HC Deb 01 March 1819 vol 39 cc740-60
Lord Castlereagh

said, that in rising to call the attention of the House to the important subject to which his notice referred, he should endeavour to state shortly the objects to which he proposed that the committee, for the appointment of which it was his intention to move, should direct its inquiry. —At the outset he felt it necessary to advert to the motion of which an hon. and learned gentleman had given notice for to-morrow evening, because that motion was closely and intimately connected with the purposes comprehended in the motion with which he meant to conclude. The object, indeed, of the hon. and learned gentleman, was directly and immediately involved in the inquiry for which he (lord C.) proposed to move; and he apprehended that if the tenor of his notice upon this subject had been distinctly understood, the hon. and learned gentleman would have felt, that the motion of which he had given notice was unnecessary. But he doubled whether the notice given for him by his right hon. friend at an early period or the session, was clearly comprehended; for that notice did not refer merely to the state of gaols, but to the best mode of providing for the reformation, custody and punishment of offenders. It was not, he believed, so understood by the hon. and learned gentleman, or he would have naturally conceived that the object of his notice would embrace the state of crime and the character of our criminal laws, not incidentally or indirectly, as the hon. and learned gentleman and others ap- peared to think, but directly and immediately. That such was the purpose of his motion, that he did not mean to confine the proposed inquiry to the state of gaols merely, but to extend it to the criminal code, with all its direct and collateral consequences, was, indeed, he thought necessarily to be inferred from the observations which he had the honour of submitting to the House, upon the discussion of the motion brought forward by an hon. gentleman with respect to transportation and the hulks. But looking to what he said upon that occasion, combined with the notice which had been submitted to the House, he was surprised to find any doubt existing that it was his intention to make his motion upon this interesting question, as broad and comprehensive as possible. He apprehended, indeed, that there was no solid difference between the object of the hon. and learned gentleman, and that which he had in view, and that it was equally the wish of both to bring the proposed inquiry to a satisfactory conclusion. But there would be a material difference between them, if, as some appeared to imagine, he (lord C.) intended to limit the inquiry to the mere state of gaols; for if that were his object—if he proposed only to inquire into the construction of prisons, or into the discipline or classification of prisoners, a committee of that House would not, in his view, be the fittest place for the conduct of such an inquiry. On the contrary, thinking such an inquiry to be of a ministerial and official character, he should rather think it right to move an address to the Crown, for the appointment of a special commission, to investigate the construction of the several prisons, and the system upon which they were conducted. But his view was of a more comprehensive nature; it was, to consider the state of prisons with reference to the state of crime, and the operation of punishment with regard to the several classes of criminals, in order to ascertain how far the existing system of punishment served to control the commission, or promote the diminution of crime. It would, indeed, be a melancholy task to look alone at the state of our gaols, without considering how far their conduct or construction served to effect a reduction of crime, instead of seeking to ascertain merely whether those gaols should be multiplied or enlarged. It was impossible, in his judgment, for a committee of that House to look at the state of gaols, without looking also at the state of crime, which must necessarily involve a consideration of the character of the penal code. The only difference, then, which he could figure to himself to exist between the course of inquiry which he proposed to pursue and that of which the hon. and learned gentleman had given notice was this, that the hon. and learned gentleman would direct the investigation to the character of the law, without considering its full effect and operation, while he would extend the investigation so as to ascertain whether the prejudice raised against the penal code was well-founded, and if so, what practical remedy could be devised. With this view, it was obviously essential to consider the effect of secondary punishments, in order to ascertain what substitute should be established for any part of the penal code that was found to be decidedly objectionable, and therefore he proposed to include in his motion a consideration of the several systems of the penitentiaries, the hulks, and transportation. Without such consideration, indeed, he conceived that it would be quite impossible to decide fully and fairly upon the character of the penal code. He would put it to the hon. and learned gentleman and to the House, whether great inconvenience was not but too likely to result from any decision upon the system of the penal law, without first duly considering the effect of the secondary punishments. For himself, He felt that he could not too strongly deprecate the idea that parliament should pronounce any sentence of condemnation upon the criminal law of the country, without duly and deliberately considering what remedy should be applied. To send forth the judges, indeed, to administer a system of law against which parliament had decided, would lead to many and obvious disadvantages. He was therefore adverse to any premature complaint or partial inquiries, and anxious that the whole case should be gone into at once, that case comprehending the system of the gaols, of transportation and the hulks, as well as the character of the criminal law. Such inquiry ought, indeed, for various reasons, to precede any decision upon the penal code, upon which it behoved parliament not to cast an imputation, until a remedy were devised for any existing evil. To do otherwise would be prematurely to pronounce a general sentence of degradation on the laws of the country: people out of doors would hastily conclude, that the whole system was unnecessarily harsh, and a false expectation would be raised of impracticable lenity. With regard to the argument of the hon. gentleman on the second bench (Mr. Bennet), for whose capacity and diligence, in considering subjects of this nature, he entertained the highest possible respect, he could indeed assure that hon. gentleman, that he would be quite ready to bow to his opinion upon any point connected with a question of this nature, if that opinion were not opposed to his own conscientious conviction. When, therefore, that hon. gentleman proposed to make secondary punishments the subject of distinct consideration, he should not have opposed the proposition, if he were not thoroughly convinced of the inexpediency of such a course of proceeding, for the reasons which he had already Stated.

