HC Deb 24 July 1839 vol 49 cc727-40
Lord J. Russell

rose to move for leave to bring in a bill for the establishment of county and district constables by authority of justices of the peace for England and Wales. He proposed, by this bill, to give authority to justices of the peace in certain cases for the establishment of an efficient constabulary. Every one was aware, that in many populous districts, there was a very great want of such a body. A noble Friend of his had taken great pains some time ago with respect to a bill for a commission for swearing in special constables; and afterwards he had introduced a bill which allowed justices, in certain cases, to appoint special constables. In both those bills, it was necessary for the appointment of such constables, that there should be an apprehension of riot, or a breach of the peace or peril. Both these bills would have been useful in many cases that had come under his own knowledge, but they did not apply to the ordinary state of police in certain districts. It certainly was in the power of justices to add to the number of special constables on any sudden necessity; but whenever that extended beyond a certain point they found themselves very much at a loss, Many evils had arisen from that: and it was very frequently the case, that when apprehensions arose with respect to any meeting about to be held, the magistrates sent directly for military assistance. The officers commanding in the districts to which such applications were made felt them to be very embarrassing. They had stated, and more especially Sir Richard Jackson, an officer of very distinguished merit, and a competent judge on all subjects connected with both the military state of the army, and the civil condition of the district in which he commanded, had stated to him that applications of that kind tended to break and destroy the discipline of the troops. It was very necessary to preserve that discipline, especially where there was a considerable number of troops, and for that purpose they must be kept together, and not divided into small detachments. There was great inconvenience also in their being disposed of in billets of one or two together over large towns. That had been felt by the late commander of the northern district, and also by the present commander, to be a very serious inconvenience. On occasions not of a very extraordinary nature there was, however, no force to rely on, and the consequence was, that in populous towns of 10,000, 15,000, or 20,000 inhabitants, it often happened that the magistrates said, that although there was no immediate apprehension of danger, yet they swore in some three or four hundred special constables. With respect to the ordinary administration of criminal justice, there existed a very great defect in this respect. The commissioners appointed by the Government three years ago in order to investigate the subject had shown in their report how very often it happened that thieves and depredators of every description enjoyed perfect impunity, owing to the inefficient state of the police. This occurred frequently in populous districts, and more particularly since the establishment of an efficient police in the metropolis and in many corporate towns in the kingdom. It was stated in the report, that in the town of Hull, there was a sort of society of housebreakers and thieves, who practised their depredations, not in that town, but in surrounding villages, about five or six miles off, and returned with their booty to Hull. Such testimony as this showed the advantage of appointing an efficient constabulary force in the country districts. There was another evil which had been much complained of in that House, and in the country, arising out of the establishing of beer-houses, in consequence of the Sale of Beer Bill. He believed, that the complaint on the subject of the beer-houses was well-founded; and the fact that great disorder took place in the beer-houses was owing not so much to the mere permission given by the Act for the sale of beer (an advantage to the consumers, which he thought ought not, if possible, to be prevented), but to the total neglect of the police rules and regulations, which, though enacted by this bill, were not carried into effect. It was a constant complaint, that the constable was known to the frequenters of the beer-houses, and the persons connected with them, that he rather avoided being cognizant of the disorders which occurred at them, and that he had very little motive for bringing himself into trouble by the performance of a very difficult duty. The result was, that the beer-houses were noted for disorder, and the remedy sought, which in itself was objectionable, was to deprive the people of the advantages of the Act of 1830. There were general reasons, affecting the state of the country as respected its police, that induced the Government to take the subject into consideration some time ago, and to give great attention to the report made by the commissioners relative to the constabulary. But when the report was taken into consideration, the remedy proposed by the commissioners, though it might be the best that could be devised with a view to the establishment of a general system of police over the whole country, appeared to the Government to be too large and extensive to be applied at once to the country, and likewise to go beyond the necessity of the present case. He would state the grounds which, in regard to the present case, made it incumbent on the Government not to lose any time in introducing some bill on the subject. The meetings which had lately taken place, and the riots and alarm consequent upon them, had increased the demands for the military force, and had rendered it necessary, however undesirable it might be, to send detachments from the head-quarters of regiments, as well as to call out the yeomanry in aid of the civil power. It was very obvious that on many occasions, this necessity would be prevented if there existed a civil force of constabulary which could be relied on by the magistrates. The military, though they were able to put down disorder, were useless in capturing and arresting the persons who had caused it. These were the reasons which made him think it desirable to introduce a bill on the subject, not as a general measure, because if he brought in a general measure, he thought he should be proposing the establishment of a paid and regular police in many districts where at present it was not wanted. There might be many places where it would be desirable to have more than the usual number of constables, but this necessity did not exist with respect to some of them at the present moment, but there was a necessity that magistrates in certain districts should be enabled to appoint a con- stabulary regularly organized, and permanently maintained by them. In the corporate towns, this power was exercised. There a police force might be regularly paid, organized, and, if necessary, supplied with arms. In Newcastle, where a few nights ago a riot, beginning in a street brawl, and ending in a serious tumult, occurred, there existed a police force regularly organized, which, on that occasion, was armed in order to put clown the disturbance, and which proved sufficient to restore tranquillity without the aid of the active operations of the military force. But many districts in the counties had in the present time come to be thickly peopled with a manufacturing or mining population, which partook of the character or nature of a town population, while, at the same time, it was impossible to confer upon them municipal institutions. Nevertheless they required the institution of a police force, and in one district this want was so much felt in consequence of the great increase in the number of crimes and depredations, and in the lawless habits of the disorderly part of the community, that after two or three years' complaints, two bills had been brought into Parliament, during the present Session, with the view of meeting the evil. One of these bills afforded means for the establishment of an efficient police in the district to which he alluded, in the Potteries, and the other for the appointment of a stipendary magistrate. A remedy, however, which was to be obtained only by applying to Parliament in each particular case was a very expensive one, and required great combination on the part of the magistrates and proprietors of the district. It indeed might frequently happen, that the application of the remedy would be prevented either by the dissent of some particular individual, or by the apprehension of expense. What he proposed, therefore, with respect to counties, was, that the magistrates at quarter-sessions, if they should think necessary to establish a regular constabulary force, not merely for a temporary occasion, but for a permanence, should have the power, with the consent of the Secretary of State, of establishing such force. In the same way—and this he thought was likely to be the more general case—if a magistrate, acting for any particular district, should apply to the magistrates at quarter sessions, and they should agree to his application, in that case they should have the power of establishing a police in that particular district. In either case the consent of the Secretary of State would be needed, and regulations as to the qualifications of constables would be required. Qualifications of this kind were required by the bill, now the law of the land, establishing a constabulary force in the county of Chester. In the present bill he did not propose, that any appointments, either of the persons who were to have the command of the force, or to exercise power in it, should be vested in the Crown. He thought, that the magistrates themselves would probably take care, that such regulations should be made as would enable them to appoint efficient persons. There were now so many examples of an efficient police, both in the metropolis and in other places, established through the recommendation and advice of the metropolitan commissioners, that it evidently would not be difficult for the magistrates to constitute a good police force. He thought, that the bill he proposed to bring in would lay the foundation of an improved system in the country. At periods remote from the present time, it might have been quite sufficient to have a constable unpaid, and appointed without qualification, but the circumstances of the present day, when the population had greatly increased, and where there were great amounts of property exposed to depredation, made it necessary that the constabulary force should be more efficient. He thought, too, it would tend permanently to the security of the country, if the peace could be preserved in counties without calling out the military or yeomanry, but merely by the establishment of a sufficient civil force. It was with this view that he moved for leave to bring in a bill for the establishment of county and district constables, by authority of justices of the peace for England and Wales. As he had before stated, the title of the bill might seem to imply a too general establishment of a constabulary force, but it would only give authority to magistrates to establish such a force in cases where it might be required.

