§ House in Committee, on re-commitment (according to order).
§ * LORD BRAMWELL
My Lords, I desire to call the attention of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill to a matter which I mentioned in Committee, but too late for practical consideration. The clause is applicable to persons found guilty of offences referred to in sections mentioned in the Schedule. One of these mentions the burglary committed by a person who, being in a house, commits a felony, and then breaks out. This offence would be committed by a man who went into a lodging house, paid for his bed, but, tempted by his neighbour's coat, stole it, and opened the door and walked away before six a.m.; and if there was a pistol in the pocket of the stolen coat he would be liable to be flogged. I was too late in Committee, and I now ask your Lordships to allow me to mention this (I say it most sincerely) for the sake of the Bill, because I think this will jeopardize it. With regard to persons breaking out of a house, thereby committing burglary, and being subject to punishment, I suppose there must have been some reason which made the law call this breaking out a burglary. I may tell your Lordships that the class of case which I have almost exclusively met with coming within that description is that of a tramp who has gone into a common lodging-house. Being tempted by his neighbour's coat or some other property which he can carry away, he has opened a door and walked out before six o'clock in the morning. Well, that would be a burglary; it is a breaking out after having committed a felony in the house; and as the matter now stands a man who is convicted of such a burglarious act, if there happened to be in his possession a pistol, it might be, in the pocket of the coat he had stolen, would 774 be subject to a conviction for having committed a burglary, having firearms in his possession, and would be subject to be flogged. When I stated that objection in Committee it was overruled for the reason I have given; but I would ask now whether that is intended? It is said that it is not conceivable that any Judge would, under those circumstances, order a flogging. Any Judge in his senses, I should say, would decline to do so under such circumstances. Then why give him the power? That seems to me to be the sovereign answer to it. If the power is given to a man in possession of his faculties he will not exercise it. Then do not give him power to do it. It is possible a Judge might say, "I should not have had the power given me to do it unless it had been thought right that I should sometimes use it." I think, therefore, that your Lordships should exclude from the Bill that provision which I have mentioned. The objection is not confined to the 2nd Clause in the Schedule, because there are others which are open to the same kind of objection. My Lords, I really do not like to move an Amendment, because the noble Earl who has charge of the Bill is thoroughly conversant with these matters, but I think the possible operation of the provisions ought to receive his attention. It seems to me these things in the Bill imperil the other provisions in it which I think your Lordships assent to in principle.
THE EARL OF MILLTOWN
My Lords, in answer to the observations of Lord Bramwell, no doubt the Section 51 of the Larceny Act does refer to breaking out as being a felony as well as breaking in. If a person having entered a dwelling-house with intent to commit a felony, and having committed such offence, shall break out at night, he shall be found guilty of burglary. I cannot see why it should make very much difference in his guilt if he is there for the purpose of committing a burglary; and this Bill will only apply to persons found armed with a pistol or other firearms. In the case put by the noble and learned Lord, it would be for the Judge or jury to say whether the accused was in possession of a pistol when he committed the burglary, and the infliction of whipping would be a matter of dis- 775 cretion with the Judge or jury, and if the power were taken away some serious cases of burglary by persons carrying firearms would be exempt from the operation of the Act. I cannot imagine that in the case of the supposed unhappy burglar stealing a coat, in the pocket of which there happened to be a pistol, he would be charged with having a pistol in his possession while committing a burglary. I do not think the position is one which is likely to occur, and if it did it would be for the jury to say whether the man had a pistol in his possession at the time of committing the burglary.
§ * LORD BRAMWELL
I should like to make one remark. The noble Earl has misread Section 51. The second part of it would apply to a man who had entered a house with the most innocent intentions, but being tempted by something he sees, steals it. Merely opening the door after committing the felony is a sufficient breaking out, and, therefore, the clause would apply to the case I have mentioned.
* THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I should like to call the attention of the House to one point. I thought the object of the Bill was to diminish the chances of persons being terrified by burglars with firearms in their possession; but as the Bill stands it would apply, not only to dwelling-houses, but to persons breaking into churches and chapels or other places of Divine worship, which, however serious an offence, does not involve terror to occupiers. While I have a great horror of persons committing sacrilege, there would not be danger, probably, to anyone.
THE EARL OF MILLTOWN
My Lords, the noble Lord has given his own interpretation of the reading of my Bill. He says, very truly, as I stated on the Second Reading, that the object of the Bill was not only to reassure the occupants of dwelling-houses, but also to lessen the risks of the police, who are exposed to serious danger when called upon unarmed to arrest persons who carry firearms. Many cases have occurred in which the police, when gallantly performing their duty, have been shot down by armed burglars. I cannot doubt that there have been many cases where burglars have been enabled to escape owing to the possession of firearms which they were 776 carrying while committing burglary. In the case referred to of burglars breaking into a church or chapel, though there could be no danger to occupants, there might be danger if anyone were going there early in the morning when any attempt to arrest the burglars might be stopped by the menace of a loaded revolver. That was the case which I had in my mind when I prepared the section.
* THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I should like to make this further remark upon what the noble Earl has said with regard to the danger of the police in arresting armed offenders. That danger is not confined to burglars, for I can mention a case of horse-stealing in which the police were fired at by the horse-stealers.
§ LORD FITZGERALD
My Lords, owing to technicalities of procedure with regard to the practice in the Standing Committees, I have to state that I will, on the Third Reading, move certain Amendments on Clause 1 which I was unable to move in the Standing Committee. It is one of the rules of the Standing Committee that once a measure is agreed to and passed by the Committee, you cannot fall back upon it for the purpose of amendment. It so happened that the 1st Clause was passed with very little objection, and it was not until a later period that several objections arose, which were met by the statement that you had already passed that clause, and cannot now fall back upon it. If the Committee had power to go through the Bill a second time, I venture to say that those objections would have to be disposed of. I wish to set this matter right, and I have kept back the objections which I have until the Third Reading.
Bill reported without Amendment, and to be read 3a to-morrow.