§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL (Hackney, S.)
Mr. Speaker, the Motion which I have to submit to the House runs in the following terms:—That, having regard to the importance of preserving and protecting the right of open air public meeting for Her Majesty's subjects in the Metropolis and with a view to prevent ill-will and disorder, it is desirable that an inquiry should be instituted by a Committee of this House into the conditions subject to which such meetings may be held and the limits of the right of interference therewith by the Executive Government.I think I shall probably have the general assent of the House if I say it is almost a matter of course that a debate on this subject should take place in view of the action of the Executive Government and of the police, because that action has excited very considerable feeling in a large portion of the population of this country, and especially of this Metropolis. Rightly or wrongly, a feeling is somewhat widely entertained—a feeling of disquiet—that there has been a serious invasion of the accustomed right of public meeting, and that this invasion has received more importance, perhaps, from certain utterances that have come from those who are charged with the administration of Her Majesty's Government. I recollect that the late Attorney General for Ireland claimed, 1880 on behalf of the Executive Government, the right to interfere with any meeting which the Government deemed to be held for an improper purpose. That, I submit, is not the law; and I am glad to recollect that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) at once challenged that statement. The Home Secretary also, in the course of the discussion which took place in reference to this very occurrence in Trafalgar Square, claimed, if I understood his language correctly, the right to judge, acting for the Executive Government, as to what was or was not a bonâ fide political meeting; and he claimed the right to interfere or not to interfere, according to the judgment of the Executive Government, as to whether the meeting in question was or was not a bonâ fide political meeting. Again, I enter my protest against that as being a correct statement of the authority given by the law to the Executive Government. With regard to the particular transactions in Trafalgar Square, which have been the occasion of this Motion, I understand that the matter stands thus—that Trafalgar Square is not within the Royal Parks Act of 1872, that it is not within the jurisdiction of the various Acts of Parliament giving authority to the Metropolitan Board of Works, and that it is at this moment entirely without legal regulation in the matter of public meetings of any kind whatever. My Motion demands inquiry with a view to such legal regulation. Further, there is the fact that for at least 40 years the people of the Metropolis have been accustomed to meet in the Square for the discussion of their grievances, or what they consider their grievances, without interruption and without challenge as to the legality of their action—nay, declarations have again and again been made by Members of the Executive Government of the day that they were in their legal right in holding meetings there, so long as the right was exercised in orderly conducted meetings. I am not exaggerating the case in asserting that by the recent act of the Head of the Police Force of the Metropolis there is a peremptory and, so far as his will is concerned, a perpetual mandate proceeding from him, in the exercise of a supposed authority, forbidding any persons to assemble in 1881 Trafalgar Square, however lawful their objects or however legal their conduct may be. I will put before the House the grounds on which I challenge that act of the Chief Commissioner. I am aware, of course, that there are very marked divisions of opinion on this question of open air meetings in the Metropolis. I know that a large and influential class say that meetings such as were lately held in that square are in these days an anachronism, that they are no longer needed, that they are a nuisance, and that they ought be done away with. ["Hear, hear!"] I quite expected that that was the opinion on the other side of the House, but to that class I do not belong. There are others who believe that public meetings in the open air may be held at any hour of the day or night, on any day of the week, and in any place. In that opinion I do not share. I am for preserving and protecting the right of public meeting wherever it has been accustomed to be exercised; but I am for protecting that right by legal means, and under legal regulations, and so as to cause a minimum of public inconvenience. A statement has been made by some that this right of public meeting is but a Liberal fiction, and that no right of public meeting in the sense of open-air public meetings exists. As interpreting the spirit in which I put this Motion before the House, I will read to the House the words used by Mr. Baron Alderson upon the occasion of the trial of the Chartist Vincent in relation to an open-air meeting. He said —There is no doubt that the people of this country have a perfect right to meet for the purpose of stating what are, or what they consider to he, their grievances. That right they always have had, and, I trust, always will have; but in order to transmit that right unimpaired to posterity, it is necessary it should be regulated by law and restrained by reason.The learned Baron may not have been quite right historically in his statement, but in the spirit of that statement I submit this Motion to the House. I may point out that if London were a self-governing community this question could hardly have arisen. It certainly could not have arisen in the form and under the circumstances in which it has arisen. For if London had been a self-governing community, it would, as owner of its own property, have framed regulations for the use and enjoyment of it. All that would have been left to the Executive 1882 Government would be the right which the law gives them, and which I do not seek to impair or to diminish in the slightest, on their own responsibility to interfere with any meeting unlawful in its objects, or which becomes unlawful by reason of the circumstances under which it is held. But London is not a self-governing community. In the case of London we have as regards open spaces a variety of authorities, some of them with overlapping jurisdiction—Local Boards, Vestries, Local Trustees, the First Commissioner of Works, and the Home Office. In one sense Trafalgar Square was "No Man's Land," for it was neither under the Royal Parks Regulation Act of 1872, nor under the Board of Works. It is urged by some persons that open-air meetings are matters which, in London, could properly be dispensed with. But I think the general body will agree with the views of the right hon. Member for Derby when at the Home Office. The following is a letter addressed by him to the Metropolitan Board of Works in August, 1883, with reference to Southwark Park:—You are aware of my sentiments on this subject. It is hard to expect that working men who claim to meet for the discussion of their own affairs should be put to the cost of hiring rooms for the purpose, which, if the assemblage is large, is in London a very expensive business. There is not a village or a town in England which has not some open space where gatherings of this kind can take place, and it would be intolerable if the population of London, amounting to 4,000,000 of people, were destitute of such opportunities, which are naturally and legitimately desired. Both Parliament and the Crown have, in the administration of the Parks under their control, evidenced their opinion that public meetings conducted in a peaceable and orderly manner constitute a proper and even useful employment of open spaces in the Metropolis. I think it would be a matter of regret if the Metropolitan Board took a different view of the open spaces which are under their management. Unnecessary repression of this character creates discontent and disturbance, and so far from tending to public order is calculated to provoke irritation and tumult.I shall now have to trouble the House with a few words as to the historical creation of Trafalgar Square. In the course of the discussion which has taken place with reference to the Square sanction has sometimes been given to the view that Trafalgar Square is the private property of Her Majesty, and that in a legal sense it was like Hyde 1883 Park before the Parks Regulation Act was passed. Nothing can be more mistaken than that view. Hyde Park was originally called after the manor of Hyde, which manor was one of the possessions of the Abbey of Westminster which was confiscated by Henry VIII. From the days of that Monarch it remained for a long series of years the private property of the Crown, just like any other property. The case of Trafalgar Square was absolutely and entirely different. I am informed by Mr. Charles Harrison, who has given me his assistance in getting up this matter in detail, that the first important Act with regard to Trafalgar Square was passed in 1813. It recited that it was considered a work of public utility and would be a great accommodation if, among other things, an open square was formed opposite Charing Cross. There were contained in the Act various other schemes for widening other streets. For this purpose, in connection with the improvement of the private Crown estate—then known as Marylebone Park, but now as Regent's Park—Public Commissioners were appointed and public moneys voted, and the property which formed the first half of what is now Trafalgar Square, but originally known as Union Square, was acquired by a public Vote of Parliament, paid for out of the taxes of the country. In 1826 another Act recited that it was a public object and for the public accommodation that there should be formed an enclosed and open square for the accommodation of the public which comprised the present Square; and one of its clauses, while imposing on the Commissioners the duty of completing the Square, at the same time imposed on the parishes its preservation and support. This Act related to the eastern half of what is now the Square, and which was in 1826 the property principally of the then Duke of Northumberland and the Governors of Bethlehem Hospital. By 1844 the property was substantially in its present condition, and had been so made by the public and at the public expense for public purposes. In 1844 a Statute was passed upon which was based the theory that this Square is the property of the Crown in the sense of private property of Her Majesty. I deny it. I know that it has been said that the Crown is the trustee for the people; but it has also been said that those who 1884 went into Trafalgar Square against the will or without the licence of the Queen commit a trespass. My contention is strongly against this view. The Act of 1844 recites that the Queen was seised in right of her Crown in the place called Trafalgar Square, which is no more than saying that the freehold or the fee simple is vested in the Queen, and that statement in no way detracts from the public character that has been stamped upon Trafalgar Square by the history I have given. The power of control over Trafalgar Square was wisely given to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests without in any way detracting from the public character of that place which was so originally stamped upon it, and no regulations either of those Commissioners or of the Chief Commissioner can properly set aside or alter the rights of the public in reference to it. Indeed, up to the present time no regulations of any kind have been made in reference to Trafalgar Square under the authority either of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests or of the Chief Commissioner of Police. I attach much importance to the Statute of 1854. The scheme of that Statute was this. It mentions certain statues by name, two of which are in Trafalgar Square—that of King George III. and that of Lord Nelson—and it then goes on to place under the control of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests the statues situated in public places in the Metropolis, and "public place" is defined to be one to which the public had "the right of ingress, egress, regress, or thoroughfare." That is practically a statutory admission of the right of the public to enter, leave, and return to that Square. The statutory history of the square to which I have referred entitles me to say that this Square was created by public money for the public accommodation, and not merely for the advantage of those who happen to live in its immediate neighbourhoood, and that, while the freehold or legal estate remains in the Queen, the beneficial use and accommodation of it lie in the public, and are in no sense properly to be limited and restricted by the powers of management vested in the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. The First Commissioner's power of management was, and ought to be, in point of law and in point of expediency, limited with reference to its public use 1885 and character. Lastly, I have pointed out that no regulations restraining or affecting that use have been made. What is the history of the user of the Square following upon these Statutes? The history of the actual user of the Square by the public is still more remarkable. In 1844, as I have stated, the care and control of the Square was vested in the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. In 1848, when Parliament was sitting, a Mr. Cochrane convened a public meeting in the Square with the object of protesting, among other things, against the Income Tax, and he was informed by the Police Commissioners that the meeting could not be permitted; whereupon Mr. Cochrane wrote to them to state that he had no idea that such a meeting in such a place was illegal, and that, in consequence of the Commissioners being of opinion that it was illegal, he would take no further part in it. The Commissioners thereupon at once wrote to him and informed him that he was under a mistake as to their grounds of objection to the meeting being held, which were not that it was illegal to hold such a meeting in Trafalgar Square at any time, but only when Parliament was sitting. It was on that occasion that Sir George Grey stated in this House that it was lawful to hold meetings in Trafalgar Square, provided they were legal and orderly in their character. The next occasion on which the question of the right of public meeting arose was the memorable one in relation to Hyde Park in 1866. Hon. Members will remember that it was suggested at that time, with a much greater show of reason, that the representatives of the Crown, under whose control the Park was placed, had a right to prohibit public meetings in it, asit was intended for the recreation of the people; and that, if a public meeting were held in it, the grass and flower beds would be trampled upon and destroyed. In the year to which I am referring, the point was taken that Trafalgar Square was the lawful and proper place for holding such meetings. It was then asserted that an open, unenclosed square like Trafalgar Square was not much used for the mere purposes of thoroughfare, and that, therefore, it was a most convenient place for holding public meetings. Sir George Grey went further even than that, because he stated in this House that, as 1886 long as the public meetings held in the Square were of a peaceable, orderly, and lawful character, the Executive Government had no right to interfere with them. That was undoubtedly a very important statement. The present Home Secretary and the Legal Advisers of the Government have access to what I have not—namely, a long current of opinions on the subject by distinguished Law Officers, and I should like to know whether, in the course of the long series of years since 1844, there is any instance of the Law Officers of the Crown advising the Executive to interfere with orderly meetings being held in the Square. I should like to know whether the Government can show that on any former occasion, either on his own Motion or on the initiation or suggestion of the Government, the Chief Commissioner of Police, by proclamation or notice or ukase—I care not which—has chosen, upon his own authority, to prohibit any meeting, however lawful or orderly, in Trafalgar Square. In 1885, when it was proposed by a Mr. W. J. L. Hooper to hold a meeting in Trafalgar Square to celebrate the release of Mrs. Weldon from prison, that gentleman received the following letter from the office of the Chief Commissioner of Police:—4, Whitehall Place, S.W.,Sept. 9, 1885.Sir,—With reference to your letter of the 4thinst., I am directed by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to acquaint you that it would be very inconvenient, both to the speakers at the proposed meeting and to the public, to have the meeting addressed from the steps leading from the pavement of the Square to the Terrace, and the blocking of this public way, which is unusual, might lead to disorder on the part of persons resenting it. The base of the Nelson column is not allowed as a platform for addressing meetings, and the usual and most convenient spot for such purposes is at the base of the wall at the north (or National Gallery) side of the Square. In many instances the promoters of the meetings bring with them a small portable platform to raise the speakers above the people, and this procedure is not interfered with by the police. The drivers of carriages in the procession should be instructed to obey the directions of the police, who would then arrange the empty vehicles at the north and west sides of the Square in the carriage way, so as to cause the least possible obstruction; and every assistance would be afforded to prevent disorder at the meeting.I am, Sir,Your obedient servant,C. L. BATHURST,pro Chief Clerk.1887 I have further to say that up to 1886, although there were a large number of meetings, many of them largely attended, held in Trafalgar Square, no serious disturbance occurred at any of them. In 1886, however, there was a meeting which was attended by unhappy consequences. We know that those consequences resulted from a misunderstanding on the part of the police of the orders which had been given to them. They believed they were told to assemble in the Mall, and the order in fact, was that they should assemble in Pall Mall, to be ready if they were required. The result was that a considerable number of persons—the fringe of the meeting—[a laugh]—well, I think so, and I perhaps know as much about the meeting as the hon. Member who seems to doubt it—a considerable number of persons acted in a disorderly manner. I am not going to say they were exemplary characters. Taking advantage of the circumstances in which they found themselves, they indulged in looting, and disturbances of a more or less serious character occurred. I will now refer to the evidence given in legal proceedings by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), whose courtesy I ought to acknowledge in giving precedence to me on this subject, Charles Bradlaugh, being examined, said—He had known Trafalgar Square for 35 years, and during that time the public had passed freely over every part of it. He had never seen a notice exhibited stating that the Square was private property. Between 1855 and 1884 he had taken part in public meetings there. After 1860 he had frequently convened meetings there, none of which had been dispersed by the police or prevented. On the 31st of July, 1871, he was served by Inspector Clark with a written notice on behalf of the Commissioners forbidding him to hold a meeting. A meeting had been called by Mr. Odger, which had been proclaimed and which he doubted the legality of, and he issued a notice convening another meeting. The notice stated that force would be used if he attempted to hold it, and Inspector Clark, who served the notice, asked for an answer. He answered that the meeting was legal, and that any attempt to disperse it would be illegal, and that he would resist force by force. That was about 11 in the morning, and about 12 he served a notice on the Home Secretary and the Chief Commissioner of Police to the same effect. He held the meetings. The Assistant Commissioner of Police was present. There was no attempt to disperse the meeting, although there was a large force of police present.I have shown that meetings have been 1888 held in Trafalgar Square since it was Trafalgar Square, that the legality of those meetings has been admitted by the action of the Home Secretary in 1848 and in 1866, and by the action of the police who have assisted in carrying out those meetings, and that no disturbance of a serious character has taken place. I now come to the unhappy occurrences of the 13th and the 20th of November last. It is true that previous to the 13th of November there had been a number of meetings held of a more or less disorderly character; it is true that these meetings were the cause of very considerable annoyance and inconvenience, and even possibly of danger to business and injury to persons whose premises surround Trafalgar Square. My object in this Motion, which I think the House will appreciate, would be while preserving the right of meeting in Trafalgar Square to preserve it under such legal conditions and authority as should minimize inconvenience to the public and give security for the preservation of order by those who are responsible for its maintenance. With reference to the meetings that were held before the 13th of November, if they were unlawful, I want to know why the Home Secretary or the Chief Commissioner of Police did not previously interfere with them? I do not understand it is suggested that the object with which they were called was unlawful. If they were made an occasion for the delivery of seditious speeches or of speeches inciting to breaches of the peace or disorder, I want to know why steps were not taken against the individuals for the offences so committed? I now come to the meeting of November 13, which I beg the House to observe—and which I would fain believe the Home Secretary failed to distinguish—was wholly unconnected with any of the meetings that had gone before. The meeting was called by a responsible body of men — the confederated Liberal or Radical Clubs of London—for an object which the Crown cannot and did not suggest was an unlawful purpose. Unquestionably it was an "improper purpose" according to the view of the Government, because it was to denounce their policy in Ireland. I wish the House to observe the dates. That meeting was resolved upon on the 2nd of November, and it was announced 1889 by posters on the 5th of November. It was under the management of the representatives of a large number of clubs and political societies in the Metropolis; and I recollect that at an interview which several friends and I had with the Home Secretary the Chief Commissioner of Police admitted that on several previous occasions the conveners of this meeting had acted in harmony with the police in preserving order; the Chief Commissioner willingly and gratefully recognized that fact. On the 8th of November was placarded the public notice setting forth that disorderly scenes had occurred in Trafalgar Square, and with a view to preventing the recurrence of such disorderly scenes—I, Charles Warren, do hereby give notice, with the sanction of the Secretary of State and the concurrence of the First Commissioner of Her Majesty's Works, that until further intimation no public meeting will be allowed to assemble in Trafalgar Square, nor will speeches be allowed to be delivered therein, and all well-disposed persons are requested to abstain from assembling there, as measures will be adopted to prevent any such meeting or the delivery of any speech.Let me say that if this notice has any legal effect at all—and I shall be surprised if any lawyer says the contrary—on the legality or illegality of the meeting, its lawful or unlawful character; it derives no additional force from the fact that it is stated to have the sanction of the Secretary of State and the concurrence of the First Commissioner of Works. The Home Secretary represents the Executive, and has no authority in the matter special or peculiar to him; his authority is derived from the general Common Law; and as regards the First Commissioner, even if he had any power, this notice is no exercise of his authority, and he had no power to delegate it to anybody else. This notice stands upon its merits or demerits, whatever they may be—upon the simple statement that "I, Charles Warren," forbid until further notice any meeting whatever. I am a little uncertain as to how to treat this notice. In the Police Court my able and learned friend Mr. Poland spoke of it as being an act of the Executive Government; but I observe that at the Old Bailey my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General said there was not a tittle of evidence to show that the Government had anything to do with it.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
I must venture to correct the hon. and learned Member. What I did say was that the putting in motion of that notice came from the Police Authorities in the interest of public peace, but that there was no evidence that the Executive put the notice in motion, but that they approved the action of Sir Charles Warren on the statements laid before them by him.
