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629 Corn Laws- Equalization of Contracts. FEB. 22, 1827.
630 tions of the agriculturist. Another mis-, lent wish to benefit the whole human race take committed by the petitioners was, in which distinguished our modern econosupposing that the cultivation of inferior mists. He did not lose sight of the differsoils was injurious to the country; which ent interests of different nations. As was not the case. If they remained unculti- long as the human race existed, nations vated, not one half of our present population would rise up against nations, and there could be subsisted. The petitioners also would be strife on the earth. There never forgot, that by our present modes of culti- could be that great republic of mankind vation, corn and cattle went together. which these writers talked of. It was inThey supposed that, if we did not grow so cumbent on their lordships, therefore, to much corn, we should have more cattle; provide for the cultivation of their own but this was founded in a mistaken notion lands, and not look for a supply of food of our agriculture. By our present modes from other countries. The question of of cultivation, we raised five or six times the Corn-laws was one which could not as much corn as we did three or four cen- be decided by theory. The decision of turies ago. It was supposed, too, that if their lordships must be the result of long our inferior lands were not cultivated, they and patient inquiries, embracing every part would become good grass lands; but, if of this complicated question. He could they were so, it was only in consequence not, therefore, agree with the noble Secreof their having been cultivated. By in- tary of State in his views, as to an inclosing lands and cultivating them, they quiry into one single and minor topic. were made good grass lands; and, in He hoped their lordships would not consiconsequence of our improved modes of der the question in one point of view only, cultivation, and the increased capital in- and with reference to one interest, but vested in agriculture, we now grew three would include in their inquiries all the times as much food as we did at the time of points of view possible, and all the interthe restoration of king Charles 2nd, and ests of the country ; above all, he hoped had probably three times as many people. they would never lose sight of that great Corn, also, was now cheaper than it was interest which supplied the people with at that time—at least in comparison with food. There was one part of the petition the commodities exchanged for it; and which their lordships had just rejected, this, he contended, was also the conse- which aimed directly at the existence of quence of our improved cultivation. To the British constitution. What was it illustrate the difference between the manu- that had preserved the constitution of this facture of corn and other commodities not country so long? What! but that it was subject to the variations of the seasons, he founded on the property of the country. would refer to our cotton manufacture. No government could exist which was not It was said to amount to the annual value founded on property; and he would have of thirty millions sterling. Let their their lordships take care how they adopted lordships suppose, that just as it was any measure which reduced the landed inready for market, it was invaded by an terest still lower. If this interest were army of moths, as the farmers produce further beat down than it was at present, sometimes was by an army of caterpillars it would be reduced to nothing, and the -destroying one-half of the cotton; and constitution would be destroyed. He that then the cotton manufacturer was re- hoped, before any measure was adopted by quired to sell his goods for fifteen millions : their lordships, that they would go into a supposing the cost of producing them much more extensive inquiry than the one twenty-four millions, instead of gaining recommended by the noble Secretary of six millions, he would lose nine. If the State. farmer were always to sell his produce at Ordered to lie on the table. the same price, he would be ruined, and the country would te ruined also ; for,
HOUSE OF COMMONS.
Thursday, February 22.
The genius and spirit of the constitution, a paper monopoly. Then, as to Scotland, the hon. member said, seemed to justify they inquired into the currency of that the extension of suffrage to those who country, and the result was, that they paid taxes; and the result of such ex- left it as it was. Then again, they neither tension would produce greater economy inquired into, nor touched at all upon, the in government. A free trade in corn currency of Ireland. This was the sort of would partly indemnify the artisan and interference—this the description of policy labourer for the evils induced by the which they called legislation ! rivalry of mechanical labour, without dis- Lord Folkestone charged ministers with turbing the general law for agricultural supineness in having so long neglected the protection. A revision of contracts would vital question of the currency. Their preserve the debtor from being defrauded conduct gave rise to the inference, that by his creditor under false pretences, avert they had altered their opinions upon the the risk of national bankruptcy, and give subject; for they had failed to carry into the sanction of public opinion, and its effect the principles which they set out security, to the creditor of the state. A with avowing. There was a tampering contrary course contributed to discontent, already going on with the currency; and, increase of poor-rates, and unjust revolu- under such circumstances, the question tions in property; and when monied, as could never be said to be settled. well as commercial, manufacturing, and Ordered to lie on the table. agricultural, income should be reduced 30 per cent—as the currency which repre- CRIMINAL LAWS-BILLS FOR sented, as well as measured, all income, ConsoLIDATION OF.) Mr. Secretary Peel had already been by the return to cash rose to bring forward his promised mopayments; the levying taxes to pay the tion. He had now, he said, agreeably interest of the debt, and to defray the to that motion, to apply to the House for expenses of the state, might become im- leave to bring in four bills, having for practicable.
