HL Deb 19 March 1901 vol 91 cc366-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I do not think I need detain the House many minutes in explaining the. provisions of this Bill. It is not at all an ambitious Bill, but in its clauses will be found a series of small reforms which the experience of the working of the prisons in Scotland during the last few years has shown to be expedient, and some of which were actually the subject of recommenda- tions by the Departmental Committee, presided over by my noble friend Lord Elgin, which I appointed about eighteen months ago, and which presented a report last year. The clauses of the Bill require but very little explanation. In the main, I think, they tell their own tale to anyone who reads them with ordinary care. The first one provides statutory powers for the appointment of visiting committees for the three general prisons in Scotland. In the case of all the ordinary prisons the visiting committees are appointed by the town and county councils in the district which the prison serves. There are three general prisons, and in regard to them there is no statutory power for the appointment of a visiting committee. Two of these prisons are mainly used for the confinement of ordinary prisoners, and in the case of those prisons the visiting committee will, if this Bill passes, be appointed in the same way as the committees of the ordinary prisons—by the town and county councils concerned. In the case of the Peterhead prison, which is the only establishment in Scotland entirely occupied by convicts, the visiting committee will be appointed by the Secretary for Scotland, but instead of being a purely voluntary body, as it is at present, it will, when appointed, have certain statutory functions and duties which will, I think, put it in a better position than it is at present.

In regard to Clause 2, I have only to say that it deals with the vexed question of corporal punishment. Your Lordships will remember that during the passing of the Prisons Bill for England two or three years ago a considerable amount of discussion arose in regard to the question of flogging. In Scotland our law is different from that which obtains in England. No ordinary prisoner can under any circumstances be flogged, but only convict prisoners. This clause therefore applies only to the convict prison at Peterhead. The punishment is very rarely resorted to; not more than two or three times in the year. At present it is only inflicted by order of one or other of the Prison Commissioners when he is at the convict prison. The proposal of the Bill is to take it out of the power of the Commissioner to order this punishment, and to provide that it can only be ordered by the Sheriff or the Sheriff- substitute of the district. The third clause of the Bill is copied from a section in the English Act, and its object is to insure that in the event of any prison having inadequate accommodation for those confined in it the fact shall be brought immediately under the notice of the Secretary for Scotland.

The next clause is also similar to one in the English Act, and it introduces the principle of allowing a remission, in the case of ordinary hard-labour prisoners., of part of their sentence, provided they earn it by good behaviour or in some similar way. At the present time in Scotland, as was the case under the old procedure in England, the remission of part of a sentence can only be earned in the case of convicts. For the last two years there has been a provision in the law of England to allow hard-labour prisoners to earn a remission of part of their sentence, and we propose to extend that to Scotland. I am informed that it has been found to work with success in the English prisons in which it has been introduced. The fifth clause also corresponds to a procedure in the English Act. and it is of an entirely technical nature. It provides, in common with what is the general practice in Scotland in the case of all common law prisoners, that when a month is passed of the sentence it shall be held to be a calendar month and not a period of four weeks. The sixth clause of the Bill provides that part of the duties which used to be carried out by the Governor of the general prison at Perth., who is now not in control of the criminal lunatic department, shall be carried out by the medical superintendent, who has been placed in supreme authority over that department.

Clause 7 is intended to remove a certain. ! ambiguity in Section 72 of the Prisons (Scotland) Administration Act, which provides that when a prisoner is affected with a disease which is dangerous to life, and the treatment of which cannot be carried out in prison, he may be sent to an ordinary infirmary with the consent of the managers of that institution. The alteration which this clause makes is to allow us to send a prisoner into an outside infirmary either when the disease from which he is suffering is dangerous, or when the treatment cannot be carried out in prison. At present both of these conditions have to be fulfilled before we can carry out this measure. It is obvious that in many small prisons we cannot keep up a full infirmary and hospital staff' on the chance of a prisoner requiring treatment, and it is on that ground that the proposal to remove them to a workhouse infirmary or to some such place is part of the law of Scotland. We propose by this alteration to slightly extend it. The eighth clause is intended to give effect to a recommendation of Lord Elgin's Committee, and to provide that in all eases of a prisoner dying in the prison an inquiry shall be held with regard to the cause of death.

The noble Earl behind me, the Earl of Glasgow, has very courteously given me notice that he intends to raise the question of providing for a, further classification of prisoners. I think it will be found that in practice we go further than he wishes us to do. Our system is to some extent different from the English one. For example, we have not nearly the same proportion of hard-labour prisoners in Scotland to ordinary prisoners as there is in England, and as the work is carried on in cells, and not in gangs, classification is not so necessary. If the noble Earl will put the proposals he wishes to make in the form of an Amendment on the Paper, I shall be glad to give them my most careful consideration before the Bill goes into Committee. I do not anticipate any opposition at this stage.

Moved. "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)

On Question, agreed to. Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.