HC Deb 13 February 1856 vol 140 cc690-7

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed.

"That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, that in the borough he represented the measure had met with very general condemnation, and he believed the second reading, if persisted in, would excite serious opposition, not only there but in many parts of the country. Though the present Bill did in some measure mollify the Bill so much objected to two years back, still it was very harsh indeed. The prayer of the petition he had presented that day was, that time might be allowed to consider the provisions of the Bill. There was a deputation from York upon this subject, and also from Hull, and he had heard that great objections had been expressed at Liverpool to the measure. He held memorials from town clerks of corporations, such as Maid-stone, Preston, Walsall, Flint, Scarborough, Chester, Tenterden, Bridgnorth, Gateshead, Boston, Hastings, Winchester, Basingstoke, and a number of others he need not name, but which might be taken in round numbers at something over thirty. Those memorials were from the representatives of the towns and town councils, and notwithstanding the shortness of the time, he (Mr. Hatfield) believed other petitions against the Bill were in preparation. There had been an association formed some years ago to watch measures of this nature, but it comprised so many boroughs, that the chairman of it had not yet had time to consider the Bill, though, so far as it had been considered, the association did not approve of it at all. The great objection was, that it took away the right of self-government. Section 6 was objected to; likewise section 8, which directs the chief constable to make such reports to the Secretary of State as he may require. That would be little better than the continental spy system, which was so odious to the British people. Sections 10 and 11 were also objectionable; he should therefore move that the second reading of the Bill be postponed for a fortnight, to give time for a proper consideration of the measure. If the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) would not consent to that, he (Mr. Hadfield) should certainly take the sense of the House upon it. The municipal boroughs all over the country were in a very excited state upon the subject, and complained that they had had no time to state objections or suggest improvements. All that was required was, that a man, when elected to a municipal office by his fellow-townsmen, should have an independent right of action, according to the best of his ability, for the interests of the town he was set over. In the borough he represented, and he believed in most others, there was no principle more universally approved and adopted than that of self-government, which the Bill now before the House proposed to interfere with. He should, therefore, move, not the usual Motion for throwing the Bill over entirely, but that it be read that day fortnight.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon Wednesday the 27th day of this instant February."


said, he did not rise to address himself to the merits of the Bill, but simply to repeat publicly what he had said privately to two or three hon. Members who had spoken to him, that if any good or substantial reasons were shown, he would willingly agree to the proposed postponement to the second reading of the Bill, for hon. Members must be well aware, that he could have no interest in pushing it forward. He must state, however, that up to that time he had heard none such, for all the objections that had been urged were objections to be made in Committee, and not against proceeding with the Bill at present. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hadfield) said that the town councils had had no time to consider the Bill, and therefore he asked for delay. Now, to that argument the hon. Gentleman's own speech supplied an answer, for in the very next breath he declared that he had received the petitions of some thirty-five town councils, stating that they had made up their minds the Bill ought to be opposed. Well, if they had so made up their minds, let their representatives speak their sentiments, and so let the House at once proceed to discuss whether the objects of the Bill were such as to merit its receiving a second reading at their hands. However, he was in the hands of the House; while at the same time he should state, if it was agreed to read the Bill a second time now, he was willing to fix a day for going into Committee, certainly not within a fortnight from that day. Friday fortnight was the next Government day, and that would, perhaps, be convenient, though he could not pledge himself to the day. In the meantime he should be happy to attend to any representations that might be made to him on the subject. Before sitting down, he wished to correct an error he had made on introducing the Bill, in stating that Wigan, with a large population, had only eleven constables. His figures were taken from the Return for August, 1854; but the town council had referred him to the last quarterly return, from which it appeared that Wigan had at the present time one head constable, two sergeants, and nineteen policemen. He felt it his duty to correct that error, and he therefore had to inform the House—whatever that information might be worth—that there was that force, and that Wigan had twenty-two men who were liable to be called out to assist in keeping the peace, independently of which, as mentioned to him in the same letter from the town council, they had a fire brigade of twenty-three men, who were liable at any moment to be called out for police duty.


