§ LORD HERSCHELL
, in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government whether it was within the power of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to cause persons fined for non-compliance with the Vaccination Laws to be treated otherwise than as simple imprisonment prisoners—i.e., as convicted criminal prisoners not sentenced to hard labour, by ordering them to be treated as first-class misdemeanants, or in any other 744 way; and, if so, whether he would consider the expediency of giving directions that they should be so treated, said: My Lords, this question arises out of another question which I put to Her Majesty's Government the other day with reference to the treatment of persons who are committed to prison in consequence of breaches of the Vaccination Laws, the question being whether it is competent to the Secretary of State for the Home Department to treat them otherwise than as criminal prisoners not sentenced to hard labour, which, as I understand, is now stated to be the form of imprisonment now imposed upon them, or whether he can subject them to some different kind of treatment. I pointed out on the last occasion why it seemed to me expedient, if it were possible in the interests of vaccination quite as much as on account of the protests of those who object to it, to adopt such a course. I observe in the answer given in another place, if it was correctly reported, to a somewhat similar question asked since I put down this question on the Paper, that the Secretary of State for the Home Department has no power at all to treat persons imprisoned for breach of the Vaccination Laws otherwise than as ordinary criminal prisoners. I do-not quite understand on what that is founded, or whether it results, from some reading of the 38th section of the Prisons Act, 1877, which was passed at the instance of the noble Viscount opposite," and which seems to me, I confess, to apply to such cases, because it provides that the Secretary of State may make, alter, or add rules with regard to the classification of prisoners imprisoned for failure to pay sums of money under an order, or sums of money which have been adjudged to be paid by order of a Justice or Justices, so that such rules are made in accordance with the Act of 1865. I have only lately looked at the Act, and the impression on my mind is that it enables the Secretary of State to mitigate the course of imprisonment imposed for default of payment, or in default of distress, to satisfy a sum of money ordered to be paid. That seems to me to be just the position of many, if not all, those persons who are committed to prison for breach of the Vaccination Laws, and, therefore, I do not understand why it is suggested 745 there is no power to mitigate the punishment, and that such persons must be treated as convicted criminals not sentenced to "hard labour."
§ LORD DE RAMSEY
The Secretary of State has, in his opinion, no power to do that which the noble and learned Lord wishes to see done—that is to say, the power of ordering convicted prisoners to be treated as first-class misdemeanants does not belong to the Secretary of State. This power has been given to a Judge, and, perhaps, also—though this is not free from doubt—to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction. The Secretary of State has not, therefore, by law the authority which the noble and Learned Lord suggests he has. I gather from the noble and learned Lord's remarks that he takes a different view of this altogether, and, of course, I shall consider it my duty to lay those remarks before the Home Secretary, and to mention to him the Act which the noble and learned Lord has quoted to-night.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
My question, if I may be allowed to say so, pointed to this: I understood these persons were receiving the treatment of convicted criminal prisoners not sentenced to "hard labour." That was the statement made to me; but what I was pointing out was that there is power in the Secretary of State by classification to mitigate, though not to increase, the punishment if it is imprisonment inflicted on persons for non-payment of a sum ordered to be paid or in default of distress. Whether they ought to be called convicted persons or not I do not know, but I would venture to call the attention of the Secretary of State to their treatment.
§ LORD DE RAMSEY
I quite understand—"convicted offenders" is the point. I can only say that I will lay the noble and learned Lord's view before the Home Secretary.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before Seven o'clock, till Tomorrow, Eleven o'clock.