HL Deb 19 February 1875 vol 222 cc540-50

in calling attention to the state of the Convict Prison at Gibraltar, and to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether it is their intention to continue that establishment? said, he need hardly dwell upon the general excellence of our convict system. For many years the question of the mode of dealing with convicts had engaged a considerable amount of public attention, and the result was that we had now the best convict system ever devised for reforming the criminals and protecting society. But with regard to the prison at Gibraltar, the late Government had come to the decision that it ought to be suppressed, and he was anxious to obtain an assurance that the policy then determined upon would not be departed from. Many of their Lordships would recollect the—he might say more than alarm—the terror felt in this country at the prospect of our old system of transporting convicts being abandoned, and penal servitude being substituted in its stead. And that terror was not to be wondered at when we recollected that between the years 1840 and 1850 no fewer than 36,993 prisoners were sentenced to transportation. Of these 24,915 actually left the country, and 11,078 were sent to the hulks. The average number sentenced to transportation in each of those 10 years was 3,600. The alarm, therefore, would appear to have been by no means ill-founded. The number of persons transported in 1842 was very little short of 4,100. Transportation, except to Western Australia, ceased in 1852, when 2,541 persons were transported. Transportation absolutely ceased in 1867, and the number of persons sentenced to penal servitude in 1873 was only 1,493. In 1869, when he (Lord Aberdare) was at the Home Office, the question of accommodation in our convict prisons attracted the very serious attention of the authorities. It was found that there were some 8,000 convicts confined in those prisons, and that for 1,700 other accommodation had to be provided by contract in some of our county gaols; and it was believed that besides providing convict prisons for an additional 1,000, further accommodation for 1,000 or 1,500 would have to be found at a future time. In the same year the Home Office received from the Colonial Office a suggestion that the convict prisons in Western Australia and other colonies should be transferred to the Home Office. The suggestion was adopted, and the control of the convict prisons in Western Australia, and that at Gibraltar, was transferred. In 1870 there was sent to the Home Office a report from the Visitors of the convict prison at Gibraltar, which led to immediate inquiries, and Colonel Du Cane, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Convict Prisons, went to Gibraltar and examined the prison, and in the report of the Superintendent there was this passage— The reformatory element seems to be disappearing from it [the association system] altogether, for even a convict anxious to reform has a hard, if not a hopeless, task. Of others who, under more advantageous circumstances, might possibly he reclaimed, the evils of association prevent any advice or warning from having more than a momentary effect. The punishment of the better and less depraved class of prisoners is considerably increased by their enforced association with those utterly lost to all sense of honesty and decency, and whose whole lives have been lives of crime; and I fear there is but little doubt that some leave a prison of this class worse in every respect than when they entered it. The punitive element is also under this system reduced to the minimum possible in a prison, and I much doubt if it is sufficiently felt by the convicts, so as to act as a deterrent from crime for the future."—[Superintendent of Gibraltar Convict Prison, App. 497.] He might observe that the number of male convicts in custody for England and Wales was 8,678, and of these there were in the Gibraltar prison 338. Well, after the inquiry in 1870, his noble Friend who then filled the office of Secretary for the Colonies (the Earl of Kimberley) arrived at the conclusion that the Gibraltar prison, as an establishment for convicts, ought to be abolished as soon as an arrangement could be made for the transfer of the prisoners elsewhere. He himself arrived at the same conclusion; and it seemed that the time when such arrangements might be made would arrive much sooner than could have been anticipated a few years ago, by reason of the marked diminution in the number of persons sentenced to penal servitude. In 1869, the number so sentenced was 2,006; in 1870, it was 1,788; in 1871, it was 1,627; in 1872, it was 1,514; and in 1873, it was 1,493. The result was that at this moment, instead of having to provide extended accommodation for nearly 2,500 prisoners, no addition was required, except for convict prisoners received into county gaols, and there was ample accommodation in our convict prisons for the absorption of the prisoners now sent to Gibraltar. In the determination at which he and his noble Friend had arrived, they were influenced by a consideration founded on the Report made with respect to the Gibraltar prison. It appeared that in that prison it would not be possible to give effect to the recommendation of the Penal Servitude Acts Commission, which sat in 1863. In the Report of that Commission, it was stated— The employment of convicts where they can hold communication with free labourers is objectionable, and ought not to be allowed. For this reason work in a dockyard, where such communication can hardly be prevented, is not suitable for convicts. Unexpectedly good results followed from the adoption in this country of that recommendation of the Royal Commission, and since the time when the building of the Chatham Convict Prison was undertaken great improvements in the working of our convict system had been effected throughout the Kingdom. He would ask what was the object of punishment? The first object of all punishment was that it should be deterent; and in order that it should be so, it ought to be made hateful to prisoners. There was nothing they disliked so much as monotony; and this penal servitude could not be made, so long as the convicts were allowed connection with