HC Deb 02 August 1853 vol 129 cc1164-6

said, he had on the paper a notice of Motion for a Select Committee to inquire into the cost, maintenance, and general administration of the metropolitan police: but under the circumstances of the Session he would do no more on the present occasion than call the attention of the House generally to the subject. The inhabitants of the metropolis felt the cost of the police force to be a very serious grievance, and all the more so that it had been increased, within the last few years, to an enormous extent, without any adequate reason, and with no adequate result. The increase so complained of amounted to no less a sum than 100,000l., the cost being now 39 per cent higher in the metropolitan districts than it was when the force was first formed, the numbers of the force having been raised by no fewer than 2,000, the present establishment consisting of 5,500 men. Now, the metropolitan districts conceived that this was a force far greater than the necessity of the case at all required, the watch and the ward being, in point of fact, no better than it used to be under the old system, when there were fewer men, and the expense was much less. He would instance the parish of Marylebone, which Sir Robert Peel had pointed to as the model of a well-watched district under the old system. Under that system Marylebone was efficiently watched by 251 watchmen, at a cost of 10,000l., whereas it was now no better, if so well, watched by 211 policemen, at a cost of 25,000l. Although the population had increased, yet the number of policemen was out of all proportion, as they had increased 50 per cent since their establishment. When the noble Member for the City of London was Premier, the present Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey), then Home Secretary, admitted—and this was so long ago as 1848—that there was too large a police force in the metropolis, and introduced a Bill for the purpose of diminishing it; yet, afterwards, one morning at two o'clock, the right hon. Baronet all of a sudden withdrew his Bill—a proceeding which would be remembered in the metropolis to the right hon. Gentleman's disadvantage and discredit as long as he lived. At that time the right hon. Gentleman alleged, as a reason for continuing the existing large force of police, that there were apprehensions of disturbance in the country. At all events, this allegation could not be advanced now, when the country was prosperous, tranquil, and well-disposed, beyond anything that had ever been known. He trusted that the Government would not incur the dissatisfaction of the country by refusing at the earliest possible period in the next Session an inquiry into the present cost and administration of the metropolitan police force, with a view to ascertain whether the cost could not be diminished, and the administration of the force, at the same time, greatly improved. It was his decided opinion, that both objects were attainable. It was said by some persons that the police could not be improved; but he did not subscribe to that opinion, for, although they were efficient, yet they might be made still more so, and one mode of doing it would be to increase the number of their officers, and give those duties to a better class of men, who would be more fit to command the men. As it was, the officers were all raised from the ranks, and were not sufficient in number to keep the men to their duty; and that was one of the reasons why a policeman was never to be found when wanted, but were loitering about areas instead of being at their posts. Misconduct on the part of individuals here and there might be expected in so large a force; but the public had a right to demand that such flagrant outrages as those which from time to time were committed by whole parties of police should be prevented. Not long since no fewer than four or five policemen were guilty of a combined outrage upon an unoffending person, whom they attacked and wounded with their cutlasses, broke his arm, and then actually dragged him before a magistrate on a charge that he had attacked them. The magistrate at once dismissed the charge, and he believed the men were afterwards dismissed from the force; but no attempt had been made by the commissioner of police to bring them to the punishment they had so richly deserved. In another more recent case, a number of police had grossly insulted and assaulted a poor respectable woman, who, from the effects of their violence, miscarried. This woman deserved protection as much as the wife of any Member of that House, and it was monstrous that such an outrage should have been committed by the guardians of the public peace; The men were brought before the magistrate, and the one who abused the woman was fined 10s. and 2s. costs, while the other, who had struck the woman, and who was in court, and heard the matter going against his colleague, slipped off, absconded, and had not been taken since. All this sort of thing indisposed the public towards this force, and there would be a still greater indisposition towards it, unless the Government granted an inquiry. At the lying-in-state of the late Duke of Wellington, also, three persons lost their lives in consequence of the defective and discreditable arrangements of the police. For these and other reasons which he could give, if he was to go into the subject, he thought he could make out a very good ground for the appointment of a Select Committee; but, of course, he should not think of making such a Motion at this late period of the Session, the Government having succeeded—and that, too, not by the fairest and most straightforward means—in preventing him bringing forward the Motion at an earlier period. He assured the House, however, that he should endeavour to bring the subject forward again at an early period next Session, when he hoped to be able to secure the appointment of a Committee upon it.