HC Deb 22 July 1867 vol 188 cc1878-96

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, it had been introduced by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) before Whitsuntide, and, when his attention had been called to it after coming to the Home Office, he stated that he would put certain Amendments on the Paper, which would show his intention as to the mode in which the Bill should be framed if it went into Committee. Practically the question was whether there should exist, with reference to the Royal Parks, that jurisdiction which, he believed, existed as to all other Parks in the country and all other recreation grounds connected with large towns? He thought the present time peculiarly suited to the consideration of this measure, inasmuch as there was now a complete cessation from political agitation in connection with the assumed right of meeting in the Royal Parks. The existing law presented difficulties in the way of enforcing the rights of the Crown, not only in respect to political meetings, but also in respect to assemblages in the Royal Parks for the purposes of preaching, of musical performances, or of games. Practically the only remedy against such meetings was a resort to the ordinary law of trespass. He believed that there was nothing more clearly established than the title of the Crown over these Parks. It had been laid down in the most distinct and peremptory terms, and might be said to be conclusively established; but the difficulty was as to how it should be enforced; and hence the necessity for legislation. In trying the question merely of civil trespass, if there was no actual damage, the verdict might be for so small a sum that no useful result would follow. If the Crown proceeded by writ of intrusion, the old form of procedure, which was seldom acted upon, it might be open to very technical objections, and might, after all, lead to no practical result. The legal Opinions given on this subject had been read to the House on a former occasion. To the first was attached the names of the Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench, Lord Westbury, and Mr. Henry Willes; to the second, the names of Lord Cairns and Sir William Bovill; and to the last Opinion the names were appended of Lord Justice Rolt and the Attorney General. All these great authorities expressed their opinion most confidently in favour of the right of the Crown to exclude the public from the Royal Parks. The right actually existed and was practically exercised at certain periods every day—the Parks being closed at certain hours. But so long as acts done were legal in themselves they could only be proceeded against if committed in the Parka, as for civil trespass. That was not, he believed, the case in any other recreation ground in the country. There was generally a power to lay down rules by which persons were summarily liable to be taken before the magistrates, and fined or dealt with as the case might require. If such a power were laid down by an Act of Parliament, this question would at once be settled. The only way in which this question had become complicated had been from want of power to enforce rights which were acknowledged to exist. It had been complicated so long ago as 1855, when disturbances arose which attracted the attention of the House and the public. A Commission was appointed to inquire into the subject. Objections were entertained to the Sunday Trading (Lord Grosvenor's) Act. Meetings of the most tumultuous character were held against it, which rendered those Parks almost inaccessible to persons who were peaceably disposed, and who wished to use them for the purposes of recreation. The Commission reported— It seems to us that meetings of this nature might properly be interdicted and suppressed as novel and not sanctioned by usage or the regulations of Hyde Park. To make Hyde Park an arena for the discussion of popular and exciting topics would be inconsistent with the chief purposes for which it is thrown open to and used by the public. After that religious discussions were got up, and the police had orders to remove those who engaged in them; but, in consequence of what had taken place this year, the preachers said, "You don't remove others and you have no right to remove us from the Park." But they had been removed; they submitted, and in no case had any question of law been raised as to the right of the police to remove those having been guilty of a breach of the conditions in which they were admitted to the Park. In 1862 the Garibaldi riots took place between those who were in favour of Garibaldi and others from the Irish quarters who were in opposition to him, when violent breaches of the peace took