§ Mr. Speaker
; I am desirous of calling the attention of the House to a subject, which at first sight, perhaps, may appear to be limited in its application, and local in its objects; but which, in point of fact, is connected with considerations of the utmost importance to the well-being of the country. I allude, Sir, to the increase of 785 crime which has lately taken place in the metropolis, and the districts immediately adjoining thereto; and to the state of those establishments of police, and to other establishments of a similar nature, which are connected with the prevention of crime, and with the detection of offenders. The greater part of those whom I have now the honour of addressing may recollect that, at an early period of the last session, I gave notice of my intention to propose to the House, to institute an inquiry into the state of the Police in the Metropolis. The circumstances which led to my retirement from office, prevented my then instituting the inquiry which I wished to pursue; and after Easter it was too late to allow the persons concerned in the administration of public affairs, to prosecute any active or efficient inquiry into the subject. A noble lord, the member for Bandon (lord John Russell), gave notice of a motion upon the subject, and at his instance a committee was appointed, which had for its object an inquiry into the causes which had led to the increase of crime in the country generally. That committee prosecuted its inquiries for some time, and made a report upon the subject, which contains a great deal of very useful information, and which has laid the foundation of further inquiries, which I trust it is the intention of the noble lord to re-institute in the course of the present session. The inquiries of the committee to which I allude were directed to three objects. First, the cause of the increase of crime in the Agricultural Districts; secondly, the cause of the increase of crime in the Manufacturing Districts; and, thirdly, the cause of the increase of crime in the Metropolis. The only subject, the only branch of these three divisions, which the committee had, during the last session, leisure to inquire into, was the first of the investigations. No evidence was taken as to the cause of the increase of crime in the manufacturing districts: no evidence was taken as to the cause of the increase of crime in the metropolis.' These last two subjects were not at all gone into by the committee, for the reason I have stated.
Now, Sir, I feel, when about to propose a Committee of Inquiry into the state of the Police, and into the state of those establishments which are connected with the suppression of crime, that all inquiry would be necessarily imperfect, unless the House devolves upon that committee the duty of inquiring into the third branch of the sub- 786 ject; namely, the causes of the increase of crime in the metropolis, and the districts adjoining thereto. I therefore feel some satisfaction at having, in the motion which I have now to submit to the House, obtained the entire assent of the noble Lord, who originally proposed that inquiry, and who, probably, will renew the investigation which he has so happily commenced. In moving for a committee to inquire into the causes of the increase in the number of commitments and convictions in London and its vicinity, Sir, I most heartily wish that it was not in my power to adduce satisfactory evidence of the necessity of instituting such an inquiry. Unfortunately, the evidence of such necessity is too plain, too frequent, and too important, to have escaped any man who has given the slightest attention to the subject. Any person who has the least information with respect to the state of many parts of the districts which border on the metropolis, must be perfectly satisfied that the security for property, and even for person—but particularly the security for property, is not what it ought to be in every well-regulated society; it is not the protection which every subject who gives allegiance to the state has a right to expect. This inference is founded not only upon the experience of all who reside in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, and who have personal knowledge, and correct information, as to the state of many parts of those districts, but it is also drawn from the returns which are prepared at the office of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and which have already been laid upon the table of this House. These returns, Sir, afford a most convincing proof that there has been, within late years, that increase in the number of committals and convictions for crimes in London and Middlesex, which alone affords sufficient proof, not only of the policy, but of the absolute necessity of some inquiry into the subject. Speaking of the causes of the increase of crime in London and its vicinity, one observation offers itself with respect to the increase of crime in the country generally. I must postpone this branch of the subject, until I have disposed of that which I am now upon. Sir, the returns to which I allude, contain an account for each year of the number of commitments and convictions to the prisons of London and Middlesex—an account of crimes committed on the population of that part of the kingdom. From these returns the numbers appear as follow:— 787
So that in these four years, there is no very material variation in the amount of the number of committals, and there was a reduction in the number in the year 1823 of 270, as compared with the year 1820. In the year 1824, there began to be an increase in the number of commitments; and this has gone on progressively until the end of 1827. I mentioned that in 1823 the total number of committals for criminal offences (for I exclude slight cases, such as assaults, offences under the Vagrant act, and all crimes of a petty nature, and speak only of higher crimes), was 2,503. The number of criminal commitments in London and Middlesex was,
In the year 1820 2,773 1821 2,480 1822 2,539 1823 2,503
So that in 1826 the increase was rapid; and, although the number of committals in 1827 was less by seventy-six than those of the year immediately preceding, still the increase of the former years was so very large, that the small decrease in 1827, as compared with the year 1826, can be no reason why the House should object or hesitate to institute the inquiry I have the honour to propose.
In 1824 2,621 1825 2,902 1826 3,457 1827 3,384
It is some satisfaction, in looking at this part of the question to be able to inform the House, that the increase of the number of offences is not an increase of those crimes which are of a more aggravated nature; there is no increase in the number of cases of personal violence, of murder, of assaults upon the person; the increase is solely in the number of those offences connected with property. If we compare the total number of commitments in 1826 with the number in 1820, we shall find the increase to be 684; for in 1820 the numbers were 2773, and in 1826 they were 3457. If we compare the numbers committed in these two years, we shall find that the increase in the cases of simple larceny, are more than sufficient to account for the increase in the total numbers. In 1820, the number of persons committed for simple larceny was 1,384. The committals of the same nature in 1826 were 2,118, being an increase of 734. The total increase of the general number is 684, which shows a decrease in the other species of offences: but, 788 with respect to simple larceny, you will find an increase upon the whole.
