Mr. Secretary Ryder
said, that in rising to move for a Committee to examine into the State of the Nightly Watch of the Metropolis, he did not feel it necessary to enter at any great length into the reasons by which he was induced to bring forward such a motion. At the same time, he felt himself justified in stating, that if the expediency of the measure rested upon the late horrible murders alone, by which two whole families had been completely exterminated, the atrocity of those crimes would in themselves have afforded a sufficient ground. It was true that no system of police could prevent the commission of such murders, while there were persons vile and abandoned enough to commit them, under such circumstances of dextrous depravity; but as a better regulation of the Nightly Watch must have a tendency to diminish the chances, it was right that it should be resorted to. Those gentlemen who had seen other countries, and attended to their internal situation and government, must know that even in places where the peace was committed to the care of an armed police, a police furnished with all those powers, with which under a despotism it was possible to furnish it, without, any regard to the prejudices of the people; they must know, that even in such places and under such regulations, atrocities such as those were committed almost nightly, without exciting any of those deep impressions under which the mind of this country at present suffered; and it might be regarded as a proof, that few acts of the kind were committed here, when they looked to the consternation excited in the present instance. It certainly was true, that for the last three or four months, offences, though Hot altogether of so horrid a description, were multiplied beyond the experience of former years; and though many accounts had 197 got into the public prints which were true, many also that had appeared were exaggerated, and many utterly falser He knew not whether the gentlemen around him were acquainted with the law by which the Nightly Watch was regulated. In former times each parish provided for itself, and it was not until the year 1774, that parliament had interfered, and passed an act which applied only to fifteen of the most populous parishes. By that act, directors and trustees were appointed, under whose controul, the watch, the patrole and the beadles, were all placed, and who were entrusted also with the power of assessing the rates upon each parish: It was no wonder that this act should be found insufficient at the present day, when they considered the enormous increase of the metropolis. He should not trouble the House by attempting to enumerate the various instances in which the provisions of this act were evaded and neglected: it would be sufficient to mention one. The act required that the trustees should appoint none but "able bodied men" to guard the streets at night, and he would leave to their own observation to decide how far this was complied with. He had been credibly informed that there were many instances in which those who were too old to earn their bread, were appointed to the situations of watchmen, in order to prevent their becoming a burden to the parish. These certainly were not the men to secure the lives and properties of the inhabitants of this vast metropolis. And if the House agreed with him in the appointment of the Committee for which he should move, it would be for that Committee not only to consider the act of parliament he had alluded to, but also the variety of local acts upon the same subject. It would be for them to decide whether it was advisable to alter the system entirely, or whether it would be sufficient to enforce the present act without any innovation. It would be for them to consider what course they would recommend, and therefore it was quite unnecessary, indeed it would be unbecoming, in him to anticipate that by proposing any arrangement of his own. As far, however, as he had thought upon the subject, he had no objection to state generally, that he rather inclined to the notion of enforcing the present system by adequate provisions, than of having recourse to any new act. It was material, he thought, for him to 198 state, that when the legislature found it necessary to turn their attention to this subject, they did so in consequence of the variety of local acts applicable to each parish, and producing a confusion which it was of-the utmost consequence to remedy: for instance, the parish of Pancras was divided into seven districts, each of which had its own local acts. The interests of the parties thus created, should be discussed and reconciled as well as possible with the new arrangement; and this was one of the principal reasons which had induced him to prefer the appointment of a Committee, to any other mode of proceeding. The House had adopted the same course in the year 1774, and it was his intention, in the present case, to propose those gentlemen to be on the Committee, who were most interested, as well as most likely to be acquainted with the nature of the different interests that would be affected by the change. He should therefore move, if the House agreed to the appointment of the Committee, that the members for London, Westminster, Middlesex and Surrey, should be members of the same.—The right hon. Secretary concluded with moving, "That a Committee be appointed to examine into the State of the Nightly Watch of the Metropolis and the Parishes adjacent."
Sir Samuel Romilly
said, he was utterly surprised at the confined terms of the motion just made by his right hon. friend. No one, he was persuaded, who was acquainted with what had recently passed, and with the alarm and terror which had spread throughout the metropolis, but must have expected that some more extensive measure would have been resorted to than that now under consideration. He should have thought, that a Committee appointed upon such an occasion, would have found it necessary to inquire, not only into the state of the Nightly Watch, but into the causes of the alarming increase of felonies and crimes; and he was sure, that a comprehensive view of this kind would be more calculated to produce the desired effect than the contracted course recommended by his right hon. friend. He had no other means than were common to every one of informing himself upon the different facts connected with this question; but no doubt, he imagined, could exist of the increase of crimes of an atrocious character, whatever opinion might be entertained of the causes 199 which led to that increase; and if such a doubt did exist, a reference to the Returns upon the table, which he had the honour of moving for, would be quite sufficient; to remove it. By that document it appeared, that for the last five or six years there had been a gradual and regular increase of crimes in London and Westminster; and, without adverting to the quarter sessions, the number committed for trial at the Old Bailey alone, was such as could not fail to excite the surprise of those unacquainted with the subject. He would briefly state them to the House. There had been committed to take their trial for felonies of various kinds, at the Old Bailey,
The number who had been committed during the year 1811, had not been ascertained, but from the above statement it appeared, that there had been an increase of committals during the short period of five years, of 525; and this, too, during a time of war. For it was a received maxim, that fewer offences were committed in a period of war than in a period of peace; seeing that many bold and daring characters were embarked in the service of their country, and rendered useful against her enemies, instead of becoming dangerous at home. Among all the calamities that attended a state of war, there was hitherto one advantage to be derived from it, namely that it afforded greater domestic security in the way he had already described. But in the case of this country of late, so far from being able to calculate on this solitary advantage, we were presented with the melancholy phenomenon of a protracted war, and a continually increasing measure of offences, against the peace and good order of society.
