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three parts-1. The increase of crime in the agricultural districts-2. The increase of crime in the manufacturing districts-3. The increase of crime in the metropolis. It is to the first part alone that they have hitherto directed their inquiries; nor have they been able to form a definite judgment even on this portion of the subject. They proceed, however, to lay before the House their observations, together with the substance of the evidence taken before them, referring to the evidence itself for more complete details.
The main cause of the increase of crime in the agricultural districts appears clearly to be the low rate of wages, and want of sufficient employment for the labourer. This evil has been greatly aggravated, although not altogether produced by the abuse of the poor laws to a purpose for which they were never intended. During the high price of provisions, which occurred soon after the commencement of the war of 1793, the farmers, instead of raising the wages of labour in proportion to the increased value of subsistence, had recourse to the expedient of making up the deficiency out of the poor rate. While the war continued, the increasing demand for agricultural produce, and the abundance of the currency, concealed the evils with which this system was pregnant; but with the restoration of peace came large importations of foreign corn, a diminished currency, and a want of employment for the labourer. At the same time, while employment diminished, the new administration of the poor laws tended to increase the population. So that the farther this vicious system was carried, the greater and more difficult became the obstacles to a restoration of a healthy state. The fluctuations which have taken place since 1816, both with regard to the price of corn and the amount of the currency in circulation, have still further acted to prevent any improvement in the situation of the country.
It is not for your Committee to enter into any discussion on questions of economy. But they think it their duty to call the attention of the House to the degradation of the moral character of the labouring classes, which attends the vicious system of supporting from the poor rates a number of young men, for whom the parish finds only partial employment. The wretchedness of their condition, the want of regular habits, and of the due subordination of the labourer to his employer, all tend greatly to the promotion of crime. Early marriages, contracted either to avoid going to prison on a charge of bastardy, or with a view of receiving a better allowance from the parish, increase the evil, and multiply a population for whom there is no certain employment, and a miserable subsistence; and in this situation they are too apt to believe they can improve their condition by offending against the laws.
The best remedy for such a state of things would undoubtedly be a great increase in the demand for labour. But whether that increase takes place or not, some amendment of the poor laws which might prevent the prevailing abuses from being carried further, seems to be called for. At present, while in many counties the character of the labourer is daily becoming worse, and the means of his employer daily becoming less, there are other districts where the old and wholesome administration of the poor laws prevails, where the wages given are sufficient for the maintenance of the labourer, and the feeling of independence is not yet obliterated. It is surely desirable to prevent the infection of a vicious system from spreading to districts which it has not reached, and, if possible, to provide for its gradual diminution in those where it most prevails.
The evidence taken before the Committee shows undeniably that the great increase of preserves for game which has taken place of late years, has tended materially to the increase of crime in particular districts
pheasant or a hare is so easily taken, that a labourer, only half employed, and ill fed, cannot resist the temptation. Men of a wild character, likewise, have within their reach both the means of gratifying their love of sport, and the means of disposing of their booty. Some are of opinion, that if the sale of game were allowed by law, poaching would not be so frequently resorted to. Whether such a speculation be well founded or not, it appears to be the duty of the legislature to listen to every rational proposal on the subject of the Game Laws, and rather to hazard an experiment which may fail, than to allow the present evils to continue without any effort to counteract them.
When on this subject it deserves remark, that in the return of the commitments of prisoners for trial, none are to be found for offences against the Game Laws, till the passing of the act which subjects men to transportation for going armed at night in pursuit of game. This offence does not appear by the returns to have increased since the passing of the act; the number committed in 1827 being 127, and in 1826, 126. But many of the petty larcenies in the agricultural counties are to be attributed to the vicious habits created by poaching.
With regard to prison discipline, your Committee will make at present but two short remarks. The one is, that little good seems to be effected by confinement, unless accompanied by bodily labour. The other, that the construction and regulation of the tread-mill, the prison diet, and the hours to be employed in hard labour, ought to be made as nearly as possible uniform in every goal in the kingdom.
The Committee do not at present feel themselves prepared to give any opinion on the evidence upon the very important subject of education.
With respect to the increased frequency of commitments under the "Malicious Trespass Act," your Committee would observe, that although petty offences ought not to go altogether unpunished, there can be no greater evil than the abuse of the power of sending to prison for trifling trespasses; so far from preventing atrocious offences, your Committee is of opinion, that the mere fact of having been sent to prison is likely to deprive a man of one of the greatest moral restraints-the dread of being marked out as a criminal in the face of his country. To this evil is to be added the danger of associating with bad characters in prison, and the difficulty which sometimes occurs of finding employment after being discharged.
The Committee now proceed to furnish a suminary of the evidence taken before them.
