HL Deb 22 July 1834 vol 25 cc332-3
Lord Suffield

, in moving, that this Bill be read a first time, reminded their Lordships, that on a former evening he had stated, that he understood it to be the intention of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to introduce in the next Session of Parliament a more general measure for the mitigation of the Criminal Law, which should embrace, among others, the offence of letter-stealing, lately excepted from another Bill, which had just passed their Lordships' House. He hoped that such measure for removing the punishment of death, when brought forward, would be of a very comprehensive description.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that it would be advisable that some general and systematic measure upon this subject should be introduced; because, when a Bill of this kind originated with one person, however good the intention, it was likely to differ from the measure introduced by some other person of similar good intention; and, moreover, such alterations of the law sometimes went so far, that they were driven to alter another part of the law which, originally, they did not mean to alter. It was for this reason that he approved of the Bill lately before their Lordships being restricted to repealing the capital punishment for returning from transportation; the change it effected was a limited one, for the sentence would not be found to have been carried into effect on referring back for the last fifty-two years, and perhaps not within the memory of man. A general and systematic report would be prepared by the Criminal Law Commissioners appointed last year; and; said the noble and learned Lord, "I pledge myself, that as soon as this Report shall have been duly considered,—I pledge myself—to bring in a general measure, without waiting for the other House of Parliament, and at such a period of the next Session as will leave your Lordships plenty of time for its due consideration." Such a measure would proceed with a much better grace from their Lordships, who formed the highest branch of judicature in the empire, than from any other branch of the Legislature; and with the understanding, therefore, that the measure which he promised should embrace the whole subject of Criminal Law, perhaps the noble Lord would consent to postpone his Motion. If in the recent measures for mitigating the severity of the law, it should be proved, that the Legislature had erred in going too far(not that he had reason to suppose the fact would turn out so), he would not pledge himself to confirm such changes.

Lord Wynford

was indebted to the noble Lord on the Woolsack for what had just been stated by him, and affirmed, that in a few years he doubted not to see such a system of secondary punishments in force as would render the punishment of death an occurrence of great rarity.

Lord Suffield

was glad to hear the declaration of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as to his intention to introduce a general measure for the mitigation of the Criminal Law; but, in reply to his last observation, he (Lord Suffield) thought there was no danger of its turning out that the Legislature had committed an error in already having proceeded too fast, or too far, for, on investigation of the official criminal returns for the last three years, as compared with a preceding period of three years, it would be found that so far from danger having arisen by mitigating the punishment of death, it had had the salutary effect of repressing the commission of crime; for it was proved, and it was a most important fact, that in these cases of mitigated punishment, the aggregate commitments for offences had increased only two per cent over the former three years, while the crimes still punished with death had increased to the enormous extent of forty-four per cent in the same period, notwithstanding the executions.

The Bill was withdrawn.