place, and the Parks were again rendered almost inaccessible to the public. The remedy was not clear and distinct. It often happened that the most guilty parties who occasioned those meetings in the Parks, and were really responsible for them, absented themselves from them, and therefore could not be proceeded against except by civil trespass. Certain steps were taken last year. The gates were closed, so that those who disputed the right of the Crown might have the opportunity of doing so. But the parties turned aside and did not enter the gates. They had an opportunity of testing the law at that time, but the question had not been raised, and so far as they were concerned there seemed to be an admission that the Crown had the right to close the gates. This was not a political question at all, because the mode in which the present Government viewed the subject was that also in which the right hon. Gentleman the former Secretary of State regarded it. On July 24, 1866, the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) said— Sir Richard Mayne informed me that it was reported that it was intended to hold a meeting in Hyde Park. I told him that, in accordance with the course that had been adopted for some years past by the Government, the meeting in Hyde Park would not be permitted, and that I wished that an intimation to that effect should be made to those who were engaged in organizing the proposed meeting. I must, therefore, take upon myself a full share of responsibility for having acted on the opinion that it is inexpedient that meetings of a political character should be held in Hyde Park, and that it is utterly incompatible with the purpose for which the Parks are thrown open that large assemblages of people for making speeches or passing resolutions on political or religious matters should be permitted to take place in them."—[3 Hansard, clxxxiv, 1406.] That was precisely the view which the present Government took. At present the Parks of London were not protected by law as they were in other parts of the country, and therefore it was necessary that some legislation should take place on the subject. Look at what happened with regard to these meetings in the Parks. If no steps were taken by the Government, great blame would be thrown upon them for not having a sufficient body of police present to protect the public, whereas a sufficient force could not be brought together without great expense and trouble, and without withdrawing the police from other parts of the metropolis. It must be recollected that, however peaceable those who formed the meeting might be, it was inevitable that there would be a large number of hangers-on who would take the opportunity of plundering and annoying those who happened to be in the neighbourhood. It must not be supposed that this question related to Hyde Park alone; the whole of the Royal Parks were in the same position, being left without any special legislation. The only object of this Bill was the protection of the public, who had a right to the unrestricted enjoyment of the Parks. It was said that on a recent occasion a great number of persons were present who took no part in the meeting, but it must not be forgotten that many persons were prevented from visiting the Park on that occasion by fear. It should be distinctly understood that the Parks were free from any assemblage which could alarm the most timid. The Bill proposed that any meeting held in the Royal Parks without the permission of the Crown should be an illegal assembly, and that the First Commissioner of Works should have power to make by-laws, the breach of which should be punishable by a small fine not to exceed 40s., or some other sum to be determined upon in Committee. He had no wish that there should be any protracted discussion upon this Bill, neither did he wish it to be supposed that any political or religious question was raised by it. The Bill would operate as much for the benefit of the working as of any other class, seeing that its object was to preserve the Parks for the recreation of the people. As he saw in his place the hon. Member opposite who had put a Question to him the other day with regard to Trafalgar Square, he might inform him that that Square was by the 6 & 7 Vict. c. 60, put under the control of the Crown and of the First Commissioner of Works, but being within one mile of Westminster Hall it also came within the operation of the 57 Geo. III., which made it illegal for fifty or more persons to assemble within one mile of Westminster Hall for the purpose of agreeing to petitions with a view to overawing Parliament. He had adopted the form of that Act in dealing with public meetings held in the Royal Parks.


