HL Deb 23 July 1858 vol 151 cc1999-2007

Order of the day for the Second Reading Read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, explained the object of the measure to be to extend to Ireland a principle which had frequently been brought before the attention of Parliament since the year 1854, and which in its practical application to England had been attended with the greatest advantage.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


My Lords, considering the importance of the subject of the Bill to which my noble Friend has asked your Lordships to give a second reading, I am surprised that he should have made so meagre a statement of its object and provisions. I regret, my Lords, to feel it my duty to object to my noble Friend's Motion. It is not that I am opposed to the principle of reforma- tories for Ireland, far from it; I believe nothing would more tend to the moral improvement of the country, than to subject the juvenile offender to such discipline, training, and instruction in a reformatory school as might nip vice, as it were, in the bud, and enable him, when arrived at maturer years, to return to society endued with good moral principles of conduct; for it is well known that it is in youth more commonly than in manhood that the career of crime commences, and that if vicious habits are not formed in youth they are much less likely to be formed later in life. The important question, however, is, in what manner can the youthful offenders be best reclaimed? and how should the experiment be tried in Ireland with the best probability of success? My Lords, this is a question to which it is impossible Her Majesty's present Government could have as yet turned their attention. The measure before you is that of an individual member of the other House, animated, I have no doubt, with the best intentions, but unaided by any of those sources of knowledge at the command of a Government, and in no degree responsible for what he recommends to you; and your Lordships, upon whom the responsibility of passing the Bill is to be cast, certainly have not in the present Session sufficient time to make any inquiry whatever into the subject. The provisions of the Bill appear to be ill-suited for the circumstances of Ireland, to which they alone apply. Your Lordships are aware that it is the unhappy lot of the poor to be the most exposed to the temptation of crime. Juvenile offenders are commonly the children of the poor; they are ill-educated in general in the country schools; in the workhouse schools, where they are brought more under discipline and regulated instruction, they derive far greater benefit; but under the poor law regulations the parent cannot give his child the benefit of the workhouse school, without himself becoming an inmate of the workhouse. If, then, a far better and really effective education be provided in the reformatories—if food, lodging, clothing, and medical care, together with instruction, secular, and religious, and such discipline and training as may be most conducive to the eradication of vice, and the laying of a good foundation for moral conduct, are therein gratuitously provided for the child, upon the sole condition of his having committed some offence for which he may have incurred the penalty of a fortnight's imprisonment, the temptation will be very great for the poor parent to have his child somehow brought within the grasp of the criminal law, in order to obtain for him a really good education, and at the same time to rid himself of the expense of his support. Another reason for which the proposed plan of reformatory schools is unsuited to the circumstances of Ireland, is the disparity of numbers as between Protestants and Roman Catholics, especially in the west and south; it is variously estimated at from one-fourth to one-sixth; but in the statistics of crime given in the report of the Inspector General of Prisons the disparity is far greater. There the proportion is about one Protestant to ten Roman Catholics; it is therefore probable that as each reformatory school must be under the exclusive management of persons of the same religious persuasion as that of the parents or guardians of the children sent thereto, there will be no reformatories except for Roman Catholics, and an advantage will thus be given to the members of one communion over those of another. I am far from grudging to the Roman Catholic body any advantage that may legitimately accrue to them from their preponderance in numbers, but the endeavour of the Legislature should be to place the members of all religious denominations as far as possible upon a footing of perfect equality with respect to the advantages derivable from the expenditure of public money. The proposed plan would operate unequally. A much better plan would be to adhere in reformatory as in workhouse schools to the principle so much lauded for the last thirty years, of united education of Protestant and Romanist in the same schoolroom—a system which, though a total failure, and not acceptable to any denomination of Christians in the country schools, is not unsuited to public institutions, where children of different creeds are necessarily thrown together, and where, under the superintendence of paid and responsible officers, the rules of the National Board regarding united, secular, and separate religious instruction, can be enforced and carried out. If there is any truth in the vaunted excellence of the national system, the religious interests of the pupils would be well secured where its principles were sure of being strictly applied. I am persuaded, at all events, that reformatories, conducted under the superintendence of public and responsible officers, would be much more beneficial to their inmates, of every religious persuasion, than if subjected to the sole and exclusive control and management of persons of the same religious persuasion as that of the parents whose children were committed to them. The principle, moreover, of instituting schools of an exclusively denominational character, exclusive alike in the management and in the admission of pupils, is not alone inconsistent with the existing system, but altogether novel in Ireland, except in the College of Maynooth. The experiment in the case of reformatories was only recognized in England by the Act of the last Session; it is as yet untried. Such an experiment, surely, should not be applied to Ireland—a country to which such opposite principles of government have generally been applied—without the most careful consideration of the subject by a responsible Cabinet.