He trusted that he had rendered his views intelligible to the House; and that he had justified the difference of his opinion upon this question from that of the hon. and learned gentleman, as well as from that of the hon. gentleman on the second bench, his opinion being, that parliament should not pronounce any verdict against the penal code, until it were ascertained whether any, and what remedy could be applied. Then, as to the division of labour proposed by the hon. gentleman on the second bench, and supported by others, he could not see the utility of such a division upon an inquiry of this nature; for he could not admit the expediency of appointing different committees, to collect different materials, which, after all, in order to decide correctly and comprehensively, must be brought to one centre of deliberation. That centre of deliberation, it was his object at once to constitute by the appointment of one committee. Such committee, although in the first instance he should propose that it be composed of 21 members, might consist of as many gentlemen as were thought desirable; and were he a member of that committee, he should be most happy to receive all the lights which the hon. and learned gentleman, as well as the hon. gentleman on the second bench, were so eminently capable of throwing upon the subject. With such aids, the committee would no doubt be enabled to devise, the means of improving the merciful character of our laws, and promot- ing the salutary diminution of punishments. Through such a committee information was not at all likely to be laid before the House in a dispersed or unintelligible shape. Every thing that related to secondary punishments would be collected by such a committee, and parliament would be guarded against disturbing the public mind by the publication of partial and discordant views. What he was most anxious about was, that a broad and comprehensive report should be drawn up, upon which the House could act with propriety and safety. He did not seek for the appointment of any interminable committee, as some gentlemen profess to apprehend, but of such a one as should come to a satisfactory decision within a reasonable time, while it would guard against the danger of any denunciation, against the useful character or moral influence of our criminal law, without a full and radical inquiry how far that law might be modified and improved. The information which the hon. and learned gentleman had it in his power to communicate to such a committee, would no doubt be most desirable. But he (lord C.) would caution gentlemen, and especially those who might belong to this committee, to guard their minds against the influence of passion, for when that passion was abated by inquiry, the judgment and energy essential to form a correct decision and to devise an adequate remedy, were but too likely to lose their proper force. Those who exaggerated to themselves the nature of the ill, would probably find that they had been deceived; and the result might be, that they would sink into a state of torpid apathy and indifference; a condition of mind much more fatal to reform than even an under calculation of its necessity. Gentlemen would then do well, if in due time they took care to exclude every exaggerated representation from their minds, and to hold themselves in a proper temper finally to determine upon this very important question.

