In pursuance of the Notice which I gave on Friday I beg to lay on the Table a copy of the substituted Rules under the Parks Regulation Act, and it would, perhaps, be convenient to the House that I should state the substance of those Rules.
§ MR. OSBORNE
Mr. Speaker, I rise to Order. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether it is open to the right hon. Gentleman to enter on this subject, seeing that there is no Notice with respect to it on the Paper.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman stated in his place last week that he intended to lay on the Table of the House the new Rules with reference to the Regulations for the Parks. In pursuance of that Notice he is now, as I understand, about to move that those Rules lie upon the Table. The proceeding is quite regular.
An hon. MEMBER
The statement that the right hon. Gentleman is about to make is likely to lead to a debate, and therefore I wish to know whether he intends to conclude with a Motion?
It is not my intention to make any Motion. All that I desire to do is to state the substance of the new Rules that we are about to lay upon the Table of the House.
An hon. MEMBER
Then, Sir, in that case, I must object to the right hon. Gentleman making any statement whatever.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman must necessarily conclude with the Motion "That these Rules do now lie upon the Table." Upon that Motion a debate may arise.
It was not my intention to bring on a debate at this moment; but, at the same time, I think that it is for the public convenience that the new Rules should be laid before the public at the earliest possible moment. The former Rules were issued upon the 1st of October last, and the House is aware that under them it was provided that when it was intended to hold a meeting in the Park notice of such an intention must be given by two householders.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I beg to ask whether the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) was not perfectly right when he interrupted the right hon. Gentleman. Is the right hon. Gentleman right, without concluding with a Motion, in making a statement which the Rules of the House will prevent any other hon. Member from replying to?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have already stated that the right hon. Gentleman must necessarily conclude by moving "that these Rules do lie upon the Table," and that the Rules of the House will 201 permit a debate to take place upon that Motion.
I should have been glad to lay the new Rules upon the Table of the House without making any Motion, because I am quite sure that it will not be for the convenience of the House that a debate should be brought on when the House is not prepared for it. Under these circumstances, I shall content myself by moving that these Rules do lie upon the Table of the House without making any comment upon them. The new Rules are as follows:—No Public Address shall be delivered, except in the open part of the Park which is bounded by the horse-ride running from the Marble Arch to Victoria Gate, and thence to the Powder-Magazine, and by the carriage drive running from the Powder-Magazine along the Serpentine to Hyde Park Corner, and thence to the Marble Arch; and no such Address shall be delivered in any place where the assemblage of persons to hear the same may cause obstruction to the use of any road or walk by the Public, or to the use of the Park by the Military or Volunteers, or to the use of the Park under any of the reservations contained in the above-mentioned Act; and no such obstruction shall be wilfully caused by any person forming part of any assemblage which may have met to hear any such Address.No Public Address of an unlawful character, or for an unlawful purpose, may be delivered.No assembly of persons is permitted in the Park unless conducted in a decent and orderly manner.I beg to move that these Rules do lie upon the Table of the House.
§ MR. RYLANDS,
who had given Notice to move "That this House disapproves of the course taken by the First Commissioner of Works in respect of the Parks, as being calculated to weaken the authority of the law," said, he rose for the purpose of expressing his satisfaction at the course which, it had just been announced, Her Majesty's Government intended to pursue in reference to this matter. It must be very satisfactory to the House generally to find that Her Majesty's Government have thought fit to withdraw the very extraordinary Rules which had been issued during the Recess by the First Commissioner of Works under circumstances which amounted to a positive breach of faith not only as regarded the public, but also as regarded many hon. Members of that House, who had accepted the measure on the clear understanding that no Rules were to come into force for the regulation of the Parks until they had been laid upon the 202 Table of that House for a certain definite time. Without entering into any matters personal to himself that had occurred in communications between himself and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ayrton) and the Government, he felt bound to state that the issuing of these Rules during the Recess amounted to a positive breach of the pledge given on the part of the Prime Minister that they should be laid upon the Table of the House before they were put into force. It would be in the recollection of hon. Members that the Prime Minister had said that, unless unforeseen circumstances of an exceptional and temporary character should arise, no new Rules would be issued without they had obtained the previous sanction of that House. It was quite clear that by issuing the Rules now set aside just after the Prorogation of Parliament, Her Majesty's Government had broken their pledge to leave this subject under the control of that House, and therefore it was highly satisfactory to find that they had now withdrawn the Rules so issued by the First Commissioner, and that they intended for the future to lay upon the Table of the House any new Rules which they might think fit to draw up for the regulation of the Parks. He had now to consider what course he ought to adopt with regard to the Motion of which he had given Notice for to-morrow —a Motion which practically amounted to a Vote of Censure upon the First Commissioner of Works. He had given that Notice under the impression that the Rules issued during the Recess were to be maintained, and had they not been withdrawn he should have felt it to be his duty to have proceeded with it. Before he intimated the course he intended to pursue in reference to the Motion, he might state that a first set of Rules had been prepared in July last, but that they were so absurd that they were not even placed upon the Table of the House. He did not intend on the present occasion to discuss the merits of either the first set of Rules or of those which had just been abrogated; but he should content himself with expressing the pleasure he felt at the withdrawal of the latter Rules, and the placing of the new Rules upon the Table of the House. Under these circumstances, he doubted whether any practical good would result from his proceeding with his Motion to- 203 morrow, and therefore he did not intend to trouble the House with it. He must, however, remind the House that these Rules, for which the First Commissioner was responsible, had been unanimously condemned by the leading organs of opinion in this country. Thus, The Times, The Daily News, and The Standard had in an especial manner expressed their condemnation of these Rules, and, consequently, the course that had been taken by the right hon. Gentleman. The Rules themselves, on becoming known to the public at large, were received with mingled ridicule and contempt; and now the official superiors of the right hon. Gentleman had, by withdrawing them, passed a Vote of Censure upon the right hon. Gentleman which was even more weighty than if it had been passed by the House itself. If, under these discreditable and humiliating circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman was content to hold the office which, in reference to these transactions, it could scarcely be said he had adorned, he (Mr. Rylands) was afraid he should fail in producing any effect upon his mind by proceeding with his Motion to-morrow. He trusted, however, that the right hon. Gentleman had been taught a severe lesson, and that the public would, therefore, be saved from a repetition of such conduct. He hoped, moreover, that what had occurred had maintained the dignity of the House, and had taught the Members of the Executive that they must not rashly attempt to take upon themselves to deal with matters which the House had advisedly retained under its own control. He begged, in conclusion, to give Notice that it was not his intention to proceed with the Motion standing on the Paper for tomorrow in his name.
