HC Deb 15 August 1867 vol 189 cc1571-91

Order for Committee read.

Bill again considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


Sir, it is with the greatest reluctance that I rise to repeat the Motion which was made yesterday, that you do now leave the Chair. If there were any other mode in which I could, according to Parliamentary usage, express my conviction that the Bill ought not to be proceeded with at this period of the Session, I would have adopted it; but I am assured that I cannot now move the Previous Question, and that this is the only course open to me. I must express my disappointment that the Government have not withdrawn this Bill in deference to what I believe is the general feeling. [Cries of "No, no!"] At all events, it is the feeling of a considerable section of the House, and of multitudes out - of-doors. I will endeavour so to deal with the two questions involved as to convince even my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that this is a question which ought not to be pressed on at the fag-end of the Session against the opinion even of the minority of the House. First, with regard to the question itself, there are some points about which we are all agreed, or, at least, about which there can be very little controversy among persons of candid minds. It is undoubtedly a question of the utmost delicacy and importance. After giving the Government credit, as I do, for having made every effort to conciliate their opponents by removing some of the most unpalatable portions of the Bill, the fact remains that the widest differences of opinion still exist as to the first principles by which we should be guided on a very nice and difficult question. I cannot at all assent to the opinion of those who maintain that the right of public meeting is not, to a great extent, involved in the course we may take upon this Bill. It is all very well to say that there is a legal right to meet, which this Bill does not touch; but, if the Bill restricts that right in every place in which the right can practically be exorcised, it would be unfair to deny that it does, so far as London is concerned, affect the right of public meeting. My right hon. Friend spoke of the practice of meeting in Hyde Park as one of modern origin, placing it as late as the year 1855. But Hyde Park was, more than a century ago, and until a comparatively recent period, used by the public for many purposes for which of late it has not been used. I have myself seen in old newspapers many advertisements showing that fairs, cricket-matches, boxing-matches, and other amusements used to be freely carried on there. If it is only since 1855 that Hyde Park has been much resorted to for public meetings, that fact may be partly accounted for by the inclosure of many other spaces for gardens, such as Kennington Common, and other like spaces, and the extension of building in all directions, which has left no other I convenient open place for holding a large meeting. It is nothing to the purpose to say that Primrose Hill is a convenient place; because I believe there is the same power in the authorities who have the management of Primrose Hill to exclude the public as exists in the case of the Parks enumerated in this Bill. Therefore, I do consider—and I do not believe that it can be denied—that, so far as the metropolis is concerned, the right of public meeting may be seriously affected by this Bill. Now, I am one of those who hold that right to be one of almost sacred importance, and that for three main reasons—firstty, because we cannot always be secure against the renewal of attempts, such as once were common, to force unjust and tyrannical measures upon the people, and in such cases large public meetings are the best modes of expressing public indignation, and thus preventing arbitrary and oppressive legislation; secondly, because there are occasions on which the feelings of some large class of the community are entirely misunderstood and misrepresented; and it is then of the utmost importance that that class should have the opportunity of assembling in such numbers as to disabuse the mind of the richer and more influential classes of the erroneous notion as to their feelings which has been in circulation. A notable instance of this took place last year. No one of the Gentle men I see opposite, if he will deal candidly with me, will deny that one of the main arguments used against Reform last year was that the unenfranchised classes were almost entirely indifferent about the extension of the franchise. None will deny that the meetings which have since taken place have gone a long way to convince many of them to the contrary. But beyond all this, comes a third and a very powerful reason. These meetings of large masses of people act powerfully as safety-valves, and give an opportunity of "blowing off the steam" which, if pent up in rooms and dwellings, would be far more liable to dangerous explosion. On a late occasion, when some 23,000 people marched to a place not half so convenient as Hyde Park, to show their interest in Reform, I noticed that many of their banners were inscribed with jokes of an amusing kind. One of them, the banner of the Cabinetmakers, ran—"The people are resolved to be their own Cabinet-makers." How much better that such a sentiment should appear as a joke upon a banner than that there should be no public opportunity of giving it vent. It was surely wiser to let the matter pass off in such a way, than if that whole multitude had been confined to warehouses and workshops, and told that they would be violating the law if they held a meeting in the open air. If the people had not been shut out of Hyde Park last year, I am convinced that no need would have arisen to be now seriously considering this difficult question. But when the gates were so ill-advisedly closed, and the irruption followed, the question was at once unfortunately and unnecessarily raised as to the right of the public to be there at all. Now, Sir, I have appealed to the candour of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and in discussing the question of right, I will myself speak with equal candour. Any lawyer, I will admit, would be departing gravely from his duty if he expressed any doubt that, so far as strict law is concerned, Hyde Park is vested in Her Majesty, and that persons duly authorized by Her Majesty may close that Park when they please. But, on the other hand, no one can fairly deny that there are some equitable, or, at least, moral rights, on the part of the people which practically render it wholly impossible to deal with Hyde Park precisely in the same way as though it were the private garden of Buckingham Palace, or any other portion of the private property of Her Majesty. Suppose it were not the property of the Sovereign but of some private person, it has been so dealt with, in many respects, that a dedication to the public would be presumed. Roads and paths have been opened and used in all directions, and repaired at the public expense. Enormous sums of the public money have been laid out on improving Hyde Park. Hence Parliament is bound to look at this question as one in