§ MR. SPEAKER
read the following Sessional Order:—That the Commissioners of the Police of the Metropolis do take care that, during the Session of Parliament, the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open, and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House, and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall, or in the passages leading to this House, during the sitting of Parliament, and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts; and that the Serjeant at Arms attending this House do communicate this Order to the Commissioners aforesaid.
§ Question proposed, "That this House doth agree to the said Sessional Order."
§ MR. CHAPLIN
If any apology were needed on my part for intruding between the House and the adoption of this Order, which you, Sir, have just put from the Chair, I think I should be able to find it in certain circumstances which occurred during last Session, and 47 which probably many hon. Gentlemen will remember. It will be in the recollection of the House that grave complaints were made one day last Session by certain hon. Members of the obstruction which they had encountered, on the day of the Radical Demonstration in support of the Franchise Bill, in endeavouring to take their places in this House. I myself, on that occasion, ventured to put a Question to the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the subject; and I asked him whether it was with the sanction of the Government, directly or indirectly, that this Sessional Order of the House of Commons had been violated, as it undoubtedly had been violated, on that occasion. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman, in his most jocose manner, replied that it was certainly not with the sanction of the Government, and that, as far as he was aware, the Order had not been violated at all. I may mention that I had previously informed the right hon. Gentleman, in the few observations I made on that occasion, that I myself had encountered such obstruction in my endeavour to pass through Parliament Street to the House of Commons, that I was absolutely defeated in the endeavour, and that unless I had been a Member of St. Stephen's Club, from which establishment there happens to be a subterraneous passage, I should have been unable on that afternoon to take my seat in the House of Commons at all. I thought that the reply of the right hon. Gentleman was so unsatisfactory, that it threw such discredit on my statement, and was so exceedingly wanting in the courtesy I had expected from the right hon. Gentleman, that I gave Notice that I would take the earliest opportunity of calling attention to this question; and it appears to me that the Motion now made from the Chair is a proper and fitting opportunity for me to take that course. The Secretary of State for the Home Department, in the statement he made, explained, in some detail, the precautions he had taken. In order to make my case good, I will ask the kind attention of the House for a few minutes, and I hope I may not detain hon. Members longer. In the first place, I ask the kind attention and consideration of the House to the terms of the Sessional Order, and, secondly, to what actually 48 occurred. The House has heard put from the Chair the Order passed last year, and which it is asked to pass again to-night; and perhaps I may be allowed to point out that these words occur—It is ordered that the Commissioners of the Police of the Metropolis do take care that, during the Session of Parliament, the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open, and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House.The Order put from the Chair does not say that "little," but that "no" obstruction shall be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House. Nothing can be more definite or more clear than the instructions contained in that Order. And now let me call attention to what happened in this case. The procession assembled on the Victoria Embankment, and it proceeded from thence along the Embankment, round Bridge Street, down Parliament Street, through Whitehall, and so on to Pall Mall; so that a Member of Parliament who found himself in the particular locality in London between the Victoria Embankment and Parliament Street was absolutely precluded, unless he could force his way through the procession, from taking his seat in the House that afternoon. That was what actually happened to myself. I happened to have business which required me to be between Parliament Street and the Embankment, and when I attempted to cross Parliament Street I found it absolutely impossible. Now, there is no doubt whatever as to the route taken by the procession on that occasion, and no doubt whatever as to its effect upon Members who found themselves in that part of London; and it is upon those facts that I base my case—first, that the Order was distinctly violated; and, secondly, that it was owing to neglect of duty on the part of the present Secretary of State for the Home Department. I should like to ask him this question. Why was the procession permitted to go by that route at all? The natural and convenient course for the procession was by Northumberland Avenue. And why was it permitted to go half-a-mile or a mile out of its way, in order that it might pass by the House of Commons? The right hon. Gentleman told us he had no right to dictate what course that pro- 49 cession should take. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Hear hear!] The right hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear!" and I quite agree with him on that point; but allow me to remind him that he had the right, and that it was his positive duty, to dictate what course the procession should not take, if that course entailed a positive breach of the Sessional Orders of the House of Commons. It is all the more necessary for me to call attention to this subject to-day when we consider some recent proceedings which have occurred in connection with public meetings on the part of some of the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman is as well aware as any Member of the House of the blackguardly proceedings that occurred at Birmingham the other day, which are popularly, and, I believe, truly, supposed to have originated with and been conducted by the "Caucus," with which body a distinguished Member of the present Government, the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain), it is popularly rumoured, is more or less connected. But if he be connected with it or not, he has certainly, in no adequate terms, condemned, if it cannot be truly said that he has attempted to palliate, and be the semi-apologist for, its proceedings. Then, this morning and yesterday we have read of the occurrences at Dumfries the other day. Such is the extreme chivalry of some of the Liberal supporters of the present Government, that a dastardly outrage upon Lord Salisbury was suffered to occur, although he was accompanied at the time by ladies in his carriage. As we are informed, there was neither hesitation nor scruple on the part of members of the Liberal Party in committing a most outrageous assault upon the noble Lord. Then, I say, as it is becoming more and more clear every day that there is an evident intention and determination on the part of some of the members of the Liberal Party to use whatever violence and intimidation they can in connection with this question, it is the more necessary that we should have a clear and distinct understanding in regard to any future processions which may take place in the neighbourhood of the House of Commons. I want to have