§ MR. OSBORNE
said, he did not wish to add to the difficulties of the situation: —he rose for the purpose of asking whether the hon. and patriotic Member who had just thought fit to make so pointed an attack upon the First Commissioner of Works had ever inquired whether, in using the Rules complained of, the right hon. Gentleman had not been acting under the direct instructions of the Cabinet. He had not the slightest desire to provoke a debate on this subject; but he wished to give notice of his intention to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he, having with- 204 drawn these obnoxious Rules, which had been issued nominally by the First commissioner of Works, but which, it might be assumed, had received the sanction of the Cabinet before they were issued by the right hon. Gentleman, it was his intention to withdraw from the prosecution which had been instituted against the persons who were stated to have broken those Rules; and whether the money would be returned to the unfortunate gentleman who had been already fined under those Rules?
§ LORD ELCHO
would not say whether the Rules were wise or not, but he was sure it was the wish of the House that the blame should be placed upon the right shoulders. It might be perfectly true that these Rules were issued by the Chief Commissioner of Works; but that was no reason for assuming that they had been drawn up by him. He wished to know whether the original Rules were drawn up by the First Commissioner with the approval of the Government before they were issued; and whether the Rules which had been substituted to-night were Rules drawn up by the Cabinet or by the First Commissioner and approved by the Government? He thought that, in justice to the First Commissioner, these facts should be known to the House and the public.
§ MR. ANDERSON
also wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the objectionable Rules were withdrawn so far as the other Parks, as well as Hyde Park, were concerned? The Rule that two days' notice should be given to the authorities applied not only to Hyde Park, but to six other Parks. One of the Rules applied also to Primrose Hill, which was at one time thought a most proper place for the meetings of the working classes; but now all public meetings there were prohibited.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
Sir, I have been for some time connected with the subject of this Bill, and whatever anybody may think of this matter, we should all be of one opinion, that this may be the last time we may hear anything of what we must all feel as being, from first to last, an ignominious transaction. I do not think that the scene which has taken place to-night—the shouts of laughter with which the last edition of the Rules has been received by the House of Commons—are likely to inspire deep respect for the enforcement 205 of the law in this country. Now, a wiser thing—I am afraid we shall not do the wiser thing in this House—but the wiser thing to do would be to repeal this foolish Act. For 200 years the English people have been left alone; the English people have done very well; and it was not until you unnecessarily and foolishly endeavoured to meddle with things which would have been better left alone that you produced mischief in public order; and the greatest of all mischiefs which can ever occur in this country is disrespect to the law and contempt of the action of Parliament. Now, Sir, why these words "public addresses?" and these geographical limitations, which we have heard of to-night? These words "public addresses" make a man laugh to hear of them. We have not yet begun to legislate for private addresses in the Park; perhaps we shall come to that when constructive legislation has reached its full development. This Bill and its consequences are a monument of modern legislative sagacity and of administrative capacity. I do not know whether the Prime Minister wishes to repeal the provision against using soap in bathing. Sir, the House of Commons has come to this—that it belongs to its dignity and majesty to prohibit people who bathe in the Parks from using soap. There is legislation, also, which we are asked to enact, prohibiting fishing in the Serpentine. That is a very innocent amusement; it does not very often succeed. It is generally attended with the pleasures of hope, and seldom with the pleasures of memory. I have seen boys derive great pleasure from it; and here Her Majesty's Government come forward and prohibit boys from fishing in the Serpentine as a thing that belongs to the enlightened legislation of modern times. Now, look at these Rules; why they would make any author jealous. They have gone through four editions in six months. I do not think that anyone who has not studied this literature as carefully as I have done knows what they are. You have four sets of Rules all contradictory. Before my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government answers the Questions put to him, I think it well that my noble Friend opposite (Lord Elcho) and my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) should specify which of the four sets of Rules they mean. The first set of Rules 206 came forth like Minerva, full armed, from the head of the Jupiter of the Board of Works. The Board of Works has been an unlucky failure from the beginning. The first form of Rules was stillborn. We have had Papers presented to us; but they begin like that story which commenced in the middle, because the first Paper begins with the statement that the Rules of 11th July, 1872, are thereby cancelled. Where are these Rules? Parliament has never seen them. I am one of the few persons who possess a presentation copy of the Rules with the compliments of the author. I shall preserve them as long as I live as the suppressed Rules of the Parks Act. They belong to a well-known chapter in the history of the Curiosities of Literature, and I am sure that in a few years hence they will be worth £50. I shall bind them up and keep them in my library as a specimen of the great men of former times, and to show what the statesmen of the latter end of the 19th century could do. These Rules were issued on the 11th of July. I will tell you why they were issued on that date—because it was known that Parliament would rise on the 10th of August, and therefore a month would not be left between their issue and the rising of Parliament, which was reserved to consider the Rules under the Act. If they had been issued contemporaneously with the Act on the 27th of June, the power of Parliament, which it had reserved, would have been exercised. Therefore, it was necessary not to issue them on the 27th of June; so they were reserved until the 11th of July, which, as you will see, just wanted a day of the time which would have given Parliament the proper period to consider them. Now, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) two or three days after—on the 1st July—asked when those Rules would be issued, in Committee of Supply, and he was informed by the First Commissioner of Works that they would be issued within a week. They were not issued within a week; they were not drawn up for 11 days afterwards, because had they been so drawn up Parliament would have been able to consider them. They were drawn up and sealed on the 11th of July. The Act of Parliament says that they should be laid on the Table of the House forthwith; but they were not 207 laid on the Table of the House forthwith. They were kept back for six days, because even then there would have been time enough left for Parliament to consider them. They were laid on the Table on the 16th of July; but they were not circulated among the Members of the House of Commons, although they were circulated among the Members of the House of Lords. Now, about the 19th of July, having heard the assurance of the First Commissioner of Works that they would be prepared within a week, I asked to see these Rules; and I intimated that if the Rules were persisted in I should put a Notice on the Paper, whatever period of the Session it was and if necessary, on consideration of the Appropriation Act, and at the very last hour of the Session resist them. A communication was made to me that if I would desist from this proceeding these Rules would be cancelled; and on the 26th of July, 1872, the following document appeared:—"The Rules dated the 11th of July, 1872, and sealed by the Commissioner of Her Majesty's Works and Buildings, are hereby cancelled." That was a perfectly full and fair performance of the promise, made to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington. [Mr. GLADSTONE: By whom?] If the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to say I shall have no objection to do so. If the right hon. Gentleman addresses himself to a Colleague who sits on one side of him he will perhaps give the right hon. Gentleman a full explanation.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
