Page images
PDF
EPUB

is unnecessary to say any thing of drawbacks, as they stand precisely in the same situation with bounties, and both of them afford opportunities for fraud in obtaining undue allowances, of the exteut of which, and of the vumber, wealth, and general good repute of those who take advantage of them, we believe none but the officers of the Customs and Excise have any adequate conception.

The leading principle of these various enactments is, to prohibit the introduction of all foreign commodities if we can supply ourselves at home: if that is not practicable, then to limit the introduction to such articles as are unwrought, and impose a heavy duty on them on their entry, and as this unavoidably tends to make them dearer when manufactured, they have no chance of being sent abroad in that state, unless part of the price is paid to the manufacturer in the shape of a drawback or a bounty. Whether such a system is wise in the abstract, how far it may become necessary in one state in consequence of its adoption in contiguous ones, and to what extent it is possible to change it when once established, even though its injudiciousness is admitted, we believe to be some of the most difficult problems which occur in practical policy. The cursory examination of the Statute Book, which we have now been induced to make, has strengthened our suspicion, that such forcible means never answered their purpose, and that when the crafts and employments who have craved assistance from the legislature have received it, it has, like parish relief, proved baneful to themselves, and injurious to their less clamorous neighbours. Such acts may prolong the languishing existence of some manufactures; but they check the growth of others, and prevent capital and industry from running into those channels which time, accident, and fashion make it most profitable for them to take. Of the mischievous effect of such a system of legislation upon our law there can be no question. Whatever doubts there may be about its effects in other points of view, they are here sure and steady, and like the Revenue acts, of which they may juştly be considered as a branch, one after another increases the perplexity of Statute Law, not in arithmetical but geometrical progression.

3. A third cause of the size of acts of parliament is the enactment of local, particular, or temporary laws, instead of general and permanent ones.

We are aware that there are a few acts, such as those for continuing certain duties, for punishing mutiny and desertion, for the payment of the army, and their quarters, and for the regulation of his Majesty's marine forces, while on shore, which continue, out of constitutional jealousy, to be passed from year to year. even then it is not in itself an advantage to have these fundamental laws printed annually; and the circunstance affords no justification for the repetition of other classes of acts, which has lately taken place without any such necessity.

With respect to local acts—there have altogether been 50 passed for the recovery of small debts in different parts of the country, and 43 of them within the present reign. One does not perceive why a general one might not be framed to adapt itself to all parts of the kingdom. The local acts for the management of the poor are still more numerous ; and though many of them are perhaps unavoidable, it shews the danger of suffering one questionable law to pass, as it may eventually bring a hundred others in its train. The 17 Geo. III. c. 11. is for the prevention of abuses in worsted manufactures in the counties of York, Lancaster, and Chester. The 24 Geo. III. Sess. 2. c. 3. extends the act to Suffolk, and the 31 Geo. III. c. 56. to Norfolk. According to this plan of legislation, if the worsted manufacture should hereafter prove prosperous, we may have this long and intricate act ten or twenty times repeated, which a little foresight would have saved. The 17 Geo. II. c. 8. relates to the packing of butter in New Malton, Yorkshire, a subsequent act to the packing of butter in the city of York, and we believe there is another, relating to the same matter for Ireland. It is not easy to discover reason for legislating on the packing of butter at all; but it is still more difficult to perceive why there should be two special acts on that subject for the city of York and town of New Malton. By the 9 Aune, c. 18. and five or six other acts, provisions were made of a local and partial nature to prevent injury to certain roads from excessive loads on waggons, which have at last met with the fate that ought always to attend so narrow a sort of legislation. After the usual process of explaining, amending, and making more effectual had been sufficiently repeated, these and a number of others relative to the highways of the kingdom were repealed, and a general act passed 37 Geo. III. c. 39 and 42. with which it would have been more creditable for Parliament to have begun than ended. In the same way almost every great river in the kingdom has a law of its own for the protection of salmon, with peculiar provisions for carrying it into execution, though there seems no insuperable obstacle to a general act, which should give to persons interested one, effectual remedy instead of several ineffectual ones, and extend to all parts of the empire.

