HC Deb 13 August 1867 vol 189 cc1453-87

Bill considered in Committee.

On Question, "That the Preamble be postponed,"


rose to move that the Chairman leave the Chair. When some time back he moved the second reading be deferred for three months, he indicated his intention to take every means which the forms of the House would allow to prevent the Bill becoming law, The lateness of the Session, and the consequent emptiness of the Benches, probably might be alone sufficient for asking that a Bill of so much importance should not now be pressed. He was no friend to government by minority, either in or out of that House; still less was he in favour of government by minorities in that House. He was quite aware, therefore, that in taking a step so unusual as that which he now proposed, he was bound to show ample and all-sufficient reason for what he was doing. But it would be acknowledged by every Gentleman in that House that there had been occasions in the past, and might be again in the future, when their liberties had been maintained, and the rights of the people secured from aggression, by a minority taking upon itself the duty which the opponents of this measure were now taking upon themselves. The Government had proved by repeated experiments, and by what he must designate their "meddle-and-muddle" policy, that they had not a single leg to stand upon in the measure they were now proposing. They had proved, beyond all possibility of doubt, that the meetings of the people, when left alone, were as regular, as orderly, and as moderate as any known in our history. But when the Government endeavoured, by action or threat, to prevent the meetings, they were unable to preserve order, and were compelled to call upon the very League, by whom those meetings were convened, to protect them and the public from outrage. The Government had shown that there was but one potentiality which belonged to them with respect to these meetings, and that was, that they could, as they had done, succeed in turning a peaceful and orderly meeting into a scene of disgraceful riot and outrage. He had admitted that the minority in that House were bound to show the majority in that House—if, indeed, a majority existed—that there were substantial reasons for the course they proposed to pursue; but it should be recollected that that minority, if it were, indeed, a minority in the House of Commons, had the good fortune to represent the great masses of the people of this country. ["NO, no!"] Again, he admitted that a minority would not be justified in withstanding the will and opinion of the majority in proposing a change in the legislation of the country. A minority would not be justified in acting coercively, if they sought to wring from the people a new position. But in the present case the minority stood upon the status quo: they stood upon the old ways and tradi- tions of the Constitution—the right of the people to hold public meetings. Under whatever guise this Bill was brought in, it was nothing but an attempt to say to the people of England, "You shall hold no more public meetings." ["No, no!"] To say that the people might hold public meetings, but that they should have no central locality in which to hold them, was only a tricky and indirect way of saying "You shall not hold meetings at all." Hyde Park was the only place in London where the people could conveniently hold their meetings. In spite of the suave and courteous manner of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. G. Hardy) and his assertion that the Bill was intended to get rid of troublesome preachers and the congregation of gamblers under the trees, the language of the press which supported the Government, of the Lobby, and of the Clubs, all concurred in saying that the object of the Bill was that what hon. Gentlemen opposite called the London mob should be prevented from in future holding political meetings in the Park. It had been asked, "Why do not the people go to Primrose Hill, or to Battersea Park?" Because centrality and locality were of the first importance in public demonstrations. He wondered why no hon. Member rose in his place and said to the people of London when they wanted to meet for the discussion of political matters, "Let them, like the late Mr. Norval, take their stand upon the Grampian Hills." In the Parliament of 1819, distinguished by a most corrupt and tyrannical majority and by a most noble, true-hearted, and not small minority, the right of public meetings was upheld to an extent that we did not now attain. In the course of the debate which took place in that year upon the Seditious greetings Prevention Bill, Mr. Ricardo said— He thought that in the course of this discussion sufficient attention had not been given to the importance of the right to be contended. If the people's right of meeting and petitioning consisted only in the right of meeting to petition for the removal of grievances, it was not of so much importance, and the curtailment of it was not of such serious interest. But the right was a right of meeting in such numbers and showing such a front to Ministers as would afford a hope that bad measures would be abandoned, and that public opinion would be respected."—[1 Hansard, xli. 769.] Mr. Macdonald stated— The measure now before them went to deprive the people of this country of a privilege without which there would have been no House of Commons sitting there at that moment—the privilege of meeting to petition—or at least to reduce the exercise of that privilege to the limits of a parish vestry room."—[1 Hansard, xli. 616.] It was not, therefore, the first time that they who sat on those (the Liberal) Bunches might fairly claim to be standing in the old ways of the Constitution. Another justification for the action of the minority in the present case was that the measure before them was not well-defined, nor had it been well discussed. It had been brought before them in the most miserable and piecemeal way. According to an old authority, the laws of England were not to be lightly changed. This Bill had gone through several phases; and now, within a few days of the closing of the Session, the right hon. Gentleman opposite had placed new Amendments on the Paper, so that it was difficult to recognize the measure as that which had been two months ago read a first time. The Bill was not well defined; it was simply a ridiculous and a silly Bill. The Preamble of the Bill stated that the parks and gardens named in the schedule had been used for the enjoyment and recreation of Her Majesty's subjects. Now, that was just the point of the opponents of the Bill. They had had the use of the Park, and they saw no need of any new regulations. They did not desire to see their privileges extended. But the Preamble went on to say, that it was expedient to make further provision for securing that enjoyment and recreation; and they then proceeded to place a limitation upon the use of the Park, and to say that it should not be used for public meetings. The title of the Bill ought to be a "Bill for Preventing Public Meetings in London." If that be not its object, and its justification were based upon the other ground which was commonly put forward, namely — that of the exclusive use of the Park for the "upper ten thousand," who wanted Rotten Row for the purpose of riding, the Serpentine drive for their carriages, and a greensward for their nurserymaids and children the Bill became more insulting still. In order to obtain these very slight advantages, were they to be asked to pass a measure for doing away with the great constitutional principle of the right of the people to hold public meetings? Such a measure as the present should at all events be passed in a representative House; the few Members who then occupied the Benches did not represent the existing House of Commons. Where was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire and all his Friends who had opposed the second reading of this Bill? They had gone to their amusements, not supposing that the Government would be mad enough to persevere in the Bill. That House had acknowledged that it did not fitly and entirely represent the people of England, and how much better therefore would it not be, before attempting to deprive the people of the right they had exercised for centuries, to wait till they had a House of Commons which would largely and approximately represent the English people? Could Her Majesty's Government say, with Lord Castlereagh, when opposing a factious minority in 1819— But it was a great error to suppose that those on his side had understood, that, after such a division, any hon. Members would think it consistent with their public duty to put in force this power of renewing Motions for Adjournment. In his conscience he believed that the public safety was deeply involved in the immediate progress of this measure."—[1 Hansard, xli. 849.] Would the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary say that the public safety depended upon leaving in the hands of the Government the power of turning a peaceful meeting into a tumult—an object which they had once already succeeded in accomplishing? If the right hon. Gentleman contended for that he (Mr. Taylor) would then ask his attention to the words addressed by Oliver Cromwell to Parliament— When matters of necessity come, then without guilt extraordinary remedies may be applied; but if necessity be pretended there is so much the more sin. What was the object of the right hon. Gentleman in pressing forward this Bill at the present time? Was it the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was pushed on by his more hot-headed followers? Was it true that they could not endure the thought of a long Session of humiliation without having a little bit of vengeance put in at the end? ["Oh, oh!"] Could it really be true, although a measure of Reform had been wrung from the Tories, yet that, true to their traditions, they neither loved nor trusted the people to whom they were giving political emancipation? The Times, just previous to the last triumphant and peaceful meeting held in Hyde Park, contained words so very appropriate to the condition of the right hon. Gentleman, that with the permission of the House he would read them.— But suppose the Bill which Mr. Hardy will bring on 'whenever he has the opportunity,' had already passed, and that the demonstration was to protest against an Act of Parliament giving the power to arrest and fine intruding and obstinate orators. It would be impossible then to pass over the conduct and to decline the challenge of Mr. Beales; and at this moment the telegraph would probably be in action to summon troops to London, and the Chief Commissioner of Police would be preparing the disposition of his force. What is the use of legislation which is only efficient in such petty cases as are well enough provided for under the present law, and which is powerless when any demagogue can persuade a mob to abet him in defying it. In 1819 the Government of that day did not dare to do what the right hon. Gentleman was now proposing. They did not dare to say that the people had no right to hold public meetings; but they came to the conclusion that the meetings which were at that time being held were in themselves dangerous, inasmuch as the people came to them armed, and they believed that revolution would be the inevitable result if steps were not taken to put them down. The Solicitor General, on the Seditious Meetings Prevention Bill, stated— There was reason to suppose that a, conspiracy of a most alarming and extensive character would burst forth unless great precautions were taken to suppress it; and it was stated to be matter of absolute certainty that revolution was the aim of those who were engaged in it."—[1. Hansard, xli. 597.] The Government of 1819 did not venture to attack in theory the right of public meeting. Again, according to this Bill, as he understood it, the fact of the meeting being held without permission having been first given made it ipso facto, an illegal meeting—an extent to which Lord Castlereagh did not go. Lord Castlereagh, speaking in 1819 on the Seditious Meetings Prevention Bill, said— If the influx of strangers had a tendency to endanger the peace or change the nature of the meeting, they (the magistrates) should read a proclamation ordering all strangers to withdraw, If this proclamation was not obeyed, they might then pronounce the meeting to be illegal and dissolve it. A quarter of at hour would be allowed for the strangers to retire, and half an hour for the meeting to disperse."—[1 Hansard, xli. 391.] He felt assured that what the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was doing was not of his own good-will, and he ought to thank the minority for relieving him from a false position, and also prevent a renewal of that feeling of anger and bitterness which the passing of this measure would create. The Government would thank the minority for rescuing them from the counsels of their hot-headed Friends, among whom, if he was not very wrong, was the noble Lord the Member for Haddington (Lord Elcho). There was no doubt the Government could not have a more dangerous adviser than the noble Lord. His speeches of the last two years showed that. The House would remember the declaration of the noble Lord that the people of this country—whom he knew so well—did not want Reform at all, and that, with the exception of a few demagogues in the House and out of the House, Reform was always a sham and a delusion. ["Oh, oh!"] It must not be forgotten that the noble Lord came down to the House, with a beaming countenance, and produced a letter written by a live working man, who was permitted to say, "My dear Elcho," or perhaps it was more Parliamentary to say, "My dear Lord." The noble Lord had produced to the House that letter of a real live working man, who showed his real democratic tendencies by fixing his residence in the United States of America, but whose conduct was in harmony with that of too many, in calumniating those among whom he resided. Whether the noble Lord had changed his opinion as to Reform he (Mr. Taylor) did not know; but the noble Lord had detailed to admiring audiences how he had got the democratic leaders under his feet,—["Question!"]—and no effort of his should be wanting to keep them there. The noble Lord no doubt told them to only let the meetings of the people be declared illegal, and the Volunteers would then soon see the law put in force. ["No!"] As a leader from the first of the Volunteer movement, he hoped the noble Lord had not thought or said such a thing. The noble Lord might know many of the Volunteers; but he (Mr. Taylor) could answer for it that he did not know the spirit of all of them. He believed the first shot fired against the people by the Volunteers would put an end to the Volunteer force. He would conclude with a few words which he adopted entirely as his own—the protest of noble Lords against the Seditious Meetings Prevention Bill in September, 1819. The protest, which was signed "Vassall Holland, Augustus Frederick, Thanet, Donoughmore, Grosvenor, Erskine," was as follows:— Because the Commons of England, when duty enforced, have always been found sufficient to prevent any confusion arising from popular meetings, or to punish any disturbers of the public peace, and a too ready acquiescence in the suggestions of Ministers for imposing new restraints upon the rights and usage of the people (even if the provisions of this Bill were in themselves neither harsh nor unreasonable) appears to us more calculated to add weight to calumny and to exasperate discontent into hostility than to defeat the designs of turbulent men, or to reclaim the alienated affections of a mistaken multitude. He begged to move that the Chairman do now leave the Chair.