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
I do not find from the report in The Times that he said the Executive approved what was done; but I do find the statement that the responsibility rested not on the Government, but on Sir Charles Warren, who, he goes on to say, was appointed by a Liberal Government; but, apart from that, he continued, there was not a tittle of evidence from which anyone could venture to suggest that Sir Charles Warren took action on the suggestion of the Executive. That, I think, is what I substantially said. Well, we now hear for the first time that the Government, if they did not take the initiative, did approve what was done. After this I am entitled to draw the conclusion that it was the act of the Government. First of all, what is the effect of that notice? Will any lawyer say that that notice makes the least difference as regards the question whether the meeting intended to be held would have been a lawful meeting or not? Would it not be admitted that that notice or proclamation had had no effect whatever in determining one way or the other the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the meeting? I beg the House to bear in mind the point on which I insist in this matter. I do not now question, and never have questioned, the right of the Executive to stop any meeting which they could satisfy any proper tribunal was an unlawful meeting, either because of its avowed object, or because it was calculated to inspire the minds of ordinary persons in the neighbourhood with fear. I admit that to be the law. But that is not what this notice does. What it does is to peremptorily forbid, until it is withdrawn, any meeting being held in Trafalgar Square, however lawful and however peaceable. I will notice the observation which the Home Secretary made the other night with reference to this point. The hon. Mem- 1891 ber for North-West Lanarkshire (Mr. Cunninghame Graham) put a Question to the Home Secretary as to whether this ukase, as he chose to call it, was or was not still in force. To that the Home Secretary answered—"The regulations of Sir Charles Warren in relation to Trafalgar Square are still in force." Is the defence of the Government this—that this document is a regulation as to the use of Trafalgar Square? No. What, then, is the defence and justification in point of law? Again I say I admit the right of the Executive Government, upon their responsibility and for either of the reasons I have given, to prevent a meeting in the Square; but I deny the right of the Executive Government, and still more the right of Sir Charles Warren, to issue a Proclamation forbidding any meeting, irrespective of its character. Having got rid of the idea that this notice was one for the regulation of Trafalgar Square, by what is it to be defended? Let me remind the Home Secretary that the finding of the jury and the termination of the case at the Old Bailey gave no colour or legal sanction of any sort or kind as to the legality or illegality of future orderly meetings in the Square. A deputation waited upon the Home Secretary on the 11th of November, and I should like to read to the House what took place. The Home Secretary used this language—The public have no right of meeting in Trafalgar Square. It is only by the sufferance and permission of the Queen that they do meet there. That permission is, of course, ordinarily extended, and would he ordinarily extended to any bonâ fide meeting, to any real political assemblage that came there for bonâ fide political purposes; but it is on sufferance and with permission, and Her Majesty (or rather the Office of Works, who speak for Her Majesty in the matter) has a perfectly legal right to withhold that permission.Now, I wish to know who made the Home Secretary judge, and who gave him, as the adviser of the Queen in these matters, the right of saying what is a bonâ fide meeting? This is very dangerous ground for the Home Secretary, and I venture to say there is no legal support for it. I deny that access to the Square is upon sufferance. The purpose for which the Square can be used, when access is obtained, is another and different question; but that there is a right of access to the Square I think is apparent. I have, I think, already made it clear 1892 that the public have a right of user of the Square, and the Home Secretary has no authority to take it away; but I will follow the matter a little further. Does not the Home Secretary see—do not all the legal Members of the House see—that even if a meeting was held on a place, and the persons holding the meeting were committing a trespass, that act of trespass would not necessarily make the meeting unlawful? People in those circumstances do not commit the offence of holding an unlawful meeting, but the offence of trespass only. And if you come to deal with the question of obstruction, it will be seen that obstruction will not make a meeting unlawful on that account only. It is not too much to say that you cannot hold a meeting in any public place at which you would not be guilty, in a greater or lesser degree, of obstruction which may extend over accustomed ways or footpaths. But will any lawyer say, if a meeting is held under circumstances which cause obstruction, that that fact necessarily makes it a meeting of an unlawful character? I deny it. The persons holding the meeting may be guilty of an offence for which they can be dealt with; but it is not the offence of taking part in or of holding an unlawful meeting. I should like to quote, on this question of public meeting, from an author whose opinions will be received with approbation by Dissentient Liberals on this side of the House. My friend Professor Dicey, one of the ablest and one of the most honest and candid of the advocates of our Dissentient Friends, says—The right of assembling is nothing more than the result of the view taken by the Courts as to individual liberty of person and individual liberty of speech. There is no special law allowing A, B, and C to meet together either in the open air or elsewhere for a lawful purpose; but the right of A to go where he pleases, so that he does not commit a trespass, and to say what he likes to B, so that his talk is not libellous or seditious, the right of B to do the like with regard to A, and the existence of the same rights of C, D, E, and F, and so on ad infinitum, leads to the consequence that A, B, C, D and a thousand or ten thousand other persons may (as a general rule) meet together in any place where otherwise they each have a right to be for a lawful purpose and in a lawful manner.The next step in the matter is the occurrence of the meeting itself. I think there are few men who have any doubt that if the authorities had permitted the 1893 meeting to be held undisturbed by the action of the police, although it might have caused inconvenience to some, it would not have resulted in any general tumult or disorder. But the course resorted to by the police, of stopping large masses of people who were on their way to the Square in the exercise of what they believed to be their long - accustomed right, undoubtedly had very serious effects upon the public temper, and ultimately upon the public peace. I am not going into this question, which is not pertinent to the Motion. I wish this Motion to be discussed apart from that point, and on its own merits. I will only say, with regard to it, that the Government based their contention as to the illegality of the meeting on three grounds—(1) that the defendants had taken part in a riot; (2) that they took part in a disorderly meeting, in which the police were assaulted; and (3) that the meeting was unlawful on the ground that it was calculated to inspire terror in the minds of persons living in the neighbourhood. The jury negatived the question of riot and the question of disorderly meeting, and found the defendants guilty on the third ground only. As to what took place on the occasion I forbear to say more than this—that the assault and riot having been negatived, I am sorry the learned Judge did not see his way, inasmuch as it was admitted by the Crown that the meeting was held in the assertion of what was considered to be a legal right—I am sorry the learned Judge did not see his way to allow the prisoners to stand out and come up for judgment when called upon. The finding of the jury must be taken as a justification of the action of the police in preventing the particular meeting from being held; but it is no justification in point of law or reason for this standing prohibition of Sir Charles Warren, which is now to be treated as the action of the Government, permanently and absolutely at their will and pleasure, to prevent all orderly meetings from being held in Trafalgar Square. Now, in this matter, I have to trouble the House with one word, and one word only, as to another ground of justification which is sought to be put forward. The only notice existing on the 13th of November was the notice of the 8th of November; but after the meeting of the 13th of November a further 1894 notice was issued by Sir Charles Warren, in which, citing as his justification—and I call attention to it—the Statutes of the 2 & 3 Vict. and the 7 & 8 Vict., he purported to make this order or regulation that no meeting is to be allowed to assemble or any person to be allowed to deliver any public speech in Trafalgar Square or in the streets or thoroughfares adjoining or leading thereto, and that no organized processions shall be allowed to pass along the streets or thoroughfares adjoining or leading thereto. What are the Statutes cited in support of this? They are two. I dispose of one of them by a passing reference. The Act passed in 1844–7 & 8 Vict.—gives certain authority, limited, as I have indicated, to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests and now to the Commissioners of Works. The only section in the other Statute which has any bearing on this matter is the 52nd section, which makes it lawful for the Commissioner of Police from time to time, as occasion may require, to frame regulations for the route to be observed by all carts, carriages, horses, and persons, and for preventing obstruction in the streets and thorough-fares within the Metropolitan Police district, in all times of public processions, public rejoicings, or illuminations, and also to give directions to constables to keep in order and to prevent any obstruction of the thoroughfares in the immediate neighbourhood of Her Majesty's Palaces, the Public Offices, Parliament, the Courts of Law, the Police Courts, theatres, and other places of public resort, and in any case where the thoroughfares are thronged and liable to be obstructed. What does this Statute mean? It is not a Statute forbidding processions, but a Statute for regulating them. It is not a Statute forbidding public meetings, but it is a power given to the police to be exercised with the view of marshalling, so to speak, the traffic, so that there may be as little disturbance or inconvenience to the public as possible. Does the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary say that it is within the competence of the First Commissioner of Metropolitan Police to forbid anybody from coming down Parliament Street, or to forbid any procession from going down the Embankment? I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman's 1895 answer is to that question. I should like him now to give, even by a nod of the head, some indication of an answer, because I submit to the House that unless the power claimed is a power to the extent and of the kind that I have indicated, there is no more power to stop processions in the direction of Trafalgar Square by a general order applicable to all occasions than there is to stop them in any thoroughfare of the Metropolis. I have so far dealt with this matter very much on the legal grounds, but I confess that I do not think this is a question which the House can afford or ought to discuss in the mere language of legal pedantry. I am fully aware of the technical legal difficulties in the way, in many cases, of affirmatively establishing in a Court of Law the concrete right of open-air public meeting. But this is a question in which a right that the public have exercised in fact has been restrained by a peremptory mandate of the Government, which they are called upon to justify, not only in point of law, but on Constitutional principles. I submit they can do neither. If they want to have further powers to maintain order and to keep the peace, let them come to Parliament and ask for them, and my Motion opens the road to inquiry. If the existing regulations are inadequate, let them be strengthened; but do not by an indirect method or side-wind make an invasion upon a long exercised right of the public, or interfere with it in this peremptory and unconstitutional manner. I have pointed out that the question of the right to hold orderly meetings in Trafalgar Square was not raised in the case heard at the Old Bailey. There was a kind of assertion by the learned Attorney General that there was no right of access to the Square, which in his summing-up Mr. Justice Charles did not seem to endorse. I know, also, there was a suggestion of Mr. Justice Charles as to the non-existence of the supposed right of holding public meetings in Trafalgar Square. In so far as any such suggestion was made by that learned Judge, I say with all respect that it was a mere obiter dictum, because the question did not arise in the case. The ground upon which the verdict of the jury at the Old Bailey rested would have equally applied to any like meeting in any place—even in a 1896 place in which it was admitted there was a right to hold the meeting. But when the Government had the opportunity of having the question judicially determined as to whether there was or was not the right to hold an orderly meeting in Trafalgar Square, I say unmistakably—I do not say it offensively—that they shirked the question. I allude, of course, to the case of Mr. Saunders, a former Member of this House. Mr. Saunders attended at Trafalgar Square, having given notice to the police that he would, on the 8th and again on the 11th of November. He said that he claimed his right to go there and to speak to the unemployed in terms of sympathy, and I think he said terms of comfort. The police told him they would not permit the meeting. He said that he would hold it. He went to the place of meeting and began to speak. An inspector or constable desired him to desist. He said he would not desist, but would persevere until he was forcibly prevented. Consequently, the inspector or constable put his hand on him to stop him, and the meeting was then at an end. Mr. Saunders was brought before a magistrate and was defended—ably defended—by my learned friend Mr. Corrie Grant, and the representatives of the Government on that occasion showed the most anxious desire to withdraw the charge. Mr. Corrie Grant wanted to know what was the offence that had been committed; and I call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to a very extraordinary thing—namely, to what Mr. Poland, a most able and competent counsel on the other side, said in his argument. In the first place, Mr. Corrie Grant said—"This is not a regulation under any Statute." Mr. Poland said—"It is quite clear it is not." Mr. Corrie Grant asked on what authority the prohibition rested—what section authorized it? Mr. Poland said—"No Statute. He does it simply as a servant of the Crown." So that we have here the old idea of private property, and that a trespass is committed by anyone going to the Square without or against the permission of the Crown. I had intended to allude to the case of the other public parks, and I shall be very short in my reference to them. The right of user by the public in other open spaces in the Metropolis than Trafalgar Square cannot be said to be in a 1897 satisfactory condition. It calls for inquiry as the Motion suggests. Shortly stated, these public places are of two classes—those which are outside the Public Parks Act of 1872, and those that are within that Act. Under the regulations framed in pursuance of the Public Parks Act of 1872 there are in London four places, and four only, so far as I am aware, in which there is the right of public meeting, and that right is given in rather a remarkable way. It is not expressly said that there shall be a right of public meeting, but that no public meeting shall be allowed to take place except within certain spaces and subject to various other conditions. Those four places are Hyde Park, Regent's Park, Victoria Park, and Battersea Park. Then, as to the places not within the Public Parks Act, they stand in this position. First, as to the licensing authority, where the Metropolitan Board is the primary authority for making bye-laws, the confirming authority is either the Secretary of State or First Commissioner of Works. Where the Local Board are the conservators, the confirming authority is the Local Government Board. Where the conservators are appointed from local residents, the confirming authority is the First Commissioner of Works. So that you have these various authorities, and not always acting in harmony. In regard to those places specially under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board of Works, there is a prohibition of a qualified kind against any right to hold public meetings in by far the largest number of open spaces in and around the Metropolis. I mean that such meetings cannot be lawfully held unless by the written consent of the Metropolitan Board of Works first had and obtained. This applies to a very large number of places, among which are—Blackheath, Hampstead Heath, Shepherd's Bush Common. Hackney Commons, comprising London Fields, Hackney Downs, Wells Street Common (otherwise Hackney Common), North Mill Fields, South Mill Fields, Stoke Newington Common, Clapton Common, and parcels of land at or near Dalston Lane, and Grove Street, Wormwood Scrubs, Shoulder-of-Mutton Green, Plumstead Common, Peckham Rye, Goose Green, Nunhead Green, Clapham Common, Brook Green, Eelbrook Common, Parson's Green, Toot- 1898 ing Beck Common, and Tooting Graveney Common. In all these cases the consent of the Metropolitan Board of Works is to be obtained. It does not seem to me that the right which unquestionably the public of this country greatly cherish should be, as regards all these open spaces, so entirely at the will and pleasure of an authority which cannot be in any real sense of the words be called a Representative Body, and as to which I will only say further that it is not a Body which can be said to command universal confidence. In particular, I cannot think that the Government can be satisfied, or ought to be satisfied, with the position in which the question of Trafalgar Square rests. I cannot think they will consider it a satisfactory state of things that there should now be in 1888 so remarkable an interference by the Chief Commissioner acting for the Government—and now, as we are to take it, by the Government themselves—with a long-established right. It is not a state of things that the public will put up with, or ought to put up with. They claim the right, according to the custom by which they have exercised it, to hold meetings in Trafalgar Square. I have no doubt they are willing and anxious to have proper and sober rules for the conduct and regulation of meetings, so as to minimize and reduce, as far as possible, any inconvenience to the public. But this question, it seems to me, touches a much greater and a much broader question, apart from its strictly legal aspect and character. Speaking of liberty in this country, De Tocqueville said that he was surprised to find how little there was about liberty and of liberty in the law of the country, and how much there was of liberty in the Constitutional understandings and customs of the country. Our right of liberty of the Press, reduced to its elements, means no more than that a man, without previous licence, publishes what he pleases, taking the legal consequences, and submitting himself, in what he writes, to the judgment of a jury. So as regards this public right of meeting. I have avoided, arguing the question in any spirit—and I hope I have succeeded—of narrow, technical, legal pedantry. I desire to put it on broader and higher grounds than that. This question touches a right which the people of the country have long enjoyed, and which they 1899 deeply cherish. The exercise of that right has been of very great value in the past, and. I believe it will be of great value in the future. What has been the result of the exercise of that right in this country? The result has bean that while we have seen revolutions in other countries carried by violence and lawlessness and accompanied by crime, we have seen in this country revolutions as great and as wide-reaching as any which have occurred abroad, carried by peaceable means, because this country has lived and thriven upon the breath of free public discussion. The right of public meeting has helped to form public opinion; it has given voice to popular discontent; and I say that public discontent, even if it be unreasonable discontent, ought to have a voice. It has quickened the action of Legislatures—aye, and its action has quickened and roused the conscience of Governments. It has been useful in the past, so I believe it will be useful in the future; and, therefore, I hope the House of Commons will not, by vote or otherwise, do anything to impair, restrict, or weaken that power of expressing public opinion. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, having regard to the importance of preserving and protecting the right of open air public meetings for Her Majesty's subjects in the Metropolis, and with a view to prevent ill-will and disorder, it is desirable that an inquiry should be instituted by a Committee of this House into the conditions subject to which such meetings may be held, and the limits of the right of interference therewith by the Executive Government."—(Sir Charles Russell.)
