I rise, Sir, to call the attention of the House to the proposed interference of the Government with the public meeting in Hyde Park on Monday next. After the questions which were put to the Secretary of State at the commencement of the evening, and the answers that he gave to those questions, I was a little doubtful whether there was any necessity for my bringing the question of which I had given notice in a more direct form before the House. But on further consideration and consultation with some of my Friends, it has been thought better to have something more said about a question which at this moment is exciting great interest in London, and, from what transpired during this evening, it would appear some alarm. I hope that the alarm outside this House is very much less than that which has been manifested within. The Notice as it is printed in the Paper states that I am about to call the attention of the House to the proposed interference of the Government with the public meeting in Hyde Park on Monday next. I beg to assure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) that I do not rise for the purpose of making any attack upon him, or upon anything that he has done, or of increasing whatever difficulty he may feel in dealing with the question. In looking at the question as one of legality and right, I shall not undertake to say whether the people—the members of the Reform League and others who propose to hold a meeting in the Park—are acting with strict legality or not. Nor shall I undertake to declare my opinion whether the Government have a tight to permit or to forbid the holding of meetings in the Park. I should say from the Notice which the right hon. Gentleman gave last night of the introduction of a Bill to define the powers of the Government with regard to the Royal Parks, that he himself, and his Colleagues with him, are not by any means satisfied as to the clearness of the title by which they act in preventing the holding of meetings in the Park. I think the introduction of that Bill creates that opinion in the House, as it has, no doubt, created it in the minds of 1956 the public. I will presume that the Government has—if anybody has—a right to close the Park—that it has the right to close the Park on any day, and on any occasion. But that right is one which must be exercised, in accordance with the public interests and for the public good. It is quite clear, that although technically and legally the Government may have the right to close the Park, yet practically it has no such right in regard to the ordinary and common enjoyment of it. The Government really dare not attempt to close the Park on any frivolous pretence merely because it happened to please themselves, if the matter were one in which the public took no great interest. Therefore the right, if there be such a right, to close the Park absolutely any day is a right practically of no effect. It is incomplete, is not intended to be exercised, and never has been exercised. Nothing can be more clear than this—and if the right hon. Gentleman would be very candid, as he generally is in his statements to the House, he would say—it is not illegal for any number of persons, on Monday next, to enter Hyde Park. He would admit, further, that when they are in the Park it is not illegal that they should stand shoulder to shoulder, or, if they were numerous, even in a dense multitude. He would say, further, it is not illegal for a man to speak in a loud voice in the Park. We shall have an opportunity of hearing the right hon. Gentleman's opinion, and I am sure he will not say that it is not legal for those present in the Park to listen to what is said. My impression is, that the Government will act upon the opinion I have now expressed, and will say that none of these things I have described are illegal, and that altogether as one act they are not illegal. But it may be said, and with a certain show of reason, that a great meeting amidst a great population may be attended with—or may sometimes be attended with—danger to the public peace; and that therefore it is the business of the Government, and of the Home Office, to exercise some oversight in a matter of this kind when the public peace is menaced. That is a doctrine that many persons I know in this House hold; but they are very timid. I always notice one section of it particularly timid—I mean the Gentlemen opposite below the gangway. The timidity is not on the Treasury Bench, or with the Gentlemen that sit behind that Bench. They seem to have some confidence in the 1957 occupants of that Bench. The timidity as I have indicated, is at this end of the House, where there seems to be a great clamour on any occasion of this kind, as if some fearful danger were going to assail the country. If hon. Members had bee bred in Paris these might be some reason for apprehending these dangers. In Paris these occasions are not thought desirable. Once there was a banquet announced to take place there. It was thought perilous and did not happen. Peril came from it. Thus men might learn a lesson from the transactions that happened in other countries. Where English people, English blood, and English speaking people are found—whether in our colonies, in the United States, or in the United Kingdom—great meetings have never been found productive of breaches of the peace. I defy you to find anything in history to show that, as a rule, great public meetings have been attended with breaches of the peace in this country. One of the most signal instances of a breach of the peace was in 1819, in Manchester, where men met to ask for Reform and for a repeal c the Corn Laws. If there had been no interference with that meeting it would have been as tranquil as we are in this House at this moment. But because it was interfered with by blind, bigoted, foolish magistrates, whose conduct now ever man in the county of Lancaster is read to condemn, there was a breach of the peace and bloodshed. But it was on the part of the Yeomanry not on that of the people. The result of that transaction has left to this hour feelings of animosity rankling in the minds of not a few of the people of that great district. If what I have said with regard to the question of legality be true, as I believe it is, I am also forced to say that the course taken by the Government last year was, I believe not only an unwise course, but an illegal course. It was also an unnecessary course and led to any disturbance that occurred. If the Government had acted as I am persuaded they will act now, you would have found the meeting in the month of July last would have passed off just as tranquilly as 999 meetings out of every 1,000 have passed off in the history of this country. A Proclamation—or not exactly a Proclamation, but a notification has been issued by the Secretary of State. After stating in this notification that the use of the park for the purpose of having such meetings is not permitted as it interferes with the object 1958 of Her Majesty in opening the parks for the enjoyment of the people, he goes on to warn the people not to attend. I have great sympathy with persons who enjoy the parks, though unfortunately I find my way there very seldom. I do not know how many persons will be in the Park on Monday at the meeting at six o'clock apart from those who will attend that meeting. If I said 5,000 it might be beyond the mark. But if 100,000 persons, citizens of this metropolis, are anxious to meet in this Park for two hours, it would be no great sacrifice on the part of these other visitors to it. Their enjoyment would not necessarily be interfered with. The true object of opening the parks to the public would not be endangered or injured in any way by permitting 50,000 or 100,000 persons to meet there and express their opinions on a great public question. We in this House are occupied almost from night to night on this question of the Reform Bill. No question of greater importance can be submitted to us. We are making the future history, and deciding the future condition of a great Empire. We are exhorted to put aside all party feeling, and those motives which excite contests here, that we may devote every power of our understanding and all our patriotism for the purpose of arranging this measure in a manner satisfactory to a great people, and finally to settle a question that has been a matter of contest for many years. Who are the people that have the greatest, or at least as great, an interest as any in this question? Surely the unenfranchised thousands who live in this metropolis and in other parts of the country. If they had not a natural and intense feeling on this question you would not now be endeavouring to legislate upon it. If they have a very intense feeling upon it, it is a reasonable thing to expect that they should wish to meet and proclaim to the country—their sense it may be of gratitude to Parliament for the interest we are taking in the question; it may be to explain their opinions on certain points of the measure; it may be to offer counsel to the Government and to the House how to settle the question on sure and permanent foundations. I take the liberty of asserting that a meeting of this nature, whether in Loudon or in any great town—in a crisis of this nature, if I may use the phrase—is an important and useful event. We have had such meetings all over the country. They have been going on since you threw 1959 out the Bill last year, and will not cease until the measure before the House, or some other measure for the same object, shall pass both Houses of Parliament and receive the assent of the Queen. What has taken place? I want to show that these fears are without foundation. I was in Birmingham the other day, and I was there in August or September, when the whole town appeared to turn out. There was no special constable to keep the peace. The Mayor and the Mayor of last year joined in the procession. The head of the police helped to marshal the procession. There was