In the year 1806 899 1807 1017 1808 1110 1809 1314 1810 1424
What, then, it would be right to inquire into, were the causes to which this augmentation was to be attributed? Many might be urged, but at present he would only notice a few, with a view to impress upon the House the absolute necessity of going into a more extensive examination of this subject than would be embraced by a Committee appointed to, inquire into the state of the nightly watch. The first cause, perhaps, was the system of punishment, so long, and he would say, without meaning offence to any individuals, so obstinately perserved in. He did not allude 200 here to the frequency of capital punishments, but to the punishments less than death, and, above all, to, promiscuous imprisonment; where men of comparatively slight and men convicted of most heinous crimes, the youngest and the oldest villains, were confined together, particularly on board the hulks; and when they were discharged, no means of gaining a living was provided for them. After studying for years, these unfortunate persons were thrust out of these colleges of vice, to practice upon society the lessons they had learnt. He knew not whether the fact were so, but certainly a very general belief prevailed, that the numerous crimes lately perpetrated were in a great measure owing to a recent unusual discharge of convicts from the hulks, to whom no moral instruction had been afforded, no trade had been taught, no employment given. It might have been hoped that the late examples would have convinced ministers of the absolute necessity of some change in the criminal law; bat upon this point it was not necessary to enlarge, as a Committee had been appointed upon the subject, whose Report would be hereafter discussed, although he fared it would not embrace to wide a field as could have been wished.
But he was convinced that many of the evils which existed, had their foundations in the very constitution of the Police it self, which tended more to the increase than the suppression of crimes, and he was anxious that if a reformation, so extensive as he proposed was not adopted, that, at least, some enquiry should be made into the State of the Police. Among many bad practices on this head, he would state one, which, in his mind, abounded with the most mischievous consequences, he meant the rewards, both public and private, given for the detection of offenders of a certain description; when he recollected, that the prevention of crimes was supposed to depend peculiarly, if not entirely, on the police officers, who alone were acquainted with the haunts of the most abandoned characters; when he recollected, that it rested with the police officers to discover or to conceal those offenders; and, when he considered, at the same time, that they had the strongest possible interest not to prevent, but to multiply crimes.—When he reflected on all this, which flowed as a consequence from the acts of the 4th and 5th of William and Mary, followed 201 by the 7th of queen Anne, offering, 40 or 50 pounds for the apprehension of offenders, it was hardly possible for him to doubt that, unless the police officers (of whom he did not mean to say any thing severe) were men of the most refined principles of humanity and morality—unless they supposed them un-influenced by those motives which actuate the great mass of mankind—unless they supposed all this, they could not doubt for a moment that they would prevent the detection of an offender, until his crimes increased his value, by increasing the reward for his apprehension. He was informed that there was hardly a chance of recovering property without advertising a reward, which operated in its consequences a similar effect to what was produced by expedition money in any of the public offices, namely, that of retarding the business of all others, while it expedited that of the individual; and the consequence of this again was, that, besides the mischief accruing from the loss of the property in the first instance, the sufferer must lose more before he could get at the offender. In the year 1785 a bill had been brought in, proposing a great alteration in the police, and abolishing rewards altogether, but vesting in commissioners the discretion to reward police officers according to their deserts; but in his opinion, whether rewards were abolished or not, they ought never to be given to police officers, and could be useful only in the case of accesaries after the fact, to induce useful discoveries to be made by persons implicated in the guilt. It was well known that the police officers went into places open for the reception and entertainment of thieves and other abandoned characters, as openly as a merchant would go to the stock exchange, or as a gentleman would go to that part of his manor where he expected any particular kind of game. He did not undertake to say that this was generally done, but he knew that it was the general impression that it was done; and when such large sums were voted for the police establishment as had been voted that very night; could it be endured with patience that such abuses should exist in the face of decency and common sense? His right hon. friend had talked of other countries, as affording greater and more frequent instances of atrocity than this; good God! where did those countries exist? He knew them not: he 202 had never heard of them: he never remembered to have read of whole families destroyed by the hand of the murderer in any country but this. He believed that in Paris there was a large proportion of crime, but he had never known any flagrant enormities during his residence in that capital at different periods. His right hon. friend wished to console the House by the comparison with other countries; but be had never heard any instances of such boundless confidence in guilt, such progressive insolence as had been recently manifested in the British metropolis. His right hon. friend had talked only of the nightly watch, but he would ask him where was the daily watch? He would ask whether all the precautions of the nightly watch would provide a remedy against the daring highway robberies committed in the open day? Perhaps, however, he was premature in his complaints, and that his right hon. friend had some plan in store to meet this crying evil; but he must say that there was much more than he had stated, both in the police and in the state of Crimes, which loudly demanded the interference of that House; the streets were infested with criminals of different deception, and there were other causes of less magnitude, which concurred to the depravation of the public morals; he considered the encouragement of lotteries as one; nor was the paltry gain of 500,000l. a year sufficient, to compensate for the great evils they produced. He did not means invidiously to introduce any thing like politics into, the present discussion, but he could not help thinking, that the disposal of commissionerships and other offices, operated, as an inducement with government to countenance the continuance of Lotteries, productive, as they were, of incalculable mischief. There were other means of moral improvement, such as the instruction of the poor, which has would not now enlarge upon, but would sit down with expressing his hope that the motion of his right hon. friend would be with drawn, and submitted in a much more comprehensive form.