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
I should like, at the outset of the observations I shall make to the House, to express my cordial concurrence with the closing remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell). The importance and value of public meetings the Government fully recognize. We entirely admit the truth of his assertion—that it is desirable that popular discontent should find a free and open voice, and should not be driven to express itself in secret conventicles and other ways. I believe that no one in this House is more con- 1900 vinced of those somewhat—I say it without offence—elementary maxims to which he has given eloquent expression. But I believe in this question of Trafalgar Square, which has now arisen between the authorities and some part of the public, we have done nothing to impair any public right—nothing to diminish any real right of public meeting which exists in the Metropolis. Our action has been entirely dictated by what I may call police considerations—consideration of public order, the protection of persons and property, and what was necessary to be done in order to prevent a repetition of the scenes that happened not much more than two years ago, and which certainly were a disgrace both to this Metropolis and its civilization. No doubt there does lie at the bottom of this controversy some necessary inquiry into the legal position of Trafalgar Square. The hon. and learned Gentleman has disclaimed the use of mere legal pedantry in dealing with the subject; but, at the same time, artfully—I do not use the word in an offensive sense—doing that, he has led the way over a series of Statutes, seeking to produce upon the House an impression that there was some legal right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square. If that was not his intention or purpose, then the greater part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument had no purpose at all. Now, as to the legal right of meeting in Trafalgar Square, I absolutely challenge it and join issue upon it. I say that such a right does not exist in law or in fact. No such thing can be pretended directly or openly by a lawyer, even of much less eminence than the hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not propose to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman at great length through the Statutes. I shall shortly put the view which I found accepted at the Home Office when I entered it. It is this. Under the Statute of 1844 Trafalgar Square was not created the property of the Crown, and certainly it was not the private property of the Crown; but Trafalgar Square was recognized by statutory enactment as one of the hereditary possessions of the Crown, the ownership of which was therefore in the Crown. The reason of that, I apprehend, was that Trafalgar Square was made out of an old Royal property called King's Mews.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
The hon. and learned Gentleman was not strictly accurate in some of his facts; at least, they do not conform with the information I have been able to collect on the subject. Trafalgar Square took the place originally of a large building called the King's Mews and its appurtenaces, to which were added premises in part purchased by private and in part by public money. It is enough, however, to take one's stand on the Act of 1844, and I have no desire to lay before the House any technical or pedantic view of that Act. But how can anyone read that Act and understand otherwise than that Parliament intended to declare, as it does declare—That the place or square called Trafalgar Square is by this Act vested in the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, her heirs and successors, as part and parcel of the hereditary possessions of Her Majesty.Then the Act goes on to vest—I wish frankly to admit that it clothes Trafalgar Square with a species of public trust—the management, care, control, and regulation of the Square in the Commissioners of Woods—now of Works—as representing the Crown, and they are required to keep it in order. Then comes the 3rd section of the Act, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman did not refer, but which throws light on the position of the Square. That section says that the clauses of the Metropolitan Police Act shall apply to this Act and to the Square, so far as such clauses and provisions are not repugnant or inconsistent with the Trafalgar Square Act. That section makes it impossible for any lawyer to say that Trafalgar Square was an ordinary street or thoroughfare at that time. The provisions of the Police Act apply to all thoroughfares and streets of the Metropolis; but without that express enactment the police could have had no more to do with Trafalgar Square than with any private garden in the Metropolis, and they could not have gone into it to exercise any of their ordinary functions. The view at the Home Office was that it was vested in Her Majesty for public purposes and public objects. The management was committed to a great officer of State, namely, the Commissioner of Works—the right and title of Her Majesty, so 1902 far as owning the ground was concerned, was left untouehed—in order that the Square might be best devoted to the public enjoyment and to the public advantage. At that time it certainly was not a thoroughfare, because the Act of Parliament contemplates that the Commissioner of Works may put up in it things which might be viewed as an obstruction. Things have been put up by the First Commissioner in Trafalgar Square which might be considered obstructions if put up in any ordinary thoroughfare. The statue of Sir Charles Napier was put up in 1858, the statue of Sir Henry Havelock in 1861, that of George IV. in 1845, and the great column between 1844 and 1847. Therefore things were put up in Trafalgar Square which showed that Parliament contemplated a condition of affairs inconsistent with the dedication of the Square as an ordinary highway, and that it was intended by Parliament that the public should have the use and enjoyment of the Square, possibly in a more complete way than they had the use and enjoyment of the Parks. Of course, I am not insensible to the contention which might be raised that subsequent user of the Square might have altered that condition of things and given the public a right of thoroughfare; but such a point has never been raised, has never been argued, and has never been decided. It would, indeed, admit of a good deal of argument; but I do not think it necessary to enter into that question, but I will take it the other way. If there be a right of user and of thoroughfare that only makes the case of the hon. and learned Gentleman the more untenable. It is undeniable that the right of public meetings in any street or thoroughfare, does not exist. It does not exist on the property of any private owner, but with the consent of that private owner. But nobody disputes that. Nor, on the other hand, would anybody deny that public meetings may be held—indeed they must be held—in places where they can be held, with the sanction of the owner. The right of public meeting is the right of expressing your opinions openly, publicly, on any subject whatever, whether you attack the Government of the day, or whether you defend it; but it does not mean that you may take possession of any place you wish for the 1903 purpose of holding your meeting. If, as I have said, you hold a meeting upon the land of a private owner, the consent of the owner must be obtained, and. nothing is more clear than that you have no right to hold a meeting in a public thoroughfare. That is the law. I listened to the hon. and learned Member to see whether he would say that there was a right of public meeting in the streets or thoroughfares. He did not assert it; he assumed it. I should have been glad to draw him into that assertion if I could, but he did not assert any right of meeting in a public thoroughfare or street. It would certainly be most monstrous to say that any number of betting men might meet in Fleet Street to talk over the result of a race. [An hon. MEMBER: They do it now.] I know they do; but they ought to be removed, because the place is not devoted to the purpose of public meetings, but to other purposes equally useful. The hon. and learned Member spoke of this point not having been decided at the Central Criminal Court, I take it to have been decided. The point was raised by the hon. and learned Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith). And what did Mr. Justice Charles say? He said—I have anxiously considered the observations which Mr. Asquith has addressed to you, and I can find no warrant for telling you that there is a right of public meeting either in Trafalgar Square or any other public thoroughfare. So far as I know the law of England, the use of public thoroughfares is for the people to pass and repass along them. That is the purpose for which they are, as we say, dedicated by the owner of them to the use of the public; and they are not dedicated to the public use for any other purpose that I know of than for the purpose of passing and repassing; and if you come to regard Trafalgar Square as being a place of public resort simply, it seems to mo it would be very analogous to that. Equally on the part of the public they have no right, although they may often do it without objection—the public have no right to hold meetings for discussion upon any questions, be they social, political, or religious. That is my direction of the law to you as far as regards the abstract right of the people to meet in public places.That is a very accurate definition of the law, and it would be very unfortunate if any discussion in this House would allow the opinion to prevail that the public have a right to meet in every public thoroughfare. However much one may desire that public meetings should be held—and no one desires it more than I 1904 —I must say that to allow them in public thoroughfares would be to land London and other towns like London in hopeless confusion. The hon. and learned Member went on to say—"Oh, but there have been meetings held in Trafalgar Square," and he gave the instance of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), who—according to his wont—held a meeting there in defiance of the authorities. The hon. Member for Northampton—and I congratulate him—won the victory on that occasion. The public authorities, perhaps wisely and prudently under the circumstances, in order to avoid a collison said nothing about it, and allowed him to go on and hold the meeting. Our whole life, public and private, is full of examples of that kind. You have no right to crowd the streets with carriages for private parties of an evening; but the authorities do not interfere to prevent it, because the inconvenience is so slight. There are numbers of things which people have no right to do, and yet they are not interfered with. Meetings have been held for years in Trafalgar Square—held as of right—they were not unlawful on that account, though there was no right; but they have been passed over because in the circumstances of the time there was no reason for the Executive to interfere. The question is whether last autumn the licence which had been good-humouredly extended in other cases ought or ought not to have been withdrawn? Whether you view Trafalgar Square as Crown property or strictly as a thoroughfare, is there a right of meeting there, or is the public injured and is any right taken from them when a meeting is prohibited? But although I have admitted that any wise and prudent Government would not insist upon its right to interfere in all cases, and would overlook a harmless infringement of the law, I invite the House to say whether the condition of things was such last autumn that we were not bound to prevent the meetings from taken place? I must remind the House what the course of events had been. The House will not forget how the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket) expressed his sympathy with the wretched creatures who crowded into Trafalgar Square at night for the purpose of attracting charity—they had no refuge at night, had neither food to eat 1905 nor work to do—and the largest sympathy was felt for them, and then came the meetings of the unemployed. The meetings in the case of the unemployed were attended during the months of October and November with a growing danger of riots every day. Language was used of a seditious and dangerous character. I might quote language which was used at them, and which grew each day more and more violent and threatening. A certain organization was introduced into the movement, and speeches were made more and more likely to provoke disorder and tumult. I do not attach too much consequence to those speeches, but they are not to be altogether disregarded. Many things are said by excited public speakers, perhaps not meant to be acted on. But one could not altogether overlook the language used day by day, and which amounted to threats of violence if relief could not be obtained for the unemployed from the constituted authorities—relief for distress, which was truly alleged, I believe, in many cases. One person advised that they should go to the National Gallery, because he had tried it once himself with 200 men and had frightened the people there out of their senses. Another advised that 30,000 men should go to the Lord Mayor with lumps of granite in their pockets. Another said that if the Lord Mayor would not do so-and-so they would "terrorize the old scoundrel." [Cries of "Name!"] The author of this last observation was Mr. Allman, who afterwards admitted that he was paid so much a week by the Society for the Unemployed. We did not prosecute that sedition; we did not treat it as seditious; we did not think it worth it. Another orator said that pressure should be brought to bear by firing London in 400 places at once, while another urged them to carry sticks.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give any names? If he will give the name of the man who said that, I think I can identify him with the police.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Northampton suggests that the police employed people to make seditious speeches?
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
The person who threatened to fire London I am prepared 1906 in an inquiry to prove has since been seen in company with the police on more than one occasion, and not in custody.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
It is a new thing to me that to be seen in company with a policeman in the street is a matter of suspicion—
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (again rising amid loud cries of "Order!")
