§ Lord John Russell
moved, pursuant to notice, that the Order of the Day for a Committee on the Birmingham Police, with a view to vote money, should be taken before the notices of motions.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that this corporation was not empowered by law to raise money on the security of the rates, and another reason was, that it was desirable this question should not be complicated with the consideration of other questions. At Manchester the town-council had issued orders to the churchwardens and overseers commanding them to assess a certain sum of money as a borough rate for the maintenance of a police force for that town. This had been resisted, and a question raised to try the validity of the charter. No question of this sort had been raised at Birmingham, and it was exceedingly desirable that such should not be 692 the case, which most probably would be the case if in the present state of excitement the Corporation were to attempt to impose a rate.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
said, the old fashioned manner of proceeding was, to consider of and redress grievances before granting money. Now, the motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Westminster related to a very great grievance. Why should not it have precedence? Again, why should they put their hands into the public purse, in order to support a police for Birmingham, the largest town in the kingdom, provided with a corporation for its own government. He predicted that it was only giving the money away; it would be like that loan of a million which was given to the Irish parsons. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had talked of the Order of the Day having precedence because houses were burning in Birmingham. The cause of all that was the conduct of that House. They might add 5,000 men to their army—they might increase the police force, but it would all be of no use so long as that House went on in its present course. On a subsequent occasion, his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, supported by his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, presented a petition from 1,200,000 persons. They asked the House to take it into consideration only, but not more than forty-eight Members could be found to vote in favour of their motion. Could they believe the people would be contented when they had added 5,000 men to the army, or that the police would be of use if that House persevered in such a course. He (Mr. D.) believed the country was in a dangerous state; he believed great discontent and distress prevailed, and a vote of the sort then proposed being passed before the country had any time to reflect upon it, would cause great consternation and dismay throughout the country. On the 22nd of July, within, in all probability, three weeks of the close of the Session, the noble Lord came down from the House and said the country was in such a state that he must increase the army to the extent of 5,000 men, and advance 10,000l. to the corporation of Birmingham to keep the town quiet. He did not believe that would keep the town quiet. He believed the House would have to listen to and redress the grievances of the people, before the town of Birmingham or the country generally was quiet again. There was a grievance complained of in 693 the petition which his hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, had given notice of; but to which the Government wished to give the go by. If the noble Lord got his 10,000l. first, then, as his hon. Colleague (Mr. Wakley) had said, all the Gentlemen would go to their dinners, and leave the people of England starving and in distress.
thought, before the House agreed to any one of the projects of the noble Lord, they ought to inquire into the causes of the insurrectionary spirit, and whether the conduct of Government was concerned in that insurrectionary spirit. How could they tell, but that the cause of it might not be the country having to struggle with a weak Government?
§ Mr. Easthope
said, it was the first duty of Parliament to do that which was best calculated to secure tranquillity. He should cordially give his support to the proposition of the noble Lord.
§ Mr. Leader
did not see there was such very great urgency for the motion of the noble Lord. He believed the disturbances in Birmingham had been very much exaggerated. He would persevere in his objection to the irregularity on the part of the noble Lord, and would take the sense of the House upon it.
§ Lord John Russell
observed, it was said he was now proposing that an Order of the Day should take precedence of Notices of Motion. Now when that petition, signed by 1,200,000 persons came on for discussion, he had himself proposed, although the Order of the Day then took precedence, that the discussion on that petition should be taken first. He had not endeavoured to shirk the discussion, but had fairly met the reasons urged by the hon. Gentlemen who proposed and supported the motion. That motion was, therefore, disposed of in the most deliberate manner, and he had not by the course he then took precluded himself from doing that which he now proposed.
§ Sir Robert Peel
felt it to be his duty to support the noble Lord, and he thought what had been said about the danger of leaving that great manufacturing town in the possession of a mob—houses being set on fire and pillaged—and the whole being in a state of anarchy, did constitute a sufficient reason for proceeding at once to consider what steps should be taken to restore tranquillity. There was something so peculiar in the circumstances of the country, in the announcement that had 694 been made, and in the known facts of what had taken place at Birmingham, that he thought it would be of the greatest advantage they should take the earliest opportunity of providing a civil force, so that that portion of the civil force, now there might be removed from the town. He was confident, that the sooner they removed the metropolitan police from Birmingham, consistently with a determination to supply its place with another, the better. The House would be best performing its duty by taking effectual measures for maintaining the public tranquillity.