Now, as to the state of crime in the country, he admitted, that it appeared by the returns, that within the last three or four years, crime had increased to an alarming extent, almost in the proportion of two to one; and comparing the commitments of the last year with those ten years ago, in some classes of crime they were in the ratio of nearly three to one. Such a view was in some respects appalling; at all events, it would be most alarming and discouraging, if it could not be partially accounted for by various circumstances, which led to the conclusion, that the augmentation was attributable to temporary causes. Those indeed who judged of the state of society in this country from that which existed twenty years ago, must be extremely misled. For considerable alterations bad since taken place, in consequence of our increased and swoln population, especially in the larger towns and in this great city. This swell of population was particularly observable in the manufacturing districts; and where masses of people were thus brought together, it was natural to apprehend that some increase of moral corruption would be the consequence. That such an extraordinary congregation of people was one of the great causes of the increase of crime was obvious from this fact, that in the return of crimes which had been laid before the House, it appeared that more than one half of them were committed in 5 out of the 52 counties, namely, in the counties of Lancaster, Warwick, York, Middlesex, and Surrey, and those were notoriously the most populous and manufacturing districts in the kingdom. The increase of crime seemed, indeed, to grow with the increase of the manufactures in comparison with the agriculture of the country. Taking the article of cotton only, as a specimen; a few years ago the manufacture of that article for home consumption and exportation, did not exceed between 3,000,000l. and 4,000,000l., yet, on an average of the few last years, it amounted to not less than 18,000,000l., and in one instance, had exceeded that sum. Here, then, was one cause for a great increase of population in the manufacturing districts. It appeared, too, that crimes had increased in the proportion of two to one within the last four years, and here was another evidence, that the increase of crime was owing to temporary causes, for within that period there had been a great adventitious addition to the population of the country, in the disbanding of soldiers, sailors, and militia, to the amount of between 3 and 400,000 men. It was not merely that these men were thrown out of occupations which were not manual, but that they were compelled to seek a livelihood in future, either by industry, to which they were not perhaps disposed, or by other means to which their habits might invite them. Those who had long subsisted by other means, were but too likely to yield to the temptation of crime, when called upon to earn their bread by manual labour, and the exercise of industry. There were many, very many, who had derived subsistence from the war, and who, upon the conclusion of the peace, were thrown upon the population of the country to seek employment, probably in vain; for the difficulty of finding employment for some time was notorious. This had produced an additional pressure, which was not diminished by the low rate of wages, and the resort to crime might, in some instances, be compelled by a sort of shame at receiving parish relief. But in addition to this difficulty, it had pleased Providence, in the course of the period to which he referred, to afflict the country with a general calamity which led to the most severe distress, accompanied of course with an increased pressure upon the poor-rates. The country had, indeed, within the period which he mentioned, as much of social difficulty to contend with as had ever perhaps afflicted any nation, and under such circumstances an increase of crime was naturally to be apprehended. It was, however, a great consolation to think that the pressure was but temporary, and hence he concluded that the increase of crime to which he adverted, was owing to temporary causes. But as those causes. ceased which had produced a dislocation of the industry of the country, as the consequences of passing from war to a state of peace disappeared, there was every reason to hope that the crimes to which such a state of things gave birth would cease also. As indeed our prospects improved, and the industry of the people found employment, there could be little doubt that a diminution of crimes would be the general consequence. This of itself afforded a fair prospect of amelioration.