The considerations connected with this part of the subject appeared to me of such immense importance, that a short time before my retirement from office I took considerable pains for the purpose of procuring information as to the amount of crime in foreign countries compared with the amount of population, in several large districts and towns in those countries. I have obtained some returns from foreign countries, which, however, it will be difficult to bring into comparison with those of our own country, because, in the former, the classification is different from that in the latter. The returns which I have procured refer to Berlin, Vienna, Antwerp, Paris, Brussels, Hamburgh, and several others of the largest cities and towns of Europe. I have also procured similar returns from the principal towns and cities at home such as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Dublin, and Edinburgh. I will allow that such documents furnish rather subjects of curiosity than guides from which any positive inference can be drawn with safety; but I have this morning selected some remarkable facts from a work by M. Peyronnet who was at the head of the police in Paris. It is limited to the year 1825, but it is drawn up in so admirable a form, and the subjects so ably treated, that it is well worthy the attention of all those who feel inclined to turn their attention to such matters, either in this House or in our criminal courts. It enters minutely into details of the ages of the criminals, the nature of their crimes, the place and time of their commission, and the period at which the cases were tried and finally disposed of, and distinguishes crimes against the person from crimes against property. It is exceedingly curious to observe the comparative state of crime in different districts. I this morning compared the crimes and population of Paris with the crimes and population of Middlesex. The last census of the population of Paris was taken in 1817; but I believe it is admitted upon authority, that between that period and the year 1820, the population of Paris has not increased in any material degree. In 1817, the exact amount of the population within the barriers is stated to have been 657,152 souls. Adding to this the inhabitants of prisons, forty-three military establishments, and the occupiers of hotels (of which there are six 789 hundred and ninety-two within the barriers), there is an addition of 56,794, I making the number amount to about 714,000 persons. Adding to these the population in the environs of Paris amounting to 107,740 persons, the whole population amounts to 821,706. In Paris they have three classes of criminal tribunals. They have; first, the Courd'Assises, which takes cognizance only of the higher description; secondly, they have the Police Correctionelle, which takes cognizance of a lighter character; and, thirdly, they have the simple Police, which is presided over by the Judges de Paix. The second tribunals can inflict punishment to the extent of five years' improvement; whereas the juges de paix cannot inflict punishment for more than five days, or a fine of more than from one to fifteen francs. It is not easy, therefore, looking at the operation of these three tribunals, to make a comparison between the relative degree of crime in Paris and in London. In 1823, the number of accused brought before the Cour d'Assises amounted to 692; in 1824, the number amounted to 843; and in 1825, to 804. So that, taking this average we find, that the proportion of accused amounts to one in every 1022 inhabitants. This comparison is made with reference to the entire population of the department of the Seine.—There are also some extraordinary statements which shew the great difference which exists as to the nature as well as to the extent of crime in different districts. It appears that in large and populous places, out of every hundred offences, ninety are offences against property, and ten against the person; while in thinly-inhabited districts—in Corsica, for instance—out of each hundred offences, seventy-six are against the person, and twenty-four against property. This is a very curious fact; but it is not easy to draw any decisive conclusions from it. It does not, however, appear, that where large bodies are congregated together, property is most the object of attack; while in thinly-peopled districts, such as agricultural counties, offences arise principally out of malicious feelings, and other motives of a personal nature, and are for the greater part offences against the person. In some part of France the number of accused are as one in a thousand, while in other parts of France they are as one to 27,342. These are the extremes of crime in that country.
790 I now turn to the population of London and Middlesex, and I find that in 1821 it amounted to 1,144,531, viz.
The average of criminal commitments for the three years 1823, 1824, and 1825, was 2,700, or one person in 423. Whereas, in the last two years, the average of criminal commitments was 3,400, out of a population of 1,300,000 persons, or one person in 380. From this it would appear, that the comparison I have made is in favour of Paris; but I do not believe that it is so in point of fact, seeing that the returns of crime are made only from the highest criminal tribunals.—If hon. members looked to the numbers brought before the Police Correctionelle, they would perceive the difference. In 1825 there were no less than 4,432 persons brought before this tribunal, for such offences as combinations, swindling, defamation, and assaults. It also includes the offence of simple theft; and, of the above number, 1,206 were accused of this last offence. If I add this number to the 800 I have already mentioned, it would make 2,000, which, in a population of 821,000 persons, amounts to one person in 410. So that, in point of fact, there is no material difference in the comparative state of crime in London and Paris in the years 1823, 1824, and 1825. Unfortunately, in the last year, 1827, there was a great increase in the number of offenders, as the following document will show:—
London 125,434 Westminster 182,085 Middlesex 837,012 1,144,531
The number of criminal offenders committed for trial to the different gaols in England and Wales has progressively very much increased within the last eighteen years. In the year 1809 they amounted to 5,146, only. In 1826 they had increased to 16,147; and, during the year 1827, the number has still further increased to 17,921 or 1774 more than the number in the preceding year.
In the last year the increase in forty-four counties amounts to 1,931. There is, however, a decrease in six counties (and in Bristol) of 157, which makes the nett increase of 1774 as above. In two counties the numbers in the two last years are the same.
The numbers in 1827, as compared with the preceding year, have increased thus—
791 Convictions 1,469; acquittals 141; no bills found, &c. 164: total increase 1,774. Sentenced to death 326; transportation 462; imprisonment 681: total increase of convictions 1,469.
The number of persons convicted of, and charged with, burglary, has increased in the several counties 96 in the last year, excepting in (London and) Middlesex, the number therein is rather less than the preceding year. The number of persons convicted of, and charged with, the following-crimes, has also much increased during the lastyear—namely, house-breaking 132; cattle, horse, and sheep, stealing 139; forgery 44; coining 13; robbery of the person 26; larceny from the person 26; embezzlement of property of their employers 10; frauds 53; receiving stolen goods 126; offences under lord Ellenborough's act 35; and offences under the game-laws 102.
Sir, I have to beg pardon of the House for entering into these details [hear, hear!] I am aware that they are subjects more peculiarly fitted for the attention of the committee; but, upon a question of such importance, I acknowledge I am anxious to furnish the House with all the information I can, in order to enable it to adopt a sounder system than exists at present upon this question. The objects which I propose for the consideration of the committee, are the causes of the increase of crime and the state of the Police of the metropolis and its vicinity. I am sure that the noble lord, who last year introduced one branch of this subject, would, if called upon, find it difficult at once to decide upon the causes of the increase of crime at present. For my own part, I consider that it is to be attributed, in some measure, to the exposed and insecure state in which property is placed in many parts of the metropolis, and to the facilities which are afforded of removing it from one part of the country to another—in a word, to the increased means of committing and concealing the commission of an offence, and to the increased ingenuity of those who live by preying upon their neighbours. A person who thinks proper to exercise his ingenuity in this way has better opportunities of seizing on property than its owner has of properly securing it. I must confess that I am not very sanguine with respect to the benefits to be derived by this committee. I much fear that the noble lord who took so active a part on a former 792 occasion, and who, I hope and trust, will again devote his time and attention to the subject, will find that the evils complained of have a much deeper root than a want of employment. It will, I have no doubt, befound that those evils are produced by different causes in different districts. In agricultural counties, one cause of the increase of crime will be found to be the Game-laws. This is a subject which no doubt calls for inquiry; but the more I look into the subject, the more I feel convinced how unsafe it is to rely on any one cause, as the origin of the evils of which we complain. And sure I am, that any man who looked, to the Game-laws as a main course of the increase of crime, would act under a delusion. Let hon. members look to the increase in counties which are not game counties, and they will perceive that the evil must have its origin in other causes. The Game-laws are, I repeat it, one cause; and one which is a fair object of inquiry: but we must also look into the many other causes which I have no doubt will be found to exist. Let me ask for a moment, what effect the Game-laws can have upon the increase of crime in the metropolis? It would be absurd to imagine such a thing.
