HC Deb 30 March 1840 vol 53 cc250-5
Mr. F. Maule

moved the second reading of this bill.

Sir E. Knatchbull

suggested that both this bill and the bill of the hon., Member for Kent (Mr. L. Hodges) should be sent to a select committee, in order that one good measure might be substituted, and brought forward by the Government.

Mr. W. Miles

said, that great blame was due to the Government for introducing the bill of last year at so late a period of the Session. Had it been introduced earlier, it would have been scouted. He was sorry to see that some counties had adopted it, but he was happy to say Somersetshire was not of the number. The proposition to adopt it there had been rejected by a large majority of magistrates. It was an Act which the counties of England generally were indisposed to adopt, on account of the heavy expense which it entailed on the rate-payers; and he, therefore, hoped that the Government would act upon the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, and bring forward some better and less expensive measure, some measure based upon the ancient constabulary of the country, and more likely to give general satisfaction.

Mr. Benett

greatly regretted that the bill of last year had been adopted in the county he had the honour to represent, against his opposition to it. Those who had to pay the rates, were at the time wholly ignorant of the nature of it, but were now as much opposed to it as he had been from the commencement, for they found that, although there had not been the slightest increase of crime, the county-rate was actually doubled to support this new, and he must say unconstitutional, kind of army. He admitted that there had been some negligence upon the part of the local constables, and, perhaps, the magistrates; but, at the same time, that might have been remedied by a revision of the old system, without throwing upon the counties this enormous additional expense. Nine-tenths of the crime in the county with which he was connected were in the four principal manufacturing towns. Why, then, lie would ask, should the whole expense, consequent on the operation of this measure, be thrown upon the counties? He contended, that in justice, the expense ought to fall upon the general funds of the country.

Mr. Protheroe

said, that the objections to the Act amongst the magistrates of the county of Gloucester were not so strong as the hon. Member represented them to be in Wiltshire, and it had there been generally adopted.

Mr. Pakington

felt as anxious as any hon. Member could be, not to embark in expense; nevertheless, he cordially approved of the step taken by her Majesty's Ministers. Looking at the general state of the country— at the increase of crime (the expenses of criminal prosecutions having actually doubled in the county with which he was connected) looking at the alarming increase of vagrancy, which was one of the most fertile causes of the increase of crime, he had no hesitation in expressing an opinion that her Majesty's Ministers were entitled to the thanks of the country for having brought in the bill. He could not see anything in the bill in the slightest degree of an unconstitutional character. It was a satisfaction to him that many English counties had adopted the provisions of the Act. The county with which he was connected was one. It was as much approved of by the rate payers as by any other portion of the community. The bill would be the cause of very great and very extensive saving. In England there were no less than 500 associations for the suppression of crime. They were supported at a very great charge, and whilst county-rates would be increased, voluntary contributions would be diminished. The ultimate effects of the bill must be the diminution of crime, and of those charges to which county-rates were now exposed. He regretted that her Majesty's Ministers had made no provision to charge part of the cost of the constabulary on the public fund.

Mr. Gisborne

thought that the force to be established by this bill was a good and necessary force, but he objected to the whole control being vested in the magistrates. The magistrates were to have the power of levying and expending the money, and, so far as he could see, no person could be made responsible for the manner in which it might be expended. This he thought was highly improper, and he hoped the measure would be amended, to allow of a control over the expenditure.

Sir T. Fremantle

did not rise for the purpose of objecting to this measure, but he thought that it ought to be sent to a committee along with the bill of the hon. Member for Kent, in order that the two bills might be fully considered together. In the county with which he was connected he had hesitated in pressing the adoption of this measure, as he did not consider himself justified in doing so, seeing the great additional expense which would have fallen on the country by the introduction of the bill. If the old parish constables were retained, but a small additional force would be required, and to the expense of that addition he would not object. But by this bill he contended that the parish constables would be altogether abolished, and they would not be able to get the small farmers and traders to act as constables when a paid force was once introduced into the parish. The number of constables would therefore be greatly increased by the operation of this bill, and a great increase would consequently take place in the expense, and he was therefore of opinion that the old parish constables ought not to be abolished. He thought it was right that there should be an efficient police force established in the country, but, on the other hand, he thought it was equally necessary that there should be in every small community a resident policeman at the command of the magistrate, or of any person who might call for his assistance. These objects could not be attained if they abolished the parish constables without a great increase of the force, and consequently a great increase of the expense. He hoped, therefore, that this part of the subject would be fully considered in committee.

