HL Deb 07 June 1864 vol 175 cc1339-50

Order of the Day for the House to go into Committee read.—(The Lord President.)


said, he did not object to going into Committee; on the contrary, he highly approved of the Bill, and of one provision especially, which he found the Government intended to give up—the supervision of ticket-of-leave men between their liberation and the expiration of their sentence. This supervision was absolutely necessary for the safety of the community, and for the good of the convicts themselves. The ticket-of-leave was granted as a reward of good conduct, and a stimulus to further reform; and as their real struggle only commenced when they returned to the scene of temptation, it was in vain to suppose them fit for mixing in society on their release. The system of supervision under Sir Walter Crofton, to whom the country owed so much, had proved most successful in Ireland. Of this he could speak confidently; for at the Congress of Social Science three years ago in Dublin, Sir Walter Crofton's operations had been fully examined by his (Lord Brougham's) colleagues, and found to be in all respects admirable and perfectly successful. 160 convicts were superintended by no more than two policemen, and with complete success. Among those who examined this was his learned friend and great philanthropist, the Recorder of Birmingham, Mr. Hill, head of a family to whom the country, and especially the working class, were under such obligations — one of the family, Sir. Rowland, having yesterday been the subject of a Royal message. Mr. Hill, from many years' experience, decidedly considered the return of convicts to the community without supervision and warning to their employers to be of undoubted inexpediency and of questionable honesty. He would read a passage from a letter he had received from that experienced magistrate, who, after stating his opinion of supervision, adds— I should, however, pause before pronouncing such opinions, if I believed supervision to be detrimental to the ex-convict who had determined to return to paths of honesty and continue in them. But I am well convinced to the contrary—namely, that supervision hits to the honest man many advantages with few or no drawbacks; and as to the persecution of well-intended persons by the police, which has been alleged, I have made this the object of inquiry for years, and believe the charge groundless; and that the rule, with no exception, is precisely the reverse. In fact, the convict has the advantage, besides his being kept to his duties, of receiving the support of his superintendent by the testimony to his character, which will weigh strongly with any employers. On the whole, therefore, he (Lord Brougham) felt most anxiously that the Irish system which had so completely succeeded, should be adopted in this country — all the difference, if any, between the character of the people in the two countries, being rather an argument in favour of the extension, as showing the supervision to be more difficult there than here. He should, therefore, earnestly entreat the House to reject the Amendment of which notice had been given, to omit the fourth or supervision clause.


said, he approved both of what the Government had done and what they had refused to do, with regard to sending convicts to Australia. With the undoubted fact that the Australian colonies generally objected to receive our convicts, he thought we were bound to respect their wishes; but, at the same time, it was unreasonable and unjust for the South Australian colonies to object to convicts being sent to Western Australia, where the colonists were very desirous of receiving them. He hoped the Government would adhere to the course they had adopted, and would not allow memorials from the more powerful Australian colonies to override their judgment.

House in Committee:

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 (Length of Sentences of Penal Servitude).


moved an Amendment that criminals, after two previous convictions, should be subject to a minimum imprisonment of seven years. He thought it perfectly absurd that where a criminal had been convicted some fifteen times he should only be sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

Amendment moved at the end of clause to add the following words: — And if Two previous Convictions of Felony, including summary Convictions under the Criminal Justice Act, shall be proved against a Prisoner found guilty of an Offence now punishable by Penal Servitude, he shall be liable to Penal Servitude for Seven Years, and this shall be the least Sentence that can be passed upon him.


thought the Amendment was undesirable, and that it would be better to leave the punishment in the cases referred to to be apportioned by the Judges, as was the case at present.


said, that was true; but they had exercised that discretion so leniently that it had become necessary that Parliament should interfere and prescribe a minimum of punishment. He had seen cases where criminals had been convicted fifteen times, and then a sentence of only three years' penal servitude was passed. That was a perfect mockery.


supported the Amendment, believing that to a man thrice convicted of felony it would be a mercy to sentence him to a long period of imprisonment, under circumstances best calculated to induce a reformed course of life. He suggested that the Amendment should be postponed till the Report, in order that the phraseology might be assimilated to the law as it now stood with reference to a second conviction.

Amendment agreed to: Clause agreed to.

