HC Deb 31 January 1812 vol 21 cc482-9
Sir F. Burdett

expressed his regret, that he had not received the note of the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Ryder) respecting his Order on the subject of Police Magistrates. (See p. 401.) He had been absent from home on business of some importance, otherwise he should have answered that note, and appeared in his place to show the importance of the order to which he alluded. The police was an establishment of great expence to the nation, and he feared that most improper appointments had taken place in that department. It was well known, that from the establishment of the police act, certain qualifications were required for admission into the police magistracy. These qualifications had a most important object in view, namely, the security of the public; but now, when members would quibble upon the law which regarded qualifications for that House, it was unlikely that upon a question of inferior magistracy, he would be allowed to collect such information as might perhaps tend to criminate those in whose hands were placed the powers that give or took away place.

The law sat forth, that as magistrates of counties were entrusted with great powers, it was expedient to make such regulations as might keep persons in mean situations from holding such offices. It was therefore enacted, in the time of George the second, That no person should act as a magistrate, who was not possessed of property to the amount of 100l. per annum, in the county in which he was to administer justice. This was intended to prevent magistrates becoming the tools of government, as he had often seen them prove themselves of late. At that time 100l. was a very considerable sum, and such an annual income was thought a tolerable independence, the possessor of which was not expected to be the tool of government, at least it was thought he could not be such from necessity. Justice at that time, he must observe, was not administered with such severity as it had been of late but at present, the country gentlemen to whom such powers as were given to magistrates might perhaps be entrusted with the greatest safety, were frequently overpowered by the union of the magistrates in adjoining counties. His object in moving for the Order which had been made by the House, was to see if ministers had any regard themselves to that law, which they had got passed under pretence of benefiting the public, while it imposed on them a very considerable expence. It was acknowledged that enormous abuses existed in the present system, and he took it for granted that those abuses might be traced to ministers themselves. It appeared to him highly desirable that the House should be put in possession of all that information for which he had called, and he should therefore certainly move that that part of the order which had been rescinded should be reinstated in the order. If this was not done, if magistrates were not called upon to shew what were their qualifications, when an enquiry into the state of the police was instituted, how could that House pretend to look into the conduct of public officers? How could it be done, if they were not to be called upon, lest their answers should criminate themselves? With a similar feeling, it had formerly been said, that lord Melville ought not to be called upon to account for the money which he had held in trust for the public. To him it appeared very important that the House should know whether the persons appointed by ministers to fill important situations, were or were not such as they ought to be, according to their own act of parliament. If this information were withheld, what might not be the evil effects of such conduct on those who now held situations of authority? When it was asserted that magistrates ought not to be called upon to state their qualifications, lest their answers should criminate themselves, how, he would ask, had those magistrates conducted themselves on a late occasion? Had their conduct been regulated by such principle as that which it was contended, with a reference to them, ought to be constantly kept in view? What had they been doing in the late examinations which had taken place of persons who were supposed to have been concerned in the murder of Mr. Marr's family? What had they been doing, but endeavouring to make men, whom they had ever so little reason to suspect, say that which might criminate themselves? This inquisitorial power they had been in the habit of exercising daily, and what right had they to inflict the punishment which they had inflicted on persons brought before them? What was now the situation of that unfortunate person who was in confinement on suspicion of being concerned in the late murders, Alblas? What was he kept for? Why was he put in chains, immured in a dungeon, and called upon every day to criminate himself? It was stated in the daily prints, that the only circumstance against him was, his inability to account for a quarter of an hour of his time the night on which one of the murders was committed. He would not pretend to say, that the severity of those measures was not in some degree justified by the horrid atrocities that had been committed, but when the persons so used were found innocent, he thought it was but justice that some remuneration should have been given for the severities they had endured. The power which enabled a magistrate to act in this manner was too great not to be an object of much public jealousy; if abused, the abuse should not be suffered to continue; and to know that the qualifications which conferred such power were always found in the person who possessed them, was the object to which his order was directed. He would, therefore, move that that part of his order should be reinstated which had been rescinded on last Wednesday; namely, "That there be laid before this House, a return stating where the qualifications of the Police Magistrates, under the Act 32 Geo. 3, c. 53, or under any subsequent act, are, and what they are."