said, he had given whatever time he could dispose of to the consideration of the merits of the Bill. Nevertheless, he honestly confessed he had not been able as yet to master its provisions. For some reason or other the Home Office had kept them for a long time without any criminal returns, those for 1854 not having been as yet circulated; and the House was not in a position to deal with the measure before them until they had the advantage of examining those Returns. He believed the pressing forward with such haste the second reading of a measure so fraught with good or evil, as it might turn out to be, was quite unprecedented. For his part, he should be very glad if the Bill were postponed for a fortnight, to enable them to determine what was good in it as well as what was faulty. It could not ho denied that it introduced very extensive provisions, and he really thought, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would be conciliating many who had doubts about the Bill by consenting to postponement.


said, he was of the same opinion, and he hoped the right, hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) would assent to the suggestion. It was not fair to carry the second reading of such a measure as this Bill without giving the town council an opportunity of communicating with their constituents. When one of the best men in the House at reading Bills had informed them that he had been unable to consider it properly in the time, surely a fortnight was not too much to ask for the whole country. If this were not granted, it would be thought that what the corporations often said was to some extent true, namely, that country gentlemen look upon corporations as poachers upon their manors. What was the object of bringing a Bill forward early in the Session, if it was to be pressed on faster than if it were introduced at a later period?


said, that although he did not consider the Bill as objectionable in principle as some other hon. Gentlemen did, he would urge the postponement of the second reading. Nor did he believe the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department would thereby ultimately loose any time, as, by such a course, he must disarm much opposition.


said, he would not then enter upon the merits or demerits of the proposed Bill, though he had strong convictions that it was a Bill at variance with the rights of local self-government as set forth by the Municipal Act; and in that opinion he believed he spoke the sentiments of his constituents: in fact, he had on Monday last presented a petition from the mayor and two members of the Watch Committee praying for delay, that they might have an opportunity of taking the opinion of the Council thereon. In that petition, it was true, they expressed a strong opinion as to the destructive character of the measure, and which he (Sir J. Walmsley) believed would be borne out should such a Bill become law. He, however, rose chiefly to correct an error into which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department had fallen, when he said that the names to which the hon. Member for Sheffield had referred were the names of the Councils, when, in fact, they were the names of the town clerks and others, stating that they had not had time to summon and consult their councillors and municipal authorities. He had therefore a right to assume that the right hon. Gentleman would at once, seeing he had fallen into such an error, consent to the postponement for fourteen days. He would not, however, have the right hon. Gentleman fail into another error, into which the assertion of the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) was calculated to lead him, namely, that the delay would be calculated to do away with opposition. The delay, on the contrary, was asked for to make known the evils of the Bill and the necessity for opposing it, and he did not doubt that the Bill, like another of a similar character introduced two years since and withdrawn, would meet a similar fate; in fact, if such regulations were permitted to become law, no respectable man would condescend to take a scat at Council, and the usefulness and high character of municipal institutions would be destroyed. The aim should be to uphold local self-government, not to destroy it by centralisation.


said, he would not join with those who urged the second reading of the Bill immediately, although he thought the country had reason to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the introduction of his measure.


said, as the feeling of the House appeared to be in favour of the postponement, he would postpone the second reading until that day (Wednesday) fortnight, or the earliest day afterwards, if it could not be brought forward on that day. With respect to the observation of the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring), about pressing Bills forward so early, he could only say that it was extremely difficult to find a, day to bring in a Bill when the Session got more advanced.


said, he should vote for the postponement of the second reading, because he intended to oppose the Bill in toto, and for the reason that the Bill made it compulsory upon magistrates to establish a rural police—a novel proposal, at all events. But, independently of that, the Bill declared that inspectors should be appointed, who should report their opinions from time to time to the Home Office as to whether the justices of a district had done their duty relative to the numbers and efficiency of their police force. Well, that would be to introduce a complete centralised system of police—a system which should receive his most decided opposition. It had been his misfortune to differ from a great number of the magistrates of the West Riding of the county he had the honour to represent, relative to the establishment in that district of a rural police; and on three several occasions he had successfully opposed the introduction of the plan. Now he and the majority of his brother magistrates thought they were competent to decide the point; while he was quite certain that several of the Gentlemen who upon the occasion he had just referred to voted in the minority, would alter their views if they were told they must consent to the establishment of a police force, more especially if its amount and its administration were to be guided by the conclusions of a Government inspector.


said, he thought it might be useful for the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary to know that he had received instructions from the town council of Brighton to oppose the Bill.


