HC Deb 18 November 1830 vol 1 cc575-82
Sir R. Wilson

said, that he had been desired to present a Petition from the Parish of St. John, Southwark, on the subject of the New Police. If the petitioners had passed any reflection upon that body, he certainly should have been at variance with them; for he must, in common justice, say that he had never seen a better conducted, or a more efficient body of men. The petitioners expressed an alarm in which he certainly did not concur. They thought this police force a dangerous one, and they were of opinion that it might be used, by an arbitrary Minister, to crush the liberties of the people. When he considered how very far superior in numbers the inhabitants of the metropolis only were to the police, he could not participate in such an apprehension. The petitioners, however, complained, as many others had complained, of the expense of the new police; and they said, that in consequence of the introduction of the police into their parish, they had incurred an additional charge for watching, to the amount of 700l. a-year. This was certainly a very large increase, and, as it appeared to him, a just ground of complaint.

Sir R. Peel

said, that if he had remained in office, and if any one had proposed that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the efficiency of the police, and whether the charge for it could be reduced, he should not have had the slightest difficulty in acceding to such a proposition. He should, on the contrary, be most ready to acquiesce in it; not because the expense of the police had in the slightest degree shaken his conviction that it was absolutely necessary that some such force should exist for the preservation of the persons and property of the inhabitants of this great metropolis, but because he should be glad to be afforded the public opportunity of examining into every proceeding connected with the new establishment, its mode of appointment, its arrangement, the real amount of the expense which was incurred for it, and of having a comparison drawn, both on the score of expense and efficiency, between the present improved system of police, and that which formerly existed. He should be glad to be afforded such an opportunity for the purpose of doing away with the gross misrepresentations which had been spread abroad by interested persons on this subject. If, therefore, any such committee should have been proposed, he, for one, should have been most happy, if he had continued in office, to second the motion, as he felt convinced that the result of the evidence which would be produced before that committee, would be, to establish in every respect the great claims which the new police possessed upon the public approbation and confidence. People supposed that the sole object of the new police establishment in London was to keep watch upon individual houses. Now no police, no matter how constituted, could do so effectually, if the individual inhabitants of such houses did not respectively exert themselves a little to protect their own property. It should be remembered, that within the last few months, in consequence of his Majesty's accession to the Throne, there had been various public occasions,—such as reviews, and other public exhibitions,—upon which immense crowds of people had been assembled, and in all such instances the most perfect order had been maintained by means of the new police. It was obvious at once that in a population such as existed in this metropolis of upwards of 1,200,000 persons, there should be some civil means for preserving order and regularity. If no such civil means existed, the only alternative would be the maintenance of an immense military force, and a corresponding increase in the army estimates and expenditure. If he had been rightly informed, the most perfect order and regularity had been maintained by the new police on the occasions to which he had alluded; and he had not heard, notwithstanding the immense number of persons that had been congregated on those occasions, that a single accident had occurred. He undoubtedly thought, that it might be made a question whether a portion of the charge for the police might not be fairly borne by the country at large. He believed that if the expense for the police had been limited to 6d. in the pound, they would not have heard a word about the unconstitutional nature of that force. He feared that it would be impossible to maintain the police establishment at a less charge than that now incurred for it, and if that charge was to continue to be defrayed by a local tax, it would be impossible to reduce it below 8d. in the pound. He must say, that when complaints were made of a charge of 2s. 6d. in the pound being imposed in consequence of the establishment of a local police, that such a charge was not countenanced by the law. The maximum charge was fixed by the Act at 8d. in the pound, and if the overseers of the different parishes asked the inhabitants to pay 2s. 6d. on account of the new police, he would tell them that the overseers had no legal authority to levy more than 8d. for that purpose. He knew that a great misunderstanding prevailed in the public on that subject, and be thought it right to say thus much with a view to remove it. He was afraid that the result of the labours of a committee, if the charge were still to be defrayed by local taxation, would not be to reduce its amount. He hoped that a committee, if one should be appointed, would enter minutely into every portion of the financial question with regard to this force,— that it would consider the amount of the wages,—the mode of forming the various corps, and that it would examine into the condition of every class of the police, and that it would consider whether it was possible to produce an efficient and respectable corps for less than the present charge. He did not think that such a force could be produced for a less charge, but if it could, and he had continued in office, no man would have been more ready to acquiesce in any suggestions from a committee to attain that object. The chief objection which had, in the first instance, been urged against the plan of the new police was, that the amount of salary was not such as would secure respectable persons to fill situations in it. A guinea a week was the salary, subject to certain deductions for lodgings, and other matters. One great object in the formation of the new police establishment was, that having removed it from the power of the local authorities, Parliament might always have an opportunity of exercising its power of inspection over it, and that from time to time, the various matters connected with it should come under the consideration of that House. He conceived, that the period had hardly arrived for the institution of such an inquiry, but, at the same time, if the excitement of the public mind was such as had been represented, let a committee be appointed, for he would maintain that, having taken away the local authority over the police, that House was bound to institute any inquiry which might be necessary on the subject. He would say, as Secretary of State, that if the police force was not honestly managed and conducted, it would be a curse, instead of being an advantage, to the public. He was, therefore, of opinion that a parliamentary committee should, from time to time, be appointed on the subject, not with a view to throw any doubts upon the general efficiency of the new police, but for the purpose of seeing whether improvements might not be made in the efficiency and arrangement of that force. With regard to the recommendations of the parishes, they had been always properly attended to: he had shown no favour in the appointment, and he was sure that every Gentleman in that House must know that he had not prostituted the appointments in the new-police to any private purpose. The parishes should understand, that they could recommend individuals who were qualified for the situation, and that their recommendations would be attended to, as well as those from any other quarter. But if the parishes were to recommend those they thought fit, and if there was to be no difficulty whatever in complying with their recommendation, the effect would be to give to the parishes a control over the appointment of the police, which it was the object of the Act to take out of their hands. The effect would be to do away with all the benefits resulting from the new police establishment, and to do away with the arrangement of the whole metropolitan police being placed under the control of one head, upon which arrangement the efficiency of the present public establishment so entirely depended. At the same lime he thought that there should be always a ready disposition on the part of that head to act in concert and cooperate with the parish authorities.

