§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, he rose to move by way of Amendment—That this House deems it inexpedient to proceed further at the present moment with any Bill touching the regulation of the Parks.He was induced to make that Motion from the fact that throughout this Session, and the greater portion of last Session, this question had been continually before the House; but, notwithstanding so many attempts had been made to legislate upon this subject, they had all signally failed. On the 3rd of May a Bill was brought in for the better and more effectually securing the use of certain Royal Parks and Gardens for the enjoyment and recreation of Her Majesty's subjects, and that Bill was called "Meetings in the Royal Parks Bill." The Bill now before the House was one different in its enactment and title, and was called the "Parks Regulation Bill." There had been, no doubt, great difficulty felt by the Government in dealing with a question which in a great measure affected the liberty of the subject 383 and the privileges enjoyed up to the present moment. That they found great difficulty in dealing with the subject was apparent, because no sooner was the first Bill read a second time by a great majority than the Government dropped it immediately, from a feeling, gathered probably from the tone of the debate, that it would be impossible to carry it. [Mr. GATHORNE HARDY: The Bill was not read a second time.] If not, why not? The Bill was brought in, and he thought it was read a second time—that something happened to it. Some one told him it was abandoned, and now another Bill had been brought forward on the same subject. That was a Bill, as they said in the City, that "won't float." The provisions of that Bill were so unacceptable to everybody that the right hon. Gentleman abandoned it. By the first clause that Bill was made to apply to all the Royal Parks, Gardens, and possessions, the management of which was vested in the First Commissioner of Works. The present Bill was much more extensive, as it applied to all the parks in London, including those recently made and placed under the management of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The 3rd clause of the first Bill proposed to enact that no meetings of a public character should take place in the parks without the permission of Her Majesty. That clause had been abandoned in the present Bill. The first Bill went on to enact a penalty, and, in addition, there might be imprisonment for a calendar month. That Bill had been abandoned by the Government because they knew it could not work. He was not going into the question of pulling down the palings in Hyde park on a recent occasion and other matters. It might be advantageous that some regulations should be made with regard to the parks; but this should be borne in mind, that they were approaching the end of the Session, and that the Government had had full time to draw up a Bill to meet the necessities of the case, and he would ask, in what respect did the present Bill differ from that which had been abandoned? The present Bill proposed to enact that—No Meeting shall be held in any of the said Parks or Gardens for the purpose of making any political or religious demonstration, or for holding any political, religious, or other public discussion.It went on—Any Meeting held in contravention of this Section shall be deemed to be an unlawful assembly, 384 and any person joining or taking part in such Meeting shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and may either, on summary conviction, be adjudged to pay a penalty not exceeding £10, or, in the discretion of the justices or police magistrate by whom the case is heard, may be committed for trial for the misdemeanour.This clause introduced an entirely new principle into the law with regard to the punishment of persons who were engaged in any religious or political discussions in the parks, by giving to a magistrate the power of inflicting a penalty of £10. No number of persons was indicated as necessary to make a meeting. If persons entered the parks to talk over such questions they were to be treated as an unlawful assembly. Hitherto such persons had never been fineable by magistrates. This was quite a new principle of our law. Up to the present time the law had been that a person charged with a political offence must be tried by a jury. Nothing could be more unconstitutional and dangerous than to allow a political offence to be adjudicated upon by a magistrate appointed by the Crown and liable to dismissal by the Crown. Hon. Members ought to be tenacious of passing such a Bill, if they wished to uphold the liberties and privileges of the people, which they had been sent to that House to protect. There was an option given to the justices, if they did not choose to convict summarily and fine the offender, to commit him for trial for a misdemeanour. According to Russell on Crimes, an unlawful meeting was an assembly of persons for a purpose which, if executed, would make them rioters. Consequently, if persons met in the parks for the purpose of talking over the subjects mentioned in the Bill they would be regarded in the same light as if they met to commit a riot. The next clause allowed the Ranger or Keeper of a park to make such regulations as he might choose, and the First Commissioner of Public Works and the Chairman of the Board of Works might do the same where they had authority; and penalties were imposed for disobedience of the regulations made by the Ranger or the Chief Commissioner. By the Act of 57 Geo. III., c. 19, people were prohibited from meeting near the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Hall while Parliament was sitting, and it was there laid down that upwards of fifty persons assembling for the purpose of making any alteration in Church or State would constitute an unlawful assemblage. But that Act did not state that those who so met might be taken before a police 385 magistrate and summarily dealt with, as was now proposed. At the time of the discussion about the attempts at preaching in Hyde Park, it was said it would be a dangerous thing to entrust the police magistrates with the power of saying whether a man was preaching irreligion or sedition, and in the present instance the House ought to stand by the old landmark of trial by jury. Who were to be the witnesses against those infringing the rules and regulations of the Ranger or Chief Commissioner? Policemen were certainly not educated up to the point to enable them to listen to a speech