HC Deb 04 June 1824 vol 11 cc1091-3
Mr. Secretary Peel,

on moving that this bill be committed, stated the object of it. It was, he said, to renew the Transportation act, which would expire in the present year, and to simplify some of its enactments. Formerly convicts were transported from this country to North America, and it was the practice, before the sailing of any ship, for the king, by an order in council, to appoint the particular place to which the convicts on board were to be conveyed. It was, therefore, necessary, as the law now stood, that a council should be called before the sailing of every ship; but as this might not be convenient, the present act gave to his majesty a general power of nominating the place to which the convicts should besent, without the necessity of assembling a council for that purpose. This bill also did away with the necessity of a particular contract being entered into with every county for the transport of its convicts. It went, likewise, to regulate the treatment of convicts. Transportation was in itself a very unequal punishment. To a married man of generally regular habits, or with a family of eight or ten children, transportation was a severe punishment; while to the young single man, of irregular habits, it was matter of not very great regret. By this bill, the government of New South Wales would be empowered to send convicts of the latter description to distant settlements within the colony, while convicts of less vicious habits and more regular conduct would be allowed to reside at or near Port Jackson. It should be known, that it was intended to make transportation a much more severe mode of punishment than it had generally been hitherto; and that that severity would be proportioned to the conduct of the convicts themselves.

Mr. Scarlett

said, that the right hon. gentleman was introducing a new principle into our penal law, by vesting in the executive the power of increasing or diminishing the punishment. The Crown had certainly the power to remit the whole or any part of a sentence, but he objected to the principle that a sentence, not remitted in whole or in part, should be habitually modified by the Crown in the execution of it, so as to take away that certainty of punishment which was so desirable in every system of law.

Mr. Secretary Peel

observed, that the Crown had always exercised the power of determining the place and manner of transportation. The sentence of transportation was beyond the seas; the place to which the convict was sent was always left to the Crown; and it would be admitted, that if a person transported had not been, from his station in life, subjected to labour, the punishment would be improperly aggravated by subjecting him to the labour, which, for men of another description, would not be an improper accompaniment of the punishment. But whatever might be said of this discretion, it was not given by the bill before the House; it had been previously exercised, and the arrangements which he had spoken of only tended to make it more systematic.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

said, it had been complained, that, from the circumstances of the colony of New South Wales, the convicts employed as servants about the towns, suffered little by what was intended as a punishment. Under the arrangements now made, they would be spread over the agricultural part of the colony, and be made to labour; which would, to the class of persons who were operated upon by the transportation laws, make the punishment more an object of terror than it now was. The convicts, too, of the worst class, would be sent to one of the dependencies of New South Wales, Norfolk-Island, where the severity would be increased. He wished to have it generally understood, that transportation would now become a severe and real punishment.

The bill was then committed.