HC Deb 27 May 1864 vol 175 cc769-77

said, he wished to call attention to the instructions issued to the Police Commissioners, as to the suppression of public meetings in the parks, and to the powers assumed by subordinate members of the Force in suppressing the meeting at Primrose Hill. One reason for his soliciting attention to the matter was, that he had last Session moved for some Returns, and introduced a Bill in reference to the police. He did not intend to discuss the questions connected with the Garibaldi meetings held in 1862 and the present year, or with the right exercised from time immemorial of discussing public matters in the public parks. But it certainly was an unfortunate coincidence that that gentleman, Garibaldi, with whom the inhabitants of London and the people of this country generally felt so deep a sympathy, should have been the cause, unwittingly, of the greatest injury which the inhabitants of the metropolis had sustained for years past. With the question as to the authority of the Government or of the Ranger of the parks to say what way the parks should be used by the public lie would not deal, because that question more properly belonged to the representatives of the metropolis. But what he did venture to refer to was the position assumed by the Chief Commissioner of Police, which rendered it immaterial whether the public enjoyed the right of meeting in the parks or not, for his instructions rendered it impossible that in the parks they could any longer enjoy the right of free discussion. If the instructions contained in these Returns were tacitly sanctioned, he ventured to say that no police force on the Continent would more arbitrarily set itself above the law or act in more direct antagonism to the public interests than that commanded by Sir Richard Mayne. He should justify that statement by a reference to the Return which had been made in pursuance of his Motion. The House would recollect that in answer to a Question put by the hon. Member for Marylebone as to the recent suppression of a meeting on Primrose Hill relating to Garibaldi, the right hon. Gentleman said, the police had stopped that meeting because they supposed the order issued two years ago by Sir Richard Mayne as to riotous assemblages in the parks justified them in doing so. Now, the Returns to which he had alluded contained two papers only; one a printed notice addressed to the public, and the oilier a private order addressed to the police in furtherance of that notice. In the printed nonce, which was dated October 9, 1862, Sir Richard Mayne paid— Whereas numbers of persons have been in the habit of assembling and holding meetings on Sundays in Hyde Park and the other parks in the metropolis for the purpose of delivering and hearing speeches, and for the public discussion of popular and exciting topics. He had looked through all the Police Acts relating to the metropolis, and had not found anything authorizing Sir Richard Mayne to use those words, or to sit in judgment as to what were "popular and exciting topics." The notice went on to say— And whereas such meetings are inconsistent with the purposes for which the parks are thrown open to, and used by, the public, —that statement was made without a particle of authority— and the excitement occasioned by such discussions at such meetings has frequently led to tumults and disorders so as to endanger the public peace; and on last Sunday and the Sunday before large numbers of persons assembled in Hyde Park for the purposes assigned, and when so assembled conducted themselves in a disorderly and riotous manner, so as to endanger the public peace, and by the use of sticks and throwing stones and other missiles, committed many violent assaults upon persons quietly passing along the parks, and interrupted the thoroughfares. That portion of the notice was wholly at variance with the facts. It was perfectly well known that the persons assembled to discuss the subject of Garibaldi brought neither sticks or stones, but came for a perfectly legitimate purpose. Those, on the contrary, who came, he believed, from Connemara in some instances to prevent discussion, were the persons who brought these weapons with them. It would be well that the Chief Commissioner for Works, or some other Member of the Government, having had his attention directed to that misstatement, should offer some explanation on the point. In the police order dated the 11th of October, the members of the force were told that— Meetings for the purpose of delivering or hearing speeches, or for the public discussion of popular and exciting topics, are not to be allowed on Sundays in any of the Parks. The House would observe that the order was limited to Sundays, and yet the police, professedly acting in obedience to the order, put down the last meeting, which was held on Saturday. The terms of the order moreover allowed individual constables to put such a construction upon them as they thought likely to he gratifying to their superiors. He trusted that the House would agree that the Chief Commissioner of Police, intrusted with the duty of carrying out the laws for the benefit of the subject, had set an example of the most glaring and flagrant illegality. The right hon. Gentleman had said that if any person was aggrieved he had the remedy in his own hands, as he could prosecute the police-constahle for assault, but that proceeding had been anticipated and provided against by Sir Richard Mayne. The 10th paragraph of instructions ran thus— It is desirable to avoid taking persons into custody, either for addressing meetings or for joining one which is prohibited. Nothing could be more astute than that direction. [Sir GEORGE GREY: Read the whole paragraph.] He had read the whole paragraph. He wanted to know what business Sir Richard Mayne had to interfere with any person unless he took him into custody, and thus gave him an opportunity of questioning the legality of the act. The other paragraphs of that remarkable order of Sir Richard Mayne were directed to the instruction of the police how to prevent public meetings, and that it was which gave significance to the tenth paragraph, which prevented any person aggrieved from testing the legality of the acts of the police. By the last paragraph, the police were Specially cautioned not to notice any offensive or angry language used towards them; if required to interfere they are to do so with the necessary vigour to effect the object, but to show great forbearance towards all not actually engaged in the commission of illegal acts. Thus Sir Richard Mayne was pleased to say that any person not committing an illegal act was to be treated with forbearance. It was well to recollect who were the persons to whom the carrying out of these orders was intrusted. He could speak from his own personal knowledge, being connected with a society comprising Members of the other House of Parliament, whose attention had been attracted to the conduct of the police, and he could say that their conduct was not satisfactory. But he would cite better authority. Mr. Selfe, a well-known metropolitan magistrate, referring to a case which came before him, said the police sergeant had been too officious. He had seen so many cases of similar misconduct that he intended to keep a record of all such cases, and upon another occasion the same magistrate said that, speaking generally, it would be well if constables were not so officious, and were to refrain from ill using persons. And yet these were the constables who were justified by the right hon. Gentleman for applying an order made to prevent meetings on Sundays to a meeting held on a Saturday. Mr. Yardley, also a magistrate, said, day after day persons were brought before him who ought never to have been taken into custody. A still higher authority, Mr. Baron Bramwell, said, in relation to a case tried before him, that the police were a stupid set of men. In conclusion, lie hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give some explanation how it was that he justified orders which indicated an assumption of authority on the part of the police which was dangerous to the liberty of the subject, and was calculated to bring the law and the administration of justice into contempt.