Amongst those other causes which appear to me to bear upon the general increase of crime in a far stronger degree than the state of the Game-laws, is the state and operation of the Poor-laws in some of the counties. In many counties, it is well known, that the rate of wages is so low as to require that the deficiency should be paid out of the Poor-rates. This I consider to be a most injurious practice; it operates to destroy that independence of mind which is the foundation of moral character, and it is still farther objectionable as a most expensive and circuitous mode of payment. It is probable that the committee will find the cause I have just stated to be of much more extensive operation than many of those which it was usual to assign. At the same time I much doubt, Sir, whether this effect of the Poor-laws will be found to have operated in this way in London and Middlesex; on the contrary, I fear that the increase of crime in these districts will be found to have arisen from causes upon which I fear to speculate, and upon which it will, perhaps, be better that I should reserve my opinions until an opportunity presents itself of entering fully into the proposed inquiry. I am decidedly of opinion, how- 793 ever, that we can, by a speedy inquiry, apply some remedy though not a complete one—and the sooner we set about that inquiry the better. An amendment of the police system, although it cannot prevent the evils we complain of, may yet go far towards correcting them. But while I express this opinion, I must confess that I despair of being able to place our police upon a general footing of uniformity; I cannot hope to take St. Paul's as a centre, and have a radius of ten miles, in which our police could be able to act in unison. Let the House but consider for a moment, that the metropolis consists of three divisions—Southwark, London, and Westminster. Those distinct and discordant jurisdictions tend to produce any effect rather than the decrease of crime. The worst too of it is, that any interference with these jurisdictions, say, for instance, that of London, will hardly fail to be met with jealousy. I observe that the worthy alderman opposite (Wood) shakes his head at this observation, and I hope I may infer from the motion that the city of London, of which he is a representative, is not unwilling to permit an interference in the regulation of its police. I hope I may infer from it, that he is prepared to give up the privileges claimed by the city of London on this subject. [Alderman Wood said, across the table, "I do not think any such concession necessary."] No, I only wish to improve, not to takeaway, the jurisdiction; and I shall place the worthy alderman in my committee, where I expect considerable benefit from his assistance. I hope this will satisfy him, that if I wish for alteration in the jurisdiction of the city of London, as it regards the management of the police, it is only with a view to improvement. Allowing, for the sake of argument, that we have a tolerably good police during the day, when its services are not so necessary, I must be permitted to observe that at night, when we most stand in need of its protection, it is most defective. The defect proceeds from the want of a uniformity of system; each parish proceeding for itself during the night, in a manner that is very imperfect. It necessarily follows, that separate establishments must be imperfect; and a strong, and perhaps proper, disposition existing in each parish to administer the parochial affairs with great economy, the police of the night is left in a condition scandalously deficient; so that at last, in consequence of its imperfect state, crime 794 has full scope to increase, and private property becomes endangered. Honourable gentlemen have only to look around them to observe what a change has taken place, of late years, in the environs of the metropolis. Within that time our suburbs have grown up to an extraordinary extent, yet no adequate provision has been made for the safety of property, or the administration of criminal justice within their limits. The whole reliance of the inhabitants of those districts is placed —not on the police magistrates of London, who are too distant, and too much occupied to afford them assistance—but on such gentlemen as reside in the neighbeurhood, and are inclined to act in the commission of the peace. But in some places individuals have to travel seven or eight miles to procure the interference of a magistrate; so that many, balancing the loss of time, the expense, and the inconvenience attending prosecutions, make up their minds to put up with the injury they have received, and abandon all attempts at redress. If a banker loses a sum of 3000l. or 4000l by a coach or other robbery, he adopts a different course, and has, therefore, some chance of a remedy. The compounding of felony is another practice, of which I hope it is unnecessary to say I disapprove. I was applied to, a short time since, by a party from whom an enormous sum of money had been stolen, and was requested to offer his majesty's pardon to any of the accomplices who would give evidence of the robbery: but I at once declared, that I would never impose the prerogative of his majesty on any such occasion, unless I received a full assurance that the parties would ultimately prosecute. I have also uniformly opposed myself to any thing like compounding of felonies, of which we have had not a few examples within a recent period. I am aware that the subject is one extremely difficult to be reached by means of legal enactments, but if penalties can be so framed as to prevent the practice, I shall be extremely anxious for their adoption.
In a metropolis where proper facilities are not afforded for the administration of justice, on account of the absence or inefficiency of the magistracy, increase of crime is the necessary result. Without attempting to point out, at the present moment, the particular remedies which it may be desirable to apply, I will observe generally, that I should feel much dis- 795 posed to follow the example of Scotland in regard to prosecutions, and not throw upon the poorer classes, as is the custom in this country, the charge of vindicating themselves against the attacks of offenders, by a costly and tedious appeal to the laws of the country. When a man loses ten pounds, if he finds that it will cost him twenty pounds to prosecute the plunderer, the chances are that he declines to do so. Until, therefore, criminal justice shall be made cheap and easy to the sufferer, crime may be expected to increase. In Scotland, an individual is released from the necessity of prosecuting a criminal, by the appointment 'of a public officer for that purpose, who, apart from malice and private considerations, is bound to execute his duty with impartiality and firmness. But, when an individual is obliged to prosecute, as is the case in this country, at his own hazard, prudential considerations may induce him to refrain from bringing the offender to justice. I throw out these hints as matters which I think worthy of the consideration of the House as well as of the committee; although I do not believe that any effectual remedy can be devised by which the evil can be cured. The introduction of such a system would cause too great a change in our whole internal system. But when the committee have fully sifted the whole question, they will find that the time is come when these things ought to be gravely and seriously looked at. My immediate object in proposing this committee, is an inquiry into the causes of the increase of crime in the metropolis and its vicinity, and into the state of the police of the metropolis. There are so many points of inquiry into the general question, that I think I am doing best, by limiting it, in this way, on the present occasion. But I intreat hon. members, and particularly those who live in agricultural districts, to look seriously to the points upon which I have found it necessary to touch. Sir, I think—and it is useless to disguise the fact—that the time is come, when, from the increase in its population, the enlargement of its resources, and the multiplied development of its energies, we may fairly pronounce that the country has outgrown her police institutions, and that the cheapest and safest course will be found to be the introduction of a new mode of protection. Why, I ask, should we intrust a grocer, or any other tradesman, however respectable, with the direc- 796 tion and management of a police for 5,000 or 6,000 inhabitants? Why should such a person, unpaid and unrewarded, be taken from his usual avocations, and called upon to perform the laborious duties of a night constable? I say, Sir, that he has no reward; or, if he has a reward, he has it from improper sources; and this, I contend, is an argument in favour of the inquiry I propose. I am aware, Sir, that abuses exist in the watch and police systems. I am aware, that after having employed a man for twenty or thirty years, they know not what to do with him, or how to provide for him, and therefore they continue him in his employment, no matter how unfit for it he may have become.
