HC Deb 04 February 1856 vol 140 cc178-81

said, he rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to the metropolitan police. The object of the Bill was to place the undivided control and responsibility of managing the police in the metropolis in the hands of one Commissioner, instead of its being exercised by two with co-ordinate authority, as has hitherto been the case. The original Act establishing the metropolitan police was the 10 Geo. IV., c. 44, under which power was given to appoint two persons, who were justices of the peace in any of the counties comprised in the metropolitan police district, to act as Commissioners of Police, subject to the authority of the Secretary of State in certain particulars. When the Bill was originally proposed by the late Sir Robert Peel, he stated that it had been his intention to propose the appointment of three Commissioners, who should form a Board, and, of course, there would be a majority of two in case of any division or disagreement, but two only were appointed. He (Sir G. Grey) felt bound to say that, owing to the judicious selection of the first Commissioners, and the harmony which prevailed between them during seventeen years, no inconvenience had arisen from any difference of opinion between the two first Commissioners; but subsequent experience had shown that the divided responsibility was not conducive to the efficiency of the force. One step in the direction of the Bill he now proposed to introduce was taken by the Act of the 2 & 3 Vict., c. 47, amending the Metropolitan Police Act, a clause of which authorised one Commissioner to do all the things which were authorised by that Act to be done by the two Commissioners of Police, and as it incorporated the former Act it was considered that this provision extended to the duties imposed by that Act. The construction he should put upon it was that which he believed to be clearly the intention of Parliament — namely, that one Commissioner could do anything which the two were authorised to do, either by the original or the amended Act; but a question had been raised whether the terms of the last Act really gave power to one Commissioner to act independently and without the co-operation of the other in certain acts required to be done under the original Act. But in any case it was evidently the intention of Parliament that two Commissioners should be appointed, and he had therefore not felt it right to sanction any permanent arrangement by which the duties assigned to two Commissioners should be discharged by one without the sanction of Parliament; but as a vacancy had occurred by the death of Captain Hay, which had not been filled up, he took the earliest opportunity of bringing the subject under the consideration of the House with the proposal which was embodied in the present Bill. That proposal was to place the metropolitan police of London on the same footing as the Irish constabulary with respect to management and government. Under the Irish Constabulary Act, an officer, called the Inspector General, was appointed, toge-with two assistant inspectors-general; each of them was in the commission of the peace, and capable, on the occurrence of a vacancy, when called upon to do so by the warrant of the Lord Lieutenant, of exercising alone the powers of the Inspector General, but ordinarily acting, only in subordination to the chief Commissioner or Inspector General, who had the undivided responsibility of the arrangements. What he (Sir G. Grey) proposed to do, was to repeal that part of the Act which required the appointment of two Commissioners, and to provide that one only should he appointed; and he intended to couple with this the power to appoint two Assistant Commissioners, who should also be justices of the peace, in the counties comprised in the metropolitan police district, each of whom, according to the precedent of the Irish Constabulary Act, might, in the absence of the other Commissioner, or during a vacancy, be empowered by the warrant of the Secretary of State to perform the duties of the chief Commissioner. At present there was no provision for a temporary arrangement in the event of a vacancy occurring, from which serious inconvenience might result; but by the proposed measure this advantage would follow—while the undivided responsibility and management of the Board would rest upon one person acting under the authority of Parliament and the Executive Government, he would be assisted by gentlemen not of the class and rank of ordinary superintendents and inspectors of police, but intervening between the chief Commissioner and the superintendent and inspectors, and exercising a superintendence over the latter in the districts which were assigned to them. He thought that by these means greater assistance would be given to the chief Commissioner than by a colleague of co-equal authority, while, at the same time, all chance of the evils arising from a difference of opinion would be prevented. The arrangement he proposed would, therefore, be conducive to the efficiency of the police, and, would also provide for the appointment by the Secretary of State, with the authority of Parliament, of officers competent to take the charge and direction of any large body of police called together upon any emergency, in accordance with the recommendation made by the Commissioners who were appointed to inquire into the disturbances in Hyde Park. He quite concurred with their suggestion, that on all such occasions there should be present some officer who was superior in rank to an inspector or superintendent. Under the Lodging Houses Inspection Act, the Hackney Carriage Act, and several other Acts, special duties were created, the execution of which the Secretary of State had power to confide to one of the two Commissioners. If Parliament sanctioned his proposal he would extend to the Secretary of State the power of selecting either the chief Commissioner, or one of the assistant Commissioners, for these additional duties. With regard to the salaries of these new officers, he proposed to give the chief Commissioner £1,500 a year—which was the salary received by the Inspector General of the Irish Constabulary—and to the assistant Commissioners £800 each; and, by this arrangement, there would be a diminution of £100 upon the existing charge, which was about £3,200. He trusted the House would have no objection to the introduction of the Bill, or to its being proceeded with on an early day.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir GEORGE GREY and Mr. MASSEY.

Bill read 1°.