HL Deb 01 May 1854 vol 132 cc1034-7

rose to call the attention of his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack and of the Government generally to a subject of considerable importance, and to ask for copies of the instructions in regard to tickets of leave issued under the new system by which we were now attempting to get rid of transportation. The case to which he should refer by way of illustration was the first which had occurred under the ticket of leave system, and was reported on the 28th of April; and it was of this nature:—A prisoner had been sentenced to transportation for seven years, but was ultimately sent to the prison at Dartmoor, where he was confined for seventeen months. His conduct while there must have been good, because he obtained a ticket of leave from Lord Palmerston the Secretary for the Home Department, and was sent to Edinburgh, the place where he had been convicted. After being thus restored to liberty, it appeared that the man was unable to obtain employment, and under the pressure of starvation committed a new felony by stealing some small article—a pair of boots, he believed—and thereupon the warrant ceased (that being a condition which would forfeit the ticket of leave) and the man was then sent back, upon proof of his having committed this new felony, to his former place of imprisonment. The point to which he (Lord St. Leonards) wished to draw the attention of the Government was this:—It was stated by the prisoner, who was sixty years of age, that he had been sent from Dart- moor to Edinburgh, where he bad been originally convicted. Whether this was in consequence of the provision attached to the ticket of leave did not appear; the Secretary of State, however, had the power, under the Act of Parliament, of annexing to the ticket of leave what conditions he pleased; and he had the power of confining his "leave" to any part of Her Majesty's dominions. The prisoner was taken to Edinburgh. He (Lord St. Leonards) did not complain of this, because it was extremely difficult to know what was the most advantageous course to pursue with regard to a man placed under such circumstances. It was hard to determine whether a liberated prisoner would feel himself in greater difficulties in the place in which he was originally known or in a place where he would be wholly unknown. But the man, being committed, made a statement which was thus reported:— The prisoner, who cried bitterly on being removed from the dock, told the officers who had charge of him that he was driven to commit the felony in question by starvation. The authorities of Dartmoor prison sent him back to the scene of his former disgrace, where consequently, he failed to get employment. Wherever he went in Edinburgh he was a marked man, and, even if he obtained a situation, the police made it their business to inform his employer of his previous character, and no confidence was subsequently placed in him. Now, when the matter was originally before their Lordships, and the Bill of his noble and learned Friend was passed, he (Lord St. Leonards) stated that he did hope that what was alleged to be the practice with regard to other persons who had been discharged would not be extended to persons to whom tickets of leave were granted. It was not a new complaint that after a man had been discharged from prison, after submitting to the punishment inflicted upon him, he had wherever he went been followed by the police, who, if he went into a shop to ask for employment, followed him and discovered to the shopkeeper what was the nature of the offence which he might formerly have committed. Now, it was impossible under such circumstances that any man could ever maintain his position. You had better hang him or drown him, and put him out of his existence; because there was no chance for him. Placed in such a position, the man must resort to his old habits:—there was no opening for him. He (Lord St. Leonards) thought it was not enough, when a man's conduct in prison had been good, simply to give him a ticket of leave; they ought to inquire what that man's means of subsistence were when he was let out of prison. At any rate, the police should be put under some prudent regulations in regard to their conduct in following these persons, if it were true that they did follow them. He (Lord St. Leonards) was not making a charge either against any public officer or against Her Majesty's Government; but here was one of the first prisoners discharged under a ticket of leave, although it was impossible that anything but want and destitution could attend him, and when, to avoid starvation (according to the man's own statement), he was compelled to resort to his old practices. Now, it was most desirable that this subject should be reconsidered by the Government with reference to the mode of employment and the means of existence for the persons so discharged—whether they ought to be sent into the world to get their living as they best could, or whether they should be dogged by policemen, who followed them and prevented them from obtaining any employment. It would be very desirable if his noble and learned Friend would lay on the table of the House the rules and regulations of the police force (if there were any) in regard to persons placed in the position of this man.


said, he would take care to obtain some information with regard to the case from his noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department; but he must say that on the face of the statement made by the prisoner, it could not be accurate. The man declared that he had been sent to Edinburgh; but how this could be he did not know, because the Act did not authorise any such thing. Until he heard it authenticated, he could never believe that a man, having a ticket of leave, should be obliged and compelled to resort to no other place than the scene of his former delinquencies.


stated that, in point of fact, there was such authority in the Act of Parliament as had been alluded to by his noble and learned Friend. The ticket of leave was granted upon such conditions as the Crown might think fit, and the prisoner might thus of course, be compelled to resort to such part of the United Kingdom as the Crown might fix upon.


thought it impossible that the police instructions, when they were produced, could be found to direct that a man should be followed, as was alleged to have been the case in this instance. If it were so, it amounted in fact to a revival, in another form, of the old and barbarous law, by which in ancient times a felon had a mark burnt upon his hand and cheek, so that all mankind might be warned of his guilt. That was a most inhuman and barbarous practice, and it, of course, prevented all chance of the criminal reforming and becoming a respectable citizen; and if the course said to have been adopted in this instance were to be followed, the same result would be produced.

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