HL Deb 14 March 1851 vol 114 cc1310-2

, in moving the Second Reading of the Prevention of Offences Bill, called the attention of their Lordships to the many cases of burglary, accompanied with acts of violence, which had taken place in various parts of the country. There was a class of delinquents who were in the habit of breaking into dwelling-houses during the night, especially into those situated in lonely places, using all kinds of violence to effect their purpose, and plundering them of money, plate, and such other articles as it was found most convenient to carry away. Some of the band engaged in such outrages were then sent to dispose of the plate and other articles stolen, and on a subsequent day they met and divided the proceeds of the booty. These persons, he might also observe, had hiding-places, where they thought they were secure in setting the law at defiance. Now, it was indispensably necessary for the security of Her Majesty's subjects, that some measures should be taken to prevent the occurrence of such outrages. Prevention was better than cure. As the law now stood, if a man was taken up with picklocks, centre-pieces, crowbars, and other instruments of housebreaking, he could not be punished; he enjoyed as great an immunity as an honest mechanic who was going to his work, and carried about him the instruments of his vocation. He proposed to enact that in cases where such articles were found on a suspicious person, and where there was reasonable ground to believe that they were intended to be used for purposes of housebreaking, such person should be liable to be punished, and, on a second conviction, to be transported beyond seas. He believed that such an enactment would have a most material effect in preventing this class of offences. The most material clause in the Bill, however, related to the use of chloroform, and other stupifying drugs, for the purposes of robbery. A most respectable physician had done him (Lord Campbell) the honour to write him a letter, in which he stated that the fear arising from the use of chloroform in this way, was altogether imaginary—that no strong man who made resistance could possibly be chloroformed. He believed that was true; but in the case of those who were not strong, and unable to resist, it might happen that chloroform would be employed most effectively for facilitating robbery. The gentleman to whose letter he had referred, stated that a person thus attacked might refuse to breathe; and that he might turn away his head. But, suppose a wet handkerchief was put to his nostrils, and held there, the man must breathe, and thus inhale the particular gas that came from the chloroform. It stood, indeed, on record, that, since the discovery of chloroform, persons had been convicted before the competent courts of using that article for the purpose of robbery. He hoped, therefore, their Lordships would be of opinion that those who made such an attempt should not be guilty of a misdemeanour only, as was at present the case; but that any person who tried to commit a robbery by means of chloroform, or such like substances, though he did not succeed, should, if convicted, be held guilty of felony, and liable to be transported beyond seas. The noble and learned Lord then moved that the Bill be read a second time.

Bill read 2a, and referred to the Select Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice Improvement Bill.