a unanimous feeling on the part of every class in the town—the public, the corporation, many of the magistrates, the police guardians of the public peace, with regard to this question. The meeting was held, and by competent authorities judged to have contained, from its centre to its circumference, not many fewer, if any fewer, than 300,000 persons. ["Dissent."] I will say this, at any rate, that I believe the number of persons was very much larger than has been ever yet assembled in any park in London at a political meeting, and it may be greater than will be assembled in Hyde Park at any time during this Session. If I ask my hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster) what was done in the West Riding, he will give the same account. There was a meeting there with a sufficient number of men from twenty towns to have formed twenty meetings. If I ask my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, they would state that in the autumn of last year an incredible number assembled on the green at Glasgow. If I ask my hon. Friend and Relative the Member for Edinburgh, he would tell me what he saw in the Queen's Park in Edinburgh. If these meetings have been held without a breach of the peace; if none of the persons in these towns apprehended a breach of the peace, why, in the name of common sense, when a proposition is made to hold a meeting in Hyde Park, worry the Home Secretary as if the city were about to be sacked by a foreign enemy? If meetings have been held of the people of Birmingham at Brookfields; of the people of Glasgow in Glasgow Park; of the people of Leeds at Woodhouse Moor; of the people of Edinburgh in the Queen's Park—s which, I believe, is more absolutely at the disposal of the Crown than any other—why, I ask, is there this terror of a meeting in Hyde Park? Why is this insult offered—for it is an insult—to a great 1960 many people of this metropolis to suppose that they cannot meet on an occasion like this without inspiring fears in the minds of men on whom on ordinary occasions cowardice is the last passion that would operate? I was sorry to hear that some have asked that there would be special constables enrolled on Monday next. I believe that this scheme has originated with a few lawyers. A friend of mine said the proposal was carried about in a court where he was the other day, and that some persona signed it. I am sorry to find wigs and gowns with so little courage and so little wisdom. I would say that, to enrol the middle class if you please or any class as special constables with a view of arresting the meeting, or of dispersing it, or with the view of putting them in an attitute of defiance or menace, in opposition to a great meeting like that intended to be held on Monday, would be one of the most insane things that any Home Secretary or magistrate could do. It would be setting class against class with a vengeance. It would be widening the breach which the legislation of this House during this Session, if it be wisely terminated, will in all probability fill up for ever. Neither is it a case for the military at all. Nobody dreams of it out of the House. It is not a case for police, except that the police in this great city should in a body co-operate with all persons anxious to keep the peace and put down any disturbance that might arise. I am confident myself, that the police, united with the many thousands of honourable men who may take part in the proceedings of Monday, would find their labour very light, and their duties more formal than real. What is the duty of the Government in this matter? It is not a question that can be settled very wisely by legal quibbles and technicalities. I hold the duty of the Government to be this. To offer no kind of opposition to the peaceful entrance of the people into the Park, and when they are in the Park, to take no part whatever in endeavouring to prevent what I believe will be the legal proceedings of the day—the intended proceedings of the day. To have no thought whatever of judging of that meeting in any other way or in any other spirit than the police all over the country have judged of the meetings that have been held throughout the country. I maintain, contrary to the feelings of some, that the character of the English people is guarantee for a peaceful issue on a day like that. In Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, 1961 Newcastle, and Manchester you can have these great meetings. It is quite impossible that there should be that difference between the temper of the people of the metropolis and the temper of the people in other great cities of the country—that while those in the country are perfectly harmless, those held in the metropolis are to be eminently hazardous and dangerous. In a meeting like this the people have a great national object connected immediately and directly with their class, and with measures now being discussed in this House. They will go there ennobled by the sentiments which animate them, and you may have a double reliance upon them that there will be nothing done about which any of their countrymen may be ashamed. I hear hon. Gentlemen sometimes speak of the President of the Reform League with feelings akin to contempt. I have gone through a deal of that. I have known hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House use strong language of me in public—I say nothing of what is said in private. Sometimes that language has been used to my face in this House, but oftener when I have not been present. There has been language of terrible abuse for my dangerous views in one year. I find them next year embodying those views in an Act of Parliament I venture to say this of Mr. Beales—that there has never been connected with any political agitation in our time a more honourable man than he is. I judge from many years' personal, and some years' rather intimate acquaintance with him. I judge from what all those who know him best say of him, and I judge from the general conduct which he has pursued during the last two years when be has been prominent before the public in connection with a great agitation. He has suffered from that connection. He has been cut of from an honourable office; but he stands upon the principles which he holds, and he endeavours to move in their direction legally and morally. He has now, as I know, the intense satisfaction of knowing that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Colleagues are gradually dragging—it may be drawing, inviting alluring, coaxing coercing, or bringing in some way or other—the great Conservative party of England into intimate alliance with him. Sir, let me say this of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Walpole.) I believe there is no man who ever filled the office which he does who was more anxious to perform its duties with 1962 moderation and with justice in all questions of the nature which I am now introducing to the House that he is. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman regretted the momentary turmoil that took place last year as much as I did, or any one of us did. I believe now he will now act upon a wiser principle. That he will believe, as I believe, that almost every man who goes to this meeting in Hyde Park will consider himself the guardian of public liberty, and at the same time the protector of the public property. I shall be much surprised if there be harm done to anything within the Park. I believe this at any rate, that the character of the English people for a love of order will not be tarnished by the transactions of that day. Sir, when I look at the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has so much labour with the contending parties of this House in connection with die Bill he has introduced, I say it ought to strengthen his hands, and to be to him and to every man in favour of a settlement of this grand question, a pleasurable fact that there are millions of the metropolis of this Empire who can meet calmly, if not to discuss, at least to consider, the great question in which they are so much interested, and to lend their powerful aid to the attempts which are now made to introduce a large portion of the people to the privileges of our ancient and noble Constitution. I say that it is the business of the House and of the Government not to criticize this question too narrowly in a great emergency like this. The Law Officers of the Crown ought not to try and find a flaw in the claim of the people to meet in Hyde Park. They ought to be above quibbles of that nature. Let them rather consider the grandeur of the question and the grandeur of the hour. Let them consider the intense interests of the people. Let them consider that they are laying the foundation for future legislation and government. Then they will be thankful that there is a love of the Constitution strong enough, a love of order strong enough to enable this immense body of people to meet in their tens, twenties, or hundreds of thousands, for the purpose of peacefully assisting Parliament to arrive at an adjustment of this question. [Laughter.] I was just about to conclude, but the laugh of hon. Gentlemen will induce me to add another sentence. Is there a man among you, if so let him get up when I sit down and say so—is there 1963 a man among you who does not feel that he would not be in the position in which he now stands with respect to this great Bill if it had not been for the assistance of those great demonstrations of public opinion? [Laughter.] Why, Sir, the thing is notorious, and if there be any man incapable of seeing it I shall not waste my time and the time of the House in discussing the point. I say such are the obstacles in the way of a very great measure like this, that it cannot be adjusted without the assistance of that great body of the people who hold these meetings—holding them for a noble purpose—["Oh, oh!"]—for it is a noble purpose, and I trust that the Parliament of England will regard it in that spirit.
