HL Deb 29 March 1901 vol 92 cc200-4

House in Committee (according to Order).

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:—


My Lords, I beg to move the insertion of the new clause standing in my name. This is an excellent Bill, because it is by way of bringing the prison laws of Scotland up to date. It contains several improvements which have been already adopted in the English Act; but there is one very important omission, inasmuch as there is no provision for the classification of prisoners. I understood the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland to say the other day that there was already a certain Amount of classification of prisoners in Scotland. I have made inquiries, but have been unable to ascertain that that is the case. There certainly is differentiation of treatment of prisoners, but so far as I am informed there is no such thing as classification. Classification of prisoners is a reform which was introduced in England at the instance of the Departmental Committee presided over by Mr. Herbert Gladstone in 1894. I think that Committee did better work, and brought forward more information with regard to prisoners, than any other Committee. They expressed the decided opinion that no adequate attempt had yet been made to secure a sound system of classification in local prisons, and pointed out that the ideal method of treating prisoners would be to secure a sufficient number of warders and attendants to enable the characters of all prisoners to be studied so that they could be treated in such a way as to leave the prisons better and soberer men. It was admitted that this was impossible, and that the next best mode of acting was that the prisoners should be classified, and that their punishment should be less rigorous, according to the nature of their crime. This system was adopted, and the Report of the Prison Commissioners for England for 1896–97 remarks on the satisfactory results which have followed the adoption of the system in England. Under the English Prisons Act there is a considerable classification of prisoners which does not obtain in Scotland. In fact, in Scotland at this moment if a man who is convicted of riding his bicycle on the footway does not pay the fine, he is sent to prison, and placed in the same category as habitual criminals. If a man fails to pay his dog licence, and is sent to prison, he is treated in the same way. In the English Act, in such cases, the onus is laid upon the Court of First Instance to sentence the defendant to be placed in the first, second, or third division. As this great improvement has been introduced in England, 1, for one, cannot see why it should not be introduced in Scotland. We in Scotland are very proud of our separate system of prisons, but we wish to see them kept up to the mark, and not to fall behind English prisons, and I think it must be owing to some mistake that this clause has not been introduced into this Bill.

Moved, that the following clause be added to the Bill—

  1. "(1) Prisoners convicted of offences, either on edictment or otherwise, and not sentenced to penal servitude or hard labour, shall he divided into three divisions.
  2. "(2) When a person is convicted by any court of an offence, and is sentenced to imprisonment without hard labour, the court may, if it think fit, having regard to the nature of the offence and the antecedents of the offender, direct that the be treated as an offender of the first division or an offender of the second division. If no direction is given by the court, the offender shall, subject to the provisions of this section, be treated as an offender of the third division.
  3. "(3) Any person imprisoned in default in payment of a debt, including a civil debt recovered summarily, or in default or in lieu of distress to satisfy a sum of money adjudged to be paid by order of a court of summary jurisdiction when the imprisonment is to be without hard labour, shall he placed in a separate division and treated under special prison rules, and shall not be placed in association with criminal persons, nor be compelled to wear prison dress unless his own clothing is unlit for use.
  4. (4) Any person imprisoned for default of entering into a recognisance or finding securities for keeping the peace or for being of good behaviour, shall be treated under the same rules as an offender of the second division unless he be a convicted prisoner, or unless the court direct that he be treated under the same rules as an offender of the first division."—(The Earl of Glasgow.)


My Lords, I acknowledge the importance of the subject which the noble Earl has brought before the House, and I recognise his right to speak on this subject on account of the service he rendered on a former occasion as a member of the Prisons Committee. I am sorry if I did not make myself clear the other night. I did not intend to say that we had classification by statute in Scottish prisons. But, as a matter of fact, we have in practice a classification which is in some respects more ample than that imposed by statute in English prisons. I agree with the noble Earl that a person who may be fined for riding a bicycle on the footpath, and who does not pay the fine, should not be obliged to associate with criminals who have committed serious offences. This is a classification which, as a matter of practice, though not as a matter of statutory obligation, obtains in connection with Scottish prisons, and no person so sent to prison would be placed with habitual criminals. With regard to the Amendment, I regret that I cannot accept it as it stands. It is entirely quoted from the English Act of 1898, and, as such, in some respects, and particularly in some of its phraseology, it is not adapted to Scottish circumstances. There are four sub-sections. The first and third are not suitable for Scotland. In the first place, we do not wish to be bound by statute to have only three divisions of prisoners, and the law of debt and imprisonment for debt is so different in the two countries that sub-Section 3 would clearly not be applicable to Scotland.

The second sub-section contains the main principle of the clause. It is a principle which is new, and I am in a position to say that I do not think the experience of it during the last two and a half years in England has been so entirely satisfactory that we would like to adopt it precisely in the same terms in Scotland. There are passages in the Reports of the Prisons Commission for England which I think would satisfy the noble Earl that, at any rate, there has not been sufficient experience to warrant us in accepting it simply on the English precedent. The sub-section would enjoin that there should be special treatment for two reasons. Firstly, on account of the nature of the offence; and, secondly, on account of the antecedents of the offender. That has been in some cases in England interpreted to mean that there shall be different treatment on account of the social position of the prisoner. The Prisons Commission in Scotland are entirely opposed to making any difference whatever on account of the social position of the offender. I am authorised to say, also, that the Lord Justice-Clerk would dislike any such enactment, so far as Scotland is concerned. On the other hand, I agree as to the importance of the point, and I am willing to adopt a clause in spirit the same as the second sub-section of the clause of the noble Earl. I am not in a position, as yet, to state the exact terms of the clause: but if the, noble Earl will withdraw the clause now I will undertake to bring up a clause in the Standing Committee allowing special treatment if the nature of the offence seems to justify it.

I would be inclined to leave a good deal to the discretion of the judge, but the direction I would be inclined to give him would be that he would be entitled to order special treatment for a prisoner, providing there was no criminal intent in the offence. That would apply to the case which has been mentioned by the noble Earl of a man fined for riding a bicycle on the footpath, or to an engine-driver or signalman imprisoned for a bona fide mistake, but a mistake which, ex hypothesi, would be likely to have disastrous consequences. I would further propose that the circumstances should be set forth under rules to be made by the Secretary for Scotland and laid upon the Table of Parliament. If that offer will satisfy the noble Earl, and if he will withdraw his Amendment now, I will undertake, before the Standing Committee stage, which, of course, cannot now be taken for some weeks, to bring up a clause which will embody the principles I have endeavoured to indicate to the House.


In the circumstances I have much pleasure in withdrawing my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

Remaining Clauses agreed to. Bill reported without amendment; and recommitted to the Standing Committee.