It is not my intention to imitate the hon. Member by bringing into the debate the names of Cromwell, Shylock, Sidmouth, or Castlereagh; neither shall I think it necessary to defend my own character or conduct in or out of the House, being prepared to be judged in the one case by my fellow-Members, in the other by my fellow-countrymen. But there is one point upon which I feel bound to say a word. That is with reference to the language attributed to me in connection with the Volunteers and this question of Hyde Park. I read in the Star newspaper a letter—a friend told me of it—which was signed "A Man in the Streets." In this the writer—and we can have little doubt now who the writer of that letter is—says he has reason to believe that Lord Elcho intends to support the Government with the Volunteer force as far as his influence extends. A calumny such as that under cover of an anonymous scribbler in the Star I did not think it worth while to notice. The Star seems addicted to taking false views of what persons do, and I have often been libelled in its pages as an enemy of the people, and charged with having vilified and maligned the people. But when such things are repeated in this House, statements which might affect the Volunteer force, I feel it my duty to give, in the most distinct and positive manner that the Parliamentary mode of speech admits of, a clear and definite denial to such statements. I can appeal to hon. Members, and I can appeal to the Secretary of State for War, whether publicly in this House, and privately in conversation, wherever there has been any question of the employment of the Volunteers in any way in suppressing a disturbance, I have not urged on the part of the Volunteer force that they ought not to be employed in any such manner, and whether I have not done everything in my power to render their employment in such a matter impossible? [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: Hear.] I think it my imperative duty to support the Government on this occasion. To listen to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen, the opponents of this measure, one would suppose that the question at issue was the right of public meeting, and that some infringement of the public liberties, some tyrannical act on the part of Her Majesty's Government, was attempted. But what is the case? There are certain parks with reference to which the impression existed on the part of the Government, and existed also on the part of these very Gentlemen, that the Government had power to control their user. The best proof which I can adduce is the conduct of Mr. Beales and the Reform League on the occasion that the railings were pulled down. Was it their intention to force their way into the Park? By no means. They intended, and announced that they intended, to go there for the purpose of asking for admission, and, if refused, then of testing the question at law. An accident—the weakness of the railings—precipitated the event and compromised the position. Upon inquiry it turned out that the Government, in the opinion of their Law Officers, were not in the position which they had believed, and which the Reform League had believed. Then it was thought desirable that power to regulate the user of the Parks, intended for the recreation and enjoyment of all, should be vested incontestably in the Crown. There is no intention to infringe in the slightest degree upon the rights of the people. The Bill is introduced in the interests of the people themselves. The Bill is not promoted in the interests of the aristocracy, or of the nurserymaids, or of the upper ten thousand. Whether it passes or not, persons of all classes who can keep a horse will ride in Rotten Row, and every person who can keep a carriage, I presume, will drive in the Park. The parks are for the benefit of all persons, whether resident in London or coming from the country, and whether high or low. The Government say that these parks are intended for recreation and enjoyment, and are not suitable for crowded meetings or for preaching. Have they any precedents for saying so? The hon. Baronet the Member for the West Hiding (Sir Francis Crossley) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) with great generosity and liberality towards the people in their own neighbourhoods, have given parks for the public recreation. And what did they stipulate in each case? In the deed of conveyance a clause was inserted providing that the park should not be used for the purposes of public meetings—the very purposes now under discussion. Across the Atlantic what do you find? In the Park at New York a similar clause exists. The principal opponents of the present measure declare that they are not opposing it upon principle. The hon. and learned Member for Southwark bases his opposition on the question of time merely; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, though he voted against proceeding with the Bill, justified his course upon considerations affecting the period of the Session, and never once alluded to principle. He went further. The right hon. Gentleman suggested not merely that the user of the public parks, but the passing of processions through the streets was a matter which ought to be regulated. The late Home Secretary (Sir George Grey) and the late Minister of Works (Mr. Cowper) said that it was necessary and desirable that a Bill of this kind should pass for the benefit of the people. I believe that the Government are entitled to gratitude for bringing forward a measure of which the majority of the House of Commons has shown its approval, and which is clearly for the benefit of the majority of the people. I go further, and say that what has occurred on this question without the walls of this House renders it necessary for the character, the honour, and the dignity of this House, and for the maintenance of law and order in this country, that we should persevere with this Bill. What has occurred without the walls of Parliament? There has been a meeting held in the Tea-room of this House—a meeting which Mr. Speaker has ruled to be contrary to the forms and precedents of the House of Commons. I find in the Globe newspaper a report of that meeting. It represents Mr. Beales as having protested that if the Bill were sanctioned by Parliament the Reform League would, if necessary, resort to physical force to prevent its provisions being carried into effect. Mr. Bright is reported to have said that such language was just the way to insure the passing of the Bill. I now come to the Reform meeting in Hyde Park. There can be no mistake about that. There is no denying it, because it was on a printed bill circulated before the meeting was held. It was headed, "To your tents, O Israel!" It then proceeded— A monster Meeting of the Working Men and other inhabitants of the Metropolis will be held in Hyde Park on Monday next, August 5, at 7 o'clock, under the presidency of the Reform League, to express the public indignation at the prohibitive Bill attempted to be passed through an expiring and self-condemned Parliament, by the enemies of all popular rights, and also to protest against the attempt of the House of Lords to rob the lodger of his franchise. Please distribute these bills through every workshop, and induce as many as possible to attend and preserve to our children the rights handed down by our forefathers. At that meeting Mr. Beales is reported to have said— We positively refuse to be excluded altogether from meeting in the Park at the arbitrary will of any class or any Government whatsoever, and we caution all concerned that there may be danger in attempting to legalize or enforce any such unlawful and unconstitutional measure. Colonel Dickson proposed the first Resolution— That this meeting protests against such a Bill being made law, and declares its determination to resist that Bill to the utmost. Colonel Dickson is further represented to have declared that the House of Commons was composed of a few good men, a large number of bad, and a great many fools. He spoke in a like strain of the Upper House. It is also reported that subsequently, at a meeting in the Hanover Square Rooms, presided over by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens), Mr. Beales said— That if the obnoxious Park Bill was proceeded with they would hold another meeting in Hyde Park, and they might then find it necessary to pursue a course of proceeding which would remove all possibility of misrepresentation, and would not leave the slightest doubt of what was meant by the men of London, what their temper was, and what their numbers were, and of their determination to resist this measure. I submit to the House that what I have just read substantiates what I previously said to the House. I wish to remind the House that Parliament has always shown itself very jealous of attempts by any to overawe the Legislature in its course of legislation. In this instance an attempt is being made to overawe Parliament. An Act passed in 1795, 36 Geo. III., declares that any attempt at printing any writing for the purpose of intimidating or overawing Parliament shall be deemed a felony. That statute was extended by an Act passed in 1848. Words were then introduced to apply to the case of open speaking; but the operation was limited to two years. The Act of Geo. III. was, however, preserved. This shows how anxiously and jealously Parliament has guarded its deliberations against overawing or intimidation. I firmly believe that the mass of the thinking reasoning artizans of the country, including those of the metropolis, are not in favour of the course taken by the persons who are opposing this measure. They have too much good sense to suppose that the Parliament, which has so largely extended their privileges, would infringe upon their rights. A member of the Reform League told me that he considered the opposition to it to be a great mistake, and another influential man of the same class, though not a member of the Reform League, told me the same thing. After the course which has been taken by those who oppose the Bill, the Members of the House of Commons owe it to themselves as the depositories of the dignity of the House—they owe it to those who are to come after them for, I hope, many generations—to support the Government in carrying the Bill. I trust they will consider the measure with calm deliberation, but, at the same time, with a fixed resolve to carry it. By so acting they will secure the respect of even those who are opposing them.


