HL Deb 03 March 1854 vol 131 cc272-4

presented a petition from the Justices of the Peace for the City of Manchester, praying for the establishment of Reformatory Institutions for Juvenile Criminals, The noble Earl said he knew of no subject of greater or more pressing importance than that to which the petition related. The petition was not very numerously signed; but he believed that the persons who had signed it concentrated amongst them as much intelligence and as much knowledge of the subject as could be found in any similar body of men. There was, indeed, no community which had a larger experience of juvenile delinquency than that of the city of Mancester. The nineteen signatures to the petition included those of the late and present chief magistrate, and of Mr. Maude, the present stipendiary magistrate, who, from having filled that position for several years, must necessarily have acquired great knowledge of the subject. The petitioners expressed their belief that, while the most effectual means of checking crime consisted in the general diffusion of education amongst the ignorant classes, a good deal might still be done in the case of juvenile delinquents by substituting for imprisonment in the ordinary gaols a course of reformatory discipline and moral and industrial training in institutions established for the purpose. In that opinion he (the Earl of Ellesmere) concurred; and he also believed that the best means for the prevention of crime consisted in the general diffusion of education. If, indeed, he had had any doubt upon that subject it must have been removed by the visit he had recently made to America. It was impossible after visiting that country to underrate the effect of a comprehensive system of education in enabling parties in all ranks of life to provide the means of obtaining an honest livelihood, and in thus neutralising the great temptation to crime. At the same time, he must express his belief that not even in America, where education had assumed a more diffused and comprehensive shape than in any other part of the world, did it reach the particular class of juvenile delinquents who were particularly referred to in this petition. He believed that he was not uttering anything disparaging or disrepectful to the United States when he said that, in spite of the general diffusion of education there, the streets, nevertheless, swarmed with juvenile delinquents, who, availing themselves of the liberty allowed to every one in that country, refused to avail themselves of the means of education that were there thrown open to every one. He must also say, and with still greater regret, that if we were to wait for the establishment of reformatory institutions until education should be as generally diffused in England as in the United States, we would have to wait for a very long time; for he very much despaired of being able at any early period to establish a more general and comprehensive system of education than that which now existed, and which was originated under the auspices of the noble Marquess on the Treasury bench (the Marquess of Lansdowne). He attributed to that system as it was worked by the Government and the Privy Council, the very best effects as far as it went. Still he believed that we could not look to an enlargement of that system as the means of diffusing education throughout the country. It had already raised both the quality and the amount of the education given; but he certainly could not hope from it anything like the diffusion of education which now existed in the United States. If, however, the experiment they made upon a small scale were successful, schemes of a similar character might be carried to a greater extent, and they might finally proceed to legislate on the subject. If they wished to see an instance of the effect of a reformatory system of discipline, they would find one within a few hundred yards of their Lordships' House. That was an establishment, not for juvenile offenders, but for those with whom it might be thought much more difficult to deal, persons who had taken degrees in crime. The establishment to which he referred was assisted by a noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury), who took so great a part in every philanthropic institution, and was managed under the auspices of that remarkable man Mr. Nash. From that establishment they might derive encouragement that such reforms were not impossible when a good system was applied for the purpose. The subject was much too large—and there would be other opportunities for referring to it—to be discussed on the presentation of a petition; but he thought he should not do his duty to the parties whose claims to their Lordships' attention he sought to enforce, if he did not draw the attention of the Government to the subject.

Petition read, and ordered to lie on the table.

House adjourned to Monday next.