§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of a Bill of a very different character from the last, but a Bill which has this resemblance in its circumstances, that up to this stage it has been received with great unanimity. The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons and has passed all its stages in that House, and while there it was received by both Parties with approval. That is not to be wondered at, because in no sense is this Bill founded on any Party tradition. The origin of its principle—which is the mitigation, in the case of young persons, of first offenders, of the evil effects of imprisonment without discretion being exercised—we owe to a remarkable Home Secretary who accomplished much in his time. I refer to Lord Cross. In 1879 Lord Cross passed through Parliament the Summary Jurisdiction Act, which dealt with these punishments and 243 may be said to have initiated the policy of subsequent legislation. Then in 1887 was passed the First Offenders Act, which went still further in the direction of mitigating the effects of imprisonment in the case of first offenders. Then came, in 1891, the Youthful Offenders Act, which carried that policy still further.
In 1907 the Probation of Offenders Act was passed, which introduced a new principle, not altogether to avoid punishment, but instead of imprisonment putting the youthful offender on probation under a supervising officer, who observed him and reported on him, and, if he conducted himself well, assisted him as far as could be back to employment in civil life. Then came further provisions in the Children Act of 1908, and in the same year the. Prevention of Crime Act was passed which contained some very important provisions relating to what are called Borstal institutions—places of imprisonment directed not so much to punishment as to reformation; places where the person confined is, no doubt, in custody, but is under admirable training physically and mentally. He is there being fitted in every way in which it is possible for a person in those unfortunate circumstances to be fitted to go back into civil life, and when he does go back into civil life he is assisted to employment, particularly to employment at sea, which opens peculiar facilities for dealing with this class of case. It is difficult to realise how great a change the Borstal system introduced, and in this Bill power is taken to extend those provisions still further.
This Bill does not refer exclusively to Borstal institutions; in fact, the Borstal part of the Bill is by no means the main part. The principle of the Bill, applied in various forms, is the mitigation of the evil effects of imprisonment on juvenile or first offenders. That principle assumes in the Bill various forms. The Bill deals with fines, with probation, with supervision, and with those Borstal institutions to which I have referred, and in addition to that it aims at simplifying the general law and procedure. For instance, there is a very harsh method in our procedure by which, when but, a small fine is imposed, there is a large sum payable in costs. In future the sum ordered to be paid will include the costs, so that the offender who has been sentenced to pay a fine will know what he has to pay.
244 Bearing that in mind I come to the first of the main provisions of the Bill, which is to deal with fines. It is an extraordinary fact that at the present time more than hair the prisoners in our local prisons are there for non-payment of lines, and not because they have been sentenced directly to imprisonment. The number of these prisoners is something like 80,000. The fines are often of small amount. Some people, of course, refuse to pay the fine and prefer to undergo the imprisonment; but experience has taught that in the majority of cases these persons would have been glad to pay the fines if they could have obtained a little time. The principle of the Bill is this. At present you can get time in which to pay, but under the Bill it is to be the rule to give time to pay. When a fine is inflicted the person on whom it is imposed is to have time in which to pay it, and this provision—in Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill—taken in conjunction with the others, will have, it is believed by those who are advising the Government in these matters, and they are persons of great experience, substantial influence in relieving the prisons of a lot of people who now find their way there. Imprisonment leaves a certain stigma, and it is not right that there should be imprisonment unless it is necessary to compel obedience to the law. Therefore what is proposed here is that as a general rule time shall be given for the payment of fines.