§ Mr. Fielden
said, it was undoubtedly the duty of the House to secure the tranquillity of the country, but the question was, whether the mode proposed by the noble Lord was likely to attain that object. He thought the best mode of trying to conciliate the people was to endeavour to redress the grievances of which the people complained. The complaint was of the London police having been sent to Bimingham, and the general feeling was that the disturbances arose there from. The House ought to redress the sufferings of which the people complained instead of providing a force to put down their complaints, which most assuredly never could be put down by such means. He trusted the hon. Member for Westminster would take the sense of the House on the question.
§ The House divided: Ayes 144; Noes 3:—Majority 141.
|List of the NOES.|
|Fielden, J.||Leader, J. T.|
|Wakley, T.||Duncombe, T.|
§ The Order of the Day for going into a Committee of the whole House upon an advance of money for the Birmingham police was accordingly read,
§ Lord John Russell
said, in moving the resolution which I am now to propose, I think it my duty to state the circumstances which have made it necessary for me to propose this vote. It has been stated, that an assembly of persons lawfully met together, and conducting themselves peaceably, for the purpose of discussing public grievances, were interrupted by a sudden attack on the part of the metropolitan police; and an attempt has been made to refer what has since taken place, to this which is described as a wanton and unprovoked attack. I think it necessary to state 695 the representations made to me with respect to the state of Birmingham previous to the late occurrences. For some time there had been meetings held at which the most violent and inflammatory language was used. On one occasion certain persons were arrested and held to bail for using such language. But within the last month the practice of holding those meetings had very much increased, and it became the habit of a number of persons to march through certain parts of the town with banners, and by that means alarming the people. Representations were made to the authorities of Birmingham, that persons carrying on their lawful business in the thoroughfares through which the crowds passed was endangered and disturbed by these meetings. It was stated at the same time, that there was not an adequate civil force in the town for the arrest of the persons so conducting themselves. Now, it is a very great mistake, which may easily be fallen into, to suppose, that when there is no actual riot and breach of the peace, no actual damage to persons and property, that such meetings can be considered lawful. The authorities on the subject will show that this is not the case. I will quote one or two, because I think the opposite opinions likely to lead to great mischief, and innocent persons may be induced to mix themselves up with meetings of an unlawful character, from supposing that no injury can happen to them from such an indulgence of their curiosity. Now, at the especial commission of 1831, Mr. Justice Bosanquet described as unlawfulAll assemblies, not held by lawful authority, attended by great numbers of people, with such circumstances of terror as are calculated to excite alarm and to endanger the public peace.On a very late occasion at Devizes, Mr. Justice Coleridge charging a jury, stated thatAny assembly where people met together in great numbers, using arms, or using violent, seditious, or threatening language, or even strong gestures against persons concerned in the preservation of the peace, is by law considered an unlawful assembly. It is laid down in a common book of reference, in a late edition of 'Burns' Justice,' that a meeting of great numbers of persons with such circumstances of terror as may endanger the public peace, and raise fears of violence, seems properly to be called an unlawful assembly.It is obvious that circumstances which create terror may be very different at particular times, Thus a mob meeting at night with 696 persons carrying torches and using threats against the property of the inhabitants of a district may be unlawful. At another time there may be persons armed, carrying weapons, firing them off, and thereby terrifying the peaceable inhabitants; or there may be a meeting of persons carrying bludgeons, using gestures and threats to the inhabitants in crowded streets, which may cause the meeting to be an unlawful assembly, and punishable by law. I have stated this, because it has happened within four or five months that I have been very frequently appealed to mention the particular circumstances which make a meeting an unlawful assembly. I could only refer those who made the enquiry to the books of authority, and to the charges delivered by judges. But there can be no doubt that these assemblies in Birmingham, consisting of three, four, and sometimes five thousand persons marching in the way I have described, and terrifying persons from resorting to their usual thoroughfares, did constitute unlawful assemblies, and were also a great grievance to the peaceable inhabitants of the town of Birmingham. The magistrates of that town finding that the civil force in their hands was not sufficient for the purpose of arresting persons concerned in such meetings: and unwilling, in the absence of any actual riot, to call in the military, asked me to grant them assistance by enabling them to swear in as special constables a