HC Deb 18 April 1872 vol 210 cc1537-41

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Ayrton.)


said, he had given Notice of his intention to move that the Bill be read a third time that day six months. He had placed that Notice on the Paper in no party spirit, because, unfortunately, no Member of the House, to whatever party he might belong, who remembered the events of the last six years, could look upon the subject of the government of the Parks with any feeling of pride. He had already expressed the opinion that certain alterations which had been made in the Bill at a late stage were due to a new light thrown upon the question by discussions either in this House or outside it. The Prime Minister took exception to that statement, and hinted at a third alternative, but did not name it, and left hon. Members to infer that the course which the Government finally adopted was in accordance with their original intentions. The conduct of the Government demanded explanation. They had obtained the support of the House on the faith of their carrying out the intentions of the Select Committee, and all along they intended to introduce an Amendment at the last stage, which Amendment turned the friends of the Bill into opponents, and the opponents into warm friends, notwithstanding that some of them had said that if the Bill became law they would publicly burn it. The only question which was debated in Committee was that of meetings in the Parks, and as the Government repudiated out-door influence they had changed their minds in response to appeals from below the gangway on their own side. If that were so, the Members below the gangway had cause to complain of the course originally taken by the Government. He would venture to intimate why efforts made by opponents of the Bill inside the House had failed, while its out-door opponents had triumphed. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Harcourt) was an able debater, and was now a leading Member of the House of Commons, but he was a mere novice in the capacity of a tribune of the people. If he wished to succeed he should take a match from his pocket, or borrow one from the author of the motto "Ex lucelucellum," and ignite the Bill on the floor of the House, and announce that he would set it at defiance if passed into law. This was why the laurel of victory did not encircle the brow of his hon. and learned Friend, but had been placed by general acclamation upon the head—or as the Chief Commissioner (Mr. Ayrton) would say—"the miserable tail" of the London democracy. He did not think the Bill was worth the paper on which it was written, and before the Bill passed he thought they were entitled to the explanation of the reasons which had induced the Government to depart from their original intentions. He had gathered that on this occasion it would not be for the general convenience of the House that the question should again be brought to a division; and he should not therefore press his Motion.


said, that he was glad to know that the Bill was now a very different one to what it was when first introduced, and to that extent he had reason for congratulation; but he was still almost as dissatisfied with the measure as ever for the reasons that he had stated on former occasions. But he was bound to say that the declarations of the Government—apart from the provisions of the Bill—threw a very different complexion upon the measure, because they had received a distinct declaration from the Executive, on official authority, that the Parks of London were the proper places in which the people should meet for the discussion of political and social grievances. That declaration had never been obtained before, and it was a record that would never be effaced from the political history of the country, and he was sorry that the ambiguity of the law on the subject was in no degree elucidated by this Act. He only hoped that the regulations to be framed under it would be as simple as possible, and would interfere as little as possible with the rights and privileges of the people.


said, he must protest against the conduct of the Government in the management of the Bill, for the Conservative party had firmly supported them in the hope of making the Bill an effective one, and at the last moment the Government had "caved in," in order to please a small and insignificant minority, and the result would be that the regulations on the subject would be a matter of contention for all eternity, or, at least, as long as there was a cantankerous Member in that House, which was the same thing. The right hon. Gentleman had uttered most bitter sarcasms against those who had cheered him on every occasion. He now repudiated them. Those ignoble instruments by whom the end of the right hon. Gentleman had been attained were now treated like that jawbone of an animal with which Samson slew his foes—they were thrown away.


said, he had heard with regret that the hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) did not intend to press his Motion to a division, because this Bill was quite unnecessary. He had seen a good deal of all the parks in Christendom, and his opinion was that the Parks in London were managed as well and as consistently with the convenience of the public as any other parks in any civilized country. It was unwise for the upper ten thousand to endeavour to restrict the privileges of the general public. The House would do well to consider before passing the Bill whether they were not abolishing public rights. He begged to move that the Bill be read a third time that day six months; and if he found support he would take the sense of the House upon the Motion.


seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. T. E. Smith.)


said, in the course of the discussions when the Hyde Park disturbances took place, he ventured to make the suggestion that, following the precedent of the American Constitution, which prescribed that no public meeting, even for electoral purposes, should beheld within five miles of the Capital at Washington, it would be expedient that the precedent of the Act of 1817 should be carried out, by which no public meeting could be held within a mile of that House during the Session of Parliament. Now, he thought that the House had arrived at a conclusion with regard to this Bill that involved a dangerous and unconstitutional principle; and all because neither the Government nor the House would make up its mind to prescribe definitely the area around this House, and around the Royal residences, when occupied by the Sovereign, which he would include in the same category, within which area no public meeting should take place. The American people were a much more practical people than the English were; they could not be accused of undervaluing popular rights, and they had defined an area of five miles; not quite five miles, perhaps, because on one side the area was bounded by the River Potomac, which was within less than five miles of Washington. But they had had the practical good sense to decide that no public meeting should be held within that area so as to overawe the Executive and the Legislature. He should be exceedingly sorry if the House should not adopt that precedent, and carry out the principle of the law of 1817 a little further. For he was confident that some such regulation was necessary to guard against the possible dangers which had so frequently occurred in Paris. He believed that it was in the cause of constitutional freedom that such a restriction upon the holding of public meetings within a limited distance of that House and of the Royal residences should be enacted. He deprecated the Bill, and for this reason—in attempting to evade coming to a definite conclusion in the sense of the existing Act of 1817, and in the sense in which the Americans had not only enacted but enforced their constitutional safeguards, they were about to pass an Act which trenched upon the constitutional right of public meeting, a right which ceased to be vital or valid as soon as that right was qualified by any permission from a Minister.


said, he could not refuse to vote for the third reading after the concessions the Government had made, though he regretted that the Bill had been introduced at all.


said, he quite approved of the course taken by the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands). If there were a division, he should feel bound to vote for the Bill.


said, it was never the intention to prevent public meetings where they could be held with proper regard to the general use of the Parks, and the Bill contained nothing which interfered with the right to hold those meetings. Nor did the Government intend to interfere with private rights which were fully reserved.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 114; Noes 19: Majority 95.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

(Queen's Consent signified.)

Bill read the third time, and passed.