Mr. D'Israeli

thought, that they must all be agreed, without discussing the merits of the noble Lord's proposition, that it would effect a considerable civil revolution in the country. Unquestionably a law of this nature ought not to be passed until after grave and mature deliberation. The proposed bill could not be introduced in consequence of any gradual and general change in the situation of the country, otherwise it would not have been delayed until the eleventh hour of the Session. It must therefore have been brought in on account of certain circumstances which had recently occurred. The noble Lord only two nights ago came down to the House and announced, that civil war had commenced. The noble Lord came down to declare war against Birmingham and to levy 5,000 troops against his former allies. This probably was a more correct description of the noble Lord's proceeding. When he found, then, the Minister of the Crown announcing at the last hour of the Session, that he must raise 5,000 troops, that he must revolutionize the rural police of the country, and that he was obliged to call for an unconstitutional grant for a municipal corporation, in order to assist that body in establishing an imperfect police force, he had a right to say, that the noble Lord had declared, that civil war had commenced in the country. He had a right, in the present instance, when the country was involved in war, to inquire what was the cause of that war, what means were competent to put an end to it, and whether the Ministers were entitled to be intrusted with the disposal of those means? That was the real question before the House, and he thought the noble Lord had no right to come down at the eleventh hour of the Session to make these important announcements, and to call for extraordinary confidence and extraordinary means, without entering into a general exposition of the state of the country. He wished to know what danger existed. It might be, that the 5,000 additional troops were either insufficient or more than necessary; for the noble Lord did not pretend, that his present crude and immature proposition was introduced on account of any general and gradual change in the circumstances of the country. It might be necessary to levy a force against our fellow-countrymen; it might be necessary to accede to the extraordinary demands of the Government, but the Members of that House had a right to expect a detailed account of the state of the country. Under these circumstances he should oppose the introduction of the measure, and of every other measure which formed part of the batch.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