There are other provisions. When there are short sentences there is power given, particularly applicable in the case of juvenile offenders, to sentence them, not to go to prison, hut to be detained in the precincts of the Court, where they will be under the control of the Police while not actually in prison. That, of course, is something which can apply only in the case of very short sentences. Then I come to what I call probation. Large powers are given in the Bill, particularly in the case of juveniles, to let them out on probation or to sentence them merely to be under probation. When a young prisoner is put under a probation officer the officer looks after him; the lad is under conditions which involve his undertaking to be of good conduct—it may be an undertaking to abstain from alcohol—and the duty of the probation officer is to look after him in this period. I need not tell your Lordships that these provisions apply only to youthful 245 and early offenders. We hope that this system, which is already in operation to a small extent, may become in operation to a considerably larger extent, and that we fluty thereby avoid such a state of things as our prisons getting filled with young persons. Then arises the question, Where are the probation officers to come from? The Bill makes provision as to that. It enables societies to be set up, the business of which will be to train and provide these probation officers, and the Treasury will give money to assist those societies in all proper cases.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I will tell the noble Marquess in a moment. They will be carefully approved societies for the purpose. In the case of the worst class of offenders the power of sending them to Borstal institutions instead of to prison is enlarged. Instead of sentencing them to a short term of imprisonment, in cases where the Court thinks it is the only chance of the reform of a young offender he may be sent to a Borstal institution where he will be trained. Those institutions are described in the Prevention of Crimes Act as "places in winch young offenders, whilst detained, may be given such industrial training and other instruction, and may be subjected to such disciplinary and moral influences, as may conduce to their reformation," and I might add to that, their employment in later life. There are four typical Borstal institutions in this country—one at Borstal, another at Feltham, a third for girls at Aylesbury, and a wing of the prison at Canterbury is used in this way. This is the kind of life of a boy in a Borstal institution. He gets up at 5.30 a.m.—it is an early hour, but it is found that the process of reformation is assisted by early rising; at 6.10 there is drill and gymnastics, at 7 o'clock breakfast, at 8 o'clock work begins, and 11.30 work stops, at 12 dinner is partaken of, at 1.30 work begins again, at 5.15 work ends for the day, at 5.30 the boys have supper, at 6.10 they go to chapel, at 6.30 there are evening classes, recreation, and hair-cutting, and at 8 o'clock bed. That is a wholesome mode of life, and in the end a large number of these boys, as I have already said, are assisted to employment, notably service at sea. The Bill takes power to extend that.
246 I will tell your Lordships very shortly what the Bill consists of. It is essentially a Bill of detailed provisions, all directed to the end of which I have spoken, and substituting some thing for the evil effects of ordinary imprisonment in the case of youthful and first offenders. The first two clauses deal with the obligation to allow time for the payment of fines. Then supposing a fine has to be paid by instalments and some instalments are paid, the period of imprisonment in default is reduced proportionately to the amount which is paid, and discretion is largely given to the Court to allow further time. Then there are provisions for the enforcement of the payment of these fines, for we do not intend people to trifle with us. Then there are uniform scales of Court fees. These provisions take up the first six clauses of the Bill. The seventh clause is concerned with probation. And now will answer the question put to me by the noble Marquess. Clause 7 says that—If a society is formed or is already in existence having as its object or amongst its objects the care and control of persons under the age of twenty-one whilst on probation under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1907, or of persons whilst placed out on licence from a reformatory or industrial school is Borstal institution, or under supervision after rite determination of the period of their detention in such a school or institution, or under supervision in pursuance of this Act, or some one or more of such objects the society may apply to the Secretary of State for recognition, and the Secretary of State, if he approves of the constitution of the society and is satisfied as to the means adopted by the society for securing such objects as aforesaid, way grant his recognition to the society.So that your Lordships will see that these are voluntary societies which have to be approved by the Secretary of State. Then under Subsection (4) of Clause 7 power is given to grant money towards the expenses incurred by the societies. It is to these societies we look to provide the probation officers.
Clause 10 deals with the terms on which a prisoner may be committed to a Borstal institution. That committal may be for a longer time than the period of the sentence which he would otherwise get, because he is being sent to an institution where he is under discipline and where he gets a new chance. Clause 12 deals with the power of the Court to order a very short period of detention in the precincts of the Court instead of in prison. Then there are certain miscellaneous provisions with which I need not deal. Clause 16 enables more 247 easily the transition to be made from the third division to the second division than is the case at the present time. There are other provisions for the benefit of prisoners. They are relieved of the cost of conveyance to prison. There are various provisions as to consecutive sentences and facilitating applications for bail and the granting of it. Then there are provisions as to licences for persons who have been sentenced to penal servitude. I do not think I need trouble your Lordships with the other miscellaneous matters in the later clauses up to Clause 36. There is a restriction upon corporal punishment not of very great importance. Then there are provisions as to right of appeal and certain provisions as to indictment, and clauses containing the provisions necessary in the application of the Bill to Scotland and Ireland.