Clause 3 (Punishment of Offences in Convict Prisons) agreed to.

Clause 4 (Forfeiture of Licence).


moved an Amendment to omit certain words, the effect of which omission would be to do away with the proposed system of registration of criminals by the police. He thought the clause generally was very loosely drawn, and contained phrases hardly of ordinary legal import—the word "locality" he thought was one for the first time proposed to be introduced into an Act of Parliament. The ground of his asking their Lordships to reject these words was, because he thought the principle a bad one in itself, and especially bad in its application to the present Bill. He thought it bad, because it had always been the happy privilege of this country to use the police force for the purposes of subserving the law, of preserving the peace of society, and of detecting crime. They had never yet invested the police of this country with the powers which it was proposed to give them by this Bill. To make it a misdemeanor for a discharged criminal not to report himself to the police was a regulation far better adapted to the police system of other countries than of our own. But this feeling must give way if the peace of society required such a deviation from our usual habits. But, he asked, would the object which they had in view, namely, the return of the criminal to an honest life, be facilitated by such a regulation as this? If there was anything they desired to secure more than another, it was to remove the man as far as possible from the restraints of prison life, if he showed himself worthy to be removed from them. The object wus to send him into society as free as possible from the evil he had done, and that in no fantastic or sentimental sense, but simply that he might learn the maxim that honesty is the best policy. It had been said that this system worked well in Ireland. But would it be possible to do the system of Sir Walter Crofton any greater injury than by making a partial and inappropriate application of it to England? He would endeavour to show by one single figure what was the influence of police registration upon discharged prisoners in the neighbourhood of London. The Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society had for several years aided discharged prisoners to emigrate. In the year 1861 they aided 769 such persons. But when the system of registration was introduced, a falling off took place in this number. In 1862 they succeeded in as- sisting only 689, in 1863 only 451, and in half of the present year only 165 persons. So that their Lordships would see that the effect of this police supervision was that from 150 to 200 discharged prisoners were now at large, who, but for this supervision, would have been assisted to emigrate by the society. He earnestly wished the words to which he objected to be excluded from the clause. He looked upon the measure as an experiment, which deserved to be fairly tried. He only asked that it should be fairly tried, by assisting the criminal to re-submit himself to the action of the laws, instead of by embarrassing him.

Moved, to leave out from ("therein") to ("or") in line 38.


hoped the House would not consent to the Amendment. He was quite unable to understand what his noble Friend proposed to substitute. Were they to give the criminal a free and unconditional remission, or a remission accompanied by supervision, or a remission under a mere nominal supervision? A real supervision was intelligible, but his noble Friend took the supervision in part, and rejected a part. He wanted to have all the benefits of supervision without its inconveniences. If the Amendment passed, all that the public would have to depend upon, as far as the security of life and property was concerned, would be the changes recently effected in the discipline of prisons upon the sole authority of the Secretary of State, which changes had been made hastily, and might be recalled to-morrow; and when that took place things would exactly remain where they had been before. That would, he thought, be the most unfortunate result to which they could come after the numberless discussions they had had on this subject. The objections of his noble Friend to the clause resolved themselves into the single allegation that the police would be disposed to interfere with ticket-of-leave holders in their attempts to get employment. His noble Friend argued as if they were about to infringe upon the liberty of the subject; but he must distinctly protest against the doctrine that these convicts had a right to liberty. They had forfeited it by their crimes against the laws, and when they were released it was only by an act of grace or favour, which it was for the State to accompany with such restrictions as it thought fit to impose. The statement about the police preventing these persons from getting honest employment rested, it should be borne in mind, entirely on the story which some half dozen or dozen ticket-of-leave holders had told on their re-commitment for another crime. But he did not deny that there might not be some isolated cases of that kind. The police were a mixed body, like any other, and doubtless comprised some men who would occasionally abuse their power; but he maintained that in 99 cases out of 100 the abuse, when it actually took place, occurred, not from a system of supervision, but rather from the want of such a system. A policeman would suspect a man to be a ticket-of-leave holder, who was relapsing into crime, and he accordingly dogged his steps. It was impossible to distinguish an habitual offender from an occasional offender without a system of registration; and how were they to have a system of registration without the agency of the police? Turn the question how they would, they must always come back to the necessity of a regular machinery for a proper police supervision. It was far better to have an open and actual control and supervision than a secret one; and the way to get rid of the evils of an irregular and objectionable espionage was to establish a regular system of responsible police supervision. One of the objects which ought to be kept in view was that a distinction should be drawn between habitual and casual criminals, but how could that possibly be effected except by some system of registration. They must not, in the midst of all their abstract reasoning on this question, forget the plain fact that the system existing in Ireland, and which undoubtedly had worked successfully, was based on a strict police supervision; and it should, moreover, be remembered that in Ireland there had not been one instance of complaint against the police for abusing their powers in this matter. So long as the man was in prison he was free from temptation, but the moment he came out he was thrown back on himself, and the strength of his old habits was likely to influence him. The Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society had proved itself very useful in receiving prisoners on their discharge from prison, and many of them who had been benefited by it, had been convicted five, six, or eight times.