should be sorry to think that the hon. Gentleman spoke the opinions of the party opposite, and he trusted that a measure introduced for the protection of life and property would not be warred against solely from party motives. A more extraordinary perversion of the use of speech he had never witnessed than that just exhibited by the hon. Gentleman, who had completely forgotten that the proposition now under discussion had not been brought forward without previous consideration, notice, and inquiry. The subject had been investigated with the knowledge, and he was bound to suppose with the approbation, of Parliament. The hon. Member had attempted to affix to this measure, which was intended for the public benefit, a party character. The present measure was not one of war, but of protection to the mass of the people; and it gave power to a class of magistrates whom the hon. Gentlemen opposite were not disposed to undervalue. It was with them that the bill had originated, which, in its future stages, he hoped would receive calm consideration, and be discussed on its real merits, with a view to the public advantage, and not for the purpose of exciting alarm. If this measure were to be made a matter of party conflict, the House might depend upon it that difficulties, which might be insuperable, would be thrown in the way of passing any similar and most necessary measure.

Captain Gordon

was anxious to ask the noble Lord whether he had any intention of proposing that the Act should extend to Scotland? If the measure were a good one, and he was free to presume that it was, it was desirable it should be applied to that country. In many great towns of Scotland the magistrates were unable to bring a sufficient civil force against the disturbers of the public peace, and he was therefore anxious to know, whether the powers conferred by this bill were to be given to the magistrates in Scotland. If he was not mistaken, the learned Lord who was lately Lord Advocate had determined to introduce a measure upon the subject, and it was well known, that many counties in Scotland were ready to devote what was called the rogue money, for the purpose of establishing a rural police.

Mr. Wakley

observed, that the hon. Member who spoke last wished the Act to be extended to Scotland. He wished Scotland had it altogether, and much joy of it into the bargain. He did not think the hon. Member for Maidstone had exposed himself to the lecture which he had received from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If such a proposition had been made fifteen or twenty years ago by the Tories, the noble Lord would have been the first to rise in his place and protest against the unconstitutional nature of the proposal. This was one of the evils which he saw daily arising from Gentlemen holding office who were Reformers only in name. The proposition of the noble Lord would be favourably received in only two places in this kingdom, the two Houses of Parliament. The noble Lord's proposition was one for adding to the police, or, in other words, to the standing army of this kingdom, 100,000 men, if the magistrates liked it. The people had nothing to do with the matter, except to pay the expense. It was intended by this proposal to stifle the voice of the people. The Government should redress their grievances, and then there would be no necessity for a proposition of this nature.

Colonel Sibthorp

declared, that the people were incensed against the Government because they had broken the promises which they had made. He wished the Government could alone be the sufferers, and then they would get a pretty considerable thrashing.

Mr. F. Maule

said, the reason why his noble Friend had not introduced a clause, applying the enactments of the bill to Scotland, was, that with regard to England the whole subject had been inquired into, and a circular letter had been addressed to the chairman of every Quarter Sessions. No such steps, however, had been taken in regard to Scotland, and the opinions of the country gentlemen in that part of the kingdom were consequently not known. He agreed, however, with the hon. and gallant Member, in thinking, that it was most desirable that the bill should be extended to Scotland, and he should, therefore, hope that his noble Friend would hereafter apply its provisions to that country. The hon. Member for Maidstone, who seemed by his vote of the other night to be the advocate of riot and confusion—

An hon. Member

rose to order. It was irregular for one hon. Member so to allude to the vote of another.

The Speaker

It is certainly out of order for a Member to charge another with having voted in an improper manner.

Mr. F. Maule

did not attribute motives, but he thought he had a right to draw a conclusion. He might be sailing too near the wind, but he would say, that after a vote which had been given in that House, when the town of Birmingham was in such a state that the Government was actually compelled to come down to the House, and ask for a vote of money to enable the magistrates to preserve the peace, he could draw no other inference from that vote but that it was brought about by a love of riot.

