HC Deb 12 August 1835 vol 30 cc400-3

The House went into a Committee on the Regulations for Prisons' Bill.

Mr. Ridley Colborne

said, he had presented a Petition from the Governors of Bridewell, praying to be exempted from the provisions of the Bill: and he now begged to bring up a Clause to that effect, he had flattered himself that it would not have fallen to his lot to do so: for though the noble Lord who introduced the measure in the other House had not done so, he had promised to use his influence with the noble Lord, the Home Secretary, for that purpose; therefore, notwithstanding that noble Lord's refusal to incur the unpopularity of bringing up the Clause himself, he (Mr. Colborne) trusted he should have his support. The reasons on which he grounded his request were shortly these:—In the first place, Bridewell was governed by Charter, which had existed for above 300 years; it had never asked of the House one single shilling, but was supported entirely by the funds granted them and the donations of charitable individuals: the Governors of Bridewell, therefore, asked, let it be remembered no aid in money, but only exemption from the interference of the Bill. A Committee had gone over the gaol, and had reported that there never was one more useful and accurately conducted; also strongly recommending that it should not be put under the provisions of the Bill. He was aware it would be asked why should they object to the restrictions of the Bill, if its arrangements were so good. That was a very natural question certainly, but was it fair to introduce a Bill for the better regulation of bad gaols, and to include in it one against which not the slightest blame was attached? While such an interference disgusted benevolent persons and prevented; them from becoming subscribers to the institution. It was not merely condemning without trial but after a trial, and a complete acquittal; and coming in at the eleventh hour with a provision, which the noble Lord who brought in the Bill, did not intend should be included in it. The hon. Member begged to move the introduction of the Clause.

The Clause having been brought up,

Lord John Russell

said, that on being informed by the parties interested that they wished to bring up such a Clause, he certainly expressed no approbation; but on being told that his noble Friend in the other House was pledged to it, he did not offer any opposition to its introduction; although he had written to his noble Friend, the Duke of Richmond, expressing his opinion that as the Bill was of a public nature, he (Lord John Russell) did not know any reason for giving his assent to the Clause. His Grace answered him, however, that he thought it ought to be introduced; and certainly after that statement, he (Lord John Russell) would not oppose it, although he must say he considered it an improper principle, and he should not have been the person to make such a proposition.

Mr. Hawes

said the great object of the Bill was to introduce something like uniformity of principle in the gaols; and the gaols under corporate jurisdiction were always of the very worst description. Unless they were brought under the operation of this act, the very principle of which was what he deemed the greatest, and almost its only value, that all gaols would be brought under public inspection, and laid regularly before Parliament, it would be a failure. As to what the hon. Gentleman had said about Bridewell having been supported by voluntary contribution,—it was supported by endowment, for public purposes, and was not to be considered in the light of an institution supported by private funds. The absurdity of having different regulations in different gaols was clearly manifest in the fact, that by that means a punishment would be given to a crime in one place totally different from that which it received, under the same sentence, in another. Therefore he (Mr. Hawes) hoped that the proposition of the hon. Member would by no means be assented to; if it were, the wish which he had for passing the Bill would be entirely at an end, and he would divide against it at every stage of its progress.

Sir Robert Inglis

said that—as philosophy was the common term of the day—nothing could be more unphilosophical than the endeavour to apply one uniform system to every institution: and even admitting the principle, his objection to including the gaol in question, would be the contract with the noble Lord in the other House. It was improper to legislate, with no complaint at all, to secure a mere theoretical conformity; and he was of opinion that in the evidence and the recommendation of the Committee last Session there was a case fully made out for the exemption claimed by his hon. Friend, to whom, therefore, on this occasion, he should give his cordial support.

Viscount Howick

said, the hon. Baronet objected to what he called the modern system of uniformity in different institutions. But was there anything more absurd than that in one place what is called hard labour as a punishment was a mere trifle, and in another a severe hardship? Surely, if their efforts were divided to put down crime their aim should be to render the sentence of the law the same in all places; that was the principle of the present Bill, and to it the Clause proposed by the hon. Member was totally opposed. The views which he (Visct. Howick) entertained with respect to prison discipline were, he believed, nearly coincident with those of his hon. Friend, the Member for Lambeth; but the difference between them was this. The hon. Member thought a better system would be introduced by legislation, while he was of opinion that no great change would be brought about so much by the provisions of the law as by the mode of administering it. He thought it impossible that a general law could be introduced which should at once lay down all the details, extending to the whole of the country; but he thought the present Bill, by giving the power of inspection in hands of the persons responsible to the Government and to Parliament, would enable them to arrange a good system such as they wished to establish. The hon. Member (Mr. Ridley Colborne) had spoken of the good state of Bridewell; but admitting that, what injury would the Bill do to Bridewell, the only effect of it would be, that a complimentary Report would be given to the Government very laudatory to the Governors. But the Governors might be changed; and would they then say that when, from the notorious defects of existing systems, a general supervision was introduced,—that this particular place was to be exempted, because it was said to be at present better regulated than the majority of the other prisons. When they passed the New Poor Law Amendment Act no such proposition was made on behalf of particular parishes, and he (Visct. Howick) contended that the principle of this Bill was exactly analogous to that of the New Poor Law Amendment Act: viz.—to leave the actual detailed administration of local concerns to the local authorities, but to subject them to the supervision and control of some central authority, who should see that the duties were efficiently performed. Under these circumstances, he (Visct. Howick) should oppose the insertion of the Clause.

The Committee divided on the Clause: Ayes 6; Noes 71; Majority 65.

The Clauses of the Bill were agreed to, and the House resumed.