Mr. Pym has acted for nine years as a magistrate for the county of Cambridge. It appears from the returns presented to parliament, that the number of prisoners committed for trial in the county of Cambridge were, in 1805, 40; 1806, 26; 1814, 37; 1815, 64; 1816, 71; 1824, 110 1825, 137; 1826, 142. Mr. Pym is of opinion, that since the "Gaol Act there have been more full returns sent to the office of the Secretary of State. He states, however, that there are more committals under the game laws, which he attributes to distress. The sum given by the parish to a single man who has no employment is 2s. 8d. per week; the wages in harvest is 26s. a week, and beer. "In the summer season these single men can earn as much as would enable a man to support a family, generally speaking; they then squander that money, and in the winter, about the month of November, they generally apply to the overseer, or to the surveyor; and I have known many instances, in many parishes, and it repeatedly comes before me, that single men would not let themselves as servants to the farmers, because if they should do so they would be under their control in the summer months, and they would rather take parish pay and take their chance through the winter than control themselves during the summer
months, when they would get a tolerable demand for labour, and constant employment."
He thinks the feeling of shame at receiving parochial relief is quite obliterated; the practice of the labourers subsisting on very small sums received from the parish without active employment, makes them discontented and dissatisfied with their condition. They think they are not sufficiently paid for their labour, and often hold out a threat, that if they have not more they must do something which they would not like do do to
In this situation, the labourers are often guilty of poaching or fowl stealing, but especially the former. They do not consider poaching to be a moral offence; there is a very general feeling both among the farmers and amongst the labourers, that poaching is not a moral crime. The labourers begin with poaching, and that leads to every thing that is bad; they begin to set snares at ten years old. In the district where Mr. Pym resides, however, there is very little game, and more fowl stealing. In the gaol at Cambridge, the prisoners work on the tread-mill nine hours a-day; those who work on the tread-mill have three pounds of bread and a pint of small beer a-day allowed them. Those who are not put upon the tread-mill are allowed only a pound and a half of bread a day, and nothing else. Poachers, who are not put on the tread-mill, often apply to be employed on it for the increased allowance: idle men, on the other hand, have a greater dread of being sent to gaol than they formerly had.
The Rev. Dr. Hunt produced, from an accurate return, the total number of commitments to the gaol of Bedford. In 1802, they were 47; 1803, 88; 1805, 91; 806, 120; 1815, 125; 1816, 141; 1825, 333; 1826, 348, and the year ending the 10th of January 1827, 417. He calculates that, from the year ending 1801 to 1827, the population of the country has increased to the amount of 40 per cent.; while, during the same period, crime has increased ten-fold, or 900 per cent. It is to be remarked, however, that in the year following 1801, criminal commitments more than doubled, and have never since been much below that amount. It is likewise to be observed, that the prisoners from the town are now committed to the county gaol. On the other hand, the practice of sending vagrants to gaol, which, of course, swelled the returns, has been discontinued for the last few years.
Dr. Hunt states, as the first cause of the increase of crime, the distress of the agricultural labourer. He says, that in some parishes the unmarried labourers are universally degraded to become roundsmen, or parish labourers on the gravel pits or on the roads; that such men receive from 3s. to 3s. 6d. a week; that he has known an instance of a young man apparantly 17 years of age, who received only 2s. a week. That they marry either to avoid going to prison on a charge of bastardy, or to obtain a better provision from the parish. That he has observed a great loss of the feeling of independence, scarcely any compunction at receiving parish relief, and a consequent degradation in the moral character of the labourer. He does not think any great improvement can take place among them till they can generally obtain regular employment and fair wages. Those who are kept by the parish during the winter receive 5s. from the overseer, to enable them to seek their fortunes during hay time and harvest. Those who get employed for harvest work receive about a pound a week. Irish labourers supply their place at harvest, and the labourers of the parish return to be a burthen during the winter.
Men in this wretched condition are liable to yield to any temptation; they go to poaching as an offence of the smallest guilt. They generally appear hardly to consider poaching as a crime; many who are guilty of
poaching would certainly have great reluctance to commit what they would consider a violation of private property. The great majority of persons committed for offences against the game laws are young unmarried labourers, though some poachers are dissolute characters, who would remain such even if good wages were offered. The general opinion is, that game is not private property. They say, God has made the game of the land free, and left it free. The farmers, injured by the game, do not discourage this notion. When punished for offences against the game laws, they are apt to think they have not had a fair trial, when they have been convicted by strict preservers of game, who have frequently been sufferers. Poaching and commitment to prison bring them acquainted with dissolute characters; they proceed to petty thefts; and thus poaching tends in various ways to injure the moral feelings of the labourer.
