HL Deb 09 March 1855 vol 137 cc322-35

said, he rose to call the attention of their Lordships and of the Government to the great social question involved in the system of granting tickets of leave to convicts under sentence of transportation. Their Lordships were aware that when it had been determined, as a matter of necessity, that transportation as a system should in a great measure be put an end to, the question which had to be solved was, what other punishment could, in the present state of society, be substituted for it. Although it had been found that no punishment was so much dreaded by criminals as actual transportation, the country had no choice in the matter, because the Colonies, which had up to that period received our convicts, were determined to receive them no longer. Accordingly, it was decided that convicts whose term of transportation did not exceed seven or ten years, should undergo in its stead what was called "penal servitude," and by the 16 & 17 Vict., power was given to the Government to grant licences to any person under sentence of transportation, who had undergone certain portions of their sentences, to go for the remainder of the term to any part of the United Kingdom to which they were authorised by their tickets of leave—the limit being the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands. He mentioned this, because an opinion prevailed that convicts were allowed, on the tickets of leave, to go to the Colonies; but this was not so. The system was, of course, one which was open to many very grave objections, and required the most careful attention that could be bestowed on it. The determination which had been cone to was, that, in cases where persons were sentenced to be transported for seven years, if they behaved well for three years, they received a ticket of leave, and those who were under sentence of transportation for ten years received a ticket if they behaved well during four years. In the first place, he need not point out to the House that the great object in punishment was certainty, which all authorities who were acquainted with the subject acknowledged was of more importance than severity; but this was not attained under the present ticket-of leave system, as every man who heard himself sentenced to seven or ten years' transportation knew that such a sentence was a sham, and that his punishment, in reality, extended only to three or four years. This was a great evil, though, perhaps, it might be felt that it could not be remedied. Of course, the person who knew that he could shorten his term by good behaviour would submit to it—as he must in any case—and, of course, his great object would be to obtain the favour of the chaplain, because his good report, with that of the governor's, would shorten the duration of his term of imprisonment. He was curious to know the number of men who had served for three or four years who had been denied tickets of leave on account of misconduct. He believed that the number would be found to be very small. What did this prove? Why, that the men conducted themselves well during the time they were in prison; but it was well known a great number of these men relapsed the moment they obtained their release. No person could therefore doubt but that either the whole of the conduct of these men during three or four years was a sham in order to obtain their freedom, or that, when they had obtained their freedom, the temptations to which they were exposed were too powerful for them to withstand. There was a regulation in the present system that had a pernicious effect on the men; it was the following—a sum of money was given to the men on their release, and, although this was only a few pence per day for the time they had laboured, still on the average it amounted to 5l. or 6l., and in many cases it reached 10l., 12l., and even 14l., which it was said was given to the men in two sums. But if men, who had not had 3d. for three or four years, during which time they had been in prison under restraint and discipline, found themselves at liberty in the possession of 5l. or 7l., what must be the inevitable consequence? Why, unless they were really reformed, they would soon relapse into their former course of living—when they regained their liberty they immediately indulged in excess, and there was no power or inducement which could be supposed to induce them to abstain. In the case of soldiers and sailors who were paid after a long absence from home, the riot and debauchery in which they indulged were too well known; but the soldier or sailor, after having so indulged, could return to his ship or his regiment; but this was not the case with the convict, who was often prevented, by having given way to such excess, from obtaining a situation in the establishment of a worthy master. In 1854 a report was submitted to their Lordships, in which it was stated, that from October, 1853, to June, 1854, there had been 1,000 convicts released with tickets of leave, and that at that time there were 5,686 convicts undergoing their provisionary confinement. Out of these 1,000 only four licences had been revoked; and from this Colonel Jebb drew a conclusion greatly in favour of the ticket-of-leave system, as in the ordinary cases of criminals who were released, after having undergone their term of imprisonment, nearly three-quarters of the whole numbers relapsed into their former course of crime. The only reason that he (Lord St. Leonards) could give for this great disparity between the numbers was, that the Government had not kept sufficient watch over the convicts, so as to enable them to know the working of the system. He did not mean, however, to say, that the convicts should be continually dodged; for he maintained that nothing