§ Mr. W Smith
could not refrain front making a few observations on the, present important subject, although he could not hope to add any weight to the arguments so ably urged by his hon. and learned friend. He regretted, however, that his hon. and learned friend had sat down, without proposing an amendment, for the 203 purpose of extending the objects to which the Committee were to direct their attention, and he trusted that such an amendment would yet be proposed. There were one or two circumstances which proved the absolute necessity of such an extension of object. In the first place, if the House attended to the nature of those most horrible and barbarous outrages which for two months had kept the metropolis in a state of perpetual alarm, and more particularly the atrocious murder of Mr. Marr's family, (the authors of which had never yet been discovered,) it would be evident, that had the nightly watch of the metropolis been in the best possible state, those outrages and that murder could not have been prevented. They originated in a set of villains about the town, whose existence was not imputable to any deficiency in the nightly watch. In the second place, if the nightly watch could operate upon them, of what nature would be that operation? Unless some change could be produced in the disposition of those villains, the only effect that could by possibility be occasioned would be to drive them out of the metropolis into the environs. The surrounding villages would be deluged with depredators, against whom they would have no protection. He confessed that he had long been extremely scandalized (if he might use that term) by the number of accounts which had reached him of the familiarity that existed between the officers of the police and the disturbers of the public peace. This familiar intercourse was a matter of general notoriety, and surely it must, in a variety of ways, have a most deteriorating effect on the public morals. It must operate on the thieves themselves, who could not consider themselves so sufficiently as they might, the objects of public detestation, when they knew they could sit and enjoy themselves in their favourite public-houses until some one should be called out whose measure of guilt was full. It must also operate on the officers of the police themselves, who could not possibly entertain the proper feeling with which criminals ought to be regarded by them, while they continued to sit down at the same table with them, and to drink with them as associates until the very moment when they pounced upon their prey. If he gave to this statement too high a colouring (which he really believed he did not), if the fact were even incomparably less strong, it 204 would nevertheless deserve animadversion and demand correction. He was, however, far from wishing that the subject of the nightly watch should be omitted from the consideration of the Committee. He thought it extremely deserving of notice, and he was persuaded, that if the nightly watch were put on a better footing, much good would result. His objection, therefore, to the motion was not, that it was wrong, but that it stopped incomparably short of the object which it was desirable to attain. It was well known, that in one parish of the metropolis, inhabited principally by the lower classes, great good had been effected. By parochial exertions tending to improve the nightly watch, the parish of Christ's Church, Spitalfields, instead of the scene of riot, uproar, and crime, which it formerly presented, had become almost proverbial for its extreme good order and regularity. If similar regulations were adopted at the west end of the town, a great deal would certainly be done towards providing for the safety and comfort, of all, and towards improving the morality of the lower clasess. Much praise was in his opinion due to the worthy and respectable individuals who had taken this matter in hand, and he should be very happy to hear that a similar public spirit pervaded the whole metropolis. He concluded by repeating his entire approbation of every thing that had been said by his hon. and learned friend, and his hope that an amendment would be introduced to the motion, extending the power of the Committee to an inquiry into the State of the Police, as well as of the Nightly Watch.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
could not doubt, that under all the circumstances of the case, the House would have no hesitation to agree to the motion of his right hon. friend; for having paid every attention to the arguments of the two hon. members who had spoken on the opposite side, he found that those arguments were directed not against the proposition, but against its limited nature. It mast, now ever, be considered, that the motion of his right hon. friend related to a subject which could not be passed over in a morning or two, and which therefore would not bear to be loaded with alt the theoretical considerations which his hon. and learned friend on the opposite side had suggested. Indeed the subject' to which the Committee would have to direct 205 their especial attention, was one calculated to engage it very seriously. Their object would be to provide a practical remedy for a practical evil. His hon. and learned friend might certainly differ from his right hon. friend with respect to the value of the remedy, but he was sure that the hon. gentleman who spoke last could not do so, after having enlarged so much on the advantages in a particular district, resulting from the adoption of measures similar to those recommended by his right hon. friend. For what was the proposition of his right hon. friend, but that a Committee of the House of Commons should consider the propriety of enforcing in all the parishes of the metropolis, regulations, from which so much good had resulted in the parish alluded to by the hon. gentleman? Certainly, there was one qualification of the hon. gentleman's opinion on this subject which was extremely disheartening. The existing evil was great, and was felt locally; "but," said the hon. gentleman, "take care how you apply a remedy, for if you cure the evil in the metropolis, you will drive it out into the neigbourhood." Now, for his part he thought it advisable to cure the evil, if possible, where it did exist. It was to be lamented if it should go elsewhere, but if it did so, thither it ought to be followed, and there crushed too. The hon. gentleman, in the same breath in which he described the happy influence which the regulations in Spitalfields had occasioned, deprecated the adoption of the regulations proposed by his right hon. friend, lest, although advantageous to themselves, they might prove inconvenient to the neighbouring parishes. The fact was, that the question before the House