which the public has an interest, even independent of the right of public meeting. Such being the nature of the questions involved in this Bill, I will now state my reasons for urgently appealing to Her Majesty's Government not to press on this Bill during the short residue of the present Session. I have already shown that the questions involved are of a difficult, delicate, and complicated nature. On the one hand, the practical right of holding public meetings in the metropolis; on the other hand, the relative rights, legal, equitable, and moral, of the Crown and the people. I cannot conceive matters more fit for a calm and deliberate inquiry before an impartial Committee, or more unfit for a hasty and hurried decision in a thin House by a party vote. It is notorious that at this period of the Session the Government can carry any measure on which they may set their heart; swamping all opposition by a majority composed mainly of themselves. Only two nights ago they carried the rejection of a Lords' Amendment, approved of by everybody who knew anything of the subject, and supported by their own Chancellor in the Lords, at the instance of the Attorney General for Ireland. Their majority consisted of 33, the minority of 25; but when I counted the division list, I found that twenty votes out of those thirty-three were the votes of actual members of the Government. Who, then, would be satisfied with this Bill if it were to be forced down our throats by the Government at this period of the Session, merely by means of the majority at their back? But it is said, "The Bill is much less stringent than it was," and "We are prepared to concede one thing and another." Sir, I recognize in the Government a spirit of conciliation as regards the matter of the Bill; but the questions are too important and too delicate to be settled by a compromise of the Government on the one part and a mere handful of Members on the other. If this Bill had been brought forward quite early in the Session, with no Reform Bill in the way, would anyone have ever thought of proceeding with it after twelve o'clock at night? Certainly not; and why? Because at that hour the number of Members present would not have been sufficient for the discussion of a subject of such importance. Why, then, should we be forced to go on with the Bill now, when at no time is there an attendance equal to that which at an earlier period of the Session is deemed wholly insufficient? Besides all this, the Bill in its present shape, even without the Amendments now — as I understand—to be proposed, is a totally different Bill from that originally laid before the House. Had the House proceeded with this Bill earlier in the Session, can any human being doubt that, as a matter of course, it would have been referred to a Select Committee. But what time is there for a Select Committee now to consider this Bill? Again, suppose that we should, in the course of the next day or two, send the Bill to the House of Lords, what possible opportunity will the House of Lords have to consider the various questions arising for their consideration? It would be a simple mockery to ask them to do so in the time allotted for the task. Then, as to the Bill itself, I have before me the first and the second edition, but as to the third, of which I hear, it is even yet not in print. From what I hear of the proposed alterations in the clauses, they would by no means remove my main objection to the Bill. The Bill gives powers, the extent and nature of which are entirely unlimited and undefined. By passing this Bill, Parliament would not have the slightest notion what it would be doing. It contains, in effect, a power to the ranger of the Park, with the assent of the Home Secretary, to make by-laws, the nature and extent of which it is impossible to guess. One ranger and one Home Secretary might be easily influenced by panic, and make bylaws so stringent, that under them no meeting, however unobjectionable, could take place; while another ranger and Home Secretary might so legislate as to leave matters precisely as they are. Parliament ought not to give powers so vague and general as not to know the effect of what it is enacting. It ought not rashly and recklessly to pass an Act which may either have a very violent effect or no effect at all. Many of the persons best qualified to advise Parliament on such a subject are now absent. It is said that this Bill ought to be passed as a proof that the House is determined to maintain its own honour and dignity; and that we are bound to support the Government on this occasion because, forsooth, certain persons out-of-doors wish us to reject it, and talk of holding certain meetings and making violent speeches against it. This I understand to be the argument of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire; but such an argument appears to me to be simply babyish. Are we hastily to legislate in a rash and reckless way on a matter of great difficulty, merely because some persons out-of-doors wish us to do something different? I cannot understand arguments such as these, which, so far from maintaining, seem to me to be playing and paltering with the honour and dignity of this House. Not that we are, any of us, insensible to an individual feeling of indignation, when persons out of the House take upon themselves to attempt to exert a personal pressure upon Members in regard to any measure. Only yesterday, when a gentleman connected with the Reform League met me in the Lobby, and began to talk about this Bill, and the duty of Liberal Members to oppose it, I said to him, "Sir, if you want me to hold my tongue from speaking against this Bill, you can't do better than by canvassing me in the Lobby." But though this is a natural feeling, I hold it to be merely childish by way of an argument to tell hon. Members that they can maintain the honour and dignity of the House by voting on any such principle, however natural the feeling may be, for no feeling of the kind can absolve us from our solemn duty to judge of all matters before us, according to their merits. Another argument used in support of the Bill is that in other Parks, at Liverpool, Derby, and elsewhere, rules have been made entirely preventing public meetings; but in those places there is no difficulty in finding open spaces in or near the town in which public meetings can be held, so that the main question does not arise. Lastly, we have been told that we ought to support the Government in their determination to pass this Bill, because the subject with which it deals is a damnosa hœreditas left to them by their predecessors. Sir, I did not altogether approve of the mode in which the late Government dealt with this question of the Parks, and I admit that it has increased the difficulties of the question; but surely that can be no reason for assisting the present Government to hurry on a crude and imperfect measure in a comparatively empty House. For these and other reasons, having a very strong conviction that it is inexpedient now to proceed with this measure, and having no other mode of expressing that conviction, I move, Mr. Dodson, that you do now leave the Chair.

