HL Deb 28 August 1835 vol 30 cc1066-70
Lord Denman

wished to refer to three Bills which had been brought up from the Commons some time since. The first of these had for its object the giving of persons indicted for felony the power of making a full defence to the jury by counsel. He had not had an opportunity of stating what he thought of the Bill, when it was referred to the Committee, who had given it their utmost attention. The evidence upon the Bill had not yet been printed, or else had only just been printed, but not delivered. It was, therefore, quite impossible that the Bill could be proceeded with during the present session. It would be more correct, however, to fix a day for the second reading, and it was his intention to move that it should be read a second time that day six months. In the meantime the attention of their Lordships might be beneficially directed to the Bill, as all of them would then become acquainted with the nature of its provisions, and with the evidence for and against it. The Bill contained some provisions to which on no account could he agree. One of them for example was, that a prisoner might require a particular gentleman at the bar to be his counsel, and undertake his defence, and that such gentleman could be compelled by the Court to undertake that office. Such a provision would be most unjust to gentlemen who had entered an expensive profession and depended upon their professional income. The second Bill was for making offences against the person punishable more severely than at present. It was quite clear that that Bill could not pass while the fate of the other was suspended. Besides, there were strong differences of opinion as to the propriety of any new enactment at all. When, therefore, that Bill again came before the House, he should, as in a former instance, move that the consideration of the next stage, be postponed till that day six months. The third Bill to which he alluded was one to take away the capital punishment from the offences of stealing letters, and of sacrilege. To that Bill he believed that no reasonable objection could be made, and he should therefore fix the second reading for Saturday. With respect to the Bill to take away the capital punishment from the offence of sacrilege, he had been asked by a noble Viscount (Melville) whether the Bill was to extend to Scotland; and he had also been asked whether it was to extend to Ireland. He had submitted the matter to the consideration of the Lord Advocate of Scotland, and to the Attorney-General for Ireland, and the Lord Advocate had informed him that the state of the law in Scotland did not require that the proposed act should be extended to it, but the Attorney-General for Ireland thought, most decidedly, that the introduction of such a law into that country would be highly beneficial there. He gave notice, there- fore, that he should propose a clause extending the Bill to Ireland.

Lord Brougham

entirely agreed with what had fallen from his noble and learned Friend. With respect to the Prisoners' Counsel Bill he understood that it had been fully discussed, and evidence taken on it before the Committee, but that the subject had been found to be full of difficulties, not only as to the probable working of the Bill in England, but as to the operation of a law of the same kind in Scotland, where it had long existed. He had introduced the Bill, and had, therefore, a strong feeling in favour of the measure, but he must admit that the weight of evidence against it had pressed strongly on his mind. He had never thought the subject perfectly clear, but he thought so now less than ever. Several witnesses of great professional experience at the Old Bailey had been examined, and their testimony was generally against the Bill. Mr. Phillips, for instance, had given strong evidence against it, than whom a man more in favour of the liberty of the subject was not to be found; so that his evidence against the Bill went far. Then there was his noble Friend, the noble Earl behind him (Earl Radnor), a recorder and a magistrate, whose love of liberal principles were too well known to be doubted. There were, however, other gentlemen whose evidence was of importance upon the other side of the question. It was right that their Lordships should be fully acquainted with this conflicting testimony, and under these circumstances he felt that he should not be discharging his duty if he pressed the measure through this session.

The Earl of Harrowby

wished to make one observation on a remark which had fallen from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, with respect to the Bill to take away the capital punishment from the offences of stealing letters and of sacrilege. His observations would not be directed against the Bill, for as he felt at present he was inclined to support it; but what he meant to observe upon was, the remark as to extending the Bill to Ireland. He wished to ask what means any of their Lordships could have of forming a judgment upon that part of the proposition? The Bill had come up to their Lordships without the word, "Ireland." When they went to extend it to Ireland they must go on the statement that in the opinion of the Law-Officers of the Crown in that country, the Bill should be extended to Ireland. A more striking instance of the inconvenience of bringing up Bills at this period of the year could not be given. Whether they were or were not to include seven millions of people within the operations of the Bill, was to depend solely on the privately expressed opinion of the Attorney-General for Ireland. That opinion had never been stated in the House of Commons, and had never been heard of till now, and yet on that dictum of the learned Gentleman their Lordships were now called on to legislate. He mentioned the matter that their Lordships might see to what a state they were reduced by this practice increasing from year to year of bringing up. Bills from the other House at the end of the session. He thought that the practice should be put an end to.

Lord Denman

said that the noble Earl was mistaken in supposing that this Bill had only just been brought up, at the end of the session to their Lordships' House. The Bill had been upon their Lordships' Table during the last two or three months. He should have brought it under their notice earlier, but he expected that it would have been done by a noble Viscount, who usually took charge of Bills of this description. It had, however, escaped the noble Viscount's attention, and he took this, the earliest opportunity, of noticing the subject. With regard to what he had said as to the opinion of the Attorney-General of Ireland, he begged to observe that he had not taken that learned Gentleman's opinion as to whether it was proper that the Bill should pass. He had thought the principle of the Bill right, and believing that what was a right principle of legislation for England would be so for Ireland, he had merely asked the hon. and learned Gentleman whether the state of the law in Ireland was such that the introduction of a measure of this kind was required in that country. He had taken that opinion as he did not pretend to be conversant with the whole law and practice of the courts in Ireland. He had not stated the hon. and learned Gentleman's opinion as an authority in favour of the Bill itself, and he did not think that he had laid himself open to censure, as he should have done had he done more than consult the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the state of the law in that country.

Lord Clancurry

said, that the Irish people would have great reason to complain if a Bill found to be good for England was not extended to Ireland. They ought to legislate for both countries alike; and the Irish had reason to complain when Ireland was made an exception to that rule at the time that a beneficial measure was passed for this country. A late decision of their Lordships had shown that the true interests of Ireland were not much attended to. Nothing had shocked him so much as their late rejection of the Irish Constabulary Bill. The mode in which the constabulary force was managed, had converted into a partisan force that body on which the peace of the country depended. The rejection of the Bill had been the mere act of a party in that House, with the view to injure the present Ministry; for a measure of the kind had been recommended by every Government that had existed in Ireland for some years past.

The Earl of Limerick

said, that, among the extraordinary things which all of them had lately heard, the most extraordinary was that which the noble Lord had just stated—namely, that the Constabulary Bill had been made an engine for party purposes. He denied the statement altogether. In the debate upon the Bill, every one had agreed on the efficiency of the force, and on its having done effective service in Ireland, where its exertions to preserve the peace of the country were fully relied on.

The Duke of Wellington

wished to say one word on the subject. The noble Baron opposite had stated that the question decided on a preceding night had been decided on party motives. This imputation of motives was quite out of order. The noble Lord should have abstained from it; and he positively declared (laying his hand on his breast), that he for one had not given his vote upon any such ground.

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