While, therefore, it was fit to look the evil in the face, and not to conceal its magnitude, it was not less due to the country, that its terror should not be exaggerated, and that such consolatory views as the subject afforded should be stated to remove unnecessary alarm. In the first place, it gave him sincere pleasure to observe, that amidst the catalogue of crimes which the returns before the House exhibited, although offences against property had multiplied extensively, there was no comparative increase in those of the blacker dye, in those he meant which were revolting to human nature; in those for which poverty afforded no excuse or temptation. In fact, a slight examination would show, that in the latter there had been no positive increase. Comparing them with former times, and making due allowances for the difference in the amount of population, and for the nature and number of the difficulties to be encountered, it would appear that offences of a higher kind of enormity were even less numerous than they had been: and this consideration was honourable to the national character, because it showed that (in spite of every calamity against which the country had to struggle) we had not to regret any aggravation of moral depravity among our people. Taking for instance the crime of murder, it was a fact that within the last year there were fewer convictions on that score than were ever known in any former year. In killing and maiming there had been no increase; the same of bigamy and manslaughter; capes had not been more numerous last year than in the years preceding; and the number of assaults, with a criminal intent, of that kind, were still fewer. Unnatural offences and attempts had not been more frequent. Thus those crimes which marked the existence of deep moral depravity, or national degradation, or turbulent temper, had most materially diminished. The great mass of the growth of crime had been connected with the laws relating to property; forgeries, frauds, highway robberies, burglaries and larcenies, had all augmented, and had given an undue character to the whole. The largest augmentation had been found in forgeries; and whatever feeling might prevail out of doors, he trusted that the House would look at the important question calmly and dispassionately. He did not mean to cast reproach upon any hon. member, but it had been charged on the other side of the House, that the Bank of England had been guilty of supineness and indifference on this important topic; that the proper means had not been taken to prevent the accomplishment of this crime. As for as that body was concerned resent inquiries, however, had shown, that such an imputation had not been merited, and justice had now been done to the exertions of the directors; it had been shown that they had always been actuated by a sincere and earnest wish to prevent the fraudulent imitation of their notes; and if they had not been able to perform it, it was because the accomplishment was attended with so many difficulties. That the efforts lately directed to the subject would be successful, he could not even now assert, but there was reason to hope that a remedy had been discovered, and would speedily be applied. It had been often stated, that the renewal of cash payments would put an end to the augmentation, if not to the existence of this crime; but although so wide a field might not be afforded, there would still be an ample superficies upon which crime might operate: an abandonment, therefore, of the system now pursued, probably would not have the effect that some gentlemen, more sanguine than considerate, anticipated. With respect to the amount of convictions for forgery, it was observable, that though more had been found guilty in the few last than in preceding years, yet the returns proved, that the executions within the last eight or ten years had been fewer than in the eight or ten years anterior; dividing the period since the suspension of cash payments in 1797 into two parts, the executions had been more frequent in the first than in the last; notwithstanding the increased issue of paper which had taken place of late years. With respect to the crimes of burglary and robbery, their comparative growth, had been in no degree commensurate to that of the crime which he had already adverted to. It was also a satisfactory consideration that the aggravated character of these crimes had been gradually mitigated, and that they were not accompanied by those circumstances of violence and atrocity by which they were formerly attended. There was another fact which as far as his observations went, tended to strengthen his hope that the increase of crimes was in a great measure attributable to temporary causes; and that was that the increase of crimes committed by females was by no means commensurate with the increase of crimes committed by males. This appeared to him to show, that the increase had been principally owing to the pressure of the times, and to the difficulty with which the habits of war were exchanged for those of peace. The great, the only object of punishment was to deter; and it was therefore gratifying to find, that in regard to females, fewer executions had taken place in this country of late years than would be found in the earliest returns now before the House; so far from an in- crease of their number there was a progressive diminution. It was material also to consider, that if the character of our laws had not been materially altered in the character of their enactment they had been rendered much more lenient in their execution. The number of capital punishments had of late years decreased, as compared not merely with the increase of crimes, but with the number at the period when crimes were less frequent. This was an important view of the subject, and one which ought never to be forgotten, when the British code was accused of being more sanguinary and severe than that of other countries. On examining the returns on the table for the last fourteen years, it appeared that in 1805 the number of persons who received sentence of death was 350; in the last year 1254. But with respect to executions, it appeared that in 1805 of the capital convictions there was one-fifth in which the law was allowed to take its course, while, in 1817, there was only one-eleventh, and in 1818 one-twelfth. Through the whole period of the fourteen years alluded to, the number of the capital punishments might be traced as being gradually reduced. The number of persons executed in the whole of Great Britain last year was 97. For several years past, indeed, there had not been much variance from that amount. Formerly, the number executed in London and Middlesex alone almost exceeded the number now executed in the whole kingdom. The documents on the table afforded returns on this subject as far back as the year 1749. Taking the period immediately after the American war, as being that which corresponded in circumstances most closely with the present, it would be found that in 1783 the number of persons executed in London and Middlesex was 53: in 1784, 56;in l785, 97; in 1786, 59; in 1787, 92: and so on; while in the last year the number was only 19, and the average number of the last five years was 20. It appeared, therefore, that punishment had considerably decreased in point of severity, a circumstance which added to the impression he wished to make, namely, that although the number of crimes had greatly increased, and was an evil of considerable magnitude, with which the legislature ought to contend, yet that those crimes were not accompanied with those circumstances of horror at which human nature revolted, and were in a great measure attributable to temporary causes —to the wants of the lower orders, and to the tempting wealth of the higher; and that therefore it was an evil which might be successfully dealt with.

