HC Deb 26 June 1865 vol 180 cc825-37

Order for Third Reading read.


said, he wished to obtain some information from the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Robert Peel) with regard to the Irish Constabulary. That force was very considerable in point of numbers, and large grants had been made for its maintenance. There was at the head of the force in Dublin an officer of considerable experience in military service, who, although appointed recently to that position, was in every way worthy to succeed the other distinguished officer who had preceded him in the office of Inspector General of Constabulary. Some questions, however, had arisen under his rule as to the discipline of the force, and it was very desirable that the public mind should be reassured on the matter. A few weeks ago some very respectable and inoffensive gentlemen were walking in Belfast one Saturday night, when they passed two members of the constabulary force loitering in front of their barracks. They were standing in the middle of the pavement, and one of the gentlemen, in passing, happened to touch the leg of one of the policemen. They both became excessively indignant, used vituperative language, and accused these inoffensive gentlemen, to their surprise, of assaulting the police. According to law in Ireland, a magistrate alone could accept bail for any person charged with assaulting the constabulary, and one of these gentlemen, therefore, was kept in confinement till the following Monday morning. Upon the matter being brought before the two stipendiary magistrates and on a full investigation of the facts, it was satisfactorily proved that no assault had been committed, and that, if touched at all, it was only a touch which had been given accidentally to the leg of the constable. The magistrates, moreover, declared that the police had acted with great impropriety in making use of vituperative language, and in giving this gentleman in charge. A letter was thereupon addressed by the gentleman aggrieved to the Inspector General in Dublin, representing what had occurred, but Colonel Wood did not think the matter came under his jurisdiction, and left the party aggrieved to take such steps as he might be advised. A second letter was addressed to Colonel Wood, pointing out that a civil action against a sub-constable of police was, as a remedy, wholly inefficient, and that if anything could come properly under the cognizance of the Inspector General of Constabulary it must be such as this. To this second letter the following reply was sent by Colonel Wood:— Constabulary Office, Dublin Castle, May 30. Sir,—In answer to your letter of the 29th ult., I can only say, in addition to what I have already stated, that if a member of the constabulary force exceeds or neglects his duty as a peace officer, such an offence does not properly form a subject for investigation by me. The steps to be taken in such cases are pointed out in the 19th section of the 6th Will. IV. c. 13; and I shall always be ready to afford every facility in my power in the investigation before the proper tribunal of any charge of the nature referred to. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, J. SIR WART WOOD, Colonel, Inspector General. Mr. Arthur Ward, "52, Townsend Street, Belfast. If a constable or sub-constable of police exceeded or neglected his duty, and such excess or neglect of duty did not properly form a subject for investigation by the Inspector General, he did not clearly see what was the use of an Inspector General at all. The gallant officer had entirely mistaken the effect of the Act of Parliament to which he pointed, which was to give power to the commanding officer of the force throughout the length and breadth of the land, in case they thought proper to do so, to bring offending constables before the magistrates, and have them fined; but there never had been any intention of superseding or abrogating their proper functions by any enactment. By the Act of 1336 any member of the force guilty of neglect or violation of duty was liable to a penalty not exceeding £5, recoverable before a magistrate. The object of that provision was to give the commanding officer power to bring the offender before a magistrate, and get a penalty imposed, and stop it out of the pay of the offender. He wished to know whether the Government approved the doctrine laid down by the Inspector General, that it was his duty to sit in Dublin Castle with his arms folded, and do nothing when complaints were made. Another case which had attracted much attention occurred in the county Sligo, where a young woman, who had incurred the displeasure of her relatives by a change of religion, was beaten severely by them in the open street, in presence of a sub-inspector of constabulary and three constables, who all refused to interfere be- cause they said it was a "family matter." A mixed bench of magistrates declared in that case that the police had acted with great impropriety. The sub-inspector was fined £2, the bench at the same time declaring their opinion that the case was one in which ulterior proceedings ought to be taken. But here, again, according to an answer given by the Government in another place, all that the Inspector General had done was to remove, or talk of removing, these members of the police force to another part of Ireland, in the case of the sub-inspector as soon as his health permitted, and in the case of the constables as soon as opportunity offered. But what punishment was that to the offending parties? what satisfaction was it to the aggrieved party? and what had the other districts done that members of the force found guilty of misconduct elsewhere should be quartered upon them? These matters were notorious, and excited grave distrust in regard to the discipline of the force. Everyone had heard that the constabulary force in Ireland was more of a military than a police force, and he had been somewhat surprised not long since in the north of Ireland to see what he took to be a dragoon regiment in undress. He asked "What regiment of cavalry that was?" and was told that it was not a regiment of cavalry at all, but a body of the mounted police. These men rode better horses, and were better turned out, than many regiments of cavalry that he had seen. The sight was very creditable, no doubt, to the men and their officers, but they did not resemble a body of peace officers. Another question which he wished to ask referred to the proposal to substitute a large body of the constabulary for the local force of the town of Belfast. He should be glad to know when that force might be expected to enter upon the performance of their duties, and also whether any arrangements had been made or would be made for the force to be drilled as night watchmen and detective policemen. The hon. Member for Clonmel told the House the other night that an attempt to use the constabulary force as night watchmen in the borough had failed, and that they had proved themselves to be inefficient in the discharge of their duty. He had also been told that in the city of Cork, where the duty of a police force was discharged by the constabulary, they guarded the city by day, but that at night several night watchmen were employed by private firms. The Commissioners, having regard to the state of feeling in Belfast, had recommended that the police force should be proportioned to the various religious denominations in that town, and they objected to the present local force as not being constituted in that manner. Was that recommendation approved by the Government, and did they mean to carry it out?


