HC Deb 05 March 1889 vol 333 cc993-1060


Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [21st February.]—[See page 41.]

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green' S. W.)

I rise to move as an Amendment to the Address an expression of our regret that the Royal Speech contains no proposal for legislation to safeguard the long accustomed right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square. Notwithstanding the appeal which has been addressed to the House, I think, considering in the first place that in the Royal Speech London questions are totally ignored, and in the second place having regard to the extreme gravity of the question my Amendment raises, I am justified in the course I am now taking. The House will probably remember that shortly after the opening of the Session of 1888 the hon. and learned Member for Hackney brought forward a Resolution proposing the appointment of a Committee to consider the provisions under which public meetings are held in London, and the limits of the right of interference with such meetings by the Executive. That Motion was opposed by the Government, and after a long discussion it was defeated. Now, the attitude of the Government towards this Motion, coupled with the brutal violence which the Government have been responsible for, employed on November 13 against non-offending citizens, left—and I think not unnaturally left—arankling resentment in the minds of a very considerable portion of the people of London. There were some men, as there are some men now—and I regret it—who desired to fight the Government with their own weapons. They desired to retake the right which the Government had defrauded them of by force and violence, but there were others who were extremely anxious to try this question upon its merits in a Court of Law. Well now, what was the attitude of the Government in regard to the latter class of persons? There was only one case arising out of the Trafalgar Square incident which raised the right fairly on its merits, and that was the case of Mr. Saunders. The Government commenced a prosecution against that gentleman, but almost immediately dropped it. Then a civil action was commenced in the name of Mr. Saunders for assault, in order to obtain a decision on the merits of the question. Unfortunately, the formal notice, which by statute is required, was not given in time, and the authorities sheltered themselves under this legal technicality, and so, for the second time, the law-abiding portion of the people who desired to raise the question were defeated in their object. The second case arose on a summons heard at Bow Street, and the police obtained a conviction. Mr. Vaughan, the Magistrate, was requested to state a case for the decision of a Superior Court, and agreed to do so. After long delay the case was stated, but then it was found that the case, as stated, was utterly absurd with reference to the point we desired to raise. The case, as stated by Mr. Vaughan, amounted to this—that the Queen's Bench Division were asked, in fact, whether an illegal meeting held in Trafalgar Square was an illegal meeting? Well, we do not want to go to the Queen's Bench Division to decide that; we know that an illegal meeting in Trafalgar Square or anywhere else is illegal. There was on the part of the Government the strongest reluctance to come into Court on the merits of the case, a reluctance which generally, I think we may say, accompanies the consciousness of having a very bad case. But I do not desire to treat this question within the limits of a bare strict legal argument. It always seems to me that the House of Commons is not the place for a purely legal argument, but it must be obvious to the House that there are many rights which possibly one could not vindicate in a Court of Law, and yet rights, properly so-called, which a Government ought not to take away, which no wise Government would ever dream of taking away. How does the case stand in regard to Trafalgar Square? In the first place, I shall carefully avoid, as much as possible, the arguments which were gone over last year. But, at all events, we have this fact—that for nearly 40 years prior to November 13th, 1887, there had been the user of Trafalgar Square for the purpose of public meeting; nay, more, on one occasion, about 20 years ago, when there was a desire to hold a large public demonstration in Hyde Park, the organizers of the demonstration were told by the Government of the day that Trafalgar Square was the proper place in which to hold such a meeting. Last year the Home Secretary drew attention to the fact, and insisted upon it, that before November 13th there had been a series of daily meetings in the Square, with regard to which meetings I Just want to say that if it is said that it would be unreasonable that mass meetings should be held every day in Trafalgar Square, and at any hour of any day, I quite agree with that. I think that it would be an unreasonable exercise of an undoubted right—an intolerant exercise of that right—because it would ignore the co-ordinate right of other persons, who dislike public meetings, and wish to use the Square for other purposes which are equally legitimate. But, whatever view you may take of the meetings that preceded that of November 13th, on what ground of law or reason can the Home Secretary defend the proclamation of the meeting of November 13th? The meetings before that day were called by one body of persons, and the meeting of November 13th was called by a totally different body of persons; and, although I said I should be anxious to avoid any strictly legal argument, I cannot refuse to allude to the Salvation Army decision, Beattie v. Gilbanks; and I respectfully submit to the House that the principle of that decision is distinctly against the proclamation of the meeting of November 13th. Besides, no connection has been proved between the organizers of that meeting and the organizers of the preceding meetings. That is the very essence of the case, because if any body of men are to be affected by the meetings of another body of men, then, I say, every liberty we possess is in danger. Just see how that would operate in practice. It only requires a small body of men to get up a disturbance at a public meeting in a public place on one day in order to justify the Government in proclaiming a meeting for a totally different purpose in the same place on a following day. Of course, those who organized the meeting would be responsible, but they cannot be affected by the incident of a meeting with which they had nothing whatever to do. Let me refer to the objections which have been urged to the holding of meetings in Trafalgar Square. It is said, in the first place, there is danger to property. Well, we all know it is an unfortunate fact that there is a large criminal class in London which always finds its harvest on every occasion when large masses of people are collected. The Home Secretary assents to that. Yes; but on the occasion of public illuminations, or on any occasion of a Royal procession, or when you want to pay a compliment to a Royal visitor, then you do everything in your power to collect the people in large masses, and the argument of danger to property, whatever it is worth, applies as much to such occasions as to those when citizens meet to discuss public questions. Then it is said the site is an inconvenient one for public meetings. Well, on that issue it is sufficient to point out that for 40 years it has been used for public meetings, which shows most clearly that it is a convenient site in the opinion of those who organize the meetings and attend them. I think the argument about convenience hardly lies in the mouths of those who are subject to the very grave suspicion of disliking public meetings altogether. Then it is said it is in the very heart of a great city, and an unsuitable place for public meetings. Now, I venture to submit that the heart of a great city is the proper place, and for this reason: when men have a griev- ance and desire to come together, they assemble not merely to encourage one another, but also to make their grievance known to the powers that are able to relieve them. Therefore, it follows that publicity is the very essence of a political demonstration. To make that publicity as great as possible is one of the most legitimate purposes of all public demonstrations, and there is no place more fitting for that purpose than the centre of a large population. Now, there was one incident of which great use was made in the debate last year by the Government and the supporters of the Government. They relied on the riot which occurred in the neighbourhood of Trafalgar Square in February, 1886; but is it to be said that because there has occurred a solitary isolated act of violence and crime that, therefore, the Government are justified in taking away a long-accustomed popular right? I venture to think, if that argument is to hold good, that every liberty we and our fathers ever enjoyed is scarcely worth 24 hours' purchase. What, then, is our claim? I have indicated that I do not think it is reasonable that meetings should day by day be held in Trafalgar Square, but what I do ask the Government to do is this: to recognize the right of meeting in the Square, and to submit proposals for the regulation of that right. It seems sensible that this right should be regulated in order that it may be preserved. I would impress on the Government that the present position cannot be maintained. It is intolerable that a long-accustomed right should be taken away or withheld by the mere edict of a Commissioner of Police. Apart from the importance of the immediate occasion, I say it constitutes a most mischievous and dangerous precedent. I ask that the Government shall, at least, put the matter on a legal basis. There are three courses open to the Government to put this matter on a legal basis. In the first place they might withdraw the Chief Commissioner's edict; they might bring in a Bill to prohibit all meetings in Trafalgar Square—I should give it, I need hardly say, all the opposition in my power, but at all events it would be strictly and technically a legal proceeding—or they might bring in a Bill recognizing the right of meeting in the Square, and providing suitable regulations under which that right should be exercised. This last course I ask the Government to take. It is impossible, I think, to dissociate altogether this action from the changed attitude of the authorities in London towards public meetings in general. That there has been such a change is absolutely indisputable. No one who has any acquaintance with London, and takes an interest in public life, and who compares the attitude of the police to wards public meetings to-day with the attitude of the police towards public meetings before the advent of the present Government, can doubt the evidence of a mischievous and alarming change. The Home Secretary says there has been no change in the general direction, given to the Metropolitan Police. I must, of course, and I do, accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. But I might perhaps, be permitted to point out to him that, when you are dealing with so delicate a question as the right of public meeting, even admitting that the general regulations in their letter remain the same, still the spirit in which they are administered and carried out may make the difference between a reasonable freedom and an intolerable tyranny. It was only the other day that I had occasion to call attention to a case which occurred in my own constituency. A member of the County Council for London, a gentleman for whom the esteem of his locality was sufficiently testified by the overwhelming majority of votes which he obtained in the recent election—Mr. Branch—is waited upon by a constable. It is said that the constable discharged his duty in a courteous manner. I dare say he did; I do not blame him; but I censure the system for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible, and which compels a constable of the Metropolitan Police to do something which gives grave offence to a man occupying a high position in London. The right hon. Gentleman told me that the police were sent to the meeting for the purposes of protection. Protection! Why, the meeting was a small meeting in a club, to which, indeed, the public were invited. It was not even an open-air meeting, which would have given some colour to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. It is a pubic meeting held on private premises addressed by a gentleman of high Position, who is waited upon by a constable in the first place; and, in the second place, half-a-dozen policemen are sent to crowd around the door, or In the neighbourhood of the meeting place. I say that indicates a marked change in the relations which once existed between the people of London and the Metropolitan Police. I desire to make an earnest appeal to the Government. I do not think that the present position is at all a tolerable position. We have had violence, and we have had bloodshed, mainly—I will not say entirely—on the part of the police. Now that sort of thing will inevitably cause rebellion. I have shown you what a rankling sense of resentment exists in the mind of a very considerable number of the people of London, and I am afraid that there will be trouble. I do, therefore, earnestly ask the Government to at least put the matter on a legal basis, and free us, at all events, from the disgrace of being deprived of what many of us believe to be a right by the edict of the Police Commissioner. If there should be violence and bloodshed, to which we have not been accustomed in the streets of London, then I must say that a terrible responsibility will rest upon the Government, in the first place because they have by every kind of artful contrivance succeeded in eluding a decision upon the merits of the case in a Court of Law, and in the second place because they have obstinately refused a settlement which would have given reasonable satisfaction to all parties. I beg, Sir, to move the Amendment of which I have given notice.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, At the end of Paragraph 11 to insert the words, "But we humbly express our regret that no proposals are made in Tour Majesty's Gracious Speech to safeguard the long accustomed right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square.

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

MR. MURDOCH (Reading)

The hon. Member has brought forward this Amendment to the Address, and I cannot help thinking that in doing so he has shown by his speech that there is no necessity for it. On a previous occasion when this subject was discussed, the House had the advantage of hearing the opinions of some of the most eminent lawyers of the day as to the legal point of the question. Other speakers attempted to show that the meetings in Trafalgar Square were not only a cause of much interruption of business, but were also a source of trouble and danger. I cannot say that those points have been touched upon by the hon. Member so as to in any way reverse the decision at which the House arrived on the occasion to which I have referred. I would point out that Trafalgar Square is very much altered in character from what it was a few years ago. In the petition which was laid before this House, signed by persons of all grades and positions, it was pointed out that during the last few years Trafalgar Square had become one of the main arteries of the Metropolis, a point at which traffic converged from north, south, east, and west, and that any interruption of that traffic would cause most serious inconvenience. It has also been pointed out, although the point has been made very light of by the hon. Member, that the riot which took place on a certain date opened the eyes of a good many people to the danger which arose from those meetings. I am not going to blame those who convened the meetings. I am perfectly certain that those gentlemen, when they convened the meeting in Trafalgar Square, had no idea that any danger would result from it; but events proved most clearly that those who gathered the people together had no control whatever over them, and that in itself shows that these meetings are a source of considerable danger to life and property in the neighbourhood of Trafalgar Square. It is a very different thing from holding a meeting in a place or passing through a place with permission to hold a meeting in Trafalgar Square, and occasionally having language used which is calculated to inflame those who hear it, and which, perhaps, the promoters are very sorry for afterwards. The case of the Lord Mayor's Show is a very different thing; it occupies only a certain time in passing; the police have the conduct of it, and they take care that no interruption shall take place except what cannot be avoided. If I recollect aright, there is no necessity for the introduction of a Bill, because it has been clearly shown that the regulation of Trafalgar Square rests with the Home Secretary, and, under his direction, with the Metropolitan Police. The mere fact of the hon. Member mentioning such a Bill—although he says he would oppose it by every means in his power—shows that there is lurking in his mind the possibility that Trafalgar Square may not have attached to it the right of public meeting for which he contends. He says that Trafalgar Square, being in the heart of a great city, is a suitable place of meeting. Well, within a mile is Hyde Park, where any number of meetings may be held without danger to life, limb, or property. Another point to which I want to draw attention is that the petition presented to the House was numerously signed by working men living in the neighbourhood. They were perfectly well aware how they were damaged by the meetings; and I am perfectly convinced that if the hon. Member polled his constituency he would find that the respectable and steady portion of the working classes are against any such meetings, while "professional" men, who attend all such meetings and processions, are in favour of them, not caring much what injury results to their fellow-men.