§ MR. NEATE
said, that it was lest the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) should be over-persuaded by the eloquence of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that he rose at that early period. The hon. Member had praised the Government for their moderation; but he (Mr. Neate) thought the Government were entitled to something more from the Opposition side of the House, and that was cordial thanks for the course they had so wisely taken, and which he hoped they would persevere in. He did not come there to throw down the guantlet to the working men. Nothing was farther from his intention than to take such an aggressive course. If there had been anything of aggression, it had not been on the part either of Parliament or the Government. He must say that looking to the character of this agitation, it was difficult to conceive anything more unprovoked or more wanton than the shape which it had assumed during the last two months. If, indeed, Her Majesty's Government had endeavoured to disappoint the just expectations of the people by the introduction of a little Reform Bill, if they had proposed to reduce the borough franchise to £9 and the county franchise to £25; if they had rested at the resting-place, which by their own fault they lost last year, of an £8 franchise in the boroughs and a £20 franchise in the counties, he could understand that there would have been cause for a resentful agitation. But the Government had offered a measure which was more liberal than those who claimed to represent the working classes had been willing to accept, and more extensive than the measure of last year. Except, then, for the mere love of agitation—except for the purpose of keeping 1964 up a sort of Parliament in the streets, he could not conceive anything which could induce the leaders of this movement to persevere in the course on which they had entered. The mode in which the House of Commons and the Government had dealt with this matter had been marked by singular forbearance. In that House they had taken no notice of the many unmerited insults which had been heaped upon them, and they hail shown more than kindness to these agitators. Not only had there been a procession on the 3rd of December, to which the police lent their assistance, end for which the Government offered the use of Primrose Hill; but there had been—he trusted there would be no permanent allowance of any such right—weekly meetings permitted in Trafalgar Square. These agitators, however, had not allowed the Government any resting-place, but had themselves brought the question to an issue. It must now be determined whether any number of people without any legal character or authority could take to themselves the right on any pretext to meet in any of the open places of the metropolis. If the Government conceded any such claim as that, so far from deserving the support of the House, they would deserve to be impeached. If there was any legal question in dispute, the proper course was to let it be tried. But there was in reality no such question. Nobody who had ever talked with a lawyer, or who had a lawyer among his acquaintance, still less any lawyer could suppose that there was any doubt in the matter. There might, indeed, be a right of way through the Park. On that point he apprehended that they would have some information. But a right of way, if such existed, did not carry with it the right to hold a meeting any more than the right of way down Piccadilly implied the right of holding a meeting in the middle of the thoroughfare. Although the Crown might have granted the public a qualified right of way that right was confined to going through the Park. It was quite open to the woods and forests to say that they would grow hay in the Park, and that nobody should be allowed to trespass by walking on the grass. ["No, no!"] A very similar question was raised before the Select Committee on Commons. It was there proved that people had not, as had been supposed, the right of walking up and down and round a common, but merely that of going through it to the point which they wished to reach. 1965 That was the extent of the right of the public in the case of the parks. A right to pass through, not to trespass. It was said, however, that although there was no legal title to hold the meeting, it would have been wise to permit it. That might have beet, the case had permission been asked; but when a right was asserted, the matter assumed a different aspect. He agreed with his hon. Friend that such permission might have been granted in this instance without danger to the peace of the metropolis. But the House must look not to the present temper of the people, and to the degree of excitement which prevailed respecting the very moderate differences of opinion which now engaged public attention, but to what might happen on an occasion when greater excitement existed. His hon. Friend had cited the example of Birmingham and Manchester, and had said why not allow here what was done at Birmingham, where the Mayor and a great number of the leading inhabitants showed their pleasure and satisfaction at such a meeting being held? and where they attended, he presumed, in order to have the pleasure of listening to his hon. Friend. But the leading authorities and inhabitants here, including those who used the Park for its legitimate purpose of recreation, did not wish for such a meeting. Therefore the example of Birmingham did not apply. His hon. Friend, judging partly from himself, and partly from those that had listened to him, contended that nothing but good could result from such a gathering. There might arise, however, other demagogues. [Laughter.] He hoped it would not be supposed that he intended to speak of the hon. Gentleman as a demagogue, though be did not see why the word should be deemed offensive, for it simply meant "a leader of die people;" but he should be the last to apply any term in the slightest degree disparaging to the relations which subsisted between his hon. Friend and the people, which redounded to the honour of both. But other leaders of the people might arise possessing equal power of stirring up their passions, but not possessing to the same extent the ability or the inclination to restrain them within those moderate courses which had marked the career of his hon. Friend as a political agitator. The House were bound to consider that contingency; and, while leaving unnoticed the attacks which had been made on their character, they 1966 ought to take care that they transmitted undiminished to their successors the power and authority with which they were intrusted. Especially should they do this at a time when they were on the eve of a great extension of the franchise. The more widely the doors of the Constitution were thrown open, the larger the number with whom they came in contact, the mightier the impulses to which the course of legislation was hereafter to be subject, the more important was it that they should transmit to their successors, unimpaired and untarnished, t he laws and liberties of the country. Our laws had derived much benefit from our liberties, but the liberty of our country owed still more to its laws. He should esteem them false friends to English liberty who, either by their language or their silence, lent any countenance to the doctrine that the councils of this country and the legislation of the House of Commons were to be controlled by multitudinous assemblages out of doors or by permanent agitation in the streets. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "Her Majesty's Government, in refusing the use of Hyde Park for the purpose of holding a Political Meeting, have asserted the legal right of the Crown, and deserve the support of this House in so doing,"—(Mr. Neate,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. DAVENPORT-BROMLEY
said, he was glad to find that the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) took a pacific view of the proceedings of Monday next, since there had been prophets in that House who had prophesied evil and who had been very influential in carrying out their own prophecies. He must say that that remark was applicable both with regard to the hon. Gentleman and to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone). The conduct of both of them reminded him of a story related by an eminent Member of the House (Mr. Arthur Kinglake) in one of the cleverest books ever written on the East. He described the behaviour of a certain prophet, who predicted that there would be a great plunder of the Jewish quarter of a 1967 particular Eastern town. On the day which he had fixed for the event he went among the crowd, created a tumult, and led them to the Jewish quarter, which they accordingly plundered. He indulged in a second prophecy of the same kind, but with that the law interfered, because he was regarded as too practical a prophet to be allowed to continue his prognostications. The hon. Member, however, had confined himself to stating his confidence that peace would be preserved inside the Park, and had said nothing whatever about the outside. But that he (Mr. Davenport Bromley) conceived was an equally important matter. He had a friend living near Cumberland Gate who had told him that the whole of his windows and nearly all his furniture were destroyed last July; that he had had the damage repaired at considerable expense; and that he did not look forward to next Monday with any feelings of satisfaction. He was not at all so sanguine as the hon. Member for Birmingham with regard to the peaceable character of the contemplated proceedings. The hon. Gentleman had said a good deal about the late Reform meeting at Birmingham. But he must be well aware that on Easter Monday there was invariably a vast crowd of people in Birmingham, and that the fact of the recent meeting being held on Easter Monday must be taken into consideration. The hon. Gentleman had also stated that hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House—whom he, perhaps, regarded as less likely to have received an historical education than those on the opposite Benches—could not appeal to history for instances of the peace having been broken by meetings of this character. He surely ought to have remembered the Bristol riots, the Lord George Gordon riots, the Nottingham riots, and several other instances which might be mentioned, not forgetting the Hyde Park riots of last July. He believed the Government would not adopt an unwise course, or take an ostensible line of opposition in any direction. At the same time, he trusted that if any infraction of the law took place, they would take care to hold the leaders of the demonstration responsible for any injury to person or property which might unfortunately occur.