their object the simplification and consoMr. E. Davenport took occasion to com- lidation of the statutes relating to the plain of the conduct of Ministers, with Criminal Laws. The first of those bills respect to the question of the currency. was intended to consolidate and amend He had already given a vague notice on the laws relating to theft, and the various the subject; and he believed that, in con- offences connected therewith. The second sequence of this threat, ministers had was to amend the law relating to another been induced to put off the consideration class of offence against the subject, nameof the Corn question from the day for ly, a wilful and malicious injury of prowhich they had originally given notice. perty. The third bill for which he should He would now take the opportunity of move, would be to consolidate and amend saying, that he would redeem the pledge the laws relating to remedies against the which he had given, and take a speedy hundred. And the fourth bill which he opportunity of formally bringing the sub- should submit to the notice of the House, ject under the consideration of the House. would have the effect of repealing such
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, statutes as would be superseded by the that if the hon. member had not conclud-three first bills, in order not to encumber ed by giving this general notice, he should the Statute-book, by the introduction of scarcely have been able to comprehend separate acts of parliament for the attainexactly what he was at. But, if he sup- ment of that object. By this means, the posed that government had been induced three bills which he had already named to postpone the Corn question on account would not be impeded in their operation, of any thing he might have said in that by clauses and enactments contrary to House, or what any one might have said their spirit. He had entered last session any where else, he could only undertake so fully into the policy and necessity of to give to such an assertion a peremptory amending the criminal statutes, that he denial.
was not sure whether it was at all necesMr. Maberly complained of the manner sary to enforce the reasoning which he in which ministers had acted with respect then used, or to trouble the House with a to the currency question. They first tam repetition of his views, notwithstanding pered with the currency of England with some of the members whom he had now out inquiry. Without inquiry they created the honour to address were not in parlias
ment on that occasion. Indeed, it requir-I to distinguish between grand and petty ed no very powerful reasoning to show the larceny, and to award different punishnecessity and policy of consolidating the ments for each crime. It appeared, howcriminal laws of this country, and of sim-ever, that the only difference between plifying, as much as possible, those them consisted in the amount of the prostatutes relating to crime and misde-perty stolen; for thus the law stood on
, meanour, which had hitherto created so the subject. If a man was convicted of much error and confusion in our courts of stealing an article under the value of one justice. Such a course as that of revising shilling, it was simple larceny, punishable and consolidating confused and unintelli- at the option of the magistrate before gible statutes appeared so consistent with whom the case was heard; but, if the proreason and common sense, that he scarce- perty stolen exceeded one shilling in value, ly thought it necessary to adduce any the crime was called grand larceny, to arguments in its favour, where all whom which a capital punishment was attached. he had the honour to address must agree Now, after giving to the subject his best in the necessity of the measure. He was consideration, he could not see the necestherefore quite satisfied that the House sity of retaining the distinction which the would sanction the part which he had | law laid down in these cases. taken, and confirm the support which his many inferior courts spread throughout predecessor had given to the subject. The this country, which had power to take House, however, was not called upon to cognizance of, and to try persons charged give a blind judgment: on the contrary, with, the crime of petty larceny, but who he wished and expected that honourable had not power to try for the crime of gentlemen would reserve to themselves grand larceny. The consequence of this the power of expressing an opinion on a was, that both courts and prosecutors, subject of such vital importance. Al- feeling the great expense and inconvenithough, however, he had suggested many ence of sending persons charged with these changes, he had not, after all, proposed offences to be tried by the higher tribuany very important alterations in the cri-nals, agreed to evade the law, by státing minal statutes ; because he was desirous in the indictment, that the value of the of proceeding gradually in the course of article stolen was less than one shilling. improvement, and to avoid as much as These instances, it was true, were not possible the use of rash experiments. very creditable to the parties concerned, What he wished was, to collect all that but they furnished ample reasons for abowas valuable from existing statutes, and