a distinct and explicit understanding from the Secretary of State for the Home Department 50 as to whether this Sessional Order, which we are asked to place on our Journals, is to be a reality in the future or only a farce? I contend that, owing to his action last Session, it was on that occasion absolutely nothing but a farce, and I want a distinct statement from him that nothing of the kind will be allowed to occur in the future. If we do not get such an assurance, it will become a question whether it is desirable to have any Order of this kind upon the Journals at all. It is quite clear that it is highly objectionable to vest powers in the hands of a Secretary of State for the Home Department, who would not hesitate to enforce them on one occasion and to refrain from doing so on another. And when we consider that there may be demonstrations on both sides—by Conservatives as well as Liberals—[Cries of "Oh!" and laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to be surprised; but it is as well that if these are to be the methods which, on the Liberal side in the country, are to be resorted to in the future, we should know it. If violence and intimidation and gross outrages are to be practised by them, we shall know pretty well how to take care of ourselves. It is perfectly obvious that, in the hands of an unscrupulous Secretary of State—[Cries of "Oh!"]—of course, I do not refer to the right hon. Gentleman—this is a weapon that might be used in the interests of one Party, and to the serious injury and detriment of the other. I need say nothing further upon the matter. I have endeavoured to state as distinctly as possible the grounds on which I have thought it right and necessary to make these observations to the House. I hope my remarks will have the effect of eliciting from the right hon. Gentleman a distinct and explicit statement that this Sessional Order shall not be violated again; but, as far as he is concerned, that it shall be strictly enforced in future.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, it would be entirely inconsistent with the Office I have the honour to hold, even if it were compatible with my sense of what is proper and fitting on such subjects, to deal with a question of this kind in the partizan tone the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Chaplin) has chosen to adopt. What I shall have to say on this subject will be entirely free 51 from any spirit of that kind. The hon. Member has chosen to call an me unscrupulous Home Secretary. [Mr. CHAPLIN: "No!" and cries of "Withdraw!"]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I am very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's explanation; but the statement did not reach my ear. Well, then, having the good fortune to be acquitted by the hon. Member of being an unscrupulous Home Secretary, I hope I may make a statement consistent with that admission on his part. I regard it as the very first duty of any man who holds the Office I hold, quite irrespective of Party, to act in regard to public order without favour to one side or the other. I have always endeavoured to do so, and I shall always continue to do so. The hon. Member has called attention to the Sessional Orders of the House. It is to be regretted that the hon. Member did not discuss the particular case to which he refers at the time it occurred, when the circumstances were more fresh in the recollection of the House than they are now. I had, indeed, thought that the common sense of the House had pronounced upon this matter in July or August last. But the hon. Member seems to have been brooding over it during the Recess, and he has thought it necessary to revive the question. Well, I have nothing more to say on the subject than I did on the former occasion. The Sessional Order was certainly present to my mind at the time of this procession, and I gave orders to the police to protect the accesses to this House, and to see that they were kept clear. When great gatherings of people take place in London, upon whatever occasion, they do cause, and must cause, some inconvenience. An hon. Gentleman in a remote part of London, near where the gathering takes place, may, if he wants to come to the House of Commons, be interrupted in so doing. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) says that I ought to have dictated the route of the procession. I stated before, and I state again, that if I had done so—
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to explain. That was not what I said. What 52 I said was that it was not only the right, but the duty of the Secretary of State to dictate the route it should not take, if that route was likely to occasion a breach of the Sessional Order.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Well, Sir, I do not think there is any great diffierence between dictating the course which the procession ought to take, and dictating the course which it ought not to take. [" Oh, oh!"] At any rate, I apply my observations to the negative as well as to the positive assertion. I say I had no right to dictate the course which the procession should not take. As I understood my duty, and endeavoured to perform it, it was to see that if that procession took place it should cause no inconvenience, or as little inconvenience as possible, to the access of hon. Members to this House. I gave instructions to the police to this effect, and I say that practically those instructions were effectually carried out. As I have said before, it is impossible that, when large gatherings take place, no inconvenience should be caused. But we have had certain gatherings in the neighbourhood of Westminster in the month of November; and I would venture again, in the presence of the Lord Mayor, to allude to a certain gathering which used to take place in the neighbourhood of Westminster on the 9th of November. I do not know whether, since the New Law Courts were removed—for my experience is too recent—whether the Lord Mayor still comes down to Westminster.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Well, that will be a relief in future; but I am pointing out that, in the good old days, there have been gatherings in the Strand and elsewhere which stopped the traffic, and which filled Westminster Hall, and yet nobody complained of them. Certain inconvenience has been occasioned; but people bear the inconvenience, whether it is a Lord Mayor's Show or a procession of any other description. The police, however, always did their best to protect the traffic. If it were true that this procession had deliberately attempted to interfere 53 with the access of Members to this House—
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
If it had endeavoured, as the hon. Member says, to interfere with the free access of hon. Members to Parliament, which it did not, then there might be some grounds for his complaint. But when hon. Members recollect the circumstances of the case, and the great number of people gathered together, and remember that although there may have been some slight obstruction, hon. Members were not prevented from getting to the House of Commons, I think this House and people in general will come to the conclusion, that, as regards the procession, it was very well conducted, and as regards the police that they did their duty under the Sessional Order to the best of their ability, and did preserve access to the House of Commons. Now, what is the outcome of the remarks of the hon. Member? What are the alternatives he presents? That I should have prohibited the procession altogether. Does the hon. Gentleman propose that?