inquired what penalties the Bill proposed to impose on those who were guilty of a breach of its provisions?


said, it was an indictable offence punished with fine and imprisonment. He thought that important cases of breaches of the law in this respect should be tried by a jury, but other and minor cases might be dealt with summarily. His object was to give the same kind of protection to the Royal Parks that was enjoyed by public Parks in the country, and to enable the public to use them as places of recreation and enjoyment. There was a conclusive right in the Crown to regulate the use of the Royal Parks, but greater facilities were required for enforcing it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Gathorne Hardy.)


said, he had expected from the Government a measure far more perfect and more adequate than the one that had been proposed. He thought that, instead of dealing with the question of the right of meeting in the Royal Parks only, they ought to have boldly grappled with the question, whether any open-air meetings ought to be permitted in the metropolis without the consent of the authorities. It would be well that the law on the subject should be clearly stated, as on a recent occasion it was loudly asserted by persons who ought to have known better, that his right hon. Friend the then Secretary of the Home Department was wrong in his view of the law, and that Mr. Beales was right. That opinion was entirely erroneous, and those who attended the meeting did so in wilful defiance of the law. He did not say that their conduct amounted to an actual breach of the law, as individual notices had not been served; but what he did say was, that the meeting was held in wilful defiance of the rights of the Crown. He thought that if the people of the metropolis had a right to meet in great numbers at the summons of irresponsible persons, it would be a mistake to prevent their assembling in Hyde Park, which would be a most convenient place. It was a great error to grant that there was a right of meeting, and then to forbid Hyde Park as a place of meeting on the ground that assemblies held there might interfere with the amusements of certain classes. That argument was strongly urged by idle men at the clubs when a difficulty arose last summer, and so strongly did he feel on the subject that he determined to unite himself to those who sought to open the Parks for public meetings, and he went to see Mr. Beales on this subject. He had not the good fortune to meet the gentleman, or perhaps, he had the good fortune not to meet him. [A laugh.] He said that to show that he did not look at the question in any class light. The question was, had three or four or half a dozen people the right to call together in the metropolis 20,000 or 30,000 people? If there was such a right it was one that ought not to be permitted to exist. What would be the result of such meetings in times of excitement, for there was no real excitement during the Reform agitation? The people then did everything in their power to keep order, as they wished to show that they were fitted for a large extension of political power; but at one of the meetings a speaker suggested that they should enlist into their service, as a kind of camp followers, the dangerous classes, and that they should hold such meetings every week as would compel the shopkeepers of the metropolis to close their shops on the days of the meetings. It was not so long since riots had occurred at Nottingham, at Bristol, and elsewhere, and to avert such disgraceful scenes from the metropolis it was the duty of the Government to see that, now that the people had a legitimate channel for the expression of their opinions, they should not take an unconstitutional way of making them known. The Whig demagogues of other days talked of the sovereignty of the people, but little good came of it. The present Ministry had for the first time established that sovereignty on a firm basis, and it was their especial duty to see that the people, in the exercise of their power, kept within proper limits. He opposed the Bill as imperfect and inadequate, and moved, "That it is not expedient to deal with the question of Public Meetings in the metropolis only with reference to the Royal Parks."

Motion not put.


rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months. He thought that the Bill ought to be termed "A Bill to take away the right of public meeting in the metropolis." ["Oh, oh!"] It was true that nominally the right of public meeting was preserved; but they should remember the words of Shylock: "You take my house when you do take the prop that doth sustain my house; you take my life when you do take the means whereby I live." The right of public meeting was spared; but it was necessary that there should be a place for holding such meeting; and the Bill deprived the people of the metropolis of the only convenient place in which they could assemble, or, rather, the only convenient place in which such meetings could be held. In certain portions of the Bill the Parks were treated as the property of the public; in others as that of the Queen. He did not, of course, mean to say that the Bill treated the Parks as if they were the private property of the Queen, although one Gentleman, who said, "Why should the Queen permit a political meeting to be held without her consent in Hyde Park any more than I would in my own park?" appeared to favour that idea. From 1 Geo. III. to 14 & 15 Vict. a whole series of Acts had been passed vesting the management of the Parks in Commissioners (as see Clause 1), public servants expending public money, whereas by Clause A in the Bill the management was referred to as vested in the Prerogative of Her Majesty. If the law, as stated in Clause A, was correct—if the management and control of the Parks was the Prerogative of the Crown—the whole policy of the Government with reference to the public meetings in Hyde Park had been—to use a phrase which was classical on the other side — one of "meddle and muddle." He was surprised the Bill had been again brought forward. He should have thought they would rather have wished to have buried in oblivion what had taken place with regard to the Royal Parks during the last fifteen months rather than revive it. He thought that it was now generally acknowledged that every evil consequence that had attended the public meetings in Hyde Park was due to the mismanagement of Government, and that the leaders of the people had behaved in a manner not only blameless, but praiseworthy. In July last it was determined to hold a public meeting in Hyde Park. The Government then held an Opinion, signed by Sir Alexander Cockburn, Lord Westbury, and Mr. Justice Willes, stating that although the Government had a right to keep the public out, yet, if persons who had once entered held a meeting, or preached, they could not be turned out without proper notice. What did the Government do? They guarded certain points at which entrance might be effected; they left a long line of crazy old railings undefended; the people crowded around these rails, and they went down. He believed that most men were now agreed in the opinion that the people went there with no idea whatever of forcing their way in. The moment the people entered, the authorities—although they held a legal Opinion informing them that persons who had once entered the Park could only be dealt with in the regular course of law—let loose the police on the people to hunt down and assault them. He found no fault with the police, for they were under the control of the Government, and the fault was with the latter. Great excitement prevailed for two or three days, and then the Government called on Mr. Beales to maintain order and keep the peace. Last May it was proposed to hold another meeting in Hyde Park, and the Government took another legal Opinion. Sir Hugh Cairns and Mr. Bovill, the then Law Officers of the Crown, stated that the contemplated assembly was not unlawful so long as those who took part in it conducted themselves in an orderly manner, and that practically, by legal means, the proposed meeting could not be dispersed. The Government, nevertheless, issued the following manifesto:— Whereas it has been publicly announced that a meeting will be held in Hyde Park on Monday, the 6th day of May, for the purpose of political discussion; and whereas the use of the Park for the purpose of holding such meeting is not permitted, and interferes with the object for which Her Majesty has been pleased to open the Park for the general enjoyment of her people; now all persons are hereby warned and admonished to abstain from attending, aiding, or taking part in any such meeting, or from entering the Park with a view to attend, aid, or take part in such meeting. "S. H. WALPOLE.