§ MR. THOMAS HUGHES
I wish to take the earliest opportunity open to me of making a few observations in reference to the questions asked early in the evening by the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles 1968 Russell) in which he introduced my name and the names of other hon. Members on this side of the House. I do so because I hold it to be right, and the duty of the House, to scrutinize the conduct of its Members outside its walls. Some eighteen months ago, to begin at the beginning, some artizans whom I had known for some time, and for whom I had a great respect, called on me, and asked me to subscribe to the Reform League, of which they were themselves members. I subscribed to the funds, and, without further solicitation, I was made a Vice President of the League. Since that time whatever responsibilities or advantages may attach to that office have attached to me, and do so still. From many of the doctrines and most of the action of the Reform League I have differed widely. I have taken public occasion to state those differences; but I am not aware that the council of the Reform League have felt it to be their duty to alter their course of action in consequence of those views and opinions of mine. Admitting all this, I see and know nevertheless, as has been stated by the hon. Member (Mr. Bright), that but for the action of the Reform League, and the agitation that has been created by it and other similar bodies, we should not be where we are with respect to this question. I hold that the conversion of hon. Gentlemen opposite to the doctrine of household suffrage is, in a very great degree, owing to the agitation of the Reform League. I have been urged by many persons to give up my office as Vice President of the League. I have been urged to do so by persons whose judgment I highly respect, and whose good opinion I feel anxious to retain. But, after the best consideration I could give to the case, I declined to withdraw. It is not therefore likely that now I should re-consider the question, upon the pressure of the hon. Baronet and of the Gentlemen who think with him, for whose judgment I have not a high respect, and whose good opinion I am not anxious to obtain. It would be an act of simple cowardice and poltroonery if I were at this moment to recede from my position in consequence of the pressure applied to me by political opponents, or by any persons whatever. I apprehend that there are hardly any Members of this House who do not subscribe to institutions over whose actions they have no control, and with whose opinions they do not entirely agree. With respect to the proposed meeting in Hyde 1969 Park, I can only say that, as a Vice President of the Reform League, I am not in favour of it, and that I have done and shall do what little I can to prevent its occurrence. But, at the same time, let the House and the Government distinctly understand that, whatever may be my opinion upon the subject, if the meeting be held, I shall not shrink from the responsibility which may fall upon me as Vice President of the League; nor do I intend to recede from that position. With respect to the property destroyed last year, the destruction, it must be remembered, was occasioned by the attempt to keep out of Hyde Park the persons who wished to enter it.
§ MR. WALPOLE
Sir, there was a singular omission in the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) of the one topic which I should have thought was the most important in the consideration of this question. He was very eloquent and powerful in advocating the holding of public meetings for the purpose of political discussion. The hon. Member pointed out the good which such discussions often produce, and, founding his argument mainly upon that, he advocated the propriety, and almost the right—for he treated the denial of it as an insult to the people—of the admission of the people to the Royal Parks for such purposes. The hon. Gentleman never beard from me, nor do I believe he will hear from any Member of Her Majesty's Government, any expression of an intention to deprecate meetings of that kind. But the strange omission, which could not have escaped the attention of the House, relates to what is the foundation stone of the matter now under consideration—namely, the place where the meeting is to be held, and the propriety of insisting upon a place that is forbidden, when other places are open. That was hardly adverted to, except in two sentences, from the beginning to the end of the otherwise powerful speech of the hon. Gentleman. The whole question before the House at this moment is whether that right—of which Her Majesty's Government have no doubt, and of which, I believe, not ten Gentlemen in this House have any doubt—namely, the right of the Crown to the Royal Parks, and as consequent on that right, the power either to permit certain things to be done, or the power to prohibit certain other things from being done—is not as clear at the clearest proposition known to our law. The right of the Crown has been exercised 1970 in various ways and at various times. There is an implied permission, consequent on usage for every person to be admitted to the parks—and gladly, willingly, and cheerfully they are admitted—for the purposes of general recreation and enjoyment. The same right is established in many parks in many parts of the country—not Royal Parks, but parks created by the beneficence of individuals, or by public subscription. In almost all these parks they make it a condition—I know they make it a condition in most of them—that they shall not be open for two purposes—namely, purposes either of political or religious discussions. The reason is obvious. These are two topics on which men's minds are easily excited, and on which contrary opinions may be brought to bear in an adverse manner. If you opened the parks for the discussion of one set of opinions, you must open them for that of the other set of opinions. If therefore the Royal Parks were opened for either of these purposes of religious or political discussions the injurious consequences would be so great that not only do I hope, but I firmly believe, that the House will support the Government in maintaining the distinction as a reasonable distinction to be observed. The hon. Member said he wanted to know whether any number of persons had not a right to enter the Park. I concede that to be so. But when the hon. Member goes on to ask whether they have not a right to put shoulder to shoulder, to stand near each other and express their opinions to each other in a somewhat loud voice, I say that time answer to the question must depend upon circumstances. The real fact, and the only question which arises is, not whether any number of persons may enter the Park, or whether any number of persons may even be walking together, but whether any number of persons may hold a public meeting, doing that which is not permitted to be done. He imagines that either the Government or myself must have some doubt as to time rights of the Crown, since we have announced our intention to bring in a Bill on the subject. I do not bring in that Bill because we have the slightest doubt of the rights of the Crown, but because those rights are in our opinion undoubted. The mode of exercising those rights, however, so as to prevent the infraction of the law, or of the right which is conceded, to the persons entering the Park, is not so easy of enforcement. The real truth is that since every 1971 one has permission to enter the parks, the holding of public meetings, instead of being a criminal offence, is an act of trespass; and that in dealing with a trespass it is found difficult, indeed impossible, to act immediately when large bodies are collected together. It is easy to enforce the law, and it has often been enforced when small bodies of men have tried to enter upon religions discussions. When preachers go into the Park for this purpose you can stop them and hand them out. If they resist, you can deal with them for a breach of the peace. But another state of circumstances now arises. This being the case, the question is whether the Government; after all that has occurred, were not justified in warning those who announced their intention of holding this meeting in the Park for political discussion that they ought not to hold it, because such meetings were not allowed to be held. That was a warning, I should have thought, which the members of the Reform League might have cheerfully and honourably acted upon. They knew perfectly well, because an intimation was given to them last year by the Government, that if they simply wished to have a meeting for the discussion of the question of Reform in the open air, in order to avoid the expense of an indoor meeting, Primrose Hill was open to them for that purpose. You cannot, therefore, say that it was for the purpose of preventing them from having a meeting that we took the course we did. It was simply to maintain the right which cannot be maintained for the benefit of the public unless the authorities do their utmost to maintain that right, and unless in endeavouring to maintain that right they are supported by Parliament and the country. The question then arises supposing these gentlemen to insist on going to the Park, upon whom will fall the