was, what the checks were, and what benefits were likely to arise from it. In round numbers there had been 1,200 tickets of leave issued since October, 1853. According to that rate 150 convicts a month had been turned loose upon society; and the question was, whether the country could absorb that amount of such a population without any provision being made for their control. He was strongly of opinion, that if a man were to have any chance in this country, they must not have a detective policeman always at his heels to warn people against trusting him; but, on the other hand, they must have some system and some means of enabling that man to earn an honest livelihood before society would generally adopt him or receive him as a labourer or servant. It appeared to him that what was necessary was, not to grant them tickets of leave, but that some place should be provided, which he believed could be provided, that would become a substitute to a certain extent for the colonies to which they were accustomed to transport them; and where the Government would have some means of providing employment for the men when they were first discharged—for it should be recollected that at present they discharged them direct from the prison gate into the general population. Let it be remembered that there was no probation, and that many a man would act well in prison, and while under control and under the eye of authority when he knew the consequences of doing so would be his emancipation, who would not, when turned loose on society, have the courage to resist his former habits and practices. What a man's conduct had been in prison was no satisfactory test of what his conduct would be when turned into society; it was necessary to have some system established by which they could have their eye on them, because they should have some check over them in letting them loose on the world. Considering the temptations and difficulties to which these ticket-of-leave men would be exposed, it was not at all surprising that they should sometimes relapse into their former habits; and he thought the man was entitled to great credit who, liberated from prison with a ticket of leave, won his way back to an honest position in society. By putting the convict through a certain state of probation they would be then able to recommend him to employment, and many a man would take a convict from the public works who would not otherwise be disposed to engage him, and when he had once got employment he might hope to redeem himself. He had received some very affecting letters from men who had been discharged with tickets of leave under the present system, and who related the difficulties they experienced in the attempts to earn an honest livelihood, and they would really very much surprise the House if he were at liberty to read them. He had a letter from a man, who, having received a ticket of leave, was desirous to go to his brother in Australia, but he was told it was contrary to the rule, and he could not go to Australia. He (Lord St. Leonards) could not see why a man who had a connection in Australia, and deserved a ticket of leave, should not be allowed to go there as well as remain in England, Ireland, or Scotland; but he was denied the liberty of going there, simply because he had a ticket of leave, and he got the ticket of leave from the very Government who denied him the permission to go. There was a case of a man whose brother proposed to give him the means of earning a livelihood by driving a cab; but when he went to Scotland-yard and asked for a licence, they said they could not give him a licence because he was a ticket-of-leave man. What was such a man to do? When he had the honour of being a Member of the late Government, nothing pressed more upon him than the difficulty to which he called their Lordships' attention, and he never could quite see his way; but he was sure that their Lordships would be of opinion that it was a question to which the Government ought to direct its most serious attention. He had no doubt the noble Duke opposite was desirous of doing all he could with reference to the adoption of some plan to remove the difficulty; but if a satisfactory plan should not be agreed upon, he (Lord St. Leopards) should think it to be his duty in the next Session to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the whole question. In the meantime he hoped that the Government would take the matter into its serious attention, and prevent the necessity of such a motion on his part.s