"Home Office, Whitehall, May 1."

Placards had been posted throughout the streets, warning persons against entering the Park and taking part in the meeting. The organs of the Government and the press fulminated threats against the people — infantry, cavalry, and artillery were prepared for action at the different railway stations, but at the last moment the Government withdrew from the contest. If it were possible to irritate the people, mischief might have arisen from what the Government had done, He did not say that such was the intention of the Government, but they could not have taken a course more calculated to do so. The meeting was held. It was numerous, but peaceful, quiet, and orderly. It was admitted in both Houses of Parliament that nothing could have been more praiseworthy or more excellent than the demeanour of those who attended that meeting, and it clear that the Government withdrew because they found that they had no law on their side. The Reform League were not the violent and bloodthirsty demagogues they had been represented by some persons in that House to be. He was present at a meeting of the Reform League before the meeting in the Park took place, and their only desire was fairly and firmly to try the question of the people's right to meet in the Parks. The chairman of one of the platforms announced that, to prevent the occurrence of anything unpleasant, he would have around him a guard of thirty or forty persons, who would open their ranks to admit any officer who came to arrest him. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, when answering a deputation respecting the removal of Knightsbridge Barracks, used the following language:— Looking to recent events, which none of them could ignore, he would ask whether it was not important that, wherever a barrack should be placed, it should be very handy? He could tell the right hon. Gentleman that nothing could be less convenient and handy than to interfere with the exercise of the people's rights by the introduction of a military force. The right hon. Gentleman should recollect the moderate and statesmanlike language of Lord Russell on the subject. His Lordship said— With regard to the future, I do hope that, having committed two such capital mistakes—the great mistake last year of trying to keep the people out, and the mistake this year which has led to a great diminution of the respect for authority—the Government will now leave Hyde Park alone."—[3 Hansard, clxxxvii. 231.] It was said as an argument against such public meetings that they were too large for public discussion, and therefore answered no useful purpose. He dared to say that very few persons changed their opinions in consequence of anything they heard on such occasions, but that did not prove that such assemblies were useless. It was said last year that the people did not want Reform, but, thanks to these great meetings in the metropolis and elsewhere, hon. Gentlemen opposite were convinced that they were in error. It was seen, indeed, that the people were so much in earnest as to compel right hon. Gentlemen opposite to come forward with the most Radical measure of Reform ever proposed by the Government of this country. But, then, it was said that these meetings were objectionable and dangerous, because they brought together so many of the class called "roughs." In all great populations there would be found a certain number of persons—call them "roughs" or "residuum" — who were drunken, depraved, and dishonest. But he maintained that it was the duty of the Government to protect the working classes in Reform meetings against the "roughs," just as they protected the upper classes against them in reviews and at other gatherings. The presence of these roughs was no reason why the Government should put a stop to public meetings, but was a reason why they should protect the right of public meeting against the disorderly and dangerous classes. The protection of the right of public meeting was more important than the protection of flower-beds; and he defied any person to say that when the people did meet in the Park a single flower was destroyed. There was no use in passing the Bill or in multiplying legistion, without deriving from it any possible advantage. The Government could not draw up a Bill of indictment against a whole people, or pass a law that would trammel their liberties. Let it not be said that in the Session of Parliament in which they had passed the most Radical measure of Reform ever introduced in that House, they had also passed a measure to abrogate the right of meeting. They had, by a generous admission of the people to the franchise, done away with the exclusion that previously existed. The people admitted to the franchise could now speak through their representatives in Parliament; and there being now, as he believed, an end of the meetings in the Park, was it advisable to recall all the ill-feeling that had been excited by the interference of the Government? By passing this Bill they would create a new statutable offence, and its extent and limit in reference to public meetings should be clearly defined. Some persons might meet spontaneously without any previous notification. During the visit of Garibaldi such a meeting took place, and if this Bill had been passed at that time the persons attending that meeting would have been liable to arrest. If we were about to imitate the tactics of our neighbours accross the Channel with respect to the right of public meeting we must do so to a still greater extent even than was now proposed, and, perhaps, it would eventually be found necessary to appoint a new officer with the title of Prefect of the Thames. He, for one, should not like to see such a state of things brought about, and for these reasons, as well as for many others which he should not take up the time of the House by stating, he should move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Taylor.)


