HL Deb 05 February 1857 vol 144 cc213-7

LORD BERNERS moved, that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for a Return of the number of Tickets of Leave issued to convicts in each year since the commencement of that practice, showing the minimum periods of sentence at which such licences have been granted, and the number of licence-holders re-apprehended, with the result of the proceedings against them. In proposing the Motion, the noble Lord said, that when he placed this notice on the paper, he was not aware that a noble Lord, whom he did not then see in his place, had given notice of a Motion of a more general character on the subject. Under these circumstances he should avoid entering upon a discussion of the larger question, but confine himself to the subject of his Motion. There was no doubt that the public mind had been very greatly agitated in reference to the ticket-of-leave system, and that the opinion was almost universally entertained, as appeared by the remarks of learned Judges, including the noble and learned Lord the Chief Justice of England himself, the Lord Mayor and magistrates of the metropolis, the recorders of different boroughs, grand juries and courts of quarter-sessions in various counties, that the system was a complete failure. All testimony upon the subject went to prove that the most mischievous results had arisen from letting loose, with tickets of leave, a large number of men, many of whom were the most hardened criminals, who had been frequently convicted, and in fact had made crime their profession. This being so it struck him that correct information should now be laid before the House and the public, not only of the number of tickets of leave that had been granted, but also of the nature of the offence and the character of the offender. He held in his hand the report of the Inspectors of the prisons at Pentonville, Parkhurst, Millbank, Portland, Portsmouth, Dartmoor, Brixton, and the hulks; also an extract from the table of the criminal offenders in the year 1855. By these documents he observed, that although the number of offenders in the aggregate was less in that year than during some previous years, yet that where an increase had taken place in certain descriptions of crime, that increase had arisen concurrently with the adoption of the ticket-of-leave system. In addition to this, he had before him the copy of a memorial to the Home Secretary from the magistrates of the county of Leicester, in quarter-sessions assembled, representing what his (Lord Berners') experience entirely confirmed, that there had been an increase of crime in that county, which was clearly attributable to the system. The noble Lord then moved for the returns.


said, the Government were perfectly willing to comply with the Motion, and he quite concurred with the noble Mover that discussion upon the general question at that moment was altogether unnecessary. Notice had been given in the other House of the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill upon the subject of secondary punishments; and in moving for leave to introduce that Bill, the Home Secretary would state at length what were the views of Her Majesty's Government upon this most important question.


suggested that the return moved for by the noble Lord should not be confined merely to those holders of tickets of leave who had been reconvicted for some specific offence, but should be made also to include, in an additional column, those ticket-of-leave men who had been reapprehended without the commission of any distinct crime. Their Lordships were aware that the tickets of leave were granted upon certain conditions, and that they were revocable not simply on the repetition of acts of violence, but also at the pleasure of the Home Secretary, provided that Minister was satisfied that the holder was leading a suspicious life. The object of this latter provision obviously was to prevent the men from returning to their old associates and to habits of idleness; and, were it wise or were it inexpedient in itself, there was little doubt that it was an important feature of the system. In order, therefore, fairly to test the working of the entire system, it was desirable to ascertain how many of the men had been reapprehended under the category just mentioned, as well as under the other categories enumerated in the proposed return.


while agreeing that this was not a favourable opportunity for entertaining the subject of secondary punishments, yet believed it to be most important that their Lordships should know at the earliest possible moment what was the real question they had to consider in the present emergency. That question was not whether they should, or should not, continue the issue of tickets of leave, but whether they should, or should not, return to the practice of transportation. The granting of tickets of leave was not a substantive, but merely a collateral measure, contingent upon the suspension of transportation, and while the system of transportation continued in abeyance the evil now so loudly complained of must go on. The Government must take into their serious consideration the absolute necessity of returning to transportation, if security was to be extended to Her Majesty's peaceable subjects; and nothing but the assurance given by the noble Earl that a measure on this subject was in contemplation, and about to be introduced into the other House, could at all quiet the alarm now so justly felt by the public. Had it not been for that promise on the part of the Government, he should have deemed it his duty immediately to bring the question under their Lordships' notice.


thought it of the utmost importance that every possible information upon the subject should be laid upon their Lordships' table. He concurred with Lord Berners in one fact especially, and that was, that since the ticket-of-leave system had been in operation, crime in the rural districts had been on the increase. Crimes had been committed there which, before that period, had scarcely ever been heard of, and general alarm pervaded the mind of the country. It was quite obvious that if a man were sent back with a ticket of leave to the place which had been the scene of his crimes, it would be next to impossible for him to obtain employment, and that consequently he must either return to his old practices, or be content to live in a condition of absolute want and starvation. In fact, it was placing him in circumstances of temptation which it would be impossible for him to resist or to endure. During the recess he (Viscount Dungannon) was in Ireland, where he had an opportunity of visiting the convict establishment at Spike Island, and making inquiries as to the character of the ticket-of-leave system there. He learned that the course pursued was this—when a man's conduct in confinement appeared to entitle him to receive a ticket of leave, inquiries were made with the view of procuring him employment in the event of his being discharged, and when that was obtainable, further inquiries were made as to the character of the proposed employer, his habits, and associations. These inquiries were usually conducted by the police authorities of the district in which the employer resided, and upon the result of those inquiries depended whether the convict should be admitted to the privilege of having a ticket of leave or not. Now, it appeared to him that that was a cautious and admirable course of proceeding, and a very great improvement upon the system which existed here. He was convinced that the time had arrived when a revision of the system in this country should take place, because, as the noble and learned Lord (Lord Campbell) had justly observed, the public at large entertained very great and serious apprehension upon the subject. Circumstances which had occurred during the recess had greatly augmented that alarm, and he hoped the Session would not be allowed to pass away without the adoption of some decided legislative measure on the subject, for he was convinced, that so long as the present system continued, crime must continue to increase. He felt much indebted to the noble Lord (Lord Berners) for having on so early a day brought the question under the notice of their Lordships.


said, that there would be no objection to produce the additional information required by the Earl of Carnarvon.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned till To-morrow.