said, that if the opponents of the Bill had petitioned the House in Petitions signed by large numbers of the working classes, he believed the Government having regard to the period of the Session, would have put off the Bill to another year, without admitting that the principle on which they had acted on introducing it was a mistaken one. But after the challenge of those who said they represented, but who really misrepresented, the working men, consistently with their own character and dignity, the Government could not fail to go on with the Bill, and the House of Commons, after the attempts made to intimidate it, consistently with their character and dignity, could not fail to support the Government in so doing. It was an error to suppose that an aggregate of individuals, however brought together, constituted a public meeting in the proper sense of the term. A public meeting of the people of a parish or a borough was one regularly summoned by the parishioners or the burgesses. It was to such assemblies as these the words "right of public meeting" applied. Of course five people or 5,000 might assemble together to talk politics. They did so by just the same right as they might assemble at the British Coffee House. That the Crown, or the Government on behalf of the Crown, had a right to turn the people out of the Park was a position which no one in the House would be hardy enough to deny, and it was a pity that men should be found to countenance the people in claims which they well knew to be unfounded. There could be no doubt that these meetings must be attended with evil results. He, himself, had been afraid to vote for the Sunday Trade in Liquors Bill, because he feared that if the Bill was passed, such a meeting would have been held in Hyde Park, that the peace of the metropolis would have been seriously endangered, and several lives would have been lost. The present question ought, indeed, to have been settled by the late Government. He wished the Members of the late Government had as good reason for being absent that evening as the present Government had for introducing the measure. To the present Administration the matter came as a damnosa hereditas, and they had dealt with the question as fairly as possible. The hon. Member had objected to proceeding with the Bill on account of the lateness of the Session. The argument would have been good enough if the Bill had been freshly introduced; but it had been before the House during the greater part of the Session, although the Government, from the press of public businesss, had been unable to proceed with it. The Bill indeed, might be looked upon as the proper complement to that great measure of Reform, which they had for so long been engaged in passing. After what had been done for the people it would not be unreasonable to expect that the claims now made for meeting in the parks should be desisted from, especially when it was remembered that the inhabitants of the metropolis numbered about 3,000,000, and that out of those 3,000,000 there were 20,000 or 30,000 who would as soon see London in flames as not. The Government were fully justified in the coin-so they had taken with respect to the Bill. Ample notice had been given of it, and they had never said that they would withdraw it. If the Bill were carried out and a collision ensued, it would only be because the multitude had been encouraged to resist the law, and the law must be vindicated. He trusted therefore that hon. Members would cease the opposition they offered to this measure.


