HC Deb 17 May 1855 vol 138 cc702-14

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that he had introduced a similar measure in 1853, which had been referred to a Select Committee. His reason for wishing to amend the law at that time was, that, as the law then and now stood, counties had a permissive power of adopting, if they pleased, the provisions of the Rural Police Act, but there was no compulsion put upon any county to adopt that Act, unless it chose to do so; and accordingly there were in England not less than twenty-three counties which thought themselves sufficiently served by the provisions of the Parish Constables Act; and his object was to have those Acts placed in the best possible condition for affording an effective administration of the law. Those twenty-three counties, he thought, had a right to have those Acts amended, if they could be amended for their benefit, and without interfering with those counties which had adopted the Rural Police Act. Now, his Bill would not at all interfere with those counties which chose, of their own accord, to adopt the Rural Police Act, and those counties which might hereafter choose to do so were exempted from its operation; but as the Motion brought forward by the noble Lord now at the head of the Government to make the adoption of the Rural Police Act compulsory had been withdrawn owing to the opposition it received, it was most desirable that the law relating to parish constables, which prevailed in many counties, should be amended and placed upon a satisfactory footing. This object his Bill was designed to effect, while, at the same time, it would render the transition easy and simple for the application of the Rural Police Act to the counties now exempted from its operation, should it hereafter be wished to extend it to them. Although he did not anticipate any objection to the Bill at that stage, he found that he had two classes of opponents—one class consisted of those who had tried to introduce the rural police into their own counties and had not succeeded in inducing them to adopt them; the other, those who had tried the rural police, and who did not like them on account of the expense. He (Mr. Deedes) thought that his Bill would not interfere with either; for the transition, if it should be found advisable to adopt his Bill, would be very simple and easy; and, at any rate, as so many counties were concerned in this question, they were entitled to an improvement of the law. His hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Rice) had failed in bringing in a Bill upon this question, but he thought that, at all events, he was entitled upon this occasion to his hon. Friend's support. He (Mr. Deedes') Bill in 1853 was referred to a Select Committee, and great pains were taken with it; its provisions were thoroughly considered, and he now offered it to the House in the shape in which it had come out of that Committee. He had not thought it right to alter it in any degree, although he should take the opportunity of moving some slight alterations in Committee. The principal points in his Bill were these. Under the present slate of the law, counties acting under the Parish Constables Act, and having nothing whatever to do with the Rural Police Act, had a permissive power to employ a superintendent constable for every petty sessional division. He proposed to make this power compulsory instead of permissive. His reason for proposing this was, he was convinced from experience that all attempts to carry out the law as it now stood, without a supervising power, would be perfectly useless. He proposed also that the system should remain in force for a period of five years, so that if the country at the end of that period was dissatisfied with the working of the measure, it could be put an end to under a mode of procedure pointed out in the Bill. He proposed also that there should be a chief superintendent constable, but this provision was not to be compulsory. He, however, felt satisfied that a chief superintendent constable would, from his experience in the county with which he was connected, be a saving of expense. He also proposed to amend the mode in which parish constables were elected; and towards the end of the Bill there were some clauses referring to the high constable—which office he proposed to get rid of altogether—to the jury-lists, and other details, which would be better considered at a further stage. He did not wish to interfere with any privileges, but it was his desire to make the law for the counties in these respects as perfect as possible. He would only add that he would be ready to take into consideration any alterations that might be suggested in Committee.

Motion made and Question proposed—"That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he could not agree with the opinion which his hon. Friend had of parish constables, and should greatly prefer the establishment of a new system to the propping up of an old one that was worn out and generally condemned. He must make an observation with respect to the heavy tax which the office of parish constable laid upon the persons who were called upon to perform it. They were usually small farmers, tradesmen, carpenters, blacksmiths, and others of a similar class. Their time was of value to them, and they were much better employed in attending to their business than in discharging the duties of an office for which they were not fit. It was owing to their merit that they were not fit for that office. With respect to the Rural Police Act, he did not think that counties could now adopt it with the same economy as if there was a general system of police. He believed that a general system of police had been recommended by a Committee of the House. He had heard that the average career of a London thief was six years; he believed it would not be six weeks if there was a uniform police throughout the country. He had not proposed a Bill on this subject, because he was of opinion that a question of this kind, involving the protection of property, the prevention of crime, and the maintenance of public peace, ought to emanate from Her Majesty's Government, and, he therefore, regretted that Government had not introduced a general measure on this subject in the course of the present Session.