Dr. Hunt is of opinion that the Malicious Trespass Act, and other acts which give summary jurisdiction, have greatly increased the number of commitments. He is also of opinion, that these commitments tend to the increase of crime; because a person once sent to prison gets into a course of criminal habits, by associating with dissolute persons he meets there. With regard to prison discipline, he adds, "After long and attentive observation on prison discipline, and after a great deal of conversation with the very excellent chaplain of the prisons of the county of Bedford, I fear that very little improvement is ever made in the moral habits of a prisoner by even the best forms of prison discipline and instruction that have yet been devised." The classification is as perfect in the Bedford gaol as it can be made in a county of that extent. He afterwards states his opinion in these words: "I do not think that prison discipline has increased crime, but that sending to prison at all for a small crime rather tends to increase crime of every description; a man becomes a worse subject by being sent to prison; but he is not made so much worse now as formerly, in consequence of the improved discipline of prisons." He allows that the discipline of prisons is better than it ever was formerly, but thinks that punishment of this or any other kind has not a fair trial, because the prisoners have not been able to return to a state of regular employment at good wages.
With regard to education, Dr. Hunt states, that domestic discipline and parental control have not been so much attended to as formerly, arising perhaps from the great increase of schools, parents expecting from those schools more than they have been found to realize. The rapid education given in them is seldom accompanied with mnch moral instruction. Sometimes when he has reproached the parent of a child, who had shown early depravity, the parent has thrown the fault upon the school, saying, " I sent the child to a school where it ought to have been instructed better; I have nothing to reproach myself with." He has always observed, that educated prisoners have been better behaved in proportion to the education they have received, particularly if moral discipline and instruction have accompanied it; but no very permanent good results, unless parental control had also been exercised. He is of opinion that a very great improvement in the moral character of the poor might be effected by a more general diffusion of the system of infant schools.
Mr. Orridge, who has been governor of the gaol and house of correction at Bury St. Edmunds for very near thirty years, has given very valuable information to the Committee. The number of prisoners committed to the House of Correction has been :
This witness states, that the great increase in the number of commitments began in the year 1815, from the depression of agriculture and the great dearth of employment. Men are employed upon the roads at a very low rate. They consider it a matter of right to be paid from the poor's ra e. When the unemployed poor are put by the parish to work on the roads they become lazy; they know that whether they sit on the wheelbarrow all the day, or work hard, the result on Saturday night will be the same. The continuance of this practice has a bad moral effect. He remembers the time when a man considered himself disgraced by taking the allowance, but that feeling is now gone by, and the independent spirit has been all destroyed. Single men receive from 8d. to 10d. a day from the parish. Next to the want of employment, and the inadequacy of the price of labour, he attributes the increase of crime to the fact, that there is an abundant market for game, and nobody to compete in that market with the poacher. The quantity of game is greatly increased. When first he went to the gaol there were four packs of fox-hounds kept in the district; there are none now. Since the fox-hounds have been laid down, gentlemen have turned their attention to the preservation of game; and associations for this purpose pay for the services of those who give information that leads to a conviction. Until game became strictly preserved, and game associations formed, the number of commitments under the Game Laws was inconsiderable-1810, 5; 1811, 4; 1812, 2; 1824, 60; 1825, 41; 1826, 71; 1822, (a year of great agricultural distress) 78. Some poachers commit offences of this kind from the love of sport; but the greater part of them are single men who do not receive adequate wages. He believes, that if game could be legally bought, the major part of the purchasers would not deal with the illegal traders in it; how far that would drive them into the farmer's pig and poulty yards he will not pretend to determine. While the first cause exists there will be misdemeanours of some character or other. He observes, however, that in the article of poaching, there is a general understanding amongst the lower orders of the people that there is no moral crime in it; so that they go to it with a feeling that they are doing no moral wrong. "I believe there are many men go to poaching who would not steal; but I am afraid there are many men who, when they have been out and taken no game, would take poultry on their return, from their necessities. I have known instances where men have assured me, after conviction, that they went out for the purpose of taking game, but having been disappointed, they have, on their return, taken fowls, or pigs, or something else. I think that it leads to a great deal of crime, and so far affects the morals of the people. I think there are poachers who would shudder at what they considered a felony; but from congregating with idle characters, when they carry the game for sale, their minds get corrupted, and their moral feelings blunted."
This witness attributes a part of the increase in the number of commitments to the Trespass Act, which gives a power to magistrates to commit and convict. He is likewise of opinion, that the improved discipline of gaols induces many magistrates to commit, where formerly they would not have done it. There used to be a reprimand from the magistrate, and a power of flogging them at the stocks for minor offences. He thinks that the Trespass Act has done great good, and has tended to diminish the number of atrocious crimes. The county of Suffolk, when he first knew it, had more crimes of atrocious character than it has at present. Formerly the gaol had but two rooms, one for debtors, and one for criminals of all denominations. The doors were opened in the morning and not shut till night; there was a constant intercourse with those abroad; there was no prohibition of liquor; there was a tap in the prison: the whole was a scene of riot. Now, all is order; the prisoners are kept on