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now the honour of submitting, with great deference, to your lordship's consideration.
In the first place let the present stipendiary police of the Metropolis be extended to the whole kingdom, with certain additions to its functions and attributions, and subject also to certain modifications and restrictions.
The excellent effects which this system has already produced in London and its outskirts are now fully appreciated, and its general extension to the country, or at least to the more populous and manufacturing districts, is become so universally desired that we hear of but one single objection urged against it, and that is, the very serious one certainly, of the heavy expense attending it, at a time too when a great portion of the rate-payers are little able to bear any surcharge on their already oppressive assessments: but the peculiar advantage of my proposal, and the principal object it has in view is the diminution, and not the increase of the rate; consequently, the objection on the score of expense is obviated.
As the financial part of my proposed improvement is by far the most important, and forms the basis of the whole, I shall commence by developing some of its details.
I venture to propose then that Parliament should enact a law, establishing a general compulsory insurance of all the houses and buildings in the kingdom, with the government. That is, that the state, on the one hand, should become the one sole, universal assurer, and, on the other, that all the individual owners of property, capable of appreciation and insurance, throughout the country, should be the obligatory assured.
Is there any thing startling in this proposition? Is there any thing in it that is arbitrary, or that at all militates against the received opinions we entertain of that entire freedom of action which the policy of the law of England ought to allow, and does allow, to every man in the administration of his own affairs ? But, for the collective wisdom of the nation emanating from Parliament, to make that universally obligatory on all which common prudence has already rendered imperative on every individual, can never surely be deemed an undue invasion, or an unjustifiable control of the sacred rights of private property.
Without referring either to our own antiquated sumptuary laws, or to those of ancient Rome, as precedents for enforcing prudence by statute, I may be allowed to cite the Building Act as bearing a close analogy to those legislative provisions which I am now presuming to recommend.
By the common law of England, a man might build the partywalls of his house as slightly, and of as bad materials as he pleased.
But the legislature interposed, and from motives of precaution as well towards the builder himself as towards his neighbours and the public, has most wisely enforced a certain statutory solidity of construction as the best protection against the rapid communication of conflagration. In this the law has only enjoined that which prudence prescribed before. So, in like manner, a General State Insurance Act would merely exact as matter of municipal regulation, the performance of a measure of public and private economy, already most imperiously dictated to every man by sound policy, and a regard to his own interest, with this superior advantage over the Building Act, that the operation of the new law would be at once both retributive and preventive. I say preventive, for when once the universal insurance of all the insurable property in the kingdom shall be established by law, it is obvious that the great cause of incendiarism, the gratification of revenge, must necessarily be frustrated and annihilated: for to what end or purpose would the most fiend-like malice seek to wreak its vengeance against any individual, or against any class or order of men, by the destruction of his, or their property, when it is known that the losses thus occasioned would be infallibly and instantly replaced to the sufferers out of the Public Purse, unless, indeed, we are to suppose that mischief would be done for mere mischief's sake, which is supposing a degree of unaccountable wickedness, of which human nature has shewn no examples without some exciting cause.
The advantage to the assured would certainly be great, as well in the ampler solidity of government security over that of any private individual, or of any public company whatever, as in the presumable reduction of the premiums of Insurance, which may be expected from the universality of the operation.
There can be no doubt that the trade of Insurance has proved in the aggregate and for a long period of time extremely advantageous to those who have been engaged in it. The losses sustained are supposed to bear but a small proportion to the general total of the Premiums received: of what this is, some idea may, perhaps, be formed from the returns made to Parliament by the Stamp office, of the amount of the stamp duties on all fire insurances, which, in the year 1830, was ascertained to be £776,007. Now, as the stamps are very high in proportion to the premiums paid, I will not estimate the present amount of these premiums at more than £500,000. But the smallness of this sum, for the entire amount of the fire insurance premiums of the whole nation, seems to afford convincing proof that at this day, not more than one eighth part of the whole insurable property of the country is covered by insurance.
I will, however, only assume that the present amount of the premiums would be quintupled by the universal enforcement of
insuring. This then would bring the annual produce to two millions five hundred thousand pounds. But the stamp duties on policies would also increase in precisely the same ratio, and consequently, produce an augmentation to the public revenue of three millions one hundred and four thousand pounds, which, added to the before calculated amount of premiums, would give a general total of
£5,604,000 Deducting from this sum, as a reserve for losses,
£2,000,000 And for the charges of the police 604,000
There would remain a surplus of
£3,000,000 to be applied in reduction of the poor rates. The latter being estimated at £7,612,739, from the returns made to Parliament in 1830, the application of three millions in their aid would afford a relief of considerably more than a third part of the present burthens.
It is presumed there is no exaggeration in these calculations, but even supposing the increased revenue should not even produce more than sufficient to cover the expenses of the new General Police Establishment, yet still the system proposed would be highly desirable and expedient, since, independent of its more obvious and immediate advantages in the security and protection it would ensure, it would also have the effect of lowering the rate, when it came into full operation, in several ways, more particularly that portion of it which figures in the county rate, under the head of costs and charges of public prosecutions, as the measures now suggested, would diminish these expenses more than one half.
