HC Deb 15 May 1834 vol 23 cc1035-6
Mr. Lloyd

moved for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to wilful Burning. He understood that the introduction of the measure would not be opposed; and he should therefore explain the outline of it very briefly. His object was mainly to reduce the punishment now affixed to the crime of arson, as he considered it one of the remaining blots of our sanguinary Penal Code. The House was aware, that there were many degrees of criminality, and it would not be disputed that the punishment ought, as far as possible, to be adapted to the degree. His second object was, to give more effectual protection to property. He proposed to retain the capital punishment for setting fire to any inhabited house or building attached, or immediately contiguous to a house, but he wished to abolish it in cases where fire was set to buildings or property by the burning of which human life would not be endangered. He took this main distinction—that offences against property ought not to be confounded with offences against life. He intended to provide, therefore, that where life was not put in peril by wilful burning, the offence should be punished by transportation. Barns or stacks, not connected with or endangering the consumption of dwelling-houses, would come within this distinction. The result of experience had warranted the dictates of humanity in reducing the amount of punishment and increasing its certainty. He entreated the House not to be carried away by any vindictive feelings from the recent prevalence of wilful fires in the country, as the chief ground on which he rested the change was, that crime would be lessened by the diminution of punishment, as the guilty, through feelings of compassion on the part of the Jury, would in no case be allowed to escape.

Lord Althorp

felt considerable doubts as to the policy of the course recommended, though he concurred in the principle that the punishment should be such as to ensure conviction. He also thought it expedient, where it could be done safely, to diminish the number of capital punishments, and to confine them as far as possible to crimes endangering human life. At present a distinction was taken between setting fire to stacks of stubble or stacks of corn, and the guilty had in some instances escaped. He was afraid of meddling with the subject at present, unless it could be clearly shown that the lessening of the punishment would lessen the frequency of the crime by increasing the certainty of conviction. He was not, however, prepared to say, that the Bill should not be introduced.

Mr. Hill

was clearly of opinion that the effect of the change would be to augment the certainty of conviction. He had defended prisoners whom he knew to be guilty, but whom the Jury from compassion would not consign to the punishment of death. The alteration of the law would prevent impunity.

Leave given, and Bill ordered to be brought in.