HC Deb 18 August 1835 vol 30 cc655-61

Viscount Morpeth moved, that the House would go into Committee on the Constabulary Force in Ireland Bill.

Colonel Perceval

would like to know on what grounds the Government attempted to degrade the unpaid and independent magistracy of Ireland by depriving them of the power of selecting the police—a duty for which no men were more competent, being men of property, and interested in the peace and well-being of the country? Why should these men be set aside, and that power transferred to some creature of the Lord-Lieutenant? According to the present Bill, they were to have inspectors for each county, and separate paymasters. He admitted one-half of the expense of that was to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, but the other half was to be paid by the county. Again, there was to be one inspector, not less than four sub-inspectors, and not less than six chief constables, or more than eighteen. At present they had only four chief constables, and one inspector who acted as paymaster. He challenged the noble Lord to state any ground for this measure, which would have the effect of inflicting double the present expense on all the counties in Ireland. In his opinion the Bill was absurd throughout; the whole control was given to the Lord-Lieutenant, and he might exercise the capricious authority that was given him as he chose. There was an oath appended to the Bill, which he wished to know from the noble Lord whether it was intended to operate in aid of that oppression which had hitherto been exercised towards Orangemen, and whether all men belonging to Orange Societies were to be called upon to take that oath before they entered into the police? He wished to know whether that oath was intended as a trap to catch them, in order that they might be punished as the men at Ross were?

Viscount Morpeth

thought with the hon. and gallant Member, that second thoughts were generally best; but he considered that the hon. and gallant Member had taken a most erroneous course when he altered his first impression in favour of the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member had asked, whether his Majesty's Government intended by this Bill to pass any slur upon the general body of the Magistracy and the police force in Ireland. He begged to assure the hon. and gallant Member that his Majesty's Government had no such intention or motive, nor had they brought forward the Bill with any such design. He admitted the police force of Ireland to be on the whole a valuable institution, contributing largely to the public peace and welfare; but there was a general want of control in its management, and there were many imperfections about it which, if brought under strict control, would make it much more serviceable. With respect to the Magistrates, his Majesty's Government, in doing what they had done by the present Bill, were only following an example which in many counties had been set by the Magistrates themselves, who had voluntarily resigned their power, believing that it would be exercised much more for the public good by the highest and most responsible quarter—the Government of the country. It was well known that the constabulary force in Ireland was divided into four portions, according to the provinces, without any head, and all the finance and internal arrangements were thrown upon the Under Secretary, who had duties enough otherwise to perform. It was for this reason that the Government proposed to appoint one Inspector-General, residing at Dublin Castle, instead of the four provincial Inspectors-General. Their salaries amounted to 5,432l., while that of the new Inspector-General and his deputy would be only 1,600l. It was also proposed to appoint an Inspector for each county, and to intrust the duty of Paymaster and Storekeeper to a clerk, with a salary of 100l., but these salaries were all subject to the opinion of the House in Committee. It was not intended to interfere with the existing police force, and the Lord Lieutenant would have a power of increasing that force when occasion required it. He was opposed to any increase on the burthens of the people; and it would be seen that the expense of the proposed force would not exceed that of the present one. He estimated it thus. Under the contemplated plan, the salary of the Inspector would be 1,000l.—the Sub-Inspector,660l.—Inspectorsof counties, 11,900l.—Thirty-two Paymasters and Clerks, 3,200l.—Eighty Sub-Inspectors, 7,400l.—Two hundred and fifty-six Chief Constables, 12,500l.—and besides this there would be a subsidiary force, whose pay would amount to about 1,687l. The whole forming a total of 41,200l.; while the expense of the system as at present constituted was 44,239l. But the largest reduction, and that from which he hoped to derive the most beneficial results, was from the Superannuation Fund that he proposed to introduce. The gallant Member had adverted to the oath proposed to be taken by the police officers, and from the stress which he laid on the oath, it would appear that it had most excited his anger. It seemed to him (Lord Morpeth) that the very words of the oath signified, that it was not to have a retrospective tendency. The officer was to swear that he "does not now belong to, and will not join any secret or political society whatever." No one, therefore, could complain, as unless he was prepared to take the oath he need not present himself. If any Orangeman was at present an officer, he would have an opportunity of considering whether he should remain in the police or retire from it, but if he did not choose to leave such secret societies, he would be debarred from keeping his station in the police force. And surely when the noble and gallant Member told them that there were few recruits for the army or the police that did not belong to secret or political societies, and when he saw the hazard that these societies were to the peace and good-will that ought to prevail in Ireland—surely it was time to look to the state of the Army. The police ought not to have a suspicious character among those whose peace they were to protect, or if they thought—no matter how erroneously—that they were leagued in societies contrary to their interests, and that they existed only to exert an injurious supremacy over them. Respecting the case of New Ross, the police were dismissed from the service because they declined to answer questions which were put to them, and not because they belonged to Orange Lodges. They refused to answer questions that were put to them in the course of an inquiry which it was thought by the Government to be incumbent on them to prosecute. He would not offer any further observations on the general character of the Bill, but there were certain points which he should be very ready to discuss at the proper time.