involved the interests not of the metropolis alone, but of all the adjacent parts. Such an extensive subject was calculated to produce much discussion, and therefore it was probable that the inquiry would not be terminated so soon as was anticipated by his' hon. and learned friend. His hon. and learned friend had touched on the nature of punishments, and had ascribed a great part of the moral depravity of the times to the particular mode of confinement to which prisoners were subjected; but he apprehended that this was art inquiry which his hon. and learned friend did not wish should be referred to the Committee now proposed. It certainly was not desirable to engraft the business of a Committee of Penitentiary 206 Houses, upon the business of a Committee appointed for another purpose. There had already bean a Committee on that subject; a report had been made by it, and notice given of a measure to be proposed arising out of that report. Whether it might or might not be expedient to revive the Committee to which he had alluded, was a question by itself; but he was persuaded that the House would not accelerate the acquisition of the benefits so much needed at the present moment, by complicating the objects to which the attention of the Committee moved for by his right hon. friend was to be directed. His hon. and learned friend had asked, whether it was right to continue the practice of granting high rewards for the apprehension of culprits of a certain class? This was a grave subject for deliberate discussion. It ought not to be lightly concluded that those rewards were disserviceable. It might be that they were so; but this was by no means certain. It might be true, that the strength of the stimulus which high rewards offered on the detection of great offenders, operated inversely on the detection of petty offenders. It might, however, be true, that instead of abolishing rewards altogether, it would be wise to extend them to the detection of petty offences, in order that petty offenders might be stopped in their career, and not allowed to proceed to the commission of enormous crimes. On alt these subjects a variety of opinions must naturally exist; but he could by no means allow that the Committee proposed by his right hon. friend could be so well calculated to discuss those opinions as one expressly constituted for that purpose. With respect to what the hon. gentleman had said of the familiarity that existed between the police officers and the culprits, there could be no doubt that stories of that description had been constantly written and told from Jonathan Wilds time down to the present moment. No one, however, could say that that familiarity, which was evidently not novel in its kind, had been the immediate cause of the late unprecedented outrages. He certainly did not mean to contend, that because an evil had long existed, it ought not to be corrected, but it was impossible to ascribe the recent increase of offences either to the rewards granted for the detection of great offenders, or to the familiarity which existed between the offenders and the police officers; because both 207 these circumstances, so far from being new, were of very ancient date indeed. Bat when the hon. gentleman proceeded to say that the officers were reprehensible in not apprehending those individuals of a suspicious character, with whose persons they were acquainted, it behaved the House to consider how far any extension of the operation of the police would be expedient, and bow far it would be advisable that they should take up persons not for the crimes which they had committed, but only on suspicion of the crimes which they might possibly commit. The imprisonment of such persons could be but short, and was little calculated to be beneficial to themselves, or to the community. If the villain (Williams) who had lately disappointed the just vengeance of the nation, by violently withdrawing himself from the punishment which awaited him, had, previously to the commission of his crime, been apprehended on suspicion, the period of his imprisonment could have been but short, and the place of it calculated, according to the hon. gentleman's own statement, to nurture every description of criminal feeling. The particular outrage which had excited such feelings of horror and detestation in the metropolis, and the perpetrators of which, the hon. gentleman said, had escaped detection, was still wrapped up in mystery. It undoubtedly seemed strange, that a single individual could commit such accumulated violence. The probability was, that he was incapable of doing so; but on this subject no certain opinion could yet be formed. If this outrage was actually committed by the individual to whom he had before alluded, it was untrue to say that the culprit had not been found; but certainly he must repeat, that it seemed strange to him, that such devastation could be occasioned by a single individual. At the same time, as far as he had been able to trace the circumstances of the ease, it appeared to be yet uncertain whether or not others were concerned in this horrible atrocity. But as the hon. gentleman bad himself said, no stale of nightly watch, however excellent, could have prevented such a crime. Indeed he hardly knew in what system of police a prevention could-have been found. If such, enormous guilt lurked in a human breast, no system of government could hinder it from endeavouring to effect its object. It might be close to us; it might be in our houses. 208 The only security against such crimes was the manner in which the general sentiment of mankind hunted down the individuals by whom they were perpetrated. In his opinion, the general increase of trials at the Old Bailey was a much greater ground for the motion of his right hon. friend, than the two horrid murders which had been committed; for such events as the last were not the more likely to occur again because they had occurred within the last three months. It appeared to him, that what had been said by his hon. and learned friend, and by the hon. gentleman, was not in opposition to the motion of his right hon. friend. As far as that motion went, he apprehended it was agreed to by every one. It was required by the present state of the metropolis, and he trusted that those who thought that the inquiries of the Committee might be beneficial, would be cautious how they clogged those inquiries with subjects not immediately connected with them. When the Committee was sitting, if it were thought desirable that they should take into consideration any other subject, instructions to that effect might be given them; but he deprecated any proceeding in the first instance which would impede them in their present endeavours to provide a practical remedy for the existing evil.