said, it had been argued that public meetings were no meetings at all unless they were called by some constituted authority. He had the honour of being acquainted with that most re- spectable man Mr. Beales, to whom on one occasion the peace of the Metropolis was intrusted by the late Home Secretary, (Mr. Walpole). The meetings which had taken place under his auspices had brought the feelings of the people into harmony with the House and with Parliament generally. He considered the question before the House of great importance. The Bill was a direct violation of, and encroachment upon, the rights of the people. The Government were bringing the feelings of the people into collision with Her Majesty. The use of the parks was to be restricted to such purposes as Her Majesty's Ranger might prescribe, and parties offending were to be subject to a penalty of £10. The Bill instituted a new kind of trespass—a trespass in pursuit of politics and religion. The Government were attempting to pass a law which would be most arbitrary, unjust and unnecessary—such a law as could not be found in any previous records of Parliament. On right hon. Gentleman opposite would rest the serious responsibility of bringing Her Majesty, in respect of her property in these parks, into collision with the outraged feelings of the people. The restrictions in the case of private parks had been referred to, and it was said that similar restrictions ought to be applied to the London parks. He altogether disapproved of those restrictions. If the hon. baronet the Member for the West Riding (Sir Francis Crossley) had offered to give a park to any town in which he (Mr. Whalley) had resided on condition that it should not be used for the discussion of politics or religion, he would have urged his fellow-townsmen to decline accepting the park on such conditions. They were inconsistent with that freedom of speech which was the right and duty of every Englishman. But the very fact that gentlemen who had presented public parks to various provincial towns had inserted in their deeds of gift clauses providing that no religious or political questions should be discussed within their bounds showed that, without that clause, the people would have a right to hold such discussions. In the case of the London parks the case was much stronger, because they were maintained for the enjoyment of a very small portion of the community at the expense of the people, who were now pleading for justice and protesting against the wrong with which they were threatened. There were no pieces of ground in the kingdom which more essentially belonged to the working classes than the London parks. They contributed fully one-half to the keeping up and improvement of the parks, and desired their use for purposes which were essential to the performance of their duty to themselves and to the country. He should like to know if the discussion of politics or religion had ever practically interfered with the enjoyment of the parks by other classes of the people? The origin of the movement respecting the parks was the introduction of preaching. The police had already power to remove from the parks those who ventured to preach there. Why should this be so? A great preacher like Mr. Spurgeon could not find a building large enough for his audience, and why not allow him to resort to the parks? Was there any objection, according to the principles of Christianity, to the preaching of religion in the open air? Christianity was founded by preaching in the open air, and not in temples, some of which were now anything but satisfactory. He had heard one sermon preached in the Park by the head of a firm of solicitors who had the confidence of Her Majesty's Government and hon. Gentlemen opposite—he meant Mr. Robert Baxter. It was the best sermon he had ever heard. Primrose Hill had been referred to as a more suitable place for holding meetings than the parks. But in 1864, when Garibaldi was in this country, Mr. Beales was ordered not to hold a meeting there, because it was said the concourse of a great mass of the people might lead to a breach of the peace. On the last occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) addressed the House upon this subject indeed, he gave up Primrose Hill, and proposed that the meetings of the people of the metropolis—three millions of people—should be held in public buildings? Could anything be more absurd? What difference was there between such principles as were contradictorily enunciated on this subject by the right hon. Gentleman and the practices fallowed by the despotic Governments of Spain and Naples? All these precautions were said to be necessary for the preservation of order. But were not the police sufficient to keep order? Were not the troops sufficient to keep order? If not, let more be employed. He could not conceive what pretence could be alleged for passing this measure in order to create a new law of trespass. The only reason there could be for it was that which was so anxiously repudiated by the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench, that it was an attempt to put an end to freedom of discussion. It was so regarded by the people throughout the country. The noble Lord below him (Lord Elcho)—such was the misdirected and unlicensed zeal of the advocates of the measure — had stated that Mr. Beales obtained leave to go to the Park upon the understanding that he and his party should not be admitted, but should merely exercise their right of going there, with a view to try the question subsequently in a Court of Law.


said, what he had stated was that Mr. Beales and the Reform League had themselves doubted their right to go to the Park, because they had intended, according to the newspapers, to go to the Park, ask for permission to enter, and, on being refused, to test the question at law.


said, that was not the nature of the arrangement made, for Mr. Beales did not surrender one iota of his unqualified right to cuter the Park. The people throughout the country regarded this Bill as an attempt to put down freedom of discussion, and, the Government by bringing it forward, had admitted that they had been in error in the course they had taken in endeavouring to prevent the people from meeting in Hyde Park for the purpose of discussing the Reform Bill.


said, it should not be thought that the Government were the sole conservators of order. All classes were interested in maintaining order, and none more so than the working classes. The proof of their disposition to maintain it would be found in their conduct during these meetings in Hyde Park. A statement had been uttered regarding the feelings of the working classes by the noble Lord (Lord Elcho). The noble Lord said that, in his opinion, the greater portion and better portion of the working classes were by no means opposed to the passing of this Bill. He had listened to the noble Lord with great attention; but on a subject of this kind it would be impossible to have any authority weaker than that of the noble Lord. They had only to recollect the noble Lord's statement respecting the feelings of the people on the subject of Reform last year to judge of the weight that should be attached to his opinion regarding the feelings of the working people. He would remind the noble Lord that this was only a project of law—to use a French phrase—and it was for those opposed to it to prevent its becoming law. His (Mr. Otway's) objection to the measure was twofold. He objected to anything like an infringement of the right of meeting on the part of the people of the metropolis. He also objected to the measure because it was singularly ill-timed. The people of the metropolis had been for many years in the habit of meeting in Hyde Park for political discussion. If therefore, by this measure, they would prevent them, from doing so in future, it was an infringement of a right they had hitherto enjoyed. He would quote on the subject the opinion of a gentleman of great eminence belonging to the Conservative party (Sir Francis Palgrave) published daring the passage of the Reform Act in 1832. He said that— A meeting in the open air obtained an importance that it would have lost if confined within the limits of a building. The influence of a body of people is in a great measure derived from the manner and mode of their meeting. It was absolutely necessary, if the people of the metropolis were to express their opinion at public meetings, that they should have some open place to do so. He could refer in support of his argument to the authority of Lord Derby, who said, if they took away from the people the right of meeting in Hyde Park, it would be necessary to find for them a large open space in which to meet. It was proposed now to take away the right to meet in Hyde Park; but where was the open space provided for the people to meet in? The right hon. Gentleman, or the Earl of Derby, he forgot which, the other evening disclaimed any desire to infringe the right of public meeting, but enlarged upon the propriety of holding such meetings in some large building. The hon. Member near him (Mr. Whalley) had entirely disposed of that point by showing the impossibility of holding a large public meeting in a building however vast. It was said they might meet on Primrose Hill; but if these meetings, as the supporters of the Bill averred, caused inconvenience and disorder in that neighbourhood, injustice would be done to the persons residing there. He went to judge for himself of these meetings in Hyde Park, and he never could have imagined so large a number of people coming together with so little of inconvenience. The children were playing there, and the flowers were untouched. It was said that great disorder would be caused by the passage of the people through the streets; but why should the inhabitants of Camden Town and of the neighbourhood of Regent's Park be subjected to what was considered a great inconvenience to persons living in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park? He did not believe that it was for the sake of the residents in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park that the Government desired to persevere with this measure. Their desire, no doubt, was to preserve the Park as a pleasure-ground, but he believed that that was a mistaken desire. It would be a sad day for this country if the people became indifferent to the great questions which occupied the attention of the Legislature. This, he believed, would be the result of their being deprived of the right which they now possessed. The loss of the right of public meeting would speedily be followed by that of the right of free speech, and they had instances in the history of other countries of the evils which resulted to the community from those rights being abrogated or surrendered. He warned the Government that they would have great difficulty in in canning the proposed law into effect. It would be easy for the great mass of the people to meet in Hyde Park in defiance of the law. Thus the law would be brought into contempt, and a deplorable collision might take place between the authorities supporting the law and the people who came to exercise a right they had hitherto possessed. They were at the end of a very laborious Session. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by his unrivalled skill, had succeeded in passing a measure conferring on the people a larger extension of the franchise than had ever been submitted to Parliament; and was it wise to couple so great a concession with such a Bill as this? With one hand the Government conferred a great boon; with the other they unnecessarily created feelings of animosity. It was impossible the Bill could pass without feelings of great rancour on the part of those who considered that this measure was an interference with what they deemed a popular right. Such a course of conduct was not consistent with the policy pursued during the Session by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He should exercise his strong will over his Colleagues, who, having brought in the Bill, adhered to it through fear of being accused of weak- ness. If his hon. Friend went to a division, he (Mr. Otway) should support the proposal that the Chairman do leave the Chair.