in the parks and to give an opinion before a magistrate that should decide the question. He called upon the House to stand by the old landmarks of the Constitution. Government would gain no advantage by going on with this Bill at the present period of the Session. They had passed a Reform Bill which had given great satisfaction to the vast bulk of the country, and he was sure it had given satisfaction to the metropolis. A great source of public irritation was thus removed. Yet this was the period chosen for bringing forward a Bill imposing regulations unknown before for controlling the people in the use of the parks. The peculiar circumstances that occurred last July were not likely to be repeated. The surest way to revive those disturbances would be to pass this Bill, for it was a natural instinct with the populace to thwart what they would consider to be the unjustifiable attempt of the Government to encroach upon their privileges. There had been no enactment of this kind for centuries. The parks had been protected by the people and by their own good conduct when they went into them; why, then, irritate the public mind by bringing forward a measure which could not be put in force without creating the strongest ill-feeling throughout the metropolis? There was not the slightest desire to create disturbance: but, if this Bill were passed, it was extremely probable that, owing to the strong feeling thereby created, persons would be desirous to go to the parks who would never have entertained such an idea if the Bill had not been passed. There would be the greatest disaffection, and the complaint of the people would be just. He, therefore, would suggest to the Government that it would redound greatly to their honour if they would give up the Bill. If on some future occasion it should be thought necessary to introduce a measure 386 on this subject framed in a different spirit, the House would doubtless give it a hearty support. He was sure that the majority of hon. Members present would not give their sanction to a measure which was not only unnecessary, but was actually dangerous, since it would create heartburning and discontent in the minds of the people.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House deems it inexpedient to proceed further at the present moment with any Bill touching the regulation of the Parks,"—(Mr. Locke,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
said, he thought very decided reasons for proceeding with the Bill might be found in the circumstances of the day. By an account of a meeting of East End tradesmen held at the Cutlers' Arms, in the papers of that day, he found that a gigantic Hyde Park demonstration against the Sunday Trading Bill was threatened, so that it appeared there was an intention to use the Park for such purposes. There were two sides to all such questions, and he thought respectable people were at least as much entitled to protection and favour as the roughs. Sorely Hyde Park should not be made the battle-field for such questions as these. Meetings of a political character were certain to attract a number of roughs, and compelled the presence of troops and policemen, not for the purpose of preventing free discussion, but to protect Her Majesty's subjects from injury. It was easy enough to get up what were called demonstrations in which "the three B's"—bands, banners, and beer, predominated, but unfortunately it was not always so easy to suppress them. Under these circumstances a law should be passed which would make it clear to people that in attending such meetings they were doing an illegal act, and therefore he should support the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT AMBERLEY
said, that the hon. Member who had spoken last had failed to show that any great public inconvenience resulted from such meetings being held in Hyde Park. They were not altogether without experience upon the subject. On the occasion of the first meeting in 387 Hyde Park, which the Government opposed, great disturbances undoubtedly occurred. But on the occasion of the second meeting, when the Government only issued a threating notice which they did not follow up, no inconvenience or interruption to traffic took place. ["Oh, oh?"] Well, at all events, not to any serious extent. ["Oh, oh!"] He never heard it said that either property or life was injured upon that occasion. All that the newspapers in favour of the Government said upon the occasion was that the meeting was not very large and that no enthusiasm was manifested. If a time of excitement really came, the Bill would prove of no practical value, for either money would be raised to pay the fines, or if the magistrate sent the offenders to prison, every one of them would be made a popular hero, and the greatest possible mischief would thus be done. He presumed that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would not wish altogether to prevent public meetings being held, and he could not imagine any place so convenient for that purpose as Hyde Park. It might be said that, in times of great excitement, meetings in that place would be attended with danger; but would the provisions of this Bill be respected during times of great excitement? He was rather surprised at the present Government introducing such a, measure, which was intended in some measure to limit the right of public meetings. If ever a Government had derived assistance from public meetings, it was the Government now in office. They had heard the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, that the Cabinet of Lord Derby in 1859 would have adopted household suffrage, only that the public feeling of this country was not sufficiently strong to enable them to carry it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer therefore would never have been able to have carried that principle had it not been for public meetings and popular agitation. He thought that the Government, having in this case co-operated with the Reform League very much to the benefit of the country, were somewhat ungrateful now to turn round upon those who had given them so much help and had enabled them to carry a great measure of Reform, from which the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that of the Reform League would be for ever inseparable. He should support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Southwark, believing, as he did, that the right of holding public meetings in the parks would not be 388 abused, and that it had been exercised with great advantage to the country.