I can assure the noble and learned Lord that it was quite unnecessary for him, in the course of the observations which he has made to the House, to say that he had no desire to make any complaint of the Government in reference to their management of this matter; the whole conduct of the noble and learned Lord in the House with reference to the ticket-of-leave question affording quite sufficient proof of that, if he had not made the statement himself. I only regret that there is no Member of the Government in this House in more immediate connection with this particular question, and able to answer more in detail and more satisfactorily the observations that have been made by the noble and learned Lord. At the same time, having held the seals of the Colonial Office, and being the individual to advise the total cessation of transportation of our convicts to the colonies with the exception of Western Australia, I do feel a special interest on that account in the success of this great and most important experiment, and undoubtedly feel a large share of responsibility attaching to it. The noble and learned Lord had stated very fairly and accurately the circumstances under which transportation had been, with reference to many of the colonies abolished, and with reference to Western Australia diminished; and he said that the late Government had under consideration the question of adopting the system of transportation in some group of islands—but I do not know whether he meant the Falkland Islands or not. In the course of the discussions which took place on this question last year, I ventured more than once to point out to your Lordships that, although you might undoubtedly continue the system of transportation, that is to say, a system of removal of culprits from this country to some other spot, it was impossible to continue the system of transportation of late years adopted so long as the communities in our colonies were unwilling to receive them. Undoubtedly you might adopt a system in the Faulkland Islands similar to that which had been carried on in Norfolk Island; but by adopting a system of transportation such as it was in the early days of that colony, and which, after a trial, was repudiated by the whole community of the colony, you would be engendering, and not correcting, crime. Such a system cannot be carried on in the Falkland Islands, or any other island belonging to this country. But I apprehend that the whole value of the system of transportation as it was carried on, existed in the very practice to which the noble and learned Lord referred, when he contrasted the system of ticket of leave in this country with the system in the colony, where he said there was a system of surveillance over the convicts intermixed with the pure population of the colony, and the population untainted by crime, with whom they might become intermixed at the termination of their period of punishment. But New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land desired to be relieved from any further importation of convicts, and the only spot now available is Western Australia. When therefore these countries repudiated the system on moral grounds, it became impossible for this country to continue transportation on the former system, and in my opinion it would be most unwise and, I may use the phrase, wicked to renew such a system under any circumstances. I do not say that in the course of time there may not arise other colonies young in origin, and extending probably over considerable districts of country, where—as West Australia does at present—for the financial advancement and establishment of the colony, they may be willing to accept convicts; and if such a state of things should arise, there will, I am sure, be no indisposition on the part of the Government to take the matter into consideration. But I cannot hold out any expectation to the country that colonies which have been already established will ever be found willing to accept convicts, and I trust that this country will never be found anxious to thrust them upon them, if such willingness to receive them does not exist. Such are the circumstances under which the present system was adopted. My noble and learned Friend stated that it was necessary in this or some other system to consider whether no new penal settlement could be established; but he was not quite correct in drawing the contrast between this country and the colonies so far as the position of the latter is concerned. My noble and learned Friend seems to be under the impression that these men, on receiving tickets of leave, are at a loss to find employment by which they might earn an honest livelihood. I do not know what particular instances have been brought to the attention of the noble and learned Lord; but he will admit that the cases drawn to his attention from the philanthropic disposition he has shown, in this House and elsewhere, on the subject, are likely to be cases of hardship, and therefore it is unfair to form an opinion from the individual letters that no doubt have been laid before him. The noble and learned Lord says that so great must be the dearth of private employment for those ticket-of-leave men, that it was desirable to establish a system of public works on which the convicts might be employed. I can assure my noble and learned Friend that it was intended, if there was any difficulty experienced in finding employment for them from private persons, that provision should be made to employ those convicts on public works until they could find employment. I can assure him that every attention has been paid to the demand for labour, with the view of employing them on public works if employment with private individuals could not be found for them; but such has not been, and is not at present, the case; and unless the necessity does arise for the adoption of a different course, I think it far better for the community at large to provide employment rather than to adopt a system of intermediate employment on public works. The noble and learned Lord said that the measure adopted by the Government was a mere gaol delivery, and that the convicts were periodically turned out of the prisons to find their way in the world, without any system having been adopted to prevent them returning to vi- cious courses, but I can assure the noble and learned Lord that he is mistaken, and when he shall read the reports that are about to be presented to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, he will see that there has been a system adopted. He seems to think that at the termination of the period of imprisonment they are merely released with those tickets of leave; but the fact is, that about a month before the time a convict is about to be released, either owing to his conduct in prison, or from the duration of his period of imprisonment having expired, a letter is invariably written by the chaplain of the gaol to individuals pointed out by the convict himself in their neighbourhood from whom he thinks it likely he might receive employment; and I am happy to say—and I say it to the honour of the individuals—those letters from the chaplains have been in the great majority of instances answered in the affirmative, and the convict has succeeded in obtaining employment. When those answers are unfavourable, steps are taken for finding employment for those individuals with other persons besides those pointed out by the convicts themselves, and up to the present time, as far as could be ascertained, the convicts who had been released had found no want of employment, with the exception of a few who have resorted to their old vicious habits. When convicts are released, they are taken by the officers of the prison to the railway and supplied with clothing suitable to the class of life they heretofore occupied and are again about to adopt, their fare is paid, and they are sent to the spot where they expect to find employment. As regards the sum to which they are entitled on their release, amounting sometimes to about 5l. or 6l., the whole of that sum is not paid to them immediately, but a part is kept in reserve and paid to them occasionally, which has the additional advantage of continuing to a certain extent, without the aid of any watch or police, a certain degree of guard over them, and shows a continuance of the interest felt in them. These are only a few of the points of what I may call the system that has been adopted, and I mention them as the best way of correcting the erroneous opinion under which the noble and learned Lord has laboured, that no system has been adopted, but that the convicts are thrown upon the wide world without a chance of procuring employment. I be- lieve the cases referred to by the noble and learned Lord, in which the convicts have resorted to their vicious habits are exceptional; and when we consider that out of 1,200 convicts who have hitherto been released, so far as we know, much less than I per cent have resorted to vicious habits—I do not mean to say that that is exactly the result, but we must argue from what we know—we must admit that that is certainly an extraordinary small proportion. It is so small that I cannot hope that it is likely to continue. It may extend on some future occasion to 15 or 16 per cent; but when the proportion is so small as at present, it would be only fair to say that the system has not met with that utter want of success which many persons anticipated at the commencement. The noble and learned Lord said there were no conditions attached to the licences granted to convicts, and he had been surprised to hear the noble and learned Lord say that it would have been right for some notice in writing to be given to the convicts. The noble and learned Lord had been misled, for the fact was, the system which the noble and learned Lord suggested had been adopted, and upon the back of the document given to the convict were certain printed conditions, under which the ticket of leave was granted. No blame attached to the noble and learned Lord for having taken this objection, and he was only happy to inform the noble and learned Lord that the case stood much better than was supposed. My noble and learned Friend has referred to the number of convicts that have been set at liberty and reconvicted; but when I last saw Colonel Jebb I put the question to him for the purpose of ascertaining the number again convicted. He said it was impossible to state accurately without investigation, and without knowing the names of the Judges and of the magistrates; but that, so far as information had been obtained, there was an extraordinarily small number of reconvictions. The noble and learned Lord has alluded to a special case, such as I am not surprised should raise a feeling of great interest in his mind; but, at the same time, it would be unfair to judge of the system from this case. The noble and learned Lord has referred to a ticket-of-leave man, who had the means of going to Australia, and he asked why he should not be allowed to go there? Why, for no other reason than this; it was felt when the Act was passed last year, that if the Government did anything from which it was to be inferred that they were doing indirectly what they would not do directly, they would be offering an insult to the colonists, and that the colonists would have a right to complain. Therefore, the tickets of leave are confined to the United Kingdom alone, and if there is to be any watch at all maintained over them, that is necessary. We have no right to let them into the world at large, or permit them to go into the Colonies or to foreign countries, and if we did, the Colonies and foreign countries would say they had a right to complain. To maintain, however slightly, a system of watchfulness over them, that watchfulness must be exercised by the authorities at home, and, therefore, it is necessary that the ticket of leave should be confined to the United Kingdom. A great objection has been urged to the system, on the ground that the convicts were left to be watched by policemen and were looked upon with suspicion, and were unable in consequence to find employment. I think it right, to remove any misconception that may exist as regards the police authorities, to assure the noble and learned Lord that instructions have been given to the policemen not to follow men who have tickets of leave, but, on the contrary, to render them facilities for obtaining employment. Whilst on the one hand it is desirable that we should keep up, as far as possible, some acquaintance with those men, it must not be done by policemen dogging them, but by the adoption of a mode with which no one is better acquainted than the noble Earl opposite, who has paid some attention to this subject, and by which we may keep up an acquaintance with those people. The noble and learned Lord may be sure that this question will not be lost sight of, and we shall have in this particular instance the assistance of a most able man, whose whole soul is wrapt up in the subject—I mean Colonel Jebb. If this great experiment can succeed in any man's hands, I am sure it will in his; and I am sure that every exertion will be made by him to justify this and the other House of Parliament in making this great experiment with respect to convicts in this country.