observed, that the objection of his hon. friend to the motion of the right hon. gent. was, that it was too narrow in its limits. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been more distinct on the subject than the right hon. mover. He had said, that the object waste provide a practical remedy for a practical evil. Now in order to see which argument was the more correct, that which asserted that the proposed object of the Committee was sufficient, or that which asserted that it was not sufficient, let the House but consider the nature of the evil which was intended to be removed. He perfectly agreed with the right hon. gent. that however the general feeling might be harrowed by the late horrible murders which had been perpetrated, yet that those murders were not the grounds on which the appointment of a committee ought to rest; but that those grounds must be founded in the general increase of crimes which the law and the police were found incompetent to check. How; be would ask, could the appointment of a Committee to consider merely the state of 209 the nightly watch be deemed likely to afford a practical remedy for this practical evil? This was a point which the right hon. gent. had in no way explained. The natural argument was, that those who felt that they were insecure, looked to government for protection. They looked to the police; and he contended that nothing had been advanced to prove that the state of the, police ought to be excluded from the consideration of the Committee, and that that consideration should be limited to the state of the nightly watch alone. The propriety of extending the consideration of the Committee to the state of the police was obvious. It was evident from the growth of crimes that the police was inadequate to its object. It was most desirable, therefore, that the Committee should be empowered to enquire of the police the nature of their inadequacy; and to learn the causes to which they impaled the increase of offences. For his part he believed that the causes stated by his hon. and learned friend near him, bad tended materially to increase the number of recent offences. One fact he knew, that in consequence of a visit to the hulks, a number of representations had been made to him by persons confined there, which went to show that other prisoners, who had been confined for crimes of a much more aggravated nature than those of which the individuals from whom the representations proceeded had been guilty, had been liberated in great numbers. He certainly did not state this as a fact in which he entirely believed, but the matter had been communicated to him in such various shapes, that he confessed himself curious to know from the right hon. Secretary of State how it actually stood. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had deprecated clogging the Committee with what he chose to term theoretical considerations. If the motion, however, was amended in such a way as to extend, the enquiry of the Committee to the state of the Police, he could not see how that would clog them; because they might, in the first place, take into consideration the state of the nightly watch, and report to the House the facts, and their opinion thereon, and then proceed to the consideration of the state of the Police. It was no answer to him to say, that the Committee being in the first instance constituted to enquire into the first object, might be subsequently vested with powers to investigate the other; for, in the pre- 210 sent extremely perturbed state of the pubic mind, it would afford no satisfaction of it to be told, that all the immediate remedy contemplated for the existing evil was some small improvement in the state of the nightly watch. It would be much more satisfactory to announce to the public, that the House had constituted a Committee for the purpose of entering upon an enlarged and vigorous inquiry into the causes of the rapid and alarming increase if crimes. It certainly was most extraordinary to hear the right hon. gent. term he consideration of the causes which prevented people from sleeping quietly in heir beds "theoretic." The right hon. gent. must certainly have meant this observation jocularly. Indeed he had treated in the same manner a very solid and judicious remark made, by an hon. friend tear him. His hon. friend had said, that of by a vigorous exertion of the police, all abandoned characters should be excluded from the metropolis, they would be diffused, and would perpetrate offences elsewhere. On this remark the right hon. gent. had thought fit to be humorous. The intention of his hon. friend was only to shew the necessity of coming at the root of the evil—of ascertaining the defect of the present system. If the House neglected to do this, they would he deficient, in their duty, and he would therefore move as an Amendment to the original motion, the addition of the following words— "And also into the state of the Police of the metropolis."
§ Lord Cochrane
ascribed the origin of the evil complained of, to the Pension List, and to the various other modes by which individuals of the higher classes, and particularly members of that House, partook of the public money, without performing any public service. The enormous expenditure of the state, to which such abuses contributed, had the effect of grinding the lower classes, and of driving them to the commission of offences of which they otherwise would have never thought.
Mr. Secretary Ryder
professed himself unable to understand the bearing of the noble lord's observations. He could not conceive what the Pension List had to do with the question before the House. He had no objection to the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned gent. provided he would consent to substitute the word "further," for the word "also," in order that the primary object of the Committee might be that which he thought a 211 great practical benefit. Adverting to the question of the hon. and learned gent. respecting the persons alleged to have been recently Liberated from the hulks, he allowed that a great many had been so liberated, but be denied that the offences for which then had been confined were of an aggravated nature. He had inquired particularly into the subject, and the information which he had received led him to entertain the firm persuasion that not any of the persons alluded to, had returned to their former depraved, habits of life. He had also endeavoured to investigate the cause of the great and recent increase of crimes, and, as far as he had been, able to discover, it appeared to him that it was to be found in the number of persons who had lately returned from transportation, and had unfortunately resumed their old practices. Injustice to the police officers, he must beg leave to notice the accusation made against them, by the hon. and learned gent. opposite, when he stated that they were never disposed to detect offenders, unless a great reward was offered to them for that purpose. A similar suggestion had some time ago been made to him from another quarter. He had had recourse to the best authority, and he had been assured by the magistrates, who were surely the most competent to give an opinion on the subject, that no such indisposition existed; and that if any such indisposition were manifested by an officer, he would be immediately dismissed from his situation. He was convinced that greater efforts to detect offenders had never been made, than those which the police officers of the metropolis had made during, the last two months.
Sir S. Romilly
begged leave to make a few observations on what had fallen from the right hon. Secretary. The right hon. gent. talked of the great exertions which the police officers had made during the last two months. Did he recollect that a reward of upwards of 700l, had been offered to those who should detect and prosecute to conviction the perpetrators of the crime? He did not wish to speak harshly of the police, but he did think it a most monstrous evil, that so many persons had been taken up on that occasion, upon such slight grounds of suspicion. Among them was the nearest relative of one of the murdered persons, who, on no ground whatever, had been apprehended 212 and kept 48 hours in custody, on the dreadful charge of having murdered his brother. One way and another no Hess than forty or fifty persons had been apprehended on bare suspicion. He could not therefore join in the right hon. gentleman's commendation of the police officers, when he considered the high reward by which they were stimulated, and the number of persons whom they had apprehended, in the most light manner. He was glad, therefore, that the House had agreed to inquire into the state of the police. It ought to be remembered, that when the police was originally established it was new to the constitution, and was introduced only on the supposition, that some great benefit would be derived from it, which would justify parliament in departing from those principles by which they had, until that period, been guided on the subject. It was time to ask, whether the expected advantages had accrued?
