The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
Legislation by Circular
Legislation by Circular.
Sir,—The public is little aware how much legislation is carried on without the co-operation of Queen, Lords, or Commons. A continual flow of Acts, in the shape of Circulars, issues from the Home Office. They limit powers which Acts of Parliament have conferred, but their origin is simply the arbitrary will of the Home Secretary. The latest of these Circular Acts has reference to Reformatory and Industrial Schools. The Home Secretary has power by Act of Parliament to license these Institutions or to withdraw his license from them. It is with the implied threat of adopting the latter course that these circulars are issued: "Obey me, or I will put an end to your existence."
The present Circular deals with the question of the disposal of young persons on leaving the Schools where they have been carefully trained for periods of from two to five years at the public expense. It is well known that emigration or enlistment in the Army or Navy are amongst the most promising openings for such young persons to lead new and honest lives. The results of such disposal are remarkable. It is equally well known that juvenile criminality, which leads to the sending of boys and girls to these Schools, is largely due to the idleness, drunkenness, or criminality of their parents. This fact impressed the recent Royal Commission on these Schools so forcibly that they recommended that the control of parents over young persons who leave the Schools should be superseded.
In the face of this recommendation, however, Sir William Harcourt issues the following ukase:—"It is his desire that no boy should, under any circumstances whatever, be discharged from a Reformatory or Industrial School for Sea or Coast Service, Emigration, or Enlistment into the Army or Navy, without the full knowledge and consent of his parents."
Thus, a child may become a criminal through its parents' neglect or folly, and be sent to a Reformatory at the age of fifteen, to be trained for five years at public expense. The parent meanwhile skulks in various low quarters of London to avoid contributing to the lad's maintenance. The boy grows up to be a young man of nineteen or twenty, well trained and educated, and desirous of emigrating to Canada, where he is almost certain to succeed in life. But the parent, after the lapse of all these years, conceives a new affection for him, or for what he thinks he can get out of him, and declines to consent. The young man returns home, work is not to bo had. The parent's affection cools, and he reproaches his son with being a burden to him. The young man finds home uncomfortable, and leaves it. The surroundings of a low lodging-house soon contaminate him. He steals, and is sent to prison, where he will speedily return after his discharge. All the expense of his Reformatory training is thrown away. The new expense of his maintenance in a Convict Prison will have to be incurred. And all this is due to the meddling and muddling of Sir William Harcourt.
Will the public look with equanimity upon "Legislature by Circular," when it tends to produce such results as these?
I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,