I have the honour to represent a community largely composed of the working classes, and I have discussed this matter with them at more than one meeting. There was a strong feeling on the subject, though I admit there were degrees and shades of opinion on it. There is a section who desire to have the right of holding any meeting with or without notice upon any subject, at any time of the day, and on every day in the week. I do not think that is a very large class; but there is a largely preponderating class in my constituency who seriously complain that the accustomed right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square exercised for 40 years has been unconstitutionally invaded, not by the action of Parliament, but by the will of a police officer in high authority. The tendency of the argument I have addressed to more than one meeting was this—believing as I do that the interference of the Commissioner of Police was not authorized by any statute, I had urged upon the Government either to withdraw the interference, or that they should deal with the subject, as I have pressed upon the Home Secretary before, by legislative enactment. What are the facts of the case? It is truly said that for 40 years there has been this accustomed right of public meeting. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I do not assert that it is a legal right in itself in the same sense as a private legal right which is enforceable by action at law, but I do say it is a Constitutional right on the part of the community in the midst of which this vacant space exists, and which cannot be properly described as a thoroughfare at all, but is distinctly an open space as the Act describes it, capable of being appropriately used for some meetings—certainly for meetings of moderate dimensions. The test of a Constitutional right of this kind is whether it is a crime to hold orderly and peaceable meetings in Trafalgar Square. I ask this question with a view to obtaining an answer. If it be an offence, what is the Statute creating the offence, and what is the penalty annexed to the offence? If the allegation is that it is an offence, and if that is the advice the Home Secretary has given will the Home Secretary assist in raising in a Court of Law purely and simply that question? Is it a legal offence to hold an orderly and peaceable meeting in Trafalgar Square. With one exception nothing that could be called a serious disturbance has ever taken place as far as I am aware in connection with meetings in Trafalgar Square. I do not doubt that these meetings, or some of them, have been a Cause of considerable inconvenience to some or many of the people living in the neighbourhood, but I want to know what great congregation of the people in public meeting could take place anywhere, or what great function in which a multitude of the people take part can be performed without causing inconvenience to some section of the community, but inconveniences which that section of the community must bear as they are caused by the exercise of a great Constitutional and important public right? The hon. Member for Reading has said fairly enough that the disturbance which took place was not one which could in anyway be in contemplation of those who convened the meeting in February, 1886. A disorderly fringe became attached to the meeting itself, and it was a disorderly sec- tion which became mischievous. Why? For the simple reason that the police, whose proper function was to be in attendance upon and to safeguard such meetings instead of being in Pall Mall in the rear of the gathering, where they were directed to take their position, were in the Mall. And then came the meeting in November which was convened after notice to the Home Secretary, and after a discussion with him on the part of a different set of persons who were responsible for having called and peaceably conducted many prior meetings in the same place. It was then that those extraordinary communications took place with the Home Secretary, showing that he was not then viewing the question in the same way as now, when, in answer this evening to the hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Conybeare), he said there was clear statutory authority for what the police did in this matter. It is a noticeable fact that when the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, taking, as I believe, a serious and also a right view of the view of the matter, declared that it was no part of the intention of the Government to interfere with what he called a bona fide public meeting.


I have contradicted that statement two or three times in the House.


I did not recollect that the right hon. Gentleman had contradicted it, and I am sorry he has done so, because I thought the sentiment was one for which he might take credit; but now, on the contrary, I understand that the Home Secretary meant to say that the Government do claim the right to interfere with a bonâ fide political meeting, peaceable and orderly, if held in Trafalgar Square. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will presently explain what it was he did mean. Well, then came the prosecution at the Old Bailey, and, but for the verdict of the jury which determined that the meeting proposed to be held in November, and which was held, was an illegal meeting, I submit that the Government would be without a rag of justification for their conduct in the matter. I have not the materials before me on which to express an opinion on the right or wrong of that verdict. One is accustomed to accept the verdicts of juries as being founded on facts, unless there is some reason to suppose that something has prejudiced and distorted their judgment. But what does it amount to? It amounts to this only, that in the case of a particular meeting the Executive were justified in interfering to prevent it, on the ground that the circumstances under which it was proposed to be held it would be a source of alarm or terror to certain persons. Now, this would equally apply whatever meeting was held—it would equally apply to a meeting proposed to be held on enclosed private ground or in any other place whatever. Therefore I say it is apart from the question of customary user by the public of Trafalgar Square as a place of meeting, and what we complain of is this: that instead of limiting the interference which the verdict justified to the particular meeting, or to an illegal meeting the Government maintained and adopted the action of the Chief Commissioner of Police, who has issued a peremptory and perpetual mandate forbidding all meetings, of all kinds, irrespective of object or numbers, or whether they are orderly or not, in Trafalgar Square; and until he chooses to withdraw that mandate, he intends to prevent any meetings being held there. Now, I say that that is not law. The Proclamation of the Chief Commissioner is a notice and nothing more. It is authorized by no Statute, and cannot affect the character of any meeting. I speak with all deference to the opinions of those who differ from me honestly; and if there be on the Bench opposite learned Friends of mine who differ from this view, I think they will do me the justice of admitting—as I would do them the like justice—that I am stating here to-day what I stated in November last; and I say that what I state I believe is the law, and that if there is this difference it constitutes the greater reason and makes the argument all the stronger that the Government ought to lend themselves to the effort at raising and deciding this question directly, straightly, and simply. I ask the Government to recall the points I made in relation to the case of Saunders and the subsequent case before Mr. Vaughan. In the case of Saunders, who was formerly a Member of this House whilst that Gentleman was proceeding to address a meeting at Trafalgar Square, a policeman came to Mm and committed a technical assault by putting his hand on his collar, and then required him to follow him to the Bow Street Police Station, where a charge was entered against Mr. Saunders. On this, Mr. Saunders was bailed out, and afterwards, when he appeared to answer the charge, the Government were represented by one of the most able criminal lawyers of the day (my friend Mr. Poland). What did Mr. Poland do? He could not formulate a charge against Mr. Saunders—he did not attempt to formulate a charge against him; but he begged to withdraw the charge, and, in point of fact, his statement was that this Proclamation was s Proclamation of the Chief Commissioner of Police in error. I hear someone say it was not a summary case: then why did they not indict Mr. Saunders? Here was a grave question which affected the minds of a considerable number of the community, and the Government had the opportunity of raising the question, and what mattered it whether it was a summary offence or not? Mr. Saunders begged that the Government would indict him, but instead of doing that Mr. Poland practically asked that the charge might be struck out, and that Mr. Saunders might take his departure for the purpose of bringing an action against the policeman and the Chief Commissioner, under whose authority the policeman acted, for trespass. And what was the course that the Government took? I do not understand it, for I do not understand what the justification for it was. Mr. Saunders brought his action and claimed damages merely for the purpose of raising the question. The Government pleaded, among other defences, that the action was not brought timeously, and that the notice of action which the Statute required had not been given. I ask why the Government did not meet the case fairly? It would have been the means, in a legitimate and peaceful way, of helping to solve the question. But that is not all. A subsequent case arose, and Mr. Vaughan was required to state a case for the opinion of the Superior Court. I desire to speak of Mr. Vaughan, as I do of all Judges whose conduct I may have occasion to criticize, with all respect; but the case as stated by Mr. Vaughan, so far as raising the question was concerned, was an utter and absolute farce. The question which he propounded for the opinion of the Superior Court was whether a meeting, consisting of a large number of persons, assembled together in Trafalgar Square under such circumstances as to inspire terror, but in an alleged exercise of a legal right, was a legal meeting. It is enough to say that the form in which the case was stated amounted to a compendious statement of what constitutes an illegal meeting. The Home Secretary has said, in answer to my hon. Friend the member for Camborne (Mr. Conybeare), that the proclamation of the Commissioner still stood, and that there was express statutory authority for it. I would press the right hon. Gentleman to state before the debate closes what that statutory authority is. I am not aware of any statutory authority unless it be contained in the 2 and 3 Vict., c. 47, and particularly sections 52, 53, and 54. I want to know whether the Home Secretary was advised that under those or any other sections there was power given to the Chief Commissioner to forbid access to Trafalgar Square, and the presence of numbers of persons in Trafalgar Square; and I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman claims the same powers in the Chief Commissioner as regards any other thoroughfare or any other open space in the Metropolis? If the right hon. Gentleman does not, on what distinction does he base the authority in the one case over the other? The right hon. Gentleman said something about obstructing or disturbing the thoroughfare. Let me test that. Was it not notorious to all who know the conformation of Trafalgar Square, that although there is to a certain extent a thoroughfare which is in no real sense a thoroughfare in the sense of leading conveniently or directly to or from certain definite points, yet within the crossing lines in Trafalgar Square there is an open space. Does the Home Secretary urge that, even assuming there was an obstruction of a thoroughfare, that that constituted an illegal meeting, or authorized the Chief Commissioner and the police to put it down by force on the ground that the persons attending the meeting were at the moment obstructing the thoroughfare? I do not desire to em- barrass the Government on this question. I urge this consideration because of two things—first, that there has been, as I contend, an unjustifiable interference in an unjustifiable fashion with an accustomed right; and, secondly, that the continued interference with that right by the Chief Commissioner, who claims authority to interfere, not with particular meetings which may be illegal assemblies, but with all assemblies of persons, however peaceable, is, I believe, undoubtedly creating a bad feeling between the people and the police, and no good subject would desire to see that feeling continue.


