HL Deb 09 May 1856 vol 142 cc254-8

said, that he had placed a notice on the paper having reference to the evils of the ticket-of-leave system; he, however, now appeared before their Lordships under some difficulty. Some time ago he had asked Her Majesty's Government whether, after all the revelations that had taken place, they intended to alter the system? And he was told in reply, that the system could not be altered without an Act of Parliament, and that therefore it must be proceeded in. Since that time the ground had been completely cut from under the supporters of the existing system; for a noble Earl (Earl Stanhope) had undertaken to move that the whole subject should be referred to a Select Committee, which seemed to be promised by the Government; no time, however, had been fixed for naming it. He believed that the system of granting tickets of leave was a serious and growing evil. Its bad effects had been experienced in all parts of the country, and the complaints against it were almost universal. Some supposed that giving a man a ticket of leave was conferring a boon upon him; but the very reverse was the fact. He was regarded as a man at liberty upon sufferance merely, liable at any time to undergo the remainder of his sentence; he was taunted by his fellows, and could get no employment; while it was notorious that men who had been sentenced to long periods of transportation had returned to this country under the ticket-of-leave system after two or three years' penal servitude. If criminals were to be released after a short period of imprisonment it would be much better to send them forth as free men altogether, without any ticket of leave; let them consider themselves absolved from the rest of their sentence, and, although they might remain to and under the vigilance of the police, the community would imagine that they had received a full pardon for their good conduct. Such a person might still be subjected to the consequences of being again convicted by being sent out of the country if he was found not to have deserved the lenity extended to him. Unless some decided steps were speedily adopted, the Session would pass away without anything being done; but he should not press his Resolution if he were assured that a Select Committee would soon be appointed to whom the question could be referred. It was absolutely essential for the public good that some change should be made. He had received a return from the head constable of Liverpool, which showed that during the last sixteen months, out of sixty-eight persons who had obtained tickets of leave, and who were known to the police of that town, no fewer than sixty-six had again been committed for trial. Such was one instance out of many of the evil consequences of the present system. He hoped, therefore, that some member of the Government would give him an assurance that no delay would take place in the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry; if not, he should consider it his duty to press the Resolution of which he had given notice.

Moved, to resolve— That Experience has proved the present System of granting Tickets of Leave to Convicts to be injurious to the interests of Society, dangerous to the Security of Property, and tending to the increase rather than the Diminution of Crime; it is therefore most important and desirable that Her Majesty's Government should take the Matter into their serious Consideration, and devise some Means, either by Providing Employment for Convicts so released at home or in the Colonies, or otherwise, of relieving the Public and the Country from a most fearful and growing Evil.


was sorry to hear that his noble Friend did not intend to press his Motion. From his own experience, and from all he had learned, he felt satisfied that the ticket-of-leave system had totally failed. He believed that the system had been the parent of a great number of additional offences. At Leicester he was informed that a larger number of ticket-of-leave convicts had been again convicted, of crime than appeared to be known to Her Majesty's Government.


assured the noble Viscount that there was no disposition on the part of the Government to throw any obstacles in the way of an inquiry into the operation of the ticket-of-leave system. The question was now in the hands of Earl Stanhope, who had postponed for a certain time the nomination of his Committee, the appointment of which was not only not opposed, but even urged upon him by members of the Government as well as by other noble Lords, because a precisely similar inquiry was now in progress before a Select Committee of the other House. But the noble Earl intended to proceed with his Committee, and certainly the Government would offer no opposition to him. The noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) had complained the other day that he (the Duke of Argyll) had quoted a Report which was not in the hands of the other Members of the House; but the maps and tabular statements were fast approaching completion, and the Report would speedily be placed in their Lordships' hands. He must, however, remind the noble Marquess that Reports which showed the working of the ticket-of-leave system from its introduction in 1853 to the end of 1854 were before the House, and they proved that, in the four or five prisons to which they related, the proportion of recommittals to that of convicts released on tickets of leave was very small. In many cases satisfactory information had been received that ticket-of-leave men were obtaining honest and industrious livelihoods, and there was evidence to show that in some instances they had relapsed into crime, in consequence of the difficulty they experienced in obtaining employment. It appeared from a return which had been laid upon the table of the House of Commons, and which would be embodied in Colonel Jebb's Report, that the total number of convicts liberated on tickets of leave since the commencement of the system was upwards of 5,000, while the number of recommitments had only been 420. He did not mean to say that it was not desirable, so far as the people of this country were concerned, that convicts should be sent to distant colonies; but at present such an arrangement was impracticable, and they must therefore do their best with convicts at home.


was understood to say, that the results of Colonel Jebb's Reports, which had been published in the newspapers, scarcely bore out the statement of the noble Duke, and that he thought it was rather unfair that the noble Duke should take credit for the success of a system upon the authority of documents which were not upon their Lordships' table. He believed that the evils of the system would be considerably lessened if notice was given to the police when ticket-of-leave men were sent back to the country. It was said that such a system would prevent these men from obtaining employment; but he complained that no attempt had been made on the part of the Government to provide persons in such a situation with work if they were unable to obtain it in any other way. The consequence was, that it was impossible to take up a newspaper without finding accounts of ticket-of-leave men being charged with crimes; and the effect of the ticket-of-leave system was to create an impression throughout the country that sentences passed by the Judges would not be carried out, and that crime might be committed without danger of punishment. He feared that if his noble Friend (Viscount Dungannon) forbore to press his Motion, nothing would be done with reference to this subject during the present Session.


said, that the Blue-books already upon the table showed the working of the ticket-of-leave system for upwards of a year. It appeared that at Portland Prison 331 prisoners had been discharged with licences to the end of 1854, of whom only four were returned to the prison with their licences revoked. At Dartmoor Prison, up to the same period, 467 prisoners were liberated on tickets of leave, and only three of these convicts were sent back to the prison in consequence of their licences having been revoked. The chaplain stated that he had heard of five more who had become inmates of prisons, but that he was daily receiving letters stating that men who had been discharged on tickets of leave were doing well, and were obtaining an honest livelihood. From Portsmouth Prison 358 convicts had been discharged on tickets of leave, only one of whom had been returned to the prison with his licence revoked, and satisfactory accounts had been received, directly or indirectly, of the conduct of many of the released prisoners. He (the Duke of Argyll) had never asserted that the ticket-of-leave system had been entirely successful, for a sufficient time had not elapsed since its introduction to justify any conclusion as to its efficiency, but, so far as the experiment had been tried, there was every reason to hope that it would ultimately succeed.


said, that, if the noble Duke would cause inquiries to be made of magistrates in agricultural districts and in populous manufacturing towns, he would find that the results of the ticket-of-leave system were of the most fearful and mischievous character. He hoped that an inquiry would be instituted on the subject without any unnecessary delay, and that a Committee would be named soon after the Whitsuntide recess. If such a course was not taken, he should deem it his duty to agitate the question until it received the consideration to which he thought it was entitled, and which the public security demanded. For the present, however, he was content to withdraw the Motion of which he had given notice.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

House adjourned to Monday the 19th instant.