I must ask the leave of the House to repeat what I said. My words have been misrepresented.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I hope the hon. Member for Northampton will not cause me to detain the House longer than I can help. The hon. Member will have an opportunity of replying. Not only were there these seditious speeches, but there was also this feature about what took place last autumn—that Trafalgar Square was made use of by the persons who came there day after day as a sort of central fortress from which they organized processions which went round the City and West End, inspiring terror as they went, and causing the shopkeepers to shut their shops hastily and give up business for that afternoon, and from Trafalgar Square these people organized visits by so-called deputations to various public authorities. Early in October a visit was paid to the Chief Magistrate, Sir James Ingham, and The Standard office, by persons who insisted upon having work given to them and not relief, and who refused to accept the ordinary relief which persons in distress are content to put up with. A visit was also organized to the Lord Mayor, in which very inflammatory language was used, and in which black flags and red flags and caps of liberty were carried, and emblems which recalled recollections which I should think no inhabitant of London would wish to see revived. A visit was afterwards paid to Alderman Knight, who put off the deputation with some good advice. Those who led the crowd then advised them to pay visits to the Queen and to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to make him disgorge the £15,000 which they said he received, and then to help themselves to the shops. On the Sunday on which I had specially inter- 1907 posed in order that the meeting might take place there came that degrading and disgusting visit to Westminster Abbey, in which the procession which went there desecrated the place they visited. Then came a visit to the Board of Works, in which the procession threatened the members of the Board that they would come in their thousands and compel them to give them work. They made the announcement that they would continue visits of this sort until their demands were granted. I need hardly tell the House what the effect of this was upon London. I received—for it is my unhappy lot to receive all such complaints — protests and complaints from various bodies in the town. A deputation of Oxford Street traders, who desired that their names should be concealed—and I call the attention of the House to that significant fact as showing the terror inspired—implored to be protected against the inconvenience caused by these riots which were going on. The diamond merchants around Trafalgar Square called attention to the disorderly and riotous mobs which were going there with the sole object of robbery, and said that they would be obliged to close their shops if this went on; the fear of these mobs kept away their lady customers, and they themselves were in danger of their lives; they had to fear not only the loss of goods, for which they might obtain compensation, but also the far greater loss of their trade. The Royal College of Physicians complained that members of their institution were unable to go out owing to the riotous crowds, and that there was fear for the valuable property in their College. On the 11th of November a deputation of bankers, hotel-keepers, and merchants came before me. All represented to me that there was a daily loss of trade to them—that customers were kept away from London, and that trade was paralyzed by a state of things of that sort, from which the working men were the first and the largest sufferers, owing to the cessation of employment caused by it. Lastly, there was a Memorial signed by some thousands of ratepayers in the neighbourhood of the Strand, who represented that the assembling of crowds, largely consisting of rogues and vagabonds, was seriously affecting their trade, and who asked the Executive Government to prevent valued privileges of 1908 public meeting from being converted into criminal licence. I had as long as it was possible—and I acknowledge fully my responsibility—adhered to the policy, not of preventing the meetings and processions before assembling, but of watching and controlling them, without any further interference with them. But in order to follow these sporadic processions, which it was absolutely necessary to follow, from 1,000 to 2,000 police had to be in Trafalgar Square. The Police Force was getting worn out; they were getting harassed and irritated; so that another consideration came into view—of which hon. Members opposite will feel the weight—namely, that the defenders of public order and property might have got out of hand. There have been complaints made, justly or unjustly—I will go into that question another time—but if you once allow the defenders of public order to be harassed by the repetition of duties which are almost intolerable, by having to stand by while they are being hooted and abused and even pelted, and by having to accompany disorderly processions, you produce a temper in your Police Force which is extremely undesirable. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows the evidence which was given by Sir Charles Warren and which was unchallenged. That evidence only repeated to the public what I had on other occasions heard from Sir Charles Warren. He pointed out that for more than a month, from the 5th of October to the 13th of November, the police had had to watch meetings which were a source of danger to the peace of the neighbourhood, and that, having regard to the character of the people and the continued meetings in that place, he thought that it would have taxed the power of the police to keep them under control, and that it was absolutely necessary that these processions should be followed by the police. Those who attended the meetings were organized to act by signals, and to march out at a signal in an organized body. Those who organized and invited these meetings may be perfectly respectable men who wish to meet to express their views, but they cannot help the dangerous classes coming uninvited, though I think that all the speakers were not reluctant to see the dangerous classes there. You cannot help them attending these meetings and forming part of them, and thus 1909 adding to the danger of obstruction and to the danger to public peace and property. That was the situation which was growing upon the notice of the authorities and of the public during October and the early part of November. Now, will the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney say that the right of public discussion is advanced by all this saturnalia of disorder?
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I said not a word in defence or justification of disorder.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I did not mean to trouble the hon. and learned Member to rise. I know he did not say one word in defence of such proceedings; but I have to say many words about them, because the facts explain the action of the Government. In defence of the action of the Government it will not do to leave all these facts out of view. It had, I repeat, become unsafe in London to allow persons to go on being massed day by day in the very centre of accumulated wealth, in the midst of the most crowded thoroughfares, in a place where the preservation of order among thousands of persons was a task of the greatest difficulty, and where only a sheet of plate glass stood between the depredators and goods of the greatest value. And if the operations and precautions of the police are hampered by enormous crowds by whom they are surrounded, I should like to know how better protection could be given to persons and property? I should like to know, too, what judgment the hon. and learned Member himself would have passed upon the Executive if, by an unlooked for and unlucky chance, the events of February, 1886, had been repeated last autumn? The hon. and learned Member has quoted one precedent; let me quote one also. At a time when the hon. and learned Gentleman was Attorney General, for two days after that 8th of February, when London was looted, Trafalgar Square was closed to the public, just as it was last November. I say the same thing might have occurred again at any moment last autumn, and it was only by incessant vigilance, by the extraordinary activity and zeal of the police, that I believe London was saved from some similar catastrophe; and I assure the House that the strain on the force by the incessant vigilance 1910 they were obliged to exercise bacame at last intolerable and unbearable. I had apprehensions that the force might break down under that strain. That was the position of things. Were we, in that position, entitled to issue the notice which the hon. and learned Gentleman has read? He challenged me to defend that notice. I defend it fearlessly, absolutely, and on all points. I say that we should have failed in our duty to the State and to this town if we had not put a stop to those meetings. I say that we had a full legal right to do it; we were interfering with no right of the public when we said—"You shall not hold meetings in Trafalgar Square." It was not necessary that we should wait to see whether a particular meeting was unlawful or not. No meeting has a right de jure to take possession of Trafalgar Square, and occupy it to the exclusion of the rest of the public. A meeting that claims to do that is not unlawful in the somewhat fallacious use the hon. and learned Member made of the term. Of course, it is not necessarily unlawful in the sense of being riotous; but it is unlawful in the sense that it is trespass. A meeting convened for the most decorous, prudish, and regular object in the world, conducted in the most perfect order, is not unlawful, it is true; but it cannot lawfully come and be held in my garden if I say it is not to be held there, nor can it lawfully be held in a public thoroughfare, and, for that reason, it cannot insist upon being held in Trafalgar Square. It is true, it may be guilty only of trespass and only of obstruction; and it is quite true that neither of these vices of trespass or obstruction constitute an unlawful assembly so as to fall within the penalties that attach to unlawful assemblies, but they fall within the Law of Trespass. The meeting is unwarranted, if it is not an unlawful assembly in the technical sense of the law. The hon. and learned Member asked what is the meaning of the notice? As I read the plain words of the Trafalgar Square Acts, the Commissioners of Works have the management and regulation of the Square, and it rests with them, subject to any right of way that has been acquired—which certainly has not been ascertained as yet, if any such right exists—to manage and regulate the Square. They represent Her Majesty, who has the ownership of 1911 the Square in trust for the advantage of the whole and not a section of the public. In both capacities the Commissioners of Works have authority to say—"We will not permit a meeting to be held here either to-day, to-morrow, or next day. It is not a right belonging to any body of persons whatever, and we, for reasons that we think sufficient, do not intend to permit the thing in future." We of the Executive went to the Commissioners of Works and said—"Will you, in so far as you are justified, authorize us in excluding meetings from the Square until further notice?" We had that authority, and the act is justified on that ground. It is also justified under whatever powers belong to the Commissioner of Police under the Police Regulation Act. Of course, we all know that a notice does not make any meeting unlawful which was otherwise lawful in itself; but it has a perfect avail to make any attempt to hold a meeting unauthorized in the sense that those who have the ownership and control of the Square say—"We do not choose that it shall be done." It has also the effect of a warning to the public that it is considered an obstruction to the thoroughfares, which, although winked at and overlooked on many previous occasions, was not going to be winked at and overlooked on this occasion or the occasions following the 8th of November. I will not follow the hon. and learned Gentleman in his criticism of my speech on the 11th. I abandon the speech to him. I intended to say to the deputation what I have been saying to the House—namely, that while permission to hold meetings had been very naturally and properly, in my judgment, conceded time after time when it did no harm, yet that the time had arrived when it did do harm, and when it was manifestly being abused. I say that the anxiety naturally caused formed an abundant justification for putting, not mere technical rights, but solid, substantial, legal rights into operation, and thereby to put an end to a public mischief and a public danger. Did subsequent events justify our action or not? The hon. and learned Gentleman challenged me on the subject of processions, and he asked me if the Executive could stop processions going along the streets. It does not become me to construe Acts of Parliament in opposition to the hon. 1912 and learned Member, whose reputation stands so deservedly high. From the plain words of Section 52, I should have thought that processions, whenever they are liable to lead to obstruction, may be regulated and dealt with.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
The hon. and learned Member says "regulated," but not "prohibited." But if regulation does not go the length of prohibition, of what use is it to stop obstruction? The power of regulation is a power which must avail to this extent at least, that it shall enable the Commissioner to overcome an obstruction. When a procession is marching through London, filling both carriage way and footway, how is he to overcome it but by stopping or dispersing it? It stops all traffic one way and heads it back in the opposite direction. It can only be regulated by dispersing it and breaking it down. [Cries of "No, no!"] I should like to put hon. Members who dissent into the field against such an obstruction, and see how they would regulate without dispersing it. And now I come to the events of the 13th. Lamentable events they were I entirely agree. Nobody viewed them or heard of them with deeper concern or distress than myself. I think, however, the distressing character of that day was not due to the action of the authorities. I do not like when men have been convicted to even seem to press upon them at all, especially when one of the defendants is a Member of this House; but I cannot help saying that it is difficult to read the evidence given on that occasion and not see that—rightly or wrongly—those who had got up this meeting had formed a deliberate design of carrying Trafalgar Square by force and in spite of the action of the authorities. I am not saying that they are not people entitled to have their particular opinions; but one of the organizers—the secretary of the Federation—declared that he had got 60,000 or 70,000 men in the field ready to come in 60 or 70 organized processions to bear down on Trafalgar Square at the same hour, and the defendants who were convicted were manifestly waiting for those processions, and had since boasted in letters and speeches that "if our men had come to the scratch we should have carried the 1913 Square—like a dose of salts," is the elegant expression. And how was the "plan of campaign" defeated?—[Murmurs.]—I do not mean any offence to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. How was that plan defeated? Why, by stopping the processions; and what were they? Why, a procession of men, some of whom were armed with oyster knives, with which they stabbed the police; some had gaspipes; some had sticks — [An hon. MEMBER: How many?]—and these sticks had nails in them. These were the component parts of this organized procession, all converging on Trafalgar Square, all led to the attack by the gallant cry of the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Cunninghame Graham)—"Now for the Square." After that came the final rush. That may appear to the hon. and learned Member a perfectly lawful and peaceful assembly. It appeared to the jury—and I humbly agree with them—to be an assembly obviously unlawful.
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
I must interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. I said that I accepted the verdict of the jury, that it was an unlawful assembly, and that the Executive were justified in stopping that particular meeting.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
Well, I beg pardon. I thought the hon. and learned Gentleman, in referring to the finding of the jury, put it on some technical grounds, which my ingenuity did not enable me to master. I say the jury found this to be an unlawful assembly; that it was organized, and attempted by force to break into Trafalgar Square and overpower the authority of the police. No one can read the evidence and fail to see that that was the deliberate design, cleverly contrived, skilfully commenced, and only defeated by the courage and self-devotion of the thin line of men who met these processionists at every point, and prevented them, in the language of the hon. and learned Gentleman, "from becoming an obstruction." That is the moral I draw from the trial resulting from the occurrences of November 13, after reading the evidence on both sides with, I hope, as impartial a mind as any of the jury who 1914 tried the case and found the verdict. I will not discuss the question as to why there was no verdict for riot and assault. The learned Judge left it open to the jury, if they thought that the people went there for the purpose of carrying the Square by force — but did not succeed—to take the lenient view and convict them only of unlawful assembly, and not of riot. If these people had proceeded to any material extent in the execution of that purpose it was a riot; but the Judge left it to them to say whether the processionists had made it a riot. He left them to take the lenient view, and they took it. I am glad they did, as I am always glad, in trials of this sort, when the least harm falls to those involved. I invite the House to say that the Government acted rightly, instead of adopting the Resolution the hon. and learned Gentleman has pressed upon them. But it was not only in this trial that we had the fullest justification for prohibiting the meeting and the processions coming to the Square. Both juries and the magistrates concurred in finding that the proceedings were unlawful. There were 126 persons brought before the magistrates summarily. Of these 27 only were discharged. In 22 cases there were appeals to the Sessions, and in two cases only was the conviction quashed. In seven cases indictments were heard at either the Surrey or Middlesex Sessions, and none of these prisoners were acquitted, but all were convicted by the juries. Two cases were sent to the Central Criminal Court, and in both convictions were obtained. That makes a total of nearly 160 cases in which the juries, magistrates, and Judges vindicated the conduct of the authorities and held the meeting to be unlawful in every respect,
§ MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
Will the right hon. Gentleman state to which meeting his figures refer—the 13th or 20th?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
These are the convictions up to the 21st of January, 1888, and they cover all the charges made since the 13th of November, The butcher's bill is 112 police injured, more or less seriously, some of them being injured for life. It is a little remarkable that the hon. and learned Gentleman in his speech has said a good deal about the right of public meeting, and has given the House an interesting his- 1915 torical view of Trafalgar Square, but he said little or nothing about the Motion he has placed on the Paper. I hardly heard a word addressed to it. He asked the House to affirm—That, having regard to the importance of preserving and protecting the right of open public meetings for Her Majesty's subjects in the Metropolis, and with a view to prevent ill-will and disorder, it is desirable that an inquiry should he instituted by a Committee of this House into the conditions subject to which such meetings may be held, and the limits of the right of interference therewith, by the Executive Government.I submit to the House that the conditions under which meetings may be held and the limits of the right of interference are fixed by the law. For centuries there have been a series of authorities uniform and, I think I may say, one developing and explaining the other, by which the conditions subject to which meetings in this country can be held, and the limits and the rights of interference with them by the Executive, have been settled in the interests both of liberty and order. Illustrious Judges have laid down rules of law applicable to the subject, and those rules are perfectly clear. I quite agree that the application of law to the facts is very often difficult—to ascertain the precise moment of time when a meeting, by reason of obstruction or riotous conduct, ceases to be a lawful and becomes an unlawful assembly—that that is a criterion of facts often difficult to determine. I grant that; but all the Committees in the world will not assist you in deciding it. The conditions under which meetings may be held are perfectly clear. The meeting must be for a lawful purpose. It must be held in a place into which yon have got a right to go—either by the assent of the owner or otherwise—and it must conduct itself in an orderly manner; and if it fulfils these three conditions the Executive has no right to interfere with it; and it is absolutely free from all control or check or interference from the Executive. On the other hand, if one of those conditions fail, if the right to the place of meeting is not clear, if the man who has the right to the place says—"You shall not come here," then they will be treated a; guilty of unlawful assembly; and if the purpose of the meeting is unlawful, it is not only the right but the duty of the Executive and the magistrates to inter- 1916 fere and to prevent its assembly if they are warned in time, or to disperse it while it is being held if they could not interfere sooner. I have said that it is not only the right, but the duty of the Executive. Onerous as that responsibility is—and nobody is more convinced of that than I am, after the experience of the last winter—painful as it is, difficult as it is, it is one that must be exercised by the Executive—and for which, it must answer to Parliament and the Courts of Law, if need be—and it is one from which no Committee of Inquiry can relieve the Executive, or ought to attempt to relieve it. These things are so plain, Sir, that I cannot help thinking that is the reason why the hon. and learned Gentleman said so little about his Motion. The hon. and learned Gentleman felt it was an indefensible Motion. Let me suppose that this inquiry has taken place; let me suppose that every regulation that is suggested about Trafalgar Square is made; let me suppose that, after a great deal of labour, a set of rules are drawn up for the regulation, control, and harmony of meetings in Trafalgar Square. Let me suppose all these things done. Can it be denied that, if the instant after all these things are done, such disorderly scenes as took place last October and November arose at one of the hon. and learned Gentleman's regulated meetings, it would be the duty of the Executive to interfere? Can it be denied that if such disturbances arose in his well-manipulated, committee-regulated meetings in Trafalgar Square, it would be the duty of the Executive to step in and say—"This must not goon longer?" We think that there is abundant protection both for the interest of the public and for the safety of the public in the law as it stands. We can only meet the Motion as a Vote of Censure on the conduct of the Executive, and as such we must ask the House to meet it with a direct and emphatic negative.