number of the metropolitan police, for when the metropolitan police are sent to a place in the country, they act there as individuals sworn in by the magistrates as special constables. An act of Parliament passed three years ago, by which persons able and willing to serve may be sworn in as special constables, though not belonging to the neighbourhood, and may be paid as such. In that way the magistrates of Birmingham asked the aid of the metropolitan police. I need not tell the House what has since occurred, both in the arrest of several persons concerned in these unlawful assemblies, and likewise the riots which occurred on Monday the 15th, when some houses were destroyed, and other houses and property plundered by a riotous mob. But I think the Committee will agree that although the magistrates might be justified in taking the measure which they did for the preservation of the peace of that town, yet they ought to form as soon as possible a regular police force which might constantly preserve the peace. There are difficulties in the way of 697 an immediate organization of such a force, both from the excited state of Birmingham and from the question raised in Manchester with respect to the corporation, and which might cause some doubt of the power of the corporation of Birmingham to levy a borough rate for the organization of a police force. I propose, therefore, as the object is a most desirable one, and one which concerns the general state of the country as well as Birmingham, that the State should so far interpose as to advance a sum of money, to be afterwards repaid by the town. I propose that this should not be a vote of supply, but a vote forming the foundation of a bill, which bill should provide for the recovery of the money by means of a rate on the borough; that rate to be imposed by Act of Parliament, and therefore totally irrespective of the question of the authoritity of the corporation. There is one circumstance which I wish to explain concerning the state of Birmingham, because a letter addressed to me concerning the late events has appeared in print, the parties who sent it having thought proper to publish it. It had been stated, that it was desirable that inquiry should take place, and I required that any allegations to the effect that the magistrates of Birmingham had information of the riots about to take place, and had neglected to take measures for preventing them, should be distinctly stated, with the authority on which they rested. It seems to be supposed that I thought proper to cast censure on those who asked for enquiry. I do not think that the course which I took at all implied censure on those parties. There seems to be some ignorance on the subject of that letter, and some impression that I refused that any inquiry should take place into the conduct of those magistrates. It is certainly a custom—not a custom established by me, but long established by Secretaries of State—when complaints are made against official persons, to furnish them with full information on the subject, and to ask them what they have to alledge in answer to the statements that have been made. On the occasion of the election of 1837 complaints were made against the officer commanding the cavalry. On that occasion there was a disposition to riot shown, and the police and military were called out. It appeared to the magistrates that the military had conducted themselves so well on all occasions, and that they had acted with so much decision, and at the same time with such temper and forbear- 698 ance, that I was asked by the magistrates to approve of the conduct of the commander-in-chief, and I accordingly expressed to him the thanks of his late Majesty for the conduct of the troops on those several occasions. Among the troops so employed, were the troops that acted at Birmingham, and Sir Maxwell Morrice was the officer employed. After this complaints were made of the conduct of Sir Maxwell Morrice, and, after hearing every thing that could be said, it appeared to me that that gallant officer had acted in a manner that was highly creditable to him; that placed as he was in most difficult circumstances, he might have committed a trifling error of judgment in part of his conduct, but that, upon the whole, he had acted in a way most likely to preserve the peace of the town. Upon my expressing that opinion to those who asked for inquiry, I added, that I did not think it right, entertaining as I did such an opinion, that this military officer, who had conducted himself in what I thought a proper manner, should be subjected to a formal inquiry, implying, as it might be thought to imply, something of censure. That is the matter to which reference is made in the letter lately published. I shall take care that the letter I wrote upon that occasion shall be produced, and although the circumstances may not now excite much attention, yet it will explain what seems to require explanation. I will now only move, "that the Commissioners of her Majesty's Treasury be authorised to direct that the sum of 10,000l. be advanced out of the consolidated fund of the United Kingdom, for the purpose of establishing a police force in Birmingham, the same to be charged upon, and repaid out of, the rates to be levied on the said town." If this resolution be agreed to and reported, I shall then ask for leave to bring in a bill founded upon it; and I shall take care that the bill shall provide that the advance be repaid out of the rates so raised.