Question proposed, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Denman.)


said, he did not take any part in the discussion upon the Bill the other day, as he disapproved of the tactics of Friends near him in attempting to "talk out" the question — although he felt as strongly as any of them that it was undesirable to press the Bill at so late a period of the Session. He now earnestly appealed to the Government to postpone the Bill until another Session, by which time it would have been fully considered by their Legal Advisers, and be adopted probably by a large majority of the entire House. If a division took place now, the Government would doubtless have a majority, but it would be no test of the opinion of the British House of Commons. Such would not be the light in which the people out of doors would view the decision. If the Bill were carried in its present shape this Session, there could be little doubt that next Session, or the first new Parliament, would be called upon to alter or repeal it. If the Government liked, let them take a division, and doubtless they had a majority at their back. But when they had taken their division, he appealed to them not to proceed further with the Bill. Let them act graciously and withdraw it. If passed it would have the appearance of being a censure upon the important subject which had called the great masses of the people together in Hyde Park — namely, Parliamentary Reform. Admitting that it was absolutely necessary to meet within doors for the purposes of discussion, large out-door meetings had their uses. In his opinion, hon. Gentlemen opposite were greatly assisted by the meetings which were held in Hyde Park—and it would be ingratitude on their part to attempt to put them down. He had heard of "operative Conservatives"—from whom the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had received deputations — though he scarcely knew to what class of animals they belonged. It was said that the people were not anxious for Reform, and that they did not care about it. The answer to that allegation came trumpet-tongued from Hyde Park, and then hon. Gentlemen opposite were converted, but not before. They were asked to legislate in a hasty manner. When hon. Members were nearly worn out by the fatigues of the Session, sitting morning and evening, a Bill involving a great constitutional principle was pressed upon them. Out of doors the people regarded this question as one affecting the Constitution, and it ought not to be forced on at this late period of the Session. If the Government would listen to his appeal, and postpone the Bill, they would probably come to the conclusion next Session that the best thing to do would be to set apart several acres in Hyde Park for the purposes of public meeting, so as not to interfere with the other portions of the Park. Then they might make such gatherings in all other portions of the Park as illegal as they pleased, with the certainty of carrying their Bill with the hearty consent of both sides of the House; and that Bench (the front Opposition Bench) would then be represented as well as the Treasury Bench. Their Bill would then be carried with the approbation of the country; and the people, recognizing the justice of their intentions, would yield willing obedience.