Sir F. Burdett
expressed himself happy to find that a suspicion, which he confessed he had entertained, namely, that an advantage would be taken of the alarm of the public mind to extend the police of the metropolis, had proved to be unfounded. As to the motion itself, it was utterly impossible for him to oppose it for an instant. Indeed, he was convinced that if the system of nightly watch were made, what in his opinion, it could easily be made, the necessity of any police whatever might be precluded, as the possibility of committing any crime would be prevented. This, however, could not be done on the present principles. But if the country chose to revive the old law of Edward the first, by which every county and parish was made responsible to every householder for the losses he might sustain, and by which every householder was compelled it his turn to watch for the protection of others, effectual security would be afforded to the community at large, without the immediate interference of any police, and the respectable part of the population, thus accustomed up the use of arms, might be rendered available to the defence of the kingdom, in the event of invasion by a foreign enemy; or at least would be competent to repress all internal disturbances. Hoping that some plan of this sort was in the contemplation of government, he gave his complete assent to the motion. He was very happy that the amendment had received the concurrence of the right hon. 213 gent opposite, for it appeared to him to be indispensable to inquire into the abuses which he believed had crept into the police establishment. It was his determination to move for a list of the Police Magistrates who had been appointed, with heir several qualifications, in order to see whether the law on that subject had net been wholly disregarded, The 32nd of the king directed that the Police Magistrates should be appointed from the acting magistrates, and that their qualification should be the possession of 100l. a year in freehold property. He suspected that these enactments had been departed from, and he would take an early opportunity of ascertaining the fact. The subject was one of a wide range, and he trusted the House would closely investigate the cause of a rapid accumulation of crimes, of which the history of the country afforded no precedent. He attributed this, in a great measure, to the neglected state of our criminal code, the necessity for revising which had been maintained by almost all the great men who had written or spoken on the subject. It was lamentable to see the legislature so careless in a matter on which the lives and property of millions depended. The right hon. Secretary of State had professed to see no connection between the observations of his noble colleague with regard to the Pension I List, and the subject before the House. The connection was nevertheless intimate. If the morals of the higher classes were depraved, the general morals would be depraved also. The argument of the noble lord went to shew, that it was dishonest in public men to receive the public money without performing any public service. This example of dishonesty must spread through the whole community, and must have the effect of undermining every sound principle of justice and morality.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
, in acceding to the amendment, begged to disclaim all idea of imputing misconduct in the case of the police magistracy, either as to their appointment in the first instance, or with respect to their conduct on the present critical occasion. He had not at first thought it necessary that the words of the motion should be enlarged, because he conceived it to be a matter of course, that all necessary means of establishing security would be enquired into by the Committee. An hon. and learned gentleman had himself practised 214 upon him the facetiousness which he had, imputed to him, when he supposed that he looked upon any regulation of the police as a theoretical scheme. He entertained no such idea; but he had thought, that the present question might be encumbered with speculative clogs, if enquiries were ingrafted on it relative, to the state of punishments, and the criminal code; or, what was not impossible, since the members for Westminster were on the Committee, if an investigation was instituted as to the expedience of a reform in parliament. On the whole, he thought that a consideration of the means of prevention of crime, in the power of the police, would form a very proper accession to the present enquiry.
§ Mr. Sheridan
began by animadverting upon what appeared to him to be the extraordinary conduct of the right hon. Secretary of State, upon a subject of such delicacy and importance. After the alarms that the recent atrocities had spread throughout every part of the metropolis; after the general and feverish anxiety of the public for redress and protection, down came the right hon. gentleman to that House, and in order to remove at once, and effectually allay all alarm and anxiety whatever, solemnly proposed that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the state and condition of the nightly watch! This would have been at any time the meekest of all meek propositions; but at the present crisis it was not only the meekest, but he must beg-the right hon. Secretary's pardon, if he added, the silliest proposition that could possibly have been made. The state of the nightly watch! Why, what became of the act of parliament that created in each parish the appointment and controul of those watchmen? Were not the provisions of that act sufficient, if carried into effect, to provide for and maintain the peace of the metropolis? And if they were, had the magistrates or those persons entrusted with carrying those provisions into effect, done their duty? Had not the several parishes ample powers to enforce the regulations of the act, and secure their respective peace and safety? But though by the laws the power was lodged in each parish, they were now called upon to enquire into the state of the nightly watch. Why not go further and move for an inquiry into the state of the parish nurseries? (a laugh). But the right hon. Secretary came before them 215 brimful of information; he told them that the act required able-bodied watchmen; and then he told them that the men employed were not able-bodied, because, forsooth, they were weak, old, and decrepid—very satisfactory reasons certainly why they could not be very active, young, and vigilant! And then the right hon. gent. told them further, that these sort of men were unfit for their situations, that the service, in short, wanted recruits; and that as at present there was no watch to protect the city at night, that therefore they ought to proceed, with all due deliberation, to inquire into the state and condition of the nightly watch. To be called upon gravely to all this was bad enough; but to be called upon, with all the characteristic gravity of the right hon. Secretary was scarcely supportable, That right hon. gentleman knew the importance his manner could give to trifles—he was in the habit of throwing such an inflexible air of grave solemnity round all he had to offer to that House, that there was really sometimes danger lest they should attach to the matter what belonged to the manner merely. But what was the object of the right hon. gentleman? If be had not an immediate, perhaps he had a remote one. Did he mean to entrench upon the charter of the city of London? And if he did, was he sure that the hon. baronet (sir Charles. Price), would concur with him in such an object? Did he know what his hon. and worthy friend be hind him (alderman Combe) would say to such a proposition? a gentleman who had throughout his public life, evinced such a praise-worthy zeal in behalf of the rights of all his fellow-citizens—was he quite sure that he should have his assistance in a scheme that was to touch the corporate rights of the city of London? Had the right hon. Secretary consulted either of those gentlemen? Had he taken the least pains to consult with any one magistrate, before he came down to his place in that House with his formidable proposition of inquiring into the state and condition of the nightly watch?