responsibility of any breach of the peace which may arise? They have had their warning, and I think they might ever now be advised to take it. No provocation will come from the Government so as to lead to that which is to be deprecated by everybody—the chance of a disturbance of breach of the peace. If they go, as understand they intend to go, though in a somewhat altered manner from that originally announced—if they go into the Part as other people go into the Park, the gates will not be closed. They will be admitted; but I do hope that when that is done, they will not insist on holding their meeting. I do hope they will pay such respect to the 1972 law of the land as to desist from what they must know is contrary to law. They have had every opportunity offered them of trying the legal right. Not only have they declined to accept that offer, but the President of the Reform League himself has said within the last six weeks that the legal right, he admitted, was with the Government. Sir, if this had been only an announcement of a meeting to be held in the park, it would not have become the Government, in maintaining the rights of the public—for all the people have a right to the enjoyment of the parks—to have stood neutral. But that is not all. I do not wish to say anything to aggravate or increase the difficulties of the present state of things. But I should imperfectly discharge my duty if I did not point out that not only was the meeting announced to be held, but language was used for the purpose of defying the Government and the authorities, which no Government could submit to with due regard to the interests of the country. I hope that language has now been withdrawn; I hope still more that it will not be repeated. In concluding, the few observations I have addressed to the House, pointing out the reasons why Her Majesty's Government have felt it their duty to take the course they have done, I cannot but add this further entreaty to those who may be connected with the Reform League. One of the vice-presidents (Mr. Thomas Hughes) has already said that he has tried, and will try to prevent this meeting, though he held himself responsible for what occurred while he remained Vice President, I hope that others will join their voices with his in trying to persuade the League not to do that which is contrary to the law. There is no intention on the part of the Government to prevent them from having the fullest and fairest discussion on the great subject of the day, provided the place where it is held is not a place set apart for other purposes. The rights of the people to the enjoyment of the parks are recognised by the Crown, but those places will never, I hope, be permitted to become arenas of political or religious agitations.
Sir, I wish to meet, without a moment's delay, so far as I am concerned, the invitation which has been given by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) to the Members of this House for an expression of opinion with respect to the meeting proposed to be held in Hyde Park on Monday. I will state at 1973 the commencement of the few remarks I have to make that I draw, in my own mind, and I desire to make intelligible to the House, a broad distinction between assuming responsibility on the part of this House for any step the Executive Government may take in the exercise of their legal powers, with reference to affirming or questioning the correctness of their judgment—a matter that I take to be beyond the duty of the House—and that which, on the other hand, I think does lie within the duty of the House and of Members of the House—namely, respecting and supporting the authority of the Crown and of the Ministers in the administration of the law. One word, in the first place, in respect to some remarks which have been made in this debate. Nothing could be less desirable than that any difference of opinion should be manifested in this House by a vote on a question touching public law and order. Upon questions of this kind the space that separates the two sides of this House entirely disappears. There can be but one sentiment in any quarter of this House with regard to the paramount importance and sacredness of every interest connected with the maintenance of public order. In the little I have to say I shall endeavour to speak in a spirit conformable to that sentiment. Holding that sentiment, I make this preliminary appeal to my hon. Friend (Mr. Neate) that I trust he will not ask us to go to a vote that must necessarily be misrepresented and misunderstood, relying, as I think he may, upon that substantial union of opinion which I am certain pervades all quarters of the House. I must say that if there be those who question either the lawfulness or the usefulness, in given circumstances, of great assemblies of people for political purposes, I am not among such persons. Moreover, I confess it was with some surprise that I heard expressions of scepticism from some portions of the House when a speaker on this side stated what appears to me entirely beyond dispute, that assemblages of the people for discussion and manifestation of their opinion regarding the question of Reform, have had an important—I will venture to say a vital influence and effect, in bringing that question to its present position. I can conceive nothing more legitimate in general than the principle of such meetings. Nothing less questionable than the propriety of their being brought into use on occasions of this kind where the interests of the people are directly concerned, and 1974 where for many years a main allegation in the mouths of its opponents—doubtless a conscientious allegation—was that the people themselves were indifferent to it. Although my hon. Friend (Mr. Neate) has rested his argument on the merits of the Bill introduced by Her Majesty's Ministers, I am not going to rest any counter argument on the demerits of that Bill. But I must say it is very natural that among those who are alive to the advantages and recommendations of that Bill the people of London should not be found in a foremost rank. This is not the time to introduce polemical observations; but whatever may be said as to the advantages contained in it to other parts of the country, there can be no question that the Bill, as regards the population of London, is little more than null. I therefore am not prepared to concur, directly or indirectly, in the slightest censure of the people of London for their continued desire, if they think fit to entertain that desire, to meet and express their views in respect to the question of Reform in Parliament. But, as was said by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole), that is subject to considerations of place. The Government believes itself to be in possession of legal powers to prohibit the use of the parks for the purposes of political discussion. It is a question, I admit, of very nice discretion—whether upon any occasion the extreme right of the Government in such matters should be waived. My right hon. Friend, I think, on certain occasions, if my memory does not deceive me, has himself waived somewhat of that right. I confess it appears to me it might be wise in some circumstances that that right should be waived. I agree cordially with my hon. Friend (Mr. Neate) when he deprecates permanent agitation. I will not say there can be no greater curse to a country. But I will say it is a great public evil, commonly testifying, indeed, to the existence of other and greater evils, but yet in itself a great public evil. But the way to get rid of these evils is by just legislation. However, I am now only drawing attention to the difference between a permanent cession of a right and an occasional waiver under circumstances that would justify such an exercise of discretion in the part of the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman has upon former occasions waived somewhat that right, I admit that he and his Colleagues are the proper judges whether that right should be waived under present circumstances. I am not 1975 sure whether I have gathered from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with perfect exactness the intentions of the Government upon this subject. I will, however, state what those intentions are as I understand them. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman holds himself to be beyond all doubt in possession of a legal power to prohibit and to put down meetings for political discussion in the parks. I understand him further to say, and I think this very important, that if other persons differ from the Government in their view of the law, he is not opposed, but, on the contrary, would give every facility for trying the legal right. Under these circumstances, and inviting an appeal to the law, the right hon. Gentleman says to those who propose to hold the meeting in Hyde Park, "I warn you not to attend the Park on Monday, the 6th of May, for the purpose of political discussion. No attempt will be made to close the gates of the Park against the entrance of any one who wishes to go there, but my intention is not to permit political discussion in that place." I understand that to be the intention of the right hon. Gentleman. If I have not correctly defined that intention, perhaps it might be as well if he were to say so.
