HC Deb 23 July 1807 vol 9 cc909-10

On the motion for going into a committee on this bill,

Mr. Whitbread

said, he assented to the bill's going into a committee, from the assurance he had received of the present alarming state of the country from others, besides those who now directed its government, and because he hoped to find it in a much less objectionable shape when it came out of the committee. To the preamble in particular, he must object primâ facie, as not applicable to the state of the country now, compared with its situation in 1796, when the bill originally passed.

Sir J. Newport

spoke to the same effect. The preamble was grounded on the circumstances existing in Ireland, in 1796, which were very opposite to the circumstances of the present time.

Sir A. Wellesley

did intend to propose an alteration of the preamble.

On the reading of the clause for enacting the capital punishment of persons convicted of being present, aiding, abetting, and assisting, in the administration of unlawful oaths, some discussion took place. Sir J. Newport, Mr. Whitbread, lord H. Petty, and Mr. Grattan, were desirous the clause should be so worded as not to involve innocent persons, accidentally present, in the room where such unlawful oaths might be tendered, but without their knowledge or assistance, in a capital punishment: and therefore it was proposed to word the clause, "present, and knowingly and wilfully aiding," &c. Sir A. Wellesley, the Attorney-General, Mr. Simeon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Croker, were of opinion, that the clause was worded in the ordinary legal language of all indictments for similar crimes; and that it was impossible to find a man capitally guilty under it, unless it should be proved, that, beside being present, he was knowingly and wilfully guilty of aiding, abetting, and assisting, and that therefore, the change proposed would be only an unnecessary translation of the well-known and explicit language of the law, into that of common parlance. The clause was agreed to in its original form.—Amongst the various amendments and new clauses that were proposed, there was one suggested by sir J. Newport, on the clause which gave a power to the magistrates to arrest strangers in their several districts. The amendment proposed was, that a power should be given to the lord lieutenant, or the magistrates at the quarter sessions, to release the party arrested, on giving good security for his appearance, where nothing particular appeared to charge him with any act of criminality. It was contended, on the part of government, by col. Vereker and others, that the power might be vested in the lords lieutenants, who might be supposed to be possessed of all the information necessary to know whether the party ought to be detained or not; but that it ought not to be given to the magistrates, because their party divisions were so great that some of them would be glad to release a prisoner, because he was committed by a magistrate of the other party. On the other hand, it was argued by Mr. Whitbread, sir J. Newport, and Mr. Morris, that if such divisions amongst the magistrates did exist, the house should be more cautious how they gave up the liberty of the subject without sufficient guards; and that strangers, as they were denominated in the bill, could only be Irishmen coming from some other county, or perhaps from the next parish, or, it might be, from the next street, or the next door, as the word stranger was undefinable. A division took place, on which there was, for sir J. Newport's amendment, 18; against it, 27. The clause was then so far modified that the magistrates should be compelled to transmit to the lord lieutenant the story of the stranger, or other accused person, along with his accusation.—The other clauses of the bill were agreed to, without any material amendment.