could be more injudicious, after having given a man a ticket of leave than to place a policeman to follow him wherever he went in order to obtain employment, and to point him out whenever he made an application for work. This made a mockery of the system, and he therefore had raised his voice against it. But there was a great difference between dodging a man and taking due note of him, so as to have a check upon him; and this ought to be done not only for the sake of the man, but for the sake of society at large. From the last returns he could state that there were 5,686 convicts in confinement under sentence of transportation, and there were also 2,369 out on tickets of leave, and he would venture to say, that the Government knew no more of the doings of these men than he himself did. This, however, was not right, either to the men themselves or to society. He had taken the liberty, on former occasions, of pointing out that it was the bounden duty of the Government to take measures for ascertaining what became of these persons. There would be no difficulty in effecting that object; the very newspapers of the day would furnish them with information as to the number of prisoners who had been convicted a second time. He also objected to the system in which the discharges were made. He had made an inquiry with reference to a particular case; and the answer was, that the individual in question was discharged with 247 more under a general order of the Secretary of State, having no reference to particular cases; there ought, on the contrary, to be especial reference to every particular case, and these men ought not to be discharged in hundreds in this indiscriminate manner. There could be no doubt that the present system of granting tickets of leave caused an increase of crime. That such had been its effect appeared to be the opinion of Mr. Serjeant Adams, who had had considerable experience of the working of the system as a judge at the Middlesex sessions, where no fewer than one-ninth of all the criminal cases arising in England and Wales were tried. Mr. Serjeant Adams found great fault with the ticket-of-leave system, and maintained that its introduction had led to the recommission of crime by the same offenders to a very considerable extent; and, from the manner in which the system was carried into operation, it was only natural to expect that it should produce such a result. The administration of the system might not be responsible for the whole of the cases in which relapses into crime occurred among convicts who had obtained tickets of leave; but there was no doubt they were responsible for a certain proportion of their number, and particularly for those of very young persons, who might be saved from falling again into vice if they were properly looked after. In one case, for instance, a boy who had been seven times committed to the same prison, and been absolutely steeped in crime up to his sixteenth year, was, at the age of eighteen, well dressed, and, with a few pounds in his pocket, thrown upon the world again under a ticket of leave, but with no protecting eye over him. He ought either to have been made to undergo a longer period of imprisonment under which there might be greater hopes of his improvement, or until he could be placed under the care of some master who would preserve him from relapsing into his former depraved habits; but to send him back to the haunts of crime seemed to him a mere mockery—he could only be thrown back upon his old associations without any possibility of saving himself. It was obvious that such a system could not be attended with salu- tary results. Last Session he (Lord St. Leonards) had moved for a return of the number of convicts liberated under tickets of leave who had subsequently relapsed into crime, and the answer made by the Home Office was, that that department possessed no means of affording the required information. Why did the Government not send a list of the persons admitted to tickets of leave to the different quarter sessions and assizes held throughout the country, and then a return could easily be furnished to them of all the cases in which such persons were again convicted? Instead of doing that, however, the authorities at the Home Office had produced an incomplete return, including such cases only as were known to the department, at the same time alleging that the whole number could not be accurately stated for want of the supervision requisite for such a purpose. Now, until a list of these persons was regularly kept it would be impossible for the ticket-of-leave system to work satisfactorily. The Government ought certainly to keep some control of surveillance over these men, in order to be able to inform the country how the system worked, what good and what injury it did; and he was quite sure that if this were done, if these men knew that the Government was watching them, not with an unfriendly eye, but as the head of a family would watch an erring son, with an earnest desire to see him keeping in the right path—they would be strengthened and encouraged in their efforts to persevere in honesty and good conduct. He, therefore, trusted that the Government would be able to inform him that they had some scheme in preparation for the supervision of these ticket-of-leave men and for obtaining complete and accurate information with respect to them. The noble and learned Lord then movedThat an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for a Return in Continuance of the Return of the 18th July, 1854, in pursuance of an Address of the 1st June, 1854: And also, Return of the Names of Prisoners sentenced to Transportation who did not receive Tickets of Leave with other like Prisoners on account of misconduct in Prison.