§ MR. WALPOLE
As this is a very important point, perhaps the House will forgive me for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman used the phrase "prohibit and put down." I believe I never uttered the words "put down." On the contrary, I think I explained myself by saying that this was a trespass only. There would not therefore, practically, be power to stop such a meeting, and for that reason I sought by Bill to obtain some further powers to enforce the legal right in a more effectual manner.
I must admit that when I read the Proclamation, or document, or notification—call it, what you will—published by the right hon. Gentleman, I understood it to be the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to assert the legal right of which he thinks himself possessed by the agency of those who are at his command for that purpose. As the matter stands at present, I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that his intention is limited to interference when any act takes place that involves a breach of the peace.
§ MR. WALPOLE
I think I never expressed any intention as to what would be 1976 done in the event of the meeting being held. What I did say was, that the meeting being prohibited, the parties to it would be trespassers, and might be treated as trespassers. But in treating them as trespassers and in handing them out of the Park, a breach of the peace might easily be committed. This would be one of the consequences that might arise if the meeting were held.
I do not doubt that it is owing to defective apprehension on my part that I feel myself to be imperfectly informed by the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to the course that he intends shall actually be taken in this matter. But if the intention of the right hon. Gentleman be to treat as trespassers, and therefore as persons who have committed a breach of the law, those who engage in political discussion in the Park on Monday next; or I will go further, and say whatever may be the intention of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the administration and execution of the law, my most earnest advice and entreaty to those whom the Proclamation concerns is to conform themselves to the notifications it contains. So much at least of respect is due to the Government as the administrators of the law, that it is not consistent with the duty of the private individual and loyal subject of the Queen—and I agree with every word that the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) has used with regard to the general spirit which pervades the minds of the working population of London, whom I believe to be as jealous of the purity of their loyalty, as any Gentleman in this House—to place himself in conflict with those who are properly responsible for the execution of the law. If any persons question the legality of the powers assumed by the Government, they should carry the matter before the tribunals of the country, where the legal question would be determined. I will only add that, as others may labour under the same defective apprehensions as my self with regard to the intention of the Government on this subject, I hope that as far as the nature of the case admits their intention will be fully and clearly made known to those to whom the Proclamation has been addressed. It may be on my part an undue assumption of authority, to which I have no pretension, to utter any word of advice or recommendation to those who propose to hold this meeting. But be that as it may—exposing myself to misconstruction on that score, 1977 but trusting, as every public man in this country may trust, to the generous indulgence of his fellow-countrymen, when in strictness, perhaps, he travels a little beyond his province for the sake of obtaining a great public end—I offer to them in the face of the House the entreaty which I have just uttered. Under these circumstances, I feel confident that the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Neate) will not ask the House to divide upon his Motion. In my opinion it would be a great mistake to press that Motion, and to ask the House to express beforehand, without being fully acquainted with the intentions of the Government, its opinion as to whether the Government had or had not been wisely advised to adopt, in the exercise of its discretion, a particular course. We should certainly have the alternative, if the division were to be taken, of voting that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question; or that the business of the House should go forward in its ordinary course. However, I feel almost confident that we shall not be driven to this alternative. I think I am expressing the sentiments of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) himself in making this appeal to my hon. and learned Friend. I cannot agree with the observations which have been made by the hon. and learned Member with regard to those who have met in different parts of the country for the purpose of expressing their opinions on the subject of Reform; neither do I share in the apprehensions which some people appear to entertain with regard to any results that may arise from such meetings. But the question before us is one of a totally different description, and it is one in which our duty and obligations are so clear as to be beyond dispute. Let us respect the right and liberty of meeting: let us, if we think tit, reserve to ourselves the right to question the authority assumed by the Government at the right time and at the right place; but, in the meantime, let us support their authority as the administrators of the law for the sake of the law itself and for the sake of the public interest.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he had a petition to present from Charles Bradlaugh, a member of the Reform League, praying that notwithstanding the notification of the Home Secretary he might be protected whilst taking part in the public meeting on Monday next. The question with respect to the meeting on Monday next was this, whether under various pretences it was the 1978 purpose of the Government to restrict and render more difficult the exercise of the rights of the public. The ground now taken by the Government differed from that taken by them on a former occasion. The ground taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year was that a breach of the peace might be apprehended. The present pretext was that the enjoyment of ordinary visitors to the Park might be interfered with. The reasons were inconsistent, and it was trifling with the question. Personally, he did not approve of the proposed meeting. He could not imagine why these persons could not leave the matter to himself and to others who had protected the cause of Reform on a recent occasion. Still, the point was one upon which the public must be allowed themselves to judge, and the House had therefore no right to interfere on the ground of unreasonableness. Nothing could be more pretentious, more unsound, more fictitious, than the objection raised by the Proclamation of the right hon. Gentleman. Why should it not apply to reviews and other public celebrations? The present discussion was not at all calculated to allay the dissatisfaction which now prevailed. The legal question had been raised, but that had nothing to do with the matter. The Crown had many rights that it would be madness to enforce. The right hon. Gentleman, in dealing with this matter, ought to consider the rights of the public, which were now in danger of being infringed. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman, instead of interfering with the rights of the people, would rather assist them in expressing their opinions.
