HC Deb 18 February 1840 vol 52 cc385-92
Mr. F. Maule

said, that he rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to amend an act passed last Session called the County Constabulary Act. The object of the bill which he proposed to introduce was not to alter any of the principles laid down in the act of last Session; but it had been found, that difficulties had arisen from the mode of payment provided for carrying into effect the regulations of the act, by levying it out of the county rates; a difficulty as to that provision had arisen in various counties, in which certain districts only had adopted the act. In counties, also, in which there were isolated portions of other counties, it was difficult to say how those isolated portions were to be dealt with, because they were incorporated in the police districts of another county than that in which they were rated for the payment of their proportion to the general county rate. Now, he proposed to alter the system of payment for the county constabulary by enabling the justices to assess for each district. Many of the difficulties would in that way be got over; if the justices assessed to the police rate only those districts which adopted the act, they might be collected with the county rates, and no difficulty would arise; because, with respect to isolated portions of other counties which had adopted the act, the justices would be empowered in the bill which he proposed to introduce either to assess those portions of other counties to the rates which they might think fit to lay on, or to apply to the treasurer of the other counties to pay that proportion of the rate which the isolated parts of those counties would fairly bear. Another difficulty was, that some uncertainty existed as to the operation of the act of last Session to boroughs under the Municipal Act, which had not a grant of Quarter Session. He believed, that the clause did affect these boroughs; still as there was considerable doubt on the subject, he intended to declare in the present bill that no town under the Municipal Corporations Act, having a municipal corporation of its own, and being bound to maintain a police of its own, should be liable to be assessed for the county constabulary; and he proposed to enable towns of this description to combine with the county in having the same chief constable to control the whole police. Another difficulty has arisen with respect to those parts of the counties of Kent, Essex, and Surrey which bordered on the circle of the metropolitan police, and with reference to which those parts which were included within the metropolitan police district at present might be called upon to pay, not only for the metropolitan police, but also for the maintenance of the county constabulary. He therefore proposed, that those parts of the suburban districts should not be rated to the county constabulary for any parts within the metropolitan police districts; and that magistrates having no property without the metropolitan district should take no part in the assessment of the rate for those parts of the counties with which they had no connection. These were the principal alterations which he proposed to produce. He did not intend in any way to alter the principle of the measure. He was aware that several counties had complained that its adoption was attended with very considerable expense, and that some other propositions were likely to be made, by which it was hoped that a constabulary might be established at much less expense. But he did not think that any effectual system could be established unless the constables who were appointed could give up the whole of their time, not only for the detection, but for the prevention of crime, which was a duty more incumbent upon them than the mere detection of crime after it had been committed. During the short period that this act had been in operation, great service had been derived from it, though perhaps not all that could be desired. He was happy to say, that it had been adopted in thirteen counties, and in some with very considerable success; and he trusted that others would soon follow their example. He was sure that every hon. Gentleman would be prepared to consider calmly and dispassionately the measure, which could only have one object in view, that of giving, during these disturbed times, a good and efficient constabulary to the whole country, as a force very much preferred to that of the military.

Sir E. Knatchbull

did not intend to offer any opposition to the motion of the hon. Gentleman, but, on the contrary, was glad that he had introduced this measure. He was glad also that he had taken a different course from that which he had pursued last Session, and had introduced it at a time when it could be carefully considered. As to the points to which the hon. Gentleman had referred, there would not be much difference between them. He was glad that the hon. Gentleman proposed to modify the provisions of the bill of last Session as to the expense. He approved also of an alteration of the bill with regard to its operation in the suburban districts, where it had certainly produced a great degree of confusion. He was not aware that it had been adopted to the extent stated. He could understand that the principle had been agreed to; but he could not understand how so expensive an alteration could have been so extensively adopted. There were certain constitutional objections to the bill, which would be more properly discussed at the second reading, and he merely now reserved his right to oppose it upon these grounds. He knew that the expense had caused great dissatisfaction. It was larger than the hon. Gentleman contemplated; and he hoped that, in this respect, the hon. Gentleman would introduce clauses to give the bill a different course of operation. If any counties chose to incur the heavy expense, and did it with the consent of those who paid the rates, of course he could have no objection to the adoption of the measure in those counties; but if it were found that in other counties the magistrates could establish an efficient police with one-third of the expense, he hoped that there would be no objection to the introduction of some provision enabling them to establish a police of that character. The hon. Gentleman said, that no persons should be employed as constables who could not devote the whole of their time to the performance of the duties of that office. Now, where the population was large, he could understand that that might be necessary; but that did not apply to the rural districts. He thought that an efficient force might be established by appointing high constables, having under their control a large number of constables appointed by the Courts Leet and Courts Borough, and that such a force would be more effectual for the purposes required than that proposed by this bill.

