HC Deb 16 March 1882 vol 267 cc989-91

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been called to the performances of a so-called religious body entitled the "Salvation Army;" and, whether he will issue special instructions to the local magistrates to suppress the street processions of this body, processions which have caused, and are likely to cause, serious rioting; which tend also to create gross profanity; and which have been the means of greatly disturbing the peace and quiet of respectable citizens?


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, If he will be so good as to devise some means of protection from mob-ruffianism and occasional magisterial weakness for the loyal and law-abiding people called the "Salvation Army," who are endeavouring to rescue from vice and crime the very dregs of the population not hitherto cared for by the great religious organisations of the Country?


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, If he has received a Memorial, accompanied by sworn information, from several of the leading tradesmen of Basingstoke, with regard to the riots which have taken place in that town recently, and at recurring intervals during the last twelve months, caused by the persistent efforts of an organised gang of roughs to suppress by violence and intimidation the processions and meetings of a religious body known as the "Salvation Army;" whether he has instituted any inquiry, with a view of ascertaining the names and position of those who are well known to be the ringleaders of this dangerous mob; and, if he will take prompt and immediate steps to secure for the "Salvation Army" that protection from injury and outrage which the magistrates and police of Basingstoke do not afford them?


There are no less than seven Questions on this subject on the Paper, and, if the House will allow me, I will answer them all at once. First of all, I will say with reference to most, if not all, the Questions, that they seem to be founded upon an erroneous impression as to the relation of the Secretary of State to the magistrates. They ask me if I would give directions to the magistrates to do this, or not to do that. Now, the Secretary of State has no power to direct the magistrates, either in their judicial or in their executive capacity. Those who are in the Commission of the Peace have the responsibility to preserve the peace as they think right. If magistrates come to the Secretary of State, he is bound to give them such advice as he can, and to render such assistance as he is able. Now, as respects Basingstoke, there were great disturbances this time last year. The Mayor and magistrates did what was very proper. There being these processions of the "Salvation Army" attacked by the mob, they made every effort to protect the "Army." They had out their own constables, which were, I believe, 16 in number, and swore in 100 special constables, and had, besides, a detachment of Artillery. Then the magistrates, expecting the thing would happen again, came to me, and said, what was very reasonable, that they could not expect to have a detachment of Artillery every Sunday, and that special constables, with their best clothes on ready for going to church, did not want to fight with the mob on Sunday. They asked me what, under the circumstances, I would advise them to do. I naturally looked to see what my Predecessors had done. I found that the matter had been settled by eminent Law Officers of the Crown—first of all, Sir John Karslake, Lord Justice Brett, and afterwards confirmed by the present Lord Chief Justice, the present Master of the Rolls, and Lord Young. I wrote the letter, which has always been written for several years, applicable to those circumstances, and which I saw in some of the newspapers was said to be bad law, and worse sense. I have quoted the authorities for the law, and, as for the sense, it was acted upon by Mr. Gathorne Hardy, Mr. Bruce, and by all their successors. The magistrates accepted the advice in that letter; and, as there is such high, authority for it, I shall be happy to lay it on the Table, if the hon. Member who has asked the Question with reference to it (Mr. Caine) will move for its production. Having accepted the advice contained in the letter, they issued a proclamation forbidding the procession, and peace was preserved in Basingstoke from April to August. But a change took place, either in the personnel or the opinions of the Bench. They disregarded the advice I had tendered, and withdrew the proclamation. [Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH: No, no.] Well, I Deg pardon. The right hon. Gentleman says "No;" but I had my information from the Mayor, who, finding there was a majority against him, no longer issued the proclamation, and, therefore, a disturbance took place. The consequence was that there had been disturbances ever since. The magistrates made no further application to me, as it is not very likely they would do. I have given them my advice, and it was not followed—that is all I can do in the matter. I offered that advice at Exeter, at Stamford, and at Salisbury. It has been followed in all those places, and, as far as I know, it has answered its purpose—namely, the preservation of peace. It is not in my power to compel the magistrates to do what they do not see fit to do. If they do not preserve the peace they are liable to a criminal information for failing to do their duty. In 1832 proceedings of that kind were taken with regard to the Mayor of Bristol. I cannot, as I am at present situated, issue any instructions to the magistrates. If I am asked for an opinion I am, of course, bound to give it. I may say that those people cannot be too strongly condemned who attack persons who are only meeting for a lawful and, I may say, laudable object; but, on the other hand, I cannot but condemn the imprudence of those who encourage these processions, which experience has shown must lead to disorder and violence.


said, that, in consequence of the answer he had received, he should move for the whole of the Correspondence between the magistrates of Basingstoke and the Home Office.