HC Deb 24 April 1837 vol 38 cc252-5

Lord John Russell moved the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Forgery Bill.

Mr. Roebuck

said, that he believed the noble Lord had a string of bills all tending to mitigate the severity of the Criminal law. Would it not be advantageous to codify them, and to comprehend them all in one statute?

Lord John Russell

thought that it would be better to discuss the Bills separately. After the Legislature had discussed them, and made any alterations in them that might appear advisable, they might then perhaps be advantageously combined in one statute.

Sir Robert Peel

said, he was not aware that the Bills which the noble Lord had charge of would have been brought on that night, and he believed the greater part of the House was equally unprepared for the discussion of them. In the present state of the criminal legislation of this country it was necessary to deal with it effectively and to take a comprehensive view of the nature and effects of secondary punishments. He did not mean to say, that a defective state of our secondary punishments was a sufficient cause why the punishment of death should be increased or continued; but it was absolutely necessary that a complete notion of the effects of both should be had before legislation on the subject was proceeded to. The speech of the noble Lord, in introducing the Bills in question, was condemnatory of the punishment of death as an effective preventive of crime; but it was not more satisfactory in respect to the secondary punishments. For instance, he said that transportation was not an ef- fective punishment. [Lord John Russell: at present.] He also said that imprisonment period was equally so. The noble Lord's speech led to the inevitable conclusion that although the punishment of death was unsatisfactory for the purpose for which it was intended, the punishments of transportation and imprisonment were equally so. What then, was to be done? It was most important, in awarding secondary punishments to be well informed as to those which were likely to prove the most efficient. The noble Lord was bound to satisfy the House on that subject before it adopted his measures. There was a Committee moved for by the hon. Baronet, the Member for Cornwall, respecting transportation, which might lead to some result like that desired in one branch of the subject at least. For several years the state of the prisons had occupied the attention of the Legislature, and in that time, various laws had been passed for their regulation. But in the present state of New South Wales—having outgrown, as it was asserted, its original condition of a penal settlement — it was necessary to ascertain whether the time 'had arrived when the question should be duly considered. He did not object to the second reading of any of the noble Lord's Bills; reserving to himself, however, the right of considering in Committee the extent to which the noble Lord proposed carrying their provisions. If it were decided that transportation to New South Wales was not an efficient secondary punishment, he very much feared too much confidence must not be placed in the substitution of an extended period of imprisonment as a secondary punishment. He was sorry the noble Lord brought this subject on this evening, when it was not expected. An opportunity, however, would offer for its future discussion; and in the present state of public business he was unwilling to delay any proceeding of that nature. The noble Lord, in his speech the other evening, referred to certain documents showing the effect which the mitigation of punishment had already produced with respect to the crime of forgery. Had the noble Lord documents showing that there had been a diminution in the number of forgeries? If he had, it would be a strong justification of the Legislature in proceeding in the same course. Before the Committee on the Bill, he hoped the noble Lord would lay on the table of the House all the information which he possessed with reference to the state of crime, and especially of forgery, not only in the metropolis, but in the provinces.

Lord John Russell

in the present state of public business, could not defer proceeding with this Bill. On a question which necessarily attracted the attention of the judges of the country, it was highly important that time should be given for the consideration of legislative measures in a state sufficiently advanced for the purpose. With respect to secondary punishments, the right hon. Baronet was perfectly right in stating it to be his opinion, that transportation and imprisonment were far less efficient as secondary punishments than he could wish them to be. That was a question, however, which did not bear quite so much upon the present Bill as the right hon. Baronet seemed to imagine. For he (Lord John Russell) did not pretend, that while the Bill limited the number of capital offences, it would have the effect of limiting the number of executions; the fact being, that although the existing law still retained capital punishments for the forgery of wills and powers of attorney, and although forgeries of wills and powers of attorney had occurred since the passing of that law, not a single execution for either of those offences had taken place. As to the documents respecting which the right hon. Baronet had inquired, he (Lord John Russell) had no others than those to which he had the other evening referred; but he agreed that it was highly desirable to collect all the information possible on the subject; and he would take care that if any existed it should be laid on the table of the House. He believed that the general result with respect to forgery was, not that that crime had diminished since the mitigation of punishment, but it had not increased; and the number of convictions in proportion to acquittals had greatly increased—a circumstance which, in his opinion, would operate very actively in the diminution of the crime. It had been distinctly shown that juries were very reluctant to convict of forgery when the punishment was capital. Before he proceeded with another stage of the Bill, he would take care to give due notice of his intention.

Sir Robert Peel

said, there was another point on which he wished to say a word, and that was, to recommend to the noble Lord the suggestion that had been thrown out of eventually combining the four or five Bills, the object of which was the mitigation of punishment, in one measure.

Mr. Wallace

maintained, that the delay which existed in the public business, was entirely attributable to the other side of the House. See their conduct during the last week. The motion respecting Spain, was merely a party question, brought forward for the purpose of delaying the public business. He did not care for the cry of question, whether it proceeded from one side of the House or the other. He repeated, that there was evidently on the part of those who were opposed to his Majesty's Government, a systematic resolution to delay the public business.

Mr. T. B. Lennard

suggested, that there should be a clause in the Bill providing that although the capital punishment was repealed, the offence should still be tried at the assizes.

Mr. Jervis

wished the House to give the principle of the Bill further discussion. At all events, he approved of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Essex (Mr. Lennard) that all cases of forgery should still be tried at the assizes.

Lord John Russell

observed, that if the House objected to the principle of the abolition of death in cases of forgery, they had better throw out the Bill altogether.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that the noble Lord seemed to imply, by assenting to the second reading of this Bill, the House would be bound specifically to agree to the abolition of the punishment of death in all cases of forgery. He was not prepared at the present moment to go to that extent; he therefore hoped that, in allowing the Bill to be read a second time, he should not be precluded from making any objections which might hereafter appear to be proper, when the Bill should go into Committee.

Mr. O'Connell

was of opinion that the principle of the Bill did not go far enough.

Bill read a second time.

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