THE LORD CHANCELLOR,
in moving that the Accessories and Abettors Bill be read a second time said, he should now proceed, according to his promise, to explain to their Lordships the alterations which had been made by the Commons in this and the other Bills for the Consolidation of the Criminal Law; for although these Bills had been brought up to their Lordships from the other House, they might be said to have in fact originated in their Lordships' House; because, as their Lordships were aware, after much time had been spent in deliberation as to the best mode of consolidating the criminal law, certain well-considered Bills were brought to their Lordships' House in the course of last Session, where they received 1780 a large share of attention and careful deliberation, and were sent down to the other House; but from the late period of the Session at which they arrived there it was found impossible to proceed with them last year. They, therefore, stood over to the present Session, when they were, in the exact form in which they left their Lordships' House, re-introduced to the House of Commons. They were there referred to a Select Committee, where they were carefully and deliberately considered, and certain alterations were made in them; so that, in point of fact, these Bills might be considered to have come back to the House in which they originated with the Amendments of the House of Commons. The most important of these Bills was that which related to Offences against the Person, and with regard to that Bill he thought the most material alterations were those which related to the punishments to be inflicted. Great mitigations had been made in the punishments attached to various offences as they stood in the Bill when it left their Lordships' House. The first section of the Bill as it left their Lordships had been struck out in the Commons, but its substance was re-introduced into the 9th Section, so that, in point of fact, no alteration was thereby made in the Bill. The first material alteration made in the Bill was in the punishment of the offence for conspiracy to murder. In Ireland conspiracy to murder had long been punishable by law as a capital offence. By the Bill as it left this House it was also declared to be felony; but in the House of Commons, by the 4th Section of the Bill now on their Lordships' table, the offence of conspiring or soliciting to commit murder, whether within or without the Queen's dominions, was made a misdemeanour, punishable with penal servitude for a period not exceeding ten nor less than three years; or by imprisonment for a term of one year, with or without hard-labour. There were also considerable alterations in the punishments awarded to attempts to commit murder by administering poison or causing grievous bodily harm, which were made punishable by penal servitude for life or imprisonment for a period of not less than two years, with or without solitary confinement. Here there was, no doubt, a great latitude allowed to the discretion of the Judges. There were other alterations in the punishments of minor consequence, but which he might state were generally on the side of 1781 mitigation. Passing from offences against the person to offences against property, he came to the Larceny Bill, the most important alterations in which related to the punishment to be inflicted after repeated conviction, the power to award the restitution of stolen property even where the jury did not convict, which was struck out by the House of Commons, and also the power for persons other than the police to apprehend persons suspected of being in possession of stolen property, which also the Commons had struck out; while a provision had been inserted that where a person was indicted for a subsequent offence he should not be arraigned on the former conviction till he had been found guilty of the subsequent offence. In the very important Bill dealing with malicious injuries to property and their punishment, that had been altered in some respects in the way of mitigation; and penal servitude for life j had been reduced to penal servitude for eight years. In other respects the alterations made in the Bill were not important, and rather affected the words than the meaning. Very slight changes had been made in the Bill relating to forgery, and no material alterations in the Accessories and Abettors Bill. In the general Bill for the repeal of the antecedent law, where it was at variance with the present enactment, no alteration whatever had been made beyond bringing the repeal down to the present time. It might, therefore, be said that, with the exception of the two changes to which he had specially called attention, none of the Amendments introduced by the Commons were of an important character. He trusted their Lordships would, therefore, not object to read the Bills a second time. The noble and learned Lord then formally moved that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
expressed his gratification that these Bills were likely now to become the law of the land. Those who sat upon the Select Committee to which these Bills were referred would know that very great care and attention had been bestowed upon them, and he agreed with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that they had not undergone material alteration in the House of Commons. Since the 99-100th of the provisions they contained had been agreed to by the other House, he hoped their Lordships would deem it in accordance with practical wisdom not to raise any objection to the few Amendments that had 1782 been made. With regard to the increase of punishment for certain offences and the diminution in other cases, he trusted their Lordships would not raise much discussion. Whether conspiracy to murder should be called a felony or a misdemeanour appeared to be of little importance if there was power to award a punishment of ten years' penal servitude for the offence.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, that none of the provisions of the Bills applied to Scotland. The proviso that nothing in these Acts contained should apply to Scotland except when expressly provided was inserted in order to prevent doubt.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
thought there was good reason to complain of these Bills being brought forward at so late a period of the Session. The first of these Bills came up to the Lords on the 18th of June, the last of them—that relating to offences against the person—on the 15th of July; yet here they were, on the 30th of July, on the second reading. Considering the punishment provided for the offence of conspiracy to murder he thought it of little consequence whether it was designated a felony or a misdemeanour, though he should prefer characterizing it as a felony. The power to apprehend persons who were suspected to be in possession of stolen property had been expunged by the Commons, and this was a serious alteration. Most of the alterations were so trifling that they might be accepted as matters of course; but there wore others of a somewhat important character, to which it was impossible at that period of the Session to give duo consideration. As it was the House had no alternative but to pass the Bills as they had come up to them.
§ LORD WENSLEYDALE
said, the consolidation of the law was undertaken six years ago, and the understanding was that no alteration should be made in that law, the consolidation consisting of the classification of existing offences.
§ LORD REDESDALE
thought there was a great deal of inconvenience in taking it for granted that Bills were all right which next year they might be called upon to amend. There were some of these Bills in which there was. no material alteration from the form in which they were agreed to by their Lordships last year, 1783 but there were others which did not come within that category, and he thought it better that they should be deferred to a future Session. He objected to the provision contained in the Bill which deprived the police of power to arrest persons who were in possession of goods supposed to be stolen.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
explained that the power of the police in this respect stood exactly as it did before this Bill was introduced. All that had been done in the House of Commons was to strike out a provision introduced by their Lordships conferring a similar power upon persons not police officers. He regretted that these Bills had not come up to this House earlier in the Session, but the delay had been entirely unavoidable.
§ LORD WENSLEYDALE
said, that the alterations in the punishments carried the Bills beyond the recommendations of the Committee, who proposed that the actual law should be consolidated.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
expressed his satisfaction at hearing the noble and learned Lord opposite say that he should have been willing to make conspiracy for murder a felony.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Accessories and Abettors Bill; Criminal Statutes Repeal Bill; Larceny, &c. Bill; Malicious Injuries to Property Bill; Forgery Bill; Coinage Offences Bill; Offences against the Person Bill; were severally read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.