I concur with the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down in deploring very much any interference with the working classes which may tend to produce a feeling of dissatisfaction with regard to the action of the Executive. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that that is a matter very much to be deplored and, if possible, to be avoided; but it is not to be avoided by allowing what is wrong and unlawful. I am bound to say that those people are responsible for causing that feeling, as far as it deserves any attention at all, who, like the hon. Mover of the Amendment, din into the ears of the working classes that they have a right of meeting in these places. The hon. and learned Gentleman, with his great legal reputation as an accurate lawyer, has lent weight to that idea not by saying that this is a right which could be enforced in an action, but by talking about the accustomed right of meeting in Trafalgar Square or in any other place. I protest against the use of loose language such as that, seeing that the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman will be read with avidity by the working classes of the Metropolis to-morrow. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well that there is no such right as a right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square—not a right that can be enforced in a Court of Law, or by any machinery known to the law. What is the use of raising quibbling complaints about the case of Mr. Saunders. There might have been 20 opportunities of bringing an action if it were at all true to say that the public had a right, in any strict and proper sense, of meeting in the Square. If that they were so, anyone who obstructed a person in the exercise of that right would be liable to an action at the suit of the person obstructed, and nothing would be simpler than to bring an action in which the question of right could be raised. No lawyer can assert that there exists a right of meeting on the part of any of Her Majesty's subjects either in Trafalgar Square or in any other public thoroughfare. It is a right totally unknown to the law, and cannot be established by custom, however prolonged. The fact is that the spirit of forbearance, which, happily, always characterizes the action of the authorities in this country, has winked at the use of Trafalgar Square for public meetings so long as it was not dangerous. If those meetings had continued peaceable and orderly, the present Government, like those which preceded it, would not have thought of interfering. In all probability the same acquiescence would have gone on. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to believe that, so far as the Government are concerned, they have every sympathy with public meetings. [An hon. MEMBER: Then why not allow the meetings?] Do hon. Members opposite for a moment suggest that any Executive Government could ignore the results of the experience of 1886? The acquiescence of which I have spoken has been twice most grossly abused. Will anyone stand up and say that it is tolerable that such scenes as those of February 1886 should be allowed to recur in London,—the richest, the most orderly, and the most law-abiding city in the world? Who was responsible for those scenes? Do not let it be supposed for a moment that I charge the originators of the meetings in 1886 with direct and personal responsibility for what happened; but indirectly they were responsible, because they gave a plausible excuse and a decent occasion for the roughs of London to gather together, and then, when the meetings had taken place, to proceed in different directions from Trafalgar Square to plunder shops and commit other outrages. The organizers of the meetings, however good their intentions might have been, and however much they may have sincerely desired to avoid confusion and disorder, could not control large masses of people, and when once they were got together in a thoroughfare which was not a manœuvr- ing ground the task of following them up and preventing disorder was very difficult. The lesson taught by the events of November, 1887, was equally fruitful, and must have been laid to heart by anybody who was responsible for the order of London. I do not want to go over the melancholy story again. The blame I have always taken to myself was that I waited too long. So reluctant was I to do anything which would seem to be an interference with the liberty of meeting that I believe I waited longer than I ought before taking action. The warnings, certainly, were very frequent. At last it became irresistibly clear that these meetings were dangerous to the public peace. It was only by enormous exertion that the police, from day to day were able to preserve the property—I was going to say the lives—but certainly the property, of the orderly inhabitants of this city. The strain upon the police force was something prodigious; and thousands of men had to watch day after day. The strain upon their temper was great; and this state of things also meant increased expense for the ratepayers. It was a state of things which was intolerable, and we should have neglected our first duty if we had not taken steps to prevent it from continuing. It is a fact that a number of people unacquainted with the law have been taught by those in authority to suppose that their rights were being infringed; and it was this which caused so much irritation and anger. Such anger would be justifiable if it were true that the people had rights which were being infringed. I think, therefore, that words such as I have referred to should be cautiously used by men of great authority, because they mislead the people. The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me where is the statutable authority for the action of the Police Commissioner with regard to the proclamation of November 18. The statutable authority is that referred to in the notice itself—namely, the Metropolitan Police Acts, 2 and 3 Vic, c. 47 and 71.


Read the section.


I read the section scores of times before the notice was issued; and I can only repeat that I still rely upon the advice given me, which I believe to be well founded, that the section does give the Chief Commissioner of Police ample power in order to prevent obstruction and tumult in Trafalgar Square. The objection constantly made on the other side is, "Why not give us the opportunity of raising this point in a Court of Law?" I repeat that it is in the power of anybody who chooses to assert this right of meeting, if he is obstructed to bring the matter before a Court of Law. If he is right, and is obstructed, there is nothing in the world to prevent him from bringing an action.


Will the right hon. Gentleman state any place where the legal right to hold public meetings could be raised in the way he suggests?

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

Is the right hon. Gentleman inviting the people to hold further meetings?


What I say is this. Those who assert that there exists a legal right to meet can test the truth and validity of the matter by bringing an action. If they rely upon their right, and have confidence in it, they ought to prove it by bringing an action against anybody who obstructs them in the assertion of their right. I confess that I am quite content with the decisions already obtained. The law on the subject has been laid down by Mr. Justice Charles in the case of "The Queen against Cuninghame Graham," and by Mr. Justice Wills and Mr. Justice Grantham in the case "Ex parts Lewis." In these cases the Judges distinctly laid it down that there was no right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square.


Is there any right anywhere in that sense?






There is a right of public meeting on any ground the consent of the owner of which can be obtained for the holding of the meeting. There is a right of public meeting in London in the parks. The inhabitants of London are in a position of singular advantage in this respect. They are the only community in England who have four places—one in the north, one in the south, one in the east, and one in the west—expressly provided for them by Parliament where they can meet with a legal right to hold a meeting. No other communities have such a right, and if they do hold meetings they have to rely upon that sort of acqui- escence on the part of their fellow-citizens and of the authorities which existed for a long time in London before the disturbances of 1886 and 1837 rendered it impossible to remain neutral any longer. I believe that hon. Members below the Gangway opposite who represent Ireland will bear me out when I say that public meetings in that country are usually held on private land.

MR. W. REDMOND (Fermanagh)

I rise to reply to the right hon. Gentleman.


It is scarcely worth while to pursue the subject.


The right hon. Gentleman asked a question. [Cries of "Order!"]


I would press upon the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite what the consequences of the converse proposition might be. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not assert, but he suggested by the language he used, that there might be such a thing as the right to hold a public meeting in a thoroughfare; and he spoke of the accustomed right of meeting. No doubt in Dod Street it has been the custom to hold public meetings on Sundays; and in certain streets in the Seven Dials small meetings have been held for years both on week days and Sundays. But can anybody with a grave face tell the House of Commons, let alone a Court of Law, that these meetings are held by any right? The truth is that this suggested right is a thing contradictory of and absolutely inconsistent with the purposes for which the thoroughfares were created. If they are to be monopolized by people standing about in crowds, the subjects of the Queen will not be able to pass through them; therefore I assert with some confidence that nowhere is there such a right of meeting in the thoroughfares as has been suggested, although London is singularly fortunate in having, through the care of Parliament, been provided with four places in which meetings can be held. I do—I must venture to appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite not to goad their followers, who naturally do not know what the law is, into the idea that some wrong has been done to them in connection with the supposed right of meeting in Trafalgar Square. Is it rea- sonable, or is it good citizenship—I will put it even as high as that—to goad your followers into the idea that some right of theirs has been arbitrarily interfered with by the police or by the Government? On the contrary, I say that it is most unreasonable to so act in the face of the legal authorities which exist. The hon. and learned Member for Camborne asks what are those legal authorities? I should have thought that even his mind would by this time be penetrated with the knowledge of the decisions given on this subject by learned Judges. There is the summing up of Mr. Justice Charles in the case of Graham and Burns; there is also a decision in the case of "Ex parte Dillon Lewis," and surely before an hon. Member takes it upon himself to tell ignorant people that the Judges are wrong, it behoves him to get a decision from some other and better authority, and until he has done that it is his duty as a reasonable man to accept the law as it has been interpreted by the Judges. Complaint has been made because a perfectly legal course taken with Mr. Saunders' case prevented a decision being come to on the point. That was not my fault, for I expressed my desire that this very point as to the right of meeting in Trafalgar Square should be expressly raised in this case. I agree that the case stated by Mr. Vaughan does not, as it stands, raise the right of public meeting in the way which alone will satisfy hon. Members opposite; but, nevertheless, Mr. Vaughan expressly declared that He was of opinion that there was and is no right on the part of the public to occupy Trafalgar Square for the purpose of holding meetings there. I should have thought that so broad an expression of opinion on the part of Mr. Vaughan would, at any rate, have opened the door to getting of the Court to express some view on that subject had hon. Members opposite thought fit. I most distinctly claim on behalf of the police that under the Metropolitan Police Acts they have the right, whenever public disorder and obstruction in the streets are likely to be the consequence of a meeting, to prevent such meeting. If the Metropolitan Police Acts do not authorize the exercise of such power, they ought instantly to be amended so as to give the power. It would be intolerable, in a city containing fire millions of inhabitants, if that were not the law and the legal authority of the Chief of the Police. But hon. Members Bay, "Our meetings are to be perfectly orderly and peaceable." Well, those are fair words and fair promises constantly made, and no doubt in good faith; but the experience of 1887 shows that those intentions and hopes were disappointed, and the results were such as, no doubt, the hon. Member did not contemplate but deplored.


The meeting would have been orderly, only you broke it up.


It does not do always to rely on good intentions, and I must claim on behalf of the police that the deplorable result was due to persons who took advantage of what the hon. Member was doing to create disorder. They may not have been his followers, or possibly his followers may have become too enthusiastic and warm to care about the consequences of their act. Experience has shown those responsible for public order in large towns that it is a dangerous thing to congregate large masses of people where, in consequence of the many streets around, they cannot easily be followed by the police, because, if not followed, they may do irreparable mischief, such as was committed in February, 1886. It is clear that if once it became known that a space in the vicinity of crowded and business parts of London is becoming a regular place of meeting, the vultures—the birds of prey of society—will flock there too. I apologize to the House for having occupied its time so long, but I wish to impress on hon. Gentlemen opposite that there have been no steps of hostility taken towards the promoters and organizers of public meetings; on the contrary, whenever a public meeting has been held in the parks, the authorities have done their utmost to protect those going to the meeting, even to the extent of seriously inconveniencing the street traffic. Orders have always been issued to the police ever since I have been at the Home Office—perhaps I have even carried it to excess—that they should do everything they can to facilitate the progress of a procession and open a way as easily as possible to the park, where the law allows meetings to be held. I appeal to those who have really the interests at heart, not merely of any section holding strong political opinions, but of the whole London public, not to encourage the idea that the streets of London ever can be a proper place for public meetings.