My Lords, I can assure the noble and learned Lord that the Government regret quite as much as he can do the necessity for reverting to a system of this kind and for abandoning the system of transportation, which, when it could be carried out effectually, and when the services of the convicts were ac- cepted by the colonists, was the best of all secondary punishments. But they were now left to a choice of evils, for the alarm which is felt at home at the evil effects of a different system shows how difficult it was to force upon the colonists a course to which they so strongly objected. Even the noble and learned Lord did not blame the Government for making the experiment they had made—for it was only an experiment. I regret to say that it is not in my power to give the noble and learned Lord an assurance that the Government have in preparation any new scheme by which they can obtain more complete information with regard to the doings of the ticket-of-leave men. The noble and learned Lord has pointed out some of the evils of this system, which to a certain extent I am compelled to admit. I have brought down with me the report to which the noble and learned Lord referred, and I have glanced over several passages which it was my intention to read to your Lordships, but I feel that I should be trespassing upon your Lordships' time by doing so, and will, therefore, content myself by expressing a hope that, on so important a question as this, your Lordships will read through the whole of this very valuable paper. I think it shows that the alarm expressed by the noble and learned Lord on the subject of the new system is in some degree exaggerated, considering that the number of criminals released under the present system is small in comparison with those formerly released from the hulks, and that there is reason to believe that the men who have gone through the reformatory education for three or four years at present provided must come out much better than those who were formerly subjected to the demoralising influences of the hulks. I think, too, the noble and learned Lord has somewhat exaggerated the sum of money with which each man comes out. Though some men may have more, the general average, I believe, is between 5l. and 6l., and that I think is about the sum you would give to a man who was going out afresh into the world to give him a chance of earning an honest livelihood without being exposed to the risk of starvation or of dissipation at the commencement. As to the uncertainty of punishment which the noble and learned Lord complained was an effect of the present system, though I should not venture to put my opinion in opposition to his, I certainly always understood that the uncertainty of detection and the uncertainty of conviction when detected, have ever most strongly acted upon the mind of the criminal in the commission of his crimes, and I think that the slight amount of additional uncertainty now introduced—in other words, the prospect of having the term of punishment shortened in case of good behaviour—is very much counterbalanced by the reformatory influences to which the criminal under the new system is now subjected. The noble and learned Lord objected to the police being instructed to "dodge" these ticket-of-leave men; but I can only say that only one case of this sort has ever come under the notice of the Home Office, and it was found, on inquiry, to be entirely without foundation. I feel convinced that the noble and learned Lord, in bringing forward a question of such great social importance, has been actuated by no party motives, but simply by a desire to assist the Government, and therefore if I could, I would not trouble your Lordships, by going into the details of that case, but I must submit that it is impossible for you to be guided in your opinion of a system of this description by one solitary case. I think it is impossible to look at the report to which I have referred, at the letters from the chaplains, and the letters received by them, without seeing that there is the greatest possible interest felt in the welfare of all the persons who are released under this system. What I look to most in the noble and learned Lord's speech is the suggestions made by him, which I think will be of use to the Government. These, as I understood, were that there should be a strict surveillance over these men, and that the Government should take more effective means for obtaining information with regard to them. It appears to me to be a most difficult thing to draw a line between the objection which the noble and learned Lord takes to the dodging of the police, and the supervision which he would establish. It is a fact the police are instructed to keep their eyes upon these men, but to go further than this would be defeating the very object which we all have in view. The men so dodged would become as it were marked men in the eyes of their fellow-workmen, and would find it much more difficult to obtain employment. With regard to the want of information of which the noble and learned Lord complains, I am glad to be able to inform him that within the last three or four weeks Sir G. Grey has taken every step in his power to obtain the most accurate information upon this very point, and I think I can answer for him that not only will that information be at the orders of the Government, but that the Government will make every possible use of it in ascertaining whether any further steps are required for the alteration of the present system.