The officers of the new police would, in addition to their other functions, be charged with the inspection, and special surveillance of the property insured. They should also act as firemen, and perform all the duties of the “Sapeurs Pompiers” in France.
In a sanatory point of view it is evident that this continual supervision of all the houses and edifices in the narrow lanes and confined alleys of our close-built and crowded towns, must tend very beneficially to promote the general salubrity, and to prevent contagion, by enforcing cleanliness.
It is proposed that two stipendiary magistrates should be appointed to each of the new Police offices, with two clerks, and a competent number of officers, in proportion to the population or extent of the district. As the journies to be performed in the exercise of their duty in the country, would necessarily be occasionally longer than in the town service, a portion of these should be mounted on horseback, and placed as nearly on the
same footing as the “Gendarmerie," or "Garde Municipale" of France, as the free institutions of our country will permit.
It is above all things desirable that the punishment of crime should follow its detection as promptly as possible, not only as being more efficacious for its repression, but also as avoiding the expense and the contagion of bad company resulting from any long confinement of prisoners huddled together in a common jail whilst awaiting their trial. It is proposed, therefore, to give the two police justices of each district office, associating to themselves some one or more of the unpaid magistracy of the town or country, a power to hold every week, or at certain short intervals, a petty sessions for the trial of larcenies and small offences, either with or without the intervention of a jury, as may be deemed most advisable.
In France, an institution of this kind exists, and is found to work well under the designation of the “Tribunal de la Police Correctionelle,” or a court of correctional police, which sits once or twice a week in every town, for the trial of minor offences without a jury; whilst prisoners charged with the commission of those more serious crimes, which would subject them, on conviction, to a heavier sentence than five years' imprisonment, (transportation not being known in France,) are sent to take their trials before the court of assizes and a jury. And this is the place in which I would beg leave to suggest the propriety of creating a new officer of judicial police, whose functions and rank should be superior to the ordinary police officers, but subordinate to the magistrates. Its duties should be partly executive, and partly judicial. In a word, he should be invested with precisely the same authority and attributions as the French
Commissaire de Police," the most inferior grade in the magistracy of France. It would be his business to direct, to marshal, and to superintend the police officers, in the execution of their duty in the prevention and detection of crime. He should have authority to apprehend himself, and to command his subordinate officers to apprehend and commit to prison, in all cases of fresh pursuit, and hue aud cry, and all persons taken flagranti delicto, and generally to preserve the peace. And so far he would be invested with no further power and authority than our ancient conservators of the peace were intrusted with, by the common law before the institution of the office of justice of the peace. If the appellation of commissary of the police should sound too French in our English ears, he might be styled the conservator of the peace, and this would only be the revival of an old title.
But it is further submitted that it would be expedient to invest this officer with the discharge of a still more important part of the duties of the French commissary of police, that of public prosecutor, in the preparation, arrangement, and development
of proofs before the police justices, both in their primary and preparatory examinations of prisoners, and at their petty sessions, as in France; and this part of his functions might perhaps also be extended with great advantage to the conduct of crown cases before the quarter sessions, at least so far as the locatio et conductio of the prosecution. He should also have it in charge to exhibit informations for the infringement of penal statutes, either ex officio, or at the instance of any private complainant.
The creation of a public officer charged to conduct all prosecutions for an annual salary, would economise a great portion of that heavy item in most county rates, the article for law charges in the prosecution of felons. At present, in most instances, the juctices' clerks act as solicitors to the prosecutors in managing these prosecutions, and make out their bills of costs in each case, which are paid in part out of the county rate, and in part by their privale clients. But there are obvious objections against such a practice, and the policy of the French penal code most wisely precludes the greffier, or clerk, who has drawn the depositions taken before the primary judges or justices, from afterwards taking any part in the conduct of the prosecution, in the trial of the prisoner.
If it should be objected that it would not be right to give the committing magistrates the power of ultimate trial, as they may be supposed to be in some degree prejudiced against the prisoner in favor of their own previous committal, this inconvenience might easily be obviated, by arranging that the prisoners should be brought to trial before the justices of the next adjoining Police office, who should attend in regular and reciprocal rotation, for that purpose, in the respective towns where the prisoners are confined.
There are other parts of the French police which might, with great public advantage, be introduced into our system. Such, for instance, as the appointment of a “garde champetre," or a “rural guard,” in every country parish. Indeed, without the institution of some such parochial officer, it is clear no efficient rural police can ever be established. The duty of this guard is to perambulate his parish every day, to keep a sharp look-out over property exposed in the fields, to question suspicious persons, and to apprehend delinquents. The utility of such an officer in preventing and detecting incendiarism may be easily conceived.
How far it may be prudent or practicable to require passports in certain cases is another important question to be considered. The number of vagrants who now traverse the country in all directions, begging from door to door, is almost inconceivable. Such vagrancy is, no doubt, cognizable by the existing law, and