HL Deb 11 May 1868 vol 192 cc1-5

, who rose to call the attention of the House to the imperfect working of the County and Burgh Police Systems of Scotland, and to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate the subject, said, there were three or four points on which he thought inquiry should take place. One was, whether it might not be well to establish a system of superannuation for members of the police; another, whether it was expedient to continue the present system of maintaining a burgh police entirely distinct from the county police; another was, whether there were not a greater number of authorities under the Police Act than was necessary; another, and a chief point was, what were the relations of the Procurators Fiscal to the Chief Constables general in a county. Lastly, he did not think any inquiry would be complete unless the Committee investigated the police system in certain southern counties. As to a superannuation fund, the Police Act now in force, when it was originally introduced, contained clauses providing for a superannuation fund. The Bill was referred to a Select Committee, and the superannuation clauses were approved of; but for the purpose of preventing the House of Commons objecting to the Bill, because it contained money clauses, those clauses were struck out. The Scotch Members held a meeting on the subject, and the Lord Advocate stated afterwards in the House of Commons that, in consequence of a representation of the Scotch Members, he had resolved to give up that portion of the Bill. A more unfortunate resolution could not have been arrived at. The Inspector General of Constabulary in Scotland, speaking in his last year's Report on this subject, said— I must urge strongly the establishment of a superannuation, such as exists amongst the London, Manchester, and other large police forces. It is the one thing most urgently called for, and it is necessary to the efficiency of the police in Scotland. Two English Inspectors speak of a superannuation fund as an all-important and vital subject; as the only means of making the police force efficient. As to the other question, whether there ought to be a separate police in burghs distinct from that in the counties? he was informed, and he believed that this arrangement did not work harmoniously; that it very often happened that there was a conflict between the operations of the county police and those of the burgh police, the result of which was that the detection of offenders was rather hindered than promoted. In England, whatever local power exists is in the hands of the magistrates. But in Scotland, the police received commands from four, or perhaps five, different sets of people—the Commissioners of Supply, the Police Committee, the Justices of Peace in General or Quarter Sessions assembled, and finally, the Sheriff—and this want of concentration of authority produced an unfortunate effect on the constabulary. There was a universal system of Procurators Fiscal in Scotland. The Procurators Fiscal made inquiries into alleged offences, and the Chief Constables made inquiries into the same offences, and through this double inquiry justice often failed. The interference of the Procurator Fiscal in the operations of the Chief Constable did more harm than good. He thought the proposed Committee ought to inquire by which of those two parties the investigation of an alleged offence ought to be conducted. The functions of the Procurator Fiscal were not the product of any recent Police Act, but dated from times when such a force as that of our new police had never been thought of. It was their business to receive and procure the earliest information of any offence having been committed, to take immediate steps for obtaining evidence thereupon, and to perform, in fact, many of the duties which were now supposed to devolve upon a well- constituted police force. When the General Police Act was passed in 1857, the position and functions of the Procurators Fiscal were left untouched and undefined, and the consequence was that great misunderstanding and heart-burning were of constant occurrence between themselves and the Chief Constable, and that it sometimes happened that the Chief Constable and Procurator Fiscal were each engaged in making investigations into the circumstances connected with some offence or crime independently. Of course, the ends of justice were thus liable to be defeated. Moreover, the Procurators Fiscal were entitled, or thought themselves entitled, to give orders to the constables, and thus it had happened that, in large counties, the Chief Constable was for days ignorant of the employment in which his men were engaged. Nothing could be more unsatisfactory than the indefiniteness of the relation between the Chief Constable and the Procurator Fiscal, and an inquiry into their functions was most necessary, with a view to a proper understanding of the position of each of those officials. An inquiry into the working of the police system of Scotland would not be complete without including in it the case of the Border counties in relation to the enforcement of the Salmon Laws. The noble Earl concluded by moving for the appointment of a Select Committee.


said, there was no objection on the part of Her Majesty's Government to the proposition of the noble Earl, that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into this subject. There was no doubt that the subject had excited much interest in Scotland, and that, owing to an occasional division and conflict of authority among those who had the management of these matters, a good deal of inconvenience had arisen, and might again arise, unless some alteration were made. It was, therefore, desirable that the whole subject should be referred to a Select Committee, who could investigate the matter, and suggest any improvements which they might deem requisite.


said, he was glad to hear there were to be no objections offered to the Motion of his noble Friend. The present Acts stood in need of amendment. He did not, however, concur with the noble Earl in his view respecting one clause of the present Act, providing for the appointment of additional policemen; and he should be sorry to see the clause superseded in other respects. He trusted the effect of the labours of a Committee would be to make the police force of Scotland still more efficient.

Motion agreed to.

Select Committee appointed "to inquire into the County and Burgh Police Systems of Scotland."

And, on May 18, the Lords following were named of the Committee:

E. Doncaster E. Innes
E. Morton L. Clinton
E. Lauderdale L. Elphinstone
E. Airlie L. Panmure
E. Strange L. Oxenfoord
E. Minto L. Lyveden
E. Morley L. Penrhyn
E. Camperdown L. Colonsay.

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