said, it would not be respectful to the House nor to the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Amendment, if he allowed this discussion to close without taking part in it. And, in the first place he must refer to the position in which the Bill stood at the present moment, because that had been kept out of sight rather too much. The hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Otway) had objected to this Bill upon two grounds—first, that it was an infringement of a right, real or assumed; and, secondly, that it was ill-timed. As to the first objection the House of Commons came to a decision respecting it on the second reading of the Bill, and it came to a decision respecting the second objection on the Motion brought forward by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke). On both those points, therefore, the Government was entirely supported by the House of Commons, and that at a period when there was no lack of Members in the House, and when it was manifest that the Bill could not be further proceeded with until the close of the Session, when it was thought the excitement about it would have passed away. And here he must protest in the name of the working classes, whom hon. Gentlemen opposite professed to consider so much, against the supposition during the whole of this discussion, that if Parliament chose to sanction the Bill and to make it a statute of the realm, the working classes of this country would proceed at once to break the law. He did not for one moment believe that the working classes would adopt any such course. There might, indeed, be persons who misrepresented the working classes, and who might propose some such thing to them, but the followers of such leaders could not be reckoned among the orderly and order-loving people of this country. Then as to the assumed right of meeting in the parks, was it, as had been stated, an inheritance from our forefathers? Was it a right which had existed, he would not say for centuries, but even for years or mouths? Was there a single occasion on which there had been a meeting in any of the parks without a remonstrance and protest in order to show that the right of meeting was not recognized by those who had the custody of the parks? Some hon. Gentleman talked about the right having existed for centuries, but he challenged them to show that any meetings were ever held in the parks before the year 1855. The meetings referred to by the hon. Member for Chatham in his quotation from Sir Francis Palgrave, were convened by the proper legal authorities, and when were such meetings ever held in Hyde Park or any other quasi-public park? These meetings then commenced in 1855. It might be urged that the meetings in the parks had been of a peaceable character. In the great majority of instances they were peaceable, but they knew from experience that such meetings had gradually degenerated into turbulence, as in the case of the Sunday Trading meetings, the Garibaldi meetings, and lately in the case of preaching in the parks. It was absolutely necessary that the parks should be protected, and that the authorities should be armed with the power to keep them in a proper manner. But it was said that the present law might be set in motion. No doubt it might now take legal proceedings of a civil nature, but the process would be tedious and expensive. At present persons could only be removed from the parks as for an act of civil trespass, and it was desirable that the authorities should have more power. In regard to those parks in the metropolis, which were not Royal Parks but were placed under the Metropolitan Board of Works, the very powers asked for in the present Bill were conferred by Acts of Parliament in 1857 and 1864. He only I asked the House to confer on the custodians of the Royal Parks the power of making by laws and those powers of exclusion, regulation, and protection, which had already been conferred by two statutes on the Metropolitan Board of Works, with respect to the parks under their control. The right to the parks was inherent in the Crown. By what authority, was a portion of Hyde Park now being added to Park Lane? It was simply a gift of the Crown, and Parliament was not consulted in the matter. If hon. Gentlemen went back to earlier periods they would find instances of sales of portions of the Royal Parks by the Crown. That showed that the right of the Crown was absolutely incontestable. That right, indeed, had been uniformly maintained by the Law Officers of the Crown, and had never been disputed in a Court of Law. Although there had been opportunities given for disputing the right week after week, when persons had been removed for acts lawful in themselves, but which had become unlawful because they were committed in the Parks—such right had never been called in question. Persons had frequently been removed for playing organs and for preaching, as well as for gambling and betting; but the right of the Crown to make these removals had never been questioned in the Courts of Law. Not a single person had ever raised the question. He had stated, on a former occasion, that legal opinions had been taken by the Reform League, and had been adverse to them. He had since received a letter on the subject from the President of the League, and as it was not marked "private," there was no reason why he should not read it to the House. It was in the following terms:— Only one opinion was ever taken, and that was taken by me in consequence of my feeling considerable difficulty as to the best mode of trying the question, not only as regards expense, but as to the difficulties of proceeding against either the Crown or the Government, and in consequence of it seeming to me best to leave the initiative to the Crown or the Government. I therefore consulted a pleader on the subject. I wish to be perfectly frank. His opinion suggested more difficulties than I had even contemplated or could concur with as to the enforcing any legal title by means of user or custom on the part of the public to the Parks in a Court of Law or Equity, and suggested that Parliament was the more proper court, a responsible control being vested in the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works for the benefit of the public, and 'the public having a moral right to be protected by Parliament in any reasonable enjoyment from which they might be debarred.' These words being in inverted commas, he presumed they were the words of Mr. Beales' legal adviser— Since this opinion was taken, the question has been more fully investigated, and while I feel the same difficulties, technical and otherwise, as to the mode of proceeding, I am very much confirmed in my conviction of the right of access to the Park being completely sustainable. Thus it appeared that the only result of laying a case before counsel was the production of an adverse opinion. Was it, then, justifiable that the public should be assured by placard and speeches that their right to hold meetings in the Parks was indisputable? But without entering into the question of right, opposition is rested upon the point fairly raised by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke), that this was not the proper time for going on with the Bill. The hon. Member for Leicester said the same, but with this addition, that no time was fitting. The time was, nevertheless, well chosen; for although some might say that meetings and agitations were at an end and general satisfaction prevailed, information which he had received persuaded him that the Parks, and Hyde Park especially, would become a constant meeting-place for those having real or imaginary grievances. Small meetings had always been suppressed; and it was necessary that larger ones also should be prevented. The only reason, as far as he was concerned, that vigorous measures to that end had not been taken, consisted in the desirability of as long as possible preventing collision between the Government and a portion of the people, who he believed were in this instance more misled than wilful misdoers. But as these meetings were illegal, it was essential that the Executive should have powers to enable it promptly to carry the law into effect by putting its hands on the principals in any case that might arise. If, on the contrary, by giving way to clamour and outcry the House declined to take steps for the protection of the Parks, they would soon become scenes of chronic confusion; it would be said that meetings in the Parks were virtually authorized, and immediately every petty grievance-monger, whether at the head of a Sunday Trading, Sunday Liquor, or Sunday Closing Bill, would swarm with his followers in the Parks to the discomfort of those who desired to go there for their health's sake; it was not the people who had carriages or horses at their command for whom he pleaded. It was for the women and little children who might be seen sitting and playing on the grass to their intense gratification. To open the Parks to great meetings was to close them to the working classes in respect of healthy recreation, and in this the opponents of the Bill were the worst enemies of their protéges. It would be far better to define authoritatively and clearly the restrictions which were announced on the boards at the entrance to the Parks, so that the peaceful enjoyment of those places should be secured to the people. With respect to that statute for the suppression of seditious meetings, to which so much reference had been made, the Bill contained no clause for preventing meetings of any kind; it merely declared that they should not be held in certain places; but by that Act meetings held within one mile of the Houses of Parliament were declared to be illegal. The Government had no intention whatever of pre- venting public meetings. Their only desire was to prevent the holding of meetings in improper places; they wished to extend the legislation, with regard to Finsbury and Southwark Parks to the Royal Parks. The Finsbury Park Act, passed in 1857, ordered that a penalty of 40s. should be imposed upon those who sought to hold meetings in the park; the Southwark Park Act, passed in 1864, imposed the larger penalty of £5, thereby showing the necessity which had been felt for increased protection. He asked the Committee to do no more than to extend similar summary restraining power to those who had the control of the Royal Parks.