§ MR. R. T. REID (Dumfries, &c.)
said, he was aware a good many hon. Members desired to take part in the debate, and he would, therefore, take care to confine his observations within as narrow a limit as possible, in order to enable the London Representatives to speak on a matter of such great importance to their constituents. But the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the 1917 Home Secretary deserved some little notice, as it appeared to him that what the right hon. Gentleman had delivered had been little less than the funeral oration of the right of the public to meet in the open air in the Metropolis. That right had been enjoyed for many years; it had been abused in very few instances; and yet they had heard from the right hon Gentleman the Home Secretary what was equivalent to a declaration that it was to be destroyed so long as the present Government remained in power and not to be revived again. He (Mr. R. T. Reid) wished to say a word or two in regard to the ground on which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary announced this remarkable intention—the grounds on which he announced the intention of the Government to resist the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell). The right hon. Gentleman said that Trafalgar Square was the property of the Crown, and quoted an Act of Parliament for the purpose of showing that it was vested in the Crown—a matter which, in point of law, everyone must admit. He (Mr. R. T. Reid) did not think it was a very wise policy on the part of Her Majesty's Government to rest their acts and their conduct on the ground that the soil of Trafalgar Square was by Statute vested in the Crown. The place was not all vested in the Crown until the Act, which had been quoted, was passed, and the place had been embellished and laid out wholly at the public expense, and, as the Act recited, for the public convenience. It seemed to him to be rather an unwise thing to say that it was absolutely at the mercy of the Crown—theAdvisers of the Crown—whether public meetings should be permitted to be held in a place which had been entirely laid out, and, indeed, constructed at the expense of the public. Then the right hon. Gentleman had referred to the Police Statutes. He did not know—it was a very delicate question of law, and he was not sure whether it had ever been decided—whether the Police Acts enabled the Government to put an end to meetings in Trafalgar Square; but this he would say, that anyone who read these Acts impartially would come to the conclusion that it was never intended to do anything of the sort. These Statutes related 1918 solely to the regulation of traffic and processions, and he should be most certain that the Parliament who passed the Police Act would be very much surprised indeed if they had been told that the habit and freedom of public meeting was intended to be interfered with by the Act. What the right hon. Gentleman chiefly relied upon was a few phrases used in speeches at a few meetings before the 13th of November. It was a pity the right hon. Gentleman had not referred to the long series of years during which the Square had been dedicated to public meetings. For 40 years meetings had been held constantly in Trafalgar Square, and with the exception of the meeting of the 6th of February, 1886, and the meetings which took place at the end of last year, there had been no instance of disturbance or interference with order. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had greatly exaggerated the disturbances which took place at these meetings. He had given them descriptions of a most dramatic kind, embellished with language of a most epigrammatic character. He had multiplied one stick with nails in it into a whole host and multitude of sticks with nails; he had used his whole power of picturesque description in order to inflame the imagination of the House, and make hon. Members believe that a very saturnalia had taken place in Trafalgar Square. He (Mr. R. T. Reid) had been at some of these meetings, and had heard the language used. He did not agree with that language; but, speaking with every respect for hon. Gentlemen opposite, he was bound to say he did not think the language used at these meetings was any more violent than the language often used on Conservative platforms to describe the opponents of the Conservative cause. He was sure that a few expressions scattered here and there in the course of a number of speeches was a very scanty excuse for endeavouring to put an end to the old custom of public meeting as it had been enjoyed in Trafalgar Square. One word more in reference to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman had discussed the meeting of the 13th of November, which ended so unfortunately. For his (Mr. R. T. Reid's) part, he was very sorry the right hon. 1919 Gentleman had made any reference—or, at any rate, such a pointed reference—to the defendants who were tried for what took place on that occasion. No one would dispute here, and he hoped no one ever would dispute in the House—certainly he never should—that it was not only right, but the absolute duty of the Government, to maintain order, and to put an end to meetings which became disorderly or assembled in a disorderly way. He thought the Government would not be worth their salt if they did not interfere to prevent turbulence and to protect the public. That was a very different thing from saying that, because at one or two meetings in the course of 40 years symptoms of turbulence had been shown, therefore they were to issue a Proclamation putting an end to public meeting in Trafalgar Square altogether. If the Government merely confined themselves to saying that when the meetings exhibited symptoms of disorder such as would lead a man of "reasonably firm mind" to apprehend disorder and tumult, they would stop those meetings, he should have no words but those of commendation to apply to their conduct; but what he did object to was saying that, after a long series of quiet and orderly meetings held in Trafalgar Square, because one or two were disorderly, the Government were to be at liberty to put an end to meetings being held there—to take advantage of some technical and legal argument to justify putting an end to the privilege that had been enjoyed for many years. He had no desire to underrate the difficulties surrounding this question of meeting in Trafalgar Square. He was quite aware that there were the interests of tradesmen to be considered, and he was by no means one who sneered at tradesmen. Tradesmen had to pay high rates, and had to maintain their wives and families as well as other people, and, of course, were entitled to protection. He did not dispute for a moment that the interests of these people had to be fairly considered in dealing with the right of meeting in Trafalgar Square; nor did he deny that there might be obstruction, and even danger, to many of them in disorder. That was precisely what they had to guard themselves against. Nor did he dispute that these meetings in Trafalgar Square might in some cases cause 1920 interference with traffic; but the difference between himself and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was this: he, in common with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Hackney, believed that with careful consideration and fair inquiry these defects could fairly be met and obviated, whereas the Government did not choose to inquire at all, but preferred by one stroke of the pen to abolish the right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square altogether, without attempting to reconcile that right of meeting with the rights of persons such as those he had described. The real question that was to be considered by the House was not a question of legal pedantry nor a question of mere naked legal right. It was a question of the wisdom of the policy of the course the Government had pursued, or that they ought to pursue. Nor did the question turn upon whether the Government were right in regard to their action as to one particular meeting, but whether they were right in pursuing a policy which they had, he might say in perpetuity, declared it to be their intention to pursue—namely, that of putting an end to all open air meetings in Trafalgar Square under a claim of law which would equally entitle them to put an end to all open air public meetings in London. Practically the contention of the Government placed all rights of open air meeting in London—or if they preferred to call them customs, he was altogether indifferent to the word used—absolutely at the mercy of the Executive Government, and he thought that it was not uncharitable to hon. Gentlemen opposite to suggest that they had less love for big public meetings in the Metropolis than those who sat on the Opposition side of the House. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Well, if that statement touched the susceptibilities of hon. Gentlemen opposite, he would withdraw it. In his view, valuable as was the right of open air public meeting in all parts of the country, it was exceptionally valuable in London; in the first place, because there were few open spaces available where large meetings could be held, and again because those who were in the habit of attending these open air meetings were often so poor that they could not go to the expense of employing public halls. Then again it was essential that the people of London 1921 should have the right of open air meeting, because they had grievances which were most acute and affected enormous numbers of them. He would not, of course, enter into the question of what these grievances were. It would be sufficient to refer to the existence in London of vast multitudes of people honestly wishing for employment, but unable to obtain it. He knew that this was a topic which enlisted the sympathies of hon. Members on all sides of the House. Then they had the fact that among the municipal authorities of London, some were corrupt and most were incompetent, and that there was no central Government in London at all. He need not refer to that which was the subject of debate the other night—such evils as the sweating system, under which people had their lives and almost their souls destroyed by working for starvation wages under insanitary and demoralizing conditions; and still less need he refer to that flagrant grievance in London—namely, that the dwellings in which the great part of the population resided had been condemned as a scandal to civilization over and over again within the last five years, not only in this House but by a Royal Commission; yet the evil was today as bad as it was five years ago, and, seemingly, would be as bad five years hence as it was now, unless a powerful agitation were got up in regard to it. The question was when, inasmuch as agitation could not under the circumstances of the case be confined to meetings in large halls, the evils under which London has suffered were to be reformed by lawlessness or by Constitutional methods. He thought that within the last few years they had learned a good deal as to the consequences of refusing to listen to moderate agitation. They had come very near teaching the people in some parts of the country, notably in Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland—and he trusted they were not going to teach them the same thing in London—the fatal lesson that mere remonstrance or attempt to Constitutionally reform their grievances would do nothing until there had been some open defiance of the law which would arrest public attention and precipitate reform. The Government seemed to him to have improved upon this lesson, because they were now adopting a 1922 course, the effect of which would be to put a stop on the part of a large portion of the population to the right of expressing their grievances at all, inasmuch as they could not express them unless they were allowed to assemble in public meeting. He (Mr. R. T. Reid) could only say himself that it was from that point of view, and in that spirit, that he certainly should support the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend. The object of the Committee proposed was not as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary suggested, to disarm the strength of the Executive or to deprive them of a single weapon they possessed for the purpose of maintaining "ordered freedom," which was the only kind of order he desired to see maintained in this country, but it was for the purpose of investigating and obtaining the opinion of the most competent persons as to whether it was not desirable that they should, safeguarding all legitimate private and trade interests, and, of course, the property and person of Her Majesty's subjects, not only in Trafalgar Square, but elsewhere, refrain from taking away from the people of London their right of open air meeting in a place used for the purpose for so many years, which might too soon be followed by taking away from them the right of public meeting in other places. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary entirely misconceived, or seemed to him to have misconceived, the object and spirit and purpose with which this Motion had been brought forward. Those who supported it desired to see order always fairly and properly enforced, and to see turbulence repressed in London; but they also desired to see the poorest of the population of the country, which were the poor of London, allowed an opportunity of ventilating their grievances in the accustomed manner, in the hope—perhaps the vain, hope—that those grievances would obtain recognition at the hands of the public and the application of a remedy.
§ MR. C. HALL (Cambridge, Cheaterton)
said, if he did not follow his hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. R. T. Reid) in the able and sympathetic remarks he had just addressed to the House, he trusted he would not think that it was because ha (Mr C. Hall) did not feel with him in a good many of the 1923 remarks he had made. He thought if this question could be discussed in the way his hon. and learned Friend had discussed it—as an abstract Resolution, and without reference to what had taken place, and especially without reference to the speeches of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—there was very much in the speech of his hon. and learned Friend which would meet with the acceptance of many of those on his (Mr. C. Hall's) side of the House. But they had to consider what was the history of the case which had led to the Resolution which was now brought forward and proposed to the House of Commons. If the House would bear with him for a few moments, he should like to call its attention very shortly to what took place only a few days ago. He was very glad that Her Majesty's Government intended to meet this Resolution with a direct negative, because in whatever words it was framed, and apparently it was concocted by the combined art of all on the Front Opposition Bench, it was nothing more nor less, and it was intended as nothing more nor less, than a Vote of Censure on Her Majesty's Government. What was the history of the case? They had not to look back for many days for that history, and to learn what its origin was, because he found that on the Monday before Parliament assembled the daily organ which represented hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—The Daily News—had an announcement in leaded type that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell), on behalf of the London Liberal Members, would give Notice of an Amendment to the Address raising the question of Trafalgar Square and the conduct of the police, and that the form of the Amendment thus to be moved was settled at a meeting of the London Liberal Members on the Friday. This announcement appeared in The Daily News on Monday, and on Friday night the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney addressed a meeting of his constituents at Hackney, and stated that there was one subject which ought to be brought before the attention of the House of Commons at the earliest possible moment, and that was the question of the right of public meeting. The hon. and learned Gentleman went on to elaborate what, 1924 in his opinion, at that time were the points relating to public meetings which were of importance. What were they? He (Mr. C. Hall) had taken the trouble to look into the reports of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speeches in The Daily News newspaper, and he found that he had put in the forefront and in the van of the question as regards the right of public meeting the conduct of the police and of Sir Charles Warren. He said that he would bring this matter forward at the unanimous request of his Colleagues, the Liberal Members for London and the surrounding boroughs; and he (Mr. C. Hall) thought the House would find that the hon. and learned Member had determined to take this step, not only at the request of his Colleagues, the Liberal Members for London and the surrounding boroughs, but after consultation with the Liberal Leaders. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that his Motion would demand an inquiry by the House of Commons into the action of the Executive and the police, not into an abstract question of the right of public meeting. The two points with regard to which he would demand an inquiry were in relation to the meetings of November 13th and 20th—he would demand an inquiry as to what would be the just and proper limits according to law of Executive interference with the right of public meeting. His hon. and learned Friend did not stop there. He went on to point out what the bases were upon which he wished to make this attack, which was nothing less than an attack upon Her Majesty's Government and the Executive. This was what he based it on. He said that a body of evidence had been furnished to him, which, if true, would show that there had been a very considerable amount of unnecessary violence on the part of the police. That was the first point his hon. and learned Friend made. He said that he thought that the attitude the Government had assumed with regard to Sir Charles Warren—whose name as the head of the police was received with loud hisses—certainly deserved a searching inquiry. Then his hon. and learned Friend proceeded to deliver what a right hon. Gentleman opposite would call a considerable number of platitudes as to the desirability of maintaining a good feeling between the police and the public. He 1925 said it was important if the police failed in their duty or exceeded it, that public opinion should promptly condemn them, and all the more so because of the responsibility and power that belonged to them. Then his hon. and learned Friend went on to remark that what the public desired to see was "right regulated by law and not by the capricious will of an Executive officer." ["Hear, hear!"] He heard hon. Gentlemen opposite say "Hear, hear!" but who was the capricious officer? Was that meant to be an attack upon Sir Charles Warren, or was it not? Was that meant to be an attack upon the police of London, or was it not? He (Mr. C. Hall) maintained that from the beginning to the end of his speech at Hackney, his hon. and learned Friend's remarks were an attack upon the police and on Sir Charles Warren. It did not end there. His hon. and learned Friend said that he should bring the matter forward at the unanimous request of his Colleagues, the Liberal Members for London and the surrounding boroughs. They found, however, that someone else was taken into counsel—no less a person than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt)—for they found that, making a speech to his constituents at Derby, on the same evening the right hon. Gentleman stated that the action of the police in London would have to be inquired into, but he would not touch on the subject, as it was in the hands of that very great lawyer, the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney. That was on the 17th February, and on the next day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) returned from his visit to the South, which they all rejoiced to see had benefited him so much. On the evening of his return the right hon. Gentleman held a meeting of his supporters, and amongst the distinguished persons present on that occasion was the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney. He (Mr. C. Hall) could almost imagine—if it were not presumptuous in so humble a Member as himself to do so—what the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian were when he saw in the daily papers on his arrival in England that his trusted law officer was about to embark in a crusade against the 1926 police of the Metropolis. The right hon. Gentleman would think that an attack upon the conduct of the police in Ireland would be all very well—that it would be safe to say anything about the police at Mitcholstown—but that an attack upon the police of the Metropolis was a very different thing. Well, Parliament assembled on the 9th, and his hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Hackney got up and gave Notice of an Amendment. But was the Amendment he moved the Amendment he promised his constituents at Hackney—was it a motion for a searching inquiry into the conduct of the police and the condemnation of that capricious officer of the Executive, Sir Charles Warren? No, it was nothing of the kind, but it was an Amendment practically synonymous with the Resolution under discussion, and he (Mr. C. Hall) could not help thinking that it was drafted in that shape by the advice of an "old Parliamentary hand." The searching inquiry had vanished into thin air. The attack upon the police had gone by the board, and he could not help thinking that his hon. and learned Friend—whom he regretted was not in his place—could not help feeling, perhaps, somewhat relieved that the pressure of his friends the Members for the Liberal constituencies in the Metropolis and the surrounding boroughs was not able to urge him on to his original intentions. He (Mr. C. Hall) could not help thinking that it was a case in which—Those "behind cried 'forward,'And those in front cried 'back.'The hon. and learned Gentleman comes into the House, and, Janus-like, says, "I find no fault with the preservers of the public peace," and then he goes to his constituents, who hiss the very name of the police and Sir Charles Warren, and says, Janus-like, "See how I sympathize with you, and see what I have done to bring the brutal conduct of the police before the House of Commons;" and no doubt he would have liked to have been able to say, "When my resolution is moved in the House, you will see how I have succeeded in bringing the whole of this matter before the House of Commons." That would have been an attitude which might have been taken by an irresponsible person, but it seemed to him (Mr. C. Hall) that it was hardly the face that ought to be worn by an ex- 1927 Minister of the Crown. What were the terms of the Resolution his hon. and learned Friend had submitted to them? He would deal with them very shortly, because he apprehended that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had practically demolished the first half of the Resolution. The Resolution begged the question entirely. It spoke of the right of Her Majesty's subjects to attend open air meetings in the Metropolis, and he hoped the House would bear this in mind, that after his hon. and learned Friend had given notice of such a very temperate Amendment, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian suggested that the Government should give his hon. and learned Friend a day for the discussion of this question. What was the question? It was not a question of condemning the police; it was not a question of condemning Sir Charles Warren; but it was an abstract Resolution with regard to the right of public meeting or the alleged right of public meeting in the Metropolis that was to be discussed. But this served as a very good peg for enabling irresponsible Members who sat below the Gangway on the opposite side to make an attack upon the police, and he ventured to say that it had been designed for that very purpose. The ex-Law Officer had kept that attack in the background. He introduced the Resolution in a manner worthy of an ex-Law Officer and of a proper Constitutional question; but it was only a peg for the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), who at any rate had the courage of his convictions, and the hon. Member for North-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill), to hang charges upon and to make attacks upon the police which this ex-Law Officer would take credit for when he next went to see his constituents at Hackney. What were the terms of the Resolution? It said—That having regard to the importance of preserving and protecting the right of public meeting for Her Majesty's subjects in the Metropolis.