* MR. W. R. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

I have listened with the utmost interest, and no little surprise, to the speech just delivered by the right hon. Gentleman. So far from being guilty, as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary accuses us, of hounding on the people of the Metropolis to break the law, and of seeking to bring them into collision with the Government, we Radical Members who represent Metropolitan constituencies have in no small degree risked our own popularity by setting ourselves determinedly against action. But I accuse the right hon. Gentleman of having himself been the chief cause of the breaking of the peace in the Metropolis, while those for whom I speak have been the real champions of law and order in this matter, and the right hon. Gentleman ought to thank us, on behalf of the Government, for being its most valuable auxiliaries in the preservation of the peace. I and those who act with me are anxious that the question should be settled in a pacific manner. The Home Secretary seems by his language to be inviting us to enter the arena; but we are not going to fall into a trap by bringing ourselves into collision with the Government. Twenty-two or 23 years ago I happened to be one of the active participators in the efforts then being made to establish for the people the right of public meeting. I know the risks which at that time some of us ran, not merely of losing our liberty, but even our lives, because the Government of the day sent thousands of troops into the park who were prepared if occasion required it—and they even sought to establish the occasion—to fire upon the people. Well, if the same necessity existed to-day, some of us would be prepared to run the same risks. But we are anxious that the question should be settled in a peaceable manner. However, as I said before, we are not going to fall into the cunning and skilfully baited trap which some have prepared in order to bring us into collision with the police. No doubt the Government would be exceedingly obliged to us if we would do something to divert the attention of our countrymen just now from their conduct in Ireland; they would be glad, in fact, to pose as the champions of law and order in London, because it would afford them an opportunity of rehabilitating their somewhat tarnished reputation. But we are not going to do it. We will wait, if necessary, for a change of Government, for I presume the Members of the present Government do not imagine that they will eternally occupy their comfortable places on the Treasury Bench. Up to the time when the Home Secretary issued his ukase the right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square had been enjoyed uninterruptedly for 40 years; and 22 years ago, at the time when the right of meetings in Hyde Park was in dispute, the Government of the day insisted that Trafalgar Square was the proper place for public meetings, and that the parks were most improper places. Well, under the impression that we still enjoyed the rights which the Government of that day admitted we possessed, the people eighteen months ago announced a meeting in the Square, and it was rather strange that the first meeting which the Government prohibited was one convened by working men to protest against the Irish policy of Her Majesty's Government. It is singular they should have selected a meeting of that character as an occasion for striking a deadly blow against the right of public meeting in the Metropolis. The right hon. Gentleman seeks now to justify his action on the ground that 12 months previously there had been a meeting in Trafalgar Square at which serious disturbances had taken place, when shops were pillaged and property destroyed. Because that meeting produced such terrible results, he seeks to justify his action in prohibiting meetings in Trafalgar Square for all time. Now, Sir, it would be interesting to know the history of that meeting at which the disturbances took place. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh was Home Secretary some of us asserted—and I repeat the charge here to-day—that that meeting was promoted for the purpose of bringing discredit upon the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. The money in connection with the meeting came from a mysterious source. We asked for a Commission of Inquiry, so as to ascertain who were the instigators of the mischief, but it was refused. I say that if the police had not neglected their duties on that occasion no trouble would have arisen; for the same dangerous element that caused those riots is always present at every Lord Mayor's Show or Royal procession. The Home Secretary has declared that the meetings in Trafalgar Square were prohibited because of the disturbance to the traffic which they caused; and that the Government are most anxious to safeguard the right of public meeting. In order to test the good faith of this statement, I suggested to the Home Secretary that the Horse Guards Parade, where there is no traffic at all, should be granted as an alternative site for meetings. After three months' deliberation the suggestion has been rejected. I admit that I made the suggestion merely with the idea of putting the Home Secretary in a corner, and of testing whether the Government are really anxious about disturbance to the traffic, or whether they wish to put down the free expression of opinion on the part of the masses of the people, for I had a suspicion that he was not as sincere in his determination to preserve inviolate the right of public meeting as we are. He refuses to grant us the use of the Horse Guards Parade, because it is surrounded by the residences of wealthy people and because it is in the centre of Government Offices which must be safeguarded. But the grounds for that refusal are an unwarrantable reflection upon the working men of London, who would, if necessary, help to safeguard the residences and offices, and we are quite as desirous as they are that they shall be properly protected. Now, therefore, we know exactly where we are; it is not the use of Trafalgar Square, but it is the right of public meeting that the right hon. Gentleman objects to. The Government have a large mechanical majority in the House. They will defeat us to-night, but, as sure as we are here, the time will come when we shall succeed in establishing the right of the people to meet in our open spaces, subject—as we have always asked the meetings should be subject—to proper regulations by the responsible authorities of the day. Thirty years ago there sat on the Throne of France a Monarch who considered he was equally entitled to do what the right hon. Gentleman has done in respect to public meeting on the part of the people over whom for the time he ruled. He prohibited a few public meetings, but it was in pursuance of his intention and desire that he lost his Throne. Let Her Majesty's Government see to it that the same disastrous result does not follow the policy they are now pursuing.


Mr. Speaker, I had not intended to interfere in this debate, as I thought that outside this House was the better place to move in this matter; but I rise for two reasons—firstly, to justify myself from a cowardly and insinuating attack levelled against me by a paper purporting to be a Liberal paper—the Daily News—this afternoon; and, secondly, in order to state that I differ in some respects from the Mover of this Amendment. I do not quite deplore the absence from Her Majesty's gracious Speech of any reference to proposals of legislation with regard to Trafalgar Square. I do not assert that it would be possible at all times and in every circumstance to hold meetings in Trafalgar Square. No sane man would propose to summon a meeting in the small hours of the morning or a meeting by torchlight without asking police protection, and giving the greatest pledges for the safety of the surrounding property. But I particularly wish to point out that great and undue importance has been attached to the mere legal side of the question, and that the popular side has been altogether forgotten. It cannot be supposed than those who now tramp the streets of London in search of employment understand the niceties of debate in Parliament, conducted solely on the legal aspect of such an important question as this. If you polled the working men's clubs in London tonight, you would find, irrespective of all that has been said on both sides of the House, that there is a feeling in the majority of those men's hearts that a hardship has been inflicted on them with regard to meeting in Trafalgar Square. I assert that in this matter I have the poor people of London at my back; otherwise it would have been impossible for me, almost single-handed, to have conducted this agitation to the point at which it has now arrived, and to have been able to stand to-day in a vastly changed position from that which I occupied 13 months ago. There sit on the Ministerial side of the House many representatives of the nobility and aristocracy of the nation. There is an ancient and obsolete phrase that noblesse oblige. But how was it that, when speaking on this question 13 months ago, hon. Members so far forgot that antiquated adage as to treat in the way they did a man whom they knew had been severely injured in the Trafalgar Square meeting, and who had had the opportunity of recuperating his strength by the salutary and palatable diet extended to prisoners in Her Majesty's prisons? I venture to say that from the most violent working men hon. Gentlemen opposite would not, under the circumstances in which I stood—without ten men on my own side to back me up, and without the command of my voice—have received the unworthy treatment I received from those who should remember that noblesse oblige. Let me recur to the treatment I received from hon. Members on this side of the House, because in matters of popular rights I do not place one atom more confidence in the front Opposition bench than I do in the Conservative front bench. Was there one hon. Member, still less one right hon. Gentleman, who spoke one word in defence of popular rights before my trial? Was there one Liberal newspaper that gave one word of help on that occasion? There was a knot of earnest Liberals, a knot of Irish Members, sitting beside me when I addressed the House who did extend to me their support; but had you not yourself, Sir, with that fairness which has ever characterized you when popular rights are being discussed, obtained a hearing for me, I fancy that the House of Commons, the Representatives of the British nation, the House which exists for the benefit of the poor of this country, would have refused me the opportunity of justifying my action in standing up for popular rights when they were attacked. Now, too much importance has been attached to the fact that two meetings convened in Trafalgar Square resulted in unfortunate occurrences. I deny that such a thing as a monster meeting in proportion to the population has been held in London since the meeting convened by Ernest Jones on Kennington Common. The population of the Metropolis is 5,000,000, but the largest public meetings have seldom or ever attained 80,000 or 100,000 men. If the people of London met on the same scale as the citizens of Dublin the numbers would be 200,000 or 250,000; and if such a gathering took place I submit to Her Majesty's Government that it would be impossible to dragoon the people of London out of what they consider to be a popular right. It is not the deprivation of the right which rankled in the hearts of the people; it is the broken heads, the curses, the bad usage to which men, their wives, and even their children have been subjected, not only at the meeting to which special reference has been made, but in the long course of meetings held during the past 15 months. It is absolutely idle to deny that public meeting in the abstract has not been interfered with. I challenge the Home Secretary to justify himself and his police for the action they took on Sunday in violently dispersing a meeting on the Thames Embankment, and afterwards in Hyde Park. If that does not constitute an attack on the right of public meeting, I should like to know what does. There is an aspect of the question on which I should like to touch before I conclude. The hon. Gentleman who immediately preceded me (Mr. Cremer) took great credit to himself in having acted, together with his colleagues, in restraining the people of London during the last 18 months. He certainly did restrain; he acted as a drag upon the people; and a proposition that fell from him exceedingly amused me. He advanced the somewhat astonishing theory that the men who assembled on the Horse Guards Parade in no wise envied the wealth of their richer fellow-citizens. I suppose that, speaking as a working man, he considered that the wealth that he and his colleagues create should be for ever absolutely at the disposal of those classes to which he referred. But to return to the subject more directly before us, let me ask if hon. Members think that the action of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney (Sir C. Russell) was dictated out of pure goodness of heart and from a wish to uphold the right of public meeting that he has not hitherto shown much alacrity in defending? I rather think that certain meetings that have been recently held in the Metropolis, and especially a certain passage of arms between the hon. and learned Gentleman and myself, in which I have been able to rout the hon. and learned Gentleman, horse, foot, and artillery, is the cause which has brought him upon his legs in the House this afternoon. I remember the time when the hon. and learned Gentleman brought all the heavy artillery of his legal logic to bear against Mr. Hyndman, Mr. Champion, and others, who defended themselves, and when, by every artifice of the law, and with all the power of the Government of the day at his back, he sought to obtain a conviction against those men. Because a few panes of glass were broken and a few geese and turkeys were stolen by starving men on one occasion in 1886, when London, through the negligence of the Government, was undoubtedly in the possession of the mob for several hours, that afforded no just ground for suppressing the meeting in Trafalgar Square in which I had the honour to take part. I remember a certain speech made by the noble Lord the Member for West Birmingham. [Laughter.] I am reminded that my description "noble Lord" is a little premature; but the right Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), after his return from his negotiation of an unsuccessful Fisheries Treaty, said that if such a meeting as that in Trafalgar Square had been held in America, it would have been dispersed vi et armis. No doubt that might be so, for in America the plutocrats are powerful. I had intended to address a most earnest appeal to the right hon. Gentleman for Mid Lothian had he remained in his place. I had intended to invite the right hon. Gentleman to stand up in the House and say a word for us on this London question. In a speech which that right hon. Gentleman made in Nottingham only six weeks before the meeting in Trafalgar Square, he said that if the English democracy did not take matters in regard to Ireland in hand the same state of affairs would arise here in London. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the same state of things did not arise in London November 13, and why it was that his Michelstown gun was, so to speak, spiked? Why was all the eloquence which the right hon. Gentleman bestowed on the democracy nullified? Because the people of this country saw that he was not acting on principle, but from political bias. I do not wish to say one discourteous word of the right hon. Gentleman; but I think that the great popular cause which is at stake is far more important than the feelings of one man, however eminent he may be. Now, I have to justify myself against an attack which I characterize as cowardly. The Daily News to-day, in a leading article directed to certain meetings that have recently been held in in the Metropolis, advised the people of London to confide themselves to the careful and caatious counsels given to them by their own Members rather than to follow the rash advice given them by such men as Messrs. Graham and Conybeare. [Laughter.] That may seem a legitimate subject of laughter, but I ask any hon. Member where he has heard of me giving advice that was either inflammatory or in the least intended to provoke a breach of the peace? I have, on the contrary, in season and out of season, stood forward to restrain them; and I will be no party to push unarmed men forward to be decimated, perhaps, by grape shot. Whatever Government are in power, if a collision occurs with the police, and people are again killed by the police, the plutocrats and aristocrats, who alone hold the power in this country, will bear them out in any acts of barbarity they may commit, and those who like myself stand up in the House of Commons and ask for vengeance for the blood that has been shed will be howled down by the one Party in the House and deserted by the other.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury E.)

