HC Deb 01 September 1887 vol 320 cc727-8
MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)

asked the First Commissioner of Works, Whether he is aware, or has been informed, that the vagrants occupying Trafalgar Square at night are only a detachment of a larger band who infest the Parks from day to day, and at night sleep on the benches in the Mall of St. James's Park, and on the Thames Embankment, and other public places; that in St. James's Park alone they amount to about 200 in number, of whom about one-fourth are women; that they lounge all day in idleness on the grass, and are well provided with food, small knots sometimes carrying in half a potato sackful at a time; that by mid-day all are provided for, and enjoy al fresco entertainments, accompanied by conduct and language of the grossest description, to the great scandal of the general public, and the depravement and detriment of the many children of the cleanly and industrious poor seeking health and exercise, and who cannot even play on the grass without contamination by vermin; whether the Census of tramps, which used formerly to be taken once a year, could be resumed, and a Return obtained of persons obtaining hawkers' licences, distinguishing the particular lines for which ostensibly they are granted, and the value of the stock they purport to carry; and, whether he will endeavour to secure to the deserving and industrious poor, and their children, the benefits of the open spaces of the Metropolis, which are at present monopolised by vagrants?


I am afraid that there is some substantial foundation for the statements which appear in the Question of my hon. friend, though some of them, perhaps, are a little warmly coloured, and dressed up with considerable powers of imagination. No doubt, some inconvenience is caused to the respectable inhabitants of London by the presence in the Parks of a number of tramps; but the ques- tion is, what is to be done? In the first place, so far as the gross conduct and language complained of in the Question are concerned, the Park Regulations contain a provision which forbids any person to commit an act in violation of public decency, or to use profane, indecent, or offensive language; and both the park-keepers and the police-constables who are told off for the Parks have strict instructions to see that these provisions are properly enforced. But if we went beyond this, and gave authority to those officers to distinguish between those of the public who ought and those who ought not to be permitted to use the benches or lie down on the grass, I think such discretion must be sometimes unwisely exercised, and would be certainly often vigorously resisted; and that, on the whole, such a change in the law, if it could be effected, would do more harm than good. I have nothing to do with the resuming of any Census of hawkers, tramps, or other persons, nor do I see how the existence of such Census would affect this question. I can only say that I have as earnest a desire as the hon. Member can possibly have to secure to the deserving and industrious poor and their children the benefits of the open spaces of the Metropolis; and that, if any practical suggestion is made to me for more effectually protecting them from annoyance, I shall give it my most careful and respectful consideration.


Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to ask whether the officials have power to turn out any people who use gross language?


Not only the power to turn them out, but to proceed against them, with a view to their punishment.