I have told your Lordships the material provisions in this Bill. To deal with it as a whole and as the application of a simple principle is not possible further than I have indicated. The principle of the Bill is to mitigate the punishment of imprisonment. The Bill was sifted carefully in the discussions which took place in the other House. It met, I think, with unanimous approval. It is founded on the experience of Police magistrates, Judges, and officials. It represents another step in that long chain of reforming Acts of which I have spoken, which began with Lord Cross's Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1879 and which have been continued by successive Governments until in this Bill we have the last proposals resulting from the experience of those who have to administer this unfortunate side of our social system. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I ask to be allowed to take the lead in congratulating the Government upon this Bill. Those congratulations, I believe, will be as general in this House as they were in the House of Commons when the Bill was there introduced. The noble and learned Viscount has justifiably called attention to the approval which this Bill there received, not merely at its inception but throughout the long discussions which resulted in its taking the final form which it now has and in 248 which it comes before your Lordships' House. If you look at the headings of its clauses you see that it covers a vast number of subjects. It is a sort of omnibus Bill, with all sorts of odds and ends of administration that require attention at the present time. But to me, and, I imagine, to most of those who have looked into the matter, far the most important part of the Bill is that which relates to prison reform, using the word "prison" in the widest sense and using it for institutions as unlike as can possibly be to the ordinary idea of a prison, but regulating, reforming, and enlarging the scope of these institutions in a way which experience has shown to be desirable.
I suppose it is true to say that, while England was in advance of most other countries with regard to a great deal of the legislation of a generation or a couple of generations ago, upon the action of the Criminal Law as a whole we did not go very rapidly forward as regards the elasticity of prison work and the kind of experimental prison reforms which were being attempted in some other countries, notably on the other side of the Atlantic, more markedly than among ourselves. Work inside our prisons is peculiarly difficult to reform by the ordinary process of the influence of public opinion, because public opinion is so exceedingly uninformed as to what goes on within the prison walls. A vast number of people who pass the walls of a prison and look up upon it congratulate themselves that probably those who are inside are kept out of mischief for the time being, and they think that no doubt all is going on well inside. It is many years ago that our great prison reformer, Mr. Howard, spoke of prison reform as "the open but unfrequented path." But something has been done.
I believe our legislation will bear favourable comparison with that of any other country so far as what has been done within the last ten years at all events. The Lord Chancellor has called attention to the group of three Acts passed within a year and a half, the Probation of Offenders Act, the Children Act, and the Prevention of Crime Act. All these, speaking largely, had the same purpose. It was to prevent those getting into prison who could get there nothing but harm owing to their tender years, while very many of them were those whose offence 249 had been of a sort which in some other walks of life would not have been regarded very severely at all. All these Acts taken together, and the way in which they have since been developed, have tended to render impossible the sending of anybody to prison under the age of 14, and rendering it very difficult for anybody to be in prison under the age of 16. Nobody, I believe, is imprisoned to-day under 14 years of age, and very few indeed under 16 years of age. Of course, probationary and reformatory institutions may most rightly get their hold upon some of those who are too young to go within the prison walls. It is a curious fact, after all the progress that has been made in a thousand different ways in our ordinary social life in this country—the advance of the standard of comfort, the standard of education, and the rest—that there has not been what, we should all, I imagine, have expected 20 years ago, a proportionate diminution of what we may call ordinary crime. I do not know whether your Lordships are all familiar with the fact, but I think I am right in saying that whilst in 1893 out of every 100,000 persons there were 192 charged on an average with indictable offences, now out of 100,000 persons 184 are so charged. It is an improvement, but it is not a great stride in advance to come from 192 to 184 as the change that 20 years have brought about for the better.
And I believe that, those who are thus disappointed can, when they look into it, find a ground for their disappointment partly in the results of the long period during which we have been accustomed, until lately, to go in for very short prison sentences. If there is one thing upon which prison reformers and students of the subject are now agreed, it is the fatuity and uselessness of very short sentences. I do not know whether your Lordships read a series of articles which appeared some six weeks ago in The Times by a lady of great experience and knowledge, as the articles showed, who brought out in various ways the genuine mischief that had been done by very short sentences and the certainty that, while these may very decidedly be punitive, they are hardly ever reformative, and most of all is that true with regard to women and girls. We are asked, If that is so, what would you do instead? This Bill is the result of many endeavours which have been made to answer that question. We say that what 250 we must do instead is that when we can catch an offender early in the career of crime which might otherwise come, we should be able to turn him or her off that mischievous path on to a more useful life. and all the legislation of 1907 and 1908 tended in the direction of taking care that young persons at all events should have a chance which they never had before.
