HC Deb 09 August 1839 vol 50 cc149-54

Lord J. Russell moved the Order of the Day for going into Committee on the Birmingham Police Bill. (No. 2.)

Mr. W. Williams

said, he was so strongly opposed to this measure, that he should move that it be committed on that day three months. The first bill which was introduced gave the town-council the entire management of their police, and no objection was made to that bill, except to the grant of 10,000l., which he considered altogether unnecessary. The withdrawal of that bill, and introduction of the present, which vested the power entirely in the Secretary of State, proclaimed that the magistrates, the town-council, and the inhabitants of Birmingham, were not competent for the purposes of self-government. It took from them the power of taxing themselves for their local government; the power of maintaining a police for the protection of their property. No reason had been shown why so important a privilege should be taken away. Nothing had happened to justify this harsh treatment of the corporation of Birmingham. The noble Lord had stated it was not his intention to make this the foundation of a measure for ultimately establishing a police force throughout the country, under the authority of the Secretary of State. He would not dispute the assertion of the noble Lord, but there were certain facts to show the existence of such an intention in some quarters. In the first place there was the Report of the Commissioners appointed to make inquiries into the state of the constabulary, which recommended the establishment of a police force throughout the country, under the authority of the Secretary of State. He warned the people of this country to be on their guard against the introduction of such a system, which would destroy the liberties of the country. This, then, was a bill extending the metropolitan police force into five counties. They knew the people would not stand the introduction of the police all at once, but the introduction of it was steadily progressing. Next, they had endeavoured to introduce the police into the city of London. A measure had been proposed which would virtually have introduced the metropolitan police into London. There had next been a measure to raise 10,000l. for a sort of roving police, liable to be sent to any part of the country at a moment's notice. If they acted as they had at Birmingham, the noble Lord would succeed better in creating than suppressing disturbances. When these bills were agreed to, why the metropolitan police system would pervade a fourth part nearly of the population of England. What did these things indicate? That it was intended to carry the system through the whole country. The corporations of England would practically be deprived of the management of the police. He was glad that the city of London had come forward against these bills relative to Birmingham, Manchester, and Bolton. They had resisted the measure which was intended to deprive them of an authority they had enjoyed for the last 700 years, and they did right to oppose the infliction of the same deprivation on others. He wished to draw the attention of the noble Lord to one important fact, that the two Members for Birmingham had declared that there was so great an antipathy in the town against the measure, that the whole population, with the magistrates and council, would offer it every opposition. How then could the noble Lord expect to make his bill efficiently operate? The noble Lord had, on several occasions, evinced a readiness to follow the advice of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth. Now that right hon. Baronet had been very desirous, when he introduced the metropolitan police system, to extend it to the city of London, and had desisted from the attempt only on account of the opposition it met with, feeling that he never could expect to make it efficient, if it were so decidedly opposed by the population among whom the system was to work. The noble Lord should follow the example of the right hon. Baronet in this respect, and pay that respect to the people of Birmingham to which their intelligence justly entitled them. He ought not to force on this measure in opposition to their wishes. If the peace were to be effectually to be preserved, it must be by a police acceptable generally to the people. Without taking up the time of the House any further, he would move that the bill be committed this day three months.

Mr. T. Attwood

seconded the amendment. He hoped the noble Lord would now consent to withdraw the bill. He had received a letter this day from the town clerk of Birmingham, informing him that a petition had been presented to the council earnestly praying them, if this bill passed into a law, to terminate its operation as soon as the law gave them power—or as soon as it was decided that the law gave them power to levy the rates for their own police. But the council had rejected the petition, on the ground that it was unworthy of them, as men and Englishmen, to have anything to do with this bill. They were grave, and respectable men—very few of them had been members of the Political Union, therefore they were entitled to the noble Lord's respect. The first bill was constitutional and reasonable; this was unconstitutional and arbitrary—the first step towards driving in the wedge for the French gens d'urmerie. The people of Birmingham would never submit to it; if they did, now that the noble Lord was in his weakness, they could never expect to resist it when he was in his strength, which, if he were in at all this time two years, he would possess. The masses of the people were not disposed to encourage fires—God forbid!—but they were generally discontented. Sorry he was to find the noble Lord in such a measure as this, deserting his high principles, and dishonouring his great name. If the noble Lord would not restore his first bill, he would advise him to retire from his situation. There were plenty of Gentlemen opposite who would gladly replace him, and who were his equals in ability. Let him retire while he had something yet remaining of his deservedly high character, unless he were prepared to leave the people of Birmingham to themselves—at least with the aid of the military—of whom the noble Lord had given them plenty; a force which, though unconstitutional, was efficient, and somewhat capable of guiding the people of England, who respected them for their courage, and admired them for their glorious achievements and martial enthusiasm. But the gendarmerie system was un-English; the word "police" was not in our language; we only had "peace officers" and constables; and the noble Lord would have done well to limit his interference to the giving power to increase the numbers of these—there was ample provision for their support. The Court Leet have certainly—like that House—wofully deteriorated from its original intention, but though a clique, self electing, they had never done anything wrong; they were all Birmingham men, and respectable in their character. If the noble Lord wished for a police force, why did he not apply to the Court Leet rather than press forward this measure of centralization? He would warn the noble Lord, if he proceeded with this bill, he would never get back the money advanced. Nor would he venture to take the soldiers out of Birmingham. The very Tories whose advice he had adopted, would beg of him to let the soldiers remain. The police themselves would be subjected to all manner of obloquy and insult. The town of Birmingham was now quiet; the law had resumed its course, and such being the case, he hoped the noble Lord would pause and reconsider before he carried the judgments passed at Warwick into execution; he hoped he would ponder well before he suffered the extrem penalties of the law to be put in force. He appealed to the noble Lord as a man of humanity on the subject; he knew he was such, for although he loathed his (the noble Lord's) police, yet as a man of humanity, and as a man of gen- tlemanly and generous feeling he admired and respected him. He hoped the noble Lord would reconsider the subject, and withdraw this bill. If he did not, he should adopt the same course respecting this bill as he had given notice of on the Manchester Bill—he should move as an amendment in committee, that the following proviso be inserted:— Provided always, that when the authority of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Corporation of Birmingham shall be ascertained by due course of law, and it shall be shown they possess the legal right of levying rates, that from that time the authority of this Act shall cease and determine.