Mr. Wilks

had had repeated opportunities to notice the exertions of the police, and was bound to express his satisfaction at what he had witnessed. He concurred with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that the additional expense was in a great degree the cause of the unpopularity of the new police. He was anxious that a committee should be appointed on the subject, and he was sure that the appointment of such a committee would be received with gratitude by the people.

Sir R. Peel

gave notice, that immediately after the Christmas recess, he would move for the appointment of a Select Committee on the subject. He repeated, he would move for such a committee, not from any doubts which he entertained of the efficiency of the new police, but because he was anxious that the whole establishment should be examined.

Mr. Hume

observed, that he had recently received deputations from three parishes, and they all concurred in substance with the statement just made by the right hon. Gentleman, as to the expediency of having a committee appointed on this subject. He thought that the unpopularity under which the new police now laboured, was founded on error. As to what had been said about the force being unconstitutional, he did not agree with the statement—it was not an unconstitutional force—nor was a standing army. The objection as to a force being unconstitutional depended not so much on the, force itself as on the manner in which it was maintained, and on the nature of the control exercised over it. He repeated, therefore, that neither the police, nor even the standing army, was an unconstitutional force in itself: but it might be made so by the way in which it was treated by the Government. The great objection was to the expensiveness of the establishment, and in the increased amount of rates levied on the parishes. In the parish of Ealing, for instance, where the old watch only cost 80l. a-year, the inhabitants now paid 800l., and one man alone in that parish, who had formerly only paid Is. now paid 50l. [No, no!]. He was not quite sure of the sum, but he believed it to be near what he had mentioned. At least the increase was very great. It was the same in the parish of Hackney, and he believed it would be in the power of the committee to do away with many of the grievances.

Colonel Sibthorp

entered his protest against saddling the country with any part of the expense of the Metropolitan Police. He thought that as the advantages of the police were local, the taxation should be so too.

Mr. Byng

knew, that the great grievance of the establishment was its expensiveness, which he had reason to believe was not equally borne by the different parishes in which the police was now stationed. Some of the out-parishes especially were burthened far beyond those in the metropolis itself, and far beyond their means of payment. The country at large was interested in the preservation of peace in the metropolis, and ought to contribute to maintain the police.

Mr. Maberly

thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he had expressed himself on this subject, and observed, that in addition to the evil of expense, the establishment was defective on account of the want of concert between the head office and the local authorities. With respect to the expense, he did believe that some of the complaints had been fostered by local boards, who, in the establishment of the new police, had been deprived of their parish patronage. He hoped therefore the House would appoint a committee, and would thoroughly examine the subject.

Mr. Wyse

objected to extending the expense of supporting the Metropolitan Police to the country at large. Each district should pay its own local expenses. It was in that manner that the constabulary force in Ireland was supported.

Sir R. Peel

observed, that the hon. Member was mistaken, since the expense of the constabulary force in Ireland was not supported by local taxation alone. A considerable part of the expense of that establishment was taken from the Consolidated Fund. He would now refer again for one moment to the expense of the new police establishment, in order to say, that by the terms of the Act which he had introduced for the establishment of the new police, an account was to be laid before Parliament, within thirty days of its assembling, of the real amount of the sums paid by each parish on account of the new police. That provision referred to the meeting of Parliament after December, and therefore, when Parliament did again assemble, he should move for that account, with the view of showing that the sums stated to have been paid for the new police had not been really required for that purpose.

Mr. Warburton

said, that the new police had been very useful in recovering stolen property, which important service had been overlooked. He believed that in one district alone the amount of property recovered was greater than the increase of the assessment.

Mr. Portman

deprecated the laying any tax on the people of the country, for the support of the Metropolitan Police. He expressed his hope that the expense of the Irish constabulary force would no longer be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, but would be defrayed by local taxation, in the same manner as in London. The people in the western part of the metropolis were much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the introduction of the new police, and he believed that the investigations of the committee would satisfy the public that he had done a real service to the country in its establishment.

Mr. Curteis

concurred in protesting against levying any part of the expense for the new police on the country generally. It ought all to be borne by the parishes and property which were protected.

The Petition was then read and ordered to be printed.

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