The Lord Chancellor has referred to the Borstal system. Any one who has looked with care into what has been happening in regard to that system, applied to both boys and girls, will see that where it has been able to be rightly worked the experience is extraordinarily satisfactory considering how short a number of years we have been at work on the subject. But in Borstal institutions as truly as in prisons we have to take care that we do not do harm by the sentences being too short, and one of the advantages of passing this Bill will be, I hope, the institution of a minimum sentence of two years for anyone going under the Borstal system, which is not a penal system but an educative and reforming system, and the period of two years is felt to be the minimums time during which that process is likely to have the full beneficial effect it might to have. I have means of knowing what has happened both to boys and girls under the Borstal system, and I have no hesitation in saving that I believe it to have had the highest possible success in its operations upon a class singularly difficult to know how to mould and guide and help.
If one had to summarise what the Bill as a whole will do in the way of advantage, I should make it almost all turn upon the improvement which it will effect in making probationary and reformative a great lead that is now penal, and extending experiments which have been in their early days proved to be successful to a larger scale for the benefit of the training of those who instead of being started on a criminal career, are often pulled up at the time and started upon something very much better than would have been likely to be theirs had they not had, I would almost say, the gain of going to a Borstal institution or reformatory in the early days of their grown-up life. There are many questions of detail, questions possibly better discussed in Committee, but of great importance. I am particularly grateful for the recognition, none too early, given of the 251 efforts of societies which have hitherto furnished the probationary officers upon whom so much turns. These are not societies existing in the main for the production and training of probation officers. The societies exist for philanthropic purposes, temperance purposes, and the rest, whose Police Court officers have proved themselves so effective in getting hold of even other criminals than those who would specially have fallen under their scope that magistrates have used them again and again; and we have often felt, those of us who are dealing with the matter, that we have been providing from the limited funds of a private society a great deal of what ought to be subsidised from public funds.
Nothing is to me more satisfactory than that Government aid will now be given to those officers who, though being supported by these societies, are really officers for the public service as a whole much more than for the promotion of some particular branch of amelioration or reform in our social system. It is a very great gain that their position should be recognised, and I congratulate and thank the Government for having taken the matter in hand. But I do think it most important that one change should be made. We want a larger number of women. There are women as probation officers in London and in some of the large towns, but there are great areas and many large towns, too, in which there are no women at all, while a great many of those who have to be thus helped are girls and young women essentially needing the guidance of a woman as the probation officer to whom they could be entrusted. Therefore I hope to see, when this Bill becomes an Act and is in operation, great encouragement given to the appointment of women as probation officers, considering those to whose gain their energies and activities would have to be devoted.
Then there is another point to which I am rather anxious that some attention should be given in Committee. I refer to the places of detention which are to be temporarily used in order to avoid sending to prison those who ought not to go there. The provision in our large cities of places of detention for that purpose is comparatively easy, but it is not nearly so easy in country places and towns; and I venture to hope that there will be a wide interpretation given to the clause, and that its terms will be con- 252 sidered with a view to their enlargement if necessary as to what are the right places which can be thus used. We have what are known as Remand Homes in a great many places, but it does not appear from the wording of the Bill that the term "Remand Home" will be regarded as covering the places which are henceforward to be looked upon as appropriate for the detention of prisoners in this way. However, that is a matter of detail. Again we want women there. Girls and young women are no small proportion of those thus temporarily detained, and it is a vital necessity, in my judgment, that the number of women officers looking after these places should be considerably enlarged.