§ LORD ELCHO
I had not, Sir, the good fortune to be in the House when the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) made his speech, but can well understand that its purport was somewhat similar to that of speeches made by the hon. Member elsewhere. I heard, however, with great satisfaction the speeches of my right hon. Friends (Mr. Walpole and Mr. Gladstone.) My right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) apologized to a certain extent for holding the opinions which he expressed; but I cannot help regarding that apology as entirely unnecessary, inasmuch as I believe it to be the duty of every well-wisher of his country to assist in maintaining order and peace in the metropolis. I cannot, however, think that this question is at the present moment in a very satisfactory state, and I confess that I was unable to gather from the re- 1979 marks of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) the exact position in which the matter at present stands. I remember very well the circumstances of 1848, when my right hon. Friend (Sir George Grey), who was the Home Secretary at that time, must have had considerable experience in connection with this question. I have risen, therefore, for the purpose of asking him to favour the House with some expression of opinion upon this matter, with which his experiences and recollections of 1848 must have made him familiar.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I must say that I do not think the remarks of the noble Lord are warranted, because my right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) has told the House what our opinions are with respect to permitting the people to enter Hyde Park. Upon that point I think we fully express the opinions of Her Majesty's Government, while upon the legal points we never entertained the slightest doubt. If the question assumes the form of a simple trespass, then it will be dealt with according to the circumstances. The noble Lord appears to think that my right hon. Friend had not been sufficiently explicit as to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government after the people had entered the Park. It is asked what the Government intend to do after the people shall have entered the Park. What course will be taken must depend on circumstances—upon what takes place in the Park. It is quite impossible to say beforehand what we are going to do with respect to those who attend in the Park. All I can say is that we have taken every precaution for the preservation of the peace, and for preventing any possible inconvenience and injury to the ground in consequence of any accident or disturbance which might possibly arise. Every precaution is taken for the preservation of the public peace. But with respect to our conduct after the people shall have entered the Park, I repeat that that must depend on what takes place. I trust that every thing that takes place will be of such a tranquil and ordinary character as to make it unnecessary on the part of the Government to take any steps. But when my right hon. Friend is pressed to state what he will do under circumstances which have not at present occurred, the only answer which can be given is that we have taken precautions which we think adequate to preserve the peace of the metropolis.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
I can, of course, 1980 give no opinion as to the course which the Government ought to take on this occasion. The circumstances of 1848, which have been referred to, and those of the present time, are very different. There is no question now as to the legality of meetings held for the discussion of questions connected with Reform, and the only question is as to where those meetings should take place. I think, however, that there is some obscurity remaining as to the course which the Government intend to take. It is not an unreasonable assumption that the persons who do go to the Park on Monday will go with the intention of holding a meeting in defiance of the notice which has been issued. This. I apprehend they have no right to do, inasmuch as the Park is a place which is only opened to the public subject to certain restrictions imposed by the Crown in the interest and for the benefit of the public. If persons, with the view of asserting what they conceive to be their legal rights, should attempt to hold a meeting in the Park—though I trust they will not do so—I think that they should distinctly know beforehand what course the Government intend to take. I must, however, express my earnest hope that, after the discussion of this evening, the general expression of opinion as to the right of the Government to prohibit meetings in the parks, and the advice which has been so earnestly tendered by many Members of the House, the members of the League will abstain from doing that which must put them in the wrong.
§ CAPTAIN HAYTER
said, he wished to know whether it was the intention of the Government to bring up a special force of cavalry and infantry to prevent the people from going into the Park, in the event of there being a procession, with banners, with the obvious intention of holding a meeting in the Park. If the people were once allowed to enter the Park, then the difficulty would arise of driving them out again, and the utmost danger might result, not only to property but to person. On the former occasion of a meeting in Hyde Park an hon. Member had his house actually entered; several gentlemen had all their windows broken, and the son of a right hon. Gentleman on the Ministerial side of the House nearly lost his life. Therefore, he wished to know whether the Home Secretary meant to have a sufficient force of military ready to prevent the people from entering the Park?
said, that he had already expressed an opinion that Hyde Park was not at all a suitable place for holding political meetings, and he therefore had no sympathy with those who intended to hold a political meeting in that place. He understood the Home Secretary to say that the persons whose intention was to hold a meeting in the Park would be allowed to enter. But what he wanted to know was, when those persons proceeded to commence a political discussion, whether the Government meant to take forcible means to eject them, or whether they would be allowed to continue the discussion? It would depend on the course adopted by the Government whether the whole affair passed off peaceably, or whether it led to the breach of the peace.
§ MR. SELWYN
said, that he was a special constable in 1848, and he was ready to serve again in that capacity. He could not concur in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) as to the great difference between the circumstances of that time and the circumstances of the present time. If anything, they were more serious now. The question did not relate to the right of public meetings for political discussion, for that was conceded on all hands. Neither was it a question as to the convenience of the place of meeting, for, having regard to the situation of the residences of most of the persons likely to attend, and to its own shape and position, Primrose Hill would be a much more convenient place for the purpose of the meeting, and there was not the same likelihood of damage being inflicted upon the houses in the neighbourhood as was the case in Hyde Park. Primrose Hill had been offered more than once, and there could be no doubt that Hyde Park had been chosen as the place of meeting simply for the purpose of intimidation. There was no question at all as to the point of law. Even the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) did not assert that the people had any legal right to meet in the parks. Every one had permission from the Crown to go into the parks at certain times and for certain purposes, and this permission could give no greater right than every one had to walk up and down a street in front of a man's house; but if a number of people were to give notice that they intended to hold a meeting in the street in front of a certain house, and were warned by the police against doing it, as it would interfere with 1982 the proper use and enjoyment of the thoroughfare by others for other purposes, and would therefore be unlawful; and if, notwithstanding these warnings, the people insisted on their right to hold the meeting, it would be exactly the question which was raised in this case. He did not think it would be right for the Government to say in precise terms what they would do in case of any particular event occurring. He agreed with what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that their course must be guided by circumstances. Considering that the legal question was free from doubt, that the right of public discussion was fully conceded, and believing that if the meeting were held as proposed it would be in direct defiance of the law and for the purpose of intimidation, he held it to be the duty of every Member of that House to give to the Government his utmost support on this question, as their cause was alike the cause of true liberty, the cause of law, and the cause of order.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, that he was also ready to serve again as a special constable in defence of law and order—as he had under the command of his hon. and learned Friend in April, 1848—if necessary. But in reference to the matter under discussion, he was of opinion that the intentions of the Government should be made a little clearer. If any of the persons who went to the Park on Monday should get up and commence an address to his fellows on some political subject, would he be turned out of the Park? The intentions of the Government on that head had not yet been put before the House point-blank, and he thought that they ought to be clearly understood, or many of the persons attending in the Park, when they found that political topics were not allowed to be discussed, would complain that they had been made fools of, and a disturbance might arise. The Proclamation which had been issued left it quite doubtful whether the Government intended to prevent any discussion or not. Would persons acting in the way described be turned out of the Park? If that were properly known and understood, it would have the affect of preventing a great many people from going there. If it were not stated beforehand, and people went to the Park under the impression that they would not be interfered with, and then were turned out, they would be much more likely to get into a state of temper in which a disturbance was likely to happen. If a disturbance occurred in con- 1983 sequence of any violation of the law, he quite agreed that the Government ought not now to be called upon to explain what they would do in that event; but he thought it was only right and fair that a distinct answer should be given to the question of whether, if Mr. Beales or Mr. Bradlaugh attempted to get up a political discussion in spite of the warning of the Government, they would be taken into custody by the police?