thought it objectionable that, while the Rural Police Act was permissive, this Bill, by its second clause, should be made compulsory. He admitted that the measure would be of great service in counties where there was no police, as it would enable the justices to pay the village constables sufficient salaries; and he had always been of opinion that, if they were properly paid, efficient men could be found in every parish to discharge the duties. He was happy to say that in the rural districts, owing to the improved condition of the people, crime sensibly diminished, and that the offences were of a trifling character committed chiefly by tramps and vagrants and not by residents. In the district of the county in which he acted as a magistrate, they had a gaol built to accommodate seventy-six persons, and at the present moment the number of inmates was less than thirty. It was not, therefore, matter of surprise that the magistrates were exceedingly unwilling to impose the burden of a rural police. A large portion of the expense of prosecutions was now paid by the Treasury, enormous sums were annually voted for the constabulary in Ireland and the Dublin police, and there was a general tendency to take the management of gaols, police, and all matters connected with jurisprudence out of the hands of the local authorities, and centralise it in the Government. The whole of the police Acts pointed to that result, and therefore he objected to make the system established by this measure compulsory on the counties. If his hon. Friend (Mr. Deedes) would make the second clause permissive, his opposition would be withdrawn, but, if that were not conceded, he should persist in his Motion, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, the measure was undoubtedly an Amendment on the existing law relating to parish constables. It had been carefully framed, and had gone through the ordeal of a Select Committee; its provisions, he believed, were the same as those agreed to by a majority of that Committee. He, therefore, could not agree with what had been stated, that the Bill ought not to be read a second time, and he should be disposed to vote for it. At the same time he did not think that the Bill, if it came into operation, would altogether give satisfaction to all counties; but whatever was objectionable in its provisions might be modified in Committee.


wished the hon. Gentleman had attended to the suggestion of his right hon. Friend (Sir J. Trollope), as to the propriety of Government taking up the question and contributing to the support of the police of the country. It was the more incumbent on the Government to do so as they had, by abolishing transportation and by granting tickets of leave, doubtless increased the number of criminals in this country, and should, therefore, bear a portion at least, of the expense of instituting an efficient police. He thought the noble Lord at the head of the Government ought to take up this question and bring in a Bill for the general constabulary of the whole kingdom. He could assure the noble Lord that his experience as a magistrate sitting at quarter sessions had enabled him, much to his regret, to ascertain that crime, at least in the district in which he resided, was rather upon the increase than undergoing any diminution. In that particular locality the number of cases of undetected crime was especially on the advance. But the noble Lord might ask why, under these circumstances, not have recourse to the services of a body of rural police? His (Mr. Miles's) answer to that question would be, that the expenditure attendant upon the employment of rural police would be greater than the inhabitants of the county were willing to support. In Somersetshire the county rate already amounted to from 1¾d. to 2½d. in the pound, and if to that sum were added the charge necessary for the maintenance of a body of rural police the rate must fall very heavily upon those by whom it was paid. If a general system of rural police, however, were introduced, the expense attendant upon their support would fall much less heavily upon the ratepayers of each particular district; and he felt bound to say that he thought it was the duty of the Government to frame some such system. In the absence of any Government measure, however, upon the subject, he deemed it to be his duty to give his support to the Bill under the consideration of the House.


