HC Deb 09 July 1839 vol 49 cc85-8
Sir R. Peel

said, that he wished to know from the noble Lord, what was the number of the men belonging to the metropolitan police force which had been sent down to Birmingham, in consequence of the riots in that place? In asking this question, he would earnestly recommend to the noble Lord, that the utmost caution should be used in sending bodies of the metropolitan police against mobs in the large towns in the country. He did not intend to convey, by these observations, any censure on the Government in the present case, but he hoped that great care would be used. Considering the high character and efficiency of the body, he trusted that, in employing them in future, the greatest caution would be taken not to compromise that character by bringing them into collision with large assemblies in towns, with the general character of which they were not acquainted.

Lord John Russell

said, that the question put by the right hon. Baronet, rendered it necessary for him to state the circumstances of the case, and what had passed, with reference to the sending a portion of the police force to Birmingham. What had occurred in the present case was not very different from what had taken place in various parts of the country within the last few years. The Mayor of Birmingham, accompanied by two other magistrates of the town, came to London expressly to make application to the Home-office for assistance. They informed him, that assemblies of a tumultuous and dangerous nature were in the habit of being held every night in that place, and that they had not a sufficient police force to arrest the persons guilty of disorder, or to preserve the peace. They also stated, that the corporation lately formed in their town had already adopted measures with the view of organizing such a police force; but as this had not yet been done, they were unwilling to call upon the military to act, without having an adequate civil force there. In compliance with their request, a force of sixty men, belonging to the police force of London, was directed to be sent down to Birmingham along with the applicants. At the same time, on his asking them whether they were satisfied with the military force stationed there, he received an answer assuring him, that all the parties there were perfectly satisfied with that force, and that they placed perfect reliance on the co-operation of the military officer commanding this force. It appeared afterwards, that, on arriving at Birmingham, the magistrates thought proper immediately to direct the arrest of certain persons then tumultuously assembled at a place called the Bull-ring. He would not give any opinion as to the law upon this case; for with regard to this case, as also with respect to the particular courses of conduct pursued in riots or tumults on previous occasions, a judgment could be best formed on the subject by one who was on the spot, and knew all the circumstances. The mob, against whom that part of the police force were directed to act, were some of them armed with knives and other offensive and dangerous weapons, and some of the police had been wounded. He was glad to say, that the last accounts stated, that those who had been wounded, were not either dangerously wounded, nor were they at present in any danger. The next morning he received an account from Birmingham, and a request to send down forty more policemen. He hesitated somewhat with respect to the step, and consulted Colonel Rowan, with the view of ascertaining his opinion as to what effect such a measure would have on the police force in general; and Colonel Rowan, thinking that a reinforcement would give confidence to the police in the country, from the conviction that they had the support of the metropolitan police, and also that it would not be prejudicial to the police force itself, he (Lord John Russell) consented to send forty additional policemen on the second day, and they arrived that night at Birmingham. It appeared that, although the military had acted with that promptitude and temper with which they had invariably acted on these occasions, and although the special constables had not failed in their duty, yet the presence and assistance of a small body of well-organized police had been exceedingly useful in maintaining the peace of the town; and every letter which he had received from magistrates and others, expressed a sense of the utility of this force, and the great satisfaction that their exertions had afforded. He was happy to say, likewise, that there was a letter this morning from one of the inspectors of the police who was at present at Birmingham, a man of character and intelligence, stating that happily no riots prevailed there yesterday, although great crowds were assembled in the streets, as was usually the case in that town, on Mondays and Monday evenings, but that no attempt was made any where to interfere with or molest the police force, which acted every where with decision. Although it was unwise to mix up the police force in any case where they would run the risk of being injured or diparaged in public opinion, yet he was of opinion there did occur many occasions in which the assistance of a small body of organized policemen would be of the utmost importance, and produce the best effect. This had been the case lately at Devizes, where probably the barracks, which had recently been repurchased by the Government, would have been burnt during the disturbances there, had it not been for the presence of a portion of the police force. He wished to see an efficient police force established throughout the country, but in the present state of the country, and of the local police of the country, he thought that it was advisable that, in such cases as the present, they might call for the services of the metropolitan police, and he did not anticipate that any evil consequences could result.

Captain Wood

wished to know whether this force was to continue at Birmingham. If this system was to be pursued, of sending the metropolitan police force throughout the country, it would be a considerable tax on the rate-payers here.

Lord John Russell

said, that in almost every case he had found the local authorities ready to contribute the greater part, if not the entire expenses of the police force when sent down. He would also mention, that he had thought it necessary this year to ask for an additional sum of money for the police force, so that there might be a body of police always disposable, without ever diminishing the force necessary for the metropolis.

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