HL Deb 07 March 1817 vol 35 cc901-5

On the order of the day for the third reading of the Treasonable Practices Bill,.

Lord Holland

was desirous of saying a few words, which might as well embrace both the bills now before the House. To the bill for the better protection of the Prince Regent, he did not mean to object; but he could not help lamenting that greater care had not been employed in drawing up these bills instead of leaving some points vague and undefined, and others open to ambiguity. Thus, in the army and navy seduction bill, which was made parpetual, all the enactments in the expired act of that nature were revived, although one of them was for limiting the duration of that act, which was altogether at variance with the clause in the present bill rendering it perpetual. The punishment for the treason created by the treasonable practices bill, it was also enacted should be the same as in the former act, although since the passing of that act, in 1799, the punishment had been altered by law. Under this bill also, as it stood there might arise doubts as to whether the provisions of an act passed in the reign of William 3d, and of another in the reign of queen Anne, intended to mitigate the situation of persons accused of high treason, would extend to those charged under the present bill, though it was evidently not intended that the latter should be deprived of those advantages. These errors and ambiguities served to show the impolicy of the practice of thus continuing by a single enactment all the provisions contained in a former act, instead of expressly re-enacting only what was necessary to enact. With respect to the army and navy seduction bill, he could not approve of the principle adopted in it of making death the punishment for this offence. The great object was, the facility of detection with respect to this offence, and how was that to be increased by enacting that the punishment of death should fall upon the offender? Was it not evident, on the contrary, that the more severe the punishment, the less easy was it to detect the offence? Our ancestors had a constitutional jealousy of a standing army, and it was of the greatest importance that that jealousy should be kept up amongst their lordships, seeing, as they did, the consequences to which the keeping up large standing armies led, the danger arising to the people from a large force kept up at the disposal of the government, and the danger arising to the government itself from the seduction of the troops, leading to the enactment of the horrible punishment of death. Whilst he was upon this subject, he could not help alluding to a fiction which was stated in a report (he did not know whether it was regularly before the House) to have been circulated with a view of influencing the soldiers, alleging that foreign troops were about to be landed in the country. How this fiction originated was no where to be discovered; it did not appear to have originated with the Spencean Philanthropists, or with the Union Societies. He found, however, that in a pamphlet lately published, written by a learned civilian of Oriel college, Oxford, and intituled "Reform the Watch-word of Revolution," this same fiction was put forth in the shape of a menace. After condemning the conduct of all reformers, as tending to revolutionize the country, this pamphlet went on to observe, that it might become imperative upon all the governments of Europe, with a view to their safety, to combine against revolutionary principles, as they had done against the French revolution, and thus the conduct of the reformers here might lead to the landing of a foreign force in this country; in order to obviate the danger arising from their principles, and through that to a military despotism. He supposed, therefore, that this pamphlet, from the doctrines it held oat, and particularly with regard to the landing of foreign troops, had formed part of the documents before the secret committee, and was included amongst those dangerous productions to which they had adverted.—With regard to the bill for the protection of the person of the Prince Regent, he thought it quite right that the protection given by a former act to the person of the king, should be extended to the Prince Regent, but he should have much more cheerfully given his assent to a bill for the repeal of the former act than to the present measure, because he thought the existing laws would have been found sufficient, and he was hostile to the multiplication of enactments not actually necessary, and to the creation of new treasons. Such a law was not thought necessary in the reign of Edward 3rd, in the reign of William 3rd, or in the reigns of George 1st, or 2nd. It was, in fact, a project of James 2nd, but to which his parliament would not agree, without a condition to which that monarch would not accede. He should not therefore have thought it necessary in the first instance to have enacted such a law, but it having been enacted, he thought it quite right to extend it to the protection of the person of the Prince Regent. He, however, trusted that amendments would be introduced to obviate the ambiguities to which he had before alluded.

The Earl of Liverpool

observed, that although recent circumstances might have immediately occasioned the introduction of these bills, yet he wished it to be understood, that had these circumstances not happened, it was his opinion, as well as that of others, that the enactments contained in these bills should be proposed. With respect to the army and navy seduction bill he had conceived it to have been originally a permanent act, and it was entirely through inadvertence that the law was suffered to expire in August last. His opinion, and that of others was, that it ought to be a permanent law, and though he admitted the justice of the general principle, that by increasing the severity of the punishment you lessoned the facility of detection, yet, he contended, that this law was an exception, inasmuch as it would operate by intimidation to prevent the offence. With respect to the treasonable practices bill, he was also of opinion without reference to recent circum- stances, that the security given by the former acts to the person of the king, ought unquestionably to be extended to the person of the Prince Regent. He wished it, however, to be understood, that this measure did not create any new treason. It was the opinion of eminent judges, supported by a course of decisions, that the offences designated in this bill were treason at common law, and it was so laid down as law by Chief Justice Eyre, at the trials of several persons in 1794. However, to remove all doubt, it was determined to make a special enactment upon the subject, in order distinctly to make the offence treason. With respect to the errors suggested by the noble lord, he had no objection to postpone the third reading till Monday, in order to give time to his noble and learned friend on the woolsack to make the requisite amendments.

The Lord Chancellor

observed, that with respect to the army and navy seduction bill, it was undoubtedly proper that words should be introduced to prevent the re-enactment of a clause in the former act rendering it temporary. With regard to the question of reviving former acts without specifying the enactments, it would be improper where it referred to a great body of laws like the customs or excise laws; but when it was only a short act easily referred to, he saw no impropriety in thus reviving it without specifically mentioning the enactments. With regard to the punishment of treason in the treasonable practices bill, it certainly ought to be made what it now was by law, and an amendment could be introduced to this effect on Monday. As to that bill itself, it was merely enacting that to be treason which was already considered to be treason, and, this was merely done to avoid any dispute. His lordship observed, that it had been his official duty to prosecute a man for attempting to seduce the soldiery, soon after the former act respecting this offence passed, who was capitally convicted and since that, until August last, when the act expired, no instance of this crime had occurred. He was therefore decidedly of opinion, that this law would operate by intimidation to prevent the offence.

The third reading of the bill was postponed till monday. The earl of Liverpool then moved the third reading of the Army and Navy Seduction Bill.

Earl Grosvenor

thought that no necessity had been shown foe this measure. Where was it to be found that any at tempts had been made to seduce the soldiery? Was it in the placard that had been carried about the streets on the 2nd of December, saying "the soldiers are our friends, treat them kindly?" Was it in the absurd attempt made to summon the Tower to surrender? Was it in the project for burning the soldiers in their barracks; was this likely to seduce their. He was at a loss to understand where attempts were stated to have been made to seduce the soldiery; but at any rate he considered the existing laws sufficient for the offence, or if there existed a present necessity for this measure, there could be no reason why it should be made perpetual. It was of essential importance also, that a law of this nature, inflicting the penalty of death, should not be so loosely worded as to leave it a question for doubt, what in some instances would constitute the offence. Under all these circumstances, he thought it right to move to leave out the words "made perpetual," and to insert "continue for one year."

The question was put, that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the bill, which was carried in the affirmative. The lord chancellor then moved to insert words to except the re-enactment of the clause in the former act, making it temporary, which amendment was agreed to. After which, the bill was passed.