said, that he feared that their Lordships might be in- fluenced in their views by a too liberal construction of the words of the clause, Many noble Lords in reading the clause in its present state thought they might be supporting the system of supervision by the police. He had no sympathy with those who advanced the argument, that to require a convict to place himself under supervision would interfere with the rights and liberties of the subject. The matter properly to be considered was, what system would answer best for the public. It was proposed that the convict should once every month report himself at the police station near his residence; but what security was there in this for his good conduct? And the very condition would prove an obstacle against his getting employment, but it would be no advantage to society. He could not leave his employer and report himself to the police without coming under the notice not only of his employer, but of his fellow workmen, and there was not an honest man but would object to be associated with convicts. The condition that he must report himself in London—the nest of rogues—would, perhaps, be complied with by his coming before Sir Richard Mayne; but this would be no guarantee. Under any circumstances, if a released convict violated any of the conditions of his ticket-of-leave, he would be sure to be pulled up by the police, whether he reported himself monthly at a station or not, and the provision in the clause under discussion, while it did not pretend to do any good, might, in reality, do a great deal of harm. In Dublin, or the metropolitan district of Ireland, to which so much allusion had been made, the police had never been employed to supervise released prisoners; and when the Commissioners recommended, not without hesitation, that it might be expedient to try the Irish system in England, they did not mean that there should be what had been absurdly called police supervision, which would give no security at all; but that the work ought to be done through the agency of an office connected with the convict establishment, and employing proper officials for the purpose. This was the plan really adopted in Ireland. It was of the very essence of useful supervision that it should be unconnected with the police.


agreed that the clause as it stood would afford no additional security whatever to the public; and it was contrary to the experience of those most familiar with the question. The mere fact of a man reporting himself to the police once a month was no guarantee as to what he was doing during the rest of the time. Indeed, such was the cunning of habitual offenders, that he had no doubt when one was going to commit a crime he would take care to report himself beforehand, by way of keeping up appearances. On the other hand, he was satisfied that the system proposed would be very injurious to convicts who were anxious to obtain honest employment, because it would tend to attach to them a bad character in the eyes both of employers and fellow-workmen. Reference had been made to the Irish system, but he believed that under it there was a large number of re-convictions—as large a proportion as of those who had been in the English convict prisons. In any case, it would be quite inoperative in the large towns of this country. No attempt had been made to enforce it in Dublin, and Sir Walter Crofton had owned that, even if attempted there, it would not be efficient. At the same time, he was most anxious to see a system of supervision conducted either by the convict department or through the agency of the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Societies.


said, the clause had been inserted by the House of Commons, and he thought it one of the best portions of the Bill. A man who had broken the laws of his country was not entitled to the ordinary freedom of the subject, and he believed that the monthly Report would prove a constant check upon the ticket-of leave men. He thought the, masters were not unwilling to take them into their service; when they were detected by their fellow servants they were sent adrift. There was no doubt that there was a great difficulty about the matter.