Mr. Secretary Ryder

assured the hon. baronet, that he had not the slighest suspicion of his not being at the House on Tuesday or Wednesday, or he should not have brought forward his motion on either of those days; but observing the hon. baronet so constantly in his place on all other occasions, he could hardly have supposed he would then have been absent; but he confessed, the impression of the hon. baronet's motion upon his mind was such, that at all events he should have felt the necessity of bringing on his, and had the hon. baronet comprehended his objection to the motion as it originally stood, he was satisfied he would also see the expediency of rescinding that part of it. The motion of the hon. baronet, as he understood it, required of the police magistrates to state not only what were their qualifications when they began to act, but also to state what these qualifications were, and where they were to be found. To such a motion he must object, because there was an act of parliament which required that no magistrate should act without his qualification being registered: so far as they knew whet the qualification was when the magistrate was appointed, he had no objection, as that would be found in the office of the clerk of the peace; but what those qualifications were, and where they were at the present time, could only be obtained from the magistrate himself, and by the 18th of Geo. 2, he would be liable to a penalty of 100l. if he acted, without a qualification. This would be requiring of the magistrate to convict himself in a heavy penalty for the breach of that act, supposing him to have acted without such qualification. He did not know whether this would not be a violation of the fundamental principle of the constitution, to compel a man to criminate himself, and if so, the House could not agree to such a proposition. But the hon. baronet had said, there were many improper appointments of police magistrates; he wished the hon. baronet would come boldly and manfully forward with his charges, and not state them in that narrow, pitiful way, without stating the particular charge, or naming the particular individual. He had appointed two or three police magistrates since he had the honour of holding his present office; he would with the hon. baronet would state, whether he meant to allude to any of these? If he meant to state so, he gave the charge as direct and unequivocal a denial as words could convey. With respect to the conduct of the magistrates in regard to Alblas, the hon. baronet stated, that he did not understand what was the accusation against him. He had been asked some questions, which he declined to answer; at the same time he was told he might or might not answer them. It was, therefore, unfair to argue upon the circumstances of that case; but he must take it for granted, that there were circumstances sufficient in the opinion of the magistrate, Mr. Graham, to justify and call on him to commit the individual. What reason was there then to impute any improper conduct to Mr. Graham? Instead of any imputation, in his opinion, he was deserving of public approbation and thanks. He must again repeat, he could wish the hon. baronet would not deal in dark and distant insinuations. Let him come forward manfully and boldly, and state his charges; this would be more satisfactory to himself and to the House, than to be dealing in that sort of equivocal denial and unfounded assertion.

