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the precise danger against which the bill is directed, has happened under our own eyes, and at the door of parliament? The bill also makes an attempt to overawe the legislature, high treason. Is it necessary by any long deduction of argument to prove the necessity of such a precaution at a moment, when there exist societies hostile to the authority and existence of parliament? Those societies, meeting under the specious pretext of parliamentary reform, and the right of petitioning, have employed a language which sufficiently shows how far these were their real objects. They declared that the five hundred and fifty-eight gentlemen of St. Stephen's chapel may go about their business. They took every opportunity to vilify the character of the legislative body, to express their contempts of its authority, and to show how much they were disposed to usurp its functions, and, if possible, to annihilate its existence.
The right honourable gentleman has dealt much in general topics of declamation. He said that he had never found that the lives of princes had been safe in proportion to the sanguinary laws and the severe punishments which had been instituted for their protection. I must remark that the present is no new sanguinary law, that it creates no extraordinary severity of punishment. If the right honourable gentleman thinks that the person of the sovereign is not rendered safer by the punishments which the law has devised for his protection, this argument goes to repeal all the existing laws of treason. But he chooses to appeal to the testimony of experience; and to the example of former periods of the history of this country. He asks, whether, notwithstanding the excessive loyalty of the parliament, and the extreme vigour of the laws, there were not some real plots in the reign of Charles the Second,'besides the sham plots that were brought forward to serve a particular purpose? That in the course of that reign the parliament made many shameful concessions I am ready to admit; but I can by no means allow that it was a blind indiscriminating spirit of devotion to the monarch which gave rise to the act, of which this bill is the counterpart. Neither can I allow that these persons
who were concerned in effecting the restoration, left principles altogether out of their view, though, perhaps, they neglected to employ some precautions which it would have been wise and proper to have adopted. In order to prove that some regard was had to principles in the act of the restoration, it is only necessary to refer to the history of the times, and to the persons concerned in that event. Hyde Earl of Clarendon, and those who were connected with him, were not men entirely indifferent about the English constitution, or likely to be parties in a transaction, where its principles were entirely left out of contemplation. But with respect to this particular act, we have the sanction of the venerable name of Serjeant Maynard, who was one of the persons then employed in framing the bill for the security of His Majesty's person. Immediately after the restoration, this truly constitutional lawyer said, "That except for that event he had been on the eve not only of surviving lawyers, but the laws."— [Mr. Pitt was reminded that these words were spoken not after the restoration, but after the revolution] - I admit my error — these words were spoken after the revolution; and is it likely that the venerable person, who, during the course of a long and honourable life, had preserved his attachment to the constitution, should have so entirely forgotten its spirit, or departed from its principles in framing that bill, so frequently referred to in the discussion? But I will ask the right honoursble gentleman, does he attribute the plots in the time of Charles the Second, to the adoption of new laws, and the unusual severity of punishments: or does he not rather attribute them to the repeated breaches of law committed by that monarch, and to the attempts which he made, at different periods of his reign, to govern without a parliament ? Among his other silusions to history, the right honourable gendieman refers to the reign of Robespierre. He asks, whether that tyrant derived any security from the system of terror which he employed as the engine of his government, and which he supported by a large military force? I appeal to the House, how far this allusion can, with any propriety, apply to the
present discussion? I appeal to the House, how far the question -whether a lawless, wanton, and barbarous system of proscription and carnage, is calculated to afford security to the tyranny from which it originates?-can possibly bear a comparison with the effect of those regulations, which we are now employed in enacting for the security of His Majesty's person, who is the object of the affections of his people, and for the preservation of that government, which is the best pledge for their happiness.
I shall now very shortly advert to the second part of the bill, which relates to misdemeanours. The first question is, whether, in any possible case of misdemeanor, transportation is a punishment which ought to be left to the discretion of the courts? Misdemeanours are undoubtedly of very different sorts, and unless they can be marked out and graduated by some scale of legislative regulation, it is necessary, that in adjusting the punishment, something should be left to discretion. The misdemeanours against which the present bill is directed, are of the most serious description. They are those offences which are productive of the worst consequences, which militate against the welfare of the whole community, which are calculated to disturb the order, and interrupt the tranquillity of society. If we look to the ordinary operation of law, and compare the species of misdemeanours described in this bill, with other offences which are at present punishable with transportation, I appeal to the House whether those offences, either in point of moral guilt, or of public danger, are to be compared to the acts against which this bill is calculated to guard. The right honourable gentleman has descanted on the hardship of the sentence of transportation, and talked of the compassion due to individuals, who from having been placed in a better situation of life, had been doomed to experience its rigours. That it is a sentence at all times severe in its operation I cannot but admit; and that it becomes more peculiarly so when the person who is its object, has been placed in a respectable and comfortable situation. That such a person should be compelled
to abandon the soeiety to which he had been accustomed, for companions of a very different description; that he should be doomed to relinquish his native land, and the comforts of his situation, and condemned to associate with the rudest and vilest of mankind, is a consideration which must naturally impress every mind with compassion. But while we feel compassion for the individual, we must recollect, that as legislators, there is a duty which we owe to the public paramount to every other consideration. We must recollect, that if the punishment rises in proportion to the situation which the individual held in society, and that if our pity is more strongly excited from the consideration of these advantages he has forfeited, so also is the enormity of the crime aggravated by the same consideration; and he who, being placed in a respectable and comfortable situation, subjects himself to the penalties of law, wanting the temptation to err, wants also the apology for offence. If the ignorant and unenlightened individual, the blind and deluded instrument, is doomed to punishment for the crime which, from the instruction or the example of others, he has learned to regard as a virtue, with what sentiments must we look to the master-workman, who perverts the advantages of education, abuses the talents of nature, and employs the very distinctions which he derives from the present order of society, as means of attack against the existence of society itself? I have only to call upon the House, to consider what is. the description of offence against which the punishment is directed. It is not to apply twice to the offence that may have previously been committed, but to the second instance of offence after conviction. An objection was started, that the species of crimes comprehended under the present bill, was of a description of the nature of which it was not within the province of a jury to judge. My honourable friend (the attorneygeneral) has stated to the House what is his own practice. He has always left to the jury to decide, whether the innocent cause assigned was the real motive of the action: but in stating this, he stated not only that mode of practice which is conform
able to the liberality of his own sentiments, but which is sanctioned by the liberal spirit of the laws of England. There is no legal privilege which may not be made the pretext to cover the most illegal actions. I must particularly remark, in order to obviate misrepresentation, that nothing is made a crime by the present bill which was not before criminal, and subjected to a severe punishment by the common law of England.
After what I have already said, I have nothing farther to add, as I conceive the present bill to be supported on the plainest and simplest grounds on which any legislative provision was ever offered to the House.
The bill was afterwards read a third time and passed.
February 12. 1796.
Mr. Whitbread having moved the second reading of the labourers' wages bill, and the motion being seconded by Mr. Honeywood,
MR. PITT said, that not observing that gentlemen were prepared to deliver their sentiments on the present bill, he could not give a silent vote upon a question of so much importance, and at the same time of so much delicacy. In the interval which had taken place since the first reading of the bill, he had paid considerable attention to the subject, and endeavoured to collect information from the best sources to which he had access. The evil was certainly of such a nature as to render it of importance to find out a proper remedy; but the nature of the remedy involved discussions of such a delicate and intricate nature, that none should be adopted without being maturely weighed. The present situation of the labouring poor in this country was certainly not such as could be wished, upon any principle, either of humanity or policy. That class had of late been exposed to hardships which they all concurred in lamenting, and were equally actuated by a desire to remove.