HC Deb 04 April 1872 vol 210 cc799-808

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


intimated that the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. RyLands) had consented to postpone the clause of which he had given Notice—namely, Nothing in this Act shall authorize the prohibition of the exercise of the right to which any persons may be entitled of holding public meetings in any of the Parks included in the Second Schedule of this Act"— and the Committee would, therefore, proceed with the Schedules of the Bill.


said, he had consented to the postponement at the request of the Government, and he had done so in the hope that the Government would arrange such a clause as might give satisfaction to those interested in the question.

First Schedule.


moved to leave out the Eighth Regulation, which provided that— No person shall deliver, or invite any person to deliver, any public address in a park except in accordance with the rules of the park. This, he said, was a provision which struck against the use of the Parks in a way in which they had been hitherto used. He believed the Regulations to be totally unnecessary, because, so far as the Parks were concerned, the Secretary of State for the Home Department had perfect power to keep down, by merely issuing his order, anything like disorder that might arise from a public meeting. His great object in moving the rejection of this rule, however, was not so much its effect on the Parks of London, but because it struck most materially against the liberties of the city which did him the honour to return him to that House. They had in Edinburgh a Park of great natural beauty, but beholden in no way to the art of man to make it such as it was. The people had had full liberty to enjoy this Park for a couple of centuries, and they had it still. He apprehended that if this rule were passed they would have no power to use this Park at all, and if this were so, the inhabitants would be deprived of the privilege he had mentioned. The Park in Edinburgh was different from any Park about London. It was not laid out in any way. It was let out for the purposes of sheep-feeding, with certain walks and roads running through it, and he defied any body of men to do the slightest injury to it, unless they went in with shovels and dug up the grass. Besides being a place of recreation, the public of Edinburgh had had, from time immemorial, the right to run through this Park, and they had exercised this liberty night and day. Scotland being 400 miles away, it was difficult to reach the authorities in London; and on the ground that the regulation would interfere so much with the liberties of the constituency he represented, he moved its rejection, and he hoped the Government would take his Motion into consideration.


said, it was extremely undesirable that any power should be taken to interfere with the right to hold public meetings in the Parks. As he understood, the Government did not intend to prohibit them; their only object was to enable the First Commissioner to make rules prescribing the conditions under which they were to be held, and he asked the Government what it was they wished to secure by this clause in the Schedule. If any innocent object could be specified, his objection to it would be removed. The First Commissioner had attended a large meeting held in Hyde Park to protest against this Bill, and there was nothing in that meeting which could justify interference on the part of the Government.


said, he was rather surprised at the hon. Member for Warrington not approving of this Schedule. The Parks, which were originally Crown property, were devoted to the use of the public under certain conditions, which did not include the right of holding public meetings in them, and this clause, by laying down the rule that no meetings should be held in them except according to their rules, indirectly acknowledged the right of the public to hold such meetings, subject to such rules, whereby a most valuable concesssion to the people would be obtained. Under these circumstances, he should support the clause.


said, he could not help expressing his surprise that the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid) should support this Schedule after having from first to last opposed the Bill, which he now asserted would confer a valuable right upon the people. He wished for an explanation from the First Commissioner of Works as to why he now advocated this clause, which he had several times before stated he entirely disapproved. It was, however, possible that the right hon. Gentleman had changed his mind upon the subject since last Session, believing that any meetings which might be held in the Parks were not so likely to be favourable to the Government now as they might have been some months ago. He merely threw out this as a possible explanation; but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be able to afford the House a better one. This matter had been under the consideration of the Government for upwards of two months, and they ought to be in a position to state what course they intended to take with reference to the holding of public meetings in the Parks. It was important to know what were the regulations the right hon. Gentleman intended to make on the subject. There were two parties who might be deceived in the matter. Hon. Members opposite might think that it was intended no public meetings would be permitted to be held in the Parks; whereas hon. Members near him might think that they would be permitted to be held. He should like to know which of these opinions was the correct one. If political meetings were not to be permitted to be held in the Parks, he should like to know where they were to be held in London. They could not take place in public-houses, because the magistrates had decided that political meetings should not be held at the "Hole in the Wall," the licence to which they would not renew unless the sign were changed to the "Victoria" or the "Crown." Whether this were done under the authority of the Home Office he did not know. It would be a strange state of things if political meetings could take place neither in public-houses nor in the Parks. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works had referred the other night to carrion in the Parks. Now, carrion was flesh and blood in a state of decay. In his opinion, the use of such a term in connection with persons in an inferior position in life was unwise, unsafe, and manifestly unstates-manlike. In referring to such persons it was better to use civil language. Hon. Members opposite suggested that Primrose Hill might be set apart for public meetings and become a Mons Sacer; but they adopted a most ill-omened phrase, for Mons Sacer meant the rising of the plebeians against the aristocracy. In conclusion, he again begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman for an explanation on the point to which he had drawn his attention.