Mr. Tierney

said he had nothing to advance against the conduct of the police magistrates; but thought it necessary that some qualification should be shown to the House, in order to maintain the public estimation of the character of those who had so much power in their own hands. As he understood the objection of the right hon. gentleman, it was not to the production of the qualification delivered in upon their appointment, but to their stating what it was, and where it now was; and the right hon. gentleman said, it would be unjust to call on men to subject themselves to pecuniary penalties; but was not the House to be put in a way of obtaining that information? The House should know whether or not the law was properly executed. Let the right hon. gentleman only point out some mode by which they may obtain the information; if not by this, by some other. Whether they had done this or that act, he did not ask of them to betray themselves into a liability to pay the penalty. If a man sold goods without a license, he had a right to be asked whether he had a license; if this was not the case, what remedy would a court of justice have? In what manner could the court proceed against him? The same mode he would adopt in the present case. From the unwillingness to produce these returns, he should most strongly suspect there was something wrong in the appointment of some of these magistrates. If there was any thing improper in point of legal form, to the mode proposed, he hoped the right hon. gentleman would condescend to suggest the best mode of coming at the fact. The legislature having passed a law, it was right they should see whether or not that law was evaded. It was of the greatest importance to the ends of justice that they should know that those to whom the administration of the law was confided, were properly qualified. For these reasons he warmly concurred in the motion of the hon. baronet.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that there never was a motion brought forward in that House with less grounds to maintain it. The hon. baronet assumed that, of which there was not the slightest evidence. He conceived there were two answers to the proposition of the hon. baronet, the first was, that there was no reason whatever to believe the law had been broken; and the second was, that if it had, the last thing the House would do would be to call on that individual who had broken it, to give evidence tending to criminate himself. This was the strongest objection to any motion at all upon the subject. There were no grounds laid for the motion; no particular charges stated no statement founded on facts; but merely a general surmise of the hon. baronet, that improper appointments had been made. There were no reasons for this enquiry, unless the hon. baronet could lay such grounds before the House as would satisfy them that the inquiry should be gone into. The House had never expressed an opinion that the law had been broken; if it had, the legislature had provided the remedy, with which the House had nothing to do. If the law was broken, the penalty was incurred, qui tam actions would lie against the party so violating the law; and the case would be tried by a jury, who would have to determine upon the proof. There was nothing in this law which applied more particularly to the police magistrates than to every magistrate throughout the country. Would the hon. baronet call upon them all to state what was and are their qualifications, and where? How was the hon. baronet to maintain the character of the magistracy by this mode of proceeding It was an easy task for gentlemen to say there were acts of severity exercised by the magistracy, but they had no evidence, no facts, to bear them out in this statement. Was this the way to maintain and uphold the character of the magistracy? But the hon. baronet said they were protected by the broad shield of that House, and he stated, as his grounds for this assertion of the severity of the magistracy, something he had seen in the newspapers. He would ask the hon. baronet himself whether he would ground any proceeding on a bare statement in a newspaper? As to the severity which was asserted with respect to Alblas, there were circumstances of suspicion which led the magistrates to believe that he was on a given time at a given place; they did not require of him to criminate himself, though if he could have given a satisfactory account of himself during that period, the case would bear a very different complexion, and the magistrates would not have acted properly if they had not given him an opportunity of accounting for that time. The individual who put an end to himself to evade justice was taken up op mere suspicion; would the hon. baronet say he ought not to have been, detained? Was the hon. baronet prepared to say that all persons taken up on suspicion ought to be discharged? But there was the greatest degree of harshness and injustice in the manner in which the conduct of the magistrates upon that occasion was animadverted upon by that House. One hon. gentleman charged them with not sufficient exertion, another started up and charged them with being too severe. For all these reasons he saw no grounds whatever for the present motion.

Mr. Whitbread

thought a great part of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech should have been made before the original motion, for if he could not prevail on the House in the first instance, they could not now concur with him in thinking the present motion was wrong. He denied that any imputation had been thrown on the police magistrates by the hon. baronet; no such imputation was intended. Some of them were personally known to him, and highly respectable. He knew no individual more so, than the worthy magistrate, Mr. Graham. But the police system was altogether an object of jealousy. And he well recollected the exertions of an hon. friend, now no more, (Mr. Windham) against that system, which he considered an infringement on the liberty of the subject; this was the objection of the hon. baronet; this was the object of jealousy of which the House complained. The right hon. gentleman called on the hon. baronet to substantiate his charges; that was not necessary; it was more important to know whether those police magistrates, from a state of independence, had become dependent. But it was said, that by making these returns, the magistrates would become liable to danger. What danger would they be exposed to? He should be glad that some of the learned gentlemen opposite would point out to him, whether they would he in more danger than if a common informer were to prosecute? Would he not be capable of bringing proof of the want of qualification? And why should the House of Commons be refused that which an informer could procure? If, therefore, no other mode should be pointed out, he should feel it his duty to support the present motion.

The Attorney General

wished to know what grounds the House had against these persons, that they should call on them for their qualifications? The legislature had already provided a remedy; they were subject to a heavy penalty. He assured the hon. gentleman, that from any thing within his own knowledge, or the information he had received from his hon. friends, there was not the least grounds of suspicions whatever against the police magistrates, and he could not see any reason why that should be enforced against the police magistrates, which was not enforced against all the other magistrates of the country. He objected to the motion, because it called upon them to bring proof against themselves of having acted illegally, and whatever a man stated against himself was evidence against him, and the conceived the House might direct a prosecution, wherein his own admission might be evidence against him.

Sir J. Newport

considered that there was a great distinction between the police magistrates and the magistrates of counties, the one acted voluntarily without any pay, the other was handsomely paid by the public; and as servants of the public, and paid by the public, their conduct was equally liable to be enquired into by that House as any collector of the revenue, or any other public officer.

The House then divided, when there appeared

For the motion 7
Against it 57
Majority —50