§ MR. COWPER
said, that he valued as much as the noble Lord could do, the advantage of public meetings, which he regarded as most useful in the manifestation of the general feeling, and in informing the public mind. It was, however, just because they were so useful to the community that he did not wish them to be held in Hyde Park. In every public park there must be some authority to make by-laws and regulations against what would interfere with the public enjoyment. There must, however, be regulations against the holding of such public meetings as would interfere with the enjoyment of the inhabitants. Parks had been given by Sir Francis Crossley to Halifax, and by Mr. Strutt to Derby. In neither were public meetings allowed. Even in the case of the Central Park at New York the free Americans knew too well the value of the full enjoyment of the public parks for recreation and exercise to permit public meetings to be held there. If the opinion of the majority of those who frequented Hyde Park was obtained, it would be in favour of preserving the parks for recreation, and as a place where fresh air could be obtained without their being interrupted by meetings assembled to discuss political subjects. Meetings should be held in their proper places, and not where they could disturb or prevent the quiet enjoyment of the parks. The history of the parks showed that no right of the public to hold meetings there had ever been admitted. If the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Southwark were carried, the inference would be that the parks were for the future to be open for carrying them on. When Lord Llanover was first Commissioner for Works public discussion took place in Victoria Park, and so much scandal was occasioned by the discussions, that the noble Lord issued directions to the constables to put in force the regulation against holding meetings there. During the time that he himself was in office discussions arose in the parks. He hoped that, as a mental exercise, it would produce good results, and that truth would prevail; but the speakers were ill-fitted to instruct or guide, and rushed into exasperating controversies to the annoyance of sensible people. The practice led to a battle between the friends of Garibaldi and the supporters of the Pope, so that the regulations prohibiting meetings had to be put in 389 force. It could not be presumed that meetings would be confined to demonstrations of large proportions. If they threw out this Bill, did they suppose that smaller men and smaller communities would acquiesce in a law against them which was not to be enforced against larger bodies of the people? They could not suppose such a thing. The result would be that anyone who had a nostrum to proclaim, or an appeal to make to the public on any subject whatever, would have a platform and make his speeches in Hyde Park, which would become a general arena for discussion. They could not say that the Reform League should have the privilege of holding meetings in Hyde Park, and that temperance orators and socialists should not. They ought, therefore, to have an Act to enforce the regulations made by the authorities to prevent disturbance or annoyance to the public in their enjoyment of the parks. This was no hardship on the people; they had far better places to hold meetings. There could not be a worse place than the parks. Meetings should be held in buildings where the speakers could be heard and business transacted in an orderly manner, and not in public parks. The House had voted large sums of money for the purpose of beautifying them and rendering them places of quiet enjoyment, and could not consistently open them as arenas in times of political excitement to excited and angry multitudes, who must necessarily damage these gardens.
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
said, he was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) had forgotten to mention, in the list of meetings which he had enumerated, a meeting in one of them at which he himself was present and harangued the public on a religious question. He was not surprised to find the right hon. Gentleman advocating this Bill, for he found that Gentlemen who had been in office always joined with those who were in office in restraining the liberties of the people. The Bill was most outrageous. The Government had sanctioned the principle of holding public meetings in the parks by appointing a Review to take place there, which was a much more objectionable thing, and gave more dissatisfaction to the public, who were largely excluded from witnessing it, than any ordinary meeting. The Bill was very ill-drawn. It was highly objectionable that magistrates should be removable by the Secretary of State, and at the same time should be appointed to 390 adjudicate on political matters. The Bill would make any two men meeting in the Park and discussing a political question liable to be taken before a magistrate and punished for doing so. There would be no difficulty about getting a conviction, because the police always gave evidence against those whom they took into custody. ["Oh!"] It was all very well to say "Oh!" but they knew what Tory administration had done before—they could recollect Peterloo. How were they to know that the yeomanry might not again be called out against them? It would not be safe to entrust the Government with such extensive powers. In the same way a clergyman and his clerk might be convicted for preaching a sermon or conducting a religious service in the Park, or any other place mentioned in the Bill. He strongly objected to the power of summary conviction given to the magistrates, and indeed to the Bill altogether.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, there is nothing in the Bill which interferes with the right of public meeting, or political or religious discussion. All that is proposed by it is to forbid the holding of meetings for such purposes in particular localities. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Serjeant Gaselee) will allow me to tell him that there is nothing in the Bill to interfere with the right of private meeting. When the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Locke) speaks of this Bill as interfering with the rights of centuries, I must inform him that it is only since 1855 that any attempt has been made to hold meetings in the parks. The first meeting was not a political meeting. It was a meeting on the subject of the Sunday Trading Bill introduced into this House by the then Lord Ebury. One meeting followed another on the subject until at length much violence was committed, and a collision took place in which it was sought to cast blame on the police. A Commission was then appointed to inquire into the subject of the holding of such meetings in the Royal Parks, and the result was a unanimous recommendation that those meeting should be put a stop to, as they were attended with evils of the worst description. If one party were allowed to hold their meetings, the opposite party could not be prevented from doing the same, and scenes of open violence and disturbances would be the consequence, as occurred in the case of the Garibaldi meetings some years ago. When I succeeded 391 to my present office I told the House, that, in consequence of the excited state of public opinion, it was not then my intention to go on with the measure, but that I would wait until after Whitsuntide before presenting it again to the House. Do not suppose that these meetings are confined to Hyde Park. But a short time ago an attempt was made to hold a meeting in Kew Gardens, which are especially dedicated to the recreation of the people. The right of the Crown over these parks has been fully established. It has never been disputed. I am informed that the Reform League has taken the Opinions of eminent counsel on the matter, and that those opinions are directly contrary to what they contend. While upon this point I may say that Mr. Willes, who had expressed his Opinion against the legality of those meetings—an Opinion in accordance with that of Chief Justice Cockburn and Lord Westbury—is not the learned Judge of that name but his brother. I am anxious to keep this subject free from political bias or party feeling, and shall not therefore notice the good humoured but biting remarks of the noble Lord opposite (Viscount Amberley) as to the action of the Reform League upon the Government. If that were the case a still better effect would have been produced had they held their meetings in a legal place instead of where they were wholly illegal. I myself have presented Petitions signed by large numbers of respectable persons residing in the thoroughfare through which those persons passed on their way to the parks, complaining of the interruption to the general traffic in consequence of those processions, and praying for protection. I deny that this Bill throws an undue power into the hands of the police. It gives the police a greater power than they already possess—namely, to take any person whom they find actively engaged at one of those public meetings before a magistrate, while at present they can only remove such person from the Park. The Bill is not directed solely against political meetings in the parks. It is equally applicable to religious or other discussions, all of which are prohibited by this measure. It is to prevent an act being done which, though legal in itself, is nevertheless illegal by its being done in a particular place. The magistrates under the Bill will not have the power of sentencing a party to imprisonment. If he should think that the offence deserved imprisonment, he would be 392 obliged to send the case before a jury. The question of unlawful assemblage is put by this Bill precisely on the same footing as the 51st Geo. III. There is no intention whatever to infringe the rights of any of Her Majesty's subjects. The Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Southwark goes against any Bill of the kind. It is only a Sunday or two ago that certain preachers in the Park were interfered with and stopped by the police, notwithstanding their protest against the interruption. They said that when large meetings had been allowed in the parks they could not see why they should be prevented preaching. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Locke) referred to the number of persons who should be held to constitute a meeting. That is a question for Committee, as are also several other points to which allusion has been made in the course of the discussion. As to putting a stop to the smaller meetings, that has been done, because the proper officers are able to do so without creating any disturbance, whereas it has been deemed a lesser evil to allow the larger meetings to be held. The right of the Crown to prevent those meetings has, however, always been maintained by the Government for the time being, and we ask for further powers simply because the law as it stands is inefficient for the accomplishment of its object. I hope the House will go into Committee on the Bill, not with the view of putting down the right of public meeting, with which we have no wish to interfere, but to prevent, in certain localities, the pleasures and rights of others from being interfered with.
I think this subject is one of very considerable nicety, and one in which a false step at the present time may lead to consequences far graver than some may imagine. I have nothing to complain of in the tone which has been adopted by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and I shall endeavour to exclude from the few remarks which I have to offer a single word which could savour of an approach to bitterness. There are two questions before us. One with regard to the substance of the Bill; another with regard to the time at which it is introduced. As respects the substance of the Bill, supposing there were no objection to the time and the manner, I should not be prepared to refuse to legislate on the subject. It has been shown that legal rights of a certain character exist, and that the 393 remedies for the enforcement of those rights are defective. Consequently, I was not prepared to vote against the second rending of the Bill; but my own opinion is that it would have been wiser for the Government to have asked for a discretionary power than for an absolute prohibition. I think it proper, with regard to all these places in London or elsewhere, of which the Government are the appointed keepers, that they should have power to determine what are the requisites of public order within those places, from time to time, upon their own responsibility, and according to occasions as they arise. I do not doubt that any Government would act impartially in the exercise of such powers. But I do not think that this matter has been sufficiently considered, or that it would be possible at this time to settle it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Cowper) construes the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Southwark as equivalent to a Motion that the Government should go into Committee on this Bill the day three months; but does it not occur to my right hon. Friend that the hon. and learned Member for Southwark must have had a reason for adopting a totally different form of Motion, and that if he had wished not to go into Committee until this day three months he could easily have made such a Motion? If he had made such a Motion it would have been a declaration capable of being construed as pledging the House to resist all legislation on the subject. But the Motion we have now before us is carefully worded. It expresses the opinion that neither the present time nor circumstances are such that it would be wise and judicious to entertain this subject, and consider what law ought to be enacted. That is a proposition I am prepared to maintain. I do not think an adequate sense has been shown of the extreme delicacy of questions of this nature, when general principles relating to public order come to be applied to the enormous masses of population comprised within the metropolis. Consider the physical difficulties in the way of public meetings in London; consider the immense distances the working men of London have to travel from their homes in order to reach one part. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) has spoken of collision; but if his argument is sound in principle, it would apply to meetings on Primrose Hill as well as to those in Hyde Park. If collisions might 394 take place in Hyde Park, might they not also take place on Primrose Hill? Yet the right hon. Gentleman suggests Primrose Hill as a fitting meeting-place. We are then told that processions through the public streets are very inconvenient; in my opinion this Bill would prove an incentive to such processions. You do not prohibit processions, you do not attempt to interfere with them, but you select some dozen places in which you say no meetings shall be held. Is this not making a suggestion, to those who desire to make demonstrations, to make them in the form of processions through the streets? It is undesirable to forbid these things. In these meetings there is a certain desire of demonstration which I believe to be perfectly innocent and entirely devoid of any ulterior intention of the use of force. There is then this desire for demonstration, and I know of no place where a demonstration is so inconvenient as in the crowded thoroughfares of London. While I am not therefore prepared to lay down that it is convenient to have meetings of this kind in the parks, or that such meetings, frequently held, would be expedient anywhere, I am apprehensive of a measure the effect of which will be to limit the power of holding open-air meetings. Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not think it wise or safe to do. If the people wish to make a demonstration they may hold meetings in the streets, in Trafalgar Square, and in the open spaces within the metropolis other than the parks, which will be more inconvenient to the public than the holding of such meetings in the parks. The results are these; in the first place, the subject requires more preparation than it has had; in the second, at the present moment there are circumstances in connection with the remembrance of certain events with which it is most desirable that this Bill should be dis-associated; in the third place, it is a very grave question if legislation of this kind is required, whether the provisions of the Bill ought not to be made to assume a much more general character, and not to be limited to the parks of London? As a matter of policy and prudence, I think that it would be wise to have the state of the law with regard to public meetings in the country examined without prejudice by a Committee of the House, and, with the aid of that Committee, we might be able to make some proposal on the subject. If this Bill is proper to be passed for London, why should it not be 395 made applicable to such places as Edinburgh and Dublin? Is the state of the law as regards the parks of Liverpool, Salford, and other places in a more satisfactory condition? I think the entire question deserves examination, and that there is very good reason for further investigation before the House is called upon to legislate. Without complaining of the Government, I am not prepared to legislate on the question at this moment, and I am not prepared to grant new powers to the Government without further consideration. There are certain events still remembered which it is most desirable should be allowed to pass into oblivion; and here I cannot help expressing my deep regret and extreme surprise that those unhappy palings should be allowed to remain as a monument of those unhappy events, not merely with respect to the breach of public order, but likewise with regard to the position in which authority was exhibited on that day. I say again it is impossible for us to legislate on the subject at this moment without a serious risk of producing in the mind of the people of London a sense of wrong. ["Oh!"] This is my conscientious opinion, and it is my duty to state that opinion to the House. The aspect which the matter would take would be an appearance, on the part of Parliament and of the Executive Government, of an attempt to obtain something like revenge for what was something like defeat in the attempt to stop the public meeting before. ["Oh!"] I am sorry if I am giving offence, but let it be understood that I have no desire to make any such charge against the Government. I am not charging the proposer of the Bill, but am merely speaking among ourselves. Such an impression may not be just—is not, but the probability is, that such will be the construction put upon our legislating on the subject. It is impolitic to run any such risk. We have to consider the question of the adoption of a permanent system of action. I fear that the most haste will be found to be the worst speed. I fear that inconvenience will result—not, I hope, from any attempt to resist the operation of the law, but from a sense of grievance and a diminished respect for the law—that law which it should be an object to surround with veneration in the minds of the people, and especially in the minds of the people of the metropolis. To legislation at this time, therefore, I am opposed upon grounds simply of prudence and of policy. That advice 396 I humbly and respectfully lay before the House without at all making any imputation upon the Executive for the proposal they have made, though I differ from them in part as to substance, and wholly as to time. I think we shall act wisely if we adopt the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend, which declares that at the present moment it is inexpedient to enter upon the consideration of this subject.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I think that any Government which sets its face against public meetings, especially on political subjects, would do an unwise act. They are the safety valves of a free country, and I do not know that anybody benefits more by these public meetings than those responsible for the government of the country. There can be no doubt that the people of the metropolis are placed in a very unfavourable position as to their opportunities of meeting and the locality where they can assemble to express their opinions; and this is an inconvenience that will increase yearly with its increasing size. But I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) that the suggestion thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Mr. Cowper) as to the best remedy under the circumstances, is to be treated in a spirit of depreciation. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire that public meetings must necessarily and generally be held in the open air. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford has expressed an opinion that the habit ought to be encouraged in a great metropolis of public meetings being held in buildings. I think this is the principle that must be adopted. We have had references to the celebrated meetings held at Manchester half a century ago, some of which were attended with very calamitous and deplorable results. Manchester was at that time, comparatively, of importance, but of no colossal size. Manchester must have trebled itself in size since that time, probably more than trebled itself. But you have since had great meetings at Manchester very frequently; and meetings that have given great colour to public opinion. And where have those meetings been held? They have been held for the most part in the Free Trade Hall. These buildings are constructed with no great amount of expense—no amount that is at all a grievance to a flourishing community. Buildings can be raised that will easily accommodate 10,000 people; and thus a 397 mode has been provided of meeting, discussing, and expressing opinions. Marylebone might surely be accommodated as well as Manchester. I admit that meetings are not always called for discussion. Sometimes they are held to make demonstrations of the opinions prevalent among the people. But there are places now—such as Primrose Hill, and Hampstead Heath, easy of access—where such demonstrations could take place, which can now be reached by masses of the people with a facility and economy which could not be enjoyed five-and-twenty years ago. Therefore, when there is an occasion when such a demonstration should be held, even in this metropolis, we are not absolutely deficient in the means of holding it. But I still believe that the proper mode by which these expressions of opinion—which are to my mind, highly salutary in a society like ours—should take place, are in buildings and in covered places. With regard to the present measure, I would recall the attention of the House to the fact that it is intended as a matter of social and police arrangement. What the House have to consider is, whether the parks of London, which at great expense have been established and appropriated for the amusement, recreation and general advantage of the community, should be preserved for those purposes, or whether recourse to them should be allowed for political meetings, which have at all events a tendency to disturbance. These parks are most important as a means of premoting the health of the metropolis. Their preservation for that purpose concerns to a greater extent the more humble and moderate in circumstances than ourselves. It is not the superior classes of society who are so much interested in the improvement and maintenance of the parks as the humbler classes of society. The people who have not country houses, who have no gardens of their own, who never or rarely go out of London, are the people who cherish and value these parks as places of recreation. What we have to do in the matter is entirely to dismiss from our minds all reference to past scenes, those scenes to which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) has adverted and which he elaborated in such a manner that though I give him the credit which he claims for wishing to introduce kindly feelings into this discussion, the effect was rather to create impressions of a different kind. We should dismiss all this and come to a conclusion on this 398 question: do we think that the parks of London should be devoted to the purposes for which they were established or granted, and not made the scenes of political excitement? If we are of that opinion—and I believe the majority of the House and of the inhabitants of the metropolis are of that opinion—then is the measure before us adapted to accomplish that end? The hon and learned Member made a mistake when he said a magistrate would have to decide on questions of sedition or profanity. Nothing of the kind can occur under this Bill. But this is not the moment when the language of the clause ought to be canvassed or weighed. What we have to decide now is, whether the parks shall be preserved for the enjoyment of the population of the metropolis, and whether we will go into Committee to see whether the language and purpose of the Bill will accomplish that purpose which we agree it is desirable should be accomplished? We ought to confine ourselves to that. It is our duty, a duty which we ought to perform to the people of the metropolis before we break up and leave this scene, and it will be an act of cowardice on our part if, confessing our duty, we do not now endeavour so to adapt the measure.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer began his observations by referring to a great meeting which took place in the open air at Manchester many years ago. Doubtless he referred to the meeting that was held on the 16th August in the year 1819, and which was followed or attended by calamitous consequences. But the right hon. Gentleman might, from that special example, have derived a very useful lesson in regard to this question which is now before the House. That meeting was at the beginning, and would have been to its conclusion, as peaceable as any public meeting ever held in this country—if it had not been, unlawfully—as I believe—interfered with by the magistrates and yeomanry, who were brought out for the purpose of dispersing it. The meeting was assembled for the purpose of petitioning Parliament to repeal the Corn Laws, and to pass a Bill for the reform of the House of Commons. The objects were clearly wise and salutary, and they were objects which have since been accomplished by Parliament. I believe there is hardly a single person in the Southern Division of Lancashire who does not now believe that that meeting was a lawful meeting, held 399 for a lawful purpose, and that the calamitous circumstances which attended it were imported into it by the authorities doing that which, according to the principles of our Constitution, they had no right to do. But the right hon. Gentleman says that since that meeting there have been meetings held under cover in Manchester. He refers to the meetings held in the Free Trade Hall. But the right hon. Gentleman must know