Mr. Pakington

should regret exceedingly if the discussion of this question should be tinctured with anything like party feeling, for it was by no means a party measure. He fully concurred in the favourable mention which had been made by the noble Lord of the report of the committee relative to this subject, in the preparation of which the right hon. Gentleman in the chair bore so large a share. He considered that report a most valuable document, full of the most important matter, and arranged with the greatest care and skill, and he felt deeply indebted, and he was sure the country would feel deeply grateful to the right hon. Gentleman in the chair, and to those who acted with him in the committee, for the pains and attention which had been bestowed on the preparation of the report. He was sure that the police, as at present constituted, was not sufficient for the repression of disorder. In Birmingham and other great towns the chief officers of the police stated, that it was utterly impossible for the police to prevent the innumerable evils resulting from the system of beer-shops, and he, therefore, entirely concurred in the general principle of establishing the new police force. He was, however, anxious to know from the noble Lord whether the measure he proposed to introduce was intended to be permanent or temporary. If permanent, then he would say that at so advanced a period of the Session, and when a great number of those Members were absent who were most interested in a measure of this description, it would be most unfair to press it forward. If, however, it was only a temporary measure, intended to meet an emergency, he should certainly offer it no opposition. He did not know that such a measure was necessary in the rural districts, for he had heard of no disposition to riot in those districts. He thought it would be better, therefore, to allow the recess to pass over, and before another Session to prepare a well digested measure of a general nature, founded upon the report of the committee to which he had alluded. Such a measure would, he was sure, be acceptable to the country generally, and he was persuaded it would receive the support of that House.

Sir J. Graham

had not intended to say a word on this subject till the bill was before the House, and till he had had an opportunity of examining its provisions; but after what had taken place he could not remain altogether silent. He was not disposed to offer any obstruction to the free expression of opinion, particularly on a subject so novel in its character as the one under consideration, but the freedom which he willingly allowed to others he had a right to claim for himself, and he could not remain silent after having heard the terms by which this bill had been characterized. It had been said that this measure was a declaration of war against the people on the part of the Government. He was not of that opinion. He considered this measure purely defensive. It was intended to meet an emergency which had unhappily arisen; but he should not enter into the causes which had produced the difficulties which rendered such a bill necessary. Perhaps, the Government was not entirely without blame; perhaps the conduct of the Government had had some influence in producing the state of things which rendered a bill of this description absolutely necessary; but he should not then enter on the consideration of that conduct. As he understood the noble Lord, the measure was rendered necessary by existing evils, and to curb and restrain that insurrectionary spirit which had unfortunately arisen, and which was making alarming inroads upon the peace and tranquillity of the country and tending utterly to destroy the security of property. He was of opinion that the introduction of this measure was imperatively called for, in order to secure the peace and tranquillity of the kingdom, and to put an end to those evils which had unhappily sprung up in some districts of the country. The establishment of a police force was not made compulsory by the bill. If it had been made compulsory, and if it had been proposed that the appointment of the constabulary force should be vested in the Government, he should have objected to the measure. If the bill had been founded on the principle on which the Metropolitan Police Bill was framed, he should also have objected to such a proposition. But, if he understood the noble Lord rightly, the measure was merely permissive, and no authority and no power vested in the Government could compel the establishment of a police force; and as regarded the appointment and control of the force, both were to be confided to those who were most deeply interested in the preservation of the tranquillity of the country, and in giving security to property. Such were his opinions on this subject, and whatever unpopularity might attend the expression of them, he felt he should not have acted fairly if he had remained silent.

Mr. Ward

considered a measure of this description necessary, in order to enable the civil authorities to meet the difficulties which might arise without calling for the support of a military force. He should cordially support the bill.

Mr. Plumptre

could see nothing tyrannical or unconstitutional in a measure which merely provided for the establishment of a police force, he hoped no measure would be introduced which would not leave the appointment of the constables in the hands of the magistrates.

Mr. Wallace

was of opinion that a new system of police was necessary, but he doubted whether, if the appointment and control of the constables were to be placed in the hands of the magistrates, the measure would give satisfaction to the country. He was quite satisfied that there ought to be a rural police, and the measure for its establishment ought not to be a partial one, but extended to Scotland.

Mr. Langdale

was as ready as any hon. Gentleman to afford extraordinary powers to the Government, if necessary; and if this bill was to be of a temporary nature only, he should not oppose it, but he felt that this system of police extension might be carried to extremes. They would, in fact, run the risk in highly populated and agricultural districts of establishing a sort of spy system, a kind of force which would make, if it could not find, business to keep up the necessity for keeping them in pay. He saw, with a great deal of apprehension, the extension of a system of rural police, and he must express a strong opinion against it.