said, he concurred with the object of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. Neate), but had not seconded the proposal because he thought a confusion might have arisen between the two Amendments by which the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Taylor) might have gained an undue advantage. The hon. Member for Leicester had complained of the Bill as tending to establish an undue extension of the Prerogative of the Crown. The hon. Member did not seem to be aware that there was no Prerogative except that which was declared enacted and limited by law. He (Mr. Newdegate) admitted that the Bill strengthened the Prerogative of the Crown in the matter of the Parks by supplementing it with the power of intervention by the Board of Works. He admitted that this was a valid objection, for he was opposed to vesting extraordinary discretionary power, which was virtually arbitrary power, in the hands of officials with respect to matters touching the right of public meeting. He (Mr. Newdegate) had much rather there had been no discretionary power proposed to be vested in the Board of Works or any other office. He would rather see the principle of the old Act of Geo. III., under which public meetings during the sitting of Parliament were not allowed to be held within one mile of the House, extended to three miles. This Bill was not, as the hon. Member seemed to think, a specimen of monarchical legislation. The United States of America, when their Republican Constitution was established, reserved the federal territory of Columbia—six miles round the Capital—free from all public meetings, and kept that territory non-political under the exclusive and absolute power of Congress, for the sake of guarding against that system of terrorism which formerly had existed in Paris, and, by overawing the legislative assemblies, had destroyed the freedom of France. In 1848 a large number of persons from Bristol came to that House, to a Friend of his, and threatened that the Bristol people would come to London in great strength, and the reply they got was: "You may, if you can, bring the Bristol mob to London, but the London mob will lick them—will break their heads and send them back." He (Mr. Newdegate) did not doubt that if the terrorism of large meetings in the metropolis was found to prevail that the people would come up from the midland counties to support that House against such dictation; but what would be the consequence, confusion worse confounded. It was therefore absolutely necessary to guard the freedom of the deliberations of that House from invasion by local mobs. He believed the Reform Bill would pass, and that they would thereby secure a full expression of the popular will. But having done that, he thought it would be better if the Government had followed the example set by the Statute of Geo. III., passed in 1817, by which it was enacted that not always, not during election times, but during the sittings of Parliament, the right of public meeting should be prohibited within three miles of the House. Such a measure would have been less arbitrary in its character and principle than rendering the exercise of the right of public meeting subject to the discretion of the Ministry, while it would secure the freedom of deliberation to the House. And there was another reason for this. Parliament had decided that the Courts of Law should be removed from Westminster Hall to Lincoln's-inn-fields. Now the Act of Geo. III., was intended for the protection of the Courts of Law as well as of Parliament. The removal therefore of the Courts of Law afforded a good reason for extending the sphere of the operations of the Act of Geo. III., and he regretted that Her Majesty's Government had not taken that course rather than introducing the present measure.