said, he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the inconvenience which was caused to the people of the metropolis by the course he, on behalf of the Government, had pursued upon the Question. His hon. Friend who had called attention to the subject had done so, perhaps, not in a very lucid mariner, so that its real importance might not be apparent to hon. Gentlemen. It really was a serious Question, what were the precise rights of the people in the parks of this metropolis, as great inconvenience had resulted from the people being left by the Government under a misconception upon that point. It was the duty of the Government upon a Question of the kind to state clearly and distinctly what were their views, so that the people ought to be under no misapprehension as to their rights in the parks. It was not for him to suggest what those rights were, but for the Government to state what authority they claimed over the parks and over the people who went into them for any purpose. Would the right hon. Baronet explain whether the public had a right to go into the parks and to assemble there to discuss any public question. It could not be allowed that it should be left to Sir Richard Mayne or to any subordinate person to say that people should assemble for one purpose but not for another—that 50.000 persons might assemble on Primrose Hill to plant a tree in honour of Shakespeare, but that they should not assemble there to express an opinion about Garibaldi. There must be some principle governing all meetings, but if there was to be a discretion, it must be intrusted to some other authority than Sir Richard Mayne. He wanted to know in whom that discretion was vested. Was it in the Home Secretary or in the Chief Commissioner of Works? A capricious application of the rule made for Sunday meetings to Saturday meetings left the Question in a position which involved danger to the peace of the metropolis.