Other enactments, instead of being general, are particular. The 31 Geo. Il. c. 40. prohibits brokers in bay and live cattle froin buying and selling on their own account, which the 33 Geo. II. c. 27. extends to dealers in fish. Could any thing but transient clamour have subjected such brokers to greater restrictions than brokers in horses, corn, or any other commodity? The 9 Anne, c. 28., 12 Geo. I. c. 34. and 35., 22 Geo. II. c. 27., 6 Geo. III c. 28., 14 Geo. III. c. 44., and 36 Geo. III. c. 11., have been enacted in succession to prevent combinations among coal owners, woollen manufacturers, brickmakers, journeymen dyers, silk manufacturers, certain specified class of workmen, and manufacturers of paper. Surely it would not have been too provident to suppose, that combination existing among one set of men and in a manufacturing country might afterwards extend to others, and therefore that a general law should have been prepared applicable to all cases. The expediency of this was at last perceived, when much labour had been thrown away, and the 39 Geo. III. c. 81. was passed, and again amended by 39 and 40 Geo. III. c. 106. the provisions of which last act by 49 Geo. III. c. 86. communicate the same law to Ireland. But in the improved state in which we now find it, why is the prohibition against combination confined to workmen? Laws should be equal as well as wise, and a combination among masters to keep down wages is an offence just as criminal as a combination among workmen to raise them. That such combinations are not likely to happen is perfectly true, but no justitication of the omission, because an act is now obviously imperfect, which may require hereafter to be amended by another, which the addition of a dozen words would have made perfect in the first instance. To the same class may be added 82 acts relating to insolvent debtors, 106 general acts relative to the poor, 35 in the latter part of the reign of George II. and beginning of that of George III. respecting the distemper of so much historical notoriety, which raged among the horned cattle; 50 relating to game, 17 to quarantine, 54 to linen and cotton manufactures, 113 to the fisheries, 46 during the present reign to the election of members of Parliament, 23 for enlarging the time for enrolling the wills of Roman Catholics, and the security of Protestant purchasers, and 66 for indemnifying persons for not qualifying themselves for offices and employments. If the subjects to which these classes of acts refer had been considered at the outset by the two Houses of Parliament in that enlightened and comprehensive manner, which a suitable regard to their own duty and dignity demanded, it could not have been requisite to amend, repeal, and re-enact them so frequently. The two heads last mentioned especially deserve attention. When any act is regularly renewed, it generally proves one of two things, either that the act itself is unwise, or that those ought to be punished to whom the execution of it is committed and by whom it has been neglected. The enrolment of the wills of Roman Catholics is now entirely superseded, after having needlessly incunibered the Statute book for half a century. The acts for indemnifying persons for not qualifying themselves for offices and employments, yet maintains its place in the annual list, though it stands in a still more unfavourable light. It is no doubt intended as a check upon individuals of suspected principles, should any such insinuate themselves into stations where the oaths may be exacted, without the least intention being entertained of generally enforcing them. Nothing can be more dangerous than such a course of proceeding. It is bad in itself and worse as a precedent. The law ought to exact no securities from public officers but those which are as far as possible really made available, otherwise the contempt which is felt for those which are trifled with, will soon extend itself to those on which reliance is substantially placed. Least of all ought the obligation of an oath to be so profaned; for whenever it is either taken or omitted as a matter of course, both good sense and decency require it to be discontinued.

c. 28.,

offices

A third sort of acts are temporary instead of being permanent. If crops fail, bad seasons occur, calamities happen to the mercantile world, or sudden changes take place in our external relations, it has been the practice in this country to endeavour to rectify the evil by means of acts of Parliament to continue for a limited time. Of this we shall adduce a few instances merely to make our meaning distinctly understood. The distemper among horned cattle has been already mentioned, and during its prevalence, the 23 Geo. II. c. 23. was made on a very curious subject, viz. against the killing of cow calves. Their high price at that time one should have thought would have been a sufficient cause of their preservation, and the few people that were foolish or obstinate enough to kill them, neither could nor ought to have been prevented. The same views seem to have dictated the 16 Geo. III. c. 41. giving a bounty on the importation of flax seed to Ireland, and 26 Geo. III. c. 2. and 28 Geo. III. c. 45. prohibiting the exportation of hay. Most probably neither of these enactments was required. The price of flax seed would naturally direct it to Ireland, and when there was a deficiency of hay in this country, where every article is so dear, no merchant of sane mind would ever have thought of exporting it. A still greater number of acts were passed to alleviate the scarcity in 1799, 1800, and 1801. The 39 and 40 Geo. III. c. 35. and 41 Geo. III. U. K. c. 13. gave bounties on the importation of oats and flour from America within specified periods. The 41 Geo. III. c. 17. prohibited the selling of bread, unless after being baked twenty-four hours: the same act c. 20. gave to the majority of the proprietors of common fields, greater powers than they possessed at common law, to euable them for a certain time to cultivate potatoes, and the making of starch from potatoes was prohibited by 42 Geo. III. c. 14. The benevolent intention of all these acts is unquestiona

ble,

[ocr errors]

VOL. XXI. NO, XLII.

D D

ble, and yet it would probably have been wise for the legislature to have stood quietly by, and suffered time and private charity to effect the remedy. Bounties on importation are invariably superfluous, for commercial speculation will bring grain, or any other commodities with the utmost celerity to that market where there is a brisk demand for them. The selling of bread unless twentyfour hours baked, could scarcely be prevented from the difficulty of proving the facts, and the breach of the law must often have been more humane than its observance. The prolibition of the making of starch from potatoes, and cultivation of potatoes in common fields, were objects too trifling to require acts at all, and the last of them was also a suspension of the Common law, of the laws and of the rights of private property, which the occasion by no means justified. To the same class of laws may be referred the 33 Geo. III. c. 3. prohibiting the exportation of grain to France, during the severe dearth which prevailed there at the commencement of the Revolutionary war, and the 48 Geo. III. c. 33. to prevent the exportation of Jesuits bark, of which the French then stood in urgent need to stop the progress of a disease which prevailed in their army. That Great Britain had a right to make such enactments there can be no question ; but looking at the exercise of it now when the hour of hostility and irritation is past, we hope that, as a great and magnanimous country, no other of a similar nature will hereafter appear upon its legislative records.

We have but one further remark to make, and it applies to the whole of the local, particular, and temporary enactments which we have been discussing, and it is this, that as they are supposed to affect only one part of the country, one description of persons, or to last for an inconsiderable period, they are not watched with that jealousy by members of parliament, with which they ought to be, but are suffered to receive the sanction of the legislature with dangerous facility, and frequently contain clauses in direct contradiction to the most important principles of common law and the general interests of the country.

4. A fourth cause of the increased size, if not of the number of acts of Parliament, is the want of care and accuracy with which they are drawn up.

On coming to this part of the subject, it at first occurred to us that it would be proper to select a few instances of the most frequent and glaring faults which occur in the language of acts of Parliament, but after considerable examination of the Statute book, it appears superfluous to attempt it. Take up whichever volume of it one will, at whatever page it opens, and however plain the subject may be to which the enactment relates, one is overwhelmed with a quantity of verbosity and tautology, of which

« PreviousContinue »