said, he agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House, that that was a constitutional question. For that reason, he was anxious that the House should, for the purpose of assuring the freedom of the deliberations of Parliament, take the same security which the Congress of the United States had long since taken for insuring the independence of its Capitol. It was unbecoming in a Member of that House to boast that the House, in dealing with a great constitutional question, had acted under the influence of intimidation from without. [Mr. GILPIN said he had not used any such language.] He was glad to find the hon. Gentleman disclaimed the intentional employment of such language. He had certainly heard more than once statements made in the House, which seemed to him fairly to bear that interpretation. He earnestly desired to save Parliament from the indignity of even appearing to be dictated to by local mobs. As the representative of a Midland constituency, and in their name, he respectfully stated that the House ought to guard their deliberations from all chance or apprehension of violent external interruption. The House of Commons ought to guard itself against the imputation of being intimidated by local mobs, by extending the limit of one mile from the Houses of Parliament and the present Courts of Law, within which, by the existing Act of Parliament, it was illegal to hold any public meeting during the Session. They had secured to the people of this country a full representation in that House, and they were bound to provide for the perfect exercise of the new system they had established by not allowing themselves to be subjected even to the imputation of acting under local dictatation. He understood it was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department so to limit the operation of the Bill that it would merely provide for the Royal Parks the same power of regulation which existed in the case of every other park. He considered this only an instalment of that which the occasion required. It would certainly be unreasonable to refuse to the Crown the same rights which were granted to the holders of every other property of the same description.


said, he should vote against the Motion that the Chairman leave the Chair if it was pressed, because he believed that such a Motion was a most improper mode of dealing with a question which should be disposed of by the Aye or No of the House. He did not approve the Bill, however. He desired to see a measure passed for regulating the Parks, but did not think this fitted for the purpose. A late Home Secretary had declared it to be indispensable before a capital sentence was carried into effect, not only for the law to have been strictly carried out, but that the public should believe that such was the case. He felt that some regulations ought to be adopted with regard to the Parks, and he had come up from the country that morning for the purpose of supporting the Government. But it appeared that the regulations proposed were not considered satisfactory, and the question was one that ought not to be dealt with in a thin and one-sided Parliament. He admitted that the right to use the Parks did not give a right to abuse the Parks, and public meetings ought not to take place in them to the injury and annoyance of the rest of London. Nevertheless, the right of public meeting, which was believed to be bound up in this question, ought to be preserved. The Government had acted conscientiously. They had modified the Bill with a view of rendering it acceptable to the House, but, as it was not satisfactory, they would act wisely in carrying the measure no further this Session. If it were then carried it would be carried by a majority consisting almost exclusively of Members sitting upon one side of the House; and such a decision would not meet with the respect and approval of the country.


said, he should take the rather unusual course of abstaining from voting upon the Bill. He regretted that the regular and constitutional course was not adopted of moving the Previous Question, thus declaring that the time of bringing forward the question was inopportune, but it was now too late so to dispose of the Bill. He would act in the way he had mentioned from no fear of exciting agitation out of doors, but because he thought it would be wiser and more politic to allow the question to rest for another Session. He had differed from the Government in their policy on the Parks, thinking that it was at one time pusillanimous, and at another ill-considered. The whole question was so intricate that the precise legal position of it was ill-understood by those who ought to understand it well. That fact alone was enough to settle the Bill. Some regulation for the Parks was absolutely required, but it would be wiser to put off any measure on the subject until agitation out of doors had calmed down, and until the whole question had been inquired into by a Select Committee.