I am sure your Lordships are greatly indebted to the noble and learned Lord for having brought this very important subject under your attention. This subject is a growing one; and you are beginning to feel the evils which I anticipated, and against which I warned you. when you passed the Act abolishing transportation some two years ago; and I am persuaded that if Parliament and the Government are not very careful, these evils, instead of being exaggerated, as my noble Friend above me would have us think, are only the commencement of far greater ills. I concur with the noble and learned Lord that the abolition of transportation was a great misfortune. There can be no doubt, from the evidence which reaches us from various quarters, that transportation, as regulated of late years, did ensure the great ends of punishment more completely than any other system which has yet been devised. It undoubtedly deterred from crime those who were disposed to become criminals, and it no less certainly provided a means by which criminals could return to society and earn an honest living. There can be no doubt that a much larger proportion of men who had gone through a proper system of punishment in this country, and were then sent out to the Colonies under judicious regulations with tickets of leave, became better members of society than was the case with criminals treated in any other way that had been tried. As for the inconveniences, there never was a greater mistake than that into which his noble and learned Friend had fallen. It should be recollected that in this country convicts liberated do meet with difficulties in the way of leading a reformed life, with whatever guards you may surround the system, which were not felt in the Colonies. In the Colonies the convict was removed from all those temptations which unhappily led him into crime—he was removed from all old associates and old associations—and he was placed in circumstances where there was every encouragement to good conduct and every discouragement to bad behaviour. I utterly deny that, taking a really enlarged view of the interests of the Colonies, they have suffered in this respect. I firmly believe that if you compare the moral condition of Western Australia at the present moment, with those colonies to which convicts had not been sent, the result would be decidedly in favour of Western Australia. It is a great misfortune, in my opinion, that it has been thought necessary to abolish transportation, and very great indeed is the responsibility of those persons in this country by whose language that necessity had been created—for I do not hesitate to say that a factitious and artificial feeling was created in the Colonies by the language used by injudicious persons, to say the least, in this country—it was the appeals which were made to the self-love of the colonists, and the declamations in unmeasured terms against the injustice of sending convicts to the Colonies, and against the alleged injury thereby inflicted on them, that changed the feeling there. It was by the language held in this country that the feeling of the Colonies on this subject was changed, because every one acquainted with the question is aware that, about fifteen years ago, the feeling of the Colonies was exactly the reverse, and persons there then used language as strong against the injustice of abolishing transportation as they afterwards did against continuing transportation. The noble and learned Lord and the noble President of the Council have both said that it was absolutely necessary to abolish transportation, because the abolition was demanded by the Colonies. Now, however unpopular the notion may be, I for one, will not hesitate to declare my opinion that if you are to proceed on the principle that whatever is asked for by the Colonies—whether their demands be just or unjust, reasonable or unreasonable—is at once to be conceded, then the sooner you part with your Colonies altogether the better; and if you part with your authority, get rid also of the responsibility of defending and protecting them. I deny that, in point of justice or reason, those colonies which were founded as penal colonies, and to which the inhabitants went expressly that they might have the advantage of convict labour, have any right to turn round on the mother country just when it suits their convenience and say they will receive convicts no longer. But, assuming that it was necessary to put an end to transportation, I still say that no little responsibility rests on the Government and the Parliament by whom this measure was carried into effect for the extremely hasty manner in which the whole thing was done. I ventured at the time to take some exceptions to the measure substituting penal servitude for transportation; but, in spite of all objections, the Act was passed in the shape in which it was proposed. A great mistake in the Act was this, that while transportation was abolished, the period of penal servitude substituted for it was made much shorter, so that four years of penal servitude were put in lieu of seven years' transportation. That or some similar proportion was adopted. But it is now discovered that, unless you make the duration of punishment dependent on