HC Deb 24 June 1834 vol 24 cc826-32
Colonel Williams

rose to complain of a breach of privilege. "This morning," said the hon. Member, "as I was coming hither, I was interrupted in my progress and prevented from obtaining entrance into the House by troops in the streets and by a party of police blocking up its principal avenue. I endeavoured to get by the soldiers, and went down a little way below the door of the House, thinking that out of courtesy they would leave an opening for a member of Parliament. I was obliged, however, to return, and I returned along the line of soldiers and police, hoping and expecting that I should be able to come here. I found no means of getting here save through the lines of the police. As I was attempting to pass through, one of the police constables stopped me, and said, that I should not pass. I told him, that I must pass, as I was a member of Parliament. The constable replied 'It don't signify, you can't pass here.' This created some disturbance among the people round, and excited the attention of a person whom I take to have been a superintendent of police. I represented to him that I was a member of Parliament, on which he immediately said 'You must be permitted to go—you can cross here.' I cannot help thinking that it is an obstruction which ought not to be allowed—namely, the lining with troops the principal avenues of entrance to this House. Why are we to pass through a bristle of bayonets, and why, in avoiding them, are we to be exposed to the truncheons of the constables? I very much wish to know whether such practices are not unconstitutional. I think they are. I know no justification for assembling troops in this manner before the House. I know the reason why they were assembled to-day; but I think the troops are ordered out on such occasions too often. I would remind those in high situations of the saying of that glorious Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, who declared that her subjects were her best guards. I shall end my complaint, by a Motion for an address to the Crown, which I trust will elicit the information whether an opening was ordered to be left this day for members of Parliament to enter this House. I should also like to know by whose orders it was, that the avenues were obstructed."

Mr. Henry L. Bulwer

, in rising to second the Motion, said, that he did not consider it one of peculiar interest. It was not, however, useless to call the attention of the House to the conduct of the police that day, which he must say had been brutal and disgusting. The hon. member for Ashton was stopped by them; he had himself been stopped by them twice, very insolent and brutal language had been employed by them towards him, and such conduct ought not in his opinion to pass without notice from the House. Without entering further into the arguments of the hon. member for Ashton, he would observe, that it was as necessary and of as much importance that members of the House of Commons should come down without obstruction to that place to do their duty to the people, as it was that any other person, be his rank or dignity what it might, should go without obstruction on a party of pleasure. He thought that the Speaker, and every gentleman then in the House, would see the necessity of preserving the importance of the House in the importance of its humblest members. He concluded by seconding the Motion of Colonel Williams.

Lord Howick

said, that he had heard with great regret, that the hon. member for Coventry had that day been exposed to ill-treatment from the police. Still he thought that those who were responsible for the management of the police had reason to complain of the course pursued by the hon. member for Coventry. If, instead of making a formal complaint to the House, the hon. Member had first complained to those who were responsible for the conduct of the police ["Oh! oh!"]. Hon. Gentlemen might exclaim "Oh! oh!" but he thought that they would agree with him, that it was almost impossible to prevent a case of individual misconduct from occurring sometimes among so large a force. He was sure, that the House at large—and still more, that the Members of the Committee now engaged in examining into the constitution of the police of the metropolis—would agree with him, when he stated, that there was every disposition on the part of the authorities to check in the most decisive manner every case of misconduct on the part of the police. Brought before the House as the case had been by the hon. member for Coventry, the House could have no opportunity of hearing what was to be said on the other side. If the hon. Member had only favoured him with a statement of his complaint, he would have taken care to learn, for the information of the House, what could be said on the other side. At all events, it would have saved the time of the House if the hon. Member had made his complaint to the Commissioners of Police, by whom it would have been immediately investigated, and by whom, if any case of misconduct had been discovered, the individuals guilty of it would have been instantly dismissed. As to the inconvenience which had that day been suffered by Members of Parliament coming down to the House, he had learned it, he must say, with surprise. He had himself come down to the House within twenty minutes after his Majesty had first gone by, and had found no difficulty whatever in getting into the House. This was all that he now found it necessary to state; but of course a proper examination would be instantly commenced into the subject matter of this complaint.

Mr. Henry Lytton Bulwer

hoped, that he might be permitted to say a few words in explanation. He thought, that before the noble Lord who had just sat down had made such a speech as that which he had just delivered, he should have known what had been said by those to whom he was professing to give an answer. The complaint against the police had not been brought forward by him, but by another hon. Member. On that complaint being brought forward, he had stood up to state what he had seen and experienced himself in the course of the day. He hoped that he might be permitted to make another observation, though it was not strictly in the way of explanation. He did not think it consistent either with the dignity of that House, or with the dignity of its Members, that they should go up and down hunting out the noble Lord as a receptacle for their complaints, when the insult of which they complained was not so much an insult to themselves personally, as an insult to the House.

Mr. Warburton

observed, that the noble Lord had told the House, that he had come down to it shortly after his Majesty had arrived at the Abbey. Now, he (Mr. Warburton) had come down to it about ten minutes before his Majesty's arrival at the Abbey, and, like the noble Lord, he had met with nothing in the shape of obstruction. This, however, after the positive evidence of two hon. Members, was not sufficient to prove a negative. It was therefore possible that obstruction had been given to two hon. Members, upon whose evidence he begged it to be understood that he did not mean to cast the slightest doubt, though obstruction had not been given to the noble Lord or to himself. He must however tell the noble Lord, that the course pursued on this occasion by the hon. and gallant Officer, the member for Ashton, was by no means singular, for many Members would recollect that a noble Lord, not now a Member of this House, but formerly member for Yorkshire (Earl Fitzwilliam) on meeting an obstruction from the Guards of his late Majesty in Pall-mall, as he was coming down to the House, made a formal complaint of it to Parliament. He must say, with their Standing Order staring them in the face, that the avenues to both Houses of Parliament should be kept clear. The proper place for any Member who had met with an obstruction to make his complaint in, was before the Speaker in the House of Commons.