lishing all distinctions between grand and to preserve from a mass of contradiction petty larceny. He would, therefore, unite and confusion, various clauses and pro- the different species of the crime of larvisions introduced at different periods into ceny under one general law; and he our criminal laws. He was desirous of would fix, as the maximum of punishselecting all that was worthy of being pre- ment, a sentence of transportation for served, in order to present to the House seven years. It was hitherto the custom a useful and efficient statute, and thus to to mitigate the sentences affixed to the place as it were in juxta-position all the crime of grand larceny; but he owned he law connected with the criminal jurispru- could not see the reason why, if the power dence of the country. It was his wish to existed, a criminal convicted of this crime abolish every part of the criminal statutes should not be transported for stealing to that could not with safety be acted on, the value of two shillings. There was a and to accommodate the laws relating to material difference between grand and crime to the present circumstances of the simple larceny, when a prisoner was twice country, and the improved state of society. convicted. A man who repeated the
Feeling, therefore, that the House would crime of grand larceny, was liable to a agree, in principle at least, to the mea- sentence of death, without benefit of
sures which he intended to propose, he clergy. He meant to propose, that the did not think it necessary to trouble them capital punishment should be dispensed with any further arguments, but would with in this instance. He would
He would propose proceed at once to explain the present also to do away with a term which had state of the law relating to theft, which long been mixed up with the criminal law was the subject of his first bill. It was of England. He meant the “ benefit of the practice, in criminal courts of justice, clergy." It was extremely difficult to
apply the term “ without benefit of done more towards the great and imporclergy” to any particular crime, and to tant object of improving and consolidating say what was a clergyable offence. It the criminal statutes of this country, than appeared to him, that the law in this par- any other individual who had gone before ticular should be simplified. Instead of him. He never was an advocate for the saying, therefore, that the man who com- infliction of capital punishments, and he mits grand larceny a second time was thought it would be found, on comparing guilty of a capital offence, without bene- the executions for the last five years, in fit of clergy, he proposed to substitute the which he had presided at the home depunishment of transportation for life. partment, that they had not increased in This would serve to make the law more number, as compared with those that had clear and intelligible; and he was sure taken place in former years. Willing as that the House would go with him in every he felt, however, to reduce the amount alteration he proposed, whereby the num- of capital convictions, he advised the ber of capital crimes might be lessened. House not to be led away too far by misThus, the man convicted of grand larceny taken feelings. If parliament were to a second time would no longer be subject proceed too rapidly to overthrow the existto death. In proposing this alteration he ing enactments, a strong prejudice might was aware, however, that it was not very arise in the country against measures material; as it rarely occurred that the that were intended for the public good; penalty of death was put in force when a and thus the great object of justice and man was convicted of grand larceny a humanity might be defeated. second time; but it was right at the same With respect to the law relative to time, that the law in this particular should malicious injuries to property, which his be clear and determinate; for it was one second bill was intended to embrace, he of the just objections brought by foreign conceived that it might be beneficially ers against the criminal laws of England, altered, and confined within proper limits. that we condemned men to death for He conceived the punishment attached to crimes, who were never executed, and the crime of cutting down hop-fences, whose sentence was, in fact, never intend-stakes, hedges, &c., was neither clearly ed to be carried into effect. It would nor properly defined; and therefore he therefore be a material improvement, if in proposed to abrogate the law altogether, every available instance, we could erase and try the effects of a milder punishment. capital punishments from the Statute-book, Without entering more fully into the parand provide milder punishments, and ticular clauses of each bill, of which the thereby avoid the mockery of condemning committee, whose appointment he antimen to death, merely because that penalty cipated, could best judge; he would was attached to the crime which they had now only refer to the general principles committed. He proposed also to miti- upon which he came forward to claim the gate the penalty for stealing in a dwelling-countenance and support of the House. house to the value of forty shillings. Ac- Notwithstanding the very able assistance