The hon. and learned Member refers to the person who sits on the right side of the right hon. Gentleman—that is myself. The hon. and learned Member is not quite right in his statement. It is quite true the hon. and learned Member showed me the Rules; but I told him afterwards that they were cancelled.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
I accept the correction of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not lay any stress on that part of the transaction; but this is a material part—What were the new Rules which took the place of those suppressed Rules which we never saw? The new Rule laid on the Table of the House was this—The Park may be used and enjoyed in the same manner, so far as consistent with the statu- 208 tory regulations, as it was used and enjoyed before the passing of the Act.Now, that was what I distinctly understood was to be done. We were satisfied with that; it was a reductio ad absurdum of the Parks Act. It was that everything was to remain as it was before. Well, nothing could be more satisfactory. I saw these Rules posted up in the Park with the greatest satisfaction, and I went away to Scotland. We had finished the Parks Act and the Licensing Act, and we went away happy. I went away, but I went away deluded, as I have been on many points; because I took for granted that when the Rules were issued by the Office of the Commissioner of Works, under instructions of an Act of Parliament that these Rules should be laid on the Table of Parliament forthwith, if Parliament was sitting —that the instructions of the Act of Parliament should be obeyed. Well, we live and learn, and I have learnt that the time has arrived when a Minister of the Crown would disobey an Act of Parliament. This is a very grave matter. I see the hon. and learned Attorney General present, and I appeal to him—if he will take in his hand the Parks Act, and will look at the clause to the effect that the Rules should be laid forthwith on the Table of Parliament—to say whether to disobey the orders of an Act of Parliament is not a misdemeanour on the part of a Minister? The Journals of the House show that the Rules in this case were not laid on the Table, and I will therefore ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether he intends to proceed against the offender or offenders as he would against any humbler person, or if the offender is to escape scot free in a country which professes to administer the law with impartiality? I would ask the Attorney General—supposing, in his opinion, it is not a misdemeanour, and if the Act of Parliament has not been disobeyed—whether he intends to proceed against all classes of Her Majesty's subjects for breach of the law? This is a great matter, concerning the dignity of Parliament; because if Parliament is to pass Acts of this kind and to reserve to itself certain matters, and for that purpose should order Rules to be laid on the Table when it is sitting, then it is a high contempt for the authority of Parliament to disobey that order. I must not be told that some intimation 209 was given during the sitting of the House that some Rules would be issued. I am not to be told that then there was some misunderstanding. The House of Commons has no power to remit an Act of Parliament of its own accord; that power belongs to the three Estates of the realm, and the language of an Act of Parliament cannot be answered in the Court of Queen's Bench by quotations from Hansard. I should like to know, therefore, what course the Government mean to take in order to vindicate the law in this matter. I pass now from the second and come to the third edition of the Rules. The history of this point is a curious one. I understand that in the case of the first set of Rules they were issued by the First Commissioner of Works, without the knowledge of the Government or any Member of it. I understand that to be correct, but we shall see. We are now living in the "Palace of Truth," and we shall hear the truth of it. Well, I heard that the Cabinet censured the First Commissioner of Works and overruled the Rules. The next stage of the proceedings is that Parliament rose, and the First Commissioner of Works, after being overruled by the Cabinet, proceeds in turn to overrule the Cabinet. Of course all this is susceptible of a different explanation. So far as I understand it is a Comedy of Errors from beginning to end. One part of the Government overrules the other, and then the other part overrules it again in turn—until we come to the statement we have heard to-night. The question is, what are we to do under these circumstances? I think the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) has taken a very judicious course. It is impossible to look at the thing seriously. It is past the point of seriousness, and I think we may apply to the First Commissioner the well-known words, "Solvuntur risu tabulæ tu missus abibis." Well, there were two courses before us, and if the hon. Member for Warrington had not taken the course he did, I should have taken it, for I hold it to be a canon of Parliamentary honour that no man should make a statement out of this House which he cannot justify within it. I never have made a statement unless I have been prepared to come forward and defend it. The hon. Member for Warrington had a very definite object, and that object 210 was to take out of the control of a person whom we consider unfit the government of a very delicate and important matter. That might be accomplished either by taking the Commissioner from the Office of Works, or the Office of Works from the Commissioner. The Government have adopted the latter course, the Home Secretary having undertaken the conduct of these affairs instead of the First Commissioner. Upon the whole, I should have preferred the former course, for the result of what has been done is to create a new sinecure in the shape of the Office of Works which no longer had any duties to perform. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied with his position, I do not see why Members should be dissatisfied with it. Every man must be the judge of his own honour. We have taken the measures which were necessary to vindicate our own, the right hon. Gentleman will take care of his, and we may part from the right hon. Gentleman with perfect good humour. I am glad that the matter has fallen into the hands of the Home Secretary, who is sure to treat it with good temper, good nature, and, above all, with good faith. If the Home Secretary will allow me I will make one suggestion with reference to the new geographical Rules. At the beginning of this Parliament we set to work to make the Cab Regulations—admirable measures, full of philanthropy and wisdom, but somehow unsatisfactory to all the cab-going public. Cab-drivers did not like them, cab-riders did not want them, the police did not insist on them, and the magistrates did not enforce them. So they quietly dropped out of sight. Now, if Parliament will not take the reasonable course of repealing the Parks Act, let them make a clean sweep of the Parks Regulations as was done with the Cab Regulations. Our national habits make it essential that some such course should be taken. Every year Parliament passes hundreds of statutes which would be intolerable if anybody even thought of carrying them out. A friend of mine, an admirable artist, has published a "Book of Nonsense." But Parliament publishes every year a much more celebrated "Book of Nonsense," called the Statute Book. It perplexes the Judges and annoys the public; nobody can make head or tail of it; but, luckily, common sense comes 211 to the rescue, and it is not enforced. Allow the Parks Act to become a dead letter, and no mischief will come of it. If effect be given to all this vexatious, annoying legislation, we shall have to emigrate in order to seek for liberty in some despotic country. The habits of English people, however, prevent English law from being so intolerable as it might otherwise be. I venture to recommend the precedent of his own Cab Regulations to the Home Secretary, who now has charge of the Parks vice the Chief Commissioner retired, and the abandonment of these Rules, though not a dignified course, will at least be a sensible one.
