HC Deb 30 March 1830 vol 23 cc1110-5
Lord Francis Leveson Gower

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Acts relating to the appointment of Constables in Ireland. The noble Lord stated, that the principal provision of his Bill was to take away from the local Magistracy the appointment of Constables, and to vest that appointment in the Government of Ireland. He meant by making that alteration to cast no imputation on the Irish Magistracy; but it was found necessary to take the first nomination of constables out of its hands, and place it in those of the executive Government. He should propose, therefore, that in future this appointment should vest in the Government, and he should also propose that a new class of officers, to be called sub-inspectors, should be appointed. The object of appointing those officers was, to ensure a more ready and efficient superintendence over the constabulary force than at pre- sent, and as their duties would be both arduous and confidential, he proposed to give them one-half more pay than was given to the chief constables. He proposed also by the new regulations to provide for the more speedy assembling this force in any given spot which was sometimes necessary to check and overawe the tumultuary meetings of the peasantry: while there was such a force, there could be no good reason why it should not be made as efficient as possible. He meant also to introduce into the Bill a clause to make a provision for those who might be disabled in the service, or whose conduct merited some particular reward. In many cases the police had half the fines levied in cases of violations of the law, and out of this sum the Government was sometimes able to reward certain services; but it was found that giving these rewards to the police officers made the peasantry look on them with ill will, and therefore it was desirable to reward them by some other means. These arrangements, however, would be met by reductions in the force, which would prevent it on the whole, from causing any additional expense to the country. The economy proposed would spare several thousand pounds, while the expense for the salaries of the sub-inspectors would not amount to more than 1,400l. He ought to observe that the new appointments were to be made only in those districts where they were necessary. He meant also to propose a clause to enable the Government to give a retired allowance to persons whom it might be necessary to discharge in order to facilitate the reduction of useless hands. The Government was not pledged to keep up the establishment, yet it could not be denied that many of the officers looked on their situation as permanent, and it was to meet their views that he should propose that the Government might, on dismissing them, be enabled to give them one year's salary. The noble Lord concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.

Mr. Spring Rice

expressed some alarm at the proposition of his noble friend, and though he was thoroughly persuaded of his good intentions towards Ireland, he could not look without apprehensions at a measure that was to take away from the local magistracy, and place in the hands of the Government the appointment of between 4,000 and 5,000 persons, distri- buted over every part of the country. The establishment cost upward of 200,000l. annually, paid out of the public Exchequer, besides the local expenses, and he did not see why a greater part of that charge than at present should not be defrayed out of the local funds belonging to the places where the force was stationed. He knew that the expense was to be diminished because the tranquillity of Ireland was improved, but he thought, at the same time, that the expense should be wholly defrayed by local funds, and the appointments wholly placed in the hands of the local magistracy. He did not think it politic to say by Act of Parliament that the local magistracy of Ireland was not to be trusted. His noble friend disclaimed any intention of casting imputation on them, but such would be the effect of his measure, when leisure was afforded to discuss the subject, and he hoped that his noble friend would select a clear day for the discussion; he wished to give him notice that he should come prepared to shew that where the authority of the local magistrates was most complete the conduct of the police had been best, and that where the authority of Government had interfered, the abuses had been greatest. At that late hour, however, he would not enter into details; he would only say that he had a constitutional objection to the measure, and that he desired to sec the expenditure not only reduced but also equalized.

Mr. Jephson

said, he was anxious that the constabulary force should be improved, but he regretted to see the disposition of the Government to deprive the magistracy of Ireland of its legitimate influence, nor did he think the substitution of the police constable for the magistrate, as the medium through which the Government was to obtain information of the state of the country, would be advantageous. He knew that the constable at Mallow was directed to send communications to the government without consulting the magistracy, and on one occasion he had made such a communication which might have been attended with injurious consequences. That town was one of the most quiet towns in Ireland, but the constable, taking all his information from a disappointed Orangeman, represented it as agitated by party spirit and in a disturbed state. If, therefore, the noble Lord meant to rely for information as to the state of Ireland on his constabulary agents, he would find that the government would be frequently deceived, for if the constables themselves did not share the feelings of the people, they were led astray by their representations. As he hoped that a full opportunity would be given to examine and discuss the Bill, he would not then enter further into the subject, but only recommend the noble Lord to make the punishment of neglect of duty on the part of the constables somewhat more severe than a penalty of five pounds.

