HL Deb 20 August 1839 vol 50 cc434-7

Viscount Duncannon moved the committal of the County and Districts Constables Bill.

Earl Stanhope

said, that this bill was of great importance to all clauses in the community, and especially deserved the serious attention of the House, particularly in the present times. The first clause of the bill empowered magistrates, if it should appear to them, that the ordinary officers were not sufficient for the preservation of the peace in case of tumult, to appoint one additional constable for every 1,000 persons. This was a ludicrous, absurd, and nugatory proposition; but nugatory and useless as this bill was for any practical purposes, he should object to it less, if the measure was pf a constitutional character. It would be found, that this bill gave the rule and control over these constables to the Government, or, in other words, to the Secretary of State, who was to have power, from time to time, to amend the rules and regulations, and to add to the force. Those rules and regulations were to be binding upon all persons concerned. Chief constables were to be appointed, subject only to the approbation of the Secretary of State. The chief constable was to have the appointment of all the other constables under his orders, without any such recommendation as was contained in the Act of the second year of his late Majesty, whereby it was required, that the constables should be persons who resided in the "the township, or in the neighbourhood thereof;" so that there was nothing in this bill to prevent the chief constables employing persons even from Ireland for this purpose. Although the force was to be paid out of the county rates, it was not to be under the control or direction of the magistracy, or even of the Lord-lieutenant, but under that of the chief constable, who was made a Government officer, and as such, the 8th section took from him the right to vote on the election of Members of Parliament. By the 19th clause it was provided, that all the powers and duties of the actually existing constables should cease and determine. And it would on the whole be found, that this measure was a stepping-stone to an organized centralized police force throughout the whole of the [country. He would impute motives and intentions to no man—those who framed the bill best knew the objects for which it was designed—but this much he would say, that if the real object of the framers was to establish throughout the country organized spies, the bill was well calculated to obtain the end. Spies there would be of a most convenient character, because they would be paid by the several counties, and would not require any additional vote of money from the country. The bill, in itself most obnoxious, had been brought in at a period of the Session when it could not meet with due consideration. He was aware of the dangers which impended over this country, and which threatened the destruction of all her institutions. To these dangers, and the causes from which they arose, he had already, on a former occasion, called their Lordships' attention; and, if the Legislature would restore that which was his most anxious wish and prayer—namely, the peace, prosperity, and security of this country, it must act on the advice given by one of the greatest men this nation ever saw—Lord Bacon—whose maxims he had lately quoted, and in which he said truly, "that in order to allay sedition, you must expel the matter of sedition." Let grievances continue, and pass what police bills they might think fit, for Manchester, Birmingham, or Bolton; let them appoint constables, not 1 to 1,000, but 1 to 10, and still, if they persevered in the present system, they would only spread those principles which he deprecated—the principles of Chartism—and then it required no prophet to foretell, that, with distress added to dissatisfaction, those principles would be destructive of all the institutions of the country, and even of the monarchy itself. On these grounds he should oppose the motion for going into a committee on the bill.

Viscount Melbourne

admitted, that this bill was one of very great importance, and admitted, also, that it had been brought forward at a very late period of the Session; but he trusted that, considering its object, their Lordships would think themselves justified in taking it into consideration, with a view to passing it into a law. It was for their Lordships to say, whether it would be prudent or safe to permit the country to remain without some measure for the maintenance of the public peace. The object of the bill was to enable justices in every county to take measures for the establishment of a more efficient body of constables than at present exists. The justices, when convinced that the present constables were not sufficient to preserve the public tranquillity, were empowered by this bill, to represent to the Secretary of State, what number of constables would be necessary for that purpose, according to the particular circumstances of the county or district, and upon that the Secretary of State was authorized to appoint that number of constables, to frame rules and regulations, and the justices, with the approval of the Secretary of State, appointed the chief constable. It had been stated in former Sessions, and it was now pretty clear to their Lordships—nay, it was manifest, from the state of the whole country, that the present force of constables was insufficient even to carry into effect the ordinary law in ordinary times, and still less to maintain the peace in times of trouble and excitement, and therefore some measure, like the present, was required to invigorate that force, and to make it efficient for the great purposes for which it was intended. It was on these grounds that the bill had been brought in, and, notwithstanding the late period of the Session which had arrived, he could not help earnestly pressing their Lordships to take it into consideration, with a view to frame it in such a shape, as they might think necessary to fit it to pass into a law.

Motion agreed to (Earl Stanhope dissentient).

The bill went through Committee, and, with amendments, was ordered to be reported.

The following Protest was entered against the Bill.

DISSENTIENT— Because the public peace ought to be preserved upon established and constitutional principles, and would derive no additional security from the proposed measure, which appears to be unconstitutional in its nature, and which might, in its operation, produce much vexatious and improper interference with the conduct of individuals, and, thereby, much oppression and injustice. STANHOPE.

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