§ MR. AYRTON
Sir, considering the zeal my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down has expended during the Recess for the interests of the metropolis, I am not surprised that he should be unable to contain himself on this occasion, and I should hardly venture to rise to offer any apology for the course I have taken if I did not observe that the House of Commons is equally the subject of his denunciations—that all the proceedings of Parliament are equally obnoxious, equally foolish, equally ridiculous, and equally to be disregarded. And in point of fact it is quite evident that—especially since the Reform Act of 1832—Parliament has been from year to year meeting and acting under a complete delusion, and that it is still under the hallucination that its proceedings are in some way for the benefit of the public. They are now treated to one of the lectures of my hon. and learned Friend on the philosophy of legislation, and should he so affect the minds of Members of Parliament and the public in general that he may some day conduct the proceedings of Parliament according to his own dictation, I hope, Sir, I shall not live to see that clay. If I understand the speech of my hon. and learned Friend by the philosophy he expressed in a place which is devoted to the study of the habits of the ancients—of Greece, of Rome, and of the Holy Land, and of this land in the time of the Druids—if I understand what he means, it is that all legislation of a specific and precise character for the purpose of regulating in detail any of the actions of men is wrong, and that the true principles on which we ought to proceed are those prevailing when the Druids had 212 their settlement in these places, with which he is doubtless acquainted. In the times to which the hon. and learned Member alludes, when Parliament first assembled, the industry of the country was small, the population was small, and the wants and requirements of the country were small; but as society has grown, and its relations have become more and more intricate, legislation has had to follow. The Acts of Parliament of this country are nothing more than the journals of the exigencies of the country from day to day, for which we have from time to time to provide a proper remedy. That is the principle upon which we proceed, though the hon. and learned Member has not yet discovered it. In accordance, therefore, with the growing calls for legislation, we have been accustomed to pass Acts of Parliament authorizing municipal and other bodies to make rules to regulate the details of affairs, when these details were too small in their character to engage the deliberation of Parliament. Parliament has stopped short in these Acts precisely at that point where it has indicated for what purpose and in what manner those rules were to be made; and there are abundant instances in the statute book, especially in recent times, of powers of this kind being delegated, and not a few instances of powers being delegated for the express purpose of enabling the inhabitants of particular localities to derive real enjoyment from the Parks and open spaces placed at their disposal—an enjoyment which they could not have unless there were certain rules to regulate the relations of one person to another, and preventing selfish men claiming for themselves, in the very worst spirit, something inconvenient to others. That is a very simple principle, and it was the principle upon which I proceeded. I was not in a hurry to enforce my views upon the House, because the subject has much engaged the attention of the House in times gone by, and it has also in years gone by engaged the attention of Metropolitan Members. How different was the conduct pursued in former years, when they approached the question with a sense of responsibility, from that of the hon. and learned Member during the Recess. Then, when people thought they had a right to go into the Parks and appropriate them to their own purposes, they 213 asked the Metropolitan Members to meet them that they might be sustained in their assertion of right. They were asked upon what grounds they based their views; and when no sufficient ground was stated, it was said—" We are quite ready to assist you in ascertaining the grounds upon which you claim; if you can get any learned counsel to advise you that you have the smallest legal ground to justify you in what you are doing, we shall be ready to support you. You must, however, understand that our view, is that the Parks are the property of the Crown, and are administered by officers of the Crown, and if you want to go into them for purposes of your own you must go for permission to the officers of the Crown, who are responsible to Parliament and not to you." That was the advice we gave them, and after that I never heard any more of the grounds or of any legal opinion to justify the right to go into the Parks, and to dispose of them at the "will of the people," as it is called —which seemed to be a resolution come to by half-a-dozen people in an obscure pot-house. That being so, I brought in this Bill. I said—"I do not pledge myself to any of the Rules, because there is great difference of opinion as to how the Parks should be managed." I sent the Bill to a Committee upstairs, one-third of whose Members represented metropolitan constituencies, and I invited free discussion upon what should be the scope of the regulations in the Bill. The Committee settled it, after full and free discussion, and the clauses were unanimously agreed to except one, upon which there was, I may say, a political difference of opinion. I brought the Bill, as the Committee reported it, under the consideration of the House, and I invited the attention of the House to the facts. A controversy in a Committee of the Whole House undoubtedly arose in reference to the particular regulations to be made, and especially in reference to one that no addresses should be delivered in the Parks, except in accordance with the Rules to be made. This rule was in accordance with that adopted in general by local authorities throughout the country, who had limited the use of their Parks in this same way. I stated myself in the House what were the Parks to which it was proposed to extend the Rules, and I stated especially 214 what were