said, he did not disbelieve that very great exertions had been made to render this experiment successful, but he despaired of its ever being made so. Though only 1,200 convicts had been as yet discharged, there were thousands convicted every year, and they must be dealt with. Was it possible to expect that year after year those exertions to obtain employment could continue and be successful? They would find in this country, as had been found in other countries where transportation was unknown, that the number of convicts would greatly multiply, and that to try to reform them in their own country would be impossible. He had no doubt that every exertion had been made, and would continue to be made, to diminish the evils of the system; but what had been stated by his noble and learned Friend with regard to persons who obtained tickets of leave was quite true—namely, either that it would be known they had been convicted, and they would not be employed, or they must conceal by a lie their own former history; and in the latter case their previous character was always liable to be discovered at any moment, and they would be obliged to fly from one part of the country to another to avoid exposure. In his (Lord Campbell's) experience, when sentence of transportation was pronounced in open court, it not only made a deep impression on the convict himself, but upon all who heard it; and that sentence exercised more influence in producing good conduct than the actual infliction of the punishment itself. On the contrary, when a prisoner was sentenced to four years' penal servitude, be viewed the sentence with comparative indifference. In the first place he did not understand what it meant, and he next flattered himself that he was not to be sent out of the country, but was to be kept imprisoned for a few years where his confinement would probably be abridged, and that in the meantime he would only have some easy work to do that would give him very little annoyance. He had another remark to make with respect to the effect of the system of transportation upon industry. It was calculated that in the Australian colonies as many as 40,000 persons who had formerly been transported were now honestly and usefully employed in situations in which they maintained their families respectably; and there could be no doubt that if these persons had remained in England they must have led a life of continued crime, bringing lasting misery upon themselves, and preying upon the property of the country.


con- curred in much that had fallen from the noble and learned Lord who spoke last, but thought that great difficulty surrounded the question on every side. The persons who were generally sentenced to transportation were not prisoners brought up for their first offence, but mostly belonged to a class of criminals who were thoroughly initiated into a course of vice and crime. The reform of the offender was a consideration that ought not to be overlooked, and one quite as important as was his punishment. There could be no doubt that a person who had passed through a term of penal servitude, even if disposed to lead a new life, had very great discouragement to encounter in his endeavour to gain an honest; and such persons were often compelled to resort to their old courses, and were the means of inveigling younger persons into the same vicious career. The ticket-of-leave system was, however, as the noble Duke stated, only an experiment; and he hoped that after it had had a fair and sufficient trial, the whole subject would be brought under the review of Parliament.


briefly replied. He said that the explanation of the noble Duke was satisfactory as far as it went, and he felt assured that the question would receive additional consideration from the Government during the recess.

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