that the meetings held in the Free Trade Hall did not produce any great effect on his mind or on the minds of his followers. It was meetings where the people assembled in numbers that would fill the Free Trade Hall twenty times over that created in the minds of the right hon. Gentleman and of his party the feeling that has brought us, I hope, to a happy termination of our labours during this Session. Let the House consider what has happened. The right hon. Gentleman says these great meetings are safety valves for the arrangement and conduct of affairs in a free country. Nothing can be more statesmanlike than that expression — nothing more true. But what has happened? With all these great meetings we cannot point for many years past to any occasion upon which the people attending these meetings made any serious disorder, or created any circumstances which made legislation on the subject necessary. During the last Session—I called attention to them at the time, and the circumstances are still fresh in our minds—great meetings took place at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, and London. Nothing greater in the shape of public meetings can be expected to take place on any occasion, at any time, in any part of the country. Yet, in all these meetings, the conduct of the people was such as to make it evident that there was no danger of a disturbance of the public peace. With the exception of one meeting at Hyde Park, there was no disturbance or turmoil of any kind. I may say of that meeting what I said of the meeting in Manchester in 1819 that if the Executive Government had treated the people with moderation—if they had adhered to the strict letter and spirit of the law—that meeting would have been just as tranquil as any of the other meetings to which I have referred. I need not call the attention of the House to the results of these meetings. There is a certain stolidity in the House which requires occasionally a little shoving forward. There 400 are, we know, clocks and watches which do not quite keep time. You have occasionally to put the figure-hand forward and move the regulator a little; if you do not do that, by-and-by, according to your clock, day would be turned into night. Now, these meetings have been productive of very great benefit to the people, to Parliament, and to the country. The man who denies the occasional necessity for such meetings must, I am sure, differ entirely from the right hon. Gentleman who is the Leader of the party opposite. I understand that the proposal is that Primrose Hill should be used for these meetings. The right hon. Gentleman says that is a place which is not very distant and is quite convenient. Now, if you want to suppress these meetings on account of any tumult or collision of any kind, it is quite clear that this tumult or collision is just as likely to happen at Primrose Hill as at any other spot; but there is this difference, the larger the piece of ground is where the meetings are held, the less possible is it for any small number of ill-disposed persons to bring about any tumult or disorder. There can therefore be no doubt that a meeting in Hyde Park, which is so many times larger than the ground at Primrose Hill, would afford a better security for peace. I myself think that the danger is nil in both places, but if I suppose there is any at all, it will, as I have shown, be less in Hyde Park than on Primrose Hill. This, however, must be obvious, that for the purposes of a meeting—for the purposes of a demonstration seeking to stir the minds of a great population in the direction of a settlement of a great question — the effect produced in Hyde Park must necessarily be greater than the effect of a meeting at Primrose Hill, because the demonstration will be witnessed by a much larger number of the influential population of the metropolis. Those who are desirous of carrying the public along with them will be more likely to be informed of what the public will is by a meeting held in Hyde Park than by one held in a more remote place. And what is the reason why these meetings cannot be held in Hyde Park? Some persons are afraid of the consequences, but I venture to express the opinion, after the experience of this year, that these fears which have been so generally entertained will to a great extent disappear. Newspapers, writing in a very sensational manner, frighten all the old men and the 401 old women in the West End of London, by telling them of the terrible things that would happen if meetings were held in Hyde Park. I have no hesitation in expressing my opinion, that we shall soon see persons who live in good houses in the West End entertain less apprehension regarding great demonstrations in Hyde Park than they have unwisely entertained during the past year. The meetings you propose to prevent are very rare. How long is it since there were any great meetings in the metropolis before those of last year? You will not deny that the subject-matter of discussion for the public, and which caused these meetings, was a great subject for the people. We have spent six months in discussing it here, and have now brought it to what I and many others hope and believe will, to a considerable extent, be a happy termination. And how long, let me ask, will it be before it will be again necessary for another such demonstration? I hope it will be very long. I hope Parliament may act more easily in the direction of the public will and interest, and that it may not be necessary in our lifetime to hold great meetings of this kind. But if these great meetings have not been attended with any evil results, is it worth while, or statesmanlike, or sagacious, to introduce such a measure at this moment—having in view what took place last year—and to close the door against the people at the very time when you have generously and liberally conceded what they asked from you? I believe, moreover, that the Bill will fail in times of excitement. Your 40s. fine, your £10 fine, your police magistrate, all this will go down in a period of great excitement among a great population. The effect of your passing this Bill now—when you are sending to the House what may possibly be a more liberally elected Parliament—will be that this Parliament will leave behind it a grievance which, in my opinion, will rather stimulate the minds of 100,000 people in the metropolis, and will make them long rather to go to the Park in order to show their resentment against such a measure. I suppose it will not be possible, even after this Bill has passed, if unfortunately it should pass, to prevent 100,000 people going into Hyde Park. It is not necessary that the Park should be advertised as a place of meeting. It need only be understood that the people are to assemble at that place. There