§ Mr. Hume
understood they were called upon to make this advance, in consequence of the corporation having no power under the charter to borrow money for the purpose to which this advance was to be applied. If that was applicable to Birmingham, was not every other corporation under the same circumstances? Ought not every one to have the means of establishing a proper effective police? Scarcely one of the old boroughs maintained a proper and adequate police. He had no objection to the resolution; but he did object to the 699 grounds on which the noble Lord supported this vote, and to the authority of Justice Bosanquet and Justice Coleridge. He was disposed from what he knew of the Constitution to deny altogether the grounds of their opinion. If the fact of a meeting being numerous was to be a ground of its being unlawful, he knew of no great public meeting that was legal. When the Six Acts were passing, and when the present Lord Plunkett and Lord Melbourne defended those Six Acts, he was very much mistaken if the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) did not produce better and more valuable authority for authorising the people to meet. Mr. Justice Bosanquet's opinion was, that every meeting not called by legal authority was unlawful. It appeared to him that this was a most dangerous doctrine. In 1831 and 1832, when meetings took place connected with the Reform Bill and the state of the country, he was sure that if the definition by those two judges, as given by the noble Lord, had been applied to those meetings, very few of those who took part in those meetings on those occasions would stand clear of having violated the law. If Mr. Justice Bosanquet's opinion were law, he had no hesitation in saying, that every one who joined in those meetings, numerous as they were, and containing as they did many of those who had formed part of the Administration since, had been guilty of illegal conduct. Protesting as he did against that doctrine, he admitted the propriety of a police force being established in every town; and, as he saw no means of immediately accomplishing that but by an advance from the public purse, he would make no objection to the loan. He wished they would not look merely at Birmingham, but to Manchester, Newcastle, Carlisle, and other places where disorder was spreading over the whole manufacturing population. They would do well to see whether this bill could not be made general, and whether those who had the peace of large towns to maintain ought not to be provided with an adequate and proper police. He must, in conclusion, protest against a doctrine which would make almost every meeting of the people illegal; and he did not think that there was any occasion to introduce it, unless the noble Lord was prepared to lay it down, and to found upon it a gagging Act similar to that of 1819.
Sir E. Wilmot
said, it should be recollected that Birmingham was, in point of fact, an overgrown village, and the only 700 officers there were the high and low bailiffs and the constables. There was another body, called the street commissioners, who had hitherto exercised the power of appointing policemen or watchmen. Since the charter of incorporation was granted, these commissioners and policemen had ceased to act.
§ Mr. Scholefield
said, that the reason why the new corporation had not appointed police was, that they could not raise the necessary funds according to the present charter. The mayor and corporation, accordingly, anticipating a disturbance, applied to the noble Secretary of the Home Department for assistance, and that noble Lord had very properly sent down a body of police. He thought it was quite clear, that the riot would have broken out whether the London police had been sent or not.
Mr. W. Williams
said, that if the people of Birmingham had not the power to raise money to establish a police, a bill ought to be passed at once to give them that power. A bill ought to be brought in, to give power to all towns where a corporation was established to raise money to establish a local police; for he believed, that a local police would be much more efficient for the preservation of peace than a London police. He thought, that the late excitement in Birmingham had been caused by the most unjust, most unwarranted, and most gross treatment of Messrs. Lovett and Collins. But for that treatment he thought that no disturbance would have occurred. He did not approve of the principle of making this advance, and he thought, that the best course would be to bring in a bill to give power to Birmingham to levy a rate for the purpose of establishing a police force.
§ Sir R. Peel
wished to know if he was correct in understanding, that this bill would contain an express provision, that the present advance should be repaid by local assessment, to be levied upon the property of the inhabitants of Birmingham?
§ Lord John Russell
said, that the right hon. Baronet had understood him correctly. It was proposed, that the sum advanced should be repaid by assessment upon the town, leaving altogether aside the question of the validity of the charter.