§ An hon. MEMBER: Open air public meeting.
§ MR. C. HALL
Yes; he was obliged to his hon. Friend for reminding him that those words had been put in the Resolution since it first appeared in print. He ventured to think that he 1928 should wait in vain for any hon. Gentleman of any legal experience on the opposite side of the House to declare that there was any legal right whatever for any open air meeting in the Metropolis except in such parts with regard to which there were special legal powers. Though his hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Hackney had thought it advisable to refer to what had been laid down by Mr. Justice Charles—a judge of great eminence—he (Mr. C. Hall) did not think it worth while to read all that the learned Judge said with regard to the case. The hon. and learned Gentleman was about to say, "there is an obiter dictum," but he changed his mind. He said, "there was something—but that had nothing to do with the case." As the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had pointed out, the point was clearly raised by the hon. and learned Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith), and Mr. Justice Charles said this—I can find no warrant for considering that there is any right to hold public meetings in Trafalgar Square or indeed in any other public place in the Metropolis.That was a clear proposition which he ventured to say no lawyer would controvert in this House for one moment. He should wait to hear any hon. Gentleman on the opposite side say that that was not sound law. He had another authority—not so high as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby perhaps, but still a very high authority—an ex-Law Officer, one of Her Majesty's Opposition. If it were not an authority, at any rate it was a speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney. Only a few weeks ago he was consulted at a meeting of the Homerton Liberal Association as to whether or not they could insist on holding meetings in Trafalgar Square. What was the excellent advice he gave them? He said that they had better not insist upon the right of meeting there, because the legal right of the people to meet in Trafalgar Square was very doubtful. Now, what was the second part of the Resolution — if the House would bear with him while he went into it? It was this—"What were the conditions under which such meetings might be held?" He apprehended that the conditions were very simple. If meetings were to take place they must be of such a nature that they would not dis- 1929 turb the public peace—they must be of such a nature that they would not lead persons of ordinary temperament to fear a breach of the public peace, and they must be of such a nature as not to interfere with the legitimate user of the public place by the people who were entitled to use it. There was only one other point in the Resolution he proposed to address himself to, and that was the last branch of it — namely, what were the limits of the right of interference with open-air meetings in. the Metropolis by the Executive Government. How could these limits be ascertained without reference to the circumstances of the case? The question of interference by the Executive, by the police, or by any one, must depend upon the facts of any particular case. He (Mr. C. Hall) apprehended that it was clear law that the police authorities were bound to interfere directly they had reason to suppose that a breach of the peace would ensue, and that if they did not interfere they were liable to most severe penalties. That had been laid down over and over again. If any rigid rules were to be framed by the House he ventured to think that it would be a very bad thing indeed for all parties, because it would do away with the elasticity of the Common Law. Directly they had rigid rules they found men of ingenious minds setting to work to drive a coach-and-four through thorn, and directly they laid down those rules they did away with the power of referring to and being guided by the Common Law. Now, he said at the outset he was very glad to hear that Her Majesty's Government intended to meet this Resolution by a direct negative, because he considered the Resolution a perfectly idle one. It was idle, because the law on the subject was perfectly well known and ascertained. The law could be ascertained by any hon. Member of the House if he consulted an elementary text book on the subject. The Resolution was mischievous, because its discussion was a waste of the valuable time of the House. But, on the whole, he was not sorry the Resolution had been proposed. The reason for its being brought forward was not far to seek. It was necessary for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to do something to make good their brave words in the Recess; it was necessary 1930 after the tornado of abuse and the whirlwind of vituperation that was poured on the Government from week to week and day to day all through the Recess, for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to do something to attack Her Majesty's Government. What arrows had they got in their quivers? It was alleged there had been a breach of Privilege because an hon. Member was most unluckily mistaken for some one else. That was the first attack; and this was the second attack. Her Majesty's Government would be able to withstand such attacks. Although this was an idle and mischievous Resolution, he was not sorry it had been brought forward. He was not sorry it had been brought forward, because it would give Her Majesty's Government an opportunity of showing that they were determined, without fear or favour of class or persons, to maintain law and order in this country. He was also not sorry this Resolution had been brought forward, because a vote on this Resolution would give the people of this country an assurance that it was not the Executive alone, not the police alone, who were determined that those disturbances should be quelled, but that a majority of Parliament by its voice made declaration that, as there was the duty of maintaining peace among the nations of Europe, a duty of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) approved, so, too, there was a duty no less important—the duty of maintaining peace and order amongst the citizens of this great country, and that in the performance of this duty Her Majesty's Government would be supported by all save those who loved, disorder as a means of adding to their small stock of political capital.
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
was afraid the discussion was going to resolve itself into a technical discussion on points of law which were not properly understood, and upon which they were by no means in agreement. So far as he was concerned he was not prepared to admit the statement of law which had been made upon this subject. He knew he ran a great risk in making this statement. If it were true that a little learning was a dangerous thing, it was especially true when applied to law; but he had endeavoured as one who had taken a great part in public open air 1931 meetings for a number of years past to understand the law upon this subject, and he absolutely denied the correctness of the statement of the law as laid down by the Home Secretary. It seemed to him that the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to place them in this peculiar position, that unless the statutory law of the land had stated that a person had this or that right, no such right existed. He (Mr. Howell), on the contrary, declared that the people of this country had a right and a legal right unless there be statutory law to the contrary. They had heard a great deal about the Common Law; he was not prepared to admit that the reading of the Common Law by the previous speaker was exactly in accordance with what that Common Law was on matters of public meeting. He had consulted the work of one who was supposed to be an authority on this matter, not for the purpose of this debate, but long years before this was anticipated to arise, Broom's Commentaries on Common Law. Broom laid down the principles in regard to the right of public assembly, and a great number of other things touching the law of public meetings. He said not one single word in regard to no such right existing unless that right had been defined by law. He (Mr. Howell) went a step further, and asserted that the House itself was legislating Session after Session as though the right absolutely existed until put down by statutory law. He called the attention of hon. Members to the Private Bills which were passed in connection with municipalities and public authorities. Session after Session Committees of the House were appointed for the purpose of investigating those Bills, and to see if they went beyond the ordinary law of the land. It was only during the last Session that he opposed a Bill brought in by the Corporation of Over-Darwen; he challenged one particular clause in that Bill, and, rather than be called upon to fight for the Bill, the clause was struck out, and the Bill was allowed to pass. Now, what point was involved in the Bill? Simply the right of public meeting, and the right of procession through the streets. Every municipality in the Kingdom, before they could interfere with this kind of thing, especially when it had been established by long usage, had to bring 1932 in a Bill giving the Police or the Local Authority the right of interference. No such statutory law existed in regard to Trafalgar Square, and none had ever existed. Hon. Gentlemen had referred to the past history of that Square; but no one yet had referred to the matter who had perhaps so wide an acquaintance with the subject as he had himself. He called for many years most of the large meetings held in the Square. The meetings were threatened with prohibition more than once, and on one occasion he believed a prohibition was issued; but the meeting was permitted to be held — that was to say, it was not interfered with. If a right existed at that time to interfere with meetings in Trafalgar Square, why was not the prohibition carried out; why wait until the present moment to give effect to the prohibition? That was not the first time that they had some rather sad scenes in Trafalgar Square. He well remembered that in 1878 there were scenes of disorder, and that that was the first time, perhaps, that meetings in Trafalgar Square were called in question. All meetings held prior to that date, and the great number held since, had not been complained of because of their disorderly conduct. Many people had their theories as to why the meetings on that occasion were disorderly. They knew that on that occasion men went about the streets breaking peoples' windows, and went as far as Harley Street with the intention of breaking the windows of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. Some people knew pretty clearly where the money came from to call this disorder into existence, and who it was that instigated the disorder which continued for several weeks. That, however, was ancient history, and he would come down to the more recent meetings, which, perhaps, led absolutely to the prohibition and to the scenes of bloodshed which followed. Matters commenced at the beginning of 1886, and singularly enough, a very odd circumstance occurred. There were two sets of persons, both hating the Liberal Party, who were paid to get up a meeting at one and the same time. Like two sets of persons bargaining in an auction room one against the other for some particular article, those two sets of persons, though paid practically by the 1933 same parties, happened to come into collision. That was a favourable opportunity waited for so long by the Tory Party in order to put their foot down on meetings in Trafalgar Square. The question was dealt with, and dealt with in a way that was not satisfactory, at any rate to some. Some of them challenged what was done on that occasion; but the present Chief Commissioner of Police was appointed as a man, singularly enough, who was going to put an end to all this disorder. Persons prophesied that this was to be the particular man to put an end to the disorder; but he put an end to the disorder in a way that did not satisfy the prophets. With that he (Mr. Howell) had nothing to do; but with regard to the scenes of disorder which had taken place in the Square, allow him to say very solemnly to the House that they could not be charged upon the Liberal Party, allow him to say very distinctly that they could not be charged upon Members generally who spoke and sat upon the Opposition side of the House, and that they could not be charged upon the political clubs of London, who called the meeting for the 13th of November. It was very important that that fact should be borne in mind, and, in order to ease the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary upon that point, he would cite an instance which took place in his own constituency. His conduct was called in question with respect to this very matter; he was not in favour, as perhaps some hon. Gentlemen knew, of the meeting which was held on the 13th November, and he was still less in favour of the meeting which followed on the 20th November. His conduct was called in question, and he was blamed very severely by a great number of persons, and he went to face his constituents upon the matter. He happened, as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said of himself just now, not to have expressed himself very carefully on the occasion, and he was supposed to have said something that led some people to believe that he imputed to them a desire to go to the Square for the purpose of creating disorder. Now, the club to which he referred was one of the largest clubs in London, and, so far as this particular meeting was concerned, one of the most determined. If there was any club in London 1934 which was determined to run any risk in order to assert what it believed to be an honest public right, it was the club to which he referred; but it was supposed he had blamed thorn, or blamed someone in connection with it, for some of the scenes of disorder which took place in Trafalgar Square, and as one man they rose to resent that imputation. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had spoken about oyster knives and a great number of other formidable instruments which were taken to Trafalgar Square. He (Mr. Howell) said, and said advisedly and with some knowledge of the facts, that none of those instruments of torture were taken to the Square or attempted to be taken to the Square by the men who were responsible for calling the meeting. As he had said before, he had called some of the large meetings in Trafalgar Square; he would refer to one meeting which took place not absolutely in the Square, but in consequence of which the Square had to be taken possession of. It was the largest meeting ever held not only in London but, perhaps, in any part of the world, the largest, taking it from beginning to end, especially as regarded the procession which passed through the streets of London. Hon. Members of this House had an opportunity of seeing the effect of the great demonstration in 1884; one of the most intelligent officers of this House, who know what he was speaking about, estimated the numbers which he saw from the Clock Tower at something like 500,000 of persons. He (Mr. Howell) thought that that estimate was not very far short of the mark. Now, he wished to call the attention of the House to the fact that on that occasion there was not a single shop looted, not a window broken, not a single plant in Hyde Park destroyed, no injury whatever was done, end therefore scenes of disorder were not, it was clear, a necessary accompaniment of meetings in Trafalgar Square or elsewhere. What he thought was that the police should have done their duty in regulating the meeting in Trafalgar Square. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem to see the difference between regulating and suppressing; but it seemed to him (Mr. Howell) that the two operations wore absolutely opposite, and that they could not regulate a thing if they suppressed it. The police ought to have 1935 regulated the meetings, and to have taken care that any persons who showed a disposition to be disorderly were apprehended. That, he took, to be the duty of the police, and if they had been content with that, they would have had at their backs in support of their policy the great majority of the working men of London. It was a matter of very great importance that the populace should be on the side of the police. