HC Deb 17 April 1826 vol 15 cc291-3

On the order of the day for the further consideration of this bill,

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he had to propose several important alterations. He therefore wished the House merely to go into the committee pro forma, that the bill might be reprinted, and stand over for consideration. He had originally proposed to consolidate, and he trusted he had succeeded in consolidating, the whole of the statute law of England relating to all offences against property, connected with theft; but he had found, in attempting to legislate with respect to theft, that all that part which related to the mischievous destruction of property was so intimately connected with theft, that it was difficult to draw a distinction. It was probable, however, that, should the committee agree to his alterations, he might think it expedient not to pass the bill through the House this session, but suffer it to lay over for consideration, in its amended state, till the next session.

Mr. Scarlett

approved of the course pursued by the right hon. gentleman. He was aware of the importance of the bill, and was anxious that it should be passed as speedily as possible; but it was expedient that so novel a measure should be rendered quite perfect.

The House having resolved itself into a committee,

Mr. Peel

said, he would shortly state to the House two or three of the alterations which he desired to make. In the first place, as it was expedient to limit, as far as possible, the list of offences which were subject to the punishment of death, he intended to repeal that law which made the stealing in a church (no matter under what circumstances, or to what amount) a capital crime. As the statute stood, a man who stole his neighbour's prayer-book, as they sat in the same pew at chapel together, would be liable to suffer death for it; the act being in itself no more than a simple larceny. He saw no reason why any other law should be applicable to a place of worship than to the common case of a dwelling-house. In either case the breaking and entering would be capital, but not the simple act of stealing. In the same way, the statute which made it death to steal from a booth or tent at a fair, was one which he thought deserved to be revised. People who kept such open booths ought to guard their property sufficiently themselves, and not look for laws of unreasonable severity to protect it. The stealing to the amount of 40s. in a dwelling-house, independent of burglary, was now capital: he proposed to increase the 40s. to 5l. The sum of 40s. had been fixed, as necessary to constitute the capital offence, in the reign of queen Anne. Considering the different circumstances of the country, the amount which he now proposed was not materially greater. There were two other statutes on which he would detain the House a moment—those applicable to stealing fish, and to stealing deer. The punishment for stealing fish out of any pond was seven years' transportation; and there was no difference between an angling and a stealing by nets or other engines. Now, he thought it rather hard to send an angler, although he did fish in other people's waters, to Botany-bay for seven years; and he therefore proposed a mitigation in favour of such characters. The law, as he would have it, should oblige every angler, who caught fish improperly, to give his name and address on demand, subject to a penalty of 20l. for giving a false one; and is punishment should be, to pay three times the value of the fish taken, with an additional fine to the king, to be levied by order of the magistrate. With respect to deer-stealing, hon. gentlemen were perhaps aware, that by the present law, any person who was sworn to have had the head, hide, or any part of the flesh of a deer in his house, within one month from the date of the oath, was liable to be called on, without any proof given that he really had possessed such venison, to show that he had not possessed it illegally. This statute was too severe; indeed perfectly unreasonable; and he proposed to leave the law as to venison on the same footing with that which applied to other meats. There were one or two other alterations which he proposed, and among the rest some change in the law referable to obtaining goods on false pretences; but with these, at so late an hour, he would not intrude upon the House.

The bill went through the committee, and was reported.