—When those horrible atrocities were first committed in the neighbourhood of Shadwell they all remembered how eager valgar prejudice was to fasten upon a foreigner—people grew all of a sudden thoroughly persuaded that there was evidence upon the face of those murders to shew that they were, perpetrated by Portuguese, and by none but Por- 216 tuguese Oh! who would do it but Portuguese was the general cry. Prejudice, however, did not long stand still upon the Portuguese. The next tribe of for reigners arraigned and convicted, were the Irish—(a laugh)—it was nothing but an Irish murder, and could have been done only by Irishmen! Beastly as this prejudice was, the Shadwell magistrates were not ashamed to act up to it in all the meanness and bigotry of its indignant spirit, viewing the murder in no less alight than that of a Popish plot. They commenced an indiscriminate hunt after the Irish people; and when they had them before them, in order to come at once to the plot, they began with the deep leader of are you a Papist?' or, if you deny that you are, shew that you don't know how "to cross yourself.' Amidst this general suspicion of aliens and Irishmen, he wished to know whether the right hon. gentleman had thought it necessary to resort to the Alien Office. He wished to know whether he had ever any consultation upon this subject with the gentlemen at the head of the Alien Office. Had he asked Mr. Reeves one single question about this formidable proposition of enquiring into the state of the nightly watch? He had once moved in that House, that the gentleman to whom he alluded (Mr. Reeves) should be prosecuted for a libel upon that House by his Majesty's Attorney General; yet he should not fear, to appeal to that gentleman to confirm him in saying, that the right hon. Secretary had had no communication, with him whatever. He asked of that right hon. gentleman whether he had ever been in the same room with Mr. Reeves? whether he had ever seen him for the last year and a half? From this one circumstance the House would see what sort of a head of a police they had in their present State Secretary for the Home Department. Had he consulted with the head of the Alien Office? Had he consulted with the proper officers of the district? Had he consulted with the police magistrates of any of the divisions? Had he consulted with anyone likely to give him information upon the subject? If he had not, and he believed he had not then was it to be the less wondered at, that the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department had thought it sufficient, upon such an occasion, to be delivered of his solemn proposition for inquiring into the state and condition of, the nightly, watch But 217 grave and solemn as this proposition was, the right hon. Secretary had agreed to abandon it, and for what? An Amendment, that was as odd and new a proposition for amending an original motion, as any he had ever heard proposed. In general an amendment was some small addition to, or alteration of, the words of the original motion; but here the original motion was but a small scrap of the amendment; it was like tacking the loaf to the crust and not the crust to the loaf; so that his learned friend's large loaf had quite hid from their view the morsel of crust which the right hon. Secretary had proposed for their relief. It was pretty much in the same way as if the original motion had been for a Committee to inquire into the amount of the pitch and tar lodged in one of his Majesty's dock-yards, whereupon it should be proposed to move as an Amendment, that the said Committee be further instructed to inquire into the state of the Naval Stores, Victualling, Manning, Equipment, and general Discipline of his Majesty's Navy. As to the original motion in the case before the House—the state of the nightly watch of this city, it could be inquired into within three hours; but the general state of the police of the metropolis could not be inquired into satisfactorily within as many months; what was to be done in the interval? In the year 1780, he had submitted to that House a motion on the then state of the police, and when he complained of the conduct of the lord lieutenant of the county, for whom, however he entertained a great personal respect, the repartee he got in return was, being told that himself, and his friends general Fitzpatrick and general Burgoyne, were put in the commissions of the peace, and were bound to do their duty—so that every man that attempted to complain, was threatened to be made a magistrate of. But was there not some inherent vice in the system? Was there no jobbing in the appointment of some of those police magistrates? Would the right hon. gentleman say that there were no jobs in the making of those appointments? Were not many persons kept in these situations who were totally unfit to discharge the duties attached to them? The worthy baronet (sir F. Burdett) had mentioned his intention of moving for names; this certainly might be considered as an invidious task, but ought not to deter a man from doing what he considered his duty. For some of the police magistrates 218 he entertained the highest respect, and he mentioned with pleasure the name of Mr. Aaron Graham, who had rendered the public considerable services, in his conduct in the superintendence of the hulks. He thought, too, that the magistrates of Bow-street office had been uniformly active and vigilant. But what should he say of the magistrates of Shadwell? How should he attempt to describe a conduct, in which folly and rashness were constantly endeavouring to make amends for the grossest neglect of duty? At one time we saw them mixing in the indiscriminate cry of the mob, and greedily indulging in the prodigality of seizing upon every man with a torn coat and a dirty shirt; and at another, leaving Williams with all the means necessary to commit self-murder; let one fact speak more strongly than words could do to their general conduct. It was now very well known that this Williams was not an Irishman, that not only no one circumstance came out to justify that suspicion, but all that did come out proved him not to have been an Irishman. However, the prejudice of the hour would have him an Irishman, and as it was once bruited about, it was generally believed. In the midst of the operation of this prejudice seven unfortunate Irishmen were taken up upon the strong suspicion of foul linen. They were examined, and after having been made to cross themselves, they were confined together in a close room below. The next evening some noise being heard, and perhaps no very moderate one, the magistrates inquired into the cause of this uproar, and they were told," Oh! it is nothing, but those horrid Irish, who can never be quiet." It turned out, however, that in this instance at least, those Irishmen had no great cause to be contented, for they had been confined in this hole of a room for twenty two hours with out a bed to be upon, or a morsel of bread, or a drop of water to refresh them! And what did the magistrates? They recollected luckily the circumstance, and told their officers, "do for God's sake get those fellows some bread and cheese, and then bring them before us, and we will apologise for the trouble we have given them, and discharge them!" This, he supposed, was what the right hon. Secretary would call vigour.