Mr. O'Connell

Are we to appeal to the Commissioners of Police when we meet with obstructions as we come down to the House to perform our public functions? and are not you, Sir, the fit protector of the privileges of the Commons of England, when they are obstructed in the discharge of their duties? This music-shop which is opened over the way, is not to be an impediment to us ["Oh! oh!"] I don't care for your crying "Oh! oh!" It is not a ceremony belonging to the State—it is not a prerogative attached to the Crown—if it were, we should all be ready to protect and attend it. We have now before us the unequivocal evidence of two Members of Parliament, who were impeded by the soldiery and police in coming down to the House; and it is inconsistent with the Constitution, that we should make our complaints on that score to any noble Lord, however high in office, or to any Commissioners of Police, however well paid. It is your province, Sir, as I know it is your wish, to vindicate our privileges; and we are not to be turned round to a Police Commissioner, when a Breach of Privilege has undoubtedly been committed.

The Speaker

Having been so distinctly appealed to by the hon. and learned member for Dublin, I must premise by stating, that I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not wish—for he could not expect—that I should give an opinion upon the merits of this complaint. The hon. and learned Gentleman states very distinctly, that the privileges of the House are to be maintained by the House. The Speaker is the servant of the House; and if the hon. and gallant member for Ashton had not thought proper to save the Speaker the trouble of noticing this matter to the House by complaining of it himself, it would have been the duty of the Speaker to have mentioned it to the House. But as to expressing an opinion upon the course to be pursued by the House in consequence of the complaint, that is a duty which the House has never yet devolved upon the Speaker, and I hope that so heavy a burthen will never be devolved upon me so long as I have the honour of filling this Chair. The hon. and learned Member, no doubt, adverts to our Sessional Order, that the avenues to this House are to be kept clear. That Order having been made, it is incumbent upon the High Constable of Westminster, and upon all his subordinate officers of police, to see that it be carried into execution. As to any particular case in which that Order has been infringed, whether it be in the case of hon. Members who have been obstructed by parties not knowing them, or by accident, that is matter of inquiry for the House. Hon. Members do right in bringing their complaints here; but, having said that, I am sure that there is not one man now present who would not object to the Speaker's rising to give his opinion upon the merits of them.

Lord John Russell

admitted, that in any case where the privileges of the House had been infringed in the person of an hon. Member, that Member had a full right to make his complaint in the House. The only question in this particular instance was, as to the course which the hon. Member might think it best to pursue. His own opinion was, and he knew nothing more of the case than what he had heard from the hon. Member, that time should be allowed for inquiry, whether the interruption had been caused through ignorance, by some policeman totally unacquainted with his duties, or whether it took the appearance of an intentional, and therefore a grave infraction of the privileges of the House. He thought it right that inquiry should be made into the subject, but he also thought it right that the hon. and gallant member for Ashton should refrain from making any Motion upon it, or should adjourn the Motion which he had already made, until a state- ment had been received as to the circumstances under which the interruption had been given by the police. If it should turn out that there were one or two individuals who from ignorance had offended, the hon. Member would take the course which he might think proper; but if it should turn out that there had been an intentional infringement of the privileges of Parliament, it would be the duty of the House to take it up.

Mr. Robinson

stated his belief, that the obstruction which arose this morning, and which might occur again on the three subsequent days if steps were not taken to prevent it, had been occasioned by a file of soldiers stationed on each side of the street opposite to the House. There was no occasion for having soldiers stationed nearer the Abbey than Bridge-street, and he thought that if the duty of preserving order was left to the police there would be no ground of complaint.

Mr. Henry Lytton Bulwer

expressed his belief that there had been no intentional obstruction or infringement of the privileges of Members, and recommended the hon. Member to withdraw his Motion.

Colonel Williams

informed the noble Lord, who appeared to mistake the hon. member for Coventry's share in the question for his, that he was the Mover of the Resolution. Although the noble Lord might be known and allowed to pass, he had been impeded. He repeated that he had experienced obstruction; he had stated the facts roundly, and explained to the House his whole progress, downwards and upwards. He did not attempt to break through the ranks of the soldiers; on the contrary, he very submissively walked in their rear, till he came near the House, and then the outrage took place. The obstruction was unjustifiable. There was no occasion for having any street, particularly that leading to the House of Commons, lined with bayonets. He was willing to accede to his hon. friend's suggestion and withdraw the Motion. He hoped, however, that the matter would be taken into consideration. His object was, to get at the parties who had given the improper orders.

Viscount Howick

certainly did pay rather more attention to the hon. member for Coventry than to the gallant Mover, because it appeared that the statement of the former Gentleman was more serious, as involving the use of brutal language to Members of the House. It seemed that as soon as the superintendent came up, way was made for the hon. Member. If any policeman had mistaken his orders, or misconducted himself, no doubt he would be reprimanded. He promised that inquiry should be made into the subject.

Motion withdrawn.