I would further venture to observe that the present is a peculiarly inopportune season for applying it to the case of Irish reformatory schools. Your Lordships are aware that the words in the Bill which require a reformatory school to be under the exclusive management of persons of the same religious persuasion as that of the juvenile offenders to be committed to it, will, so far as they relate to Roman Catholics, practically subject those schools to a superintendence and management exclusively ecclesiastical. I would ask your Lordships, then, whether we should be justified at the present moment in confiding so great a trust as the moral reformation of nine-tenths of the juvenile offenders in Ireland to such hands, after the evidence recently taken before the Committee of the House of Commons on the alleged destitution in Gweedore, so directly inculpating the entire body of the priests in that district. I will not more particularly allude to that inquiry than to observe that, both in its lengthened progress and in the Report to which the Committee ultimately came upon it, it has been much before the public in Ireland, and has left an impression very far from favourable to the Roman Catholic priests as moral instructors of the Irish population. I should be sorry to infer from a single case, although it included, I believe, the whole of the clergy of the district, an opinion unfavourable to all the rest of the Roman Catholic clergy. Such an inference would be neither just nor, I am sure, correct; but it is not exactly at the moment when such a case has been brought under public notice, that without any inquiry re- formatories should be established upon a principle which would practically give to that body the sole and uncontrolled conduct of the education and training of any class whatever of Her Majesty's subjects. Before I sit down, my Lords, I would beg to call your attention to some of the provisions of the Bill. My noble Friend, in introducing this measure to your notice, stated that the reformatory school would be under public supervision and regular inspection. I do not find, my Lords, any provision for this, except that the Inspector General of Prisons is to report to the Lord Lieutenant upon the condition and regulations of schools proposed to be licensed as reformatories, and that upon his report such licence may be afterwards withdrawn; but I find no clause requiring such inspection. By the 3rd clause I find that the grand juries may present money in aid of reformatories, and by the 5th clause may appoint a Committee to enter into an agreement with the directors or managers of any reformatory school for the reception and keeping of offenders under sentence; but by the same clause it is provided, that the expenses hereby incurred shall be presented without any previous application to a presentment sessions. By this means the ratepayers are excluded from any control over, or any examination into, the charges they are required to defray. Although the managers of reformatories are thus secured against loss, your Lordships will find that the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury are, also, under the 13th clause of the Bill, to defray either the whole or such part of the cost of the care and maintenance of any juvenile of fender as the Chief Secretary may recommend. Now, my Lords, I wish to know whether the managers of these reformatories are to be paid both by grand jury and Treasury for the same object, and if not, to which quarter the expense is to be charged? Again, by the 15th clause the parents of the juvenile offenders may be required to pay respectively 5s. a week for each child—it may not be easy to obtain from poor parents so large a contribution, if any, indeed, could be exacted from them; but if it is paid, who is to reap the benefit? The grand jury, or the Treasury? Or is it to go to swell the funds of the reformatory? The Bill is silent upon the subject. I believe that practically nothing would be obtained under this clause, as it does not mention by whom the parents may be sued, or in whose behalf. But I would beg to call the attention of the noble Earl at the head of the Government to the 20th and 21st lines of the clause, which, if enacted as they at present stand, would alter the existing constitution of the Petty Sessions Court. The words are, "and it shall be lawful for any two justices of the peace, or any stipendiary magistrate sitting in petty sessions for the district," &c., to constitute the tribunal before which parents may be sued for the weekly payments for the support of their children in reformatory schools. It is thus, for the first time, either cunningly or accidentally proposed to establish a difference between the jurisdiction of the local and of the stipendiary magistracy. Hitherto they have been upon a precisely equal footing, and have worked harmoniously together; but, by the words I have quoted from the Bill, it would henceforth require the presence of two local magistrates to do at petty sessions what a single stipendiary magistrate might do. I trust my noble Friend opposite, in commending this Bill to the acceptance of the House, did not intend thus to degrade the order of the Irish magistracy to which he belongs. The next remark I would make upon the provisions of the Bill is, that by the 8th and 9th clauses it is made optional with the managers of reformatories to receive, or refuse to receive, such juvenile offenders as may be sent to them. What, my Lords, I would like to know, is to become of the child so rejected? He might be a very bad boy, one whom the managers did not like to undertake for; but because he may be a bad case, he is only, therefore, I conceive, the more in need of the reformatory treatment for which this Bill purports to make provision; but by these clauses it is placed in the power of the managers to frustrate the proper operation of the Act where most it was required. I will only trouble your Lordships by noticing one more clause, which is the 7th. It fixes the age of sixteen, as that up to which juvenile offenders may be ordered, after a certain term of imprisonment, to be sent to a reformatory school, and detained there for any period not exceeding five years; thus, a lad under sixteen may be forcibly detained and trained in religious principles up to the age of twenty-one years, from which his convictions may dissent. This is not consistent with religious liberty. The same clause gives an appear to a juvenile offender, or his parent or guardian, against any order of the justice's sentencing to detention in a reformatory school. What, my Lords, is to become of the offender pending such appeal? The Bill makes no provision for such a case; it appears to have been most loosely contrived from beginning to end—to be a specimen of most clumsy House of Commons legislation, unaided by the experience and unchecked by the responsibility of the Government. I would earnestly entreat my noble Friend at the head of the Government, who, I am sure, can have no object in view but the public good, not to give his sanction to this measure. It is one for which there exists no urgent necessity. Crime has much diminished, and especially in the class of juvenile offenders. This may be partly owing to education. I believe it is chiefly owing to the absence of distress, to the fuller employment of the poor, and to the beneficial effect of the summary jurisdiction entrusted to magistrates at petty sessions in dealing with juveniles. The intent of this Bill I believe to be good and creditable to the hon. Gentleman who introduced and carried it through the House of Commons. I do not ask your Lordships to reject it, but to defer its consideration to another Session—to dismiss it without prejudice. The important questions involved in it could then be deliberately examined into by the Government during the recess. My noble Friend, on assuming the reins of Government, and his colleague in the other House, held out the promise of a modification of the system of National education, by which the Bible, now for so many years banished from the general school-room, might in some cases be restored. I believe that nothing would more tend to the advancement of education, and to the proper moral training of youth, than such a measure; I regret that this promise has not received its fulfilment. With regret I have also observed, that most important Bills have, in the present Session, been allowed to pass at the sole recommendation of individual Members of Parliament—the Jew Bill and the Property Qualification Repeal Bill—measures affecting the constitution of the Legislature—ought not, I conceive, to have received the sanction of the Government without having been introduced with Ministerial responsibility. Let me hope, that while that which ought to have been done has been left undone, the passing of this Bill may not be added to the list of things done that ought not to have been done.