said, he must protest against the idea of apportioning a certain number of policemen according to the religious sentiments of a town. Did the hon. and learned Gentleman mean that the Presbyterians who drew the Regium Donum were to be allowed to choose a certain number of constabulary of their own sentiments? He trusted that no such principle would be admitted.


said, that before the Chief Secretary replied he wished to refer to another subject. The House was aware that a conversation took' place on Friday relative to the Report of the Committee on the Tenure and Improvement of Land in Ireland. He wished to know whether the Government intended to inflict upon themselves the trouble—he would not say the disgrace—of embodying in a Bill the Report of the Committee. The House had been told that a measure would be brought in, if not by the Government, yet by the Chairman of the Committee, carrying into effect the recommendations of that Committee. He would recommend the Government not to take that course, because the Report was in direct opposition to the evidence and to the only sensible plan of adjustment that could ever be adopted for the settlement of the question. The Committee proposed to perpetuate the altogether useless Act of 1860, and recommended that the principle of that Act should not be interfered with. That measure had never been of the slightest advantage to the tenant-farmer of Ireland, no amendment of it would give any satisfaction. The Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Cardwell) expressed a decided opinion the other night that the Committee had done a great service in terminating the tenant-right agitation in Ireland. He denied that the action of the Committee had been such as to effect that result. He was, on the contrary, convinced that the extraordinary conclusion to which the Committee had so suddenly arrived would supply an additional incentive to agitation on the subject, and that a future Government would be compelled to bring in a measure on the subject. The Report of the Committee was a grievous insult to those who had devoted their time and attention to the question of tenant-right in Ireland. He did not know whether his noble Friend (Lord Naas) who was, he believed, the main author of the Report of the Committee, was of the same mind with the Government, but he should be glad to learn whether any intention existed to deal with the subject in a practical manner.


