§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, What is the law respecting Public Processions; and, why a Procession of people thinking they have a grievance was stopped more than two miles from the House of Commons, while frequently mobs carrying Re-publican Flags are permitted to crowd the streets on Sunday afternoons?
§ MR. SAMUDA
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, If it is true, as reported to him (the Member for the Tower Hamlets) by his constituents, that a quiet and orderly number of poor match-makers in the East of London, and at about four miles from the House of Commons, who were proceeding westward to show their protest against the Match Tax, which they conceived would completely ruin them, were cruelly beaten with staves by the police; and, whether he has had under his consideration that the object of preventing illegal processions of this sort from reaching the House of Commons might be more effectually obtained by widely circulated printed notices, explaining the unconstitutional nature of such processions, without having recourse to force upon persons who may naturally imagine that they are not offending against the Law, when they see so frequently large processions of Republican and other bodies proceeding unmolested by the Police through the streets on other occasions?
§ MR. EYKYN
said, he also wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman, Whether he has made any inquiry with reference to the manner in which a member of the Press and a medical gentleman were treated on this occasion, whether they were "run in" by the police, and whether, to supplement the charge against them of being disorderly, Policeman B 62 stated that both were drunk?
Sir, I shall be happy to state the law of public processions, 1775 so far at least as it refers to the subject of this inquiry. The law with regard to processions, political and otherwise, is this:—If they are peaceably conducted, if it is not their object to inspire the public with terror, and if they are so conducted as not to interfere with the traffic of the streets, they are not illegal. However objectionable and offensive to many these gatherings on Sunday afternoons may be, there is, as I believe and am informed, nothing illegal in them if they are so conducted as not materially to interfere with the use of the streets on Sunday; and whatever other sentiments those referred to may have inspired, I am not aware that they have ever inspired sentiments of terror. The case of the procession on Monday is entirely different. The first information of it reached me on the morning of that day. It appears that on Sunday afternoon a meeting was held in Victoria Park for the purpose of organizing what was called a monster procession, with a view of presenting a Petition to Parliament. The inspector of police who was present at the meeting was not aware that there was anything illegal in the proposed procession, or that it differed from an ordinary procession, and he did not conceive that it was his duty to call the special attention of the Chief Commissioner of Police to the fact that an illegal procession was contemplated. On the Monday morning placards were issued in the East of London, calling upon the people to assemble and form the procession. When I was informed of it, I immediately desired the Chief Commissioner to send information to these people, whose object I am well aware was quite peaceable, that their intention to come to the Houses of Parliament for the purpose of presenting a Petition was contrary to the law. The law is, that the number of persons proceeding together to either House of Parliament for the purpose of presenting a Petition shall not at anytime exceed 10; and an Act of George III. declared meetings to be illegal which should be held for the purpose of considering or preparing a Petition to Parliament within a mile of Westminster on any day on which Parliament might meet or sit. This is not a question of a meeting for the purpose of considering a Petition to Parliament, otherwise the meeting of those persons would have been quite 1776 legal, for they met far more than a mile from Westminster; but they met with the object of coming to Parliament to present a Petition, and the moment they did so it was an illegal procession. In answer to the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda), I have to say that the earliest possible means were taken of informing these poor people that the object of their meeting was illegal; but, unfortunately, it was impossible on Monday morning to make that information generally known. The first information was given by an inspector, who, with a body of police, met a portion of the procession at Bow Bridge, four miles from this place, headed by a gentleman who is a partner in one of the principal firms engaged in the making of lucifer matches. They were informed that a procession having this special object was an illegal procession, and that if they persisted in advancing they would be prevented approaching the precincts of the Houses of Parliament. There was some little scuffling, but no blows were struck on either side; and, when all was over, the gentleman who headed the procession—I believe it was Mr. May—used this expression to the inspector of police—"I have no fault to find with you, and I believe you have no fault to find with me," which was quite true. Another part of the procession was met at Mile End, and again information as to the illegality of their object was given, and no violence occurred. In each case these portions of the procession were apparently disbanded; but, many of those who formed them came on by the river steamers or by indirect routes, and at last collected in great numbers on the Thames Embankment, and formed in procession with waggons, bands of music, banners, and various other ensigns. About 100 yards from the termination of the Embankment they were met by a body of police and told they must proceed no further. Then an attack was made upon the police, not by the persons who formed the procession, but by a number of the violent class commonly called "roughs," who flung stones and other missiles against the police, and broke up the standards of the processionists and used them against the police. One policeman was injured severely, and several others were more or less hurt; but the police were under 1777 the command of the district superintendent, and I am positively assured by him that neither there nor anywhere else did the police strike a single blow; they received many, but they did not strike one. I believe they did their best to avoid the use of any more force than was absolutely necessary to prevent that which would have been illegal, and which I think it was my duty, under the law and in the interests of public order, to prevent. With respect to the subject of the Question asked me without Notice by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Eykyn), I have not specially inquired into the matter, but I had asked Colonel Henderson what truth there was in the statement that these two gentlemen were illused. His reply was that, in spite of the efforts of the police, a great number of women and children got into the Hall, which was very inconveniently crowded, and that a large number of people also assembled outside the Houses of Parliament. He therefore cleared the Hall, and prevented the entrance within the gates of all persons except those who had a right to enter. These gentlemen were there, and endeavoured to force their way in, but were informed by the police that they could not be allowed to enter. I am informed that they used very irritating language to the police, and that the police did not use more violence than was necessary to prevent that which, had it been permitted, would have led others to attempt to get in.
§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
After what the right hon. Gentleman has stated, I wish to ask him whether he will not bring in a Bill to prevent these processions, at all events on Sunday afternoons?
What happened yesterday does not give me much encouragement as to the prospect of passing such a Bill.