said, that believing some legislation was necessary, he had heretofore taken no port in the discussions. But believing also the present time inopportune, he should now support the Amendment. As regarded the complaints made that hon. Members on the Liberal side had prolonged the discussions, though on ordinary occasions such a course should not be pursued, the conduct of the Government on the present occasion had afforded a justification of the course of the Liberal party. The Home Secretary had announced that he was prepared to make in Committee a serious alteration in the Bill. But even in its modified form it was most objectionable to press it forward, and it was much to be regretted that the result of the deliberations of the Cabinet had not been to withdraw the Bill for the present Session. A Bill might be a good Bill, and yet be brought forward at a most inopportune time, as was seen in the case of the Conspiracy Bill, which caused the overthrow of Lord Palmerston's Government, and yet two years afterwards was passed unanimously. The present moment was inopportune for bringing forward the Parks Regulation Bill. Out of doors it was considered that the Bill was an interference with the right of public meeting, no matter what the Government in this House might say to the contrary. Demonstrations were necessary to indicate what was the popular opinion on any subject affecting the interests of the people, and if these were to be prohibited in Hyde Park, there was no other place in the Metropolis where such out-door gatherings could take place. Pressing forward this Bill at so late a period of the Session was regarded by many as an act of vengeance on the part of the Government, who were seeking to recover the honour which they had lost in connection with the Hyde Park meetings. It was said that the Reform Bill was brought forward for the purpose of "dishing" the Whigs, and in like manner it was affirmed by not a few that this Bill had been introduced for the purpose of "dishing" Beales. He would support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton.


said, that the speeches which had been made that day were made in a different tone and, apparently, with a different object from those delivered on. Tuesday, and he trusted he should treat them with all due respect; but he could not help saying that the Bill had not received the treatment to which it was entitled. He was told that this was a totally different measure from the Parks Regulation Bill originally introduced by the Government. In the first part it was different, but in the other parts it was the same. The new portion was the part relating to misdemeanour. But the regulations part was the same as that in the Bill introduced by his right hon. Friend. The Bill now under discussion was read a second time when the House was comparatively full, and when the Leader of the Opposition was present. Subsequently when his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) moved that it was inexpedient to proceed with the Bill, that Motion was rejected by a large majority. The House had decided, therefore, first, that the Bill was a desirable one; and, secondly, that the present was an expedient time for going on with it. In Committee a Motion was made that Mr. Dodson leave the Chair. That was withdrawn on the first occasion. Afterwards when the Bill was in progress, the Motion for reporting Progress was renewed, and the Bill was opposed, without any of its opponents saying what he would suggest. From the beginning of the discussion he had not heard any Member who opposed the Bill say what he would agree to. Not a single hint was thrown out by any speaker as to what kind of regulations he would agree to have incorporated in the Bill. They merely said that they objected to what was in the measure; but no one condescended to specify what portions of the regulations he would agree to. The only Amendment placed on the Paper was one to prevent Her Majesty from exercising her Prerogative of having her soldiers reviewed in one of the Royal demesnes. The Law Officers were of opinion that undoubtedly that was a Prerogative of the Crown. With respect to the observa- tion of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Denman) and other hon. Gentlemen, that Primrose Hill was in just the same category with Hyde Park, this was a mistake. Primrose Hill had been purchased with the public money, on the proposal of Mr. Joseph Hume.


said, that he had not stated what the right hon. Gentleman supposed. He had said that the Crown, or some other authority, must have an equal right to exclude the public in respect of Primrose Hill, to the right claimed for the Crown in respect of Hyde Park.


said, he had been most anxious to conciliate hon. Gentlemen opposite, and get rid of what to some persons might appear to be a ground of objection to the Bill. His hon. and learned Friend said this was a Bill to give to the ranger the power to make by-laws. He (Mr. G. Hardy) entirely repudiated such a construction being placed upon the measure. The ranger already had power to make such laws, but he had not the power of enforcing them by penalties. What the Bill proposed was to give the ranger power to enforce the regulations in the same way as was done in connection with the metropolitan parks. It had been contended that in bringing forward this measure the Government were seeking to enforce exceptional legislation. This was not the case. The town of Liver pool possessed three parks, and another was in course of construction. The corporation of that town had unanimously resolved that no preaching or lecturing should be permitted within them, or that any political or religious demonstrations should be allowed within the inclosure. He could not, therefore, see what was exceptional in the present Bill. If hon. Members determined to defeat the measure by delay and talking it out, he could not conceal from himself that at this late period of the Session they had the power of doing so. But he called upon the House to tell him what mode of procedure they intend to adopt in resisting the Bill before he would state how he would proceed with it. He trusted that the Committee would reject the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman.


said, he wished to call the attention of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) to the fact that on the 22nd of July, when the House divided on the second reading, there were 181 for and 64 against the Bill. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) voted in the majority, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) declined to vote. The moral effect of that division was overpowering.


said, he intended to vote for the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton because he entirely objected to the principle of the Bill. He did not believe that it was the duty of those who were averse, as he was, to the principle of the measure, to propose any Amendments. It was for the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department to state the modifications he was prepared to propose.


said, he should be glad to know if hon. Members opposite intended to try and talk this Bill out, a mode of dealing with it which might be easy enough at this period of the Session. If that were so, it was not a fair, straightforward, or proper way of dealing with a measure like the present.