said, among the many, to me, regretable things which were said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Neate), there was one with which I entirely agree: that this question is entirely a political question. It is only as a political question that I care about it. I see no reason why we should at present discuss all the purposes for which the Parks should or should not be allowed to be used. All I am anxious about is that political meetings should be allowed to be held there. And why do I desire this? Because it has been for centuries the pride of this country, and one of its most valued distinctions from the despotically-governed countries of the Continent, that a man has a right to speak his mind, on politics or on any other subject, to those who would listen to him, when and where he will. He has not a right to force himself upon anyone; he has not a right to intrude upon private property; but wheresoever he has a right to be, there, according to the Constitution of this country, he has a right to talk politics, to one, to fifty, or to 50,000 persons. I stand up for the right of doing this in the Parks. I am not going to discuss this matter as an affair of technical law. We are not here as lawyers, but as legislators. We are not now considering what is the interpretation of the existing law; we are considering what the law ought to be. We are told that the Parks belong to the Crown, but the Crown means Her Majesty's Government. Her Majesty's Government of course have power over the Parks; they have power over all thoroughfares, all public places, but they have it for purposes strictly denned. It is not, I believe, even pretended that the Parks are the property of the Sovereign in the same manner as Balmoral and Osborne are her property. They are part of the hereditary property of the Crown, which the Sovereign at her accession gave up to the nation in exchange for the Civil List; and the right hon. Gentleman would find some difficulty in showing that the surrender was accompanied with any condition as to the particular uses to which the Parks should be applied — any stipulation confining their use to walking and riding, or, as it is called, recreation. As long as the compact with Her Majesty exists, so long, I contend, the Parks are public property, to be managed for public uses at the public expense, and to be applied to all uses conducive to the public interest. If a technical right of exclusion has been allowed to be kept up, it is for police purposes—for the safety of the public property and the maintenance of the public peace—and not for the restriction of the freedom of public speaking. On what principle is the House asked to curtail this inherited freedom of speech, and make it penal for the people to use that freedom in large numbers, in the only places now left in the metropolis where large numbers can conveniently be assembled? On no principle can this be done, except that of the most repressive acts of the Governments most jealous of public freedom. The French Emperor says that twenty-one people shall not meet and talk polities in a drawing-room without his license. Her Majesty's Government only says that 100,000 people shall not meet for a similar purpose in the Parks without theirs. This is a wide difference in degree. It is much better to have our lips sealed in the Parks than in our own houses—better that free speech should be limited to a few thousands or hundreds than to tens; but the principle is the same, and if once it is admitted, a violation has commenced of the traditional liberties of the country, and the extent to which such violation may afterwards be carried becomes a mere question of detail. But what is the justification alleged for introducing arbitrary restrictions by which the holding of a great open-air meeting in London without the previous consent of the Government will be made impossible? The excuses which profess to be founded on public convenience do not deserve an answer, even if they had not been already answered a hundred times; the fact is, no one believes them to be serious. There is no decent argument for the interdiction of political meetings in the Park, which does not proceed on the assumption that political meetings are not a legitimate purpose to apply a public place to, and that it is, on the whole, a desirable thing to discourage them. I wish hon. Gentlemen to be aware what it is they are asked to vote for; what doctrine respecting the constitional liberties of this country they will give their adhesion to if they support the Bill. The opinion they will pledge themselves to is something like this — unfortunately the people of this country are so foolish that they will have the right of holding large political meetings, and it is impossible to take it from them by law; but that right, though necessary, is a necessary evil, and it is a point gained to render its exercise more rare by throwing impediments in its way. If hon. Gentlemen opposite would be candid, I am persuaded they would confess that this is a fair statement of what is really in their minds. It is proved by the arguments they use. They say that these multitudinous meetings are not held for the purpose of discussion, but for intimidation. Sir, I believe public meetings, multitudinous or not, seldom are intended for discussion. That is not their function. They are a public manifestation of the strength of those who are of a certain opinion. It is easy to give this a bad name; but it is one of the recognized springs of our Constitution. Let us not be intimidated by the word "intimidation." Will any one say that the numbers and enthusiasm of those who join in asking anything from Parliament, are not one of the elements which a Statesman ought to have before him, and which a wise Statesman will take into consideration in deciding whether to grant or to refuse the request? We are told that threatening language is used at these meetings. In a time of excitement there are always persons who use threatening language. But we can bear a great deal of that sort of thing, without being the worse for it, in a country which has inherited from its ancestors the right of political demonstration. It cannot be borne quite so well by countries which do not possess this right. Then, the discontent, which cannot exhale itself in public meetings, bursts forth in insurrections, which, whether successful or repressed, always leave behind them a long train of calamitous consequences. But it is said that it is not meant to put down these public meetings, or to prevent them from being held. No; but you mean to render them more difficult; you mean to impose conditions on them, other than that of keeping the public peace. Now, any condition whatever imposed on political meetings, over and above those by which every transaction of any of Her Majesty's subjects is necessarily bound—and any restriction of place or time imposed on political speech, which is not imposed on other speech—involves the same vicious and unconstitutional principle. Sir, I contend that all open spaces belonging to the public, in which large numbers can congregate without doing mischief, should be freely open for the purpose of public meetings, subject to the precautions necessary for the preservation of the peace. A great meeting cannot possibly be called together in London without the Government knowing of it before-hand, and having ample warning to have a sufficient force of police at hand to meet any exigency, however improbable. I must therefore oppose this Bill to the utmost.