Mr. C. Buller

wished to impress on the hon. Gentleman the impolicy of dividing the House at this stage, because it gave an air of factious opposition to a proceeding which had hitherto been conducted on high and constitutional grounds. The House had decided in favour of the principle of the bill. He proposed, therefore, to take the sense of the House as to the propriety of keeping the appointment in the hands of the town-council. He also wished to direct the attention of the noble Lord to the proposal of the hon. Member for Birmingham—that the bill should not go further than the reasons assigned—and that, when any corporation should be established in Birmingham, things should be allowed to return to the ordinary course, and the town should be allowed to be governed by the local authorities. He would also take the opinion of the House as to the propriety of taking the authority out of the hands of the corporation.

Mr. Scholefield

was afraid he should disappoint the wishes of many of his constituents, whose feelings were very strongly against the bill. The noble Lord had satisfied some of his scruples; and if he would adopt the suggestion of his hon. Colleague, that would remove an additional objection. He felt, in common with many of his Friends, that it would be dangerous to press this matter, without doing something to assuage the feelings of the people. When a petition was proposed in the town-council on this subject, it was rejected, on the grounds that they would not, in any shape, recognise a measure so insulting; they felt it was an infringement of the liberties of the people. Their opposition to it was national, although they felt it as a local attack upon them, that they should be the first selected for the intro- duction of this system, and that at the suggestion of persons who had always opposed the enfranchisement of Birmingham.

Mr. Wakley

suggested, that the noble Lord should go into committee, pro formâ, and on Monday introduce a clause limiting the duration of the bill.

Lord John Russell

had already said, that he did not wish the powers granted by this bill to be continued longer than the decision of the case now litigated. But it was not so easy as the hon. Member for Finsbury supposed to draw a clause on the subject, for other matters were disputed before the Queen's Bench beside the power of levying a rate; besides, it was doubtful, whether there might not be an appeal from the decision of that court to the Exchequer Chamber and House of Lords. He saw no reason why they should not go into committee.

Amendment withdrawn.

House in Committee.

On the first clause,

Mr. C. Buller moved an amendment to the effect, that the town-council should have the power of appointing a commissioner of the police instead of her Majesty. He was not so furiously opposed to centralization as some Members. On the contrary, he thought that centralization was a part of civilization; but self-government should be also kept up as an inherent right under our Constitution.

Mr. Attwood

seconded the amendment.

The Committee divided on the original question:—Ayes 63; Noes 20: Majority 43.

List of the Ayes.
A'Court, Captain Freshfield, J. W.
Adam, Admiral Gaskell, J. M.
Baring, F. T. Grey, rt. hon. Sir C.
Blackburne, I. Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.
Blennerhassett, A. Hawkes, T.
Bramston, T. W. Hill, Lord A. M. C.
Bruges, W. H. L. Hinde, J. H.
Bryan, G. Hobhouse, rt.hn. Sir J.
Callaghan, D. Hodgson, R.
Campbell, Sir J. Hope, hon. C.
Chapman, A. Hoskins, K.
Chichester, J. P. B. Howard, P. H.
Clay, W. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Kemble, H.
Dalmeny, Lord Lowther, J. H.
Darby, G. Lushing ton, rt. hn. S.
Divett, E. Mackinnon, W. A.
Donkin, Sir R. S. Maule, hon. F.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Paget, F.
Ellis, J. Parker, J.
Filmer, Sir E. Parker, R. T.
Philips, M. Stock, Dr.
Phillpotts, J. Surrey, Earl of
Price, Sir R. Thomson, rt. hn. C. P.
Pryme, G. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Rice, rt. hon. T. S. Waddington, H. S.
Rolfe, Sir R. M. Wilbraham, G.
Rushbrooke, Colonel Wilmot, Sir J. E.
Russell, Lord J. Wood, G. W.
Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A Yates, J. A.
Stanley, hon. E. J. TELLERS.
Stanley, hon. W. O. Seymour, Lord
Steuart, R. O'Ferrall, M.
List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Lushington, C.
Attwood, T. O'Connell, D.
Currie, T. Scholefield, J.
D'Israeli, B. Stewart, J.
Duncombe, T. Thornely, T.
Ewart, W. Vigors, N. A.
Fielden. J. Villiers, hon. C. P.
Finch, F. Wakley, T.
Hawes, B.
Hector, C. J. TELLERS.
Hindley, C. Buller, C.
Humphery, J. Williams, W.

Clause agreed to, as were the remaining clauses.

House resumed.