I shall now, Sir, allude shortly to certain documents which I shall feel it my duty to lay before the committee. These documents shew the increase of crime in England and Wales in 1827, compared with 1826. Sir, it is of no use to deceive ourselves: it is of no use to shut our eyes against what is passing around us, and to praise ourselves upon our superior morality and Christian virtues. It is our duty to look around us, and to provide, so far as in us lies, remedies for the evils with which we are surrounded. By doing this, we shall best consult the interests of the country at large. In order to shew the House the state of crime in the metropolis, I shall take leave to read the amount of commitments within the last few years. In 1823, the total number of commitments, in England and Wales, was 12,263; in 1824, it was 13,698; making an increase of more than 1,400 criminals. In the next year, 1825, the number was 14, 437; making a still further increase, in the last year, of 739. In 1826 the number was 16,147; in 1827 it was 17,921; making an increase of 1,774 in the last year. From these statements, Sir, it is evident that there has been an increase of crime, in the last five years, to the amount of 5,000 persons. This, I say, is evident, from the documents I have just read. The last contains the number of commitments in 1826, as compared with those in 1827, shewing the decrease which has taken place in several counties. Perhaps the House may have the curiosity to know what are the counties in which a decrease of crime has taken place. In those comities (although there has been a general increase of 1774 in the sum total of the commitments in England and Wales 797 for the last year) there has been a decrease within the last year as compared with the former year, in the amount of commitments. These counties are Devonshire, Gloucestershire, the city of Bristol, the counties of Huntingdon, those of Middlesex and London, in which the decrease is as great as 76; and lastly, the counties of Rutland and Surrey. The total decrease is only 157, and out of that number the counties of Middlesex (including London) and Surrey, furnish the proportion of 112; so that in the other counties the decrease has been but very slight. On the other hand, there has been an increase in several counties of so large a nature, as far to exceed the decrease to which I have just referred. That increase, in 1827, as compared with the number of committals in the same counties, in the preceding year, may be thus stated:—In Cheshire the increase has been 82; in Lincolnshire 108; in Lancashire 85 (a number not very large, considering the population of that county, and the peculiar circumstances in which that population are placed); in Somersetshire 156 (an increase larger than that which has taken place in any other county of the same size); in Staffordshire, 121; in Yorkshire, 227; and in Worcestershire 81; by which, together with other counties, the increase amounts in the gross to 1,774. These, Sir, are some of the counties in which the increase has taken place; but in all of them that increase has been considerable. In Kent and Cardiganshire, by a curious and fortuitous circumstance, the relative numbers have continued precisely the same. From this enumeration I do not attempt to draw any of those inferences, for which it seems to offer so wide a field, and which theorists are so ready to adduce. It seems to me, that none can be safely drawn from them, either upon the general subject of distress, on that of the Game-laws, or on that of the facility of commitment, without, at the same time, taking into consideration a vast many points of inquiry, too numerous for me to touch upon at present.
These, Sir, are the points which appear to me to deserve the strictest examination, and which I have no doubt will obtain such examination from the committee which a noble lord had got appointed last session, to inquire into the Causes of the increase of crime in the country; and from the returns which I have this night read to the House, and 798 from others of a similar nature, which may afterwards be moved for. I think that the causes may hereafter be ascertained very satisfactorily. I ought to apologize to the House for having intruded so long upon its patience; but the deep interest which I naturally take in this subject has led me into a larger field than I ought, perhaps, to have traversed, seeing that the inquiry which I am about to propose is limited to the causes of the increase of crime in London and the vicinity, and to the state of the police for its detection and prevention. I feel, however, that the subject matter of the inquiry is connected with objects of such deep importance, not merely as they regard the security of individual property, but also as they regard the morals and habits of the entire population, that it will be my excuse for having trespassed so long on the time of the House. I now move, Sir, "That a select committee be appointed to inquire into the causes of the increase of the number of commitments and convictions in London and Middlesex for the year 1827; and into the state of the police of the metropolis and the districts adjoining thereto; and to report their observations thereupon to the House."
§ Mr. Hume
contended, that the right hon. gentleman, as well as the committee which the noble lord had obtained last year, to inquire into the increase of crime in the country, had shut their eyes to the real causes of it, and had blinked the only question into which it was important for the people that they should institute an inquiry. He was satisfied that the decreased wages paid to labourers, which, in some instances, was reduced two-thirds, and in others one-half, compared to what they were, was one great cause of the increase of crime; but the great evil of all was, excessive taxation. He had heard it stated by the right hon. Secretary, that the increase of our manufactures was one of the causes of increase of crime. He was of a different opinion.—He believed the increase arose from the general want of employment, occasioned by that over taxation which was grinding all classes of the community. We were now paying upwards of sixty millions for taxes annually; and there was but little hope of the evils being removed till that amount was greatly reduced. Another cause of these evils was the emigration of the starving Irish to this country; the conse- 799 quence of this was, that our peasantry, by having their wages reduced by the competition thus introduced, were driven to the commission of crimes. He, therefore, said that ministers had blinked the real cause of these evils; for, unless taxation was reduced, it would be useless to expect that property could be protected from the attacks of men who were starving. He intreated the right hon. Secretary to look boldly at the situation of this country and Ireland. He would say, pacify Ireland, and there would then be no necessity for having a large garrison in that country. He would also say, keep from this country the immense flocks of labourers who were daily coming hither to the injury of her native inhabitants by the introduction of Poor-laws, if no better means could be demised. He did not mean to object to a committee; but he was apprehensive that no good would be derived from it. The remedy was with the ministers, and consisted in a reduction of the taxes.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
said, that, as his noble friend, the marquis of Lansdowne, had intended to have brought under the consideration of parliament the very question which had been so ably submitted to it that evening by the right hon. gentleman, who had succeeded him as Secretary of State for the Home Department, he felt it to be a duty which he owed to his noble friend, not to remain entirely silent. He would commence by stating, that in almost every word which the right hon. gentleman had said he entirely agreed; but he must, at the same time, take the liberty of urging the right hon. gentleman, with respect to one branch of it, which was of paramount importance, not to approach it either with timidity or apathy. Every man, who had paid the slightest attention to the practical operation of our criminal laws, would readily acknowledge, that one of the great impediments to any efficient improvement of them, was to be traced to the multiplicity and diversity of the peculiar jurisdictions which were now employed in the detecting of crime. When he looked either at the state of the parochial watch, or at the peculiar regulations of the police in the city of London, he felt convinced, that the House, on coming to deal with a question so important to the security and property, and to the moral feelings of the population, would not allow any partial or parochial jurisdiction to stand in the way of their doing what was right to their constituents, and of their advancing the essen- 800 tial interests of public justice. He was well aware, that when the condition of the police was brought under the notice of parliament, first by sir A. Macdonald, who was then Solicitor-general, and afterwards by a right hon. gentleman (Mr. R. Ryder) who once filled the office of Home Secretary, and who still retained his seat in that House, the state of the nightly watch was a circumstance, which they both declared it to be their intention to alter and improve. There was then a reluctance on the part of the House to interfere in the regulation of establishments which had been so long part and parcel of the regular institutions in the land; but he was happy to say, that at present there was a great alteration of opinion upon that point, and that those who formerly looked with