Adverting to what had frequently fallen from an hon. gentleman opposite, on the second bench on the subject, he expressed his doubt whether that hon. gentleman was borne out by the fact in his assertion of the great increase of crime that had been produced by the corruption of prisons. It was certainly to be lamented that any prisons should be improperly administered, and unquestionably that was a subject to which great attention ought to be paid; but he combated the hon. gentleman's proposition, because he was persuaded that the hon. gentleman and the House would fall short of their duty, if they conceived that that was the principal cause of the increase of crimes; and that if they dealt with gaols, they dealt with every thing that was necessary on the subject. Among other important objects of investigation would be the inquiry how far the secondary punishments were found to be reconcilable with the morality and improvement of prisoners. It would also be most desirable to consider how far crimes had increased— partly from the spirit of mercy in which the criminal law had of late years been administered, and still more from the cessation of that salutary terror with which transportation from this country was formerly accompanied. It would be necessary to inquire, if Botany Bay, as it had lately, and as it still existed, had not a character more colonial than belonged to a place appropriated to the punishment of offenders. It would be necessary to inquire, even in justice to that colony, whether the period had not arrived when it might be relieved from being the resort of such characters as had hitherto been sent to it, and might be permitted, without interruption to follow the general law of nature by a more rapid approximation to that state of prosperity to which it was to be hoped, every part of the world was destined to arrive. It might be to be seen, if any new arrangement could be made which should impart a more deterring character to transportation; for whatever impression the hon. gentleman might have on that subject, the general system of transportation was one in which the utmost mildness and humanity and attention to the health and morals of the convicts were exhibited. If that, to which he had adverted, was the case— if the punishment of transportation had by circumstances lost its terrors, he put it to the House whether it was wonderful, considering all the temptations to which our population was exposed, that the number of criminals had increased?

Having thus sketched the general outline of the subject to which it was desirable the committee should direct its attention, he would abstain from entering into any argument on the general system of the criminal law. He had said enough to show that as it was the policy, so it had also been the practice to administer that law, not in justice only, but in mercy. He could not, however, help in-treating the hon. and learned gentleman opposite, as he felt they had but one common object, to abstain from viewing our criminal code abstractedly —to abstain from representing it to the public as possessing a sanguinary character which did not belong to its practice—to abstain from dwelling on those severe inflictions that he might find in its theory, but which he would never find in its execution. He knew that it might be mooted whether the law ought to affix the punishment of death to an offence which in an ordinary practice was never visited with that punishment. That might be a subject of discussion. But it would be a matter of most difficult, delicate, and anxious consideration, having to deal with crimes varying greatly in their character, as accompanied by more or less violence or cruelty, how to graduate a scale of punishment so applicable to every case as to deprive mercy of that province in which it was at present exercised so much to the public advantage. If, on the other hand, the legislature were not prepared to graduate a scale of punishment which should ascend from the least to the greatest violence of guilt, how difficult would it be to say in what point of the scale they would pitch the general punishment. If too low, they would take away that inducement which tended to repress crime, and to prevent the commission of many crimes with aggravated circumstances. It was to the discretion at present existing on this subject that, in his opinion, was to be ascribed the greater humanity evinced in this country in highway robberies, as compared with those which disgraced the nations of the continent, where robbery and murder were almost invariably concomitant crimes. If the legislature were to place the general punishment at the lowest point of the scale, dealing equally with crimes of the description he alluded to, whether attended by more or less circumstances of cruelty, one great inducement to comparative humanity in the commission of those crimes would be removed. In his opinion, the consequence of attempting; to graduate a scale of punishment, instead of leaving the Crown to administer the law in mercy, under the advice of the judges of the land, would be to destroy a great discouragement to the commission of cruel and complicated crimes. But that was a view of the question which would rather arise out of the report of the committee, and did not so much belong to the present early stage of the proceeding. But he could not help again addressing the hon. and learned gentleman, hoping he felt as he (lord C.) did, that there could be no separate interest on this important subject —that they had but one common purpose with reference to it—that it was one which demanded the most laborious investigation which parliament could institute;— he submitted to the hon. and learned gentleman, and to the House, to consider whether his (lord C.' s) persuasion was not well founded, namely, that the object in view could be accomplished only by taking the subject into one comprehensive view— by one committee —divided, if they would, into sections, by which the elements of the investigation might be derived from various quarters—but not broken up into separate bodies—a dissipation that would be attended with the most disappointing results. He earnestly pressed the House to adopt such a committee as that which he was about to propose —a committee, in the composition of which, he trusted, the best talents of the House would be found, and the strength of which might be increased at the pleasure of the House; and he as earnestly trusted, that they would not prefer having information on the subject poured in upon them by different committees; information which must always be partial, and which would sometimes he conflicting.