Mr. DENMAN and Lord ELCHO explained.


said, that so far as he, personally, was concerned he should, whilst his strength lasted, do all he could to talk out the Bill, relieved occasionally by others, so as to obtain time for the renewal of his strength. If the Bill, as modified, were accepted, the odium of excluding the people from the Park would not be thrown upon the House of Commons or the Government, but upon Her Majesty, or her nominee the ranger. He contended that the Bill now before the House never practically passed the second reading.


said, he should vote against the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman), but he still hoped that among moderate men some compromise might be arrived at on the question. The Government in their first Bill said that no meeting of a political character should be held in the Parks without the consent of Her Majesty. That Bill was read a second time, and it recognized the principle of public meeting in the Parks by leave of Her Majesty. The metropolitan Members, no doubt, were under some pressure as regarded this Bill, but he and others who were not under any pressure of that kind, did not want the Parks to be turned into great meeting places. They were especially desirous that no meetings whatever should take place there on Sundays. But inasmuch as the Parks were the only places in which great open-air gatherings on important subjects could be held, they thought that some portion of Hyde Park should be set aside for that purpose. To prevent this privilege being abused they were willing that the Home Secretary should have power to prohibit such gatherings as were likely to disturb public order. The question was, whether the Government, after having consented to leave out the first clause, and to give to the Home Secretary, instead of to the ranger, the power of preparing and carrying out the necessary regulation, would agree to the further concession that some portion of Hyde Park should be set aside for public meetings. He did not think the course taken by the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton was a fair way of dealing with the question; but any measure which they might pass upon this subject should be of such a character as to meet the views of Members of moderate opinions on both sides of the House, and to provoke no hostility out of doors.


said, he had no desire to see the peace of the West End of London interfered with in any way. He should, however, vote with the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton if he went to a division, because he felt that it was very inconvenient, and he might say dangerous, to attempt to legislate upon a question which in any way interfered with the rights of any class at this period. It was highly inexpedient to interfere with or touch those rights within four or five days of the end of the Session. He had heard with great disappointment the observations of the Home Secretary in reply to the remarks of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) and the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell). He did hope that the remarks of those hon. Gentlemen, couched as they were in such moderate and earnest terms, would have met with a much better reception at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, and that he would have yielded to the views so strongly impressed upon him by both sides of the House. If Her Majesty's Government would bring this matter forward next Session, they would find a ready desire to support any measure for the preservation of public order, without interfering with the rights of the labouring classes of the metropolis. There was no analogy whatever between Hyde Park and the Liverpool Park. The right of meeting in Hyde Park for social and political purposes had existed for 300 years with modifications. Even races had taken place there. The origin of this Bill, was that at the end of last Session a disorderly meeting was held in the Park. He believed that the meetings which were held during the present Session would not have induced the Government to propose any such measure. Any meetings which took place within the boundaries of London was certain to be followed by a large Bohemian class, such as was not to be found in any other city. It was the duty of the authorities to take earnest and determined means to preserve the peace; but legislation of this kind was not the proper course. There was no attempt to interfere with the people, and in consequence no breach of the peace occurred, as the people themselves were determined to resist the Bohemian class—the "roughs." He had heard of no inconvenience arising from those meetings, nor did he see any complaints in the press as to the consequences of them. He was not aware that a single Petition from the West End of London in favour of this Bill had been laid on the table. [Mr. GATHORNE HARDY: I presented two very numerously signed myself.] Two Petitions from London scarcely offered very strong evidence in favour of the Bill. If the question were postponed it would obtain a fuller and more satisfactory solution. Endowed parks were subject to such rules as the donors desired to fix; but in the case of Hyde Park, time and usage had conferred rights which this Bill sought to take away. He would earnestly ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department to re-consider this question, and at the end of the Session not to persist with a measure which would produce a feeling out of doors which he was satisfied would be a matter of deep regret here-after.


