HL Deb 26 July 1855 vol 139 cc1375-8

House in Committee according to Order.


said, that the present measure was, in fact, a second attempt to alter the entire character of the constabulary force of Ireland by employing it for purposes for which it was not originally intended. It is even more indefensible than the measure he had opposed last year, though that Bill was most injurious to the character of the constabulary. The real duty of that noble force was the preservation of the public peace and the enforcement of the ordinary law of the land. For about thirty years the Irish constabulary had been by law excluded from revenue functions. Last year, however, a Bill had been unfortunately passed, authorising the employment of the constabulary force for the protection of the revenue. They were by that Bill permitted for the first time to be employed in following up the smugglers and seizing illicit spirits; but, after the seizure, the constabulary were required to give up the seized spirits to the Excise, which department was then charged with all the proceedings of the prosecution. The present Bill, however, went further than this, for it handed over all the duties of the judicial in respect to these seized spirits to the constabulary force. It gave to the Inspector General of the constabulary force—a Major General—the same powers and privileges with respect to mitigating penalties, and ordering offenders to be discharged from prison as were now possessed by the Commissioners of Excise in their judicial capacity. The Excise laws constituted a peculiar, and not very simple, or intelligible code. Its administration was now proposed to be transferred to an executive department. Moreover, devoid of legal information or experience, if any county in Ireland was disturbed and required more than its ordinary portion of constabulary, it was obliged to pay extra for the additional number. Now, if under the present Bill, the constabulary were employed in other duties than those properly belonging to them, additional men must, of course, be engaged. The counties of Ireland were in a perfect state of tranquillity, as was proved by the almost entire withdrawal of the military from Ireland; and it was, therefore, a gross act of injustice and impolicy first to apply the constabulary force to purposes for which they were not fit, and thus to cast an increased charge upon these counties. He objected principally, to the judicial power given to the chief of the constabulary under this Bill, a power of dealing with offences, remitting penalties and the like, which he thought were likely to be better exercised by some persons connected with the law than by a military man, however gallant an officer he might be.


said, the principle of employing the constabulary for revenue purposes had been affirmed by the Bill of last year, and was founded upon the Report of a Select Committee which had sat on the subject the year before. The present Bill merely empowered the constabulary, instead of conveying seizures to revenue stations, to take cases before magistrates, and have them speedily disposed of, and this had been done to avert the inconvenience and expense to the State in the case of small seizures. The inspector general of constabulary in Dublin was merely to have the power of determining in these constabulary cases whether proceedings should be continued, and his jurisdiction was confined to those eases alone. Surely the officers of constabulary were as qualified to exercise these functions as commissioners of Excise. With regard to the objection of the noble Lord that the party to whom these duties were committed, should be a man of legal training, he did not think a lawyer could more efficiently discharge them than the gentleman at the head of the constabulary.


said, he had last year concurred with the noble Lord (Lord Monteagle) as to the inexpediency of confounding the functions of the Excise with those of police. Now, the present Bill displayed strongly the inconveniences of such a departure from sound principle. The less the police were employed in revenue cases the better, though in certain cases they might be called in to aid the revenue officers. Under the Act of last Session the police were substituted for the revenue officers in making seizures; this Bill went further, and empowered the police to prosecute revenue charges. That was an utter departure from the legitimate functions of the police. It would be necessary to proceed before magistrates, and the police were quite competent to be witnesses. The measure, however, did not stop there. It gave to the chief of the constabulary, utterly unacquainted with the revenue laws, the administration of those laws, with large powers of a discretionary character. Thus the police were being more and more diverted from their original and proper duties. There was no body more thoroughly and admirably organised than the Irish constabulary; but if they were not confined to the protection of the peace, but were distracted with numerous other functions for which they were useful, the character of the force would be wholly altered and fatally depreciated. The objections to the measure had been utterly unanswered by the Government, and the time would come when they would seriously regret that they had taken a course which he (the Earl of Derby) believed had not the sanction of the Irish Administration.


said, the principle of the measure had been settled last Session, and he should not discuss it, especially as no inconvenience had at present been experienced from it; at the same time if any Amendments could be suggested, the Government would gladly consider them, and with that view he would postpone the third reading till next week.


said, he should avail himself of that offer, and would submit his Amendments to the law officer for Ireland, the Solicitor General. He could not doubt that on reflection it would be adopted. But his noble Friends in the Government had been quite in error in representing that the measure had been approved of by the Committee last Session. On the contrary, the Report which he had himself drawn up, contained no such recommendation. The Committee had prudently abstained from so rash and unwise a course.


said, the Bill should be postponed till Monday. Meantime, perhaps, some other officers than the inspectors of police might be substituted.

Bill reported without Amendment: and to be read 3a, on Monday next.

House adjourned till to-morrow.

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