said, he thought that there could be no second opinion in the mind of any gentleman living within a radius of two miles of Hyde Park as to the necessity for the measure introduced by the Government. From time immemorial the Parks had been regarded as places of recreation and peaceful enjoyment, and if political meetings were allowed there it would be impossible for the public to take advantage of them for their legitimate purposes. He was glad to see that, though late, the Government had taken up the matter.


said he did not think the Parks were the most suitable places for political meetings; but he would vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leicester, because the Bill contained two clauses the most objectionable that were ever submitted to the House of Commons. The 3rd clause infringed in the most direct and absolute manner the constitutional right of every inhabitant of the country. The Bill prohibited the people from holding meetings, but it permitted meetings under certain circumstances—if the permission of Her Majesty could be obtained —which meant, of course, the permission of the Government. Were hon. Gentlemen prepared to say that those who were about to express opinions in opposition to the Government should be prohibited from holding their meetings, while, if their opinions were favourable to the Government, they would be permitted to hold them? The 4th clause provided that any person convening, or aiding, or assisting in convening a meeting in contravention of this Act, whether such meeting was held or not, could, without warrant, be arrested, and, at the discretion of a magistrate, sent to prison. He felt it was impossible for the House of Commons to pass such a clause as that, which would render any hon. Member who wrote to his friend that he thought it desirable that a meeting should be held in the Park liable to be proceeded against as "assisting in convening" the meeting, and sent to prison. He agreed with the hon. Member for Leicester that this was not the time to bring forward such a measure. It was very well known that if the Government brought it forward at the time of their most lamentable administrative failure which brought them into such universal ridicule, there was not an hon. Gentleman on the Ministerial side, except those occupying the Treasury Bench, who would have supported it. ["Oh!"] Now, when the matter had toned down, was not that the time to ask the House of Commons to pass such a measure? He trusted the House would reject this Bill; if it passed it he was sure that in the new House a Motion would be made for its repeal; if he were returned he would move that Motion himself, and he was sure it would be carried by an overwhelming majority.