said, he regretted that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hennessy) had thought proper to renew the question of the Report of the Tenure of Lands Committee. He was not present when the matter was discussed on Friday night, but he was prepared to endorse the opinion of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cardwell). Whether the Report of the Committee would put an end to the agitation on tenant-right in Ireland he could not say; but upon that Committee sat for many weeks several Members of the House who had given the subject the most careful and assiduous attention. Several witnesses were examined, and whatever might be the effect upon the minds of the people of Ireland, they must give the Committee credit for discussing the question in a fair and candid spirit. He could not, of course, say what course the Government might determine to take next Session. What they must all desire was that either the Government, if it thought fit, or, if not, that some independent Member should bring in a Bill and attempt to settle this vexed question in a fair and equitable manner, and upon some principle the justice of which every one would admit. He would take this opportunity of answering a question put to him the other night about Doyle, the "cosherer." He found that on the 7th of May, after the matter had been mentioned in the House, but before he was memorialized on the subject, the Lord Lieutenant had exercised his prerogative of pardon and had released Doyle, who had been convicted under the provisions of an Act now repealed. The hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns) had remarked on what he had characterized as the singular views taken of the discipline of the constabulary force, and had again alluded to the case of Mr. Ward. When the hon. and learned Gentleman called attention to the case the other night he (Sir Robert Peel) undertook to write at once upon the subject to the Inspector General, Colonel Wood, and he would read the letter— Whitehall, June 10, 1865. Dear Colonel Wood,—Sir Hugh Cairns brought under the notice of the House last evening the case of a Mr. Ward, living in Townsend Street, Belfast, who appears to have been roughly treated by a police constable while on patrol duty, and, as alleged, without committing any offence whatever, to have been locked up for thirty-six hours, when upon the hearing of the magistrates he was at once ordered to be discharged. Constabulary Inspector Williams, who appears to have some relations with Mr. Kirbey, the editor of the Belfast Newsletter, told the editor that the case had been reported to the Castle, and that he expected an inquiry. I shall be glad if you would favour me with particulars of this case, with report of Constabulary Inspector Williams, and if the statement made last evening is correct I would suggest the expediency of a full inquiry into the conduct of the constable.—"I am, yours truly, "ROBERT PEEL. The subject was brought before the House on the 9th of June, and he wrote on the 10th, so that the hon. and learned Gentleman must see that he lost no time. The hon. and learned Member had read the second letter of the Inspector General in answer to a letter from Mr. Ward, asking for some additional explanations. He (Sir Robert Peel) did not see anything in that communication to find fault with. The Inspector General acted according to Act of Parliament and the rules of the constabulary, and gave a very proper answer. Colonel Wood, in reply to his (Sir Robert Peel's) letter of the 10th, wrote as follows:— I will endeavour to explain the case to you as far as I know it. I need hardly say that I can have no desire to screen an offending member of the constabulary; but it has, I understand, always been the custom, and I fully concur in the propriety of it, to make a distinction between derelictions of duty as peace officers and mere breaches of constabulary regulations."[The hon. and learned Gentleman would admit that.]"The latter class, which I intended to epitomize by the word 'Discipline,' are very fit subjects for investigation by our constabulary courts; the public have nothing to do with them. But it is otherwise with the former class, and especially when the public are the accusers, and the law has made provision accordingly (vide 6 William IV., chapter 13, section 19), which affords any person having a just complaint against the constabulary the means of redress. Were offences of this nature referred for investigation to our constabulary courts decision would seldom be received as final or satisfactory; but I cannot conceive any course preferable to that of bringing such complaints before the ordinary tribunals of the country. Now, he thought that answer a very proper one, and one which could not but be satisfactory to the hon. and learned Gentle- man. The hon. and learned Gentleman shook his head, but he was bound to say he thought Colonel Wood's answer quite satisfactory. He was quite sure, Colonel Wood having now succeeded Sir H. Brownrigg, that the force would prove its efficiency and discipline under the management of so able an officer. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also referred to a case which had occurred in Sligo, and which had been brought under the notice of the Government by Lord Westmeath in another place. That case was, no doubt, a bad one. It was that of a girl who having been in Scotland was induced to change her religion, and when she came back to the town of Ballisodare, in the county of Sligo, she met some of her relatives, who wanted to prevail on her to return to the religion she had left. A scene of some violence took place; there was a sub-inspector of police present with four other constables, and they certainly did not do their duty. The poor girl was kept in durance vile for some time, and was then released. The Government instituted an inquiry into the case, and sub-inspector Burke was severely reprimanded by the Inspector General, fined by the magistrates, and ordered to go at his own expense to a remote district in the county of Donegal. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think that it was nothing to be removed and to be severely reprimanded. But, in the first place, the man removed had to pay the expenses of his removal, and in the next place he had his chances of promotion injured in consequence of having incurred the bad opinion of the Inspector General. He fell ill, however, and remained in Sligo, but was not allowed to do duty. He had received a letter from the Inspector General, stating that sub-inspector Burke had sent in his papers and retired from the force, feeling that his chances of promotion had been materially affected. As regarded the other four constables, two had been acquitted and were allowed to remain in Sligo, the other two had been removed and severely censured. They had been dismissed from the force in that particular locality. He would admit that the case was a bad one, but he would put it to the House whether, in a force of some 12,500 men, instances of misconduct such as this must not sometimes occur; but whenever they did Government at once dealt with them in a stringent and determined way. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Hugh Cairns) had said that he saw the horse police exercising, and that he took them for a cavalry regiment in undress. Now, that was a great compliment to the skill and discipline of the men. It was a credit to the force rather than otherwise to have them spoken of in that manner by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He had been asked several questions touching the Bill now passing through Parliament, and he would endeavour to reply to them. But, first, he would reassure the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield), and tell him that his alarm might subside. The Government had no notion, as the hon. Gentleman seemed to apprehend, of increasing the Regium Donum with a view to the payment of the Presbyterian members of the constabulary force. The Regium Donum, as he had endeavoured to explain for many years, went to pay the clergymen of the Presbyterian body in Ireland, and the hon. Gentleman need not be at all apprehensive that it would be increased for the purpose of paying the Presbyterians in the constabulary. He had been asked when the Bill now passing through Parliament would be put into operation. The Government would endeavour to bring it into operation at the earliest possible period. It would probably pass into an Act by the 4th of next month; if so, it would be notified in the Gazette of the 14th of July, and it was the intention of the Government to put it in force by the 10th, or at the very latest the 20th of August next. They were making every exertion to do so, and he hoped they would not be disappointed. As to the mode in which the men would be drilled, they would bo drilled in the same way as they were for Cork, Waterford, and other places. They were to be armed with a police baton when they were simply on day duty in the town. The hon. and learned Member was in error in supposing that the constabulary did not do night patrol duty in the city of Cork. No doubt there were private watchmen there, but the constabulary did night watchman's duty in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, and other places, and he believed to the entire satisfaction of the parties concerned. In Cork, at all events. He had been asked the other night whether a distinctive mark would be provided for the constabulary. He wrote to the Inspector General, stating that it would be very desirable in cases of necessity to have such a means of identifying the men, and steps had been taken to provide such a distinctive mark. He had been asked whether anything had been done to carry into effect a certain recommendation of the Commissioners. Now, in his opinion, that recommendation was an unfortunate one, and he did not approve of it. The Commissioners reported that In selecting men for Belfast there need be no difficulty in preserving among them the proportion which the numbers of the different congregations there bear to each other, and in preserving it till a wiser and happier time renders it unnecessary to take such a circumstance into consideration. It should be recollected that recommendation had reference to a local force of 164 men, the whole of whom were Protestants with the exception of five. The proportions belonging to each religious denomination in Belfast were, omitting decimals—Roman Catholics, 34 per cent; Established Church, 24 per cent; Presbyterians, 35 per cent; and the other denominations, 6 per cent. It would appear, therefore, that the force ought to be thus constituted,—120 men should belong to the Established Church, 160 should be Roman Catholics, 170 Presbyterians; or, taking the broad distinction between Roman Catholics and Protestants, 160 should be of the former and 290 of the latter denomination. The Government would endeavour, as far as possible, to follow the recommendations of the Commissioners. He would give the hon. and learned Gentleman that assurance, for he was anxious that all parties should be fairly dealt with, and had no wish to give the preponderance to either. The Government would take steps to ascertain the religion of the constabulary, with a view to carry out the recommendation of the Commissioners. That Return he hoped would be furnished by the 10th of August, and it would of necessity be laid before Parliament. It was proposed to give 450 men to Belfast. There were 50 men now in the county of the town of Belfast from the county of Antrim; and these men would remain there. Then there were 90 men of the reserve, together with 160 men from the different depots; 50 recruits from the depot would also be sent there, and 100 freshmen from other counties. These would make up the 450 men. This was the best arrangement that could be made, after anxious discussion with the Inspector General. As regarded what he could not help calling the most unfortunate Amendment which his hon. and learned Friend carried by accident the other night by a majority of two, it could not possibly be worked satisfactorily. However, this arrangement had been made—Colonel Hillier had gone down to Belfast, and he would ask the mayor whether there would be any objection to ascertain the probable number of men in the Belfast police who wished to come into the constabulary. The great difficulty was in removing these local policemen from the depot, in order that they might be drilled. He was afraid that their removal would subject their wives and families to great hardships; he hardly knew what was to become of them, and hoped that his hon. and learned Friend would provide for them. Now that these debates had come to a close, he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would think that he had treated this question in a fair and liberal spirit. As to Mr. Ward's case, he thought that it ought not to be brought twice before Parliament, and that that gentleman might have been satisfied with the explanations of the Inspector General. There were cases in which a want of discipline might be occasionally shown; but the authorities always endeavoured to redress this on the first opportunity, and he hoped that after the Bill was brought into operation on the 10th of August, all parties would unite to give the new system a fair and honest trial.