said, if this had been a question in which parties out of London took no interest, he should not have troubled the House with any remarks on the subject; but inasmuch as this was a question in which a great amount of interest was felt in distant parts of the kingdom, he felt bound to say a few words. A short time ago he had the honour of presenting a Petition from the working men of Edinburgh against this Bill, and he was asked at the same time to give the Bill his opposition. He had considered the question in various ways, and, notwithstanding the very able and interesting defence of the measure which they had heard from the Home Secretary, he remained of the opinion of which he was before—that this Bill was a very inexpedient, and, at the present time, a very impolitic measure, to press upon Parliament at the end of a Session like the present. Twelve months ago there was a great meeting in the Queen's Park at Edinburgh, which he had the pleasure of witnessing; there was a procession of 22,000 working men through all the principal streets of the city, occupying nearly two hours. This procession ultimately took up its position within a few hundred yards of the Queen's Palace, and he was glad to say that no person ever complained that the slightest injury was done. In reference to that meeting of the working classes, they consulted with him as to how they should proceed, as he remembered the great meeting of 60,000 people which took place in 1831, at the period of the Reform Bill agitation. He was present at that meeting, and could also speak as to its peaceful character. Looking at all the circumstances, he advised them that the proper way to act, as the question had been agitated in London, was not to meet of their own accord merely, but to represent to the Government that they intended to meet, and ascertain whether the Government would attempt to put any veto on the assembly. He accordingly, as their organ, wrote to the Chief Officer of Works in Edinburgh, who replied that he had not in himself sufficient authority, but that he would write to London for instructions. Instructions came from Her Majesty's Government that they would not interfere with the proposed meeting. That was all they asked. They did not ask any formal permission—they only asked that they should not be interfered with. But so careful were the working men that they should not do any injury to the Park, that they appointed a committee of their own number to wait upon the Chief Officer of Works to confer with him as to the most suitable place upon which to erect their hustings. Those hustings, four in number, were erected, and there were at least 50,000 persons present, including the processionists and the spectators. Not a policeman took part in that procession, and there was no magistrate conducting it, as was sometimes the case, and the meeting was quite as orderly as if it had been held in the drawing-room of a private house. Neither persons nor property were injured; and every care was taken that such should be the case. He would venture to say that the result of the noninterference of Government on that occasion produced the most happy effect on the working men of Edinburgh; and he thought that happy effect had been still more increased by the great measure of Reform which the Gentlemen opposite had been instrumental in giving to the country. He therefore thought that it would be a thousand pities, not only as a question of national policy, but for the sake of hon. Gentlemen opposite, for them to disturb that friendly feeling. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, a few evenings ago, at a convivial meeting at the Mansion House, in a tone partly of argument and partly in that kind of banter of which he was so great a master, that he had broken up the monopoly of the Liberal party to carry measures of Reform. He (Mr. M'Laren) thought the expression was exceedingly happy, and he had every reason to believe that the working men of Scotland were of that opinion. They thought that the monopoly had been broken up, and they were now disposed to consider men by their works in a far greater decree than had been the case with the limited constituency which formerly existed. Having given this great measure of Reform, he would entreat the Government not to inflict this sting. They had obtained the confidence and perhaps the love of the people by what they had done on the question of Reform, and surely it was a piece of bad management to do anything which should counteract that feeling, and again lead the working classes to believe that the Conservative party were really their secret opponents, and that they had only given this measure of Reform because they had been obliged to concede it. He was no political partizan. In some of the critical divisions which had taken place in that House on the Reform Bill he had exercised his own judgment, and had voted with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, knowing well that when he did so he should incur no little obloquy. This he mentioned, not as a matter connected with the debate, but as showing that he had no disposition needlessly to revive prejudices against hon. Gentlemen opposite. Reference had been made by the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) to the private parks established in this country, and it was argued that, because no meetings were permitted in these, no meetings ought to be permitted in Hyde Park. But look at the facts of the case. Why, the private parks to which reference had been made would not contain the people attending some of these meetings even if there was not a tree or a shrub in them. If they had been present at either of the two meetings in Edinburgh which he saw they would have found a dense ring of people immediately around the hustings, composed of those who wished to hear, and who were the most earnest; while on the outskirts of tills ring they would find large numbers of people standing widely, without touching each other. A little further off they would be seen widely apart. In this way a very large space was necessarily occupied. It was easy to calculate arithmetically how many persons could stand in a square yard in close military order; but upon a fair analysis of the space occupied by such meeting as they were now discussing it would be found that, on an average, not more than one person stood upon every square yard. Thus 5,000 persons would occupy 5,000 square yards, and a meeting of 50,000 persons would certainly occupy ten acres, while, if there were large numbers going in and out, twenty acres must be allowed. The splendid park which the hon. Member for Halifax (Sir Francis Crossley) had given to his townsmen did not much exceed that limit. Hence it followed that if 50,000 or 100,000 persons were to assemble there every tree and shrub would be destroyed. But such was cot the case in Hyde Park. There there were 500 acres, raid if some twenty acres were set apart, and if the people were told that they might assemble within those twenty acres; that no meeting should go beyond that space (and the space would be small as compared with the greatness of the Park itself—in fact, it would hardly be noticed), it was in vain to say that it would interfere with the use of the Park. No such thing would take place. Many Gentlemen did not understand how to deal with the working classes. They could not be kept in good order by being cuffed and kicked. That procedure was a mistake. He meant to say if the working classes were treated with kindness and courtesy they were most docile; but whenever they thought they were being badly used, or that any indignity was put upon them, their auger was aroused. They then assembled together, and they were thus encouraged to do things which they would not otherwise do. Circumstances had made him more acquainted with the poorer classes of the community than with the rich and the powerful, and he believed that in every part of the United Kingdom any number of working men might be allowed to assemble without the slightest fear of injury being done, provided they were treated with proper respect and courtesy. He hoped therefore that Her Majesty's Government would not press forward this Bill at the present period of the Session, but would allow it to stand over until next Session; and if Parliament then chose to pass this Bill, the people would at least know that it had been done in a full House, and after mature deliberation, and not at the fag end of the Session, when so many hon. Members were hundreds of miles away from the House.


