HC Deb 21 June 1825 vol 13 cc1252-4
Mr. R. Martin

moved the second reading of this bill.

The Attorney General

said, that three years ago a bill had been introduced by his learned friend, the member for Knaresborough (sir J. Mackintosh), which rendered it a felony punishable with transportation, to wound or maim cattle. Previously to the introduction of that bill, the wounding or maiming of cattle was, under the act of Charles, made a felonious offence, in those cases only where the guilty party was proved to have acted from a malicious motive towards the owner of the cattle. As the law now stood, however, maiming or wounding cattle, whether it originated in a malicious design or otherwise, was viewed as a felony against the owner. In the course of the last session, the hon. member (Mr. R. Martin) had brought in a bill, which passed that House, but was thrown out in the other, by which the offence that was made a felony by the bill of his learned friend would have been reduced to a misdemeanour. Now, how did the hon. member, in the present instance, endeavour to get over this difficulty? Why, by introducing a proviso in the bill, which set forth, that nothing contained in that bill should be construed to extend to the bill introduced three years ago by the learned member for Knaresborough; thus declaring, that a particular offence was a misdemeanor, which said offence was, by the former bill, the provisions of which were not to be repealed, declared to be a felony. So that the offence was, it appeared, to be both a felony and a misdemeanour. Such a contradictory measure as this could not pass into a law. The hon. member argued, that the existing measure which made the offence a felony was not effective. That, he thought, a very extraordinary reason for endeavouring to mitigate the punishment. He hoped the hon. member would not say that he (the Attorney-general) was the author of that bill, as the hon. member had introduced the proviso in question since it had been submitted to his inspection. He had taken no further part in the formation of the measure than to suggest a few verbal amendments.

Mr. R. Martin

said, he would maintain, that this was a bill of the Attorney-general's, save and except that part to which allusion had been made. The bill which the Attorney-general had formerly consulted with him in drawing, for preventing the ill-treating of cattle, was nearly the same as the present. When he applied to the Attorney-general on the subject, the learned gentleman said he saw no objection to such a measure, and he brought in a bill pretty much in the form of the present. He afterwards saw the Attorney-general in the library, who took down the black act, and declared that he had no objection to his bill, if it contained the words, "wantonly cutting, maiming, or wounding." And it was not a little remarkable, that the point to which the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department chiefly directed his attention in opposing the bill, when he laughed at the idea of legislating on the cutting off the ears of a puppy-dog, arose entirely from the emendation of the Attorney-general. That bill passed through the committee, and was read a third time; and he would now say, in the presence of the Attorney- general and of the country, that that learned gentleman covenanted with him to apply to the Lords to pass the bill. He did not know whether the Attorney-general had applied to the lord-chancellor on the subject, but he said he would speak to him relative to the bill, as a measure of which he approved. Now, if the Attorney-general would strike out every thing in the present bill, and make it precisely similar to the bill of which the learned gentleman was the author, he would be satisfied. The bill to which the Attorney-general had assented was declared an absurd bill by the House of Lords, and with apparent reason; and it was to cure the absurdity of the Attorney-general's own legislation that he had introduced the clause now objected to. He, however, was ready to leave out the proviso. He was not surprised that gentlemen sometimes forgot at the end of the year what they had said in the beginning of it; but it was very extraordinary that a gentleman should forget what had occurred in the course of 24 or 36 hours. Now, within that time, the Attorney-general had stated, that he had no great objection to the bill, provided a word or two were altered. He said, he was ready to support it, if the bill for allowing counsel in cases of felony were not brought on. He now, however, came down, armed with all the heavy artillery of the law, to batter down the measure. If the Attorney-general thus stood forward to oppose bills which had in view the interests of humanity, he feared the public would look upon the House of Commons as a very bad place for the education of a judge.

The Attorney-General

said, if the hon. member could reconcile the first and the last clauses of the bill, he would be satisfied to support the measure.

The House divided: Ayes 18; Noes 27. The bill was consequently lost.