Then there is the point about Children's Courts. We have sonic Children's Courts. A start has been successfully made already in our great cities, but we have not nearly so many as we ought to have. And there are places where the object of the Children's Court is a good deal defeated by the fact that it is held at the ordinary Police Court at the close of the ordinary proceedings and the children are kept in the Police Court throughout the day waiting for the time to come when their Court is opened. The idea of the Children's Court was to keep the children from the contamination of the Police Court, yet under the system I have mentioned they are kept within the very walls of the Police Court for the best part of the day. Of course, this may be an administrative rather than a legislative detail—
§ LORD BARNARD
May I interrupt the most rev. Primate for one moment? In connection with the Petty Sessional Court over which I have the honour to preside, the Children's Courts are always held at the commencement of the proceedings and never at the end.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
I am very glad to hear that, and I hope that policy will be adopted in other places as well. There is no doubt that the fact is as I have stated in the particular case I have in mind, but I hope such cases are rare. I think, following the example of our friends on the other side of the Atlantic, that we should extend the development of the Children's Courts in the way of having also special children's magistrates, because it does not 253 follow that every magistrate is equally competent to deal with the strangely difficult and delicate task of looking after the working of a Children's Court. One case has come under my own notice where an otherwise admirable magistrate has become so exceedingly deaf that it has been proved practically impossible to get him to hear what the children have to say. That kind of difficulty is an instance of a very obvious sort of our needing special men to deal with a very special department of work. The noble Viscount (Lord Bryce) who has had unique experience of American life will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe I am right in saying that most of the places in the United States—which set us the lead in the matter of Children's Courts, and where these Courts have been so successful—have children's magistrates doing the work in these Courts. Of course, that does not mean that those magistrates are not available for other work, but they are specially qualified for that particular work. These are all details, however. The large principle which this Bill covers is, to my mind, in every sense a wholesome and desirable one. The Bill appears to me, as far as I can judge, to be admirably calculated to effect that which it is intended to do, and I desire to offer it, on behalf of some of us who have been long interested in these matters, a cordial welcome, and to express our gratitude to the Government for the form which the Bill has taken.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, I wish to join with the most rev. Primate in praise of the Bill, which I am sure is an excellent one; but there is a little matter about which I should like to ask the Lord Chancellor a question, and that is with regard to the Board of Statutory Visitors, and I look to Ireland. There was a largely-signed memorial to the Home Secretary, signed by leading representative women of all parties and creeds in Ireland, asking him to make a statutory order in the Bill that there should be two women inspectors to every women's convict prison in Ireland. The memorial wound up in this way—The appointment of women as prison visitors should cease to be a discretionary power and should be made a statutory one.I believe there is a woman inspector of women's prisons in this country, but there is not one in Ireland, and that is the 254 reason why I have asked for this provision. It is, of course, no good my moving an Amendment if the Lord Chancellor does not think fit to accept it. That is why I ask the question now, Would he accept such an Amendment?
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, I should like to support what has been said by the most rev. Primate with regard to the working of Children's Courts. It has been found in the United States, where these Courts originated, that it is quite essential to their good working that they should be held in a different place from that in which the ordinary Criminal Courts are held. It is desirable to prevent the children from feeling that they are in any Sense treated as criminals, and to remove all the associations which attach to ordinary penal procedure from the treatment of their cases. I was much struck in attending the proceedings in these Courts by the fact that the ordinary atmosphere of a Criminal Court was absent and that the whole thing was dealt with on a different basis. In fact, the magistrate seemed to feel that he was not merely a magistrate but, so to speak, an agent for reformation; one might almost say a friend. He was endeavouring to treat the children as those who had lapsed through ignorance or unfortunate conditions, and to deal with them not as if they were mere criminals but as persons who were capable of being reformed by the application of tactful and sympathetic methods. It is very desirable for that purpose that the Children's Court should be held ice a different place; and it is also desirable, as the most rev. Primate said, that the work should be entrusted to persons who have acquired special experience and special tact and sympathy in the way of dealing with these cases.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I desire to join with the most rev. Primate in congratulating the Government on the presentation of this Bill. In its general scope and in most of its provisions I have no doubt that it will receive the general approbation of your Lordships' House. It is almost useless to do so, but I cannot help repeating once more my very respectful protest against the way in which your Lordships' House is treated. This is pre-eminently a Bill which ought to be discussed here. It 255 deals with very detailed and intricate matters of the administration of the Criminal Law. We have amongst us some of the greatest legal luminaries of the country. I notice that they hardly ever contribute to our debates, but they are members of your Lordships' House. There was a time when the Law Lords were not only of the greatest importance in the administration of justice, but they did help us in discussing legal matters in your Lordships' House. Except the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, there is not a single Law Lord present at the present moment, and as far as I know for the last two or three years they have not taken any part in any debate before your Lordships.