He should now make the motion of which he had given notice, and he would make it in the precise terms of the notice, because he had in that notice studiously comprehended every thing that in his opinion could give to the inquiry the most enlarged and satisfactory character. Be- fore he sat down, however, he once more begged to deprecate any attempt on this subject to influence the passions of the multitude, by persuading them, that instead of living, as it had been represented to them by their ancestors they lived, under a mild and merciful government, they were to learn for the first time that the law of England was the most sanguinary code on earth; and that it was necessary the House of Commons should enter on some obscure investigation—should commence some unknown work— from which all criminals were suddenly to derive the greatest benefits. Such a supposition would be apt to induce the lower orders to believe, that a boon was to be held out for the commission of crime in this country—that criminals were in future to proceed with greater freedom in their depredations than they had ever hitherto done. He trusted that the hon. and learned gentleman opposite would not adopt so uncalled for, so unstatesmanlike a course — that he would not do injustice to our existing laws, until it could be proved that others more satisfactory could be substituted. The inquiry which he (lord C.) wished to institute, was one of a practical nature. It had no reference to any abstractor untried principle; and he confessed he could conceive no rational object which the hon. and learned gentleman could hare in view, that might not be embraced by a committee such as that which he was about to propose. The noble lord here read the names of the committee which he intended to propose, and concluded by moving, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the State and Description of Gaols and other places of confinement, and into the best method of providing for the reformation, as well as the safe custody and punishment of offenders; and to report the same, with their observations thereupon, to the House."

Sir James Mackintosh

observed, that he had intended not to say a single word on the question, but the frequent appeals to him by the noble lord rendered it a matter of courtesy that he should make a few remarks. The noble lord, in the course of his able and candid speech, had said a great deal about the motion which he supposed he (sir J. Mackintosh) would make to-morrow, and but very little on the motion which he had himself made that night. For himself, he had already declared his resolution not to open to the House his reasons for making the motion of which he had given notice for to-morrow until the time for discussing it should arrive. Unless he could then convince the House that there was ground for instituting an inquiry —a separate inquiry — into a part of the criminal law, they would deal with his motion by rejecting it. He trusted, however, that he should be able to prove, that there was ground for entering into such an inquiry, and that to render the inquiry effective it must be distinct. In order that his object might be better comprehended, he would state what would be the precise terms of his motion. They would be, "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider of so much of the criminal laws, as relates to the capital punishment of felonies." To that point it would be his endeavour to direct the attention of the House. Before he sat down he begged to assure the noble lord, that to that part of his speech which contained an admonition, or exhortation, or warning to him against attempting to influence the passions of the public on the subject, he had nothing to say but that, such admonitions were perfectly unnecessary. If he possessed any power of exciting the passions, he should certainly think it most improper to use it in the grave and calm discussion of an important legislative proposition. The weapons which argument and reason and experience might furnish, he should undoubtedly endeavour to employ, but certainly not such unlawful weapons as the noble lord had alluded to. The noble lord might be assured, that neither on that, nor on any other occasion, would he deviate into any course inconsistent with the affection and reverence for the laws of his country, which he had always entertained, an affection and a reverence which would never cease, and of which he humbly conceived that he should afford the strongest proof in bringing forward the motion which he should to-morrow submit to the consideration of the House.

Mr. Lawson

said, the subject divided itself into three great branches —punishment, by death, by transportation, and by imprisonment. The question was, whether those three points could better be investigated by one, or by several committees? Notwithstanding the arguments of the hon. and learned gentleman opposite, he conceived those subjects were so intimately connected, that the investigation of one must necessarily embrace the investiga- tion of all. The questions were so spliced together, there was such a tria-juncta-in-uno connection between them, that they could not be considered separately. They must be treated as one grand total, not as three distinct subjects: they must be looked on not as individual, but as component parts of the same body. The hon. and learned gentleman might have three separate committees, but the subject of their investigation would be the same; for each of them would have to inquire into the whole of the three subjects. Thus they would have the same labour over and over again. It appeared evident to him, that the formation of three committees would be improper; for, by adopting such a system, they would only have the same report three times over. In this instance, the division of labour would have an effect different from what it usually had; since, instead of diminishing, it would increase trouble. The hon. gentleman then proceeded to deprecate the impolitic humanity which, of late years, was so busy in revising our criminal code. Let them break off the point from the spear of justice, and see, whether in that mutilated state, it was so well capable of inspiring terror. He would venture to predict, that if the views of the hon. and learned gentleman were carried into effect, the sentence from the bench would soon be considered as a legal fiction, and like other fictions, would be null and of no effect.