said, that the majority of prisoners being discharged in this country, it was important to consider what was the best mode of subjecting them to such supervision as was necessary to insure the enforcing of the conditions of the licence. The noble Earl (the Karl of Carnarvon) seemed to think that the Bill would leave things as they were, but that was a mistake. As the law stood, if a ticket-of-leave man committed a second offence, and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, the term ran on simultaneously with his old sentence; but by this Bill he would be required to work the new sen- tence out when the old one had expired. At present there was no power of taking up a man suspected of being a ticket-of-leave man; and there were no means of formal investigation as to whether the conditions of the ticket-of-leave had been broken. By this Bill the breaking of the conditions of the ticket-of-leave became a substantive offence; and the charge would come before the magistrates and be formally adjudicated upon. It was true that there was an objection to requiring a man to appear once a month before the police; for if this regulation were enforced it would be impossible that his fellow workmen should not know of it; and when the fact become known it was fatal to his hopes of continuing his employment. On this ground the system had to be given up in Ireland. In laying down a number of regulations he thought that Parliament was stepping out of its proper place, and that it was not right to tie up the discretion of the Government in this way. The Government should be held strictly responsible; but, on the other hand, discretion should be left to them as to the measures they would adopt to attain the end. He should be disposed to strike out all the conditions mentioned in Schedule A of the Bill; for, if this were not done, it would be impossible for the Government to vary or improve them in any instance. It should be observed, in Dublin the supervision over convicts was not exercised by the police, but by a gentleman specially appointed for that work. In the rest of Ireland the system existed, but the fact that the supervision was not carried out in Dublin, showed that it was not considered practicable in large towns. He believed that the supervision of convicts in Western Australia was extremely good; but he had been informed by Colonel Henderson, who had the charge of penal discipline in that colony, that the rule requiring the convicts to call upon the police once a month, worked so badly that it had to be abandoned. He should support the Amendment, although he thought that it might have gone further.


supported the Amendment.


said, he did not thoroughly agree with either of his noble Friends. If a licence-holder were required to report himself once a month, it would be the same as if he were sent out of prison with a brand on the forehead: but, at the same time, it was im- possible to deny that some authority should have the power of noting where each one of these criminals was, and that they should be placed under some influence that should keep them under the impression that they were the objects of watchful superintendence. His wish was rather to modify the conditions of the licence, which were very vague and uncertain; and he knew not who was to be the judge whether they were broken or not. One was that the man should not lead an idle or a dissolute life—another was that he should not habitually associate with notoriously bad characters. What magistrate was to be intrusted with the power of deciding upon such offences? He proposed to strike out the words "once in each month," and insert the words "if required so to do by the conditions of the licence." The position of the licence-holder would then be this—that having once reported himself to the police, he would not be subject to report himself again unless required so to do, at such time and place, in such manner, and to such persons as the chief officer of police should from time to time point out. In this way the supervision might be modified according to circumstances, and might be so managed as to prevent the disclosure of the man's condition to his associates and fellow - workmen, and might be carried into effect so as not to interfere with the recovery of his character and social position. As to the Amendment, he suggested the withdrawal of that part of it which seemed to strike out of the Bill the words "or shall have changed his residence without having previously notified the same to the police."


thought that the Amendment now proposed was hardly necessary, if they adopted the suggestion to leave the conditions of the licence to be settled by the Government.


said, that if he understood the suggestion of the noble and learned Earl it would be necessary that there should be different conditions to each separate licence; and that whether a convict should report himself or not should be left to the Secretary of State in each case. The clause was one which it was difficult to deal with without notice, and therefore he suggested that it should be accepted in Committee, and that the noble and learned Lord's Amendment should be printed and considered upon the Report.


said, he did not understand his noble and learned Friend to favour the principle of the clause, which was the obligation of these licence-holders to report themselves once a month to the police.


agreed that it would be better to reserve the consideration of his Amendment. As to the principle of the Clause, he had explained that, in his opinion, this obligation to report once a month was equivalent to branding a man with a stigma.

After a few words from The Earl of HARROWBY,


said, he was willing; to modify his Amendment in such a way as that the necessity for the ticket-of-leave man to report himself every month should be done away with; but leaving him still under the obligation of informing the police of any change in his place of residence.

On Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand Part of the Clause? their Lordships divided:—Contents, 49; Not-Contents 41: Majority 8.

Resolved in the Negative.

An Amendment made, by inserting the words "being a male" in line 36.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

The Report of the Amendments to be received on Monday next; and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 118.)

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