I am not going to arrogate to myself the enormous power over the working classes of the Metropolis which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cuninghame Graham) does although I must say, that for a number of years I have received some exhibitions of their confidence. I think that if the hon. Member for Northwest Lanarkshire wanted to be fair, he should have mentioned that one of the ablest speeches in defence of the right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square was made by the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney, over twelve months ago, when he brought forward a Motion on the subject. And personally I am glad to recognize the sincerity of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, although the last speaker has thought himself entitled to call it in question. But let me bring the discussion back to the Amendment before the House. I think the speech of the Home Secretary was one of the most unhappy that we could possibly have had delivered on this question. We have had learned Gentlemen differing this afternoon as to what is the proper construction of the Police Regulation Act, but, after all, we have to advance this question a stage beyond that point. The proposition laid down by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green requires to be answered by the representative of the Ministry who next speaks; you should declare by Statute that meetings in Trafalgar Square are either distinctly illegal or perfectly legal. We should then know where we are. If it should be decided that such meetings are not legal, the people of London could agitate to obtain a statutory right to meet in Trafalgar Square similar to that which they now enjoy in regard to Hyde Park. Now let me say that we cannot properly compare the meetings of 1886 with that of November, 1887, because there is a fundamental difference between them. The unfortunate circumstances which arose out of the meetings in 1886 arose after the speakers had begun to separate, in fact, after the meeting was supposed to be over. Then came that exodus from the Square, which would not have had the unfortunate consequences which attended it if the police had done their duty. But the conditions of 1887 were quite different; the people were not allowed to approach the Square for the purpose of holding their meeting, their processions were met a distance from the Square, at Bloomsbury on one side, at Westminster Bridge on the other. It was at a distance from the announced place of meeting that the police set upon the people, and an unfortunate collision, for which the police are responsible, took place. So you have no right to say that any riot was the outcome of the meeting called for November 13, 1887. You never allowed the people to assemble; you met the people's processions at considerable distance from the Square with a considerable force of police, and with undoubted military strategy, for which Sir Charles Warren can have all the credit he deserves; you dispersed bodies of unarmed citizens while proceeding to the exercise of their accustomed right, under leaders accustomed to address such meetings in the place proposed. I will not accuse the Home Secretary of equivocation; but there is something very much like equivocation in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He seems to think that after a considerable period of user of the Square for meetings you can satisfy the people that the user is gone because the Chief Commissioner issued a proclamation or notice denying that right. But that will not satisfy the people. Suppose the whole of your argument is good, that Trafalgar Square is not a good place for meetings; for the sake of argument I yield all you demand upon that point; you must not suppose that the people are going to allow this privilege which they have used for a number of years to be taken away, simply on the ipse dixit of the Chief Commissioner of Police for the time being. If you want to take the privilege away, if your argument is good that the place is the most unsuitable in London for the purpose, then by all means follow out your opinion, but at the same time do have some little respect for something approaching Constitutionalism as we understand it in this country; take some other course than merely placarding the walls with the word of the Chief Commissioner for the time being. That mere action is enough to irritate any population, even supposing you are right in your opinion. I desire, in common with the other Liberal Metropolitan Members, to use whatever influence we have to induce the people to wait and fight out this question on Constitutional lines, but we have received no assistance in that endeavour from Her Majesty's Government. It is all very well for the Home Secretary to quibble over the case of Mr. Saunders. It was the best case we had, because the ques- tion of riot was in no way mixed up with it. In other and previous cases before he police courts, there were forcible attempts made to hold a meeting, but these arose entirely out of the case of Mr. Saunders, and therefore we thought it a good case upon which to raise the right of public meeting, Mr. Saunders entered the Square, began to speak, was arrested immediately, and went to the police station, and so arose a case favourable for a decision as to the legitimate right we claim of open-air public speaking in the Square. The Home Secretary says—"You can go to the Square, any of you who think we are wrong, and thereupon bring an action if you are interfered with." But how are we to raise such a case? I hope the Attorney General will address himself to this point. How are we who want the question settled peaceably, who wish to prevent anything like a collision between the authorities and the people—how are we to get a case upon which to challenge a judicial decision in the Courts? Suppose we call a meeting there tomorrow, immediately you take precautions to stop it, and if we have people around us whom we could not control, there would be a collision between them and the police; and then, again, the old question of riot and resisting the police comes forward. I do not profess to be a lawyer, and am looking at this as a layman merely. The Attorney General will admit, I think, that if you have the question of riot introduced, the point at once becomes complicated, and you cannot get that clear decision on the right of meeting which we desire to raise. I know of a case identically the same, in another part of the United Kingdom, when a friend of mine sought to raise the point we desire to raise, but I saw at once he had complicated his position by resisting the police in the execution of their duty; and, I suppose, the reason I escaped, was because I did not resist the police. I hope the Attorney General clearly understands we want this question settled in a peaceable manner; we are prepared to receive a judicial decision, but we are not prepared to take the people to Trafalgar Square, and allow you to use physical force against them, and then say that we had a lot of roughs and created disorder, when we induced a body of respectable persons to demonstrate their position. It is a disgrace to London to see the way in which such large bodies of police are marched to public meetings. I presided the other day at a meeting on Clerkenwell Green, and somebody present counted the number of police on the ground. I have spoken often on Clerkenwell Green, and so have many of my friends near me—it is not, perhaps, the sort of thing Members opposite are in the habit of doing—still, acting within our right, we have done it. It was a cold night, about a fortnight ago, and there were enough police present to make in themselves a large meeting. Since 1887 this practice of drafting off bodies of police to attend public meetings has been going on. I first noticed it at a meeting I attended at Wood Green, one of the first of a series of meetings held to make public protest against the Coercion Act, and there quite an army of police were present, surrounding the doors of the assembly room where the meeting was held. Since then we have become used to the practice in London, and I suppose it will continue until we get rid of the present Government, "a consummation devoutly to be wished." That is the task we shall set ourselves, and the challenge taken up this evening will help us towards that desired end. Just a word in reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Beading. He spoke of a big petition signed largely by a number of workmen living in the neighbourhood of Trafalgar Square, and it would be instructive to hear where this large number of workmen live in the vicinity of Trafalgar Square. I will allow there are two blocks of model dwellings—though they are a considerable distance away—but elsewhere I do not know where you will find these working-class residents. I am not speaking of traders and persons of leisure. It seems to me very strange that to present this London petition recourse should be had to the hon. Member for the distant constituency of Reading, when hon. Members opposite are proud of reminding us that their Metropolitan representation is five times the strength of ours. Were there no colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury to present this Petition against holding meetings in Trafalgar Square signed by working men of that neighbourhood? Possibly, if one of these hon. Members had done so, it would have provoked the expression of a strong counter feeling among his constituents. We have seen the defence of the Government action comes not from Metropolitan Conservative Members, but from the hon. Member for Beading. Is that because hon. Members knew there is a strong and determined feeling on the part of the superior minded working classes in the Metropolis to obtain back again for themselves the right of user of Trafalgar Square for public meetings? They know that large members of working men, while they are not prepared to place themselves in collision with the authorities, wish, by Constitutional means, to effect this purpose, and there is evidence that they will carry out their desire. The whole debate, so far as it has proceeded upon the other side, has been most discouraging to us; but if you think you will get rid of this question by simply telling us that certain clauses of the Police Regulation Act give the power of absorbing this use of the Square which has been enjoyed by the people for a long series of years, let me tell you, you entirely fail to satisfy us and a very large number of persons outside. We want to see, we hope to see, that question settled in a way satisfactory to everyone, and I am sure the only way of a reasonable compromise is that which we have offered again and again, that the right of meeting in the Square should be recognized, duly regulated, and under proper control, so that all who desire to legitimately use the Square for a meeting should have the opportunity of doing so. Even now, before this debate closes, it is not too late for Her Majesty's Government to say something of a conciliatory character on this question. I am sure it would be worth their while, even if they cannot agree with our offer. They might offer something which would be considered a little more conciliatory than anything we have had from them up to the present. The allusions to meetings in "Dod Street" and in "Seven Dials" have no relation to the case. Those are thoroughfares, and no one can for a moment say that "Seven Dials," where Temperance speakers and street preachers have set up their little stands, comes within the category of open spaces, and is the sort of place to hold a big meeting. In Trafalgar Square you have quite different circumstances: it is an open space. Technically, it is a thoroughfare, but practically it is not so, and it is fully suited for the object for which it has been used in times gone by, and for which it will have to be used again. Her Majesty's Government must be prepared to hear of this Trafalgar Square question over and over again, so long as they keep their present position. We are determined, even if we lose the right of meeting there, that that right shall not be taken away from the people on a warrant or notice issued by the Chief Commissioner of Police for the time being. We are determined not to lose the right; and I ask the Government if they are disposed to offer us the opportunity of a settlement by the discussion of a Bill, or in a Constitutional manner? We shall continue to admonish the people to be patient, we shall educate the people—though they scarcely require that—to wait patiently for the time when the Government will have to give the opportunity for the expression of that displeasure at the Government's action in regard to Trafalgar Square, which the people will not hesitate to express.

* MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

rose to continue the debate.

An hon. MEMBER called attention to the fact that there were not 40 Members present. The House was counted, and 40 Members were found to be present.


It was not my intention to take part in this debate, and I do not think I should have done so, but for the amazing speeches of the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. C. Graham). I feel that my position in regard to this question is a somewhat peculiar one, and I am, therefore, compelled to trespass for a few moments upon the time of the House. In the first place, I defy any Member of the Government or any hon. Member on the Ministerial side of the House to point to anything in my past political career which can justify the assertion that I have ever promoted meetings in the open air which have led to disturbance or have been likely to cause disorder. But I have been concerned in some of the largest open air meetings which ever took place in this country, and they have been altogether free from anything like annoyance, riot, or disturbance. So far as the meetings in Trafalgar Square are concerned, I may inform hon. Members opposite that they have been witnessed with approval by most of the residents from the balconies and windows of their houses. I am by no means anxious that there should be any disturbance in Trafalgar Square at this moment—not that I am anxious that there ever should be, but I am specially anxious that under existing circumstances no disturbance should take place there. The speeches of the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Lanarkshire seemed to me distinctly to invite a meeting in Trafalgar Square, in order that it may be put down.


I do not think that the hon. Member is fairly construing my remarks. I think my remarks were calculated to invite people not to assemble in Trafalgar Square.


I was obliged to put my own construction upon the words of the hon. Gentleman, and I considered that the whole tone of the speech invited a meeting, especially when it is taken in connection with that of the Home Secretary. I must say that the Home Secretary has taken up a peculiar position for a lawyer to take—namely, that the citizens of this country have no rights except those which are given to them by Statute. I do not profess to be a Constitutional lawyer, nor do I profess to be a lawyer at all; but I have dipped into some law books in my time, and I have endeavoured to find out what the rights and duties of a citizen are. It is a somewhat complicated subject; but, as far as I have been able to find out, I believe that a citizen is entitled to do whatever he is not prohibited from doing, either by Common Law or by Statute. The majority of the rights we enjoy as citizens are not rights which are laid down either by Statute Law or by Common Law, but are—although the phrase is often sneered at—the natural rights of every citizen. I shall be very much astonished if the Attorney General supports the statement of the Home Secretary that user does not give a right of meeting in a particular place. The right of meeting in Trafalgar Square goes back certainly 40 years. A meeting there was proclaimed by a Conservative Government in 1866, but that proclamation was not enforced, and was practically withdrawn, as the proclamation was abandoned and the meeting was held. Under those circumstances, the working men were justified in believing they had a right to meet in Trafalgar Square; and, that being so, they ought to have been dealt with tenderly. Both the Home Office and Scotland Yard ought to have been careful how they disturbed such meetings. The position of the working men is strengthened by the fact mentioned by the hon. Member for Haggerston, that the meetings which preceded the one which was interfered with by the police were got up with money supplied by liberal-minded Members of the Conservative Party, who seem to have supplied both of the sections with money on that occasion. The natural consequence was disturbance and riot, and then came proclamations forbidding the holding of what had hitherto been regarded as perfectly legal, lawful, and peaceable meetings. Perhaps I may say that, although my name has been connected with the meeting which took place, in which Trafalgar Square was referred to the other night, and although I have been identified with meetings of the working classes in the Metropolis for more than 30 years, yet I never, under any circumstances, sanctioned by my presence or by my voice a meeting on a Sunday. Therefore I did not approve of the meeting which took place on that fatal Sunday; but I maintain that those men who went there, believing that they were acting legally, ought not to have been treated with violence by the right hon. Gentleman opposite who says he is as anxious as we are to protect the right of public meeting in the Metropolis. As regards the present position of the question, it is a difficult and complicated one. We have endeavoured to advise the peaceable working men of London not to attempt under the existing circumstances to hold a meeting in Trafalgar Square, lest there should be a conflict with the police. Yet we have been classed by the right hon. Gentleman with those who have hounded the people on to such meetings.