jealousy on any interference with their exclusive rights, would not stand in the way of improvement, if it could be proved to their satisfaction that some part of their rights ought to be sacrificed for the advantage of the public. If, however, they should be obstinately attached to their old system, and should declare that they would on no account willingly lend themselves to the accomplishment of schemes which were considered schemes of improvement, he trusted that in the age in which they lived, and in which opinion exercised so extensive and beneficial a sway, the Commons of England would not allow any grand objects to be frustrated by the paltry jealousy, either of parochial or of corporate bodies. He would therefore declare at once, that it was his opinion that it would be impossible to make any substantial improvement in the condition of the police, so long as the parochial watch was allowed to continue under its present system of management. That system was objectionable, as it was under the control of a set of officers who were annually appointed and annually changed. To make the watch really useful and efficient, it should be permanent in itself, and should be under the control of permanent, and therefore responsible authorities. It should likewise be free from the interference of all persons who had anything to do with the administration of the Poor-laws; for what useful result could be expected from it, when those who had the appointment of it, instead of seeking to prevent crime, sought to diminish the Poor-rates by enrolling individuals on the watch, in order to prevent them from coming upon the parish?—He was of opinion that hitherto, in considering 801 the state of the metropolitan police, the House had limited its inquiries much too narrowly. They had limited them to the state of the police in London and Westminster only; and, therefore, just in proportion as the police was improved in those places in consequence of the inquiries instituted by the House, did crime increase in the neighbouring villages and the surrounding counties. They drove the perpetrators of crime from the parishes in the metropolis: but what was the result? Why, that they sought and found refuge in the parishes in its outskirts, and that immediate complaints were made in those parishes of the increase of crime. He was of opinion that those who supposed that the country was to be at, the entire expense of supporting a police for the parishes in the counties adjoining the metropolis, laboured under a mistake of which they could not be cured too rapidly. Every body agreed that the country ought to pay for the expense of the police of the metropolis; but he thought that the counties adjoining to the metropolis had not the same claim on the purse of the country, and ought, therefore, to eon-tribute towards the defraying of the expense of it themselves. There was another circumstance connected with the increase of crime, which had attracted the attention of former committees, and ought to attract the attention of all future ones: he alluded to the system of licensing public-houses. As long as things remained as they now were in London, where, from causes which had been adverted to, the state of the magistracy was not so satisfactory as it was elsewhere,—as long as they had a system in existence which placed out of their control certain houses, were they ever so bad, and gave them no power to license other houses were they ever so good—so long would it be impossible to consider that they had in such a district any security against the increase of crime. It was a notorious fact, that certain houses were nothing better than dens for thieves, in which crimes were planned and robberies devised with the most unblushing effrontery; and yet it was a fact equally notorious, that if such houses were the property of certain individuals, they were quite secure from all control. Let the House only consider how the prevalence of such an idea was calculated to impair the respect which ought to belong to the magistracy. If the public saw that no confidence could be reposed in the magistracy on account 802 of the improper manner in which they discharged one part of their duty, would it be inclined to extend its confidence to them for the mode in which they discharged the other?—There was another point connected with this subject, into which he thought the committee should also be directed to inquire: he meant the extent of juvenile delinquency. Without looking attentively into that point, he thought it would be quite impossible for the House to check the progress of crime. He was ready to admit that much had already been done by the right hon. Secretary to improve the system of prison laws; but there was, unfortunately, such a large class of juvenile offenders, that the system of confining them together, merely because they were young, was subversive of every principle of prison discipline, which tended to retard the increase of crime. In London the number of juvenile delinquents was at present so enormous, that it would be quite impossible to diminish it, unless a prison was erected in which they could be classed, not according to their age, but the degree of their crime. Besides these, there was another point, which, sooner or later, must come under the consideration of parliament: he meant the secondary mode of punishment, by transportation. If any gentleman could see the letters which were written by the convicts in New South Wales and Van Diemen's land, to their friends at home, and peruse the description which they gave of their condition in those colonies, they would see that nothing could be clearer than that transportation afforded encouragement to crime. It was not one, but a hundred letters, which he had seen, in which the convicts had used such language as this to their friends:—"We are in a situation here far more comfortable than we ever were at home. We are better off in this country than you, who are convicted of no offence, can ever hope to be in England; and the best wish we can make you is, that you may be enabled to join us here without delay." Now, if such were the representations of the convicts, was it possible that transportation could operate as a check upon crime?—During the time that his noble friend the marquis of Lansdowne had been in office, he had introduced an alteration in the police regulations of the metropolis, to which he would call the notice of the House. It might not perhaps, be generally known, that there was a publication called the 803 "Hue and Cry:" it gave an account of the offences committed within certain districts of the metropolis, and had a certain but limited sale. The mode in which it was published, seemed not to answer the purposes for which it was designed, and his noble friend had made an alteration in it, which, though it gave it a more frequent issue, was also calculated to give it a more extensive circulation. He would suggest to the right hon. Secretary the propriety of carrying that publication much further that it had yet been carried. It would have been carried further during the last autumn, had not the interposition of Parliament been necessary to sanction the expense to which it must of course put the country. The scheme proposed was this: to transmit a paper containing a description of the thief, of the property stolen, and of all the indicia of the crime, to every keeper of a public-house, to every licensed dealer in horses, and to every pawnbroker in the country; so that immediately after a crime was committed, there might be a description of the criminal placarded, as it were, in every town in the empire. The benefit of such a plan would consist in its giving a ubiquity to the police, far greater than any which it had ever before possessed. It was as yet imperfect in its details; but he implored the right honourable Secretary to give it his attention, if it had not already received it. He admitted that it was lamentable to consider the increase of crime which had taken place during the last year; but, lamentable as it was, he thought that it was not such as to fill us with despondency and despair. In the first place, it appeared from the returns, that whilst the number of offences had increased, their enormity had diminished. He looked upon that circumstance as a decisive proof of the improvement of the state of society. But, supposing that the increase of crime was more decisively marked than it was at present, it ought not to be forgotten, that the increase of crime must always depend on the proportion of temptation to commit it. Now, if the House considered the immense increase of property which had taken place within the last few years, and the careless manner in which property was now-a-days exposed in the public streets for sale, it would get directly at one cause of the increase of crime. Besides, we ought to recollect, that in our calculations, we were dealing with crime as it was exhibited to us by criminal proceedings; and nothing 804 could be more clear, than that every step which we took to facilitate prosecutions was a step towards the increase of their numbers, and consequently towards the increase of crime, as it appeared upon paper. It followed, from the right hon. gentleman's own acts that many crimes were now prosecuted which were not prosecuted formerly; and if the right hon. gentleman should be inclined to try the experiment which he had mentioned to the House, and which worked so well in practice in Scotland—he meant the adoption of the Scotch system of a public prosecutor,—he would venture to predict, that without the increase of a single offender, they would have a great and surprising increase in the return of crime.