said, he would be very happy to comply with the request of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The best way of answering his Question was to state what had happened with reference to the clause, which he personally regarded with indifference, it not having been drawn up by himself. Last Session he had informed the House that he wished the Bill should go upstairs to be examined by a Committee, and he had laid before that Committee the rules which had been adopted by the various municipal authorities, who had provided parks for the recreation of the inhabitants of their towns. They were unanimous with regard to every clause of the Schedule except the 8th, which was proposed by an hon. Member who sat on the other side of the House. As he wished to pass the Bill last year, he informed that hon. Gentleman that if the clause were introduced it would give rise to considerable discussion, and that therefore he should not be justified in pressing the measure forward at so late a period of the Session. The hon. Gentleman persisted, however, and, consequently, the Bill was withdrawn. With regard to the merits of that clause, he did not enter into them at all, and he contended that his conduct had ever been consistent in respect to it. In considering the question of the re-introduction of the Bill, it was important to ascertain whether the Government should accept the Schedule as accepted by the Committee. The conclusion he arrived at was that the clause must be construed to mean that this particular use of the Parks should be dealt with in precisely the same way as any of the other uses of the Parks that were mentioned in the Bill. The elaborate stories which had been manufactured as to the motives of the Government in introducing this measure were pure fictions. He proposed the Bill simply as an administrative measure for the regulation of the Parks, and it had never been the intention of Her Majesty's Government to regard this clause in any other light than that which it had just been stated. The only questions remaining for consideration were—first, in what Parks it would be convenient to allow public meetings to be held; and, secondly, what rules should be framed for the purpose of giving effect to the clause. His own view, which was entirely acquiesced in by Her Majesty's Government, was that practically there were four large Parks which represented the North, South, East, and West of the metropolis, and which were so large that no inconvenience would arise from allowing public meetings to be held in them. There was the Regent's Park on the North, Victoria Park on the East, Battersea Park on the South, and Hyde Park on the West. Hon. Members might perhaps say that while the Government had complete control over three of these Parks there was a considerable suspicion as to the fourth, in consequence of the jurisdiction of that great ogre, the Ranger of Hyde Park. He considered, however, that the Ranger was just as amenable to Her Majesty's Government in regard to orders respecting the performance of his duty as any other servant of the Crown. He had, however, communicated with the Ranger, who perfectly concurred with him in this matter, and expressed his willingness to give effect to the regulations relating to Hyde Park. It was not true that there would be any complication in the rules intended to be made. Everybody would be able to understand them, and, what was much better, everybody would be able to conform to them except those who before they knew them declared they would not conform to any rules for the good government of the Parks. It could not be expected that such men would speedily be made amenable to reason or common sense. They were by profession the friends of Republicanism, Internationalism, and Revolution; and it was not to be expected that those who made loud profession of such opinions would be particularly amenable to rules adopted by a Constitutional Government. It was but natural that they should take the ground they had taken; but he thought the authority of Parliament was still respected in the country, and that the Crown was considered by the people to be the emblem of peace, order, right, and justice, and having to serve the Crown he should feel no difficulty whatever in enforcing the provisions of any Bill which the House might think fit to pass for the benefit of the community generally. The rules would embrace, first of all, the particular Parks in which meetings might be held. Next, they would provide that two hostile meetings should not be held at the same time in the same Park. The rules would also define what part or parts of a Park might be used for the holding of meetings. These were the main features of the rules that were to be made. The Government had to consider the question whether any meeting at all should be held on Sundays, because the holding of a meeting might interfere with the enjoyment of the great mass of the people who resorted to the Parks on Sundays. As to the general question of holding meetings in the Parks, if a meeting were convened for a lawful purpose, the Government would not deem it their duty to interfere, whether the object of that meeting was to censure or praise their proceedings. Such being the scope of the rules that were to be made, it was quite clear that the Bill could not in any way affect what was called the right of meeting, properly and legitimately understood. The right of meeting was the right of expressing your opinions freely in a place in which you had a right to meet; but it was not the right of taking possession of any place you might think fit, and saying anything you pleased. He had jurisdiction over two Parks in Scotland, one of them being Holyrood Park, in the metropolis of Scotland, which would be placed in the same category as the London Parks; of the other Park it was not necessary to say anything. The Bill with the Schedule was favourable to the best interests of this metropolis. It would give the people the liberty of meeting, and would give them guarantees for good order. He believed it was thoroughly acceptable to the people of London, and that if the whole metropolis were polled not more than the 1,000 which had made such an exhibition of themselves lately, at the tail of bands drumming revolutionary tunes through London on Sunday, would be found voting against the Bill. It reflected great credit on the intelligence and sense of law and order of the people of London that the number was so few.


said, he understood from the right hon. Gentleman that the rules for the regulation of Holyrood Park distinctly recognized the right of public meeting there, which had been held from time immemorial. With that concession, he believed, the inhabitants of the city which he had the honour to represent would be satisfied. He might state, however, that a very strong feeling existed on the subject; and it was only that night that he received a telegram to this effect—"The citizens of Edinburgh, in public meeting assembled, unanimously denounced the Parks Bill. Memorial to follow. Resist to the last." With the concession which the right hon. Gentleman had made being understood to be fairly carried into effect, and embodied in the Resolution, he was not prepared to offer any opposition to the Bill.