the conduct of the convict, it is impossible to maintain the discipline you desire in your convict establishments. The great improvement which had been effected of late years hinged upon this—that they now called into play in the mind of the convict the great motive of human life—they had sought to inspire him with hope, instead of attempting to compel him by fear. Formerly, in the hulks and prisons you trusted to fear—to the dread of immediate punishment for misconduct—as the sole stimulus to industry and good behaviour. Under that system, even with the assistance of the best and ablest officers, it was found practically impossible to maintain a real system of convict discipline, and you were driven into an excess of severity which hardens men, and you did not succeed in procuring either real industry or good conduct on the part of the convicts. A great improvement was effected when this subject was considered by the right hon. Gentleman now Secretary for the Colonies and myself, by methodising and bringing into more complete regularity the system, already begun by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby), of making the duration of punishment dependent on the conduct of the convicts. By applying this principle, under carefully considered regulations, you did succeed, with an inconceivably small amount of punishment, in enforcing perfect discipline and obtaining a larger amount of labour from the convicts than ever had been the case before; and I think I once mentioned that at the penal establishment at Dartmoor I saw work performed in a week by two convict sawyers which exceeded the amount of work done by two free sawyers in the same period. The holding out to the convicts the hope of an early discharge was the keystone to the whole system; and when you abolished transportation you ought not to have abolished a principle which was found so successful an inducement to good behaviour. By that most unhappy provision of the Bill, however, against which I warned the House, but on which the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack insisted, and which I know has been a great source of difficulties and mischiefs, you crippled your power to effect amendment in the convict, because you are driven either to make him work, irrespectively of his conduct, the whole four years of his detention, or, if you adhere to the former practice of making some allowance for good conduct, then you were obliged to discharge him after a period of detention quite inadequate as a punishment and correction for the offences of which he had been guilty. That is the evil of the Act; but I think the fault may be easily corrected. Was there any reason, when you put an end to banishment, which was the part of the sentence which was the most formidable obstacle to the commission of crime, that you should also reduce the period of penal labour? You ought at any rate to return to the old principle, and let the period of penal servitude correspond with an equal period of transportation. After all, there are great difficulties to encounter; but I still believe that, on the whole, the system of tickets of leave at home ought not to be abandoned. We know by the experience of the Colonies that those who were sent out as exiles, which was the beginning of the plan, conducted themselves much less properly than those sent out with tickets of leave. It was found that the sudden change from complete coercion to freedom was too much for the men to stand; and a much larger proportion was reformed when discharged with tickets of leave. With such experience it was right and wise in Parliament to give power to the Crown to establish a system of tickets of leave in this country. But in doing so great difficulties were to be encountered. On the one hand, if you exercise too close a surveillance over the convicts, you greatly interfere with their means of maintaining themselves honestly; on the other hand, if you abstain from all control over them, then your ticket-of-leave system becomes a mere name. Whether it might not be possible to contrive some regulations founded on those which used to be enforced in the Colonies, of compelling the ticket-of-leave men to report themselves to certain officers at certain periods, and of keeping back their wages until they reported themselves—whether some arrangement of that kind could not be adopted is worthy of consideration. But, at the same time, I still think the Government ought carefully to consider the question, whether the means of extending somewhat further than at present the sentence of transportation might not be adopted. My own opinion is, that with a very little more expenditure of money, Western Australia and some other colonies that could be named, might be able to receive a considerably larger number of convicts than at present. Before I conclude, my Lords, permit me to say that I think this question is very much connected with another most important one, well deserving the consideration of Parliament—namely, the question whether there ought not to be some means adopted to effect a more complete organisation of the police throughout the country, and their establishment in such a manner as would secure a thorough concert of action between them.


