HL Deb 15 July 1842 vol 65 cc166-71
The Lord Chancellor,

rising to move the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Bill for the better Security and Protection of her Majesty's Person, said, he need hardly remind their Lordships that this bill had been sent up to them by the unanimous vote of the House of Commons; and when brought, up here yesterday, it had been met by their Lord- ships in the same feelings, which he was sure were also those of the whole country. All were united in an anxious wish to give more effective security to her Majesty's person. Unfortunately, experience had shewn that such a bill as this had become necessary; and it was therefore the duty of her Majesty's Ministers to submit it for the consideration of Parliament. The bill had two objects: the first was, To extend the provisions of the act of 39th and 40th of Geo. 3rd, which was 'An Act to regulate Trials for High Treason and Misprision of Treason in certain cases,' to all cases of high treason, in compassing or imagining the death or destruction of the Queen, or in compassing or imagining any bodily harm tending to the death or destruction, maiming or wounding of the Queen, and of misprision of such treason, when the overt act or overt acts of such treason alleged in the indictment shall be any attempt to injure in any manner whatsoever the person of the Queen. Their Lordships were aware that by the ancient statute, the 25th of Edward 3rd, compassing the death of the Sovereign was made high treason; but such compassing must be accompanied by some overt act, such as a direct attempt on the life of the Sovereign. That continued to be the law until the 36th of George 3rd, when any attempt to maim or wound the Sovereign or do him bodily harm was declared to be high treason. Their Lordships were aware that in the reign of William 3rd, an act passed for regulating trials for high treason. This act, which had become necessary in consequence of the arbitrary proceedings of the two previous reigns, enacted certain forms which were to be observed on trials for high treason such as, giving to the accused lists of jurors and witnesses and copies of the indictment so many daye previously to the trial. Experience had shown the wisdom of those enactments, and everybody felt that they were a necessary protection against the power of the Crown. There were however certain cases in which the treason consisted of an attack on the person of the Sovereign, in which it was equally felt they ought not to apply; and soon after the attack on his late Majesty George 3rd by Hatfield, an act was passed taking away the necessity for all those forms in cases where the offence charged consisted in compassing the death of the King by attempting to wound him, or to do him some bodily harm. One object, as he had observed, of the present bill was, to extend the provisions of the 36th of George 3rd, not only to cases of compassing the death of the Queen by attempting her life, but also to cases where the attempt was only to wound or do some bodily harm. But there were, as their Lordships knew, and as recent circumstances had shown, cases which did not amount to high treason, but against which it had become necessary to protect her Majesty's person; and it was an object of this bill to provide against such attempts remedies similar to those which would be resorted to in cases of attack on the person of a subject. Their Lordships did not require to be told that the security of the person of the Sovereign was of much more importance than that of any other person in the country, and the more so on account of being more exposed as a female Sovereign, and that attacks in her case might lead to consequences the most disastrous, which it was not necessary for him to detail; but, notwithstanding these risks, her Majesty, as the law now stood, was not more protected than any one of her subjects. The bill now before their Lordships had for its object to provide for cases of attack—not alone of violence not tending to the death, or maiming, or wounding of her Majesty, but also to cases by which she might be frightened or alarmed by the wilful acts of any person or persons:—thus it enacted, That if any person shall wilfully discharge or attempt to discharge, or point, aim, or present at or near to the person of the Queen, any gun, pistol, or any other description of fire-arms, or of other arras whatsoever, although the same shall not contain any explosive or destructive material, or shall discharge or cause to be discharged any explosive substance or material near to the person of the Queen; or if any person shall wilfully strike or strike at, or attempt to strike or' to strike at, the person of the Queen, with any offensive weapon, or in any other manner whatsoever; or if any person shall wilfully throw or attempt to throw any substance, matter, or thing whatsoever, at or upon the person of the Queen, with intent in any of the cases aforesaid to injure the person of the Queen, or with intent in any of the cases aforesaid to break the public peace, or with intent in any of the cases aforesaid to create alarm to her Majesty; every such person so offending shall be guilty of a high misdemeanour, and., being convicted thereof in due course of law, shall be liable, at the discretion of the court before which the said person shall be so convicted, to be transported beyond the seas for any period not exceeding seven years, or to be imprisoned with or without hard labour for any period not exceeding three years, and during the period of such imprisonment to be publicly or privately whipped, as often and in such manner and form as the said court shall order and direct, not exceeding thrice, Having thus stated the objects of the bill, he did not feel that he need say any more, for he was sure that the loyalty and zeal of their Lordships would anticipate him in everything he could urge further; and, satisfied that their Lordships would give their sincere and cordial concurrence, he would now move that the bill be read a second time.