said, that it was quite true that this was not originally a Government Bill, having been introduced into the House of Commons by a private Member; but the Government had sanctioned its principle by adopting it, and had given to its details the most careful consideration. The whole of the arguments of the noble Earl against it were founded on the assumption that what had proved extremely beneficial to England would be no good to Ireland. Undoubtedly, the introduction of the system into England had been attended with the most beneficial consequences, and he was unable to understand what there was in the composition of the Irish character which should render it less useful in that country. For his part he thought it of very great importance to establish juvenile reformatories in Ireland. The noble Earl had said that if there were good workhouse schools, and good reformatory schools, the poor people would be tempted to induce their children to commit crime to be sent there in order to get an education which they could get nowhere else in Ireland. He denied that the education of the people in Ireland generally was badly cared for; on the contrary, they were in a far better position in that respect than was the mass of the population in England. As to Roman Catholic, having the management of the schools, he thought considering that nine-tenths of the juvenile criminals would also be Roman Catholics there was no great grievance in that. It was not true, however, that there would be no machinery of inspection and reporting, because the very first clause contained a provision for the visitation of Her Majesty's inspectors of prisons. One very pertinent question had been asked, and that was as to the power of appeal. That clause would have to be considered in Committee. At present it was proposed to give the child a power of appealing against being sent to a reformatory after spending fourteen days in prison; that appeal was to be within fifteen days, but if the Session was sitting or at hand it was to be to the next Session. It was a very serious question what was to be done with the juvenile offender between the expiration of the sentence and the hearing of the appeal. Without discussing, then, the clauses of the Bill, which would undergo a strict examination in Committee, he should only say that, as this was an attempt to extend to the sister country a plan for the moral reformation of juvenile offenders which had been found to answer well in England, he should give his support to the second reading of the Bill, hoping that it would receive such prompt and ample consideration as would enable it to become law in the course of the present Session.


, after the very satisfactory observations of the noble Earl opposite, would not detain their Lordships further than to inform the noble Earl (the Earl of Clancarty) that this measure had met with general support from the more moderate of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities in Ireland, though it had had to struggle against the detraction of the more violent of both communions. In his opinion it well deserved the attention of their Lordships. The noble Earl (the Earl of Clancarty) so well performed his duties as a magistrate in Ireland that any Amendment suggested by him would receive their most serious attention. He would add, that though in the matter of adult reformatories Ireland had very much the start of England, she was yet unfurnished with juvenile reformatories, and he hoped their Lordships would give a speedy passage to this Bill, which was intended to remedy that defect. He defended placing the schools under Roman Catholic management, and observed that though mixed education could be well and properly applied to the general bulk of the population, yet it was necessary that exclusively religious education should be given to the juvenile criminal to bring him back to the paths of honesty and virtue.


expressed his gratification that this Bill had been introduced, considering that juvenile reformatories were much wanted in Ireland. There were some matters of detail in the Bill to which he objected, but he should not think of throwing any impediment in the way of the second reading, and only regretted that it had been brought in at so late a period of the Session as not to admit of due consideration being given to its details.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly.