HC Deb 26 May 1809 vol 14 cc713-6
Sir S. Romilly

rose, pursuant to notice, to submit certain motions, with regard to persons accused, committed, discharged, convicted, or punished for particular offences in this country for a certain period. The object of his motions, the hon. and learned gent, stated to be preparatory to a measure which he had had some time in contemplation, to propose for the amendment of our Criminal Law, with a view to diminish its severity, and at the same time, to ensure the certainty of punishment. In looking into the practice, he found that it was at vari- ance with the principle of the law; that it did not correspond with the theory, and that in this view there was much to correct. He would have brought this business before the house at an earlier period of the sessions, if it were not for the difficulties which he found to stand in the way of complying with his motions at the Secretary of State's Office, owing to the imperfect manner in which returns were made to that office with respect to persons who were convicted, or who had suffered the sentence of the law. For instance; from the returns in this office, relative to house-breaking, or stealing in a dwelling house, it appeared that although 913 persons, male and female, had been convicted of that offence within seven years, only one was stated to have been executed. When the papers for which he was about in move, should be laid before the house, the hon. and learned gent, stated his intention to propose, he hoped, early in the next sessions, that the whole should be referred to the consideration of a committee. Upon the subject of transportation, and confinement in the hulks, he meant particularly to request the attention of that committee and the house. Many of the unfortunate convicts sentenced to transportation, were known to have actually spent the period of their sentence on board the hulks before they were sent out to Botany Bay, and the extreme depravity which they were likely to contract, the wretchedness they were condemned to suffer on board the hulks, could not be unknown to any one who had an opportunity of judging of those miserable receptacles, where so many met a melancholy death. This was a statement which the public had already had from a very high authority. The consequences of sending men to a distant colony were also material to be known. It was important to ascertain what number has been transported to Botany Bay within the period of 20 years, since which that colony had been so used, and more particularly in consequence of the events which recently took place in that colony.—The learned gent, read his motions, which comprehended the period from 1802 to 1808, as he understood it would be difficult to procure returns farther back. The first motion was for the number of males and females convicted at either the assizes or the sessions within England and Wales, for the period alluded to; together with the number committed, and the offences with which they were charged, distinguishing those against whom no bills were found, discharged by proclamation, and also the sentences pronounced, and the punishment suffered. The second motion was, for the number transported to New South Wales, the period of sentence from their embarkation. The third, for a return of the number who died before the period of sentence expired, or before they were embarked.

Mr. C. Jenkinson

stated, that it would be difficult if not impossible, from the nature of the returns in the Secretary of State's office, to make out certain pans of the returns required by the learned gentleman. He therefore suggested to the learned gentleman, the propriety of withdrawing those parts of his motion which related to the several gradations between committal, conviction, and execution, which from the kind of returns sent into the office by the several jailors, could not be made out; nor could a return be made as to the period of the embarkation of transports. With regard to the hulks, he was enabled to say that very salutary alterations had been made in their conduct, and he had himself ordered inquiry to be made, with a view to some farther regulations, which he hoped would, particularly under the superintendance of the present inspector, Mr. Graham, operate to remove the evils complained of.

Mr. Abercrombie,

adverting to the notice of a motion which he gave last sessions, with regard to the state of New South Wales, observed, that he had not redeemed his pledge, because he was induced to calculate upon the introduction of some measure on the part of his majesty's ministers, who had the opp6rtunity of being much better informed, and the power of enforcing the arrangements, which were obviously necessary to amend the civil establishment of this colony. Recent events in New South Wales should urge ministers to take this business into their most serious consideration, and it was the duty of parliament to inquire into the grievances complained of by our fellow subjects at so great a distance. Indeed, it ought to be the policy of both government and the legislature to take up this inquiry, in order that a colony, the extension of which no one could anticipate, should be attached to the mother country, by the interests which we manifested in its concerns. He would, from these considerations, bring the matter forward at an early period of the next sessions, if mi- nisters did not think proper to take it into their own hands. Before that period ample information would no doubt be received from this colony, and if ministers did not act upon it, he hoped he should have the assistance of that information in the course of proceeding, which he should feel it his duty to propose.

Lord Castlereagh

stated, that a most competent person had been sent out as governor of New South Wales, invested with ample powers to correct any defects which might appear in the system of its government, and also to investigate the cause of the events which had recently took place in that colony. Those events could not be ascribed to any degree of inattention on the part of ministers, who, as soon as the necessary information should be received from the colony, would take care that such measures should be adopted as circumstances should appear to require.

Mr. Wilberforce

bore testimony to the discretion, firmness, and judgment of the officer alluded to by the noble lord, than whom a more eligible person could not have been selected for the purpose. Indeed it came within his knowledge, that this officer was previously quite unknown to the noble lord, and selected only in consequence of his fitness for the appointment. The hon. gent, also testified to the qualifications of Mr. Graham, who would, he had no doubt, introduce every practicable improvement into the system of the hulks.

Mr. Horner

hoped the house would feel itself pledged to consider this subject, and particularly how far the experiment of transportation upon our criminal law had been successful.

The first motion was withdrawn, and the others were agreed to.