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The hon. Member proposes that these processions should be prohibited by the House of Commons. Then let him make a Motion to that effect, and we shall see what the opinion of the House of Commons is.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman entirely misapprehends what I said. Perhaps it is very convenient for him to do so. What I said, when he asked me what I would have prohibited, was that he should have prohibited the procession passing by the House of Commons, in order to maintain the Sessional Order of the House.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
If the hon. Gentleman desires to have such a special prohibition, let him bring forward a Motion to that effect. Let him define his prohibition, and let us see what it is he is contending for. I maintain, on the other hand, that in the interests of order it is far better not to interfere with these processions, from whichever side they come. The hon. Gentleman says his Party is going to have a procession, I am quite sure that 54 every endeavour will be made to preserve order in his procession, and there will be no distinction made. If I had done in this case what he says I ought to have done, and had said that the procession should not go down certain streets, I think it would have been highly inconvenient, and I should have been undertaking a responsibility in regard to the procession which it was not desirable that the Executive Government should undertake. All that the Secretary of State, in my opinion, can do, or ought to do in such cases, is to employ every effort to preserve order, and to preserve the access to the Houses of Parliament. All I can say is, that that duty I endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to perform; and it is for the House to judge whether that duty was, without inconvenience to any Member in any part of London, substantially performed in regard to the procession to which the hon. Member has referred.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I must confess that I have listened with some disappointment to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. It does appear to me that my hon. Friend, in calling attention to this matter, deserved a somewhat different answer to that which he has received. I quite believe that the right hon. Gentleman acted, as he thought, for the best; but there are two things which are perfectly clear. One is that the course taken by the procession did interfere, and interfered rather inconveniently, with the access of Members to the House. I will take my own case, and will state what happened to me. I came on that day from some distance out of London, and arrived at Waterloo Station. I took a cab to drive to the House of Commons, and found that I could not cross by Westminster Bridge, but that I had to go all the way round by Lambeth Bridge. I do not make any complaint as to what happened to me; but what happened to me may have happened, in one degree or other, to other hon. Members. I do not put the matter on that ground. What I wish to express my regret at is the tone of the right hon. Gentleman, who seems to think there is no duty on the part of the Secretary of State to take care that the instructions and Orders of this House, in regard to access being left free, should be ob- 55 served. It is futile to talk of gatherings that may take place from accidental circumstances in different parts of the Metropolis, and still more futile to talk of matters so well understood as the Lord Mayor's procession. I am reminded that these Lord Mayor's processions take place in the morning, and at a time when the House is not usually sitting, so that they could not in any way interfere with the access of Members to this House. But it must be remembered that if political processions, organized specially for political objects, and in reference to the action of Parliament—if political processions are to be organized in reference to action still going on in Parliament—there is something more than a mere physical obstruction to Members passing along. You have to consider other possibilities. In the present instance we have nothing to complain of in regard to the conduct of the processionists; but it easily might have been otherwise; and I think it is the clear duty of a Minister who is responsible in such matters to see that proper arrangements are made—at all events, that improper arrangements are not made—which might have the effect of disturbing the easy and proper access of Members to this House. I own that I am disappointed at the language of the right hon. Gentleman; and I hope it may not be taken as an indication of the action which, on other occasions, he may be disposed to take.
Question put, and agreed to.
Ordered, That the Commissioners of the Police of the Metropolis do take care that, during the Session of Parliament, the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open, and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House, and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall or in the passages leading to this House during the sitting of Parliament; and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts; and that the Serjeant at Arms attending this House do communicate this Order to the Commissioners aforesaid.