§ Sir R. Peel
understood, that it would be difficult, without the intervention of Parliament, at present to raise a rate, and that 701 the same bill would provide for the advance of this money, and for an assessment upon the property that would be subject to a borough rate, supposing there was no doubt about the legal power of the corporation to impose one. He did not understand whether this was to be a temporary arrangement, or whether it was to be the foundation of a police force which was hereafter to be subject to the local magistracy. Did the noble Lord propose to establish this police upon a footing analogous to that of the metropolitan police, namely to appoint stipendiary magistrates, salaried commissioners, like Colonel Rowan and Mr. Mayne, who superintended the metropolitan police; or did the noble Lord propose to leave the selection and control of the police to the local magistracy [Lord John Russell proposed to leave it entirely to the local authorities.] If the police were to be selected by the local magistracy, and controlled by them, be very much doubted whether it would be necessary for Parliament to interfere, and whether it would not have been a better arrangement to have taken a temporary power until the question of the corporation charter was satisfactorily settled, and that Government should appoint a magistrate having, as the metropolitan magistrates had, entire control over the police. He very much doubted whether this would not be a very much more satisfactory course. However he certainly, without reference to matters of detail, was prepared to support the noble Lord, for what answer could they give to Mr. Leggett, and the other peaceable and unoffending inhabitants whose properties were destroyed, unless they took some effectual security for the maintenance of peace and order? This was not a question of oppression or tyranny; it was simply a question of providing that protection which was due to those who were ready to give their allegiance to their Sovereign, and who had, therefore, a right to demand protection. And he must say, that people might talk of arbitrary power and despotism, but no despotism was half so oppressive, so unendurable, as that of a dominant physical force, without power on the part of the law to protect the lives and property of the peaceable citizens; and he would venture to say, that no tyranny of a single despot was half so bad as that home, domestic, daily searching force of that kind of tyranny. He thought, that the hon. Member for Kilkenny was quite wrong in attributing the disturbance that had taken place in Birmingham to the London police. 702 Under the circumstances of the case it might have been necessary to employ that force; it might have been the least of a choice of evils; and although he did not attribute the outbreak to the employment of that force, he thought it was most unwise so to employ it. He would not say, that there was any other alternative that could have been resorted to, but he thought it furnished a strong argument in favour of a local police. He had no hesitation in saying, that the sudden arrival of fifty or sixty men—persons totally unknown, and called into action immediately on their arrival—had a tendency to produce a feeling which was not excited when disorder was redressed by the military, or by a local police, whose special duty it was to maintain the peace, whom the inhabitants would recognise and know as persons who were performing the duties to which they were appointed, and from whom therefore they would tolerate what they would not tolerate from a foreign force. Although he did not blame the course that had been pursued—yet, he earnestly hoped that the noble Lord would take some step that would avert the necessity of employing the metropolitan police for this purpose. He knew how very difficult it was, when an outbreak took place or a murder was committed, not to send an active and intelligent policeman 200 miles into the country. Again, when the labourers on a railway, or such like undertaking, happened to be in a state of riot and disorder, it might be found useful to send down three or four policemen. He knew how difficult it was to lay down a precise principle that should be rigorously adhered to; but he hoped the noble Lord would not encourage the practice of sending detachments of 50 or 60 men to maintain the public peace in remote districts. They knew what the consequences would be. These persons thinking that they were sent on a special service, would also think that they must distinguish themselves, and they would resort to measures of activity and severity which a local police, knowing the persons with whom they had to deal, would not resort to. They might depend upon it also that, if the metropolitan police conducted themselves here with the utmost forbearance, and relying on their strength and the known support which they would receive, were moderate and unassuming in the exercise of their proper powers, they might depend upon it that if they got into the habit of sending these persons without the controul of their superior officers (Co- 703 lonel Rowan and Mr. Mayne)—if they sent them in detachments of fifty or sixty under subordinate officers—they might depend upon it that they would run great risk, of not merely involving that particular detachment in danger, but also of impairing the efficacy and character of the metropolitan police in that particular district. He hoped that that force would be reserved for those proper duties for which they were intended, and that, by the establishment of an effective local police in different parts of the country, it might not in future be necessary to resort to the alternative of the metropolitan police. He would not say that the employment of the police was the cause of the disorders of Birmingham. They all knew that those disorders were attributable to other causes. It was impossible for that town to have been kept in a state of excitement for years, listening to inflammatory harangues, that there should be political unions, and meetings and marchings, and large demonstrations of physical force—it was utterly impossible that all this should have taken place for years without exciting on the part of the population a spirit which those who encouraged it in the first instance would regret. Then stepped forward the men with other intentions and bolder designs to supplant the former leaders, who became objects of execration to those who