the outer world. The second object of punishment was, that it should have such an effect on a prisoner as to fit him to take his place again as a useful member of society when he should be sent back to it after ending his sentence. Therefore, the discipline of a prison should be such as not only to have a good effect upon the prisoner while under confinement, but that that good effect should continue after his discharge. That, at all events, was the object sought to be effected by our present system, and to a large extent it was successful. But no such useful and good results were likely to be produced by the system pursued at Gibraltar—nor, indeed, were any such results possible under such a system. All moral and philanthropic objects were defeated by it, instead of being fostered. The Royal Commission of 1863 recommended that no sentence of penal servitude should be for a less period than five years, and that no second sentence of penal servitude should be for less than seven years. And why? With the object of breaking up the criminal habits of the convict. But this was defeated by the system at Gibraltar. And yet this inefficient system was more expensive, oven in the primary outlay, than our efficient system at home. First, there was the cost of transport to Gibraltar; next, the cost of maintenance there was more expensive than the cost of maintenance at home; and again, the officers of the prison at Gibraltar were paid more than the officers of the prisons at home. Moreover, without casting the slightest blame on the officers of the Gibraltar establishment, they had not the training of prison officers in this country. But, it was said that the convict prison at Gibraltar was a necessity. What was the advantage of it? The only real reason he could see for its maintenance was, that it provided a certain amount of convict labour for the use of the naval and military authorities. He had every desire that convict labour should be used when it could be used with advantage to the prisoners and to the public; but he did not believe this could be the case in Gibraltar. He did not believe that the advantage derived from the labour of 338 convicts there counterbalanced the very great disadvantages of a system which sent back to this country numbers of wholly unreformed convicts. Could not military labour be employed instead of that of the convicts. There was a large force of soldiers at Gibraltar, and he believed that of the hundreds of Sappers and Miners there not one-third of that number were employed at any regular labour. His great object was to impress upon the Government, that as the Gibraltar system was hopelessly and radically bad, they were not justified in maintaining it, and he hoped to hear from the Government that it was their intention to put an end to it.


Before my noble Friend the Secretary for the Colonies replies to my noble Friend who has just addressed your Lordships, I wish to place before your Lordships and the country—because I think it is little understood—the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of carrying on the works at the great garrison of Gibraltar unless we have the assistance of convict labour. I have had some personal experience of Gibraltar, because I began my military life there, and I know it as well as I do your Lordships' House. I believe it is not only necessary to employ convict labour there, but it would be exceedingly difficult to get civil labour. I certainly was not there after convicts were sent out, and therefore I have not had an opportunity of personally witnessing the results of the contact between convict labour and civil labour; but I have made inquiries on that point, and from the statement of a distinguished officer—the present Adjutant General of the Army, who was five years Governor of Gibraltar—I am led to believe that the contact so much complained of does not exist to the extent your Lordships and the public generally suppose it to exist. I am not going to argue the question of employing convict labour on public works, but I wish to point out how impossible it is to introduce the civil element at Gibraltar within the town of Gibraltar, and that town, as now inhabited, cannot produce civil labour sufficient to complete the great works in progress there, to maintain them when made, and to carry out the dockyard duties essential at such a station. I think my noble Friend (Lord Aberdare), after such a Report as has been made on the prison establishment at Gibraltar, is justified in asking what is to be done; but I think my noble Friend ought not to have gone the length of expressing a hope that the convict establishment would be put an end to. The question is entirely one of administration—it is a question of having a proper convict establishment at Gibraltar. If it be not a proper establishment it can be made so, and it is not in itself unhealthy. I cannot see why it should not be as easy to have an effective convict prison there as it is at Portsmouth, Chatham, or Cork, I believe the exist- ing prison at Gibraltar is a bad one, and that there have been great irregularities there; but I think that even in this respect there has been exaggeration. It is badly organized, but I believe there have been great improvements, and that many of the irregularities have been corrected. I admit that it is not very easy to carry on a proper convict establishment in a badly constructed prison such as that at Gibraltar; but I think the "War Office authorities can have no wish to throw any obstacle in the way of the erection of a proper convict establishment at that fortress. My noble Friend (Lord Aberdare) is in error in thinking that the soldiers of the garrison are not fully employed there. There is a large extent of sentinel duty. Sir Richard Airey endeavoured to abridge it, but found himself obliged to put on again men whom he had taken off duty. I am authorized by the highest authority to say that the number of soldiers employed on the public works cannot be increased, due regard being had to the garrison duty. The present Governor, Sir William Fenwick Williams, so late as October last, stated that he did not know what to do for men. Again, my noble Friend is entirely misinformed as to the amount of work done by the