HC Deb 26 July 1842 vol 65 cc666-70

On the motion that the report of the Parochial Constables Bill be received,

Mr. Pakington

urged the postponement of the bill till the next Session. He admitted that the mode of appointing parish constables under this bill, would be a great improvement; but still he believed that the class of persons who would be appointed would be found totally inefficient, either for detecting vagrancy or repressing the disorders in beer-shops. There certainly ought to be some efficient superintending officer in each county, to control the district force, and for this the present bill did net at all provide. The state of the law, with respect to high constables, was very unsatisfactory. They had nothing to do but to collect the county-rates and issue precepts, while the expense they entailed upon every county was between 500l. and 600l. per annum. The collection of the county-rates ought to be transferred to the boards of guardians, and the saving thus effected might fairly be made available In promoting the efficiency of the police staff.

Mr. T. Duncombe

objected to the hill, on account of its appearing to sanction certain dangerous doctrines as to the duties of the constabulary, enumerated last night by the Secretary for the Home Department. These doctrines had created very great surprise and alarm in the public. The clause which enacted that the constables, under this bill, should possess all the powers or privileges supposed to be possessed by constables at present, was; too vague and indefinite, he thought. to vest authority so extensive as that contended for, on behalf of the constabulary, by the right hon. Gentleman. Those powers, as he had described them last night, were most unconstitutional; and a case had occurred that very night, at Deptford, in which the arbitrary doctrines there declared, by such high authority, had produced most pernicious fruit. A meeting, to consider the Corn-laws, had been convened, and, according to common practice, adjourned for want of room to another and larger locality. A " Dr. M'Douall," a Chartist orator, thereupon commenced addressing the meeting, on which he was seized by some policemen—who, no doubt, had acted upon the principles so unconstitutionally laid down by the Minister for the Home Department—they declaring the meeting an illegal one. The doctor said that he would certainly obey their mandate to depart, and was about to do so, when they told him that he must come a different way, and took him to the station-house. Some of the people then said, " Let us see what becomes of the doctor." [A laugh.) Ay, it was very well to laugh; but the people would not stand this sort of thing; so they looked after the doctor, and, for following him and the officer, several of them were arrested; and some five or six persons were now in custody, in consequence, as he firmly believed, of the doctrines laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, Bail, too, had been refused most unlawfully, so that these persons were kept in close confinement, and would be brought up tomorrow morning, when it would be seen what would become of the affair. Meanwhile, he doubted the wisdom of assenting to this bill, extending, as it did, vague and dangerous powers alleged to be possessed by the existing constabulary; and he, therefore, moved that the debate be adjourned.

Sir J. Graham

said, last night he had opposed, successfully, the attempt of the hon. Member to erect that House into a court of unconstitutional appeal from the verdicts of juries and the judgments of courts of justice, He had now to resist the attempt of the hon. Member to forestall and injure the administration of justice. The hon. Member, in his anxiety to make out a charge, had brought down the particulars of a case of which nobody in the House knew anything but himself; and he, the patriot stickler for that pure and impartial administration of law, violated the first principle of justice by hastily dragging before Parliament, and making matter of public discussion, a case about to come before the ordinary tribunals of the country. It would he on his part a gross betrayal of his public duty to countenance for a moment this strange course, by adverting to the case in the slightest degree. No doubt law would be conformed to, and justice fairly administered; and, certainly, not till law had been violated, and justice denied, should the House of Commons interfere with the customary course of judicature. The hon. Gentleman had adverted to some declarations that had fallen from him, and had said, that to these declarations might be ascribed the circumstances he detailed. If so, and if the police had acted on those opinions, they bad done so at their own peril. The law was their guide,—the written, settled, certain law of the land. They had no business to take their guide from any opinions that might be expressed by any Member of the House or any Minister of the Crown in Parliament. As to the bill itself, the hon. Member, in his haste to tell his tale, had quite neglected to read the clauses, for he had spoken of one clause as extending power "supposed to be possessed by the constabulary." The bill did no such thing; there was nothing whatever of supposition in the case. The bill confirmed all the powers and privileges actually and legally possessed at this moment by the constabulary—it did no more. There was no vagueness here; the law on the subject was quite settled and distinct; the bill altered it not, but merely extended its application. Equally ignorant of the bill would any Gentleman prove himself who should talk of the constabulary under this bill being appointed by the magistrates. No such thing; it was the rate-payers, who had power to provide for their payment, not the magistracy. The present bill, he believed, would fully answer the intentions with which it had been framed;—he would recommend it as an experiment that was worth being tried, and which would establish an improved system of parish constables.

Mr. Aglionby

agreed in what bad fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury yesterday evening, and he regretted that anything should have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman that would have the effect of inducing the police to interfere with public meetings. But with respect to the present bill, he agreed with the right hon. Baronet, and saw no objection to the principle of-the bill.

Captain Pechell

said, that the principle of the bill, as stated by the right hon. Baronet, was a very good one; and he thought, if the permissive principle was applied to the Poor-law Bill, it would give very great satisfaction.

Mr. Hume

said, if the right hon. Baronet would suffer the constables to exercise a power which they might abuse, he might be sure, whatever instance of such abuse took place would be brought under the notice of Parliament.

Mr. T. Duncombe

withdrew the amendment, observing that he performed his duty as a Member of Parliament in bringing these cases of grievance under the notice of the House.

Mr. Bankes

thought it a hardship that counties which had adopted the rural police should have to be saddled with the expense consequent on the operation of this bill. He suggested that the allowances given to constables when on extra duty, should be charged, not on the parish to which the constables belonged, but to the county generally; otherwise it would be anything but an advantage to a parish to possess an active constable. With respect to the commitment of young persons to gaol, considering the contamination to which they were thereby subjected, he would suggest the adoption of a clause Empowering magistrates to commit for trial young persons who are charged with criminal offences to lock-up houses instead of the county gaol.

Mr. Darby

opposed the clause and the suggestion. If payment out of the county rate was introduced into a Parochial Constables Bill, it would lead to endless confusion. He also opposed the clause for providing lock-up houses for criminals before trial, as, if they adopted it, they would be bound to create two sets of prisons and prison officers.

Mr. Bankes

would leave the matter entirely in the hands of the Government.

Mr. Burroughes

moved a clause to enable the justices in session to abstain from carrying out the provisions of the bill in consequence of the police force.

Sir J. Graham

opposed the clauses, as being at variance with the general purpose and spirit of the bill.

Clause negatived; clauses added.

Bill ordered to be read a third time.

Adjourned at half-past cue o'clock.