supposed that, having first excited this spirit, and having led other parties to a certain point, had abandoned and deserted them. That was the history of all popular excitements. Those who commenced them, instead of retaining the favour of the people, became special objects of popular execration, when bolder men stepped forward, who in their turn were supplanted by others who went a step further. He must say that he deeply regretted that a measure of this nature should be brought forward at so late a period of the Session. The Government, however, were the best judges whether it was absolutely necessary for the public tranquillity, as they had access to information which others had not; but still he could not help thinking that there were such manifestations of the state of affairs as would have enabled them to have called the attention of Parliament to this subject at a period when it would have been possible to give a more deliberate consideration to it. He must complain, too, of being called upon at that period of the Session to consider a measure of such immense importance as the establishment of a rural 704 police, without knowing what control it was to be placed under. He felt at the same time, for the sake of the people themselves, for the sake of those who lived by industry, and who would feel most the consequences of any interruptions of the public peace, that paramount considerations of this kind prevented him from refusing his assent to some measure that was necessary for securing that protection to life and property which was the main object of all civilised society, and which if they did not give it to peaceable, unoffending, and loyal subjects, they abdicated one of the first functions and duties they were called upon to perform. He deeply regretted the necessity at this period of considering this important measure, but whether it were to be of a temporary character or not, they would have a better opportunity of judging when the specific enactments were brought forward. He would only add that he thought, from the many intimations that had been given of the state of affairs, Government might have called the attention of Parliament to this subject at a much earlier period.
§ Mr. Ward
trusted, that the unanimity with which this vote would be passed, would be productive of the best effects. He hoped that the present measure was only the commencement of the establishment of a permanent system of police in all large towns, under the control of the local authorities. As to the introduction of the London police at Birmingham being the cause, or the principal cause, of what had taken place there, he could only say, that the man who indulged in such a belief must close his eyes and ears to what was passing around him. It might have occurred a few days later or sooner; but from the preparations that had been made, and the organization that existed, the introduction of the police, when it became absolutely necessary for the magistrates to exercise some authority, acted only as a spark to fire the train which had existed a long time previously. He trusted that the vote would be agreed to without a division, and that they would thus convince those who were treading on the systematic violation of the law, that they were determined to afford full protection to life and property.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that with regard to the suggestion thrown out by the right hon. Baronet opposite, that there should be a magistrate much in the capacity of the police commissioners of London, that 705 was a point upon which, in the present state of the country, he did not wish to pronounce an opinion, either for or against it. With regard to stipendiary magistrates, he thought that both parties, those who were in favour of the Charter, and those who were against it, believed that such appointments would be highly desirable. For his own part, he was persuaded that a permanent stipendiary magistracy, such as now existed in Liverpool, and by Act of Parliament in Manchester, also would be of essential service to the town of Birmingham. He was also of opinion, that a local police in many large towns, which were either now incorporated, or might become so, would be very desirable, and that could be obtained, in a great degree, by the bill which, on a future occasion, he would ask for leave to bring in, and upon which, therefore, he should not say more at present. But when the right hon. Gentleman expressed his regret that a measure of this kind should be introduced at the present period of the Session, he (Lord John Russell) begged to observe, that until very lately there existed no occasion for it. It was true he had heard from time to time of threatened resistance and insubordination getting up in many parts of the country; but these manifestations had very shortly afterwards subsided; and he always thought it very questionable whether these threatened mischiefs might not eventually be got rid of, without resorting to any extraordinary measure. At length, however, he had been brought to believe, that, in the present state of affairs, and in the probability of Parliament being before long prorogued, it would not be prudent to separate without adopting some measures of the kind. There was another topic to which he wished to allude before he sat down. It seemed to be supposed that the whole of this discontent and agitation was set on foot by persons who advocated what was called the Charter, and who called for annual parliaments, universal suffrage, vote by ballot, and other measures of that character. But he begged to to say, that during the last summer and autumn, there was manifested, in various parts of the country, a species of agitation set on foot by persons, setting up pretensions to an exclusive regard for the poor, and who used very inflammatory language against the measure relating to the relief of the poor, and the laws regulating labour; and he thought that this agitation, set on foot, and carried on by Mr. Oastler and others, had led, in a very material degree, 706 to the present circumstances. This agitation was of a nature very difficult to meet by any execution of the laws of the country; for it was not applied to any purposes for the overturning of the institutions or the laws of the country or any particular political purpose; but pretended solely to an exclusive regard for the interests of the poorer classes, and whatever could be done for their benefit.