said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had brought two very unfounded charges against him. First, the hon. Member asserted that it was owing to Her Majesty's Government that the punishment of transportation had ceased, and that, as a consequence, crime had increased; and in the next place the hon. Gentleman said, that the Government had not introduced any measure on the subject of a rural police. Now, to the first charge he begged to make answer, that it was perfectly well known that the cessation of transportation was not the result of a deliberate determination of the British Government here—on the contrary, the British Government very reluctantly submitted to a necessity imposed upon them by the decisions of the Colonies abroad. It was because those prosperous and improving communities, feeling that their civilisation and character were injured by a perpetual inflow of criminals from this country, resolved that they would not have any further increase to their population by the transportation of criminals from the mother country. It was simply in deference to the strong remonstrances, as well as to the decisions of our thriving Colonies, that the system of transportation was abandoned. Therefore, as far as that charge went, Her Majesty's Government were perfectly free from the origination of that decision which the hon. Gentleman had imputed to them. At the same time, they were quite aware that great inconvenience was likely to arise from the cessation of transportation to the Colonies, and that the question would have to be met as to what was to be done with those persons who hitherto, after having gone through the whole or a part of their sentence, had been absorbed in the general population of the Colony to which they had been transported. It had been suggested that penal settlements should be established in various islands, some near our coast, and some in remote parts of the world. But the objection to all such plans as this—not that the Government were at a loss for any place in which to confine convicts during the period of their sentence; for there were ample means at home, or in islands adjacent for that purpose; but that after the expiration of that period the difficulty arose. Hitherto, after a criminal had undergone his period of sentence, or even before that period expired, if his good conduct justified it, he was allowed to merge in and be absorbed by the free population of the Colony; whereby he had the means of becoming a redeemed man and of converting himself into a useful member of a free community. But that change of character could not be accomplished in an island like that of Norfolk Island, or others that had been suggested, because there there was no free population to absorb them; nor could those convicts be sent to foreign countries, because those countries would justly have remonstrated against England inundating them with what they would call a deluge of crime. Therefore, the Government had no alternative but to resort to the experiment now in operation—and which he thought had so far succeeded—of giving to well-conducted convicts, after a certain period of punishment, the same conditional ticket of leave at home which the Government had been in the habit of giving them abroad. He had thus disposed of the first charge of the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the accusation that the Government had not originated any measure for the better management of the county police, surely the House could not have forgotten the manner in which the measure that he himself proposed was met in a former Session. The Government, having seen that many counties in England had adopted the permissive Bill, which had been passed for establishing a county constabulary; having observed the good effects which that measure had produced by the suppression of crime in those counties where it had been adopted; and having ascertained that there was not that amount of undetected crime in those localities which the hon. Gentleman had stated to exist in his county, where the Constabulary Act was not in force, they felt it their duty to introduce a Bill to make the law compulsory throughout all the counties of England. Having observed that those counties which had recognised the Rural Police Act had thereby expelled from within their limits the foul waters of crimes which had hitherto been stagnant there, and having also observed that those waters had thus been thrown into unhealthy marshes, by which new crimes were generated in places where that salutary measure had not been adopted, the Government at once resolved upon a general drainage system, and accordingly proposed that every county should be compelled to recognise and establish the Rural Police Act. Well, what happened? Was the measure so proposed a measure of centralisation? On the contrary, the whole management of the details of that police force was left in the hands of the county authorities in which it had hitherto been placed. Could it, then, be truly said that the Government had not made any proposal on this subject? But, how was that proposal met? By a most extraordinary combination of Members of boroughs as well as of counties. There came up to London upwards of sixty mayors of boroughs to protest against the Bill being applied to them. Well, in order to accommodate the provincial towns, he consented to omit the boroughs from the operation of the Bill. Having done this, he naturally concluded that the House would agree to the Bill in its application to the counties. Not a bit. The county Members were just as much opposed to its application to the counties as were the borough Members to its adoption in the towns; so that, in point of fact, he had no more chance of passing the Bill in that House than a parish constable in Somersetshire had of apprehending a thief. He was, therefore, obliged to abandon it. The hon. Member had, however, said that the reason why this permissive Bill was not carried into operation in more places was the great expense to which it would subject the counties. But he should like any man to look at the two opposite sides of the account; and consider first what the county would have to pay in direct expenditure for the maintenance of a good county police, and what was lost by all those detected, and the much greater number of undetected crimes, which were committed solely for want of a good constabulary force. He believed, if these two totals were cast up, it would be found that the people of Somersetshire lost a great deal more for the pleasure of having no police at all than they would lose if they maintained a police that would secure property and establish good order in the county. That, however, was a matter to be left to the opinion of hon. Gentlemen to be formed among themselves at quarter sessions. With respect to the Bill now before the House, he certainly considered it to be a very imperfect measure; and its adoption might possibly tend to supersede a desire of establishing a general county police. But he asked himself whether he was justified in resisting a measure, which to a certain degree might mitigate an existing evil, for the purpose of allowing that evil to grow greater, in order finally to compel people to adopt a better measure? He thought not. He thought this measure, imperfect as it was, would tend to improve the parish police, and would, therefore, operate as a partial remedy for an evil admitted to exist. Under these considerations, it was his opinion that the House would do well to adopt it. He should be inclined to think that if they had a good county police, whose functions extended to the whole of the parochial divisions of the county, a smaller force would be required than of parochial constables, and therefore such an arrangement would be superior in point of economy. This measure, however, would no doubt improve what at present was a most defective system, so far as it was improvable, and, therefore, he was willing to agree to it; but when he was reproached with not having proposed a measure of more extended character, he replied that he had done so, and that the measure in question had been rejected by acclamation. The hon. Member had insinuated that if there was to be a general county police force the Government ought to be prepared to agree to a measure by which the police should be paid out of the public revenue. [Mr. MILES: Partially.] But the House should remember that, if the Government were let in as paymaster, it must be let in as commander in chief; and therefore the proposal of the hon. Gentleman went to the establishment of a system of centralisation, vesting the control of the county police in the Executive Government. Now, although that might in some respects tend to the greater efficiency of the police force, he (Viscount Palmerston) did not think that, upon the whole, any advantage would result from withdrawing the county police from the local management of the magistrates. There was a great advantage in placing in the hands of the magistracy the management of all the local affairs of the county; and if you could compel them to hare a county police, it would be a good thing that they should have the management of the force.