Mr. Bennet,

although he admitted that, as his hon. and learned friend had said, the remarks made by the noble lord applied rather to the discussion that was to take place to-morrow, than to the motion of that evening, begged leave to make a very few observations. There was on the table of the House a large roll of paper, which he understood was to be referred to the committee, for which the noble lord had moved. That roll consisted of documents which might be divided into two classes, the first, comprehending returns of the state of the prisons of the kingdom, and of the number of persons which they contained; the second containing all the rules and regulations belonging thereto. Now, let the House only consider what the committee would have to do. They were to inquire not only as the subject respected England, but as it respected Ireland and Scotland, into the general state of the gaols—to inquire whether there were sufficient funds to provide for the confinement of the increased number of prisoners—to look into the great question of local jurisdictions. As it regarded Scotland, that inquiry would be most difficult and complicated. Then came the whole question of regulations, with the examination of a great variety of statutes, some of which were scarcely known to the most profound lawyers. He had some little experience on this subject, and when he was assisted with all the zeal of gentlemen much more able than himself, he found it took up a whole session to inquire into the state of two or three gaols. Under such circumstances, he assured the noble lord he appeared to him to be embarking his committee on a voyage to which there was no visible termination, And yet, to all which he had enumerated, the noble lord had superadded, as by a side wind, an inquiry into the criminal law! To attempt to bring such an investigation to a conclusion would require, not a single session, but the whole existence of a septennial parliament. Was the noble lord aware that there were 758 statutes of criminal law, every one of which must come under the consideration of the committee? There was no conceivable end to such labours. As to dividing the committee into smaller bodies, four or five in one party, and four or five in another, that would be contrary to all good sense, and, he apprehended, to the practice of the House. Adverting to the observations made by the noble lord respecting Botany Bay, he said that he understood it was part of the project of government on this subject, to select the worst inhabitants of that colony, and to send them to found a new establishment; and that a person had been dispatched to New South Wales to carry that plan into effect. He hoped such was not the case.

Lord Castlereagh, in explanation, said, that what he had stated was, that it would be a fit subject for the Committee to inquire, whether Botany Bay had not outgrown the object for which it was originally intended. The noble lord added, that government had it in contemplation to propose some place nearer home, to which convicts might be transported at a more moderate expense than at present.

Mr. Wynn

said, he felt as strongly as the hon. gentleman that this inquiry could not be got through in any reasonable time. But he had, a still stronger objection to it on the score of justice. He objected to the appointment of a committee to whom was to be referred so very large a scope of inquiry. This objection applied with much greater force when the objects of inquiry were not specified—when no special direction was given on the subject. He thought it was one of the worst practices of modern days, to refer to the consideration of committees that which ought to be performed by the House itself. The noble lord admitted it might be expedient, that the different branches of inquiry should be going on simultaneously—that the committee should separate itself into different subdivisions, collect all the information on various heads, and bring it into one focus. He agreed in the propriety of this course, but he would have the House to appoint those different sub-committees. It was their duty. Nothing, he conceived, was attended with worse effects, than appointing committees to examine into very extensive subjects. They might propose regulations with reference to them, but they always left enough behind, to form an excuse to the House for appointing them session after session. While they continued in existence, they prevented individual members from proposing motions on the subjects they were appointed to inquire into. If a member introduced a motion touching on the subjects of their inquiry, he was immediately called to account for interfering with the labours of the committee. In his opinion, this question ought to be discussed in a committee of the whole House, since there was not a single member whose experience or observation would not enable him to form an opinion upon it. He conceived it was quite impossible for one committee, even in the course of an entire parliament, to finish the business about to be referred to that for which the noble lord had moved. He doubted very much whether the motion of which his hon. and learned friend had given notice for to-morrow, was a correct one. He thought even the subject of the laws inflicting the penalty of death, ought to be considered in a committee of the whole House; since it also was matter of opinion, on which every member had some degree of experience. This committee would be called on to inquire into the whole statutes at large. The subject was not expressly referred to them, but, from the words of the motion they would necessarily conclude, that their inquiry was to extend that far. Many subjects, he believed, would never have been referred to a committee, if the House had been aware of their great scope and extent. He conceived they ought to mark and point out the particular matters to be inquired into. He would have a committee specially appointed to investigate one branch of a subject, and, when their labours were finished, he would have another appointed to inquire into another division of it. The power would thus be kept in their own hands; and no committee would be called on to proceed with an investigation that could not be concluded in a reasonable time.

