HL Deb 22 June 1899 vol 73 cc246-8

Read 3a (according to order).


My Lords, this Bill is a short one-clause Bill, entirely consisting of reference to a one-clause Act five years old, and is wholly unintelligible without considerable study. But though it is unintelligible, there is no reason why it should be absolute nonsense and as it now stands it is absolute nonsense. The proviso proposes that where a felon under 16 years of age is sentenced to a reformatory school for five years he shall not, in addition, be sentenced to penal servitude or imprisonment. How can any court send a boy to a reformatory school for five years, and after that sentence him to penal servitude or imprisonment? What would be the use of punishing the boy after the cure is complete? What I propose is to omit the reference to a reformatory school, so that whether the young convict is sent to a reformatory school or not he shall not be punished in prison. The whole object of this Bill is to prevent young criminals being sent to prison. I am told that the exception I make in my Amendment in regard to aggravated cases is unnecessary, because under the present law such offenders are sent to prison and treated as adults. Therefore I do riot care whether the words I propose to add are inserted or not. I beg to move my Amendment.

Amendment moved— In Clause 1, line 14, to leave out from 'Provided that' to 'addition' inclusive, line 16, and insert 'No such offender shall, except in what the court considers an aggravated case.'"—(The Lord Norton.)


My Lords, I regret to say that I cannot accept the Amendment of the noble Lord opposite. If I did so it would make my Bill perfectly useless. The object that I have in view in this simple one-clause Bill would be completely and entirely defeated by the Amendment. What I desire is that magistrates should be compelled to send children, when they are to go to a reformatory, direct to the reformatory without having to undergo preliminary imprisonment. The noble Lord's Amendment would leave it to the magistrates to decide what an aggravated case is. He has not told us what he means by an aggravated case, and it would be very easy for any magistrate who favoured the sending of children to prison to make out an aggravated case. The noble Lord knows, and, in fact, all your Lordships know, perfectly well that magistrates differ most materially upon the question of the imprisonment of children. One magistrate may strongly advocate imprisonment, and another would equally strongly disapprove of it. Consequently my object in bringing in this Bill is to make it compulsory upon magistrates to send children direct to reformatories without going to prison, and I would urge upon your Lordships to give the Bill a Third Reading without the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord.


I am quite willing to omit the words "except in what the court considers an aggravated case," and I beg to propose my Amendment without those words. My Amendment will then, I contend, carry out what the noble Lord opposite desires, namely, that young offenders be not punished in prisons.


I cannot help reminding the noble Lord that we are not in Committee, and that he is not entitled to speak twice.


My Lords, the views of the Home Office on this Bill are very strong and decided in favour of the words of my noble friend, Lord Leigh, being retained. They are in substance the words contained in the Youthful Offenders Bill, which I recently introduced on behalf of the Government. The Government feel that they cannot give away their own clause, as they would be doing if they accepted the Amendment. Before 1893 magistrates were bound to send every youthful offender who went to a reformatory to prison. Lord Leigh intervened, and asked that youthful offenders should go direct to the reformatory. The Home Office, however, would not then accept that view in its entirety, but gave a discretion to magistrates to send to prison or not as they thought fit. Since 1893 the question has made progress. A Departmental Committee has sat, and the Home Office have been converted by Lord Leigh to the conviction that it is better that youthful offenders should go direct to the reformatory and not walk to it through the corridors of a prison, and they therefore wish to take away from the magistrates their discretionary power in the matter. Taking the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Norton as it is on the Paper—and I cannot quite follow his observations—his object is that magistrates should retain that discretion, and if his Amendment were adopted Lord Leigh's Bill would come to nothing. The effect would be that there would be two classes of young persons in the reformatory—those who had gone to prison and those who had not, and during his whole reformatory life the question would be put to a boy, "Are you a prison boy or not?" and there would be that mark and stain upon him if he had been to prison which the Home Office think ought not to exist. How often have we who have practised at the Bar heard the question put to a witness, "Have you been in prison?" and happy indeed is the witness who can say he has not. This is one of the small reasons which have caused the Home Office to desire that youths who are convicted should not suffer imprisonment before being sent to a reformatory, and I have to ask your Lordships to allow Lord Leigh's Bill to be passed without any Amendments.


After what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy, I withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.