Engineers at Gibraltar. The only alternative, if we want more military labour, is to send out more regiments, and if we do that we must have more barracks—at present there is absolutely no room for more men. Now, I can assure my noble Friend that new barracks would cost more than a new convict prison. The question brought under the notice of your Lordships by my noble Friend is a most serious one. There are none of your Lordships who would not wish to see the fortress of Gibraltar properly kept up. It cannot be if convict labour is not employed there. It has been employed at Chatham and other places in this country with advantage, but nowhere can it be more legitimately employed than at Gibraltar. There is no civil labour there; or at best, what civil labour there is must continue to be very restricted; and therefore in no place does the convict element interfere less with the civil element. There is less sickness in the Gibraltar prisons than in convict prisons at home. I cannot see, therefore, why it should be said that the convict establishment should be given up in a place where it is so useful, merely because it is not at present conducted on as good a system as it might be. If the prison system is bad, we should make it better.


said, he did not feel it necessary to follow the noble Lord (Lord Aberdare) into a discussion of our convict system—he should confine himself to that of the convict establishment at Gibraltar. As the illustrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge) had put it, this question was very important from an Imperial point of view—it was also, like many other questions, one which must be determined by the balance of advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, he was prepared to admit that the convict establishment at Gibraltar was by no means satisfactory:—it was an old-fashioned one, it was unsuited to modern requirements, and it had connected with it that evil of association among the labourers to which the noble Lord had drawn attention; but, on the other hand, as the illustrious Duke had pointed out, the prison itself was not an unhealthy one—indeed, the health of the prisoners within its walls was better than that of the prisoners in the best prison in England. He agreed with the illustrious Duke when he said that the question was one of administration. The noble Lord (Lord Aberdare) quoted a Report for the purpose of showing that it was quite impossible to have proper discipline in that prison; but for his own part, he could not see why the discipline of a convict prison might not be as good at Gibraltar as in this country, provided that rulesr his own part, he could not see why the discipline were properly framed and laid down, and that English officers were appointed to the prisons and held responsible for the carrying out of those regulations. To a certain extent he must own he agreed with the noble Lord; but, on the other hand, the loss of convict labour would be a very serious one at Gibraltar. As the illustrious Duke had pointed out, great works had already been performed by convict labour. He believed that within the last 22 years the total amount of work done for the War Office and the Admiralty at Gibraltar was not less in value than £250,000, and the greater part of that was the work of convicts. The greater part of the New Mole had been constructed by these men. The illustrious Duke had also pointed out that a great deal of work of a difficult and necessary kind remained to be done, and certainly it was not easy to see how it was to be done without convict labour, for civil labour did not exist sufficient for the requirements of the garrison. All this work was of primary and paramount importance, because it was necessary for the maintenance and defence of the fortress; and the conditions of the place were such that we did not nor could not hope to command any large amount of civil labour there;—and assuming even that high pay were offered to attract a civilian population in considerable numbers, it would be extremely difficult to decide the question of housing them. It was possible to house the convicts properly—it was a mere question of money and belonged to the civil Departments. The noble Lord knew that this subject of the convict establishment at Gibraltar was one which had been debated by Departments of the Government. The noble Lord had been consistent; and, as he had told their Lordships, when he was at the Home Office he endeavoured to remove what he looked upon as a blot; but the correspondence showed that his noble Friend the late Secretary for War (Lord Cardwell) was not of quite the same opinion. He protested, and no doubt his right hon. Friend the present Secretary for "War would adopt the same course, and protest against the removal of this convict establishment; but, as he had already said, the question was one which must be decided by the balance of advantages: and if the abolition of the convict establishment at Gibraltar was resolved upon Parliament must be prepared for a considerable outlay. The noble Lord said that the system pursued at Gibraltar was an expensive one; but its expense was as nothing compared with the substitute which would be rendered necessary if convict labour there should be given up, and if it was to be done by soldiers, Parliament must be prepared for a considerable addition to the military and naval Votes. This might be unpleasant, but it would be a result of what the noble Lord was now urging. He cordially agreed with the noble Lord that so far as abuses of the present system were concerned no Government would do right in allowing them to continue; but he could not agree that the present system was totally inconsistent with proper discipline and administration. It was perfectly true that the tendency of the last two or three years had been towards the removal of this convict establishment; and, indeed, steps had been taken very far in that direction; but if his Colleagues, the Secretary of War and the First Lord of the Admiralty, should consider the door closed by considerations of increased expenditure, he thought that in a matter which affected Imperial interests, there should be the most full and careful consideration before a final determination was arrived at.