But that is not the only opportunity we have. I should think that half of the members of this House are magistrates, most of them active magistrates; yet this Bill is brought before us at a time of the year when it is practically impossible to go into the details of it. I do not desire to oppose the Bill in any way, but I think that there are in this House noble Lords whose contribution to a discussion of this kind would be most valuable, because they not only administer the law but administer the prisons. Many of your Lordships are members of the Prison Committees in your various counties and know what happens—may I say with all respect?—even better than the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack does. Although in a matter of law a magistrate may be contemptible to him, in a matter of prison administration the magistrate knows quite as much as the noble and learned Viscount. Therefore it was of great importance to the country that this Bill should have been brought forward at a proper time. The Bill might thereby have been greatly improved; objections to the Bill might have been removed in the course of the discussion. All that is lost because this Bill has been produced in your Lordships' House at the very end of July. I make that protest. I do not suppose it will have any effect, but still one is bound to say what one thinks on a matter of that kind.
The most rev. Primate told your Lordships that this was the last of a series of Bills tending to get rid of short imprisonments which do so much harm. It is a step in the right direction, and a very 256 important step. But I should like to make one comment upon what the most rev. Primate said. It is this, that the Bill does not really strike at the main part of the evil, for when this Bill passes the short sentences will go on in the great majority of cases just as before. These are the kind of short sentences which in one's practical experience one comes across. You go into a prison as a member of the Visiting Committee, and as your Lordships know, the procedure is to ask every prisoner whether he has any complaint. He sometimes tells you something beyond his complaint; he sometimes protests against his sentence; and in that way one gets to know the kind of sentences which magistrates in the county inflict. You come across a man who perhaps is, I will not say defective, but is not as fully in command of his intelligence as most free men are. He says something which you can hardly understand, and you appeal to the warder to know what he is. "Oh, he is in and out here continually," says the warder; "I do not think he rightly knows all he is doing." That is the kind of case one comes across in every prison in every month of the year. These men are in and out continually. They are tramps, or persons of that kind, without any settled occupation or abode. They commit these petty offences of drunkenness, or vagrancy, or Wandering without visible means of subsistence, and are put into prison for a week or fourteen days. They are perhaps out for a week and then in for a month or out for a month and then in for a week. It does no good. It is no good as a deterrent, and it is very costly to the country. The problem which the Government—I do not mean to say this Government; I am not speaking in any Party sense— of this country has to face is how to deal with that kind of case.
I turn for a moment to consider one or two of the clauses of the Bill. First of all with regard to probation. I am glad to see the provisions which the Government propose in respect of probation. I think, however, they might have gone perhaps a trifle further in some respects. There are certain crimes which, owing to their definition, do not come within the probationary clauses. Your Lordships will observe that they have to be crimes for which I think a month's imprisonment without the option of a fine is the 257 possible punishment. There are a good many offences which come below that standard, and yet might very properly be dealt with under the probationary clauses. I refer in particular to crimes in connection with prostitution and soliciting; and I shall, perhaps, persuade your Lordships in. Committee to introduce Amendments to cover that kind of case.
Now with regard to handing this duty over to societies. I interrupted the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to ask what sort of societies they were. Of course, they are very useful and do admirable work, but I should like to utter a word of warning. Your Lordships know perfectly well that probation officers are not established by this Bill for the first time; the whole probation system is in operation, and we already appoint the local societies' probation officers—the Joint Committee in the county does it, believe. From my own experience that works very well. I do not know whether it works badly in other counties, but as far as I know it works very well in the county with which I am principally connected. I want to know from the Lord Chancellor why this new provision is made. Why is it not left to the authority in the county, the Joint Committee or whatever it is, to appoint the probation officers as it does now? Why should it be handed over to societies, very excellent societies, no doubt, but societies which are not official, and over whose conduct there is no efficient public control? I want to speak with the greatest respect of these societies, because I know that they do good work. But philanthropic societies are dominated by men who have very strong views on certain questions, and views which are not altogether approved in certain instances by what are called men of common sense outside. I think it would be very dangerous if they were allowed to have complete control of the probation system of the country. I do not say that that is necessarily the effect of the Bill, because I observe that the Secretary of State has to approve; and I suppose the Secretary of State will keep his eye upon these societies. Perhaps he will issue regulations governing them. I do not know. But in his interesting speech I do not think the Lord Chancellor went into that. I should have been very glad if he had told us how he proposes that these 258 provisions with regard to the societies will work—whether the magistrates will still have the duty of appointing the probation officers, and whether they will still have the control of them. If that is so, I do not think there is much criticism to be made. But I should hesitate if it is proposed to hand over this very important duty to be administered entirely by societies which, however admirable, are not public societies, and which may be dominated by persons who are not in every respect quite wise.