said, he thought the House ought to feel indebted to his hon. and learned Friend (Sir Hugh Cairns) for bringing under notice not so much any particular case as the principles on which the force ought to be managed. He wholly dissented from the view taken by Colonel Wood as to what should be the duties of the constabulary authorities in such a case. Colonel Wood appeared to think that if an offence punishable by law was committed by a constable, he was not to take any steps in the matter unless it was brought before a court of justice by some other person. This was an entire departure from the principles on which the discipline of the force had been conducted hitherto, and he believed that if the opinion of Sir Pun-can M'Gregor were taken, it would be found to differ wholly from the view taken by Colonel Wood. In case of any dereliction of duty by a constable, the constabulary authorities themselves should be the persons to bring the case under the cognizance of a court of justice at the earliest opportunity, and not leave it to any persons who might choose to prefer a complaint. It would be most unfortunate if it should go abroad that unless the public took notice of offences committed by constables they would not be taken notice of at all. He did not quite understand what was intended about the night duty at Belfast. Was it to be like that of the metropolitan police in Dublin? [Sir ROBERT PEEL: That is what we mean.] He was glad to hear that; and also what the right hon. Baronet had said with regard to the religious denominations in the force. Of course it was impossible to lay down any rigid rule as to the proportion which the respective denominations should bear to the force. All they wanted was, that there should be a proper infusion of the various denominations, and that nobody should say there was anything like a sectarian tendency in the composition of the force.