cording to the law, as it now stood, the he had had, he felt considerable difficulty penalty of death was attached to that in drawing up the bills which he hoped to crime. A distinction, however, he con- be allowed to introduce; owing to the ceived should be made; and there were number of abstruse and unintelligible cases in which the punishment of death phrases which he found it necessary to might be considered harsh and unneces- use, in compliance with the usage of the sary. He therefore meant to propose, law in this particular. The endless repethat the sum of forty shillings should be tition of words; the confusion of the sinraised to a higher amount; by which gular and plural number; the frequent means the number of capital convictions use of the words “party or parties," " defor this species of crime would be consi- fendant or defendants," “corporations," derably diminished. He was not prepared or “person," had always, he confessed, to say whether or no it might not be ne- puzzled him beyond measure, whenever cessary to go further in the plan of reduc- he had occasion to refer to an act of paring the number of capital convictions. liament. He had, therefore, in the bills Much had lately been done, and much which he had framed, avoided as much as remained to do; but he thought he might possible the confusion arising from the claim some credit to himself for having frequent introduction of words and phrases;
and at the commencement of each bill, gentlemen appointed to be relieved from
very inadequately they were paid. He Whilst he was upon the subject of the found, however, that although the office criminal laws, he wished to say a few of coroner was burthened with so many words on a subject which was intimately wants, it was a situation which, somehow connected with the question. It would be or other, gave rise to very considerable in the recollection of the House, that some competition whenever it became vacant. years ago, a parliamentary commission was He, indeed, had heard of instances, in appointed, to inquire into the state of the which contests for the situation of coroner several courts of law, and into the fees and had been as expensively carried on as in emoluments of the judges. All those contested elections for the return of memvenerable and respected individuals sub-bers of parliament. He should be happy mitted cheerfully to the investigation; yet, to hear, therefore, how it was that coroners in the minor and subordinate courts of were so inadequately paid, and that the justice no inquiry had been made respect- office was nevertheless so greedily sought ing the nature and amount of fees and after. The offices of clerk of the peace other emoluments of the persons officiating and clerk of the assize ought also to be in them. He had heard, and he believed, investigated, with a view to ascertain the that great abuses existed in those courts. nature and amount of fees attached to For instance, the other day, a demand was such appointment. Without throwing out made for heavy fees, from persons who had any insinuation against individuals holding actually been acquitted of the crimes with those offices, he wished to know by what which they had been charged. The House authority those fees were demanded. . must see the manifest impropriety of Another office requiring investigation was tolerating such a monstrous anomaly. So that of clerk to magistrates. It would that it would have been mercy to the also be desirable to ascertain the amount accused if the judge had found him guilty, of fees demanded and taken by such perbecause in that case his punishment would sons, and the authority under which they have been less by the amount of fees which, were demanded. Without pointing out as an acquitted man, he was called upon particular cases, there were instances to pay. A man acquitted by a jury of his enough of the misconduct of magistrates' country, should be free of any such odious clerks; and that honourable and indeimpost, and any attempt to punish him, pendent body, the magistrates of the either in his person or his pocket, after country, should be careful who they that acquittal, was a direct libel on our appointed to fill those situations. These boasted trial by jury. He was, therefore, points, though not immediately connected strongly inclined to recommend an inquiry with the bills which he meant to move for, into the fees of officers attached to the were, nevertheless, connected with the minor courts of law. The office of sub- due administration of justice, and were sheriff he also considered ought to be therefore points to which the attention of inquired into. It was an office with which the House should be particularly called. he was himself very little acquainted. He There might be some individuals who only knew that, in some counties, the fees might think that the alterations which he amounted to 6001. or 7001. a year, and was now suggesting, were founded, after that the situations were eagerly sought for, all, more upon theoretical reasoning than while the office of sheriff was considered practical experience. He had not as yet so much the reverse of desirable, that found, however, that the propositions which applications were constantly made by he had already submitted to the House,