Mr. Hodges

was glad that the hon. Gentleman had drawn up a bill on this subject; but, as he had declared his intention not to alter the principle of the bill of last Session, he entirely despaired of obtaining any material improvement of that measure. He begged to give notice of his intention at an early day to move for leave to introduce a bill for the purpose, not only of improving the present constabulary force, but generally for the purpose of providing efficient means of affording protection to property, and security to the inhabitants of the country.

Mr. Hume

said, that the hon. Baronet had expressed a hope that this measure would be carried through with the concurrence of the ratepayers; but how could he hope for that concurrence? If the ratepayers had the election of a board for the government and control of their police, there might be some reason for expecting it, but how could they expect them to pay so large a sum in money to a body of irresponsible magistrates? Approving as he did of the establishment of a police, not where this one or that one desired it, but throughout the country, he entered his protest against this measure. This bill ought not to be carried out unless the ratepayers had the power of choosing those who were to assess the rate. When the bill went into Committee he should propose some clauses altering the principle of the bill.

Lord Granville Somerset

rejoiced that at this early period of the Session this bill had been introduced, and he gave his assent to all the amendments in the bill of last Session proposed by the hon. Gentleman. Many clauses in that act were so monstrous, that he never could have consented to their introduction into any county with which he was connected. He hoped that many new provisions would be introduced into the act, if the Government found that there was a general feeling everywhere in favour of a cheap constabulary force. He could hardly conceive that her Majesty's Government could oppose such a proposition. He knew that there were many counties which would joyfully accept of a cheap constabulary force, but which were prevented from adopting the measure of last Session by the great expense attending it. If the hon. Member for Kilkenny were in the habit of attending quarter sessions, he would find that the magistrates felt as much responsibility and as much dislike to lay on any public burthens as any representative body could do. When he was acting as a justice, he felt himself as much bound not to lay on one farthing upon the public which he did not consider absolutely necessary, as when, in that House, he was called upon to vote any part of the public expenditure of the country.

Mr. Pakington

said, it was clear the bill should undergo considerable discussion in its future stages, and therefore he would not occupy the House with any lengthened observations upon it. But with respect to the additional expense, he was certain that no objection could be made to it, when security of person and property would be the exchange. In the county which he had the honour to represent, there was not found the slightest objection to the police by the rate-payers. There had been in that county a saving of between thirty and forty thousand pounds a year by the new Poor Law Act, and there could be no objection to an expenditure of two or three thousand pounds a year to ensure security. He would put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether some part of the expense should not be paid out of the consolidated fund?

Mr. C. F. Berkeley

asked, would towns in which a local police was at present established be subject to a double rate by this bill?

Mr. F. Maule

said, certainly no town so situated should be doubly rated.

Mr. Langdale

agreed with the hon. Member for Kilkenny, that the people should have control over the money they were called upon to give by this bill.

Mr. Gally Knight

said, some measure of this kind was absolutely necessary. In the altered state of the country, the present rural system of constabulary was of no more effect than the old "Charlies" were in the towns. He would further observe, that the maintenance of an active police in the towns had a great influence on the preservation of property and peace in the country. He wished the administration of the police were left in the hands of the Government. He regretted that party feeling should have been endeavoured to be excited on such a subject as this, on which of all others party spirit should be discarded—and he was sorry that the high-sounding names of "constitutional principle" and "British liberty" should have been employed to create ill-feeling against a measure directed against thieves and cut-throats. It was desirable in the highest degree that the system should be universal through the country, otherwise it could not be effectual. The counties who did not adopt it would be worst off, for to them would be driven the vagabonds expelled by the vigilance of the police in the rest. But he thought some allowance from the consolidated fund might be permitted to counties.

Leave to bring in the bill.