said, his hon. Friend (Mr. Hennessy) had endeavoured most persistently, without any means of forming an accurate opinion, and although no Motion on the subject was before the House, to fill the minds of the Irish people with discontent, and convince them that there was no possible chance of getting anything like justice upon the tenant-right question from this House. He had endeavoured to represent that it was impossible so to improve the Act of 1860 as to do any appreciable good in Ireland. Now, he utterly denied this, and did so on far higher authority than that of his hon. Friend., O'Connell was inclined, if he could not gel" a whole loaf, to take half; and he denied that his hon. Friend had sufficient know ledge of the proceedings of the Committee, or of the evidence taken before it, to assert with anything like authority that even though Mr. Cardwell's Act still remained in force it was not possible to make it a very valuable and easily worked Act. He was opposed to the principle of the Act, but he believed it might he enormously improved to the advantage of the country. Mr. Curling had distinctly agreed with Mr. Cardwell and a majority of the Committee; hut Mr. Curling gave such valuable suggestions that if they were carried into law an enormous change for the better would take place in the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland. He did not think it was a good or wise policy to fill the minds of the people of Ireland, ready as they were to fly from the country, with despair of any future improvement. He believed that if the Government were to legislate in the spirit of Mr. Curling's advice they would do great things for Ire- land. The real cause why the Act of 1860 would not work was, not because the tenant could not get compensation unless he improved with the sanction of the landlord, but because the machinery was too cumbrous and intricate, and because the inducements were too small for persons in Ireland to avail themselves of the provisions of the Act. Nevertheless, the machinery could be made more simple, the inducements larger, and the protection could be made secure. In reply to some of the observations of the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy), he denied that he had made any promise on the part of the Government, though he had expressed his hope that they would bring in a Bill on the subject, and if they did not he would be ready to lay a Bill on the table at the beginning of the Session.