said, he gave the Government credit for the best motives in pressing the Bill forward; but one party must give way, and it would be more dignified for the majority to yield.


said, he had no intention to delay the House with any lengthened observations; but he wished to say a word with respect to a letter, signed "A Man in the Streets," which the noble Lord the Member for Haddington (Lord Elcho) had read in the Morning Star. It would appear from the observations of the noble Lord that he supposed he (Mr. Taylor) was the author of that letter, but he begged to assure him that he had not written, nor had he even read, the letter. There was another matter with respect to the noble Lord which he wished to allude to. He had said, merely on the strength of a rumour, that the noble Lord wished for, or spoke of, the employment of the Volunteers to keep the people out of Hyde Park. To that statement the noble Lord gave a very emphatic denial, stating that his opinions were quite the reverse of what they had been represented to be. For the statement he had made, therefore, he (Mr. Taylor) begged to apologize to the noble Lord. He could not exactly regret that he did mention the matter because, being an earnest friend of the Volunteer corps, he was glad, for the sake of the corps, with which the noble Lord was so honourably associated, that the public denial had been given. He had endeavoured to maintain the argument that there was an ancient, constitutional, and century-hallowed principle of the right of the people to meet. To that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said that it was perfectly impossible to prove that there was any such right of the public to meet in Hyde Park, and he defied him (Mr. Taylor) to show that up to fifteen years ago there had been any attempt at all to meet in the Park. That was no answer to his argument. What he said was, that there existed a constitutional right of the people to meet in any convenient and public place. He did not say there was any particular right to meet in Hyde Park or any other place. Sixty years ago Hyde Park was outside London, and as much out of place as Battersea Park now was. The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) had said that the course taken in opposition to the Bill was unjustifiable. He took issue with the hon. Member on that. The course taken was not unjustifiable. If the Government brought the Bill through the House they would do it by the most unfair coercion to that side of the House on which he sat. If the Government had a majority on the Bill it would be a majority of mere officials. Is was a justification for using all the forms of the House to defeat the measure, that although he and his friends were a minority in the House, they really represented the great community out of doors. He had had the curiosity to take the fourteen Members who spoke against the Bill on Tuesday, and he placed opposite their names the population in 1861 of the places they represented. [Laughter.] He was quite aware that hon. Gentlemen opposite paid no attention to large constituencies. The fourteen Members represented a total population of about 2,000,000, of which the registered electors were 130,000. That was to say, they each represented an average population of 153,000, and an average of electors of between 9,000 and 10,000. [Major ANSON: But have the minorities been deducted from those numbers?] They have not. On the ground that they stood there supported by a large mass of public opinion, he renewed his appeal to the Government. To strengthen it he would say that there was really no practical necessity to pass this measure, that it was likely to produce bad blood in the country, and that there was no practical difficulty in coming to a satisfactory arrangement at a future time. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and all the more moderate men who sat opposite had acknowledged that the people had a constitutional right to hold meetings, and many of them admitted that as a safety valve that right was necessary. No man among his friends on that (the Opposition) side of the House, and no member of the Reform League, ever denied that regulations were essential, not only for the interests of the people, but for those of the Government. They always deprecated the idea of public meetings degenerating into tumultuous assemblies. Nothing but a firmness, which he did not hesitate to call obstinacy, could make the Government persevere with this measure.


said, the suggestion of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Watkin) was well worthy the attention of a Select Committee, but not one for settlement across the table. Besides, the Government had not given any intimation that they would accede to the proposal to set apart a portion of the Park for public meetings. He must, therefore, press his Motion to a division.

Question put.

