HL Deb 02 June 1851 vol 117 cc332-4

said, he felt obliged for the very courteous manner in which his noble and learned Friend had expressed his readiness to direct his attention, to the subject which he (Lord Lyndhurst) had felt it his duty to bring under his notice. He had felt it necessary to make the remarks he had addressed to their Lordships before the Bill was introduced, in preference to waiting for the returns for which he had moved, on account of the short interval which was likely to elapse before the introduction of the new measure. He had now to put a question to his noble and learned Friend on a very important subject—he meant with reference to the Criminal Law. Their Lordships were aware that in 1838 a Commission had been appointed to frame a Digest, or Criminal Code. Those Commissioners had performed their duty with great zeal, industry, and ability. Many thousand pounds had been expended under that Commission. A Digest was prepared by them, and a Bill was brought in, which was read a second time in their Lordships' House, and afterwards referred to a Select Committee. The question he wished now to ask his noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) was, whether or not it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to pass over altogether the labours of that Commission, and, if not, to what extent it was meant to adopt or to abandon them? He (Lord Lyndhurst) was anxious to know what the intentions of Her Majesty's Government were on that important subject, because, until their Lordships knew whether the Report of the Commissioners was to be acted on or altogether disregarded, it was impossible to expect any general measure to be introduced, having for its tendency the consolidation into one simple, uniform, and consistent code, the present complicated criminal statutes of this country. That was his object in putting the question; otherwise they might go on, from Session to Session, in a line of patchwork legislation, on this important question. He had mentioned the subject a few days ago privately to his noble and learned Friend, who would, therefore, probably be prepared now to give an answer to this question.


said, a few days ago his noble and learned Friend did incidentally mention this subject to him in the way of ordinary conversation, but not in a manner to make any particular impression on his (the Lord Chancellor's) mind, or to induce his noble and learned Friend to expect that be (the Lord Chancellor) would make any inquiries of his Colleagues on the subject. He thought that it was mentioned merely in the way of gossip, and not with a view of bringing it under public consideration. The question had been asked on a former occasion, by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham), and it was then stated that it was not the intention of the Government to advance any more money with a view to enable the Commissioners to prosecute their inquiries. He had not heard anything on the subject; he had no reason to think that it was the intention of the Government to renew the Commission, though their Lordships would not understand him as giving an authorised answer to the question.


commented on the remark of the Lord Chancellor, that his noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst) had put this question to him in private conversation. But his noble and learned Friend would perhaps recollect that before Easter he had himself put a nearly similar question to him. [The LORD CHANCELLOR: And you were answered.] No, he was not answered. His noble and learned Friend said that he would inform himself upon the subject, and then give him a decisive answer, but he had not yet done so. He would remind his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack of what had occurred on this subject in the course of last Session. He had himself addressed a letter to the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he was informed, in reply, that he (the Chancellor) did not intend to renew the Commission. He had received that information with surprise and regret, for both the late Lord Chancellor Cottenham, whose name he could never mention here without the deepest sorrow, and his noble and learned Friend Lord Lyndhurst, bad agreed that there was but one way of making the valuable labours of the Commissioners available, and that was by referring the digests which they had prepared to another Commission. He had then said, that a Bill for the consolidation of the Criminal Law could never be carried through the stages either of a Committee of that House, or of a Select Committee in that House, except by having it previously referred again to another Commission, or to the old Commission increased by fresh minds. Such being the case, the Commission was reconstituted, and reported the Bill, as they believed, in a perfect form. He must again express his surprise and disappointment at the answer which he had received from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declaring that he would not renew the Commission. By his refusal, the country would derive no practical benefit from the labours of the Commissioners.