Mr. Alderman Wood

took the opportunity of remarking on that part of the speech of the noble lord which attributed the increase of crimes, amongst other causes, to the disbandment of such a large portion of the army and navy. From his situation, he had had the means of witnessing the effects of that change which the peace produced, and he could state, that the number of persons charged with offences who came under that description, did not exceed one in eighty. Many soldiers and sailors, chiefly the latter, were brought before the magistrates, but they were principally as paupers. The great source of crime, he was confident, arose from the congregated state of our prisons, where prisoners were thrown together without classification; and particularly where those sentenced for transportation were kept for a considerable time, corrupted themselves, and haying nothing else to do, than to corrupt others. Besides, on a gaol delivery, the law, which ordered persons so released to be sent to their homes and there to be provided for, was allowed to remain inoperative.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

thanked the noble lord for the gracious manner in which he had been pleased to view his exertions and opinions in favour of a reformation in the system of our prisons. There was, however, a little misrepresentation in the statement of the noble lord, which it was most material to have corrected. The noble lord bad attributed to him, that he considered the source of crimes to spring exclusively from the state of our prisons. He had never thought so— he had never said so. All that he had seen —all that he had heard, would never have allowed him to make a statement so absurd, or to arrive at a conclusion which must be ac- knowledged to be false. What he maintained was this, that one cause of the Increase of crime, and a very great one, was the detestable, the abominable, state of our goals at this moment. This opinion he meant not to retract. All he had seen, and all he had heard From others, convinced him of its propriety. He considered our prisons as schools and seminaries of the worst vices. It was most melancholy to watch the progress of a youth immured in one of those scenes of wretchedness and depravity, for perhaps some light offence. He was addicted, probably, to idleness. How was that cured? By continuing him in the grossest idleness! He might have a propensity to bad company. How was that remedied? By sending him amongst the worst of the human species. He might have committed some trifling act of theft. And how were his evil habits to be corrected? By placing him amongst those who would teach him to thieve with greater security and profit. It was melancholy to see how soon he caught the manner, the tone, the language, the esprit de corps of those who surrounded him. He longed at last to rival those whose villainy was of the deepest die. He became anxious to be reckoned amongst those who were the most bold and intrepid violators of the law. The idea of labour was soon hateful to him. He became a villain, and, what was infinitely worse, he was made so by the public institutions of his country [Hear, hear!]. He felt a conviction, that the result of a full and minute inquiry would be, to throw all the statements which he had ever made on this subject into the back ground.

The question was then put and agreed to; and a committee was accordingly appointed, consisting of the following members: lord Castlereagh, sir James Mackintosh, Mr. Canning, Mr. Fowell Buxton, Mr. Bathurst, Mr. Bennet, sir W. Scott, Mr. Brougham, Mr. Serjeant Copley, lord Binning, sir Arthur Piggott, Mr. Henry Clive, Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Vesey Fitz Gerald, sir John Newport, sir W. Curtis, Mr. Estcourt, Mr. Holford, Mr. Wilmot. Mr. Stuart Wortley, and Mr. Attorney-General. The report respecting sentences of transportation, presented 10 July 1812; the report on prisons presented 1st May 1815; the reports on police of the metropolis, presented 1st July 1816, 2nd May, 8th July 1817, 5th June 1818; the statement of number of per- sons capitally convicted, presented 23rd February; and the annual returns of commitments, presented 25th February and 1st March, were ordered to be referred to the said committee.