the Rules which I intended to make if the Act passed. I gave the heads of the Rules, so that there might be no mistake. After I had done that, what happened? What said the hon. and patriotic Member (Mr. V. Harcourt) who has addressed us with such force and feeling just now? He said that he could not help stating that if the First Commissioner of Works had two months ago made the statement that he had just then made, he would have saved a great deal of time and unnecessary discussion; and, thereupon, lie mitigated his hostility to the measure, and, finally, said that after the concession that had been made he should no longer oppose the Bill. After that, what right can the hon. and learned Member have to say that lie is greatly disconcerted that I should have issued Rules entirely in accordance with the assurances that I had before given to the House during the passage of the Bill? ["No, no!"] Yes, in entire accordance with the assurances that I then gave. My statement was only shortly reported; but if it had been reported in full, the hon. and learned Member would see that it was as clear as possible that the Rules for allowing meetings would be confined to five Parks and to the four topics respecting which they had been issued. I am now quite at a loss to know how the hon. and learned Member can object to the steps taken to give effect to the views I expressed on that occasion, or charge me with a want of good faith in dealing with the matter, since the whole House, with one or two exceptions, accepted my programme? Another topic launched by the hon. and learned Member is this—that if the Rules were made in good faith, still they were not issued in good faith. But this charge seems the result of a want of attention on the part of those who have undertaken on this matter to know more than anybody else, and have made it their special study to enlighten the public, and especially the working people of this metropolis. But what are the facts? The question whether the present Rules should be made on the authority of the Crown, or upon the joint authority of the Crown and the Houses of Parliament, was fully discussed during the progress of this Bill. Nothing could have been put before the House more clearly. It came about thus: the hon. 215 Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands), who is so aggrieved that the Rules had been put in force without the express sanction of the House of Commons, himself placed upon the Table a clause to be engrafted into the Bill, that the Rules should be issued by the Crown and should afterwards be laid on the Table of the House, and that they might be disallowed if both Houses agreed to the disallowance. I should like to know if that proposal had been carried what would have become of the contention that the House of Commons should be consulted before the Rules were put in force? Under his own proposal the Rules to be made by the Crown could not have been touched unless both Houses agreed to a Resolution that they should wholly or in part be rescinded. Seeing this, I moved a similar clause, but modified it to this—that either House of Parliament should have power, after the Rules had been laid upon the Table, by resolution to disallow those Rules. During the discussion an hon. Member moved an Amendment that the Rules should not conic into force until they had been approved by the Houses of Parliament, and the House discussed that Amendment, and, by an overwhelming majority, rejected it. And yet now we are told that the Government should have respected—not the decision of the House, but rather what some hon. Members thought more desirable for the public interest. That would be a strange mode of conducting Public Business. The statements that were made, not only by myself, but by the Secretary of State and by others, were conclusive. In the course of the debate the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) himself said that if the construction put upon the clause by the Secretary of State was the true one, it would have this result—that the Rules could be in force six months while Parliament was not in Session, and it was only when Parliament reassembled that it would have an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon them. How could he after that say that the understanding was that the Rule should be exactly the reverse?
§ MR. AYRTON
It now comes to this —that the hon. and learned Member is satisfied that it was quite understood 216 when the Act passed that the Rules should be made by the Crown, and might be enforced six months before Parliament happened to meet.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman quite misunderstands me. I have never said that the Act prevented the Rules from coming into force during the Recess. The charge that I have brought against the right hon. Gentleman is that this Act having passed the House of Commons on the 19th of April, he deliberately kept it and the Rules back, so that the power of investigating these Rules by Parliament could not come into operation.
§ MR. AYRTON
I am very much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his explanation; but when the hon. and learned Member is always giving utterance to his opinions both inside and outside of the House, one is apt to confound what he has written outside with what he has said inside. The House would remember the great indignation which, based upon the letter of the hon. and learned Gentleman, during the Recess ran through the Press and through some of the taprooms of the metropolis at what was termed the ill-faith of the Government in inducing Parliament to assent to this clause. It was stated that the Government had represented that in so doing the Rules would first be approved by Parliament. That was what was stated during the Recess; but now we are agreed that nothing of the kind occurred. It is now understood that the Rules might be enforced during the Recess upon the authority of the Crown, though that was not the view which the hon. and learned Gentleman took in his correspondence which appeared in The Times.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman, being in possession of the House, is in Order: it will be open to the hon. and learned Member, when he has concluded, to make any explanation which he thinks proper.