—But, giving them all due credit for such vigour; where was the vigour, the justice, the moral, or the decency, in that abominable spectacle with which, they fed the worst appetites of the mob 219 in the unseemly exhibition of the dead body to the multitude! Did they want to teach the people to prey upon carcases? Could it add to the sanctity of justice to make the passions of a mob hurry it to Not upon a senseless carcase? Was there that certainty upon which alone justice ought to act to make such a spectacle fit? Should the people deal out the vengeance of the law by witnessing the formal procession of mangled limbs and putrid carcases? But what other was the true motive of this parade of the carcase, and the-maul and the chissel—what but a poor artifice to cover their own scandalous neglect? Why did they suffer that man to be alone? Why did they suffer him to be three days alone, though they knew that there was a bar across the top of his dungeon, and that he were handkerchiefs and garters? The wonder really was that they did not give general orders to furnish the prisoner with a nightly supply of razors and pistols. But what could be said too extravagantly of their neglect and remissness, when it should be known that this wretch was suffered to possess himself with a sharp piece of iron, which was found in his pocket the morning after he hanged himself. And yet after all this, the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer bagged to be distinctly understood when he agreed to the Amendment, that he did not thereby mean to affix the smallest imputation to the conduct of the magistracy. This was the salvo of the right hon. gentleman; no reflection on the magistrates. Some one had said that all the watchmen of Shadwell had been discharged; and why in the name of justice, not discharge all the magistrates too? He was himself pretty conversant with police affairs' and recommended to the perusal of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer a treatise, written in the year 1750, by Mr. Henry Fielding, a police magistrate, on the late alarming increase of crimes. He should hope, that the right hon. gentleman would not think Worse of the author for having been a poet and a dramatic writer.—But to sum up his account of the vigilance of the Shadwell magistracy, he had merely to state, that they never once thought of searching the room of Williams till nearly two months after the murder, where they found the bloody trowsers and the ivory hafted knife. He concluded by stating, that he had formerly thought much upon the subject of the police, and that as the 220 right hon. Secretary had shewn to-night, that he had not as yet thought at all upon the subject, he begged that that right hon. gentleman would begin to think of it with all possible dispatch, at least before he again came down to the House to move with great solemnity for an inquiry into the state and condition of the nightly watch!
§ Mr. Stephen
, considering the situation in which the magistrates were placed; thought them entitled to indulgence, and even to compassion. The numerous arrestations for which they were so much blamed, proceeded from those numberless in formations created by panic, and to which they owed Williams's apprehension. If, however, the right hon. gent. was right in his statement, if the magistrates had encouraged prejudices, if such prejudices actually existed against a brave and a generous nation, he thought them highly reprehensible. But he must suppose the right hon. gent. to have been misinformed; he could not believe that any man of sense could entertain the idea that the individuals of any of the nations composing the population of these realms, could be more inclined to crime than any others, and he strongly deprecated the idea. He owned that some neglect had attached to the magistrates in not seeing Williams properly watched; but he denied, that in his burial they had gone beyond the law against suicides, or done more than the state of the public mind required. He attributed the late increase of offences more to the negligence of the nightly watch, than to the state of the police, which in many instances could not possibly prevent them. In support of this, he stated that his next-door neighbour, in Great Ormond-street, in the parish of St. Andrew and St. George the Martyr, had his house broke open, and considerable property stolen there from. This was done on the part of the thieves with the utmost deliberation, and it was ascertained that no watchman had been seen that night in the street. On enquiry it was found, that by a recent and most whimsical regulation, the watchmen of that parish were allowed two dead flights in the week; that was,' they were allowed to absent themselves two nights without fear of being reported, and it so happened that all the watchmen had taken the night of the robbery for one of their dead nights. The hon. and learned gent. believed that many of the crimes which swelled the list produced by his hon. and. 221 learned friend (sir S. Romilly), were only larcenies and warehouse robberies, which it was the duty of the nightly watch to prevent. Indeed he was so convinced that the fault laid entirely with them, that he would have voted against the Amendment, had he not been apprehensive of being left alone. He trusted, that no delay would take place in taking the necessary steps to restore security, to the metropolis.
Mr. Mathew Montague
was sorry to detain the House, but could not omit noticing the levity with which a right hon. gent. (Mr. Sheridan) had treated the question, as, indeed, he treated most subjects before the House. He could not conceive his motive for attacking his right hon. friend, the Secretary of State, and for asserting that he never had a conference with a magistrate, although his right hon. friend, in his speech, had positively asserted the contrary. He could not conceive his motives, which, however, he attributed to patty-spirit. As to the right hon. gent's assertions, he would not say they were not true, because it was un-parliamentary, and departing from the solemnity of the debate; but he would beg the right hon. gent's pardon, in saying, that he could not possibly believe them.
§ Mr. Sheridan
said, that he was sure the hon. gent. had other motives, that restrained him from using such language, than the mere apprehension of seeming too solemn: for his part, he was free to acknowledge, that if the hon. gent. had called his assertions untruths, that instead of looking upon it as a proof of excessive solemnity, he should have rather received it as an instance of absolute vivacity in that hon. gent. For the right hon. Secretary of State he professed the highest respect; and as the hon. gent. was so much at a loss to account for his motives in attacking the right hon. gent. so much so, indeed, that he had repeated it six times, he would tell him, that his only motives were motives of public duty; and if the hon. gent. as a member of parliament, was unacquainted with such motives, he could only say that he was very sorry for it.
The question was then put and carried, and the following members were named to form the Committee; Mr. Secretary Ryder, Sir C. Price, Sir James Shaw, Sir William Curtis, Mr. Alderman Combe, Mr. Byng, Mr. Mellish, Sir F. Burdett, Lord 222 Cochrane, Sir. T. Turton, Mr. H. Thornton. Mr. Tierney, Lord Lowther, Mr. Leycester, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Abercromby, col. Wood, Mr. Sturges Bourne, Mr. Hall, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Frankland.