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the irritation felt by the police, the police, who were the paid servants of the public, and who had a right, in the words of the Proclamation or the Police Orders which were issued in 1866, to take no notice of those wild expressions which were sometimes used. It was better for the police to feel and pocket, as it were, a certain amount of irritation, than it was to irritate the great mass of the populace, and have them against the police. One hon. Member had already spoken of the possibility of teaching London how to disregard law. He (Mr. Howell) felt more strongly upon that point than perhaps many Members; but having himself conducted, and successfully conducted, a great number of meetings at which there had been no terror and no disorder, he should be extremely sorry that his name should ever be associated with scenes of disorder either in Trafalgar Square or elsewhere. He was particularly anxious that the right of public meeting should be preserved, raid he was as anxious as any hon. Member opposite to see law find order preserved; but the right way of preserving order and of maintaining law was to have the people on the side of the authorities, and in that way to give them justice. When they did justice towards the great mass of the people they would be always sure to have the people on their side. The people of this country had not yet learned, though he was sorry to say that they seemed to be fast learning, that the only way to get justice done by this House was to create scenes disorder. [Cries of "No, no !"] Hon. Gentlemen had not attended so many meetings as he had. If they had, they would have heard sometimes, in large public meetings in various parts of London, and in various parts of the country too, that the men who were applauded most were not those who tried to prevent the assembly 1936 when there was a possibility of disorder, but those who rushed in at the time of the disorder, and who had since suffered for having so rushed in. It was a very dangerous thing for the Government, and a very dangerous thing for the Home Secretary, who was responsible for the good government of the country, to cause a suspicion to exist in the minds of the people that the only way whereby they could get their rights was to ally themselves to the party of disorder. The Liberal Members for London were not at all likely to forget that they had as great duties to perform as hon. Members opposite had in endeavouring to maintain order and in endeavouring to maintain peace; but they did want to see, at the same time, that the ancient right, a right which had been enjoyed for so long a time without any danger to the public peace, should be preserved to the people. His opinion was that if on the occasion in question the police had done their duty, if they had only acted in accordance with the instructions issued to them in 1866, there would not have been the scenes in Trafalgar Square they all had to deplore. He certainly thought that the scones that took place in the Square recently would not have taken place under the Predecessor of the present First Commissioner of Police. There seemed, however, to be a determination to get rid of Colonel Henderson, the most humane man who had ever presided at Scotland Yard, but who was not thought to be severe enough with the people. Hon. Members opposite might be able to applaud today the action that had been taken by the Government in resisting this Motion for inquiry; they might be able to prevent an inquiry; they might possibly even be able to prevent the holding of meetings in Trafalgar Square; but, as sure as he was speaking to the House to-night, it would re-act not in their favour but against them; and, sooner or later, the people of England would re-assert the right they had enjoyed for so long a time, no trusted that this question would not be decided upon mere technical points of law; he did not think that if the law stood as stated by the Home Secretary it would be recognized by the great mass of the people as being a just and equitable law. The only way in which the Government could settle this question of the right of 1937 public meeting in Trafalgar Square was by taking, if they would allow him to use the expression, the bull by the horns, by bringing in a Bill as they brought in the Parks Regulation Bill; that was the way in which they might regulate meetings in Trafalgar Square. He verily believed that further attempts would be made to re-assert this right, and be made in such a way as might become extremely dangerous to the public peace, extremely dangerous to the police whose duty it was to maintain order in the Metropolis, and extremely dangerous to the whole of the community. He urged upon the Government, as the easiest possible way out of their difficulty in regard to this matter, to assent to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell), whatever they might do with regard to other Motions on the Paper. It seemed to him that the Government could in that way relieve themselves of a great difficulty, for it must be borne in mind that the First Commissioner of Works was supposed to lend the high authority of his name to the meetings which took place, meetings which led to these scones of disorder. The poor people took it for granted that, when a Minister of the Crown said he had no right to interfere if he wished, and that he did not wish to interfere if he had the right, they had a right to assemble in Trafalgar Square. They certainly interpreted the words of the right hon. Gentleman in that way, especially when, they were in conjunction with the words uttered by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to the effect that the intention of the Government was not to interfere with a bonâ fide political meeting. It would be some comfort, perhaps, to the Home Secretary to know that it was upon the supposed assent of the Home Secretary as to the right of a bonâ fide political meeting to assemble in Trafalgar Square, that members of London clubs called a meeting in Trafalgar Square for the 13th of November, and held that meeting even in spite of the remonstrances of some of their friends. He (Mr. Howell) wished to have this right preserved to the people of London; to take it away would be one more proof given to this country of the value of unholy alliances. Working men's clubs would build—it would stimulate them to 1938 build—still greater halls in which to organize themselves very much more completely, and he should be glad to see that done. If it were done, and if the Bill which he had introduced to provide for a more complete system of registration were passed, there would be less need for public meeting in the open air, the people would be able to decide all questions at the ballot-box. But, he asked the House to hesitate before they put their foot down upon the right of meeting in Trafalgar Square, which meant, practically, the right of meeting in all the open spaces of London except those specially exempted in the Parks Regulation Act.
§ MR. BURDETT-COUTTS (Westminster)
said, he represented that part of London immediately contiguous to the scene of these meetings and he asked the indulgence of the House for a few moments on that account. His constituency included not only the House in which they were now assembled, but also one of the most cherished possessions of Englishmen — Westminster Abbey. It was, perhaps, not unnatural that he should offer to the House an illustration of the results that might be looked for from these meetings, an illustration of what had already indeed taken place, because he claimed that it was the results which flowed from these meetings which was the title for the suppression of the meetings. On the 23rd of last October there was a meeting held in Trafalgar Square. For a considerable period up to that time the police had prohibited meetings in that place. The police then changed their policy and permitted meetings on the Sunday, on the ground, he believed, that the traffic on a Sunday was not such that it could be seriously interfered with by the gatherings. On the 23rd of October a platform was erected in the Square facing the National Gallery, and from it several speakers addressed the meeting. All of a sudden the crowd rushed away from Trafalgar Square, down towards Westminster Abbey. This was the day of what he might call a permissive policy all round, and this crowd rushed in through the northern entrance of Westminster Abbey. He could best describe what followed by reading the words of the official report: —The following are amongst the various acts of indecent behaviour and brawling by which 1939 the so-called unemployed molested, vexed mid disturbed the clergymen ministering on the occasion, and the congregation—namely, shouting, swearing, hissing, booing, talking, hustling the congregation, standing on the backs of the benches already occupied, clambering up on the monuments, interrupting the service, waving handkerchiefs as a signal to boo and hiss, wearing of hats, smoking pipes, spitting about, and other disgraceful acts.And this was free speech. [A laugh.] Hon. Members opposite laughed; but he asked them if they were prepared to go to their constituents and say that this debate had not been raised in the interest of free speech. Unquestionably the results which flowed from the central acts and subject of this debate had direct reference to the question of free speech. He had read the account of the proceedings at Westminster Abbey with shame and indignation that that ancient and venerable church should have been so foully polluted and that a community of men practising their own form of religion within their own walls should be subjected to such an unmanly outrage. [An hon. Member: What was the date?] The 23rd of October. Let him give another illustration of free speech. It had often happened that a crowd had been amassed on the occasion of these meetings in Trafalgar Square, ostensibly for the purpose of listening to addresses. All of a sudden the speaker's voice ceased, the red flag or the black flag, around which the people were generally congregated, had gone down, and as if by a pre-concerted movement, the crowd had rushed off down some thoroughfare faster than the police could follow them, hooting, yelling, breaking windows and carrying terror and panic into every house in the vicinity. Was that free speech? No: it was meant to terrify and it did terrify. As long as such a state of things was permitted to be possible, it was a mere mockery to talk of the liberty of the subject. There was no question of free speech here; it was a question of the right of every law-abiding person or community of persons to the protection of the Executive Government in their life and property, their business and trade, and the peaceful pursuit of their daily avocation. It was a question upon which he claimed that any and every Government, no matter to which Party it belonged, was bound to speak with no uncertain voice. The incidents to which he had referred were mere 1940 illustrations of the danger and inconvenience which had been found to arise from these meetings in Trafalgar Square, and the point he wished to impress upon the House was that that danger and inconvenience was always immiment in these meetings in Trafalgar Square, was in fact inseperable from them, whether they were held on sufferance as under the present law, or under a new law which should legalize them altogether, whether they were hold with or without the supervision of the police. That danger and inconvenience and terrorism being always imminent, these meetings were inherently and de facto unlawful assemblies. Now, what was an unlawful assembly? The legal giants had stood face to face in the arena; but he was not going to hesitate to quote a very well-known definition of an unlawful assembly—Any meeting assembled under such circumstances as, according to the opinion of rational men, is likely to produce danger to the tranquillity and peace of the neighbourhood, is an unlawful assembly.He would give his authority for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh). The definition he had read would be found on page 1 of 9, C. B. & P. The observations of Mr. Justice Charles at the last trial at the Old Bailey had been quoted. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had referred to them; but he omitted to call attention to the very important words which exactly bore out the definition he (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) had just given. Mr. Justice Charles said—An unlawful assemblage is an assemblage which attempts to carry out any common purpose, lawful or unlawful, in such a manner as to give other persons a fear of a disturbance of the peace.He could quote authorities to show that the meetings in Trafalgar Square for the last two years had certainly come under that category; but before he did so, he wished to say a word or two upon another question of law. It was often said that the House of Commons took very good care of itself in the matter of public meetings. By an Act of Charles II., any meeting of more than 10 persons for the purpose of presenting Petitions was made illegal; but by the Act which was quoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell), the Act 57 Geo. III., it was recited — 1941It is highly inexpedient that public meetings or assemblies should be held near the Houses of Parliament or near His Majesty's Courts of Justice in Westminster Hall on such days as are hereafter mentioned,and the days mentioned were those upon which either House of Parliament should be Sitting, or on which the Court of Chancery, Queen's Bench, Common Pleas or Exchequer, or any of them, or any Judge of them shall be sitting, and the Act went on to declare illegal on those days any meeting composed of more than 50 persons in any street, square, or open place within a distance of one mile of Westminster.
§ MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
said, he was sorry he had only transcribed the part he thought applicable. He assured the hon. Gentleman he had no intention of suppressing anything. If the hon. Gentleman was able to answer him, he should be very happy to listen to him. What he had quoted was cited at the time of the Chartist trials, and it had since been relied upon. The House, recognizing the danger and inconvenience which was likely to arise from these meetings, took very good care to protect itself; but the House, so far as the necessity for such protection went, was but a counterpart of every business and trading family in the Metropolis. He put it to the House to say by what justice they refused to the humblest shopkeeper or the humblest private dweller in this vicinity, the protection which they were so jealous to claim for themselves. Next to the House of Parliament the Courts of Justice wore to be protected. Every meeting was illegal which was held during the sittings of the Courts of Justice within one mile of the Courts of Justice. [Cries of "No, no!"] Well, the Act said so; and Trafalgar Square was certainly well within a mile of the Courts of Justice. Before he came to the proof that these meetings were, and always must be, unlawful, he would like to say one word with regard to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell). That Motion the hon. and learned Member for the Chesterton Division of Cambridgeshire (Mr. C. Hall) had described as a Vote of Censure on the Government, as undoubtedly 1942 it was. The question was therefore a Party question. Further, the Motion must mean one of two things—either that the existing law required to be defined and expounded, and that was to be done in the terms of the Motion by a Select Committee, or it meant that there was no satisfactory law and that a new law ought to be made. In the first place, he ventured to urge that it was not the duty of a Select Committee of that House to expound or define the law. Secondly, if a new law was wanted, why, as his hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) had asked, did not the Government bring in a new law? He (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) asked why, if the hon. and learned Gentleman wanted that, he did not bring in a Bill to legalize these meetings. The issue was whether or not it was advisable that these meetings should beheld in Trafalgar Square. He had in his hands a diary of the meetings which had been hold in Trafalgar Square during the last two years, with extracts from some of the speeches as well as a full record of the events which took place. But, although it would make his case very much stronger and enable him to prove that these meetings were necessarily dangerous and threatening in their nature, he would not trouble the House with reading the diary at length. But he would like to offer to the House the conclusions which were to be drawn from it, and first there was one specific detail in the diary of events to which he wished to call the attention of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Motion made a great point of the announcement by a number of clubs published on the 5th November, that a meeting would be held on the 7th of that month. It appeared that something important happened between the date on which the November meeting was convened and the date on which it was forbidden. It was said that the meeting would be disagreeable to Her Majesty's Government, and immediately after that Sir Charles Warren issued his order forbidding that meeting. He did not charge the hon. and learned Gentleman with a wilful mis-statement, but there was in that statement a suppression of the most, important facts in connection with those two announcements. At a meeting on the 2nd of November, Allman made a speech to a large crowd in Trafalgar 1943 Square, in which he called upon his hearers to stand shoulder to shoulder and fight the police. Again, he said they would continue to meet every day and urge the Government to do something for them, until the 9th of November, when they would have a final demonstration and a big row and if necessary a big riot. On the 3rd of November another meeting was hold in the Square in which the people were told to reserve themselves for to-morrow. On the 4th Allman and Lynch were arrested. The people were advised to strike a blow to terrorize, stagnate the whole trade of the City, and to unsheath the sword of Liberty. On the 6th of November the people were kept moving on by the police, and a constable was attacked by a man who, when arrested, had an open knife in his hand. These were the events which led to the issue of the regulations by Sir Charles Warren, and they had a most important bearing on the whole case. They happened between the announcement of the meeting and the announcement by Sir Charles Warren, and he thought it would have given a better view of the whole case if the hon. and learned Gentleman had read these extracts as leading up to the issue placed before the House. The conclusion which he drew from the diary of meetings in Trafalgar Square was that there had been no fettering of free speech by the Government, and no prohibition of meeting until riot had actually occurred. A riot had occurred in February, 1886, and that was a period in which there was no suppression at all in the sense referred to in the terms of this Motion. In the present case the police were hustled and assaulted; the public had been clearly warned that the mob was organizing, but in spite of what was done the mob grew more numerous and their language more threatening and violent, until it was obvious that a repetition of the riot of 1886 would take place. He claimed that what he had related with regard to these meetings in Trafalgar Square, established his premise, which was the central point of his remarks, namely, that there was so much danger attendant upon these meetings that they constituted unlawful assemblies. Free speech was not the prerogative of any political Party in the State. He attached due weight to the motives of hon. Gentlemen 1944 below the Gangway opposite, who had stated that evening that they would facilitate the Closure Rules. If he placed himself by anticipation in the time to which those hon. Members looked forward, namely, when they would be able to turn this weapon, which the House in the interests of free debate had placed in the hands of the Government, against Members on those benches, then he could see a thousand reasons for the employment of free speech. But they did not claim that that right should be exercised under conditions which would inflict serious loss, danger, and inconvenience upon any portion of Her Majesty's subjects. For these reasons he earnestly congratulated Her Majesty's Government on their having looked upon this matter not from a Party point of view, but from the broad and solid basis of justice to the community, and, moreover, he congratulated Her Majesty's Government on having offered a firm and decided opposition to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
, who had given notice of the following, as an Amendment to Sir Charles Russell's Motion, at end, add—And that, in the opinion of this House, it would ensure much greater confidence in the administration of the Law if a full and public inquiry were granted into the alleged unlawful assembly in Trafalgar Square on Sunday, November 13, 1887, and the conduct of the Police in connection therewith,said, without discourtesy he would not enter into the full discussion of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts). The hon. Gentleman quoted as an enactment that which was not one. The hon. Member had told the House that it had been enacted by 57 Geo. III., c. 29, that no meeting whatever could take place within a mile of Westminster when Parliament or the Law Courts were sitting. That was simply not a fact. It was perfectly true that some meetings must not take place. These meetings were specified, and it was in kindness to the hon. Member that he asked him to complete the quotation in order to save him from making a blunder. He would not reply further to the speech of the hon. Gentleman. [Cries of "Read."] It was not absolutely necessary that legislators should know Statutes; but they had scarcely a right to oblige a Member at that hour 1945 of the night (11.20) to read a Statute to which he had referred specifically, and ignorance did not justify interruption.
§ MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
said, that he preferred very much to be thoroughly sat upon, and as he had been challenged to read the quotation he should now very much like to hear the hon. Gentleman read it himself.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
said, he fancied that the operation to which the hon. Gentleman had referred had already been performed, and perhaps the hon. Member would now allow him to proceed. He wished to address himself to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Matthews), and he did so with some misgivings, because none could deny the eloquence which the right hon. Gentleman brought to bear upon the subject. He regretted that it was the eloquence of the Advocate rather than of a Member of the Executive intrusted almost with judicial duty. The right hon. Gentleman left a number of important points put to him by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell) without reply. The right hon. Gentleman made no answer in commenting on a letter sent from the Chief Commissioner of Police to the manager of Mrs. Weldon's meeting, although on the face of it it distinctly recognized the right which he denied. The right hon. Gentleman made no answer to the habitual user of the Square for more than 30 years as a right except to say that it was by licence and permission, when the facts quoted were facts of distinct disproof of any such licence or permission, and of distinct assertion of the user of right. The right hon. Gentleman took no notice of the appeal made by the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney as to the advice given by the Law Officers of the Crown, which was quoted by Sir George Grey in that House, and which was in the Home Office for reference. The right hon. Gentleman did not venture to suggest that there was any mis-statement, but he left Sir George Grey's declaration that he had been advised that the public had a right of meeting in Trafalgar Square entirely untouched. Sir George Grey, on the 24th July, 1886, said that when the meeting was about to be held in Trafalgar Square he stated, as far as he was 1946 informed, that it was a legal meeting; that any meeting at which language was held that was calculated to produce a breach of the peace was illegal, but that a meeting held to discuss Parliamentary reform was not in itself illegal; that he gave directions to the police in regard to that meeting; and that he begged to inform an hon. Member who asked what means he had taken to preserve the peace that he gave directions to the Commissioner of Police that he was not to interfere with the meeting as long as it was legally and peacefully held. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, again, had entirely avoided the challenge put to him by the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney as to why he did not allow the case of Mr. W. Saunders to be tried. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman why he did not. He would suggest that the Law Officers of the Crown pointed out that, although Mr. Saunders had disobeyed the proclamation and held his meeting in spite of the right hon. Gentleman, it was not an unlawful meeting, and that the question which would have to be tried would be whether it was unlawful from being held in Trafalgar Square, and that the right hon. Gentleman was advised that he would be beaten on that issue, and, therefore, he abandoned the prosecution. The matter which had to be considered on his Amendment differed very considerably from the question raised by the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney; although his Amendment was in no sense hostile to the hon. and learned Member's Motion, but only an addition to it. There were two questions before the House for the expression of its opinion upon them. One of those questions was whether there was a right of public open meeting in England. He said, clearly, that there was. Was there such a right in the Metropolis? Notwithstanding what the hon. and learned Attorney General for the Duchy of Cornwall (Mr. C. Hall) said, he contended that there was. Was there such a right of meeting in Trafalgar Square? Notwithstanding the declaration, unqualified and unmeasured, of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, he equally contended that there was. But if there were not it would be a sad thing for this country. The only phrase, which lingered in his memory, 1947 of the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down, was that free speech was of no English Party. That was true. It was only 160 years ago that the Conservatives—the Tories as they then called themselves—were pleading for what he should plead that night. It was because at that time they were denied the liberty of public meeting and were harassed when they tried to exercise their right, that they pleaded before the mother of Parliaments for affirmation for them of that of which they would to-day deny the use to the people. He asked hon. Members differing from him in politics to reflect on the great difficulties they put in the way of men who might hold strong views, but who desired to guide their fellow - countrymen wisely and peacefully in seeking useful reforms, if they took away from the people of England the only outlet and safety-valve which the poor had for making known their grievances to the world. The hon. and learned Member for South Hackney had dwelt on the great value of the right of public meeting. Now, he did not pretend that that right had always been wisely used by himself, but he did pretend that he had done his best his whole life through to keep it peacefully, orderly, and law-abiding. When he had thought that right unfairly challenged he had insisted upon it against the Government itself. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was good enough to congratulate him that he had been successful. But if the right hon. Gentleman had proved that he had been successful in over-riding the law that would not have been a matter for congratulation across the floor of the House. It was matter of congratulation, because he had kept to the legal right and he had been content always to argue the questions raised step by step before the tribunals of the country, which he found did justice without reference to who was the man that was pleading before them; and he said that equally when he was defeated and when he was successful. Well, because some men might use violent language, was that a good reason why the whole right of public meetings should be withheld and denied? If that was attempted they might provoke an uprising which would require far stronger brains and stouter hearts to meet it than were possessed 1948 by the present occupants of the Treasury Bench. He interrupted the right hon. Gentleman in order to ask him for the names of the speakers whom he quoted. He was sorry to say with the exception of one name the right hon. Gentleman did not give them, because he alleged that one particular speaker, who urged the setting fire to London in several places, was the speaker whose speech gave the Government the right to interfere with this meeting. He told the right hon. Gentleman his excuse for his interruption, that if he could identify the name he was prepared with evidence to show that the speaker who used that language had been seen in company with the police, but not in custody. The right hon. Gentleman, with a skill of tongue which he did not possess, said that he did not know that the police were not fit company; but surely the right hon. Gentleman hardly misunderstood his suggestion. What he was prepared to do if the name be given—it was difficult to make a charge upon it until he knew the name—was to show that the man who was in custody in connexion with the Trafalgar Square meetings was dismissed by the magistrate, and that, while in custody, he pointed out from a window overlooking the yard to Mr. Burleigh—a reporter of the Press—a man in plain clothes with the police in the yard, who, he said, was the man who used those words in the Square. The communication he had received might be untrue; but the writer stated that he was prepared to make the statement in a formal way so as to subject him to prosecution for giving false evidence. While not committing himself on the subject he was ready to hand the letter over in order that an investigation might be made, provided he was first furnished with the name of the person who was supposed to have made the speech. As to the right of meeting, he pointed out that the late Lord Derby, speaking in the House of Lords on July 24, 1866, said:—There is no desire on the part of anyone to interfere with that which is the right of British subjects—namely, to assemble for the discussion of political and public questions wherever they do not infringe upon public or private rights."— (3 Hansard,  1372.)But there was such a desire manifested that evening. The Government, as he 1949 understood, claimed for the Executive the right to guess when a meeting ought to be stopped. [Mr. MATTHEWS dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman claimed for the Executive that whenever they had reason to think that a meeting would be unlawful they might stop it. The Executive should have no such right. If they had such a right Parliament should take it away, because it placed all meetings at the mercy of the Executive. The Executive ought to have a right to interfere if the avowed object was unlawful, or at the moment when the breaking of the peace had begun at the meeting. The Executive ought to have the right to arrest any persons guilty of seditious speaking at the meeting; but the Executive had no right whatever to imagine that any public meeting, however numerous, would be unlawful, and, therefore, to prevent it; still less had it the right to fasten upon one meeting the sins of another, or upon one set of men the sins of another set. It was a matter of common knowledge in Europe now that one Government, at any rate, had not hesitated to employ agents provocateurs in Geneva in order to utilize them against the men whom they were endeavouring to punish in Berlin. Although he was quite sure that it would be too dangerous an experiment for any Government to get found out at in this country today, he could not forget that our Parliamentary record showed that within the space of 60 years such dangerous and wicked experiments had been made and had been exposed by Committees of the House. In the charge of Baron Alderson in the case of Vincent, quoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney, it was stated as distinctly as words could be that—There is no doubt that the people of this country have a perfect right to meet for the purpose of stating what are or even what they consider to be their grievances. That right they always have had, and I trust always will have.It was because he (Mr. Bradlaugh) adhered to that view that he intended to charge upon the Government that night the mischief which arose out of the Trafalgar Square meetings. The Government first vacillated, forbade and then permitted, changed its mind and purpose, now threatened and now did 1950 not, took notes of treasonable and seditious language, now prosecuted those who were misleading the people, and then punished the people who had no part in the utterances. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had been good enough to give the House the limits of the right of public meeting, saying that meetings must be held for a lawful purpose in a place where the public have a right to meet. And then the right hon. Gentleman built on that definition the conclusion that Trafalgar Square was not a place where the public had such a right. He (Mr. Bradlaugh) believed that Trafalgar Square was a thoroughfare and something more. It was also a place of public resort. It was not a thoroughfare for traffic over which carts and carriages might go; but it was like Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill, a place where people might resort to amuse themselves or in the exercise of their political rights. For the last 50 or 60 years progress without violence or collision had been possible in this country, because successive Governments, except, unfortunately, in Ireland, had allowed all sections of the community to express their opinions, however strong, with the greatest possible freedom. The agitation for the Charter, which might have been revolutionary, was thus a movement of reform, and the bulk of the points of the Charter were now the law of the land. There was scarcely any great reform which had not been achieved by the outside pressure of the people, and there had been many great crises in our history where the voice of the people had gone for truth, for peace, and for progress, when the Government of the moment was for war, for hindrance, and for retrogression. In the Metropolis they had a population larger than that of Scotland, and where were their buildings in which they could meet? They were too few and too costly. But for a mere accident in his own case it would not be possible to get a hall in the Metropolis. On one occasion he was in St. James's Hall when the gas went out, and he managed to keep the audience quiet; since then he had been very much favoured by the proprietors. But St. James's Hall would not hold more than 5,000 people. There was a population of over4,000,000, and there ought to be some place where 1951 the people could assemble in the exercise of their political rights. Mere numbers should not carry terror; they did not create terror when they wanted them to welcome Royalty in different parts of the town. He had been present at 40 or 50 meetings in Trafalgar Square, and he admitted the great responsibility of those who called them there. It was a right which should not be lightly used. He was quite ready to admit that the Government should regulate those meetings, and the Government, ever since the Parks' Regulation Act of 1872, had the power to lay down regulations for them, but had never done so. The meeting in question was convened by the Federation of the London Clubs. He was sorry not to see the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) in his place, because the right hon. Gentleman had in the Provinces spoken of those clubs with great contempt, saying that they were in debt. The London Working Men's Clubs concerned were not rich, but they were not so much in debt as some clubs—which could be named—were. It was a libel to say that these clubs were only houses in which five or six men could live. The right hon. Gentleman spoke also of them as places where a few men met to drink. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer libelled these London Working Men's Clubs. Last night he (Mr. Bradlaugh) attended one club with 1,800 members, with lecture hall which would hold some 500, with library and reading room, and this not the largest club even in that district. The members of these clubs had rough hands, but they were men who worked to live. He knew those working men, he was born amongst them, he belonged to them; and, so far as he could, lie would defend their rights. The meeting of November 13 was called by the Federation of London Clubs, which were not the drinking houses the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer represented them, but embraced some 30,000 or 40,000 men. At his own meetings in Trafalgar Square he had had 2,500 stewards chosen from these clubs, and that was the way in which he had been prepared to resist illegal force if used against him. He admitted that if the police were on the spot first the people had no right to 1952 break in; he had never encouraged people to break the law, but to stand by their rights. With regard to the Acts of Parliament relating to Trafalgar Square, the quotations from and references to these by the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney has been entirely ignored and evaded by the Home Secretary, who repeated the fallacy that the bulk of the Square had been formed from the private property of the Monarch. This was not so. There were plans specifically referred to in the Statutes, and these plans showed that the bulk of the land had been private property, and that the King's Mews only formed a very small portion of the land. That private property had been bought by public money in order that there might be an open space, which the right hon. Gentleman now wished to close by his more will. He (Mr. Bradlaugh) was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman had thought it right to introduce the name of the Sovereign and to speak of the Sovereign as the private owner of the land. The Sovereign of this country had no rights, except by the law, and the user of Trafalgar Square was not in the Sovereign to hold or to withhold. The Home Secretary is reported in The Times of December 12th to have stated to a deputation which waited on him at the Home Office, that "The public have no right of meeting in Trafalgar Square. It is only by sufferance and permission of the Queen they do meet there." And to-night he has talked of Her Majesty as the private owner on whose sufferance only the public might use the Square. At Bow Street Mr. Poland held the same monstrous doctrine, and contended in Mr. Saunders' case (The Times, November 18th) that "no person had any right to make speeches in Trafalgar Square," "it was the property of the Crown," and that the proclamation of Sir Charles Warren was "under no Statute, but under the Common Law, and as an officer of the Crown." The Crown had no right to interfere with public meetings in this country, except where Statute gave it to the Executive representing it. Personally, the Sovereign had no other right than the law defined. The Sovereign was the chief magistrate and first servant of the State, but the law was master alike over the Sovereign and the meanest of her subjects. The right hon. Gentleman had attached 1953 importance to the 3rd Section of the Act, which incorporated the Metropolitan Police Act. But the Metropolitan Police Act gave no power to the Commissioner of Police to prevent meetings in Trafalgar Square. All it did was, by Section 52, to make it lawful for the Commissioner of Police from time to time, and as occasion should require, to make regulations for the route to be observed by all carts, carriages, horses, and persons, and to prevent obstruction in the streets and thoroughfares, and in all times of public processions, rejoicings, or illuminations, to give to the constables instructions to prevent disorder and to prevent obstruction of the thoroughfares in the neighbourhood of Parliament, the public offices, courts of law, theatres, and other places of public resort, and in any case where the streets might be thronged or liable to obstruction. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes; regulating it, but not forbidding it, and the best proof of that was contained in the 9th rule in the next Section. When there was any great procession, the Chief Commissioner of Police had imposed upon him the duty of making such provision as would render as little as possible the necessary obstruction consistent with the happening of that event. He contended that there was nothing in the decisions which had been pronounced which gave any sort of credence to the claim made by this Officer of the Crown to prevent meetings. It was impossible for any great theatrical performance to be held without causing some obstruction; but the Chief Commissioner had no right to 1954 prevent the performance taking place, or to bludgeon the people. The Commissioner was only to do his best to make the obstruction cause as little injury as possible to the people. At that hour (two minutes to 12 o'clock) he thought that he would not be consulting the convenience of the House in entering upon another division of his speech; and he, therefore, begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the hon. Member could not properly under the circumstances take that course; but if he spoke till the hour of adjournment, he would be entitled to resume on the next occasion.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
said, that he had once resolved that he would never speak to occupy the time of the House for the mere purpose of passing time; but it would be an absurdity for him to commence another division of his argument at that time, and he would, therefore, only thank the House for having listened to him.
§ And it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.