Sir T. Fremantle

would oppose the motion if he thought the measure contemplated by the noble Lord was to introduce a rural police into every agricultural district. But he was not opposed to an opportunity being given to districts which required a police force to form one. He knew that in many localities the more wealthy inhabitants were compelled to pay for the support of private policemen, otherwise property would remain unprotected.

Mr. Fielden

did not think the establishment of a rural police would tend to decrease crime. As to violent outbreaks of the populace, which originated in distress unless the cause of dissatisfaction were removed, it would be useless to send a rural police amongst them. If the crime of sheep-stealing, for instance, was pleaded as an excuse for this measure, that was not a crime common to the working classes. What was to be the mode of appointment? Many of the rate-payers of towns were as respectable as the magistrates, and it would be nothing but fair that they should have a voice in the appointment, and also in the question as to the establishment of any police at all under the bill. He looked upon the plan of the noble Lord with the greatest apprehension. Instead of disarming the disaffected, it would lead to greater dissatisfaction and a more determined show of resistance, because the police would be regarded as nothing better than spies.

Mr. Brotherton

said, there was no duty of the Government more important than that of taking measures for preservation of life and property, and no portion of the community was more interested in the maintenance of the public peace than the working classes. He had on all occasions supported those who wished to redress the grievances of the people. At the same time he was ready to give all proper powers to the Government. He thought, however, that the consent of the ratepayers in vestry assembled, probably of the Poor-law guardians of the different unions, might be obtained. Those bodies being chosen by the public generally should be consulted on the question of establishing a police force in any district.

Mr. A. Yates

referred to the report of the commissioners to show that there were various parts of the country in which the residents were not accustomed to venture any distance with property about them for fear of being robbed.

Lord J. Russell,

was very happy to find that his proposal had been very fairly discussed, and in a spirit quite different from that in which the hon. Member for Maidstone had spoken at the commencement of the debate. With regard to the observations of the hon. Members for Oldham and Finsbury, he could not see any connexion between sheep stealing and the liberty of the subject. He thought industrious persons would be the greatest gainers by the measure, as it would tend to the protection of their property. With respect to the temporary nature of the bill, he must say, that although it might require some amendment in future it was not to be limited in duration, because that would defeat the object it was proposed to effect. At the same time it might be a question as to what was the best form of police for a country like this. He believed that one uniform system would be the best that could be established; but, at present, it was not easy to combine all the district forces under one head. He was of opinion that while there were different local institutions in the country, and all the transactions with reference to the management and government of prisons were carried on without reference to the Government in the capital, it would not be expedient to have a police dependent only on the commissioners at Whitehall, He considered that the proposed police, instead of being established for the purpose of putting down prædial or political outrage, would be formed for the permanent protection of the majority of the people; because otherwise a violent minority might not only he very mischievous, but overpower the peaceful majority. As to the difference of opinion which prevailed upon this question, he must say that if the term "unconstitutional" could be applied to this measure, it might be equally applied to the bill for establishing the metropolitan police force which was brought in by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, and for which both he and other Members voted, although they were in Opposition at that time. He had supported the plan, and his right hon. Friend (Sir J. C. Hobhouse), had also given it his cordial support. This should not be treated as a party question.

Leave given.

On the question that Lord John Russell and the Chancellor of the Exchequer bring in the bill,

Mr. D'Israeli,

rose to defend himself from some remarks which had been made upon him. He disclaimed any personal imputations against any one in the House leaving that to Under Secretaries of State believing them to be coarse, vulgar, and ill-bred. [Order.] He understood that such coarse expressions had been applied to him, and defended, as they went "near the wind." Both this bill and the bill introduced last night had been introduced by a misrepresentation. If the object had been that stated by the noble Lord, why should the bill be introduced on the 24th of July? The vote would not be sufficient for Birmingham; the military were protecting the town, and must protect it. It was due to the House, that the noble Lord should give some exposition as to the state of the insurrectionary spirit in the country, as to its causes, and as to the consequences which might ensue, and the measures with which it ought to be met. He had heard some comments made upon him by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and an Under-Secretary of State, which he did not choose to pass unnoticed. Indeed, from a Chancellor of the Exchequer to an Under-Secretary of State was a descent from the sublime to the ridiculous, though the sublime was, on this occasion, rather ridiculous, and the ridiculous rather trashy. How he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, and how the Government to which he belonged became a Government, it would be difficult to tell. Like flies in amber— One wondered how the devil they got there. He intended to oppose these measures, and would, on some future occasion, divide the House on the question, unless the Government came forward with some statement as to the condition of the country, which was due to the House and to those they represented.

Question agreed to.

House adjourned.