The Committee divided: — Ayes 31; Noes 86; Majority 55.


said, that after the satisfactory decision which had just taken place, and considering the speeches which had been delivered by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) and another hon. Member (Mr. Taylor), who stated that they intended to oppose every possible obstacle to the further progress of the measure, considering also the advanced period of the Session and the impossibility of carrying any such measure this year, it would, in his opinion, be wise for the Government to withdraw the bill. The principle of the Bill had been already accepted. That fact would, he hoped, influence those who might otherwise have attempted to promote any demonstration. Knowing the firmness of the hon. Member for Peterborough, he ventured most humbly to suggest to Her Majesty's Government that they would consult the best interests of this question by dropping the measure until next Session.


said, he was not in favour of great meetings being held in the Royal Parks. Indeed, he looked with disfavour on any street demonstrations at all, as having a character of intimidation and menace rather than as being fit occasions for discussion and comment. At a former discussion on this Bill, it was suggested that if you excluded the public from those parks you virtually took away from them the constitutional privileges they enjoyed, because it would not be convenient to the great middle classes of this city to bold a large public meeting in any other place than Hyde Park. They knew, from the accounts in the newspapers, that the numbers attending the meetings in the Park were absolutely insignificant in comparison with its extent, and interfered hardly at all with the comfort or enjoyment of visitors. Government had done so much to satisfy the political requirements and wishes of the people that it was to be regretted they should new insist upon proceeding with a Bill that was directly aimed at the liberties of the people. It would be a far wiser course now to withdraw it, and to bring it forward next Session, when they could calmly consider what were the questions involved. It seemed like a note of defiance, sounded at a time when all was calm, tranquil, and contented out of doors, and when they had done much to satisfy the people. The public believed, rightly or wrongly, that they were lessees of the Parks, and that they had a right to the Parks. They paid a large annual revenue for the use of them. No one could dispute the right to re-consider the privileges and powers of the Crown in reference to the parks. Had those powers been clearly stated there would have been no occasion for legislation; but, as they were doubted, it was not in accordance with the spirit which ought to guide Englishmen in their deliberations to shut out discussion. It must be recollected that these Parks were swamps when the contracts subsisting were made in regard to them. They were reclaimed at the public cost, and £25,000 a year of the public money had been subsequently spent in adorning them. The reviews of the Household troops which occasionally took place in them were far more injurious than any public meetings. He recollected reading in a novel of Mrs. Gore how lamentable it was to see the Park turned into a scorched and blasted heath from being trampled down by the feet of the soldiery. He had reason to believe that the Government and the police were really favourable to street demonstrations, for on the 9th November last he had been requested to get out of his carriage at the end of the Strand on an occasion of the Lord Mayor's show. He could not help thinking that a meeting on a subject of Imperial interest was of greater importance than a street procession occasioned by the fact of the magistrates of the City having chosen their Chairman, and going to Westminster to get him approved by the Judges. The object they were now contending for was to have this important question considered calmly and in a manner accordant with the interests of the whole community. He begged to move that the Chairman report Progress.


The course taken by the hon. Member for Dudley places me in a position of difficulty. If I continue to withstand the opposition to the Bill, I shall be dealing with extreme harshness by my Friends who have supported it hitherto, and it will become practically impossible for the House of Lords to pass the Bill without adopting an unusual course consequent on the delay caused by hon. Members opposite. I wish to stand clear in this matter. I have been perfectly earnest in my intention to pass the Bill. I do not yield to threats, whether uttered out of doors or expressed in letters written to myself. I am prepared to justify the course I have taken in respect to the Bill, in which course I was backed by the House on the second reading. I have been supported by the House in reference to the provi- sions in this Bill, and not merely as has been said in reference to provisions contained in a former Bill. I have looked back to the former Bill, and I find in it the provisions with respect to unlawful assemblies which now appear on the face of this Bill. I find also that the regulations contained in it, though varied in form, are proposed for adoption by the present Bill. Again, the way in which I proposed to proceed with the Bill has been sanctioned by the House. To-day, in a division, carried, not by official Members, but by a considerable majority exclusive of official Members, the Bill has been again supported, and the feeling of the House again shown in its favour. At the same time, from the language of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Sheridan) and the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Taylor), it is quite plain that they will pursue their opposition to the Bill. The hon. Member for Dudley also—and let me say it with great respect, he can speak very much better when the object which he has in view is different—by his frequent glances at the clock, enabled me to judge what was passing in his mind. I know, therefore, that I cannot get the Bill through Committee under the circumstances. Accordingly, yielding—must I say—to the obstinate minority who will not allow me to go on in the ordinary course, I must beg to move, Mr. Dodson, that you do leave the Chair.


said, he must disclaim the supposition of having been actuated by any factious motives.


said, that the handsome manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had given up the Bill would be appreciated by the House and the country.

Motion negatived.

House resumed.

[No Report.]