HC Deb 27 July 1859 vol 155 cc488-95

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he objected to proceeding with the measure at that late period of the Session. The change which it proposed was exceedingly trivial, and the saving it would effect was hardly worth the paper on winch the Bill was printed. The expenses it sought to diminish were not one-sixth of the entire amount to which high-sheriffs were subject, its provisions dealing with the javelin-men alone. The whole question might fairly be reviewed during the next Session by a Select Committee; but the Bill before the House did not meet the difficulty. It3 very preamble was erroneous, for it recited that an Act had been passed in 1833 for lessening the expenses of the office of high sheriff, whereas the Bill having that object had been thrown out by a great majority, There were throe points on which he objected to the measure—first, that it transferred the charge of maintaining order in court during the assizes and sessions from the High Sheriff to the ratepayers. The second was that it centralized the power of the county in the hands of the chief constable, and the third was that it tended to promote what he would call a species of "unpatriotic egotism." Since the first institution of the office in the time of Edward I. the Sheriffs had been required to be men of sufficient means, and an Act of the 13th and 14th Charles II. provided that they should in England have each twenty retainers, and in Wales twelve. These were the javelin-men who were paid by the Sheriff. Some other charges to which the sheriff was put in receiving the Judges with proper state were met by a Parliamentary Vote to the extent of £10,500, which was paid out of the Consolidated Fund under the title of "Cravings," and now the promoters of the present measure wished to throw another 10,000 on the country rates for the same purpose. The squires of England did not repudiate the duties incident to their position; and though they generally did not covet the office of Sheriff, yet when they were chosen to fill it they were willing to receive her Majesty's Judges when they visited the assize towns in a manner becoming their high station and dignity. The Bill proposed to abolish the javelin-men, or retainers of the Sheriff, who usually consisted of his cottagers or small tenants, by whom a suit of clothing or a small amount of money was regarded as an adequate remuneration for their attendance when required. Half-a-dozen policemen would not form a proper retinue with which the High-Sheriff should meet and escort the Judges of the laud on their arrival; but such would be the arrangement under that Bill. However useful the police might be in their own vocation, it was well known that they were not a popular body, and it would therefore be a pity to associate the ancient and honourable office of Sheriff with that force. An objection more to the purpose, however, was that if they were called upon to perform this extra duty, the strength of the police would either have to be increased, or we must expect to see an increase of crime. What might suit a few rural districts would not answer for the Midland and other populous counties. In Staffordshire, the javelin-men were employed fifty two days in the year at the assizes and sessions; and it was obvious that if the police had this amount of additional duty thrown upon them they could not properly watch those parts of the country where strikes and disturbances of the peace from time to time occurred. The measure would, moreover, centralize everything in the hands of the chief constable, and by and by we might expect to have stipendiary magistrates appointed in every county. The utmost that the Bill would save would be from £30 to £50 a year in some cases; or in the larger counties it might be £150. The measure evinced a spirit inimical to the discharge of the public duties hitherto connected with the possession of property and position, and he would for these reasons move as an Amendment that the Speaker leave the Chair that day three months.

Amendment proposed,— To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words' this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee, instead thereof.


observed, that the only reasonable argument against their going into Committee on the Bill was the lateness of the Session, but even that did not apply, as the Bill was a remarkably short one. It only affected one portion of the Sheriff's retinue, the javelin-men, always a very useless, and often not a very sober body of men, and whose assistance in keeping order could advantageously be spared. It was absurd to say that the respect shown to the Judges was to be measured by the number of men in red coats, accompanied by trumpeters discoursing very ineloquent music, who escorted them into an assize town. All that idle paraphernalia was as much out of date as the Lord Mayor's Show, and the sooner it was swept away the better, I he Bill, therefore, was not only defensible on the ground of the saving of expense it would effect, but because it would introduce a more efficient system. The county police were the proper body to keep order in court; and he would meet the objection that they would be taken away from their local duties, by reminding his hon. Friend that at every assizes a number of policemen were summoned as witnesses, and the chief constable could easily arrange that they should, when not giving evidence, maintain order in court. Much had been said of the honour due to the Judges, but for his part he could not see what honour was given to the Judges by putting into a gilt coach at the station the man with whom they travelled cheek-by-jowl in the railway carriage, and who, perhaps, made his appearance on the platform in a wideawake and a shooting-jacket. The shortness of the remaining portion of the Session was no excuse for murdering this innocent.


said, the hon. Baronet had by his pleasantries drawn off the attention of the Committee from the real point before them. He (Mr. Deedes) did not stand up for the sobriety or the general appearance of the javelin-men, but if the Sheriff was to be attended, the question was by whom should it be, and who was to pay the Bill? In Hampshire, the Sheriff paid the magistrates a fixed sum each year for providing persons to keep order in court.[Sir JOHN SHELLEY: Hear, hear!] It seemed, then, that the hon. Baronet had no objection to that arrangement, and yet it was not in the spirit of the Bill, which was to reduce the Sheriffs' expenses, and it seemed that it was to the javelin-men that he objected. He (Mr. Deedes) had no objection to sec the Sheriffs' expenses reduced, but as the truth was that in almost every county a different custom prevailed in regard to the state kept up and the hospitality shown by the High Sheriff. The fact was that because some gentlemen took the duties of Sheriff con amore, and liked to display their hospitality and distribute their claret, other gentlemen, who disliked to follow the example, complained of the expense, and hence this Bill was introduced. He thought nothing could be more unjust than to throw upon the ratepayers the expense which the country gentlemen had no objection to bear. Under all circumstances he should oppose their proceeding further with the Bill.