Sir, I am glad to have an opportunity of stating what I believe to be the right of the people to the parks. Before I do so, however, I wish to advert to what has fallen from the hon. Member for Peterborough. He has raised two questions—the right of the public generally to assemble in the parks for all purposes, and he has questioned the expediency, and even the legality, of the notice issued in 1862 upon that subject, and the instructions given by the Chief Commissioner for the guidance of the police. He has also raised what I may call a minor question, as to the expediency or legality of interfering with the meeting which was recently held on Primrose Hill. The hon. Gentleman says he has looked through the Police Acts, and in vain endeavoured to find the authority under which Sir Richard Mayne interferes, as he has done, with the people in the parks. But the authority is not contained in the Police Acts at all. The order was issued in October, 1862, and was caused by the riotous assemblies which had then recently taken place in the parks. The Police Acts confer no such authority as the hon. Gentleman referred to on Sir Richard Mayne. But the parks are Royal parks. They are the property of the Crown; and through the liberality and munificence of the Crown, with the desire that the public shall have the enjoyment of the parks, they have been dedicated to the public use — to the use of all classes in the metropolis, and of persons coming to visit the metropolis, subject to certain restrictions and conditions, which are essential to the objects for which the parks have thus been thrown open. The Crown, therefore, has the right to issue regulations with regard to the manner in which the parks are to be used by the public, and the enforcement of these regulations is not left to the mere discretion of the police, but to the Commissioner of Police and the force under his command, acting under the instructions of the Secretary of State. [Mr. WHALLEY: That is not stated in the order.] That is true, but it is not necessary fur the validity of such an order that the authority under which it is made should be stated in it. Really I was not aware that any doubt existed on the subject. I thought it was universally known that the parks were Crown property. Intimations to that effect may be seen constantly exhibited on the park gates, giving notice to all the world that there are certain regulations under which the parks are to be used. The notice issued in October, 1862, although signed by Sir Richard Mayne, was given by the direct authority of myself, as Secretary of State, consequent upon the riotous proceedings which took place at that time, and which were the subject of very general and very just complaint. I am entirely responsible for it. The order referred to Sunday meetings, and distinctly stated that they could not be allowed, because they were utterly inconsistent with the objects for which the parks had been dedicated to the use of the public. The hon. Gentleman said there was a gross mistake in that notice. He said that the persons who came there were peaceably disposed, but others came not so disposed, and actual conflict took place in the park on two or three successive Sundays. Persons came there armed with sticks and stones, and it was absolutely necessary for public order and for the sake of those who used the parks, that such riotous proceedings should he put a stop to, and Sir Richard Mayne gave instructions to the police to give effect to the terms of that notice. These meetings had been held on Sunday, and he limited his instructions to Sunday because on Sunday only had the objectionable proceedings arisen; but the terms of the notice were general, warning the public against such meetings at any time. The hon. Member complains of the terms in which the order was issued, and he is extremely indignant that constables are told not to take people into custody or take notice of any offensive language, but to show great forbearance, because by such conduct persons are deprived of any ground of complaint before a magistrate. Then he complains of the conduct of the police, and quotes remarks made by magistrates with reference to individual cases brought before them, and not with reference to the general conduct of the force. I am very glad to find the hon. Gentleman has no new complaint to make of the conduct of the police since last year, for the passages he has read from Mr. Selfe and other magistrates were all published and circulated last year by the society with which the hon. Gentleman says he is connected. I have already answered the question as to the authority under which public meetings are prohibited in the parks. As to the expediency of that prohibition, I will not now enter into any argument I will only say that I believe it to be conducive to the public interests, and the enjoyment of all persons making use of the parks, that they should not be used for holding such meetings. With regard to Primrose Hill, although not specially alluded to, I may say that it does not stand on the same footing as the other Royal parks, but it is placed by Act of Parliament under the express authority of the Chief Commissioner of Public Works, and under special directions it also is dedicated to the public. It became necessary, therefore, when a tree was to be planted to the memory of Shakespeare, to make application to my right hon. Friend for leave to assemble a large body of people there. On that occasion leave was readily conceded. Then I come to the other case—namely, the meeting to discuss the departure of General Garibaldi. The hon. Gentleman says I justified it with reference to the instructions given in October, 1862. Neither the Secretary of State, nor the Commissioner of Works, nor the Chief Commissioner of Police, gave any directions to the police to interfere with that meeting. I regretted that interference, but I said I believed the Superintendent of Police on the spot conceived that he was acting in the spirit of the notice of October, 1862, prohibiting meetings of an exciting character in the parks. So far from justifying interference, I expressed my regret, and the Chief Commissioner of Police himself intimated to the superintendent on duty there that he had exceeded his duty in interfering with that meeting, and that he ought not to have done so without special instructions. No injury was inflicted on any person, and it is not likely, after the notice Sir Richard Mayne had taken of the proceedings, that any such interference will again occur. I have, I think, answered the question of the hon. Gentleman—Sir Richard Mayne has no authority on these matters. It is the Secretary of State and the Chief Commissioner of Works who have the authority, and we are entirely responsible for what we have done.


said, he wished to know, if it were desired to hold a peaceful meeting on Primrose Hill, to take into consideration the rejection of the £6 franchise by that House, whether permission would be given for such a purpose?


The best answer I can give to that question is to state, that when a request was made subsequently to my right hon. Friend to hold a meeting on Primrose Hill, anticipating that it would be a peaceful meeting—and it turned out a very small as well as a peaceful one—permission was given.


said, he would venture to suggest if another meeting should be held to discuss the departure of Gari- baldi it should be held before Sutherland House.


observed, that it was the custom of the Government to make a statement on introducing the Army and Navy Estimates, but not the Miscellaneous, or Civil Service, or Supplemental Votes. He wished, therefore, to ask the First Commissioner of Works whether he was prepared to make a statement with reference to the plans of the National Gallery and the result of the negotiations with the Royal Academy, and whether he would allow full time for consideration after the statement be made, before the House was asked to vote money in pursuance of it?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to,

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