said, he thought a case had been made out for the removal of this convict establishment. He believed it to be impossible to correct the evils and abuses complained of without going to the root of the matter, and abolishing the establishment altogether. It was impossible to avoid the association of the convicts and free labourers, and he could not consider Government justified in continuing a system which brought back to this country a number of convicts who, instead of being reformed, were worse than when they were sent out—and that seemed to be the result of employing convict labour in such a place as Gibraltar. He submitted that we were not justified on any considerations of mere convenience in keeping up a system which we knew to be bad. It would be better to allow the works at Gibraltar to advance a little more gradually than to keep up such a system. But he was persuaded that there was no real necessity for its maintenance. As for the employment of free labour it was notorious that it was less expensive than forced labour. He received with all respect everything which came from the illustrious Duke, but he felt convinced that arrangements might be made by which more military labour might be procured for the works. He would respectfully ask the illustrious Duke not to place too much reliance on the reports of military officers on the employment of soldiers in civil labour. For the last 40 years military officers had shown an indisposition to have soldiers so employed; and to such an extent was the indisposition carried, that when the camp at Aldershot was being formed some of those gallant gentlemen recommended that instead of having the ground turned up and other such work done by soldiers, it would be better to have it done by contract with civilians. Work at civil labour was excellent training for soldiers. The first Napoleon and generals in the recent civil war in America bore testimony to that. He thought that with our system of short enlistment the men should not be put through a course of military training only, but should be instructed in such work as would enable them to get employment when they retired from the Army, and he was convinced they would not prove the worse soldiers because they had been employed part of their time on public works. As to finding room for additional men, if the convicts were now removed from Gibraltar the prison they now occupied, and which appeared to be a very healthy one, would be available for soldiers.


said, it was now many years since his official position made him acquainted with convict labour, and therefore he spoke with some hesitation on the subject. His opinion was that, as regarded the dockyards, convict labour mixed up with free labour was objectionable; but, on the other hand, he thought the employment of convict labour in the works at Chatham had been very advantageous. He went down there frequently when the convicts were at work, and observed much emulation between different sets of convict brickmakers. He did not believe there was one of those men who, when he left the works at Chatham, might not have obtained employment outside. But when their Lordships came to deal with the question of convict labour in such a place as Gibraltar, they found it mixed up with great difficulties. There appeared to be a great deal that was objectionable in the way it was now employed there; yet he should hope that before the Government decided on doing away with it they would have a more careful inquiry on the subject. No doubt, on the one hand, there were persons who looked upon the question of secondary punishment solely as a means of reforming the convict and returning him a useful member of society. On the other hand, there were persons who thought that men convicted of serious offences against society were properly employed by being compelled to labour on public works, and military officers regarded the value of the labour rather than the reformation of the criminal. The naval and military works at Gibraltar were of great national importance. If the convict establishment was discontinued, paid labour must be substituted, and the difficulty of supplying this labour, as well as the great cost, must be carefully considered. The question must be looked at from a national point of view, and he trusted that the Government would not hastily adopt any proposition without having, by means of a Committee or otherwise, obtained a full Report of all the information that could be obtained.