Mr. Shaw

contended that the effect of this Bill would be to vest immense power and patronage in the hands of the Irish Government, and to supersede the Magistracy of the country. He did not object to there being one Inspector to the whole police force, but he wished to make some observations respecting the second clause—that relating to County Inspectors, which appeared to him to be a most important Clause. They were to have Inspectors for every county, and these were to take forthwith the oath taken by Justices, and, therefore, to become Justices of the Peace. If this were so, and they were to have salaried justices of the peace, these inspectors would virtually supersede the unpaid magistracy, and this introduced, in his opinion, a most impolitic principle. There would be no saving of expense, but even if it did, they would be obliged to purchase it at too dear a rate. He thought it a very dangerous and unconstitutional principle respecting the oath proposed to be taken. The noble Lord had let out what had led to the adoption of that oath. It was to exclude Orangemen.—[Lord Morpeth—"All party men."] He did not think so. The noble Lord had said that if an Orangeman were to present himself, he must be prepared to leave all secret societies. Respecting the inquiry at New Ross, he thought the proceeding was illegal—it was not only contrary to the constitution but to the law. It seemed to him unconstitutional to oblige the police to clear themselves by what was called a voluntary affidavit. He thought the system of persecution (for persecution he would call it) carried on by the Irish Government would not have the effect desired. There was, he contended, on the part of the Government of Ireland a spirit of persecution carried on by a particular class. The tendency of this would be, and had been, to increase the very body they were endeavouring to put down. Suppose a law were passed to exercise such authority over his gallant Friend, as to say to him, that if he did not cease to be an Orangeman, he should not have a seat in that House—he was sure that his gallant Friend had too much spirit to yield to such authority, and he could tell the noble Lord, that-the more he proceeded with persecution against these Societies, the more they would increase. He must, at the same time, say, that he was opposed to these Societies, and he was opposed to this persecution, because it would lead to the establishment of such Societies. It was symptomatic of an unsound state of society. He did not deny that these Societies ought to be discouraged, but it was not possible to put them down by the means adopted by the Government. In this case the oath proposed to be taken would not reach those whom it ought to be intended for. The Riband-men would be able to swear that he no longer belonged to any secret or illegal body, and yet substantially he would still belong to it. These parties had too well learnt the lesson that had been taught them. They knew too well how to evade all tests of this nature. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. O'Connell) had often boasted that he could drive a coach and six through an Act of Parliament, and did the noble Lord think that these Riband-men would not find advisers to show them how to evade this Act of Parliament. He did not see how the Bill could be made effective, for the fact was that the Orangemen called their Society a religious Society. It was useless to attempt to legislate for such a state of society as that in Ireland upon general principles. He could not but deprecate this measure, and he must say that since the noble Lord had administered the affairs of Ireland, he had done very little to obtain the confidence of the Irish gentry, whose Church he had taken away, and now sought to deprive them of their independence.

Sir Edmund Hayes

thought there was nothing so objectionable in the principle of this Bill as to lead the House to refuse going into the Committee. He certainly did feel at first that the expenses were likely to be much increased by it, and consequently felt much hostility to the measure; but he must confess that the statement of the noble Lord led him to suppose that he had been in some measure mistaken. He did hope that this would not be made a party measure, by introducing topics calculated to excite animosity and warmth of language wholly unconnected with the subject; there were surely topics enough upon which to exercise the weapons of party warfare, and he did feel that not only had it a bad effect in the House, but also upon those who were interested in their proceedings out of it, to perceive that even a question which was almost purely financial, and bearing upon the internal regulations of a county, was mixed up with party considerations; neither did he agree with the right hon. the Recorder, that the Inspector of Police in each county, being also a County Magistrate, would have the effect of superseding the local magistracy, and was likely to prove very injurious. He (Sir E. Hayes) thought it highly desirable that the head of the police should have the commission of the peace; there were many cases where the police could not act except in the presence of a magistrate, and in which the local magistrate, from many causes, might be reluctant to interfere; for instance, in tithe seizures. He certainly felt some jealousy upon the Government monopolizing the appointment of constables; there was a grasping disposition and a desire manifested to transfer to Government too much of the management of local affairs, and take it from the hands of those most interested in their good arrangement; the magistrates were more likely to know persons fitted for the situation than the Government, and none were more concerned in the efficiency of the force; there was a great inconvenience and danger in making the police too independent of the magistracy. On the whole, he would not object to go into Committee—at the same time he was determined to oppose every Clause which tended to increase the expense.

The House went into Committee—the Clauses were agreed to—and the House resumed.