Mr. Wilmot Horton
said, that the hon. member for Montrose was always trying to induce the House to believe, that the cause of all the distresses of the country was its taxation, and that its only hope of relief from those distresses was in the remission of that taxation. A reduction in the expenditure would not affect the low rate of wages, which was caused by the existence of a redundant population. The lower classes were distressed because their capital and labour did not meet with a sufficient demand. A reduction in the taxes would not meet that evil. As long as persons were out of employment, a remission of taxation would not raise the general condition of the mass of the labouring poor. Other remedies must be resorted to for the removal of that evil. This was a subject of vital importance, and he should reserve himself for other opportunities during the session to enter more at large into the various details connected with it. There was another subject upon which he wished to say a few words. He had often heard it asserted, that the immediate effects of the passing of that measure, in which Ireland was so deeply interested, would be the introduction of capital, and the establishment of manufactories, in that kingdom. Yielding to no man in the deliberate conviction, that the passing of that measure would put an end to a class of evils which might be referred to certain moral causes existing in Ireland, he would at the same time deny, that the abolishing of those causes would operate as a cure for the redundant population. That redundancy was principally, if not totally, caused by the absence of the demand for labour. When gentlemen talked of the granting 805 Catholic emancipation as the means of throwing manufactures into Ireland, he should be glad to know how it came to pass that the Irish population were not brought over to this country and employed in manufactures? If the manufacturer would not go to Ireland, what was to prevent the Irish from coming here? Now, what was the fact? The Irish did come over here, and came over in shoals, and so reduced the price of labour, that, in the end, the population of this country will be brought to a similar state of distress and misery as the population of Ireland. While gentlemen looked to moral effects, and endeavoured to remove the moral causes which operated to produce those effects in Ireland, they should also direct their attention to the practically operating causes of the present condition of the labouring classes there. The sub-letting act, if carried fairly into effect, was calculated to, produce the most beneficial consequences in Ireland. The Poor-laws, if that portion which applied to the employment of able-bodied men were repealed, would likewise be productive of the greatest benefit. The effects, however, which they witnessed, would continue as long as a redundant population existed. The only hope for the House was, fairly to look at the state of the population, and to discuss the causes to which that condition was attributable.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
said, he felt himself called upon to address a few observations to the House, particularly after what had fallen from his right hon. friend, in allusion to the county of Kent. His right hon. friend had said, that he considered the situation of this country was nearly approaching that state in which the population had outgrown the institutions of the country. He would take the observation in the qualified sense in which his right hon. friend intended to use it, applying it only to the police institutions. In that observation he entirely accorded; and he was gratified to learn from his right hon. friend, that he had no reason to extend it further. He had heard with satisfaction, that this inquiry was not to apply exclusively to the metropolis, but was to be extended to the towns in the neighbourhood of that great city. He rejoiced at this circumstance; for whatever might be the difficulties which the police of the metropolis had to struggle with—however arduous might be the duties of the magis- 806 trates who presided in the offices—he was afraid that the obstacles to the administration of justice in the metropolis were not greater than those which existed in the towns in its vicinity. He would mention, in particular, the town of Greenwich. In no part of the kingdom was the inquiry more requisite. The same remark would apply to Chatham and Sheerness, in spite of the meritorious exertions of the gentlemen in the commission of the peace; and he would take that opportunity of saying, that the magistrates of Kent had generally discharged their important duties in the most satisfactory manner. He believed no set of men deserved better of their country. He was anxious to make this observation, in consequence of some statements made, on a late occasion, by a learned gentleman (Mr. Brougham), and which it would have been well to have answered at the time, if the opportunity had allowed of it. He would, however, not say one word more on that point, as the question would come on again to-morrow. The hon. gentleman who had spoken last but one, had stated, that culprits who had been transported, had written to their friends in such a style as induced the opinion, that that mode of punishment was not severe. He was of an entirely different opinion. It had happened to him to have read communications on the same subject; but of all those communications he had never seen one which was not accompanied by expressions of regret at the loss of the society of their friends, and their removal from their native country. But if transportation was not a sufficient punishment, what would the hon. gentleman substitute? Surely he was not friendly to the system of confining men on board of the hulks. It had been tried, and had been found to fail. With respect to the Game-laws, no one could be more hostile to the present system than himself. No subject was more deserving of the attention of the House. As to his right hon. friend's act relative to prosecutions, it had caused a considerable increase in the expenditure of the counties. At the same time it had occasioned a great increase in the number of commitments. He thought his right hon. friend would do well to re-consider that part of the act, which gave such facility to prosecutors in obtaining their expenses. He entirely concurred with his right hon. friend, that there was no ground for despondency while that House acted 807 firmly and honestly. He hoped also that a fair construction would be put upon the conduct of the magistracy. It was one of the greatest securities in this country that it had an unpaid magistracy, far removed above all suspicion of injustice, and disposed to carry justice home to the doors of every individual in the country.