§ MR. AYRTON
My hon. and learned Friend has now taken up new ground—namely, that the statute having been passed in the sense in which I have explained it, and the conduct of the Government having been perfectly in ac- 217 cordance with the intention of Parliament when they passed the Act, yet, notwithstanding, something wrong had been done, because there was delay in laying the Rules before the House. I will address myself to that charge. What happened was this. The Bill took some time in passing through this House: it then went to the other House; and there it was amended, and from various causes connected with the progress of business there was delay before the Act, as amended, came under the consideration of this House. When we were about to pass the Bill I detected a flaw in it, the effect of which would have been that the Bill would have come in force immediately, whilst a considerable time was required after the passing of the Act to make the Rules and put them in force. I therefore procured the Bill to be amended in the House of Lords in order to get over this difficulty, so that the Rules should not come in force until a month after the Act passed; and no one had any part in that Amendment in the other House except myself and some of those who manage the business of the Government there—the Amendment was made for purely administrative purposes, and when it came back to this House it was printed and circulated, and the House accepted it without the smallest suggestion of anything wrong; and I want to know how public business is to be conducted if hon. Members are to be allowed to say—"It is true I never said anything about it, but I had a very great latent objection," and bring it forward six months afterwards. But that my hon. and learned Friend says is a misconception, and has no reference to the business that actually occurred last Session. That delayed the Bill some time. As soon as the Bill was passed I urged on the making of the Rules. The House must not suppose that I do all the business of the Office of Works myself; there are lawyers and others to be consulted, and all I could say was that I desired that these Rules should be completed as soon as possible. When I got the Rules they had to be submitted to the Ranger in this particular Park and in some others, and there were other arrangements to be made before they could be sealed. As soon as they were sealed, or within a very few days afterwards, they were brought before the House. The hon. and learned 218 Member said that it became a misdemeanour to let the Papers lie in the Office for six days before they were laid on the Table—[Mr. VERNON HARCOURT: I said nothing of the kind.] When the hon. and learned Member comes to have experience of official life, he will find that often sixty days instead of six will be no very great delay —in fact, I take credit for the expedition which was used. In fact, they were presented before they were put in force. The hon. and learned Gentleman, in the course of his speech, appeared to pride himself upon his ignorance on a point with which he ought to be acquainted. That point is that when an Act of Parliament provides that a Minister shall lay certain Papers on the Table of the House, the Minister who lays the Papers on the Table has no further duty to perform, and it is not incumbent upon him to urge on their printing; and I am happy to think that Papers laid upon the Table very often are not printed. I myself, and also other Members, pointed out two or three years ago how desirable it was that no Papers should be printed unless some hon. Member moved that it be so, with a declared intention to bring the subject-matter of them before the House. That rule has been largely acted upon. If any hon. Member wished to have a discussion upon these Papers, then it was his duty to go to the proper authority and get them printed as soon as possible. I did more than I could be expected to do in moving that the Papers be printed by order of the House; but when they were before the House they were entirely out of my hands. A few days afterwards the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) got up in the House and asked me whether the Papers were to be distributed, or rather laid upon the Table of the House; and I then told him that they had been already laid upon the Table, and would soon be printed; although it had not been intended that they should have the Rules before they could be put in force under the Act, so clear was it to my mind, and in the mind of the House, that it was the duty of the Government to put the Rules in force before they could come under the cognisance of this House. That shows that I did not take advantage of the Act as it stood to keep back the Rules, but 219 that I anticipated the time when the Rules should be laid on the Table. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. V. Harcourt) seems to think that I am responsible for his not having now in his hand a copy of the Rules, except what he calls a "privileged copy." But to show how far I was from preventing discussion, immediately after I was asked for the Rules I directed him, and also any other Member of the House who desired it, to be supplied with a copy. A copy was given to the hon. and learned Member himself, and also to the hon. Member for Warrington, and copies would have been given to any other hon. Members who asked for them. Could anything more be done to satisfy the wishes and desires of hon. Members, and to give the fullest opportunity for criticising my acts? The hon. and learned Member says that he has not yet officially got a copy; but does he not know what took place in the House? Does he not know that standing here I stated in the most explicit terms that the Government had thought fit to cancel those Rules, and that in consequence of that step I proposed that those Rules should not be further proceeded with, but that the Order for laying them upon the Table should be discharged? The hon. and learned Member admitted that he knew of this announcement, and does he pretend that he does not know that what I have stated was part of it? If he did not recollect it, really he had only to look at the newspapers of the day or at the ordinary records of this House, where he would have found it fully reported. But, not to deprive my hon. and learned Friend of the opportunity of impugning my conduct as much as he pleased, though the announcement was made on the 25th of July, the Order was not discharged till the 1st of August, and during the whole period that elapsed it was competent to any hon. Member to give Notice of any Question—or of his intention to censure the Rules and their framers—or that the Motion for the discharge of that Order would be resisted, and to raise a debate thereupon. Nothing of the kind was done; with the consent of the House the Order for presenting these Rules and laying them on the Table was discharged, but the Act had been completely complied with by laying them on the Table. The Rules had, therefore, been brought 220 forward in regular course, and were disposed of by the Order of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that something very wicked has been done in reference to these Rules. On the same occasion I announced that the general rule would be put in force by Her Majesty's Government until they could issue the new Rules in substitution of those which had been cancelled; and yet the hon. and learned Member said that he was under the impression that the general rule was to remain in force until next Session. Now that is just the reverse of the announcement I made—and which I purposely made—to prevent any misapprehension on the subject. I said distinctly that the general Rule was only to remain in force and was only temporary until the Government issued new Rules in the manner prescribed by Parliament. I went on to explain to the House that those new Rules would not be laid upon the Table during that Session—that they would not be laid on the Table until the beginning of this Session, when the House would have the opportunity of criticising them according to the terms of the Act. The hon. and learned Member now says that I have been guilty of an offence in the course which I have taken. That course, however, was assented to by the House, and no one expressed the least dissent. It appears to me that not only has the law been fulfilled, but that the wishes and inclination of the House have been followed. The two hon. Members (Mr. Harcourt and Mr. Rylands) evidently did not understand, like a great many other people in this respect, what is the nature of the office of the First Commissioner of Works. It is not an office that is involved in the perplexities of remote tradition, like that of a Secretary of State. It is an office created by statute, and I have never, standing here, claimed to possess any more power, or authority, or position than what that statute confers upon me. It would be ridiculous had I pretended to do so. I have again and again endeavoured to explain the position of the office of First Commissioner. It is what was described by the noble Lord ray predecessor (Lord John Manners)—that whenever the Government thought fit to interfere the First Commissioner of Works has really no more power than a Treasury clerk. That is the height of his 221 dignity. The truth is that there has been a great deal of confusion because Gentlemen who undertook to enlighten the world did not take the preliminary step of enlightening themselves. The whole power of the Office is by law vested in the Commissioners of Works, and not in the First Commissioner. These Commissioners consist of the First Commissioner and all Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State. But the Commissioners have in fact no powers in themselves if another power interpose — namely, the Treasury. The Treasury have actually absolute power to control the power of the Commissioners. There is a clause in the Act that if none of these greater Powers took upon themselves any duty or responsibility, then the First Commissioner was at liberty to exercise the office of the Commissioners. If neither the Treasury nor the Secretaries of State who may be said to represent the Government interfered, then the First Commissioner can perform the duties of the office. The moment, however, they interfered, he has nothing more to do than to see the corporate body and the establishment carry out the instructions they have received. It has happened again and again that the First Commissioner has taken a step of which the Government had subsequently disapproved or rescinded. They are quite at liberty to do so. There is nothing in it. The First Commissioner is bound to obey the law. I cannot insist on doing as I please, for the law would not have been passed if it were supposed that the First Commissioner was to do everything without the interposition of the Government. On the contrary, it was presumed that the Government would interpose when necessity required it. The practice has been in accordance with the law. I may remind the House that more than one Secretary of State has used this very power over the Parks in entire supersession of the authority of the First Commissioner. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) interposed in this way, and took the matter into his own hands. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. S. Walpole) interposed in the same way; so had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Hardy); all in their turn have done the very thing which has now been done, and which 222 the House has a right to have done. Do not let any hon. Member express surprise at this. When this Bill was under consideration of the Committee of this House it was asked—Are you going to give up the Parks to a Ranger, and to the First Commissioner of Works, who is not even a Cabinet Minister? I then pointed out that the House had really a practical guarantee in the whole of the Ministers, because both the Ranger and the First Commissioner were absolutely at their disposal; for they could interpose whenever they pleased, and they could take upon themselves the whole responsibility of any Rules or Regulations either by cancelling them or by upholding them. It is therefore futile to talk of these public rights being given up to a subordinate of the Government or to an irresponsible officer, because the House could always fall back upon the Government in the last resort, and make them responsible for what he had done. Therefore, the moment any intimation is given that the Act of the First Commissioner is to be challenged it becomes the business and duty of the Government to say that they will either stand by his act or take their own course. That has been done again and again. It has been done on this occasion. There is no novelty in it. All I can say is if any Gentleman having to perform the various duties which I am called upon to discharge, with reference to the various departments of the Government and an infinite variety of topics, were to set himself up on an official pedestal and say "I am so perfect in my judgment that if the Government questions it I feel I am no longer fit to hold my office," there would be no one either in or out of this House who could hold my office for a month. I have not the advantage of a Cabinet Minister in having my act considered by the Cabinet, and hearing their views upon it. I act under the statute and independent of the Cabinet until the Cabinet assume the responsibility of acting in my stead. Therefore, all that has been done has been done in strict accordance with the law, and with the understanding of the House when it passed the Bill. I do protest against the claim of any hon. Member of this House to set up his own understanding against the general sense of the House; and still more do I protest against any hon. Member setting up his own individual opinion in 223 language so pretentious as to declare that he is the only wise man in this Assembly, and that all the rest of us are nothing but fools.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I think it is due to the House and myself to make one remark with reference to what has fallen from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford. My hon. and learned Friend has alluded to a conversation upon public matters between him and myself, and therefore I do not complain of his having done so, although I think my hon. and learned Friend ought to have informed me of his intention beforehand. My hon. and learned Friend appears to have put rather a misconstruction upon that conversation. He used the word "deluded." I cannot suppose that the hon. and learned Gentleman meant that I intended to delude him—[Mr. VERNON HARCOURT: I never referred to that transaction.] I think, nevertheless, it is due to myself to explain what did really pass between the hon. and learned Gentleman and myself. He is quite correct in saying that he showed me a "privileged copy" of the Rules—that copy which my hon. Friend regards as so precious—and we had some conversation regarding them. Shortly afterwards—I believe before the statement was made by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Ayrton) in the House—I told him that the Rules either were or would be cancelled, but I gave him no information as to what might happen afterwards; for a very good reason—I had not the slightest knowledge of what would happen. Therefore, when he supposes that I gave him any assurance as to the future he was altogether mistaken. My hon. and learned Friend wrote to me in the autumn, and he appeared to think that I had given him such an assurance. I wrote to him in reply stating that I had given him no assurance of the kind; and as there was no answer to that letter, I supposed that my hon. and learned Friend was of the same opinion.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) is entirely mistaken in what I meant to say. I received an assurance which led me to take a certain course in this House. In consequence of information I received I withdrew the Notice that I intended to give in this House. That is all I said on the subject, and 224 that is all I intended to say. I wrote to my right hon. Friend when I saw that the prosecution was instituted by the Government, to say that I felt extremely uncomfortable in having withdrawn that Notice on the understanding that the Rules were cancelled, because I felt that if I had not withdrawn my Notice, a discussion would have taken place in this House which would have prevented the prosecution. My right hon. Friend wrote back to me stating that I had shown him the Rules, which he had never seen before, and that he had given me the assurance that they would be cancelled, and that he knew no more of the matter. I never intended to represent that I had received from my right hon. Friend any other representation than that the Rules would be cancelled against which my Notice had been directed. With reference to the First Commissioner of Works, the right hon. Gentleman has not read as carefully what I have written on this subject as I have read what he has written. I never stated I was of opinion that the Rules could not be legally carried out in the Recess. I stated the very reverse—I felt after the division on the Motion of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), that they could be carried out:—but what I did say was that if a different course had been taken these Rules would have been discussed in Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ayrton) also misunderstood me on another point, when he observed that I had said a misdemeanour had been committed because the Rules had been delayed for six days. Now, what I said was that it was a misdemeanour never to have laid before nor have presented to Parliament these Rules, seeing that Parliament had sat more than six days after they were framed. Parliament sat 15 days after that, and yet the Rules were not laid before the House.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that the House had been spending a good deal of time in discussing the merits or demerits of certain Rules regulating the holding of public meetings in the Park; but a still more important question had been entirely overlooked—namely, whether Hyde Park was a proper place for holding meetings at all. The First Commissioner of Works had referred to a discussion which arose in the Select Committee on the Parks Bill, and he would 225 ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he was not correct in saying that the expressed opinion of the majority of that Committee, as well as the very thinly disguised opinions of a considerable section of the minority, were not decidedly opposed to Hyde Park being subjected to the meeting nuisance. No distinct Motion had been brought forward which would admit of the House expressing an opinion on this important point, and he therefore intended on an early day to call attention to the various codes of Rules successively made, re-made, and withdrawn which had reference to the regulation of meetings in the Parks. With regard to the Regulations which the Home Secretary had laid upon the Table to-night, it was his intention to move a Resolution which would afford the House an opportunity of deciding whether the nuisance of public meetings in Hyde Park should or should not be any longer tolerated.