said, all sensible people with whom he had conversed held that these meetings were idle and mischievous. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Taylor) said that this Bill was intended to put down public discussion. He would not deny that he said so.


I do deny it.


Then you will deny anything. ["Order!"]


I rise to Order.


He is returned by the refuse of a large constituency. ["Order!"]


I rise to Order, Sir. I move that the words of the hon. Member be taken down.


The hon. Member has used an expression which is not in Order. He has stated that the hon. Member is returned by the refuse of a large constituency. When an hon. Member has been duly returned to this House that is not a proper way of describing his return.


I only meant that the hon. Gentleman included such among his supporters. ["Order!"]


I rise to Order. I ask you, Sir, whether the hon. Gentleman has withdrawn the expression he used?


I understand the hon. Gentleman to say he accepts the Rule of Order laid down.


I do withdraw it, and I am sorry for having used it. He denied that this Bill was intended to put down public discussion. Only, when it was remembered that this metropolis included 3,000,000, and that the roughs were estimated at 50,000, if they were to be the camp followers of every meeting that was held, he thought it was a pity that they should be allowed to trample down and destroy the Parks which it cost the country so many thousands a year to maintain. He had no doubt that, if allowed on Primrose Hill, the meetings would die out as they did in Trafalgar Square, where it was disgusting to see the way in which the monuments were trampled under foot. As to the right of public discussion, he went to the Reform League meeting in May last, and there certainly was a great collection of people, but not one man in fifty took any part in the discussions that were going on. The people were walking over the Park, and he would allow that everything was carried on most orderly. He believed the Reform League were in very great fear lest anything disorderly should happen, and accordingly brought the proceedings to a conclusion as speedily as possible. It was simply ridiculous to think of discussing any question in an arena like Hyde Park.


said, the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill had spoken of Amendments of which the House had no knowledge. [Mr. GATHORNE HARDY: They have been on the table for a fortnight.] No hon. Member seemed to know anything about them. He thought the most serious objection to the Bill was that power was given to hold public meetings if the consent of the Government had been previously obtained, while no such meetings could be held if the consent were withheld. Unquestionably, the holding of public meetings in the Parks was a great evil; but it was like many other necessary evils in the country. In his opinion, it was particularly objectionable that the Government should have the power of preventing meetings which might be unfavourable to them, believing that public meetings formed a safety valve calculated to prevent national misfortunes.


asked some information from the First Commissioner of Works as to the time when the Hyde Park railings would be finished, and who the contractor for them was? The announcement that the railings would not be completed until the end of next Session appeared to have created great dissatisfaction.


said, the House considered the question at this disadvantage—that they were discussing a Bill on the second reading without having in their hands the precise terms which the Home Secretary had expressed his readiness to make. He knew that was not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman, but arose from a technicality; but it was desirable that hon. Members should have the opportunity of understanding the whole matter distinctly. It was most desirable that the power should exist of preventing these Parks being so appropriated as to interfere with the objects for which they were supported at considerable expense. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would, in the event of the Bill being read a second time, consent to its being committed pro formâ, in order that hon. Members might have time to consider its provisions. On that condition he should vote in favour of the second reading of the Bill.


was willing to assent to the proposal of the right hon. Baronet.


said, he hoped it would be thoroughly understood that that undertaking went further than mere words. It was necessary to say this, because it was sometimes remarked that those who had assented to the second reading of a Bill without a discussion were pledged to its principles.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided;—Ayes 181; Noes 64: Majority 117.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow, at Twelve of the clock.

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