HL Deb 09 August 1854 vol 135 cc1480-3

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


moved the second reading of the Bill. The noble Earl said, that notwithstanding the statement of the noble Duke, that everything that could be done by the Government, under the existing law, had been done to prevent British subjects from dealing in the securities to which allusion had been made, he could not but think that, in the present state of affairs, this measure was necessary. It should be understood that the Bill did not at all extend the severity of the common law or the pains and penalties of high treason beyond their present limits, but simply imposed the penalty of a misdemeanor on all British subjects, at home or abroad, who might knowingly or wilfully trade in Russian securities during the continuance of the war. There had been three principal objections, somewhat contradictory of each other brought against the measure—first, that it would be inoperative, inasmuch as it would be easily evaded; secondly, that it was unnecessary, inasmuch as no British subject would embark in such dealings; thirdly, that it would be a vexatious infringement of the freedom of the subject in commercial and monetary affairs. To these he would reply—first, that though hardly any Act could be so framed that the perverse ingenuity of some rogue might not evade it, this Bill at least made the law clear, and inflicted a penalty which could be easily enforced; secondly, that, though the higher class of our money dealers might scorn the dirty work, it was not clear that the gains of 2 or 3 per cent might not induce less reputable persons to take an interest in a loan of this description if they could do so with impunity; and thirdly, that there was no just ground for representing as oppressive to any one a simple measure of public security, taken at a moment when we were engaged in a contest of the most formidable character, to prevent the resources of our own country from being applied to the service of our enemy in carrying on that contest. Another objection which had been made was, that the measure was not introduced or taken up, in the first instance, by Her Majesty's Government. The noble Duke had stated the reasons why the Government had not introduced some such Bill. But, although the Bill was brought forward by an independent Member, it was generally approved of by the responsible Ministers of the Crown in the other House; and having been submitted to the law officers of the Crown, who made such alterations as they thought would confine its operation strictly to the objects which it was intended to effect, it had been sanctioned by very large majorities of that House. He wished it had been intrusted here to some one better qualified than himself to do justice to its importance, but, having been requested to move it by those most interested in its success, he had felt it his duty to do so, and he hoped that their Lordships would give it their support.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


said, he did not rise to oppose the Bill, on the contrary he approved of it; and, he must say, he had never heard the object of any Bill more lucidly explained than had been done in the present case by his noble Friend. He could not help observing that the support given to the measure by the noble Duke (the Duke of Newcastle) on the part of the Government seemed to him but of a tepid, if not of a cold, description. He apprehended that by the common law of England any contract made between an English subject and an alien enemy during time of war was illegal, and, under certain circumstances, might amount to high treason. He did not, however, think that the common law by itself, and without the assistance of a statutable enactment, was sufficient to secure the attainment of the object now in view; because, by the law as it stood now, there was no power by which it could be enforced, and therefore, under certain circumstances, an English subject might deal in the scrip of a Russian loan with impunity. If, therefore, they passed the Bill as it at present stood, it would be almost entirely nugatory. He apprehended that one of the great objects sought by the measure was to prevent the negotiation of scrip by subjects of the realm of England in foreign parts; but as it stood at present it failed entirely in accomplishing that intention. He suggested, therefore, that that defect should be remedied by the insertion of a clause to the effect that any offence committed against the Act beyond the limits of the United Kingdom might be inquired into, dealt with, and punished in the same manner as if it had been committed in the county of Middlesex. Such a clause would be effective against the operations of British subjects in scrip of this description in Germany, France, or any part of the world; but, inasmuch as by the common law of the land indictable offences could only be dealt with through the medium of a grand jury, which could have no cognisance of an offence committed in a foreign country, with certain exceptions, under particular Acts, in the cases of felony, such a provision was absolutely necessary to render the Bill in any degree useful. He trusted, therefore, such a provision would be added in Committee, and he should be happy to give his assistance in drawing it up.


said, no doubt his noble Friend who had charge of the Bill would be most happy to avail him self of the assistance of the noble and learned Lord in preparing such a clause, which, however, might be more conveniently added on the third reading.


said, he felt fully the value of the suggestion urged by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Campbell), but he feared, considering the near approach of the prorogation of Parliament, that any alteration of the Bill would be fatal to its passing during the present Session.


did not wish to throw the slightest obstacle in the way of the Bill passing; but he assured the House if it was adopted in its present state it would not be of the slightest value, and he therefore hoped that such a clause as he had suggested might be added, notwithstanding the late period of the Session.


said, he thought his noble and learned Friend had amply justified him for the "tepid" support which it was said he had given to the measure; for he (Lord Campbell) had clearly proved that if it was passed in its present form, it would be utterly and entirely useless. He (the Duke of Newcastle) was not willing to pass a measure which, in the opinion of so eminent a Judge, would be a dead letter, but would rather allow it to drop if it was to remain liable to such condemnation. What he should propose was, that they should now pass the second reading, negative the Committee, and fix the third reading for the following day; they could then add the clause suggested by his noble and learned Friend, to which there would still be time to obtain the assent of the House of Commons.

Bill read 2a; Committee negatived; and Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.

House adjourned till To-morrow.