I turn to another provision. It is proposed in this Bill to change the rules as to the classification of prisoners. I refer to Clause 16 and the following clauses of the Bill. I think, though I speak under correction, that a new principle is introduced in these clauses, because after a magistrate or a Court of Justice has awarded a certain sentence to a prisoner, part of which is, of course, to determine under what classification as a prisoner the man is to be punished, there is authority in the Visiting Committee to alter the classification. At present—I speak again under correction—I think that a Visiting Committee of a prison has no such power; that it has, indeed, no powers at all except to administer the discipline of the prison. The Visiting Committee sees that the prison is properly conducted; it sees that the prisoners have no complaints; it sees that if a prisoner breaks the discipline of the prison he is suitably punished. Those sort of things are the duty of the Visiting Committee; but up to now they have had no control whatever over the sentence passed on the prisoner and under which he is being punished for the moment. It is now proposed for the first time, I dare say very properly, that after a prisoner has been sentenced to be imprisoned in the third division, the Visiting Committee can say he is to be imprisoned in the second division. It is a new principle that a Committee sitting in private is to have that power. I dare say that can be justified, but there is one provision in the clause which I do not think can be justified, and that is that the Visiting Committee are only to act on the motion of the governor. I think the Government should reconsider that provision. I do not think it is at all suitable that the governor of the gaol should be in a position of superiority to the Visiting Committee. 259 That seems to me an improper provision. The governor of the gaol is a very important person and does his work admirably, but that is not the class to which such a charge should be committed. The Visiting Committee consists of men of a far higher standard than he can ever hope to be, and the authority ought not to rest, I venture to think, with the governor of the gaol.
If the House will bear with me, there is one other topic on which I should like to say a word. The most rev. Primate congratulated the Government, and very truly, upon the efforts which they are making to diminish the amount of imprisonment; but there is one direction in which the Government have not acted at all, and that is a very important direction—I refer to the imprisonment of men before their trial. That is a great and most heinous scandal in this country. Men are imprisoned before they are tried. I came across a case the other day. A man was committed for trial on the charge of firing a stack. That is arson, and therefore cannot be tried at Quarter Sessions, but has to be tried at Assizes. Unfortunately for the man, the Assize of the county to which he belonged had just been held, and consequently he had to wait for the next Assize. I think I am correct in saying that the next Assize did not take place for five months. For five months this man was in St. Albans gaol without trial; at the end of that time he was tried and he was acquitted. He got no redress; he got no compensation; nothing was done to give him any return for this very grave injustice. And that may happen and does happen continually. I admit that mine was an extreme case. All I say is that it is a real case which actually occurred. Of course, if the man had been bailed it would have been different; but he was a poor man, I expect a tramp, and therefore he was not bailed. Consequently he remained in prison for live months untried, and at the end of the trial he was acquitted. That is an outrage which ought never to occur. I hope the Government will consider a remedy for dealing with the possibility of that class of case. If I received the least encouragement from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack I would nut down an Amendment to cover a case of that kind. The sort of remedy would be that where the committing magistrate 260 was made aware that the man could not be tried for more than a certain number of months, the magistrate should be directed to commit him for trial, not to the Assize of the county, but to some other neighbouring Assize, or to the Central Criminal Court, in order to hasten forward the trial so that these cases to which I have referred should not occur. I apologise to your Lordships for detaining you, but I think this is an important matter, and I hope the Government will consider it. For the rest, I join in the congratulations which the most rev. Primate has given to the Government, and I hope that the Bill will speedily pass into law.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.