That was certainly the impression left on my mind. The Metropolitan Members have all prayed their friends to keep quiet under existing circumstances. We know that there are persons who hound the people to go into Trafalgar Square and hold meetings, and the only reason why a great demonstration is not called there is that they have not the pluck to go by themselves, but wait until some Metropolitan Liberal Member will head them. As far as we are concerned, however, we do not intend to place ourselves in the position of leading a mob to Trafalgar Square; we say, let those who want such an assemblage, or a conflict with the police, head such a procession; for my own part I wash my hands of it. But I must say that, if the Home Secretary's words meant anything at all, they were an invitation to the people to go to Trafalgar Square.


The hon. Member must have misunderstood me. What my words were intended to convey was, that it is open to anyone who wishes to bring an action to do so.


I suppose I must be somewhat obtuse, for I am unable to see the difference between the position the right hon. Gentleman now takes up and that which he assumed a short time ago. I would ask how is it possible, under the circumstances, to bring an action? The only course we can conceive has been taken. The police block the Square, and will not allow anyone to go through; so that the only way in which persons can get into the Square to hold a meeting is by hustling the police, in which case they would be accused of attacking them; so that, instead of the question being one as to the right of public meeting, it becomes a mere charge of assaulting the police. I know the matter is a somewhat difficult one, and am anxious that by something said, either in or out of this House, some course may be taken that will enable us to try the right of public meeting, without coming into unnecessary collision with the police or the military authorities. It seems to me that some easy solution of the question might be found. The right hon. Gentleman paid a compliment to the working men in saying they were not anxious, to promote disorder, and anyone knowing the history of the move- ment in London will thoroughly endorse that statement. I think that the Government might put this question at Test, either by framing regulations to be observed in regard to meetings in Trafalgar Square, or by bringing in a Bill on the subject. It seems to me that the Police Acts that have been referred to have been looked up after the occasion, as we never knew them to be relied upon before; and certainly they were not the Acts cited by the Home Secretary in the first instance. The first contention put forward was that Trafalgar Square was the private property of the Crown; but I suppose the Home Secretary could not well reconcile that with the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman sitting on the same Bench with him. When the question of the semi-disorderly meetings which preceded the suppressed meeting arose, and there was some fear of a conflict, the First Commissioner of Works was asked a Question in this House, and in reply to that question, he said he had not the power to interfere, and then added that if he had the power he had not the will. This was practically giving to the working classes of London, and to the "fringe" spoken of by the Home Secretary, an invitation to make Trafalgar Square a kind of home. That invitation did not come from the Liberal Members: on the contrary, it was deprecated by them, just as they would deprecate any thing tending to bring the people and the police into collision. But since the Government will not accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Haggerston (Mr. Cremer), and will do nothing to facilitate a settlement of this question in a Court of Law, they are, I maintain, in duty bound, as the upholders of law and order, to bring in a measure dealing with the subject. I would, before concluding, accentuate the remarks of my hon. Friend as to the attitude taken in 1886, believing that it deserves to be accentuated, because it arose in this way. We were told we had a right of meeting in Hyde Park and some of the other parks of the Metropolis, and we certainly now possess the right; but we had to fight for it continuously until the concession was obtained. Prior to this, however, we were told by the then Conservative Government that we had no right of meeting in the parks, though we had the right of meeting in Trafalgar Square. Under all these circumstances, and in view of all these contradictory statements by Members of Conservative Governments, we say it is the bounden duty of the present Government, before some great catastrophe takes place, to endeavour, and that promptly, to settle this important question.


