HL Deb 02 March 1812 vol 21 cc1084-6

The following Protest was entered on their Lordships' Journals:

PROTEST against going into a Committee on the Bill, intituled," An Act for the more exemplary punishment of persons destroying or injuring any stocking or lace frames, or other machines or engines used in the knitting manufactory."

Because, We feel ourselves in duty bound to record our disapprobation of all further proceedings on a Bill, characterized by those who supported it, as indiscriminately inflicting the punishment of death on all crimes described by words copied out of an act of parliament, which had, in no instance, the forfeiture of life in contemplation.

"It was with a mixed feeling of surprize and indignation we learnt from the discussion that has already taken place, that this Bill, in its nature the most interesting, grave, and important that can be submitted to the consideration of the legislature, had been framed without sufficient deliberation to enable the friends of the measure to give any distinct explanation of the precise crimes to which, under the legal import of the words, thus thoughtlessly and precipitately adopted, it is proposed to extend the punishment of death.

"We cannot therefore, under such circumstances, consent to go into a Committee; for even the amendments which might be there proposed and adopted, would, in our opinion, disgrace the two Houses of Parliament, by recording that they are capable of rashly agreeing to the principle of a Bill thus indiscriminately and by wholesale applying capital punishment to a variety of offences, differing in their motive, their character and their guilt; for the purpose of considering what exceptions might subsequently be suggested by prudence and humanity, which ought exclusively to guide the judgment of the legislature in every stage of their deliberations, on all acts of criminal legislation.

"We agree in the opinion so generally expressed in this House, that the conduct of the manufacturers, in destroying frames, and other machinery used in our manufactures, must proceed from mistaken views of their own interests; as they, more than any other class of his Majesty's subjects, are deeply interested in the preservation of machinery, to the improvement of which we owe our existence as a manufacturing country.

"But we think it our duty, strongly and in distinct terms to reprobate the unprecedented folly of attempting to enlighten the minds of men, in regard to what is beneficial for themselves, by encreased severity of punishment; whilst every sound principle of criminal legislation makes us regard such an addition to the long list of offences, already subjected to capital punishment by the laws of this country, with astonishment and disgust: and every feeling of humanity leads us to express the utmost horror at the wanton cruelty of punishing our fellow-creatures with death, for those culpable acts, more injurious to themselves than to any other part of the community, to which, through mistaken views of policy, the encreasing distress of the times has reduced them to resort.