said, that the act of parliament passed for the regulation of prison discipline had been completely evaded by the magistrates of Middlesex. Last session he had moved for the report of the visiting magistrates in 1825, and it was frightful to see how the prisons had gone on increasing in iniquity, while no remedy had been applied to the evil. That Report stated, that riots and assaults were of daily occurrence in Cold Bath Fields prison; that incorrigible offenders were often confined with those who were comparatively guiltless, and frequently discharged without prosecution. In consequence of receiving this information, he had gone, in October 1826, to that prison to ascertain whether it could be true. He then saw eighty or ninety prisoners confined in one room, and the sleeping place allotted for each was about sixteen inches, in breadth. The greater portion of them, went to sleep in a perfectly naked condition. When he inquired why such a number of human beings were thus pent up in one room, the superintendent stated, that there was no other place for them. He understood from him, that when he went to open the door of this room in the morning, he was nearly overpowered by the smell, and was obliged to leave the door open for several minutes before he could enter; such was the dreadful stench which issued from the apartment. The condition of this prison still remained unaltered. No remedy had been applied but one, which, to the honour of the magistrates of Middlesex, was unique in its way. They dismissed the whole body of the visiting committee. Undoubtedly that was rather an extraordinary mode of proceeding, but in justice he must say, that the magistrates had since repented of their rashness, and taken the offenders again into favour. In pursuance of the Consolidated act, relative to prisons, a large book was laid late every year on the table of the House. He had looked into that book, in order to compare its statements with the report of the visiting magistrates; but he had found only four or rive lines, simply stating that the 808 provisions of the act had been complied I with in the prison. Here, then, according to the report, all was well. Where was the use of acts of parliament for the regulation of prisons and prison-discipline, if, where the grossest violations of their enactments were committed, and those evils existed which they were intended to meet, it was thus reported in four or five lines, that the provisions of the act had been complied with? He had also visited the prison of Newgate. The space afforded to the prisoners there was very small, and the classification highly objectionable. In the same little cell would be seen confined one individual committed upon a charge affecting his life, and another whose guilt, if any, was perhaps of a very venial character. The House had heard of the increase of crime, but ought it to excite their surprise when they were told of the scenes of contamination which passed in Newgate? They had only to visit that prison, and there behold, as he had done, three individuals confined in the same cell, one of whom was under sentence of death, whose time was fixed, and who was preparing for his dreadful fate, while the other two prisoners, who were certain of a commutation of their sentence to that of transportation, were cheerful and in high spirits. Was this right? The corporate rights of the city of London ought to be upheld: but they should not be allowed to exist for a moment if they tended to continue such a system as this. There was another point which he wished to suggest for the consideration of the right hon. gentleman. Why should the Old Bailey sessions be confined to the city of London and county of Middlesex? Why should not the jurisdiction of that court be extended to the other side of Blackfriars-bridge, and include persons guilty of offences in Surry and Kent? It might be said, that it was better for the city of London that the expenses attendant upon the trial of such offenders should be thrown upon the counties respectively. God forbid that such an objection should for a moment stand in the way of the due administration of justice! As the law now stood, an offender upon the other side of Blackfriars-bridge must, when apprehended, be maintained in prison at the expense of the county until the assizes. The winter assizes had certainly afforded great relief: but if the Old Baily sessions were more equalized, and took in a larger jurisdiction, many existing evils would be remedied, 809 much expense would be saved, and the purposes of justice would be better accomplished.
§ Mr. D. Barclay
said, that a great deal of valuable information was contained in the Report of the Committee of 1817. He had no hope of any material improvement in the police of the metropolis, unless an end was put to the system of parish police. The right hon. gentleman had alluded to the increase of the population, and he agreed that, whoever compared the police establishment with the population, must be convinced that the time had arrived when the state of the police required consideration. An hon. baronet had alluded to the increased expense of prosecutions; and he concurred with that hon. baronet, that it arose in some measure from the increased facility lately given to prosecutions. Townsend, the Bow-street officer, in his evidence before the committee of 1817, had stated, that he remembered when ten and twenty persons at a time "graced the gibbet," while of late years, he said, we had only a paltry example of one or two brought forward; and from this decrease of capital punishment, Townsend inferred the increase of crime. The hon. member was of opinion, that if some protection was given to the parties concerned in the robberies of banks and receiving stolen goods, from the consequence of their own evidence, considerable benefit would result from it. By referring to the report of the committee of 1817, much time might be saved, in the examination of evidence before the new committee.
Mr. Alderman Wood
said, that the establishment of the day-police of the right hon. gentleman was known to have produced great benefit to the public. But the day-police was not new in the city of London. It had existed there for a great number of years. Some allusions had been made to the difficulty resulting from the concurrent jurisdiction exercised by the magistrates of the city with the magistrates of the Borough. But it was impossible that a more general disposition could exist on the part both of the city and county magistrates, to give every facility to the administration of justice. As to the rights and privileges of the city, he could assure the right hon. gentleman, that there would be no difficulty. He would advise him to imitate the police of London. He had heard that night of a parish police. There was no such thing in the city of London. It was 810 all under one jurisdiction—that of the corporation. A law had been passed for the regulation of the city police. The general rule was, that no watchman was taken who was beyond forty years of age; and the night-watch throughout the city was liable to the superintendence of the patrol appointed by the corporation. No one ward could act as it pleased. The watchmen belonging to it were under the management of the superintendents, called patrols, paid out of the corporation funds. The marshalmen also exercised an active vigilance and were bound to go round nightly to see that every watchman in London was doing his duty; and that the night constables were also doing theirs. The frequent resolutions of the corporation shewed that they had adopted every necessary measure for the safety of the city. But if people would neglect all common precautions, and lock-up the doors of their counting-houses, with great property in them, leaving not a soul with-inside, what police could defend them? The whole was frequently left under a padlock, which any experienced thief could pick; and in this way property to the amount of 20,000l. or 40,000l. was exposed to danger, because the office-keeper would not render himself liable to some paltry tax, or parish office, by keeping a servant to protect it.—It was not the first time he had heard the learned doctor make the same observations as to the state of Newgate. But he had never been able to substantiate one of them. He admitted that that prison was much crowded; and and he, on the part of the city of London, would feel much obliged if the learned doctor would take these prisoners off their hands. It would be a saving of 20,000l. out of the corporation funds. The whole of these prisoners were supported at the expense of the corporation. The charges of the witnesses at the sessions also came out of the pockets of the corporation. But the learned civilian asked, how could so many prisoners be kept in one cell, under sentence of death? The city had nothing to do with that; the Secretary for the Home Department, could better explain how it happened. By next Saturday twenty more prisoners under sentence of death would be added to the forty already in the condemned cells. But what had the city to do with this delay? It arose from the unfortunate state of health of an illustrious person. The city could provide 811 no remedy; they had burthens enough already. They had to maintain State prisoners, and prisoners for misdemeanors, according to acts of parliament; and they were obliged, consequently, often to keep a large space for one or two prisoners. Was the city to enlarge Newgate at its own expense? Let not the county magistrates commit so many prisoners to that prison when they knew it was in a crowded state, and much of the evil might be avoided. The judges did all in their power to relieve it, by never sentencing to it any prisoner to a term of confinement, except in some very peculiar cases. None of the city prisoners were sent to the county prisons; on the contrary, they were all confined in the House of Correction within the city. With respect to the causes of the present defects, he would call the attention of the House to the trials which took place at Newgate. The most trifling charges were sent there to be disposed of; and it was a common thing for boys of from ten to twelve years of age to be convicted of theft. Now was it not dreadful that a child of such tender years should be put on his trial. The payment of expenses for prosecution likewise led to more evils than the House imagined: they would be surprised to hear, that men of title and of rank asked for their expenses —not, indeed, in their own persons; but supposing their coachmen appeared against a prisoner for stealing a coat which belonged to the master, the expenses were immediately asked for. This was not as it ought to be; and with respect to the lower classes, it was a great motive with them to prosecute. Another objection to the present system was the transporting criminals for the short period of seven years, in pursuance of which sentence they were sent, on their good behaviour, to the hulks, and were again turned loose on the town, after having plotted, during their retirement, scenes of robberies for succeeding years. He could assure the right hon. gentleman that he was anxious to give every aid in his power to the proposed inquiry.
said, that neither the magistrates of Middlesex nor the police magistrates committed, in the first instance, to Newgate, but to the New Prison, from which, a few days before trial, the prisoners were transferred to Newgate. The learned doctor had complained of the crowded state of the 812 New Prison. He had visited it a few days ago, and was happy to say, that although it had sometimes been in that state, yet he did not find it so then. He had no hesitation, however, in saying, that it was wholly unfit for a prison in its present state, and that it never could be made fit. However great the expense might be, every criminal ought to have a separate cell. At that season of the year, the prisoners were locked up at dusk. Let the House conceive what a situation they must be in, being all shut up together. He thought there should be two prisons; one for commitments, and the other for correction; and as Westminster was going to build a prison, he said, "if Westminster will not come to us, let us go to Westminster;" but it was answered—no: it was necessary that they should have a prison of their own. He hoped that this jealousy between Middlesex and Westminster would be done away with.
