HL Deb 07 July 1834 vol 24 cc1213-8
Lord Wharncliffe

having presented a petition from the Liverpool Guardian Society for protection to trade, took the opportunity of adverting to the state of the public business in that House. They had now arrived at the 7th of July, and, as yet, very little had been done. He had hoped, that the business would have been so managed between the two Houses, that all the Bills of consequence would not have been put off till a period which rendered it quite impossible to proceed with them in that deliberate manner which measures of importance required. Very many important questions were yet to be brought under their consideration, and now they had arrived at the 7th of July. Any one of the subjects to which he had alluded would take a very considerable time to deal with it properly. In that House, they at present had the Poor-laws' Bill, which would require most laborious investigation. Then there were in the House of Commons the Irish Tithes' Bill, the Church Temporalities' Bill, the General Registry Bill, the Church-rates Bill, the Bill relative to the imprisonment for debt, and several Bills for altering the Criminal Law of the country, such as the Capital Punishment Bill, and the Punishment of Death Bill. There were also the Bill for the Registration of Votes and the Bribery Bill. All these subjects were of sufficient importance to call for the most serious consideration; and yet, at so late a period, how would it be in their Lordships power to bestow that necessary consideration on them? He could, for his own part, see nothing in the mode of doing business in the other House of Parliament to lead him to believe that the country would be satisfied if those measures were passed without due notice being taken of them in that House. That several of these measures would be beneficial, he did not mean to deny; and in the principle of some of them he concurred; but he hoped, that their Lordships would not agree to one of them as a mere matter of course, and he was convinced, that if this House did its duty, many of these Bills would not be passed this Session, on account of the shortness of time. With respect to the Poor-laws Bill, he did not believe there was one class of persons in the country who properly understood it, or who were aware of the consequences that were likely to arise from it. Should these measures be introduced this Session, he should be obliged to oppose several of them, on account of the shortness of the time allowed for their consideration.

Earl Grey

admitted, that the measures alluded to by the noble Lord were very important. It must, however, be confessed that no time had been wasted by the other House of Parliament. They had sat, throughout the Session, from 12 o'clock in the morning until a very late hour at night; and therefore any delay that had taken place was not to be imputed to them. Some of those Bills were of such a nature that he trusted their Lordships would pass them in the present Session, and more particularly that of which it would be his duty to propose the second reading to-morrow. The noble Lord said, that the country was not aware of the principles and provisions of that Bill. That he did not think was the case. When he considered the time that had elapsed since the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners was laid before Parliament—the time that had been taken in discussing the measure in another place, and the constant communication of those discussions to the public—when he recollected that no pains had been spared, not to inform the public, but to excite the feelings and prejudices of the public against the measure—when he considered these different points, he could not think, that the public, and particularly that portion of the public who were most seriously interested in the Administration of the Poor-laws, were not aware, not only of the principles and objects of the Bill, but even of its minute details. With respect to the other Bills, a list of which the noble Lord had given, he felt that it would be hardly possible to expect some of them to be passed in the present Session. Amongst those Bills there were two for effecting alterations in the Criminal-law of the country. Those were the Capital Punishments Bill, and the Punishment of Death Bill. There was also a Bill granting counsel to prisoners in cases of felony, and also a Bill for altering the law with respect to imprisonment for debt. Of these measures he did not wish to give any opinion. He certainly was not for a general and indiscriminate rejection of these Bills; but he felt that they were subjects that ought to be extremely well considered. Alterations of so important a nature ought not to be made on the mere suggestions of individuals, but should be founded on the mature judgment of persons competent to decide on their propriety. He therefore should wish, with the noble Lord, that those Bills should lie over to another Session. There was another reason why it would be desirable to defer proceeding with those measures, and that was because, in his opinion, it was necessary before such alterations were effected, that something should be done with respect to a system of secondary punishments, to which subject the noble Lord had already turned his attention. Till some particular system could be laid down with reference to secondary punishments, he thought it would be better that such alterations should lie over. There were, however, several measures of very great importance, to which he hoped the House would pay due attention, and pass them in the present Session.

