HC Deb 12 May 1863 vol 170 cc1661-4

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


said: At this hour of the morning, those who are in favour of the third reading of this Bill, have a good right to object to my making any speech in moving that it be read a third time this day six months. But at the same time, we, who are opposed to it, have an equally good right to resort, if we please, to the strongest weapon of a minority, and to move the adjournment. As, however, I well know that such a proceeding would not effectually stop the Bill, and would merely entail upon the other side of the House the vexation of staying up to as late an hour on some other occasion to carry the third reading, I will propose a compromise. I will speak for eight minutes, and, if I am not interrupted, I will then sit down. On this understanding then, I proceed to say, that those who are in favour of this Bill, call us who are opposed to it, humanitarians. I confess, of the two, I had rather figure as the friend than as the enemy of mankind; but I mean to argue the question on the ground, not of humanity, but of policy. In the first place then, Sir, your existing laws are quite strong enough to repress crimes of violence, and no change is necessary. Examine the criminal statistics of the last fifteen years. Note especially the crimes of violence. Are they gaining on society, or is society gaining on them? Look at each of the three last quinquennial periods, and then say whether there is anything to alarm you? Quite recently crime has been unusually rife, but why? Simply because bad times invariably bring with them crime, as they bring with them fever or other forms of disease. This particular crime of garotting, which has frightened so many people out of their propriety, is a mere fashion of the day; for man is an imitative animal, and crime has its fashions like other things. Its reign extended from July to November. Since November there has hardly been a case of it. Is there any other form of violent crime against which it is necessary to defend yourselves by unusual measures? If so, what is it? It will hardly be denied that to change your criminal code, without very cogent reason, is of itself an evil. All those who have studied, as well as those who have practised our law, know to their cost that the reproach which can be most justly brought against our system, is its fragmentary character. It is pervaded by no principle. It is made up of expedients to meet particular exigencies, and decisions to meet particular cases. A few years ago you attempted to introduce something like system at least into your criminal legislation, and now, at the very first panic, you hasten to stultify the conclusions to which you then deliberately came. In the second place, not only is it absolutely unnecessary to alter the punishments appropriated to this class of crime which are now on the statute-book; but if hon. Members are utterly purposed to alter them, when and how has it been proved that they should alter them in kind rather than in degree? I can understand those who say that the course of modern legislation upon the subject of punishment is wrong; that physical punishments are better than moral punishments; and that the sooner we begin to alter the whole of our system the better; but if we are to do this, let us do it after the solemn deliberation which befits so great a step. The best modern jurists have pronounced most strongly against those punishments which are classed by the greatest of English jurists, Mr. Bentham, as "afflictive punishments." Are all the hon. Members who vote for this Bill distinctly minded to break with the doctrines of modern jurisprudence upon this subject? Are not many voting merely to protest against the remissness of the Home Office, and of the Police, or to show the criminal class that society does not mean to be trifled with; and is it really worth while to alter your legislation for any or all of these purposes? If the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman were new, it might be very right to try it; but it is as old as the worst passions of human nature. Fierce and cruel punishments are the first thought of the savage, who wishes to keep up his authority. The right hon. Gentleman imitates at a humble distance the traditional sagacity of Cochin China. There is not one nation in Europe which has not begun with punishments of the kind the right hon. Gentleman now wishes to bring back; and as fast as each of these has advanced in civilization, she has abandoned one after another. Even in Russia, they have just abolished the knout; and perhaps if the Bill passes, the question as to the particular instrument to be used might be best settled by the right hon. Gentleman and some of his friends subscribing to buy for the Government, and inscribing their honoured names upon, the knouts which are no longer required. They would probably get them cheap. I have many more arguments to advance, but my hon. Friend who sits near me reminds me that my eight minutes are over: and as the hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have kept their share of the bargain, it is only fair I should keep mine. I only beg to say, in conclusion, that I shall vote with peculiar satisfaction against this stupid and atrocious appendix to Adderley on Human Happiness—and that I move that the Bill be read a third time this day six months.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 76; Noes 18: Majority 53.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3°, and passed.