§ MR. KINNAIRD
said, that he had received a communication from Perth, strongly urging him to state to the House that they took a deep interest in the question, and that they considered the proposed political meeting might be fairly held in Hyde Park on Monday next. He did not express any opinion upon it himself; but he thought it should be known that there was a strong feeling in the country upon the question, as it was considered to be one which affected the right of meeting in public places.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
said, he could not let pass without observation the statement that the House was unanimous in denying the right of the people to hold meetings in the Park. For his part, he held that the people were distinctly in the right in holding their meetings, so long as they were peaceful and orderly meetings; and—however little his opinion might be worth—this was at least important to understand—namely, that the people thought so too—that therefore they could not be said to be acting with the desire to deliberately defy the Government, but simply to exercise what they believed to be an undoubted right. Now, he must say that no ground whatever was, in his opinion, made out fur the alleged illegality. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) from time to time used the phrase "Royal Parks," as though they were the property of the Crown; but then in the next sentence he would use the quite different, and indeed inconsistent, language—that the parks had been made over to the people for their recreation and amusement, and generally for all proper and useful purposes. Now he (Mr. Taylor) must say that he was not surprised that amongst such proper and useful purposes Englishmen should think that occasional meetings for the peaceful and orderly discussion of political questions should not be ignored or excluded. But then it was said the Government are bound to keep the peace, and to take precautions that 1984 no meeting at which violence was threatened or probable should be permitted. To that proposition he gave his entire concurrence; but then it had no special reference to a meeting in the Park, or elsewhere. The Government were responsible for the maintenance of order, and it was their duty to take care that it was not violated in the Park or out of it. But then they were bound by a responsibility to the House and to the country to show that they had sufficient grounds for interfering with the usual and constitutional right of meeting. In this case they had no such right, because they could not allege, and did not allege, that they had any fear of a disturbance. What said the Proclamation of the right hon. Gentleman? It said, meetings for political discussion were not permitted. Permitted by whom?—he should like to inquire. The simple fact was that the plea that such meetings interfered with the general enjoyment of the people was a mere pretext, as the people very well knew; the real object being to prevent a mass meeting on Reform. The Government did not believe that the proceedings of the Reform League would cause a disturbance. The only disturbance to be apprehended was through Government interference with the meeting, and hence the responsibility for any breach of the peace would rest with the Government. But it was said that now at any rate the people knew that they would be acting illegally, since the Proclamation had been issued by the Government. Now he wished to point out that proclamations did not, happily, in this constitutional country, constitute law. He had the highest possible respect for the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole); but he ventured to tell him that he did not constitute in himself all the governing elements in the country—he was not exactly Queen, Lords, and Commons rolled into one. He (Mr. Taylor) asked what law it was under which political meetings were forbidden in the Park; and if the right hon. Gentleman could only point to his own manifesto, he (Mr. Taylor) respectfully denied its validity. It was not very long since the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had defended in that House all the infamous atrocities committed in Jamaica on the ground that they were done under a proclamation of martial law. Now he had not yet heard that such doctrines were to be applied at home as well as in our colo- 1985 nies; he even thought it not impossible that, after the luminous charge lately delivered by the Lord Chief Justice, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer might not be anxious to repeat his dictum. But be that as it might, he (Mr. Taylor) was prepared to take the responsibility, whether as a vice-president or in any other capacity, of declaring his conviction that the Reform League was correct in believing that in calling a meeting in Hyde Park they were not acting illegally, and in throwing the full responsibility of any disturbance that might ensue upon the foolish interference of the Government. He thought the Government should not now be pressed as to the exact course they intended to pursue on Monday. They had already stated that they did not propose to prevent the people entering the Park, and that they should not interfere unless a breach of the peace should occur; and he, for one, had no fear that any such misfortune would occur, except through the forcible intervention of the police, of which, after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he had no apprehension.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I rise to reply to the inquiries recently put to the Government lest it should be thought that we are deficient in courtesy. I had hoped that what was stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a short time since would have been sufficient. It has been said most distinctly that as long as persons, whom I will not more particularly define, walk into the Park in a peaceful and well-conducted manner, no attempt shall be made to prevent their entrance. I trust that, after what has been said upon both sides of this House, this ill advised intention on the part of the Reform League will be abandoned. But if, in spite of what has been said here, and in defiance of the notification that has been issued by the Home Secretary, the intention of the League is still maintained, the Government will act at its discretion. But, inasmuch as we have reason to believe that steps have already been taken with a view to evade any arrangements the Government may have made, we do not think it our duty publicly to state here the course we should take under circumstances which we cannot foresee. We have taken and shall take abundant precautions to protect the public peace, and I hope those precautions will be successful in preventing unpleasant consequences.
§ MR. LOWE
The right hon. Baronet 1986 has stated that the Government cannot, consistently with their duty, tell us what they can do under circumstances they cannot foresee; and nothing can be more reasonable. But what we want to know is what will they do under circumstances which they can foresee, because they have been announced in the form of a programme of proceedings. We are told that a number of persons intend to go to Hyde Park. That is a perfectly legal proceeding. But they intend when they go there to hold a meeting. I gather from the Secretary of State (Mr. Walpole) that that is not in itself an illegal proceeding. [A Member of the Government was understood to dissent from this.] I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, in substance, that the Crown gives a licence to its subjects to go to the Park; but that licence is revocable, and that it would be the pleasure of the Crown, as announced in the notice which has been given, if the persons meeting in the Park on Monday evening proceed to hold a public meeting on the subject of Reform, to revoke the licence, and that those forming the meeting would thus be made trespassers. Now, the question I want answered is this. As the Government knows it is the distinct intention of certain persons to hold a public meeting on Reform in the Park, and as they have announced that such persons will become trespassers by so doing, I want to know what course the Government will take with regard to those persons when they act as they say they will? It is useless for the Government to say they do not foresee this event. They do foresee it. The Home Secretary has certainly foreseen it. He has told us exactly what is anticipated, and he has said something about handing them out of the Park. Is that to be done, or is nothing to be done? The members of the Reform League have clearly stated what they mean to do, unless they change their minds. If the Government wishes to prevent a great calamity, it will do its duty and announce what it will do in the event of the Reform League carrying out its programme. I ask the Government to declare its intentions in this respect. It appears to me that the Government, in not answering the questions put to it, incurs a heavy responsibility. If the people are led to suppose that they can hold this intended meeting with impunity, subsequent interference would produce a sense of wrong. The people will think they have not been 1987 fairly dealt with. This, I think, is a fearful responsibility for a Government to assume. I make these observations in no hostile spirit. I put these questions simply in the cause of order. I do not ask you what measures you will take to suppress a riot. A riot is like a battle; events must be met as they arise. But while nothing has been done to rouse hot passions, it is of the last importance that you should tell us what you will do when the meeting has begun. Do you mean to dissolve the meeting and turn the people out of the Park? If they resist, do you mean to have recourse to force, and will you treat those who resist as criminals? Unless the Government announce what the people will have to expect if this meeting is held, the Government, in case of disturbance arising, will be charged with having caused a very great calamity.