Mr. Alderman Wood
said, in explanation, that almost all the committals of the police magistrates were made to Newgate.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
said, he should confine himself to the facts that had come under his own knowledge. While he filled the office of sheriff, it had been his melancholy duty to witness the execution of thirty-six persons. He also visited Newgate three or four days a week, and never found it in the state described by the learned doctor. The crowded state of Newgate was the city's misfortune, and not its fault, and was attributable to the thousands of prisoners that annually passed through it. Now, as to the increase of crime. If the committee about to be appointed was merely to give facility to prosecutions, then all that it would do would be to multiply prosecutions without removing crime. It was his belief that the greater part of the depredations in the city were committed by juvenile depredators; and he thought that the right hon. gentleman would agree with him, that there were much fewer prisoners sent from London than from Middlesex. If any thing better than the present system could be contrived, he was sure the magistrates of London would concur in it. They had, within the last few weeks, inquired diligently into the system of police in the city, and it was their intention to regulate it in the manner which would give the most effectual security to the inhabitants. 813 As to the increase of crime generally, without speaking of taxation, he should say that it was in a great measure, caused by want of employment. He thought the committee would find this to be the opinion of the magistrates. But it was taxation that had effected this want of employment. Excess of taxation had depreciated property and trade, and had thus effected a great dearth of employment. He believed that parents found it extremely difficult to find employment for their children, more especially for their boys; and it was only necessary to look into the calendar and observe the number of boys who had been committed, and the small articles which they had stolen—chiefly articles necessary to subsistence—in order to see the consequence of this state of things. Let the committee about to be appointed recollect, that they would do no good by multiplying the number, of committals. Their main object ought to be the prevention of crime, and not the punishment of it. He fully agreed in the propriety of the inquiry. He believed the committee would obtain much valuable information; but he thought that the police of the city of London would be found as perfect and complete as in any part of the kingdom.
was sorry to hear that the county of Somersetshire was more prolific in crime than any other county; but though the convictions were more numerous, it was a curious fact that the prosecutions under the Game-laws were less.
§ Mr. Monck
said, that he agreed with the hon. member for Aberdeen, that the increase of crime was in a great measure attributable to the increase of taxation. It would be seen, by referring to p. Statistical Account of France, lately published, that the wages of an agricultural labourer per day were 14d., and those of a mechanic or artisan 20d.; and yet that the condition of the people was daily improving. In the South of France, those miserable hovels formerly seen were disappearing, and comfortable cottages, with glazed windows, were rising in every direction. How, then, was it that the quantum of wages in France was sufficient to provide the labourers with comfort, while the same quantum here brought our labourers into misery and indigence? The great causes must be the height of taxation, and the enormous price of provisions. In France, bread was but a 814 penny a pound, and butchers' meat under four-pence. On what ground but that of taxation was it that ministers were obliged to have recourse to a Corn-bill? Without that act it would be impossible for England to compete with the continent. Indeed, it was clear, if the plough was to be kept in motion, that we must have prices above those of the continent. With regard to Ireland, he thought that, while that country remained in its present agitated state, it mattered little whether the manufactories were transferred thither, or the Irish labourer came over here to seek employment in them. If she were once tranquillized, capital would be employed on objects of local utility; in the improvement of agriculture, in the construction of canals, and in the draining and reclaiming of bogs; but as long as she was kept in her present state of agitation, no man of sense would trust his property in a country so distracted.
Mr. Alderman Thompson
said, that the police of London was as efficient as in any other part of the country. As to the increase of crime, he believed one of the causes of it to be the low price of ardent spirits. Another cause was the system of compromising felonies. There was now going on in the city a regularly organized plan of stealing from counting-houses books and securities for money. These were the cases in which felonies were generally compromised. He was not at all surprised that persons whose credit was at stake, should be induced to enter into compromises of this nature. He hoped that the committee would inquire closely into the state of the law on this subject, and especially into the act called "Jonathan Wild's act." To convict under that act was extremely difficult. As to the crowded state of Newgate, he lamented it as much as any one; but he was quite sure that the person to whom the unhappy inmates of that prison were committed, treated them with the greatest humanity. If there was any way in which the crowded state of Newgate could be remedied, it would be a great benefit. He should recommend, that prisoners who had bean tried, and sentenced to transportation, should be sent off immediately.
Sir F. Burdett
said, that there was already on the table of the House the report of a committee that had inquired very fully into the crowded state of the prisons, the cause of the increase of crime, and 815 the abuses of the licensing system. If that report were taken, and some practical measure devised, something might be hoped for; but he did not see that much good could be derived from another committee sitting, and contenting themselves with laying another report on the table.
Mr. Secretary Peel
replied, and observed, that the hon. baronet was mistaken when he supposed that nothing had taken place subsequent to the report of the committee, of which he had just spoken. He believed that every one of the regulations proposed had been carried into effect. An act had been passed for the improvement of the prison-discipline, and all the provisions of that bill had been acted upon; also an alteration had taken place with respect to the licensing system. An hon. member had complained, that the proposed alterations were only to extend to London and Middlesex; but the hon. gentleman had not understood him aright. His motion was proposed to extend to the metropolis and the districts adjoining thereto; which would of course include a portion of Surrey, Essex, and Kent. When, however, he had referred to the state of crime, as the only documents he had were furnished from the Old Bailey, he had of course been obliged to confine himself to London and Middlesex. He was sorry that the fourth hon. member for London was not present, as no doubt he, like the three worthy aldermen, would have stood up to vindicate the city of London; but he could assure those hon. gentlemen, that he never had the least intention to cast the slightest reflections on the police of the city. All that he had said was, that instead of the police of London being on a concurrent principle, it appeared to act on an exclusive one. With respect to the crowded state of Newgate, that would have been remedied long since, had it not been for a doubt that was entertained, that, by a prescriptive right, arising from long custom, the recorder's report ought to be taken within the limits of London. Steps, however, were taken to relieve the pressure without delay. He had only to observe, that in constituting this committee, he had been anxious to select those magistrates who had been most active in their respective Counties. Several very active members were already too much occupied upon the finance committee to give this the benefit of their labours.
§ The motion was then agreed to, and a committee appointed.