I must say that I do not share the opinions of some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House as to the attitude the Government have taken on this question. I am not disappointed at being met by a simple non possumus on the part of the Government; it is exactly what I expected; and, had they taken any other line, there would have been grounds on my part for surprise. I congratulate the Radicals of the Metropolis on the success of their recent action in having procured a whole evening for the discussion of this important subject. It is less than a week since a convention or conference of the Radical Clubs of the Metropolis met to consider their future action on this matter. We had there the Metropolitan Members represented by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill), the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. O. V. Morgan), and the hon. and learned Member for Hackney (Sir C. Russell), who has spoken with such force to-night, and has put to the Home Secretary questions which he cannot answer; and the result has been that we have brought this question into the front rank, and at the same time have stimulated into a more active frame of mind the representatives of Liberalism and Radicalism in the Metropolis. The question is not whether Trafalgar Square is the most convenient place of meeting; it is as to what are the Constitutional rights of the citizens of London; and the Government may rest assured that, as previous Tory Home Secretaries have been signally defeated on this question, so, likewise, will they be, whether in a Court of Law or elsewhere. The last time this question was brought prominently forward was when Hyde Park was won for the right of public meeting on the part of the people. It is not quite accurate to say, as some have said, that it was won by the passing of the Parks Act. If I recollect aright, the Parks Act Was not passed until some years later, 1872. The fight was really won when our forefathers tore down the railings of Hyde Park. [Mr. J. ROWLANDS: Tour forefathers are now in the House.] Yes. I am glad to think so, and I hope they will stand by us now when we try to assert the right of free speech, though we cannot by any possibility do it in the same fashion, because Trafalgar Square could easily, being a comparatively small space, be occupied by police and soldiery, and rendered impregnable against unarmed men. I, for one—and I think I have a right to protest against the slanders which have been showered upon me—have never; counselled the people of the Metropolis to rush upon the batons of the police in Trafalgar Square. I have taken an active part certainly, but not a violently active part in certain meetings held on Saturday afternoons, last summer, and in connection with one of which a case came before the magistrates. And I have deemed it my duty to come forward in assertion of the right of free speech and free public meeting, both in this House and elsewhere; and I defy the Daily News, or any other paper, or any other person or politician, to charge me with having incited the crowd in London to violent attacks upon the police, or to throw themselves upon the bludgeons of the police in Trafalgar Square. I took part in the Conference to which I have already referred; but, far from sharing the views which some were prepared to advocate in that Convention, I gave advice of an opposite character, and it was upon my suggestion that the hon. Members for the Metropolis brought the matter forward this evening in the way in which they have done. [A laugh.] Hon. Members may sneer, but I decline to be bound by a merely geographical interpretation of my Parliamentary duties. Now, the Home Secretary has made a series of comments which are not warranted by the facts as they exist. He has, with a degree of assurance which would be surprising in anyone else, charged us with being afraid to try the issue involved in this case. It is a little too bad that the right hon. Gentleman, having commenced his speech with a criticism of that kind, should wind up by comparing honest artizans and mechanics of the Metropolis to vultures and birds of prey, and that he should use other insulting language with respect to them. With regard to the legal aspect of the question, the right hon. Gentleman says there have been some 20 opportunities when we might have tried the question. There have not been 20, but there have been a certain number, of every one of which we have availed ourselves, and that in spite of repeated obstacles, which I charge the Government with having deliberately thrown in our way, and through which we have not yet succeeded in getting this question tried upon its merits. We have been thwarted, so to speak, by the most miserable and pettifogging quibbles which could possibly be suggested by a third or fifth rate lawyer. I ventured to ask the Home Secretary his authority for still continuing the illegal proclamation of Sir Charles Warren, and he replied it consisted of the decisions of Justices Charles, Wills, and Grantham. But those judgments were directed, not to the legality of the proclamation, nor even to the question whether there is any right of meeting in Trafalgar Square; and what we desire is that the case should be tried upon its merits, and not upon any bye issue. Let us see what those cases were. In the first, the decision of Mr. Justice Charles was given in the case of the Queen against Mr. Cuninghame Graham, arising out of the fatal meeting on the 13th November, and which will cause the day to be known in history as "Bloody Sunday." I contend that if the police had not been there, and there had been no illegal attempt to disperse a perfectly orderly and peaceable meeting, there would have been no disturbance. And the disturbance thus illegally occasioned by the Government prejudiced the whole issue, for the charge against my hon. Friend (Mr. Graham) on that occasion was that he had participated in an unlawful assembly, and on that charge he was sentenced, being acquitted on the charge of riot. But even were our right to meet in the Square admitted by all, that same charge might have-arisen in the event of a disturbance, from whatever cause, taking place; and, therefore, supposing Mr. Justice Charles, in summing up on the question whether, owing to the disturbance, my hon. Fiend had taken part in an unlawful assembly, had said anything about the question of the right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square, it would have been a mere obiter dictum, and would not have had the slightest weight as a judicial decision, and the Home Secretary must know that quite as well as myself. I maintain that there is no more right to interfere with a meeting of working men in Trafalgar Square than there is to interfere with a meeting at any club, unless a dangerous disturbance arises, and then in both cases it might become the duty of the police to interfere. I come now to the Judgment of Mr. Justice Wills and Mr. Justice Grantham. In that case my friend Mr. Dillon Lewis had the courage to come forward in defence of the public rights. And I think every citizen owes him a debt of gratitude for the unselfish devotion with which he has fought this question. The Home Secretary has told us that in that case the Judges decided that there was no right to hold a meeting in Trafalgar Square. That is not so. That question was not raised and argued on its merits—at any rate, no binding decision was given upon it, for in their Judgment the Judges distinctly state, "We abstain from pronouncing a Judgment on the right of public meeting, which we think it is not for us to decide." Therefore, whatever opinion they may have expressed in that case, it was, as in the case of Mr. Cuninghame Graham, a mere obiter dictum, which is not entitled to be considered as a judicial decision. The charge preferred by Mr. Lewis was a charge of conspiracy against the police and the Home Secretary to prevent the people from exercising their just and acknowledged rights. The precise charge was that of conspiring by unlawful violence and unlawful means to prevent Her Majesty's subjects from exercising their lawful rights; to injure and annoy the people, and to deprive them of their just rights, thereby endangering the public peace. And I think the following facts upon which Mr. Dillon Lewis framed his charge will, in the opinion of most people, amply justify his action. I am reading from the sworn information of James Parker, of 51, Southampton Street, Camberwell, who states that A body of police—some 12 or 15 of the N Division stationed at the Obelisk, marched for- ward and placed themselves in front of us, and several others marched by the side of the processions, and attempted to push members of the processions out of position and to get into the processions.… It was about four o'clock, and the several processions which I and the other four officers hereinbefore mentioned were leading, were at the foot of the Surrey side of Westminster Bridge, when one of the police constables who had followed at the side of the processionists and had made himself conspicuous by pushing against them and trying to force himself into their ranks, said to the Police Constables near him, 'Now the b—'s will be sent back quicker than what they came.' When we arrived at the centre of the bridge a mounted patrol rode up from the Middlesex side and gave some orders to a policeman, who seemed to be in command of the police who were accompanying our processions, and the man who received the orders said to him in reply, 'Good God, are we to do that?' The Patrol replied, 'That's your orders.' The processions continued on until we arrived at the rests in Bridge Street, when the processions wheeled round between the two rests, and the head of the procession so faced the police, mounted and foot, that were drawn up, to the number of some 300 to 400, at the corner of, and stretching across, Parliament Street from one side to the other, with the obvious purpose of preventing any of the public passing up and through Parliament Street. I put my hand gently on the head of one of the horses for the purpose merely of asserting my legal right not to have the passage over a public highway barred to me, and asked to be allowed to pass through Parliament Street, whereupon I was immediately struck with their fists by two police constables, and thereupon immediately the whole of the police constables on foot drew their staves and commenced a violent and indiscriminate attack upon the members of the procession, beating them over their heads and bodies without provocation of the slightest kind. In particular, I saw one police constable strike a man named John Simpson over the shoulders with his truncheon, and kick him in the back as he was going away from him after being struck. Simpson had done nothing, and was walking quietly immediately in the next rank to me. Simultaneously with the assault on the people by the foot police, the mounted constables charged the processionists, knocking down and riding over them, and I saw one mounted policeman ride a woman down deliberately and ride over her. I and others assisted to pick her up, and she stated she had just been to St Thomas' Hospital to visit her husband, who was an in-patient there. The police also knocked down an old man, who told me he had been a soldier and had fought under Sir Charles Warren. I appealed to Superintendent Dunlop, who was in command there, to call his men off, and I would take the procession another way, and the head of the procession by my instructions moved towards Storey's Gate. The circumstances are of so extraordinary a nature that one would scarcely imagine they could occur in a civilized country. One would imagine one was reading a description of the Peterloo massacre or some of the outrages which hare disgraced the Government of Ireland at the present day. But the fact is, that I have been reading the sworn testimony of one of those who was present on this particular occasion in Parliament Street within a few hundred yards of this building. And I would ask the House particularly to notice that this was not a meeting that was being held in a disorderly fashion, or even in disobedience to an illegal police proclamation. It was a peaceable and perfectly legitimate procession, as to the regulation, but not the suppression, of which the Police Act contains specific provisions. Mr. Lewis applied for a warrant against Sir Charles Warren, the Home Secretary, and the Chief Commissioner of Works. The magistrate refused to grant the summons, and Mr. Lewis was compelled to go to a Superior Court and ask for a mandamus to compel the magistrate to grant the summons. The decision of Justices Wills and Grantham was not that there was no right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square. They declared that that question was not before them, and the only question they did decide was that the magistrate having exercised his jurisdiction, it was not competent for them to review it, however wrongly it might have been exercised. My contention, however, is that the decision of the Superior Court was wrong, and that the Judges had the right to interfere. For in refusing to grant a summons, the magistrate did not exercise his jurisdiction in such a manner as to oust the right of appeal. I hope that after this explanation we shall hear no more from the Home Secretary or from the Front Bench that the question at issue in that case was the question of the public right of meeting in Trafalgar Square, and that it was decided against us by the Judges. I may add to what I have said in this connection that if the magistrate—Mr. Vaughan—had granted the summons Mr. Lewis would have insisted, under the Vexatious Indictments Act, on being bound over to prosecute. In the case of Mr. Saunders, that gentleman went deliberately to Trafalgar Square, by a sort of arrangement with the police, and allowed himself to be technically assaulted in order that he might bring a specific case to trial. I hold in my hand a report of the proceedings before Sir James Ingham, the magistrate, who dismissed it, because, forsooth, Mr. Saunders, who used to be a Member of this House, did not use violence enough. Mr. Corrie Grant, the able advocate of Mr. Saunders, asked that the case might be dealt with in such a manner as to allow of an appeal, but Sir J. Ingham refused, on the ground that he had neither assaulted nor resisted the police. And this leads me to remark upon the ridiculous position to which the Government have brought the question, in their efforts to shirk a fair decision. Mr. Saunders was put out of Court, because he would not resist the police. In Borgia's case, we are ruled out of Court because he did. In Mr. Saunders' case the question of Sir C. Warren's authority for the issue of a Proclamation was argued. Now the Home Secretary in a reply which he gave to a Question which I put to him to-day, stated that the Chief Commissioner acted under the Police Act. It is to be regretted that the right hon. Gentleman does not make his official answers square with the views of the legal advisers of the Government, for I find that in the case of Mr. Saunders, Mr. Poland distinctly stated that these Proclamations do not come under the Police Act, but that they are notices under the Common Law. It is very strange if they are notices under the Common Law that the right hon. Gentleman should come down here and say that they are authorized by the Police Act. I would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to make himself better acquainted with the contents of the Police Act. I am not surprised that he refused to read the section of the Statute when he was challenged to do so by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hackney (Sir C. Russell). That section 52 (of 2 and 3 Vic. c. 47), merely provides that the Police may "make regulations for the route to be observed by all carts, carriages, horses, and persons, and for preventing obstruction of the streets and thoroughfares in all times of public processions," not a word about public meetings in open spaces, much less about proclaiming during the sweet will and pleasure of the Police Commissioner all meetings whatever. Now I come to the Borgia case, where the unfortunate young man Borgia had his coat torn off his back and was nearly throttled by the police for merely standing by the balustrade in the Square and remonstrating against the brutal violence with which one of these moral miracles in blue threw down a poor woman. It is, by the way, a fair comment upon the equitable administration of the law, that this poor fellow was treated by the police with ferocious violence, while Mr. Saunders and myself, though we were speaking and putting resolutions, were never touched by them. In this case, as is well known, the Government promised that a case should be stated so as fairly to raise the questions at issue. On the strength of their pledge, we undertook to hold no more meetings. We have honourably fulfilled our undertaking. The Government have, as usual, basely and dishonourably gone back upon their word; and, through the Treasury Solicitor and Mr. Poland, have got a case stated, which simply prejudges the whole issue, and, as the Home Secretary has himself admitted, is simply useless for the purpose we have in view. In all these cases the Government, so far from assisting in bringing the question to an issue, have confronted us with every difficulty and obstacle that could be put in our way. We have done everything in our power to get the question tested by a competent legal tribunal, and we have been met by nothing but quibbling and pettifogging objections. And now the Home Secretary has the audacity to come and sneer at us for not having tried the case in a Court of law, because we knew we should fail. Such is the can-dour of the present Government. The Government may protest that they are in favour of public meetings in open spaces; but at the bottom of their hearts they are nothing of the kind, unless, indeed, the dames of the Primrose League choose to hold a meeting in Trafalgar Square to bolster up Coercion in Ireland, when, no doubt, the Government would do all in their power to protect them from contact with the people. The Home Secretary spun a long yarn, and went into elaborate arguments as to the right of meeting in a public thoroughfare. Now, none of us ever claimed an indisputable right of meeting in a public thoroughfare, or that we should block up Parliament Street and interfere with the ordinary course of business. What we claim is the right of meeting in open spaces, and it is that Constitutional right which the Government, in a despotic manner, are trying to deprive us of. We contend that our right to meet in open spaces in inalienable, inherent, and constitutional. Let me point out how we have been deprived of it. It is not that the Government have refused to allow a particular meeting to be held; we know perfectly well that the law permits magistrates to prevent a particular meeting, when it is believed it will cause danger to and alarm peaceable citizens. "But even then it has been expressly laid down by Chief Baron Pallis in O'Kelly v. Harvey," that A magistrate is not justified in forcibly dispersing a meeting on the ground merely that he believes or has reasonable and probable grounds for believing that the meeting was held with an unlawful intent, unless the meeting be in itself unlawful; and a plea justifying an assault on the ground that it was committed by a magistrate in the dispersing of a meeting must either allege as a fact that the meeting was unlawful, or must state facts from which its unlawfulness can be inferred. That was not however sufficient for the Government. They would not limit themselves to doing that, for they knew they could not always depend on a jury justifying their lawless attacks upon unoffending citizens. So they issued a general proclamation prohibiting all meetings that had been called, or might be called in the future. I challenge the Home Secretary and the Attorney General to point out anything in the Common Law which justifies the issue of a general proclamation of this kind. I say they have no right to deprive us of the right of public meeting, as such a proclamation enables them to do, from one end of the country to the other, for if it be lawful in Trafalgar Square, then they have equal authority to issue similar general proclamations in respect of any other open space. Then if the Common Law does not authorize this action, we are entitled to know if it is done under Statute Law. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has not cited any Statute Law. He quoted 2 and 3 Vic, chap. 47, see. 52, as his authority, but that only authorises the Chief Commissioner to prevent the obstruction of thoroughfares on the occasion of public processions, public rejoicings and illuminations. Now I wish to point out we are not contending that there is a legal right which you can point to in any particular Statute, although I believe if you refer to the Bill of Rights in the reign of William III., you will find the right of public meeting included. We however do not assert a mere right under Statute Law; we take our stand on a far higher principle, we say that we have a Constitutional right which has been sanctioned and emphasized not only by outside authority but by this House itself; indeed we say that the right is anterior to the existence of this House. For this House itself is but the product by evolution of the ancient Teutonic custom of meeting together in the open to discuss the public affairs of the Commune. I find in the Journals of the House, for November and December, 1641, a reference to this particular right, and it appears that the House itself supported the claim of the people to assemble in the open space outside the House, and discharged the constables from the duty imposed on them by the Government to disperse the people. What answer will the Attorney General be able to give on this point? There are many other authorities I could quote in support of my contention—among them the eminent jurist Storey and Lord Erskine. But I do not wish to trouble the House further. I submit that I have laid contentions before it against which the Home Secretary has not advanced and cannot advance a single argument. Now, we are anxious to have this matter settled, and I will, therefore, make this fair offer to the Government. Will you authorize me at the next meeting of the Radical Clubs to state that if we raise this question in a peaceable form by means of a technical assault you will engage that we shall have it fairly tried before a competent authority, and not be met by all manner of technical and pettifogging quibbles? I can only say that if you decline this offer we can only believe that the Government wish to shirk a fair and square decision by the Courts of the country upon the merits of the case, and if that be the case, though I should be sorry to appeal in any way to use a threat, I know enough of the public feeling out- side to be able to say without fear of proving a false prophet, that many hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House who represent Metropolitan constituencies will have at the next Election cause to regret that the Government have taken up this attitude.

* MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I should not have taken part in the debate, but for the provocation given by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, who, in answer to the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, did not condescend to state on what particular Statute he relied as a warrant for the proclamation issued by the Chief Commissioner. Had he done so there would have been no necessity for continuing the debate. All we have heard from him is that the proclamation was issued under 2 and 8 Vic., cap. 47, and when he was challenged as to the particular section, he made no answer whatever.


He said section 52.