observed, that the noble Lord complained that the hon. Member for Somersetshire made two unfounded charges, and in answer to the first he had stated that the Government at home had not originated the abolition of transportation. It was perfectly true that it was Lord Derby's Government which did away with that system, but the noble Lord had correctly stated the ground for the proceeding—namely, the strong indisposition of the Colonies to receive convicts. But he (Sir J. Pakington) did not think the noble Lord had been equally successful in answering the second complaint made by his hon. Friend, that the Government had not brought in a Bill on this subject. The answer of the noble Lord amounted to nothing more than this, that he had brought a measure forward last year which was not successful. The fact was, the noble Lord had never tried it; he never brought that Bill to a second reading and never tested the feeling of the House upon the subject. At the commencement of the Session referred to, a question was put to the noble Lord, he being then Home Secretary, as to whether he was prepared to deal with the police question; and his answer was very similar to that which he gave the House yesterday upon the subject of church-rates. The noble Lord said the question was too difficult for Government to deal with. But it was the duty of Government to deal with difficult questions. In his (Sir J. Pakington's) opinion, no Government ought to shrink from dealing with a question which was in so unsatisfactory a state as the county police question. It was incumbent upon them to face the difficulties, whatever they might be, more particularly as the whole aspect of the matter had been changed by the cessation of transportation and the adoption of a new system of secondary punishment in this country. Although it was not a Government with which the noble Lord was connected which did away with transportation, it was the noble Lord himself who tried the dangerous experiment of turning convicts loose on the country. Whether that were a wise one or not he (Sir J. Pakington) would not venture to say, as he did not wish to condemn it prematurely; but, at all events, he was prepared to say that it was an experiment which made the settlement of the county police question vitally important. His hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire had complained of the deficiency of police in his county, and was apprehensive of the expense; if he (Sir J. Pakington) might be allowed, he would advise the hon. Member to try the experiment of the establishment of rural police there. In his own county three months did not elapse after the passing of the Rural Police Act before its provisions were applied by the magistrates; and although, at first, some little complaint of the expense was made, its good effects soon became so apparent that now no one complained, and the magistrates were actually engaged in considering the best mode of complying with the applications from various districts for the extension of the system. He believed that there was not one of the twenty-two counties which had adopted it which had not been benefited thereby. With regard to the present measure, although he should be sorry to oppose any plan proposed by his hon. Friend with the laudable object which this Bill had in view, he thought it a most unsatisfactory measure, being an attempt to obtain an improved police without going to the expense necessary to effect the object. His hon. Friend said, the constables under this Act would have power throughout the country; but it must be recollected that the force would consist mainly of shopkeepers instead of a trained body of men. It did not appear to him that the measure was a good one; but if the House were disposed to try the experiment, he would not oppose it, although he still retained his opinion, now that the system of secondary punishments was changed, that the Government ought to introduce a measure on the subject.