said, if the First Commissioner of Works had two months ago made the statement which he had just made, he would have saved a great deal of time and a great deal of discussion. If a statement had been made at the earliest moment on the part of the Government that political meetings might be held as freely in the Parks, and subject to the same conditions as private carriages might be driven, the view taken of this Bill would, he thought, have been very different. He might appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they had placed upon this Schedule the interpretation they had just heard—namely, that political meetings in Hyde Park were to be sanctioned by statutory enactment, and to be placed under the same regulations as the driving of private carriages in Hyde Park. So far as he understood the concession of his right hon. Friend, it seemed to be tolerably satisfactory; and if the 8th sub-section were made a little more clear, and the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) were inserted in the Bill, he should be satisfied. The Parks mentioned by his right hon. Friend were very suitable. He was glad there was no intention on the part of the Government to lay down regulations as to the subjects to be discussed; and it was all the more satisfactory to receive such an assurance, because it had been stated that the Lord Chamberlain had thought it desirable that the Government of the day should be saved from criticism in the pantomimes. There must, however, be something more definite than the mere statement of the intentions of his right hon. Friend, for it might so happen that another First Commissioner might think it advisable to lay down very different rules. However, when they came to the Report it would be the proper time to consider how the pledges of the Government might be put into the Bill in so definite a shape that there could be no mistake about them.


said, he could not allow it to be supposed that the declarations to-night of his right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works differed from what had been stated by him in former discussions. Strictly speaking, he was not aware that there were any rights at all, in the legal sense of the word, with regard to the use of the Parks; but with respect to the reasonable usage of meeting, he apprehended that the clause would place this usage on the same footing as any other usage connected with the enjoyment of the Parks. He was glad his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. V. Harcourt) had raised this question to-night; because, though on a former occasion he had stated on the part of the Government in the clearest manner that, subject to proper regulations, the usage of meeting in the Parks would be sanctioned, a speech was delivered from an hon. Member on the opposite benches (Mr. J. Lowther) which showed that he attached a different meaning to the clause, and reference was made to Primrose Hill as a place to which the people might resort. But to say that the whole of the people of this vast metropolis, extending as it did over many miles, should be limited to Primrose Hill as a place of meeting, would be a niggardly, impolitic, and unjust regulation. One word in justice to hon. Gentlemen opposite. There had been in former times—and many on that (the Ministerial) side of the House might have had the same feeling—a jealousy of meetings for any political purpose in the Parks of London. And there would he a great deal to be said for that feeling if there were reasonable facilities of access to other places where such meetings could be held. But if the Parks were closed, there would be either a practical prohibition of those meetings, or the people would be driven to assemble in places within the town, with a far greater degree of inconvenience to the public, and of risk—though that was so small that it might be disregarded—to the general tranquility. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, therefore, deserved great credit for the proposal of this clause, to which his right hon. Friend never gave any opposition, though he thought it could not be duly discussed last Session. He hoped his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford would feel that he had a sufficient security for the object he had in view, and that he would not raise a controversy on the subject on a future day. For his part, he did not believe that a change of Government would have the slightest effect on the matter. If there was any hostile disposition on the part of any who were likely to be responsible for the conduct of public affairs, that disposition would have been declared long ago in terms not to be mistaken. After what he had said, his hon. and learned Friend would see that the Government could not consent to proceed to the length of affirming an absolutely legal right of meeting in the Parks. The ground which they took was that this usage ought to be placed in practice on the same footing as other usages in the Parks.


expressed his gratification that the matter was likely to be arranged in a satisfactory manner, and also that the hon. and learned Member for Oxford had come round to the view of the case which he (Mr. Goldsmid) had taken.


said, he was sorry to be the only discordant element, but he thought it his duty to oppose the withdrawal of the Amendment. He was glad the right hon. Gentleman was not going to prevent public meetings in the Park, but did not think this was a matter which should be trusted to his or anybody's discretion. The right hon. Gentleman said he would settle the right to Sunday meetings by what he saw of the results of such meetings. The exercise of such a discretion should not be permitted. No word had been uttered on the subject from the Opposition bench, and another party coming into power might interpret very differently the clauses of the Bill and the rules which were to be framed under them. Did the First Commissioner mean to say that if 80,000 persons met in a city park in defiance of rules that might be framed he would meet them with force—a military force? Was London in such a satisfactory condition that the nation could afford to meet an exasperated mass of the citizens? Was it right to tell the people, who had been in the habit of meeting in the Parks, that their practice was to be infringed even by a hair's breadth? He thought not. He protested against the conduct of the Government in this matter, which he thought might produce hereafter unforeseen, but most serious, consequences.

Amendment proposed, In page 4, line 19, to leave out the words "no person shall deliver, or invite any person to deliver, any public address in a Park, except in accordance with the rules of the Park."—(Mr. Auberon Herbert.)

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Schedule."

The Committee divided:

MR. Auberon Herbert was appointed one of the Tellers for the Noes; but no Member appearing to be a second Teller for the Noes, the Chairman declared the Ayes had it.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday next, and to be printed. [Bill 105.]