Mr. Trant

was so much opposed to the principle of the measure, that he was inclined to object in limine to its introduction. He saw in it a part of a settled scheme on the part of the Government to take into its own keeping, and under its own control, the police, not only of Ireland, but of England, and not only the police but every part of the constitution of the country. Inroads were every day making on that Constitution, and he gave the noble Lord notice that he would oppose the Bill in all its future stages. He hoped the Members would resist the permanent establishment of such an unconstitutional force. The people of Europe were generally struggling to get rid of the constraints of a police; and was that a time for the House of Commons to sanction the extension of so odious a principle and practice in the British empire. When the Bill came before the House at a more advanced stage he hoped that it would be suppressed, and nothing but that hope made him forbear, even on that occasion, from resisting the Motion by something more strong than a mere declaration of opinion. He warned the House that measures of that description would go far towards extinguishing the liberties of England.

Mr. Robert Gordon

expressed his satisfaction at hearing such sound constitutional doctrines from his hon. friend. He too looked on this Bill, and the bill relating to the importation of arms into Ireland, with considerable alarm. He thought there was in both the measures an indication that the Government was apprehensive for the continuance of tranquillity in Ireland. Unless the Bill were supported by some stronger reasons than had yet been urged in its favour, the noble Lord would certainly find it difficult to procure the assent of the House to it. In reference to the police of London, it was necessary to observe, that the expenses of it were wholly provided for by the different parishes; while in Ireland half the expense was paid out of the public purse. Notwithstanding what the noble Lord said of reductions, he was apprehensive that the Bill would entail additional expense on the country, which would certainly make him oppose it. Each parish in Ireland ought to pay its own officers, and he must protest against the local force of that country being paid out of the public purse.

Mr. Chichester

inquired, if the sub-inspectors were to be substituted for the pay-clerks; and if they were to give security for the performance of their duties?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

deprecated further discussion at that late hour, but he was obliged to remark, that the appointment of sub-inspectors would cause no additional expense whatever, and therefore the objections on that score were groundless. As to the force being unconstitutional, he could only say that an objection of that nature was urged when it was first established; but whether unconstitutional or not, it had been productive of much good. His hon. friend would perhaps consider that well before he acted on his determination to oppose the Bill.

Mr. Alexander Dawson

was bound to express his conviction, that as long as the appointment of constables was left in the hands of magistrates, who had always servants to provide for, improper persons would be appointed. He approved therefore of the Government taking the responsibility on itself.

Mr. George Dawson

said, he was sure that the proposed alteration would be very beneficial to Ireland. The constabulary force was rendered in a measure inefficient by the present mode of appointing constables, which left the way open to party feelings and to much corruption. As to the expense, he was not prepared to say that it should not be wholly borne by the parishes of Ireland, in the same manner as the local police was supported by the parishes of England. At present he knew that no expense was more unpopular in Ireland than that of the constabulary force, but if the Grand Juries were invested with the power of controlling that expense, they would be less repugnant to increasing it. At present the law said, that there should be sixteen constables for each Barony, and this number, though in some places perhaps totally unnecessary, the Grand Jury had no power to reduce. He was surprised at the observations of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Trant) who last year, though now he objected even to the police, was for applying the Insurrection Act to the whole of Ireland; and was quite willing to place every man under martial law. Though the Government were not to have that hon. Member's support, he congratulated him on his altered tone; and on his readiness to adopt a milder and more constitutional government for Ireland than that of the Insurrection Act.

Mr. Trant

had never objected to the constabulary force, but to the Government taking the control of it from the local magistracy, and assuming it all into its own hands. As to his opinions, they remained unchanged, and he opposed the present measure on the same grounds as he had opposed the measure of last year, looking on them both as tending to subvert the Constitution.

Leave given to bring in the Bill.