§ COLONEL LEARMONTH (for Colonel WILMOT)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether an Order confining the Troops to Barracks was issued prior to the meet- 845 ing in Hyde Park on Sunday last to the regiments quartered in that neighbourhood; whether the Order relative to the confinement of Troops to Barracks on the evening of the Trafalgar Square Meeting, extended not to only those in that neighbourhood, but to those quartered at Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Regent's Park, and the Tower; whether the Soldiers of the Household Regiments have previously taken part in meetings of a political character, so as to render an order necessary so as to prevent their attendance on that occasion; and, whether any Communication passed between the Home Office and the Military Authorities at the Horse Guards relative to that meeting; and, if so, whether they referred to the attendance of soldiers, and if not, will he be so good as to state to the House the nature of those communications?
Sir, the hon. and gallant Gentleman asks whether an Order confining the troops to barracks was issued prior to the meeting in Hyde Park on Sunday last to the regiments quartered in that neighbourhood. I have to say that no such Order was issued, nor, in fact, could any such Order have been justified. If my hon. and gallant Friend who gave Notice of these Questions was in Parliament in 1866, he will recollect the discussions which occurred on the subject and the doubts that were raised as to the legality or illegality of public or political meetings in the Parks. A Bill was introduced to settle the doubts by the then Government of Lord Derby, but that Bill was not proceeded with; and at present I must presume that a meeting even of a political character, if held in a quiet and orderly manner, is not illegal. What constituted the illegality of the meeting in Trafalgar Square, as originally called, on Monday evening, was that it was held on a day when Parliament was sitting, to petition Parliament, and within one mile of the Houses of Parliament. The meeting in Hyde Park was held more than a mile from the Houses of Parliament, and on a day when Parliament was not sitting; therefore, it was unnecessary to take any steps to prevent it. With regard to the next Question, I am unable to answer it. It was considered inexpedient, for reasons that may well be imagined, that at the meeting in Trafalgar Square soldiers should be present. 846 These meetings are generally called by persons who have no intention whatever of behaving in a disorderly manner. I am informed by a person well qualified to judge, and who remained during the whole time the meeting lasted, that the number of persons constituting the meeting did not exceed 400, although several thousands were present. Such assemblies are very apt to bring together disorderly persons, and it is impossible to say what may occur at them, even if perfectly legal. Therefore, it was thought expedient or judicious to prevent the attendance of soldiers, who might otherwise have been there not from political reasons, but from ordinary curiosity; and the Under Secretary communicated with the War Office as to the issue of such an Order as they might think proper under the circumstances. The Order was left entirely to their discretion. I have no reason to believe that any of the Household troops, or indeed any other soldiers, take part in political meetings. With regard to the latter portion of the Question, I can only repeat that no written authority was given by the Home Office, but that a verbal communication was made by the Under Secretary for the Home Department.