Mr. Mildmay

considered that the change proposed by this bill was absolutely necessary, as the parish constables at present were most inefficient, they being often chosen because they were unfit for anything else.

Mr. K. Palmer

gave the Government every credit for wishing to make the measure satisfactory. In the county which he represented the bill of last year had not been introduced on account of the expense. He had not taken any part in the discussion, but, had he done so, he would have advised the county to wait until they had an opportunity of seeing how the bill worked in those counties which had adopted it. It was not his intention to oppose the second reading of this bill, but he thought that there was much good contained in the bill introduced by the hon. Member for West Kent, and he trusted the Government would not turn their backs on that bill. He thought that under existing circumstances the hon. Member for West Kent ought to postpone the second reading of his bill until after Easter.

Lord G. Somerset

suggested, that the present bill, together with that of the hon. Member for West Kent, ought to be referred to a select committee, and he thought that by the amalgamation of the best part of both bills a very good measure might be produced. This was not a party question, as all sides of the House must be anxious to see a good and efficient police established. He had voted for the bill of last year, and would not oppose the second reading of this bill.

Mr. Bruges

thought it necessary to vindicate the magistrates of Wiltshire against the charge of having taken the county by surprise in the introduction of the Constabulary Bill. So far from that, they had adjourned the sessions for a month in order to give time for the consideration of the measure. The hon. Member for South Wilts had stated that he had opposed the introduction of this bill into the county, but he had done so in rather a singular manner, for at any of the sessions where the bill was under discussion the hon. Member had not thought fit to appear. Though there were some of the provisions of the present measure in which he did not entirely concur, yet, agreeing in the principle of the bill, it was not his intention to oppose the second reading.

Mr. Hodges

said it was not his intention to oppose the second reading of this bill. He had fixed the second reading of his own bill for Wednesday next. He would have preferred a more distant day, but had acquiesced in the wish of the Under-Secretary of State in fixing a day for the second reading.

Mr. E. R. Rice

was favourable to the bill generally. He deprecated delay, and was anxious that the country should express an opinion on the two measures which had been proposed by the Government and the hon. Member for West Kent.

Mr. Goring

wished that the country should be allowed to choose between the two plans. He hoped the hon. Member for West Kent would be permitted to go on with his bill, so that the country might be allowed to benefit by the present constabulary force, without the extraordinary expense and increase of the county-rates which the Government plan would force on them.

Mr. F. Maule

was glad to see, from the turn which the conversation had taken, that no question connected with the establishment of a constabulary force in this country could be treated as a party dispute. He did not consider this the proper time to discuss the question whether it would be better to keep the old constabulary, or to replace it by a new species of force. The present bill was not for the establishment of a new force; it was brought in for the amendment of an act passed last Session, at a period when it was universally acknowledged that the country stood in need of a well-organized police force. He had been asked to refer the bill to a select committee. He should have no objection to that, if it were an original measure; but he could not now consent to refer the whole law of the subject to a select committee, after the plan had been adopted by thirteen English counties. It was the intention of Government by the present measure to ameliorate the existing law, to render it more palatable and easy of adoption. With that view a clause had been introduced for the appointment of a special constable in certain districts, to be named by the chief constable and responsible to him, but to be paid only on the occasions when his services should be required. If the House should now read the bill a second time, he would not ask them to proceed with it immediately. He wished that the measure should go down to the magistrates at quarter-sessions, in order that he might have the benefit of any suggestions they might think proper to make. With respect to a superannuation clause, he should have no objection to it if the expense were to be charged on the public funds, but they were now dealing with the county rates. He thought it would be better to leave this point to the disposal of the magistrates themselves. To all amendments that might be proposed he should be happy to give his best attention, but he could not think that any good purpose would be served by referring the bill to a select committee, and must therefore prefer a committee of the whole House.

Bill read a second time.