HC Deb 15 February 1810 vol 15 cc434-6
Sir John Newport

moved that this bill be recommitted. The House having resolved into the Committee,

Mr. Rose

thought that some case should have been laid before the House by the hon. baronet, as the ground upon which he had thought it right to bring forward this measure. He did not feel it necessary to augment the list of felonies, without cause; and he was apprehensive, that if the Bill were to pass in its present form, it would be productive of great inconvenience and embarrassment to the public service. Gentlemen of respectability would not feel desirous of engaging in the public service in places of great trust in the collection of the revenue, with the penalty of transportation hanging over them, as would be the case if this Bill were to pass; and upon a charge so difficult to be defined, and so easy to be misrepresented and misconceived as embezzlement.

Sir John Newport

expressed some surprise at this delicate sensibility on the subject of penalties when they approached a public office, where the son or the brother of a great man might be affected. He had stated on a former occasion the circumstance of a collector, who had absconded with 27,000l. of the public money in his hands, and had afterwards been taken with 7,000l. of it in his possession, as the ground of this bill. In that case, if the clerk of that collector had been guilty, he would have suffered death; but as the law at present stood, no adequate punishment could be inflicted upon the principal, and, therefore, the law officers had not thought it desirable to proceed against him. It was to remedy this glaring defect in the law that he had brought forward this bill. When he considered that the right hon. gent. must have been a party to the passing of a bill imposing the penalty of death on the clerk or cashier of a bank for embezzlement; and also to the act, rendering it a transportable offence to shoot, ensnare, or kill deer in a close park or paddock, he could not help admiring his tender sensibility on the present occasion. But whatever might be the tender sensibility of gentlemen, he would contend, that it was the duly of that House, to mete out equal justice to all; to have but one and the same law for the rich and for the poor. Could they forget the cases of Mr. Villiers and Mr. Hunt, as well as others which had recently occurred, or could any one, who reflected upon the consequences of such cases remaining unpunished, think the punishment of transportation was too severe for the crime of fraudulently embezzling or making use of public money? It would be for a jury to determine what was the embezzlement. Convinced of the justice and necessity of the measure, he had brought it forward.

Mr. Rose

disclaimed any wish to protect public delinquents, and declared himself as ready as the hon. baronet, to punish any offender, convicted of a crime of that description.

The Attorney General

thought there was a very essential difference between the cases of embezzlement of Bank, South Sea Company, and merchants' clerks, and the situation of receivers of public money. These receivers often mixed the public money with their own, and had frequently a certain time allowed them to keep it in their hands, so that it would be impossible to say when they fraudulently made use of it; whereas, clerks of merchants, of banks, or of the South Sea Company, had no right to mix their master's money with their own, and if they did, and made use of it, so as not to be able to pay when called on, it was clearly a fraudulent embezzlement. He thought the doctrine urged by the hon. baronet, that the House made severe laws for the poor, and not for the rich, was as improper as any that had been used in that House.

Mr. H. Thornton

objected to the term, "fraudulently made use of," and proposed, that instead of "use of," should be substituted, "away with," so that the words would then be "fraudulently made "away with."—On the question being put,

The Solicitor General

strongly objected to the whole principle of the clause, as going to deprive government of every security it now had, in the event of any deficiency arising in the accounts of receivers of public money. At present the embezzlement of public money was punished as a misdemeanor, by which the delinquent was subject to unlimited fine and imprisonment, and even to pillory; while, at the same time, all his property, of whatever description, his person also, end all the property of his sureties, were subject to Writs of Extent, for the security of the debt due to the public. By the present measure, however, supposing a public defaulter to flee the country, not only the property of his sureties, but even any estates he himself might leave behind him, would be free, as the debt must merge in the felony.

Sir S. Romilly

concurred, that great inconvenience would result from making this felony. But the objection might be obviated by leaving out the word felony, and supposing the offence to remain a misdemeanor, subject, however, to the proposed punishment by transportation for seven years, which might be inflicted at present for perjury, and other misdemeanors. He did not say, however, that all offences of this nature ought to be so heavily punished.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that leaving out the word felony would be a considerable amendment. But there was still a difficulty as to what part of using or making away with would be liable to the punishment. The first thing must be to define this exactly, and then certainly there could be no objection to the infliction of a severe punishment on the transgression of the law. But, at present, he suggested, that the Chairman should report progress.

After a few words from Mr. H. Smith, and Mr. Thomson, the Chairman reported progress, and obtained leave to sit again on this day se'nnight.