§ Mr. Wakley
thought that the town of Birmingham, whether subject to riots and anarchy or not, should have a local police. He cordially concurred in all that had fallen from the right hon. Baronet opposite respecting the advantages of municipal institutions; but at the same time be thought it extraordinary that he should speak in favour of municipal corporations for England, and should have spoken for their abolition in Ireland. He thought the present measure of the noble Lord a very unobjectionable one; but if it had been proposed, as had been suggested by the right hon. Baronet, that the police of Birmingham should be placed under a commission in the control of Government, he should have given it his uncompromising opposition, and he was sure it would have met with universal opposition.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, that as the hon. Member had challenged him upon the subject of he Irish Corporations, he begged to ask the bon Member whether he was aware that the police of Ireland was placed under the control of the Government, and that the Irish Municipal Bill, so far from placing the local police under the new corporations, expressly excluded those bodies from any control whatever over that force.
said, that the alteration in the police of Dublin, assimilating it to that of London, had been adopted at the particular recommendation of the local authorities, and had worked to the satisfaction of all parties. He thought that the agitation against the London police was likely to prove very unfounded, and their conduct should be inquired into most minutely before they were condemned. When they were accused of fomenting the riots, by their interference in the Bull-ring, it should be recollected that the Bull-ring was the situation in which the principal shops of the town were situated, and that, for nights before the police made their appearance, this part of the town had been the scene of continual riot and disturbance, so that many of the shopkeepers were obliged to close their shops and abstain 707 from business altogether. This was a state of things which he thought the Government were bound to put a stop to, and how was that to be done? If they had called in the military, popular as he acknowledged that force was in Ireland, yet bloodshed might have ensued, and he thought it much better, under the circumtances, that the Government had called in a body of men not armed with deadly weapons, as they had done.
§ Mr. T. Attwood
said, that there were at present three bodies, which had the power of levying a police force in Birmingham—namely, the commissioners of the streets, the court leet, and, more recently, the new corporation; and he was surprised that if the latter found that the police revenues of the town were weak, they did not proceed at once to levy a rate of their own accord for all necessary purposes. He (Mr. T. Attwood) deprecated the proposition for a rural police throughout England. It was a proposition which must rankle deeply in the hearts of the people. Our fathers were governed by constables chosen in every parish; and we, he thought, were ready to be governed in the same way. The idea of a rural police was as odious as the New Poor-law itself; and of all the periods of history, he thought the present was the very last in which any new attempt should be made against the liberties of the people. If this matter were to be confined to Birmingham, he had not any objection to it; but if it were to be attempted to be used to strengthen the idea of a Briareus, with ten thousand arms stretching out into every village in the land, he thought the House would have cause to regret the part they were taking in it.
§ Mr. Fielden
said, with regard to what had fallen from the noble Lord, respecting the agitation against the Poor-laws, that no agitation on that subject had occurred in Birmingham, where this increase of force was now called for. The fact was, the poor were taxed deeply in the necessities of life by the Corn-laws and the Malt-tax, and had not the means of paying their taxes, nor of feeding their families. This House might disregard their complaints for a time, but if they did, they would one day have bitter cause to regret it.
§ Resolution agreed to. The House resumed.
§ Bill brought in and read a first time.