thought that his noble Friend was quite justified, after the experiment made last year, and the great indisposition that was then felt to assent to his Bill, in declining to propose any measure this year. He (Lord J. Russell) must, however, say that he felt much disappointment at the present state of this question. When he introduced the County Constabulary Bill, he was in hopes that it would have been effectual, and that, as in the counties referred to by the right hon. Baronet, its benefits would have been so apparent, that before this time all the counties in England would have adopted its provisions; and he was convinced that the advantages of such a force would counterbalance any little increased expense. It appeared to him that by passing the present measure they would be taking a retrograde step. By the establishment of a county constabulary force, a trained body of men were placed under one chief, and were able to act in concert all over the county, whereas whatever powers might be granted to the parochial constables under this measure, the fact remained that they would be locally disconnected, and, in all probability, would be engaged in trade. It was, therefore, with considerable difficulty that he could give his assent to the second reading of this Bill.


said, that he was not altogether satisfied that the evidence which they possessed with reference to the evils of the ticket-of-leave system in this country was such as to sanction the alarm felt upon that head by some hon. Members; nor was there any decisive evidence that the state of the counties which had adopted the provisions of the Rural Police Act had been such as to inspire all the rest with a desire to try the experiment. The applications for the extension of the rural police force in the county, referred to by his right hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich, seemed to him rather an argument that the good as yet effected was not so very great. The difficulty of the question seemed to be this—have what rural police they would, from the large area of the ground to be traversed, they could not dispense with the local constabulary—it was a delusion to suppose that if you had a rural police you could get rid of the parish constable. The real fact was, that the condition of the counties in England differed so much, that what was absolutely wanted in one was not at all required in another. He thought that it would be better not to interfere with the present law, but to leave it to the counties to decide for themselves whether they would have an additional police force or not.


supported the Bill.


, speaking for the county of Leicester, remarked that the rural police had been adopted in that county, that the expense was by no means heavy, and that it was cheerfully borne by the ratepayers. The adoption of that force in Leicestershire had completely answered the purpose, and the more serious crimes of horse, sheep, and cattle stealing, which used to be very rife, now scarcely ever occurred. He wished that every other county in the kingdom would follow the example of Leicestershire in this respect; for he was convinced that the proposed Bill would afford but a very poor substitute for the rural police.


observed that the opposition to the proposed Bill appeared to proceed almost entirely from Members representing counties where the Rural Police Act had been adopted. He could only say that in Berkshire the question of introducing the rural police force had been frequently canvassed, and that upon every occasion it had been rejected on account mainly of the heavy expense which it would entail upon the county. It was as much the duty of the Government to prevent crime as to punish it. They had undertaken to pay the expenses of prosecuting criminals both at the assizes and the sessions, and he thought that they ought to pay for, or at least to contribute towards the expenses, out of the finances of the State, of the maintenance of a force whose chief functions would be to prevent crime. But be that as it might, he could not see why the real property of the country should be charged with the whole expense of preventing crime, more particularly since the great majority of offences were against personal rather than against real property. He thought that the Bill was a step in the right direction, and, in the absence of a more general measure he should vote for the second reading.


replied, and said that if the Government would state their intention of bringing forward a measure on the subject, he would at once withdraw the present Bill.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Tuesday next.