said, that as the Bill peculiarly affected the metropolis, and the metropolitan Members had not shown any disposition to take an undue share in the debate, but had for several hours left the House to form its own judgment on the subject, he should not be considered presumptuous in offering a few remarks, more par- ticularly upon the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. If this Bill were really an official way of snubbing the Reform League—if the discussion were one relating solely to the amour propre of Mr. Beales, then he could understand the right hon. Gentleman's speech; but he could not understand the manifestations of irritation which had shown themselves about things with which the House, as matters stood, had nothing whatever to do. The House was not inquiring into the sayings and doings of Mr. Beales, or legislating with regard to them; what they were bound to do was to take care that neither the rights of the Crown, or the rights of the people were not injured. It was simply a calumny to represent—as had been done in the course of this debate—that Members for metropolitan constituencies had lent themselves to the stirring up of agitation. The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) had come down armed with extracts from all sorts of papers, and thought it a clever thing, in support of the Government, to attack all those who had felt it to be their duty, about three weeks ago, to receive a deputation within the precincts of the House. But the noble Lord had not the generosity, the justice, or the courtesy to apprise Members sitting beside him of the course he was about to take. Had he done so, he would have saved himself from having his story contradicted as soon as it was told, as one entirely without foundation. There were many hon. Members who knew that the words attributed to Mr. Beales as having been uttered within the precincts of the House were never made use of; and that if such expressions had been indulged in they would at once have been put down. It was utterly untrue to say that the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) presided at a meeting within the precincts of the Palace, at which measures of physical force were proposed, till the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) was obliged to interpose. The hon. Member for Birmingham neither rose nor spoke during the whole of that short conference. And, for his own part, he maintained that he had not been wanting either in respect to the Speaker, to the House, or to himself in hearing representations from men who thought themselves aggrieved by a Bill which was pending. Hon. Members were not at liberty to assume that this Bill was already a law. It was a mere farce and affectation to take airs in this debate, and say that because persons were excited, and, perhaps, angry about this Bill, they could be construed into accomplices in threats of violating the law. Logic which they could not palm off on their constituents ought not to be indulged in in the House. He admitted—though it might have been an error—that with several other Gentlemen he had received a deputation within the precincts of this House from persons who were opposed to the Bill. It might have been better, perhaps, if the "Old King's Head" were still standing on the other side of Palace Yard, where they could hear declamations against Bills that were proceeding; but, rightly or wrongly, his hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, the hon. and learned Member for Southwark, and half a dozen others consented to hear in a Committee - room of the House what those persons had to say. [Mr. LOCKE: No!] It was perfectly immaterial whether his hon. Friend did or did not consent. He was present, and the hon. Member for Marylebone was also a consenting party. [Mr. LOCKE again dissented.] He with others attended in the Tea-room to hear what was to be said against this Bill. If he did wrong he was sorry for it; but he did not hear any improper language made use of, and it was simply a calumny to endeavour to import such an allegation into this discussion. He might mention, in reply to some observation made by the Home Secretary, that within the last few weeks he had heard Lord Shaftesbury state that if the right of meeting in the Park were to be curtailed or taken away from the people, before that was done he should like to see proper places appointed for them to meet in. What he understood Lord Shaftesbury to mean was, that if the Government had a due sense of what was necessary in the way of proper places for an expression of public opinion, they would not fail to provide other meeting-places if the Parks were closed against public meetings.


wished to state that he had not issued any invitation to the Tearoom meeting. He had received a circular bearing the name of his hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) and signed by other hon. Members, requesting his attendance at a meeting in the Tea-room, "to confer with us upon the subject of the Parks Bill." He went to the meeting to confer with those hon. Gentlemen as to the course which they might think ought to be adopted with respect to the Parks Bill. When he arrived, he found Mr. Beales and several other gentlemen there; but no threat whatever was thrown out in his hearing either by Mr. Beales or by anyone else. Mr. Beales stated his views on the subject, and, if he recollected rightly, that gentleman remarked, "If the Motion about to be moved by Mr. Locke does not succeed, what course should be adopted?" He thought the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Candlish) said, "It is time enough to take that matter into consideration when the result of the Motion shall be known."


said, that with regard to the meeting in question, he had only quoted a paragraph from an evening paper, and had not made any statement on his own authority. If he had stated what turned out not to be correct, he could only express his regret that he should have been deceived by a public newspaper. But the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Torrens) was very indignant at the idea of his being present at a meeting where such language was used. He begged, therefore, to refer to another occasion. Mr. Beales was reported to have said, at the Queen's Concert-room, Hanover Square— That if the obnoxious Parks Bill was proceeded with, they (the Reform League) would hold other meetings in Hyde Park, and then it might be found necessary to pursue a course of procedure which would remove all possible misrepresentation, and leave not the slightest doubt as to what was the temper, what were the numbers, and what was the determination of the men of London in resisting this measure. He wished to ask the hon. Member whether he was Chairman of that meeting?


said, he was Chairman of the meeting, and he felt bound to tell the House to what that observation applied. As he (Mr. Torrens) understood the speaker, he told the meeting that he had been held up to those who believed in him in the foolish position of not representing their opinions—they had heard something of that kind of thing that day—and he said that he should take very good care, in the event of this Bill being proceeded with, that the House of Commons should be left under no delusion as to what the feeling of the people was, and that he would find means by public meeting of showing whether the people agreed with him or not in thinking that the Bill was an encroachment upon their rights. He (Mr. Torrens) did not see that there was anything improper or illegal in the use of that language.