said, he hoped the people of Ireland would not, on the one hand, grow desponding upon the question, and would not, on the other hand, allow themselves to be deluded. He regretted that the Irish Members generally had not accepted the measure of 1854, which was a better one, he feared, than any they had at present a chance of obtaining.


The hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy) said a few words on this subject, and the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire) replied. Although the question of the Irish constabulary was properly brought before the House I do not think that the subject-matter under discussion now—the tenure of land—can be said to relate to the third reading of the Appropriation Bill. Therefore, to pursue this discussion further would be out of order.


said, he wished to refer to a subject connected with the Irish police force, and one, therefore, which he would not be out of order in introducing. It was one in which an injury had been done to the public, to the constabulary, and to an individual. In former years the clothing of the Irish constabulary was supplied by a Dublin tradesman, who had fulfilled his engagements in the most unobjectionable manner. But last year the contract had been taken from him and given to Mr. Tate, an enterprizing contractor of Limerick, some influence having, it appeared, been used in that House to obtain its transference. Mr. Tate, however, who had been engaged in supplying the Confederate troops in America had not complied with the terms of his engagements, for he had undertaken to produce the clothing by the 15th of August, and had not by that time supplied any portion of it. The consequence was that the constabulary had been kept for a considerable period without a change of clothing, and much inconvenience had been created. Under these circumstances, he wished to ask the noble Marquess the under Secretary of War, whether the authorities at his office would be prepared to restore the contract to the tradesman who had for several years fulfilled its conditions?


said, he was of opinion that no act of injustice whatever had been committed. Prior to the year 1864 there was no contract for making the clothing of the Irish constabulary, the cloth being sent in what was termed a "basted" state to the various stations, and an allowance given to the men for making up the clothing. The attention of the Government had been called to that state of things by Mr. Tate, who undertook to cut out and make up the clothing for the same price as that allowed to the constabulary for making it up. That proposal, which, if successful, would have proved a considerable saving to the public, appeared so advantageous that the War Department, having had considerable and favourable experience of Mr. Tate as a contractor for army clothing, adopted it for one year. It was quite true that the clothing of the constabulary was not supplied in August, as it should have been by the terms of the contract, but it was only fair to Mr. Tate to state that, although the Department had no reason to be altogether satisfied with the performance of the contract, he believed that Mr. Tate considered he had very good reason for the delay, inasmuch as he did not receive at the proper time the necessary "size roll" from the officers of the constabulary. He (the Marquess of Hartington) admitted that the contract had not been carried out in a manner satisfactory to the Government, and they were now about to receive contracts, without reverting to the old practice, for the clothing of the constabulary. The patterns for clothing would be exhibited in Dublin shortly, and the competition would be perfectly open.

Bill read 3°, and passed.