said, that no Member of their Lordships' House more cordially agreed with the sentiment of the noble and learned Lord in regretting the necessity that had arisen for abolishing transportation than he did. The experience he had acquired during many years' administration of criminal law had convinced him that transportation better answered all the ends of punishment than any other that had been devised, for it contained in itself the two essential ingredients of punishment—the maximum of terror and the minimum of suffering. But, unfortunately, however advantageous it might have been to this country, it was the opinion of the last two Governments, and of their Lordships—not simply the opinion of the Government of the day, or of the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby)—that the time had come when transportation must be, he would not say abolished, for it had not been abolished, but to a very great extent cut down and modified. He believed that about a thousand convicts were the most that could now be annually sent out of the country. The noble Earl who last addressed their Lordships (Earl Grey) considered that the necessity for the modification of transportation had been too hastily assumed, and that the feeling in the Colonies had been brought about by unjustifiable language held by certain individuals at home, who sought for something the colonists did not desire. He (the Lord Chancellor) confessed that, to some extent, he was inclined to agree in that view of the case; but, from whatever cause it had arisen, the feeling was too great to be resisted, and not only did the Government think that something more than modification was needed, but it was felt to be impossible to continue to send out convicts in the face of the remonstrances that were made on the subject. The noble Earl said our Colonies were not worth keeping, if the Government were obliged to yield everything they demanded; but the question was this—when there came to this country repeated remonstrances against our loading those rising communities with the offscouring of our criminal population, could these remonstrances be either neglected or refused? There was too much justice in the remonstrance, and too much sympathy in the English Government, for them to resist the demand for alteration. It was necessary that an experiment should be made. When he said that an experiment must be made, he thought it of necessity followed that a Bill similar to that which their Lordships had passed should be brought in. He had himself proposed the Bill, but he took no credit for wisdom or forethought in proposing it, for if convicts could not be sent abroad they must be imprisoned at home. The question was, then, how should the old penalty be modified? What he proposed, and what their Lordships adopted, was this, that whereas there had been a very well-known system of substituting terms of imprisonment at Millbank for certain terms of transportation, that which had been done by the Executive should thenceforward be done by the Legislature. The terms, which were said to be short, were the exact terms that had been before in use. The man who was sentenced to transportation for seven years was by the universal system imprisoned for four years; for ten years seven were substituted, and so on. On this principle the Bill was framed, and whether right or wrong their Lordships sanctioned it. As to the question how far the Government had acted wisely in carrying out that enactment of the Legislature, it had been said, over and over again, that the whole dealing with this subject was necessarily an experiment. He could not say whether or no the ticket-of-leave system had failed; the Act had only been in operation about a year and a half, so that that was not time enough to ascertain its value; but looking to the report of Colonel Jebb, he thought it would be impossible to deny that the system was working well. There might be individual cases of failure; but the general result was, that of persons undergoing first imprisonment, and then penal labour, and who then get out on ticket of leave—the result was, that the system turned out a greater proportion of such convicts comparatively honest and useful members of society than any other system. His noble and learned Friend suggested that Government were to blame for not having a more effectual system of registration and control. Those were broad suggestions; and in reference to the first he would only say that the Secretary for the Home Department had already thought of a more efficient system of registration, and was trying what could be done. He, however, thought that such a system would be necessarily, to a great extent, deceptive. A convict might change his name, and whether registered or not it would be difficult to know what proportion of persons had again lapsed into crime. The system might be attempted, but he saw great difficulties in carrying it into operation. The system of forcing a man who got into work—and was in a train to recover his character—to find his way to a central office, and report himself at certain times, was most objectionable. The man must get leave at stated times to do this, and this would act as a perpetual stigma, and more evil than good would be the result. All such experiments he should look at with suspicion.

Motion agreed to.

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