, who spoke amid much confusion and cries for a division, said, he was anxious to state to the House what he and those who agreed with him claimed, and what they thought the working classes of London were entitled to, on this subject. They had heard a great deal about the necessity of legislating for the Parks. Well, he had no objection to any legislation which could properly partake of the nature of police. He did not suppose that any of them would have the least objection to the suppression in the Parks of anything, the toleration of which in any public place was a questionable matter, such as the gaming and belting of which they had heard so much. What they stood up for was that there should be some place open for the purpose of holding great public meetings. He had no objection to preventing meetings being held in such of the Parks as were manifestly unfit for that purpose. No one would think of claiming the right of holding a public meeting in St. James' Park, because, in the first place, there was not room for such a meeting, and, in the second place, it could not be attempted without destroying the ornamental character of the place. The question at issue concerned none of the parks except Hyde Park, and the reason why it concerned Hyde Park was that it was the only great open space in the neighbourhood of London on which it was possible to hold a multitudinous open-air meeting. He could perfectly understand those Gentlemen who said that there ought to be no public meeting of that character at all; but such was not the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he should be surprised it the right hon. Gentleman continued to give his support to this Bill, because in his speech on the second reading of the Bill—a speech that was most moderate in its tone, although not equally so in substance—he admitted that there were cases in which it might be desirable that a multitudinous meeting, a meeting larger than could be contained in any public building, should be held. But if such a meeting were to be held, he (Mr. Stuart Mill) did not know any place except Hyde Park, in which, it could be held with so little disturbance to the convenience of any class. It was true that the right hon. Gentleman did tell the working classes of London that they might meet on Primrose Hill or on Hampstead Heath, and he was sure that this advice must have been accompanied with a twinkle of the right hon. Gentleman's eye, which he (Mr. Stuart Mill) wished he had been near enough to have seen. He thought that nobody who had ever seen Hampstead Heath or Primrose Hill would say that they were places in any way suitable for the holding of public meetings. There was scarcely a spot of level ground on either of them, and no place could possibly be less convenient. Did anybody who had seen these public meetings in Hyde Park think that they had been accompanied with inconvenience to any class? It might, indeed, be said that inconvenience was caused, not by the meeting itself, but by the processions to and from the meeting. That was an argument for those who thought there ought to be no great public meetings at all; but, unfortunately, it was an argument which, if applicable to Hyde Park, was quite as applicable to a meeting held at any of the places where the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that they might be held. It seemed to him that no person who admitted, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had done, that there may be certain cases in which it was desirable and right that great multitudinous meetings should take place, could contend that they ought to be held in a corner or at a great distance. He did not think it was in the interest of either order or liberty to choose this time—at the close of the Session—with only a small number of Members present—for carrying a measure of which no opportunity had been given for discussion at a proper period. [Cries for a division.] Assent had been given to a second reading of the Bill, because many hon. Members on that side of the House were not unfavourable to the principle of legislating in some way upon this matter. The Bill had been since much altered, and it appeared to him an unjustifiable exercise of power to proceed at this period of the Session with the Bill, in the absence of so many Members. There were other most important Bills on the Paper, which could not be passed if the Government persisted in going on with this Bill. One of these was the Hours of Labour Regulation Bill, than which there was no measure more creditable to the Government, and it was most important that it should be passed this Session; but if the Government were determined to press on the Parks Bill, the House would not have made one step nearer to the useful legislation involved in the measure of which he spoke. [The hon. Member resumed his seat amid continued interruption and cries for a division. These manifestations of impatience were continued to the end of the debate, which was, consequently, very little heard.]


said, he represented a large number of persons living in the vicinity of Hyde Park, and had therefore considered it his duty to inform himself as much as possible what were the opinions of his constituents with respect to this matter; and he found that the shopkeepers in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park were not very strongly in favour of demonstrations. They did not go to demonstrations themselves, and, possibly, if another place could be found as good or better than Hyde Park they would be glad if people would go there. But they were practical men of business, and they knew that there was a large and respectable body of their fellow-citizens who regarded such meetings as a legitimate engine of party warfare. They considered that if the people were prevented from going into the Park at any time of great political agitation — if, at such time, Parliament were to close the gates of Hyde Park against them—that the House would be flying in the face of common sense; for they thought that then the whole of those people would be thrown back into the streets surrounding the Park, and that instead of destroying some few trees and flowers they would prevent the circulation of the traffic of the neighbourhood. A "public meeting" was not a "demonstration." Public meetings, he held, ought to take place in rooms — but demonstrations could not take place in rooms, as none large enough for them could be found; and it appeared to him that the Home Secretary had not made out that there was any place within the metropolis so well suited to demonstrations as Hyde Park. He believed that the people of London had no objection to a Bill which would regulate the way in which the Parks were to be used; but the majority of the people of London were opposed to anything like laying down a rule that there should be no political demonstrations in London. It was suggested that the people might go to Primrose Hill, but even if they did, they must go there through the streets. It seemed to him that it would be well if Ministers ascertained the real state of the law. The right hon. Gentleman had given the House the legal opinion sent to Mr. Beales; but would he give that furnished to the Government?


It has been for some time in the hands of the House.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman referred to the opinion which lays down that nothing but the law of trespass could be put in force; but, putting the mere legal technicalities out of the question, he contended that there were many obsolete rights that should not be too strictly insisted upon. He did not say that any revolutionary proceedings would result from persisting with this measure; but he laid it down as a wise principle not to exaggerate the rights of the Crown. The Bill was now quite different from its original form. Originally it was permissive—now it proposed to prohibit meetings in the Parks altogether. It was very desirable that the Bill, if it was to be passed, should not be passed in a thin House, but passed with the full authority of the Members of the House on both sides; and by referring the Bill to a Committee the House would have the benefit of the Report of that Committee, and they could then, with full information before them, decide whether there was any necessity for altering the law.


addressed the House at some length; but the interruptions were so continuous that he could not be followed. The hon. Member having referred to the Hours of Labour Regulation Bill, Colonel KNOX rose to Order, and the Chairman having ruled that the hon. Member's observations were not in Order, after some further observations the hon. Gentleman sat down.


said, he would state very briefly why he should vote for the Motion of the hon. Member. He did not wish to be supposed to give an opinion as to the right of meeting in Hyde Park; but he did not think that they had yet gone sufficiently into the question whether or not that right existed. He did not think there was any ground for surprise that strong opinions should have been expressed by those who thought their rights had been invaded, and he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the legal point should be further inquired into. He thought the question was one which ought to be decided in accordance with the general feeling entertained by the inhabitants of London, and ought not to be connected with political questions. No one supposed that there was any probability of there being any large number of political meetings between this time and the next meeting of Parliament. Next Session a Select Committee might be moved for, and then the legal rights of the question might be fully discussed. With this opinion he should vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leicester.


hoped the Government would not insist upon proceeding with this Bill at this period of the Session in a very thin House. The Bill was palpably aimed against the League, and, in fact, against the mechanics of London, of whom he would say that they were the hardest men in the world to drive and the easiest to lead. If this Bill was dropped he thought it would be difficult to get together 500 men for a demonstration in favour of the right of meeting in the Parks. All you had to do was to let the people alone. There was a large class of persons in the metropolis who felt very strongly upon this question, and the Home Secretary must be perfectly well aware that the passing of the Bill would immediately create great and unpleasant agitation. No sensible person would wish that there should not be proper police arrangements in the Parks, and if they would introduce a carefully drawn Bill, no objection whatever would be made to it, so far, at least, as he was concerned. A portion of the Park might be staked off, where meetings could be held; and stringent police regulations might be enforced outside of that space. He hoped that, for their credit, Government would desist from proceeding with this Bill, and, having carried a great Reform Bill, would not interfere with the popularity they had acquired from it by attempting to pass the present measure. He did not wish to detract from the popularity of the Government, and therefore, though no follower of theirs, he did not like to see them needlessly getting into hot water and again arousing the passions that had been excited during the agitation of the Reform question. It would be unwise and Quixotic to press forward this measure from a feeling that having put their hand to the plough they would not flinch from it. Nobody would taunt them with irresolution for withdrawing it.


supposed that the Government, after the long speeches they had listened to, would be anxious to pass on to the other Orders of the Day, and therefore he begged to move that the debate be adjourned.


said, there was already a question before the House—namely, that he do now leave the Chair, and an Amendment moved thereon.


, after some observations, urged upon the Government to postpone the Bill to next Session.


addressed the House; but it being now ten minutes to seven of the clock—

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.