said, the town council of Bath had also demanded postponement, and were astonished that a measure of the kind should have emanated from a Whig Government. Neither could he, as a county magistrate of thirty years' standing, consider the Bill, as it affected counties, free from the gravest objections.


said, he wished to know from the right hon. Baronet whether he could lay before the House any statement showing what amount of charge would be entailed upon the counties, supposing the Bill to become law; and also whether he could supply any data to inform them as to the circumstances under which one-fourth of the expense would be defrayed by the Consolidated Fund?


said, the only information that could be obtained as to the expenditure to be borne by the counties must be obtained from the counties which had already adopted the system. According to the best information he could procure, the charge upon the public would be about £200,000.


said, he was afraid that the sole use made of delay would be the organisation of an opposition, founded not upon an objection to any of the provisions of the Bill, but upon the desire felt by the corporate bodies to continue the present system, which, in his opinion, was radically a false and a bad one, especially as it affected the watching and lighting of towns.


said, he regretted to hear such statements from the noble Lord, and he thought he (Lord Lovaine) ought to particularise. For himself, he (Mr. Muntz) was entirely opposed to the Bill. He believed the liberties of the country depended upon our local institutions, which had been in existence since the time of King Alfred, and if these were destroyed we should be in the same position as our great neighbours, who, as they were happy in many things, were not happy to English minds in having a despotic Government. If the House submitted to measures of this kind, Government would only have one step further to go, namely to appoint mayors.


said, he was decidedly for the postponement of the second reading. he had himself received applications from twenty to thirty different quarters for copies of the Bill, but as yet he had not been able to procure them, which showed that in many parts of the country the measure was not as yet understood. The right hon. Baronet might rest assured that the Bill would be universally opposed by the small boroughs; for they would feel that it was merely meant to institute a police force to maintain the game laws. If it were not for the game laws a rural police would not be required, and no doubt the great landed proprietors would be unanimously in favour of a Bill which taxed small farmers to save them £200 or £300 a year. The Bill contained some sixteen clauses, to nine of which he entirely objected. As regarded the town which he had the honour to represent, he could say that for four consecutive Sessions not a single person had been brought up for thieving,—in fact, the whole pilfering of the year there did not amount to 5s.; on the other hand, in the vicinity of the borough there resided a great number of large landed proprietors, whose game they were virtually called upon to protect by the measure before them.


said, he willingly expressed his general concurrence with the objects of the Bill, while at the same time he fully coincided in the opinion stated by his noble Friend near him (Lord Lovaine), which opinion was justified by the evidence taken before the Police Committee some three years ago. As for the view taken by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Michell), that was so very remarkable a one that it was hardly worth discussing. The object of the Bill he considered was to do away not with local government, but with crime.


said, he would suggest that, as the Bill was to be postponed, the speechmaking on the subject should be postponed also. When the time came he should offer to the Bill his strenuous opposition.


said, that although representing the important borough of Norwich, he was not opposed to the principle of the Bill. He thought it would materially promote the action of the police in the immediate locality of boroughs, while conferring a great boon upon them in remitting a proportion of the expense. He entertained no doubt that the police of Norwich would be found in so efficient a state as to justify the inspector in giving a certificate that the borough was entitled to the one-fourth of the expense, to be granted under those circumstances. He would suggest that police officers should be restricted from voting either for Members of Parliament or town councillors.


said, he thought an efficient police force would have been created if it had been made compulsory upon the authorities to appoint one police constable to every 1,000 inhabitants, without touching the principle of local government. He would never support a measure which sacrificed municipal privileges to the principle of centralisation.

In reply to Mr. BONHAM-CARTER,


said, the sixth section only granted to the Secretary of State the same powers in respect of borough police as those granted to him in respect of rural police under the Act which constituted rural police.


said, that the duties of the police were to secure life and property, but the Bill proposed to do something more, which was, in fact, giving fresh powers to the Secretary of State. [Sir G. GREY: No, no!] The Bill contained powers to create no less than fourteen different duties that the Commissioners might recommend for the police. Nothing could be more dangerous than such a principle.

In answer to Mr. HENLEY,


said, he had been from time to time assured by the Inspector of Prisons that the Criminal Returns were on the point of being furnished. He had received an explanation of the delay which had taken place in their production, but he confessed it was not altogether satisfactory, and he had taken steps to prevent any such delay for the future.

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

Words added; Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading deferred till Wednesday, 27th February.