said, that under the present law the Sheriff was responsible to the Judge for the maintenance of peace and order at assizes or sessions; and the relative positions of High Sheriff and chief constable were very anomalous. The Bill provided that the chief constable should have a number of policemen to preserve order in the assize court; but in the event of a row happening, would these policemen, or would they not, be under the authority of the High Sheriff? It was to be doubted whether they would be under the Sheriff at all, and yet, though he had no control by law over that force, the Sheriff might be fined by the Judge if he did not maintain order. The prisoners of a county also were under the custody of the Sheriff and the gaoler was his servant. Surely, then, the House must go a step further than that Bill, and place the chief constable under the direction of the Sheriff. That, however, would raise a question demanding more careful consideration than could be bestowed upon it that Session. The task they had to perform was to bring the ancient jurisdiction of the Sheriff into harmony with the modern jurisdiction of the chief constable. The duties connected with the peace of the county were now nearly all thrown on the chief constable, the great Executive officer of the magistracy, and the Sheriff was almost shelved. He should support the Amendment.


said, he differed altogether from the promoters of this Bill as the result of its being passed into law would be to compel the police to neglect their ordinary duty or occasion a large increase in the force. He had received a letter from the head constable of Suffolk, objecting to the police under his employment being employed as guards for the Sheriff and Judges. It had been tried in that county, and the result was that the rural districts had been unscrupulously pillaged while the police were engaged at the assize town.


said, he agreed with the right hon. Member (Mr. Henley) that the ancient office of Sheriff had undergone great changes in consequence of recent legislation. Originally the Sheriff was at the head of the criminal courts in the county, and unquestionably it was his constitutional duty to keep order at the assizes, and, perhaps, also at sessions. In our quiet times a forcible attempt to rescue a prisoner was not, perhaps, to be apprehended, though a celebrated instance of the kind occurred in a State trial at the end of the last century. But while it was most important that the legal liability of the Sheriff, or some public officer, to hold prisoners in custody, both in gaol and in court, should be clearly defined, the House ought not pass any Bill throwing any obscurity upon that liability. Some objections had, however, been taken to that measure, to which it was not fairly open. As he understood it, its object was not to diminish the effective force, but to do away with mere pageant and parade. When a Judge used to drive into an assize town in a coach and four, it was natural that he should be received with some display. But when he now travelled by railway there was not the same reason as formerly for a ceremonial exhibition on his arrival. The javelin-men did not materially contribute to the maintenance of order in court. There was in every large county a considerable reserve of police permanently kept in the county town, which, together with the policemen attending the assizes as witnesses, would be quite sufficient to guard the court and preserve decorum. Therefore, all the fears expressed as to an increase of the police force, and consequently of the county rate, as well as the danger of enlarging the power of the central authority, might be dismissed as purely chimerical. The chief difficulty would arise in the smaller counties, where there was not the same reserve of police. The Bill was, perhaps, crude and inartificial in its form; but its object was a practicable one. Whether that object could be best carried out by a previous inquiry before a Select Committee or otherwise he would not venture to say; but subject to the qualification he had indicated he was generally favourable to the measure.


said, he should not oppose the passing of the Bill, though he thought it was in a very imperfect condition and did not touch the main greivances to which High Sheriffs were subjected. In his opinion the subject of the duties and expenses of High Sheriffs ought to be carefully investigated by a Select Committee, and a measure introduced by the Government in a future Session.


said, he had lately seen ail account in the newspapers that at the Hampshire assizes the Judges, of whom Baron Watson was one, wore preceded into town by policemen, and if there were any objection to the employment of policemen, Baron Watson, being a Judge of great authority on the subject, would have taken it. As the Bill was so short he trusted it would be proceeded with and its merits tested in Committee. He thought the slur which had been thrown upon the body of policemen generally was not justified. Policemen were, in his opinion, the best maintainers of order in courts of justice as well as everywhere else. The Queen's drawing room was protected by policemen, and in the Miscellaneous Estimates, Votes were taken for police to keep the peace at Shorncliffe and Aldershot. He had also himself seen the greatest hero of the age, the late Duke of Wellington, surrounded by policemen.

MR. HUNT (Northampton)

said, that in the county which he represented they had now in force the very system which his hon. Friend by this Bill proposed to make general throughout the country. The javelin men had proved so inefficient that a committee of gentlemen who had served the office of High Sheriff, had been appointed to consider some better means of preserving order. The head constable being appealed to, said he could furnish sufficient policemen to keep order without throwing additional expense on the county. The Judges themselves had since admitted that order was now much better kept than before. They had considered the difficulty suggested by the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) and they got over it in this way. They authorized the head constable to place a certain number of men under the orders of the High Sheriff during the time of the assizes, so that for that time at least there was no conflicting jurisdiction. Seeing, then, that the system worked so well in his county, he thought there could be no reason why the Bill should not be proceeded with, and made the law of the land.


said, he thought the remarks of the hon. Gentleman showed that this Bill was not necessary, as the gentry of the county had the power to effect all that was necessary without having recourse to legislation at all.


said, his hon. Friend could not have read the Bill. It was well known that the Judges had the power to impose a heavy fine on Sheriffs for the non-attendance of javelin-men—a power which more than once they had exercised; and it was proposed by this Bill to take away the power. This was not a question of keeping order, but of state and pageantry; and there was no pageantry in having twenty-four decrepit old men moving before the Judge, and preceded by an asthmatic trumpeter. The time had arrived when javelin-men ought to be done away with. The Judges did not want them; they were continually in the way, and were not of the slightest use in maintaining order. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire asked, in his own emphatic language, if there was a row where would be the javelin-men? He would answer, everywhere but where the row was. He hoped this Bill would be allowed to go into Committee.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 112; Noes 115: Majority 3.

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

Bill put off for three months.