HC Deb 21 April 1884 vol 287 cc252-6

Resolution reported on Wednesday the 2nd of April from the Committee on Royal Irish Constabulary (Additional Officers, Salaries, &c.) read.


said, that in accordance with the announcement he made before the holidays, he now proposed to ask leave to bring in this Bill. Hon. Members who had watched the proceedings of the House might be surprised at the Government taking a step backwards in regard to this Bill; because, as a matter of fact, they had been already ordered by the House to produce the Bill. But that step had been taken under a misconception. He felt bound, in accordance with the promise he had made to hon. Members opposite, to move the Bill at a time when he could make a short statement with regard to it; and he had accordingly obtained an Order that the previous Order of the House should be cancelled, in order that he might have an opportunity of introducing the Bill as it now arose. The Bill was very short and very simple. It was very much shorter and simpler than the Bill of last year, which was now in the hands of Members. The history of the Bill was shortly this. The Irish Police Force, which now numbered some 12,000 men, had reached something like 14,000 men two years ago; and it was discovered that that Force could not be properly managed from centralized head-quarters. For this and other reasons, in the year 1882 the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), who was then Chief Secretary, appointed six gentlemen, to whom he gave the name of Special Resident Magistrates. Those officials had districts assigned to them within which they had very great but somewhat undefined power over the police. The measure was in some respects—in many respects—in accordance with right principles of administration; but there were some great defects in the system. Those defects were inherent in the necessities of the moment, because the time was exceptional. A measure of great adminstrative importance had to be taken, and Parliament, in fact, had no leisure for the consideration of the details of this Bill. The principle was a right one; but there were some defects. In the first place there was some confusion between the several functions of the several magistrates. Some of them exercised judicial and administrative functions, and the administrative functions were of a nature which he thought ought to be specially divorced from the judicial functions, because they related to the detection of crime. Another defect was this—as a temporary measure it was all very well to allow gentleman in the position of Resident Magistrates to have control over the police; but, in the long run, it was an inconvenient plan, and somewhat perilous to a great Police Force, which had a regular hierarchy of officials, to place it under the command of gentlemen who did not belong to it, and who never had belonged to the Force. Another defect in the scheme, as a permament scheme, was that those officials were too numerous. There were six of them at a time when six were required; but six were too many in ordinary times for centralizing and carrying on the police in Ireland; and that was one of the principal matters which the Government now wished to effect. And the final objection to the scheme was that it was too expensive. Temporary expenses were always excessive; but these were specially so. The Resident Magistrates received in pay and in allowances something like £1,500 a-year each. The Government wished to take what was good and what they thought might be permanant in this system, and leave out what was temporary and likely, in the long run, to be inexpedient; and, consequently, they proposed to ask the House to allow the Lord Lieutenant to name five persons to be Divisional Commissioners of the Royal Irish Constabulary. These five officials would exercise a decentralized power, and would have control of the police for the purposes of discipline and the detection of crime, and, in fact, for every purpose, just in the same way as a County Inspector had on a small scale, and as the Inspector General had for all purposes. These gentlemen would be police officers to all intents and purposes; and the Government, after considerable hesitation, had arrived at the conclusion to ask the House to insert a clause in the Bill stating that the persons appointed, from time to time, to fill vacancies should henceforth be taken from the officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The measure was one which would promote economy; for whereas each of the present Magistrates received £1,500 a-year, the new officials would receive £1,000 and their absolute travelling expenses, which would be the same as those of other officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The new officials would not have the private secretaries and clerks which were now attached to the Special Resident Magistrates. He thought it would not be too much to say that the system of Special Resident Magistrates, as compared with the system the Government proposed, was, at the very least, twice as expensive. Of course, there were gentlemen who would object to the system of decentralization in the police for the purposes of detection of crime; and to those gentlemen he would only say that the Government considered this quite a vital point, and that they had shown how vital they considered it by setting up the system of Special Resident Magistrates, which had opened up their action to great criticism. They had now greatly improved the system, administratively and economically; and in bringing forward this Bill they endorsed very strongly the doctrine that judicial functions in Ireland, as elsewhere, should be absolutely and entirely separated from administrative and police functions. The Special Resident Magistrates would be Justices of the Peace, not for the purpose of setting in Court, but simply for the purpose of dealing with riots, just as, he believed, the Inspector General and superior officers of police now were. One other provision was inserted in the Bill, and it was the only one on which he need say a single word. One of the Assistant Inspectors General, of whom there were three, was at this moment the Divisional Magistrate, Mr. Reve; and if the Bill passed he would be continued as Divisional Commissioner, and his place as Assistant Inspector General would not be filled up; and if any Assistant Inspector General in the future was appointed an Assistant Divisional Commissioner, the Lord Lieutenant would have it in his power not to fill the post vacated. As a matter of fact, he had no doubt the Lord Lieutenant would endeavour not to fill up such vacancy. The Bill was so economical, as compared with the previous method of carrying out the principle, that the Government earnestly trusted the House would eventually adopt it. His only duty now was to ask hon. Gentlemen to allow the measure to be placed in their hands.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to improve the administration of the Royal Irish Constabulary in certain particulars."— (Mr. Trevelyan.)


said, that, at that hour of the night (2.5 a.m.), and at that stage of the Bill, he did not intend to offer any prolonged opposition to the measure. Of course, he only spoke for himself; but, having made that observation, he thought he was entitled to remark that the right hon. Gentleman had hardly acted fairly towards the Irish Members. This was the day for slipping Business through the House, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for County Galway (Colonel Nolan) had said earlier on, because large numbers of Members, naturally enough, prolonged their vacation, and did not appear in their places on the first day after the holidays. He was sure Irish Members would have been in their places in much larger numbers if they had been aware that the right hon. Gentleman intended to put this Bill down for its first stage that night. The right hon. Gentleman must know that the measure was not one on which Irish Members could look with any favour. If there were one class of Government officials who, during the past three or four years in Ireland, had left more odious recollections behind them than another, it was the class of individuals who were to be made permanent by this Bill. There was not a place in Ireland where these Special Resident Magistrates had been ap- pointed where the people did not remember them with the strongest feelings of animosity. He had been glad to hear some admissions the right hon. Gentleman had made in the course of his speech. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman was convinced that the system of Special Resident Magistrates was one of the most expensive luxuries the Government permitted themselves to indulge in, even in Ireland; and, in the next place, it was laid down as a principle that the Government were anxious to separate judicial from administrative and police functions. That was a most excellent principle; and he would invite the right hon. Gentleman to consider the desirability of extending the system still higher, and requiring the Irish Judges to abandon the career and position of active and pugnacious politicians, which, in other countries, they were supposed to have left behind when they stepped from the Bar to the Bench. In a previous Session the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues had laid great stress on the fact that judicial and police functions were to be separated; and that, in future, cases would be tried, not by magistrates who were concerned in bringing charges against prisoners, but by magistrates who had nothing to do with the previous stages of cases. Some had thought that what the right hon. Gentleman promised was to be a reality, and not a sham. The right hon. Gentleman had set up a number of Stipendiary Magistrates, who were the tools or instruments of the Government, employed mainly for the purpose of convicting prisoners, whether or not there were a fair case against them. He hoped the promise of the right hon. Gentleman had given on the present occasion would not be of the same character. At that period of the night he did not intend to offer any further observations. At a later stage of the Bill he would take the opportunity, with some of his hon. Friends, of offering other and stronger objection to it.

Motion agreed to.

Bill ordered, to be brought in by Mr. TREVELYAN and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND. [Bill 176.]

House adjourned at a quarter after Two o'clock.