Viscount Melbourne

said, that after the statement of the noble and learned Lord, which, though short, was amply sufficient to show the grounds for this bill; and knowing what was felt by their Lordships, by the other House, and by the whole country, it was almost superfluous for him to say that he gave his hearty concurrence to the measure. It was impossible to apprehend that there could be in any quarter a difference of opinion on the subject. The life of the Sovereign was unquestionably the most precious, the most valuable life in the community. It was the life which was of most consequence to all, and the sudden interruption of which must produce the greatest calamities and disasters. It was, he was afraid, not only the most valuable, but the most exposed to danger. It was exposed in the natural course of human events to dangers; and, unfortunately, recent experience had proved that it was to dangers from other causes which seem unintelligible, and incomprehensible, but which they knew to exist. Under such circumstances, it was the duty of Parliament to cat round that life every protection which could be given, without reference to the particular circumstances of the cases, as to the age or sex of the present Sovereign. The protection which this bill would give, was due to any Sovereign, and he entirely concurred in the motion of the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Cottenham

did not rise to offer any objection to the bill, but he was anxious to guard as far as possible against its being inferred that certain acts which were overt acts of high treason were not to be punished with any greater severity than those other acts mentioned in the second clause, and which not being overt acts of treason were to be punished only as high misdemeanours. The public should know that this bill did not take away any protection which the law had heretofore thrown around the person of the Sovereign, but that, on the contrary, it was adding to it by punishing with due severity persons guilty of minor offences against the Sovereign's Person. He would have it clearly understood that this bill did not alter the law of high treason.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that it was not the object or intention of the bill to alter the law of high treason. It would leave that law just as it was, but it would decree a more severe punishment against the minor offence.

Lord Brougham

fully concurred in the object of the bill and in the remarks of those noble Friends who had preceded him — subject to an observation on one remark that had fallen from his noble and learned Friend (Lord Cottenham). He was not friendly to general alterations of the law to meet particular emergencies, because in such alterations the principle of the law was apt to be lost sight of. He was also opposed to alterations which made criminal laws more severe; but he did not see that either of those objections could be fairly urged to this bill. It did not make the law more severe, nor did it in any way abridge the rights and liberties of the subject, nor did he see that it tended to introduce unsound principles of legislation. They found that certain acts were done which, as had been truly observed by his noble Friend, the noble Viscount (Viscount Melbourne) near him, it was difficult, if not impossible, to account for, and which partook in some degree of a mysterious character—they saw that such acts were calculated to alarm the Sovereign, and, through her, all the subjects of the realm; and they were fully justified in taking such measures as would be most likely to prevent a repetition of such acts. He agreed with his noble and learned Friend, that it could not be too clearly understood that it was not an object of the bill to alter the law relating to high treason, or misprision of treason, and to prevent any doubt on the subject, he would suggest a proviso to the effect that nothing in the act should extend or be construed to extend to any alteration of any of the provisions made by law relating to high treason or misprision of treason. He cordially joined with noble Lords on both sides of the House in the strong interest they felt, not only in the life, but in the safety, comfort, and personal ease of the Sovereign. If their Lordships would look to the other side of the Channel, they would see, in the severe and melancholy calamity which had just befallen their neighbours (the sudden death of the Duke of Orleans) an illustration of the sympathy felt by a whole people in the sufferings of their Sovereign— sufferings in which, he would venture to say, every human being in these kingdoms would sincerely sympathize, as well with the people as with the Royal family of France.

Bill read a second time.

On the motion of the Duke of Wellington, the Standing Orders were suspended and the bill committed.

In committee, Lord Brougham's suggestion was engrafted in the bill.

Lord Campbell

proposed a clause the object of which was to make the possession of any gun, pistol, or explosive or other weapon, near the person of the Sovereign, with intent to use them to cause her hurt, fright, or alarm, a high misdemeanour, even though such gun, pistol, &c, should not be produced.

The Lord Chancellor

said, the amendment was quite within the scope of the bill, and he would not object to it.

Amendment adopted.

The bill passed through committee, was reported with amendments, and read a third time.

On the question that the bill do pass,

The Duke of Wellington

said, he could not but congratulate their Lordships on the unanimity with which they had brought this bill to the present, its last stage,—an unanimity which he was convinced would give the greatest satisfaction not only in the highest quarter, but throughout the whole of Great Britain. He could not avoid expressing in this place his entire concurrence in the few words that had fallen from his noble Friend opposite (Lord Brougham) on the subject of a most lamentable event that had occurred in another country. He was convinced that all their Lordships would concur with him in expressing deep concern and grief at that fatal occurrence.

Bill passed.

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