The Lord Chancellor

said, the measures respecting the alteration of the Criminal-law, to which reference had been made, were unquestionably of the utmost importance. But there was one Bill, which respected imprisonment for debt, that it would, in his opinion, be impossible for their Lordships to pass in the present Session. Indeed, he doubted whether the other House could agree to it in this Session of Parliament; but he was certain that it was hopeless to expect that their Lordships would make so great a change in the law without very mature consideration. At the same time, he thought the object of the Bill was most beneficial. Here he begged leave to state, on behalf of his hon. and learned friend (the Attorney General) in whose hands the measure was, and in answer to complaints made out of doors—in answer to attacks that had been most ignorantly and unnecessarily launched at him, that his hon. and learned friend could not possibly have brought forward this Bill one day sooner. Those who had attacked his hon. and learned friend had gone so far as to state, that though at the time his hon. and learned friend was out of Parliament, yet he had previously been in Parliament long enough to have carried the Bill half a dozen times over. Now, how stood the fact? Parliament met on the 4th of February, and on the 20th his hon. and learned friend, having accepted the situation of Attorney General, of course vacated his seat. So that, according to those persons, there was time enough between the 4th and 20th of February to carry a measure of this complicated and difficult nature. He had introduced it the moment he had taken his seat, and it was no fault of his that the measure was not more forward. As to the Bills relating to the alterations in the Criminal-law, he agreed with his noble friend, that it was of the greatest importance that the subject should be taken up on a more systematic principle than had heretofore been the case. He could not help hoping, that the Criminal-law Commissioners, several of whom were deeply versed in this matter, and who combined sound practical knowledge with a perfect acquaintance with jurisprudence, would have their attention drawn to this subject during the ensuing vacation, and that before the next Session of Parliament they would produce a Report with reference to it. In that Report they would be able to direct the attention of Parliament to those changes that it would be proper to make, as well as to those points where change would be necessary. This would enable Parliament to legislate with much better effect. Wish respect to any delay which had taken place in the other House, it could not be attributed to any deficiency of assiduity. During the whole Session, they had sat in the morning from twelve till three; and their evening sittings extended frequently till four or five o'clock the ensuing morning. For his own part, he did not know, if they were to carry the measure to which allusion had been more particularly made, how they could possibly have done more than they had done. This was not the first time complaints had been made similar to that advanced by the noble Lord. Every Session since he had sat there, and indeed long before either the noble Lord or himself had a seat in that House, the delay of business had been a regular source of complaint. Indeed, a late noble friend of his, the Duke of Norfolk, annually made a complaint on the subject, nearly in the same words as were used by the noble Lord, and standing also in nearly the same place which the noble Lord now occupied. The Woolsack was at that time occupied by Lord Thurlow, and when the noble Duke made his complaint it was generally received with a rebuke by the Lord Chancellor. Lord Thurlow said, that they in that House had no right to know, that the end of the Session was approaching. That was a matter that concerned the Royal breast alone; and he understood from his noble friend near him (Lord Holland) that the noble Lord, his predecessor on the Woolsack, had upon one occasion called the noble Duke, to order when making his complaint. Let, therefore, the noble Lord who now complained congratulate himself that he lived in so mild a reign. He was not called to order; he was suffered to make his remarks; and it was very proper that the noble Lord should do so. He thought that what was complained of was a great evil, because in consequence of measures being introduced very late in the Session, many of them did not receive that sifting examination which the House was competent to bestow on them.

The Duke of Cumberland

requested to be informed as to the course intended to be taken with the Non-Residence and Pluralities Bills.

The Lord Chancellor

said, he had formerly stated, that if he found that a sufficient opportunity was not given to the clergy in the country to understand that Bill which more immediately affected their interests than it affected the interests of the right reverend Prelates in that House—if he found that, as a measure of justice towards those meritorious and laborious men, the working clergy, further time should be given them for examining the details of the measure—he would willingly afford them that opportunity by letting the Bill lie over; indeed, he was ready, if necessary, to take that course, not with respect to one of those Bills, as had been incorrectly stated, but with reference to both of them, for it would be absurd to postpone one without postponing the other.

Lord Suffield

observed, that when it was known that crime had greatly increased, and when the Government either had not the opportunity or the inclination to take up the subject of the Criminal-law, it was a little too much to say, that no individual in either House of Parliament should stand forward to effect such alterations in the law as the public safety and security required. He meant not to impugn the conduct of his Majesty's Government, but it was a little too much to say, that if they would not do that which was right, therefore no one else should do it. The measure that related to capital punishment had been much discussed in the House of Commons. Great alterations had been suggested in it, some of them by a Law Officer of the Crown, and if that did not afford a reason why Ministers should not oppose it when it came into that House, then he despaired of finding a more conclusive one.

The subject was dropped.