§ SIR HENRY HOARE
said, that in common with many Gentlemen on that side of the House, he had believed the Rules respecting the use of the Parks would not be enforced until they had been submitted to the judgment of Parliament. The First Commissioner of Works had very ably, though not, perhaps, very lucidly, defended himself against the charges brought against him by the hon. Members for Warrington and Oxford. The right hon. Gentleman had been accused of being a first-class misdemeanant; and up to this moment —owing, it might be, to his own want of understanding — he could not think the right hon. Gentleman had cleared himself from this charge—namely, that in the first instance he issued several sets of Rules which did not meet with the approbation of the House, and that eventually a set of Rules was issued without the House having an opportunity of discussing them. However this might be, a little fact was worth a ton of argument. The Government, whether they represented or embodied the power of the Commissioner of Works, had superseded those Rules, thereby taking the second of the two courses marked out for them by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford, when he said they must either withdraw the First Commissioner of Works or else deprive him of the power of framing the Rules. They had adopted the latter alternative. With regard to 226 economy, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford had given Notice of his intention to bring forward an abstract Resolution to the effect that greater economy ought to be effected in the public service. Now, he would ask Her Majesty's Government to begin by abolishing this useless office of First Commissioner of Works. The main argument urged in favour of the retention of the office of Lord Privy Seal was that it was useful to have a discreet counselor who could give advice to the Members of the Government when their hands wore full; but such an argument could not be used in defence of the office of First Commissioner of Works.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, he thought the discussion had taken too much of a personal turn, and pointed out that the Act of last year distinctly provided that there should be no occupation of the Park by the public, either by riding, driving, or public meeting, except under Rules and Regulations signed and sealed on the part of the Crown. Consequently, if Rules had not been made by the First Commissioner of Works, the public could not have occupied the Park at all. One clause in the Act expressly said that as soon as the Rules were made and sealed they should be published in the Parks to which they were intended to be applied, in order that the public might have an opportunity of understanding what the Regulations were. To those hon. Members who complained that they were under a misconception as to the meaning of the Act, he would remark that it clearly stated that Rules were to be framed by the First Commissioner. The point, moreover, was distinctly challenged as to whether the Crown or Parliament should have the framing of the Rules, and the words "if Parliament be then sitting" were deliberately introduced.
§ MR. AUBERON HERBERT
congratulated the Government on having done the reverse at the commencement of this Session of what they did at the commencement of the last. They began last Session by doing a foolish act; they began the present Session by doing a wise one. He was not going into the history of the past; but he should esteem it his duty at a later period of the Session, unless one of his hon. Friends adopted a similar course, to move a Resolution that the power should not be 227 left in the hands of the First Commissioner of altering Rules as regards the right of public meeting in the Parks when Parliament is not sitting. Without bringing any charge of bad faith against the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ayrton), he must distinctly say that last year both the Prime Minister and the First Commissioner made use in that House of language to the effect that any fresh Rules which might be made respecting the Parks would be of a temporary and exceptional character. The First Minister said—There might, however, be cases of particular celebrations in the Parks which might present exceptional circumstances, and which might require regulations of a special and temporary character; and therefore it might be necessary to introduce into his hon. Friend's (Mr. Rylands') Amendment some modification in respect to regulations that were strictly exceptional."—[3 Hansard, ccix. 928.]The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works also said—It was plain that rules might be required temporarily and for an emergency, and it might also be found necessary to modify existing rules." —[Ibid. 1733.]In conclusion, he expressed a hope that one of the occupants of the Treasury Bench would before the debate closed answer the question as to whether the fine inflicted on Mr. Bailey would be remitted.
An hon. MEMBER said, he had been much pained by hearing the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) bring a distinct charge of breach of faith against his right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works. He was bound to say he thought his right hon. Friend had entirely cleared himself of that charge. Not only had his right hon. Friend cleared himself in character, but, judging from what fell from the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, he did not think it was ever intended to make the charge in the sense in which he understood it. A great many communications of a private and confidential character must necessarily pass between Ministers and Members of the House of Commons, and it would be a great disadvantage and misfortune if actual imputations of bad faith were to be made on either side. From the explanations given to-night it was clear that everything was done in public and in the face of the House, and that whatever mis- 228 understanding there was, it arose as to the construction of what occurred in public. No doubt could now exist in any one's mind that there had been any breach of faith on the part of the right hon. Gentleman.
said, in answer to the question which had been put to him, whether it was the intention of the Government to remit the fine which had been imposed upon one of the defendants for having broken the Rules of the Park, that if the offence had been committed in honest ignorance on the part of the defendant, or in the honest belief that the Rules had been illegally promulgated, he was sure the Government would have felt the strongest desire to act with compassion. But it must be remembered that these meetings were held in open and ostentatious defiance of the law and of those who administer it, and there was no concealment of the fact that those who attended them did so for the purpose of vindicating their right, whatever the Rules might be. Under these circumstances, he did not think it right that the fine imposed by the magistrate should be remitted. At the same time, with respect to the case carried before the Court of Queen's Bench, they had thought it right to recommend a remission of the costs incurred by the Government, and which were payable by the defendant.
§ MR. MILLER
wished to ask, whether the Rules which were cancelled, or were to be cancelled, applied to the Park of Holyrood, because the restrictions rendered public meetings in that Park entirely out of the question, and that had created great dissatisfaction in Edinburgh?
said, the alterations made affected the Rules relating to all Parks in which meetings might be held. The Rules would be laid on the Table of the House, and then the hon. Member would have an opportunity of seeing them. He believed that they made full provision for a reasonable and proper right of meeting in the Parks.
§ Motion agreed to.