HL Deb 11 July 1837 vol 38 cc1859-61

Lord Denman moved the Order of the Day for the House resolving itself into Committee on the Punishment of Death Bill. In Committee, he should be prepared to meet any proposition that might be made for continuing the extreme severity of the law. It could not be said, that the abolition of capital punishment for offences to which this Bill had reference would remove that protection to property which was necessary, for complete provision in that respect was made in the bills relating to the criminal laws, which were discussed by their Lordships yesterday, and he felt satisfied, that by diminishing the extent of punishment, juries would be ready to convict offenders, who at present, owing to the severity of punishment, but too frequently escaped.

Lord Wynford

complained of the late period at which these Bills had been brought up from the other House of Parliament. This Bill had been two months under the consideration of the Commons, who expected their Lordships to consider and discuss it in two days. It scarcely contained two clauses to which he could give his assent. It was full of most mischievous matter, and its provisions were directed both against the security to property and the security of the State. In the first place, he objected to the clause which repealed the Irish Act 31 George 3rd, ch. 18, which punished with death those who should rescue a murderer out of custody, and he begged to ask noble Lords who came from Ireland, whether the state of that country, at present, was such as at all to warrant this legislation? Again, he objected to the abolition, as this Bill proposed, of the capital punishment for the offence of setting fire to her Majesty's ships or dock-yards. That was an offence involving the security of the State, and it was false humanity to abolish capital punishment for such a high crime. He objected, also, to the repeal of the statute 37 George 3rd, which made it capital to attempt to seduce persons serving in her Majesty's forces by sea or land, to the repeal of the 2 George 3rd, ch. 103, which made it capital to administer unlawful oaths, by which it was sought to bind a party to commit treason or murder; and also to the repeal of the 5 George 4th, ch. 115, which consolidated the laws relating to slavery, and made it a capital offence to carry away any person as a slave; and, lastly, he objected to the proposed repeal of the 8 George 4th, which made a conspiracy to murder (a crime but too common now in Ireland) a capital offence. On these grounds, he should move, as an amendment, that the Bill be committed that day three months.

The Earl of Devon

supported the original motion, and denied, that the effect of the Bill would be to take away from property the necessary protection which ought to be afforded by law. With regard to the objection as to the late period of the Session at which the Bill had been brought up, he begged to remark, that the subject had for two years engaged the attention of those likely to give it a sound consideration, and the result of that consideration was in favour of such a measure as the present. The existing severity of punishment prevented prosecutions being instituted with success; it was difficult in consequence to find witnesses to give evidence, or juries to convict, and thus the guilty frequently escaped. He was of opinion, that a mitigated but certain punishment was most calculated to afford additional protection to property, and under those circumstances, he felt himself bound to give his support to this Bill.

Amendment negatived.

The Bill passed through Committee, and the House resumed.