are many gates and entrances by which the people can make their way into the enclosure, 402 and being in, they may make what is called a demonstration, which some may think a violation of the principle of this Bill. But even if the measure passes, there is a probability that it will not affect the peculiar class of meetings sought to be put down. It may be effectual for dealing with some of the smaller class of meetings—preachings, and so forth—which have been held in the parks on Sundays, though these are meetings which might fairly be left to the police. I do not object to the parks being kept with great care for the free enjoyment of the people, but I hold that there is no enjoyment, there is no duty, there is no assemblage more becoming a free people to take part in, than such meetings as have been held on questions like that of last year, and these meetings I do not believe you will be able to put down in times of excitement. I think the House will feel that unless there be a very strong, urgent, and unanswerable necessity, it is not our duty, or our interest, to make more stringent laws with regard to the holding of public meetings. There is no country in Europe in which public meetings are held in greater numbers with greater tranquility or with greater advantage than in this country. All the experience of the past proves to us incontestably that we may trust our countrymen with regard to this matter. They do not assemble for purposes of discussing trifling things. They have not discussed the questions which came before them in an unbecoming manner, and the general result has been, in my opinion, almost without exception, highly beneficial, and such as we can look back to with satisfaction and even with pride. Trust the people then in future as you have in the past. Make no new laws on the matter. Ought we to shut the gates of the Park in order that the nerves of certain genteel classes may not be shaken by the genteel presence of the people? I would not bolt the doors of the Park, and say to the millions who are not of the genteel class that they shall not come into the Park because they are apt to disturb the nerves of those who are more genteel. My own impression is, that the result of the Reform measure which we are passing this Session will be greatly to cement all classes in one common and good feeling with each other. Therefore, I say, whatever necessity there may have been in past times, if ever there really was any, for legislative interference, it will be somewhat less in future. The question 403 before us has been introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Southwark. He says you are passing this measure at the very end of the Session, and he asks you not to deal with it now, but to leave it for more full consideration in the next Session of Parliament. It may be necessary that the Government or the police shall have more powers respecting disturbances or little meetings in the parks; but there can be no such necessity for obtaining those powers until next February that we should interfere in this matter. Perhaps the people of London might deem it desirable to meet in the Park and pass resolutions thanking Parliament for what it has done during the Session. It would not I suppose be thought injurious to Parliament or to the public interests that such a meeting should take place. I have not heard of any intention to hold a meeting of the kind, but if it should be contemplated I hope no one would prevent it. Our confidence in the people is always returned amply by their good conduct towards Parliament and the Government. The right hon. Gentleman opposite and his Colleagues should allow this Bill, like others more useful, to drop, and go on for six months. If at the beginning of the next Session the Home Secretary shall still think it necessary he will introduce it with more likelihood of our coming to a wise decision. There will then be much less chance of producing a feeling of resistance amongst all classes of the people, than if he were to proceed now with a Bill to shut out from the free expression of their opinions those to whom during this Session some Members of the House have been obliged reluctantly to bow.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that by making an exception in the case of the parks, to the general right of public meeting enjoyed by the people elsewhere, deference was really paid to that right. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, he should deprecate an attempt to invest the Home Secretary or any functionary with power of discretionary interference between the people and the right of public assembly. He, therefore, approved the absolute prohibition contained in the Bill. The Bill did not refer to Manchester, or Birmingham, or Glasgow, but simply to the parks of the metropolis. The language of the hon. Member for Birmingham on that, as on many other occasions, had been consistent in representing that it was desirable for the country that 404 Parliament should be coerced by the power of numbers. But, for his own part, he desired to guard with equal vigilance both the right of the people to meet and of the Parliament to deliberate in freedom. He therefore regretted that the Government had not adopted the precedent set, in this respect, by the United States, where demonstrations such as won the admiration of the hon. Member for Birmingham were prohibited from taking place within the Federal district of Columbia and within reach of the Legislative. The hon. Member for Birmingham was constantly expressing his approval of these demonstrations, and virtually suggesting the revival of them by his assertions of the influence he supposed them to exercise over the deliberations of the House. He felt with the American people that the Legislature of a country ought not to be overborne by local mobs, and he hoped that the next House of Commons, however it might be constituted, would resist every attempt at dictation on the part of a London mob. The freedom of France had been sacrificed to the coercion of the Paris mob, and the coercion of a London mob might prove fatal to the liberties of England. He was a strong supporter of order, but he would not guarantee that the people of the Midland counties would quietly permit the Legislature to be dominated by London mobs. He believed that if the hon. Member for Birmingham were to consult his own constituents, he would find that was the feeling which they entertained upon the subject.
said, that an official gentleman from America had, within the last few days, informed him that he had recently seen a meeting of 30,000 persons at Washington.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 133; Noes 88: Majority 45.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.