I am obliged to the Attorney General for giving us this information, but I wish to point out that that section does not contain one word which could authorize the proclamation which has been issued. I am endeavouring to put my point as clearly and as distinctly as possible. I have not the advantage which the right hon. Gentleman has of being a lawyer as well as a Member of this House, but I have the advantage of being guided by Statute Law. And I may point out that the proclamation which has been issued is not a proclamation forbidding some particular meeting, because it was likely to be attended by a breach of the peace; but it was a general proclamation forbidding all persons to go in upon the Square, a proclamation applying to all meetings for all time—meetings which had been called, as well as meetings which had not been called. The Section does not authorize the prohibition of any meeting under any circumstances whatever. These are the words— The Chief Commissioner may, from time to time, and as occasion shall require, make regulations for the route to be observed by all carts, carriage-horses and persons, and for the preventing of obstruction in the streets and thoroughfares within the Metropolis in all times of public proccessions, public rejoicing and illumination; also he shall give directions to the constables for keeping order and for preventing any obstruction of the thoroughfares. Now, this really means preventing obstruction of the thoroughfare in the immediate neighbourhood of Her Majesty's Palaces, public offices, high courts, parliament, courts of law and equity, police-courts, theatres, and other places of public resort, and I suggest that the only meaning is to give the Chief Commissioner of Police such power as he ought to have for reasonable purposes. He has no power to prevent public meetings at all. There is only a power to regulate traffic, so as to prevent obstruction so far as is consistent with permitting a thing lawful to happen. Now, in answer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, the Home Secretary said the question of the right to issue this proclamation had been already decided. I venture to reply that it has never been decided; it has never been technically raised for decision; there has never been an opportunity of raising it, and the decision in the case of the Queen v. Graham was a decision solely on the question of unlawful assembly. There was another charge presented to the jury, but the jury found against that charge: which was one of riot, and I need not point out that there may be an unlawful assembly for a perfectly lawful purpose. The purpose of going into Trafalgar Square may have been, and indeed was, perfectly lawful, but the means taken to obtain the end desired amounted in the opinion of the jury to an unlawful assembly. Therefore, the decision that there had been an unlawful assembly in no way alters or affects the right of meeting in Trafalgar Square. The case of ex-parte Dillon Lewis is still farther from any decision as to the right to issue any such proclamation. It is abundantly clear that there is no power to prevent theatres being opened, although large crowds might assemble. All that is cast upon the police in con- nection with these crowds is the duty to regulate the traffic and the routes of carriages, and the direction in which pedestrians shall walk; and it never entered into human imagination until Chief Commissioner Warren issued his proclamation that anyone could do anything of this kind under this particular section. The Home Secretary, in answer to the challenge whether the Government had not permitted this question of right being tried out, said, it was perfectly open to anyone to bring an action for being obstructed in his rights—if such a right exist. I venture to say that no more ridiculous proposition was ever made. It is perfectly clear that I have a right to walk along any thoroughfare; but if it happen that I come into collision—not intentionally or in a criminal sense—with some other person exercising the same right, I have no right to bring an action against him because I have been obstructed in my right of passing along the thoroughfare. It is a most monstrous doctrine which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. It is true that, in one sense, Trafalgar Square is a thoroughfare, because there are parts of it by which persons passing along might, somewhat inconveniently perhaps, go from one street to another. But it is not entirely a thoroughfare, because the position of the Nelson monument and its pedestal is such as to prevent thoroughfare and to form a space exceedingly convenient for large numbers of persons to assemble without causing any sort of obstruction. Indeed, the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary goes the length of saying that there is no right of public meeting in this country at all. He says you have a right of public meeting in any place hired for the purpose; but let me point out that the general public have no such right, even if they pay for admission to it. The right hon. Gentleman's proposition goes to the length of preventing public meetings entirely in this country. When we wanted peaceably to try this right we were not allowed to do it, and now the right hon. Gentleman taunts us with resorting to force. It is unfortunately true that, in connection with these meetings, some men have used very rash language, which has been utilized by the Home Secretary for the purpose of preventing public meetings in Trafalgar Square altogether. If Trafalgar Square is not a proper place for holding meetings, then let the Government say so properly by statutory enactment, and let it be declared clearly. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the right of public meeting in the parks—and he especially mentioned Hyde Park—had been given us by Statute. I take leave to say I can find no such thing in any Statute. But the right hon. Gentleman will find—and I had an opportunity of arguing this point before Judges sitting on the Bench—and I had occasion to consider the point carefully when Mr. Odger and others were prosecuted—the right hon. Gentleman will, I say, find that the right of public meeting already exercised was admitted by Parliament to need some restriction, and as a consequence the right of public meeting was limited to certain parts of the parks; the right was regulated by statute law, but it was not created by it. I do not know what the Government's contention is as to the future of the right of meeting in Trafalgar Square. The inconvenience to trade about there, and to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, may be fair ground for enacting something about the right of meeting there; but it is no ground for arbitrary proclamation; it is no ground for so using the police as to aggravate the people. The people of this Metropolis have been law-abiding. The meetings which have been held in Trafalgar Square have been, with a few exceptions, orderly meetings. Huge meetings have been held there, with only such inconvenience as will always arise from the assembly of large bodies of people. If you say Trafalgar Square is a place where, under no circumstances, large bodies of people ought to assemble, that is a fair proposition to put to Parliament for consideration; but that is very different to claiming the right of the Chief Commissioner to prohibit a meeting altogether at his mere whim and fancy.

* MR. PICTON (Leicester)

Reference has been made to the 52nd section of the Metropolitan Police Amendment Act; but I venture to say that at the time that Act was passed no one concerned ever dreamt that the 52nd section could be put to the purposes to which it has been applied. I will show that, while many points in the Bill were objected to, no one ever supposed that the 52nd section could be applied as a means of interference with the liberties of the people. When the Bill was introduced, it was felt to be a very liberal measure. Captain Wood, we read in Hansard, was strongly opposed to the Bill, as it tended greatly to interfere with the powers of the police, and was in some respects of a Republican tendency. Upon the Report stage, Mr. Hume, who was then very active in Parliamentary life, objected to pay the expenses of the police out of the Consolidated Fund, and suggested that it should be an annual Vote like the Army and Navy. In that case Mr. Hume said that all discussions as to the conduct of the police could take place at the same time. This I mention to show the jealousy that was felt at the time as to the possibility of interference with popular liberty by the police. In the same month, July, 1839, while the Bill was in the Report stage, a terrible riot occurred in Birmingham, and during one of the discussions on the Bill Mr. T. Duncombe called attention to the riot, and read an extract from the morning papers as follows:— Men, women, and children were thrown down and trampled on while the police belaboured them right and left. Broken heads and arms, with other severe wounds, were the result. One man, who was returning from his work, had his teeth knocked out. The poor fellow exclaimed, 'Am I in England!' Several special constables came up at the time and expressed their horror at such proceedings. On account of what took place, several hon. Members urged strongly the necessity of the House being on its guard against the possibility of an abuse of the law. Mr. Hume saw in this occurrence an additional reason for an annual Vote, instead of a charge on the Consolidated Fund, and said that the House should have a Constitutional check over the police. Mr. William Williams said— The disturbance in Birmingham was created by the police. Now, under this Bill a person raising his arm merely to defend himself from a blow would be liable to imprisonment; and could it be supposed that the magistrates at Birmingham, under the present circumstances of excitement, would not non-suit in such a case? It will thus be seen that Members of the House of that time were on the watch against an abuse of police power, and yet, though a very large number of the clauses were keenly discussed, no one ever referred to Clause 52. Of course, they might expect that it would be made use of to prevent public meetings in time of excitement and danger. No one objected to that; but if they had thought that under the clause a proclamation could be put out indefinitely, or possibly for ever, preventing public meetings in well-known public places, I am sure someone would have criticized the clause. I heartily agree with the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) that the interpretation which finds such power in the clause is exceedingly forced, and is such a one as it requires a legal training to appreciate. I quite understand the desirability of coming to a Division as soon as possible, but at the same time the matter under discussion is one of such supreme importance to the peace and order of London in the future, that I must press on the Government the necessity of coming to some more reasonable conclusion in regard to it than they have yet done. Never in recent times, where any such question has been raised between the Government and the people, have the people come worst off in the end. I believe that the Government and the public owe a great deal to the Liberal Members for Metropolitan constituencies for the persistent and patient efforts which they have made at some sacrifice to themselves to prevent any conflict between the people and the police on this subject; but I doubt whether even those hon. Members have the power of preventing such a conflict, unless the people who believe that they have a right to meet in Trafalgar Square see some way of having it peaceably established.


Sir, I should not have attempted to infuse a little life into the very dry bones of this debate, if I had not been directly appealed to by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite. I cannot help feeling that that debate has been, to a great extent, but a re-echo of the much more animated debate which took place on the same subject last Session; and I confess myself unable to understand on what ground the question should have been raised in its present shape, or the previous discussion revived. I conceive that the position in regard to the matter has not changed, and that there is no good reason why we should reopen the question on which the House has expressed a decided opinion. I have been somewhat challenged by the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney (Sir C. Russell). I must say, however, there has been throughout this debate, and even in the able speech of the hon. and learned Member, a confusion between the right of public meeting and the right of free discussion. The House will remember the animated debate which we had on a previous occasion, as to whether Trafalgar Square is Crown property or open to the public. The whole discussion tonight has proceeded on the basis that, either by Act of Parliament, by custom, or in some other way, Trafalgar Square has become dedicated to the public. Now, I assert that if Trafalgar Square has become dedicated to the public for the purpose of the general public passing through and enjoying it, there is no legal right to occupy the Square for the purpose of public meetings. I stated in March last, in terms about which there can be no doubt, that there is no judgment or dictum to support the idea that there is a right to occupy any public thoroughfare for the purpose of a public meeting. There is no judgment which directly or incidentally recognizes any such right. This is not a question of the right of public meeting or of public discussion; it is simply a question of the place in which you are entitled to have discussion. The hon. and learned Member for Hackney has been obliged to admit that it is not a legal right that is claimed, but something that rests upon custom. Free right of access for passage negatives the right to occupy the whole space for a public meeting. The hon. and learned Member for Camborne (Mr. Conybeare) said that in the case of Mr. Saunders, Mr. Poland, who appeared for the police constables, did not rely upon the proclamation of the Commissioner, but relied upon the Common Law. But the hon. Member forgot that the notice was not that of the 18th of November, under the Metropolitan Police Act, but it was that of the 8th of November, issued with the sanction of the First Commissioner of Works, to which Mr. Poland's observations were directed. With all respect for the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), who, I must say, always argues legal points as if he had been brought up to the law, in my opinion the power given to the police to prevent obstruction will apply when the cause of obstruction is a public meeting. I expressed this opinion last year, and I believe the majority of Members who heard the discussion on that occasion were of opinion that the Commissioner of Police did not exceed his authority in taking precautions that an obstruction was prevented. If the claim made is good in the case of Trafalgar Square, it will be equally good for Waterloo Place, the Thames Embankment, the front of Buckingham Palace, Belgrave Square, Regent Street, or Covent Garden Market. This so-called right is not a right known to the law at all. But, as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary expressed it, acquiescence in an unlicensed user by a certain number of the public, in contravention of the public rights, may be permitted as long as no evil consequences are likely to follow; but when the Executive find that the result is to involve any section of the public in danger, or to tend to the public inconvenience, it is the duty of the Executive to step in and put an end to that which has been previously acquiesced in. Now, may I say that the only thing that has infused life into the debate has been the want of harmony among Members of the Opposition? I cannot join in attributing to the hon. and learned Member for Hackney the unworthy motive of desiring to reinstate himself in public favour. But still it is a little strange that the debate should have occurred just after some unfortunate discussion. Now, I think all will agree that we ought not to bring political discussion into the streets. As a practical question, regulation is futile; for we could not limit the numbers attending a meeting—indeed, the hon. Member for Lanark has spoken of the population of London warranting the gathering together of 200,000 or 250,000 persons. There must always be danger of a large mob getting out of hand, and where there is risk of danger prevention is ten thousand times better than cure. If there is any foundation for the suggestion that the riot of 1886 was promoted with the object of damaging the then Government, surely that Government might have instituted inquiry, if it was deemed necessary. Her Majesty's Government have endeavoured to do their duty, as previous Governments have done; and I believe that no substantial ground has been shown for raising the question again on this Amendment.

* MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

The Attorney General says that Trafalgar Square stands on all-fours with Covent Garden Market and the other places he mentioned. We do not think so. We conceive there is enough in the peculiarities of Trafalgar Square to mark it off for particular treatment in this matter. The Attorney General speaks of passing and re-passing, but it is ridiculous for anyone to imagine that meetings cannot be held in certain portions of Trafalgar Square without in any way materially hindering the passing and re-passing of the public. The Attorney General also uses the old argument of how many grains go to a heap, and says it is impossible to regulate the crowds who might assemble in the Square. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will read the Bill which I had the honour of bringing in last year, he will see that it is left to those guarding the public peace to remove persons who are endeavouring to attend a meeting beyond a certain prescribed space. Now, the Home Secretary made a very unwise statement considering the present state of public feeling. If the Home Secretary means that he is willing we or any person shall have the opportunity, by some means of collusion, if I may use the word, with the police, of raising the legal aspects of the question, well and good; we are ready to do that. But if he merely means that people, without any such arrangement or collusion, are to endeavour to hold such a meeting in the Square, then that means simply an invitation to create a riot. In the present state of public feeling, for any person to call a mass of people together to endeavour to carry out such a suggestion, to take up what seemed to be the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman, would be to bring the people into conflict with the police, and this is a course neither I or any other of the Liberal Members of London can advise. On the contrary, we have stood in the way of such a thing, because we do not see what good is to be gained by endeavouring to raise again the question of legality in such a manner in the present state of feeling among the people and at the Home Office because a test case, free from the complications of an unlawful meeting, could not be obtained. Our demand is a very simple one. In the name of a great number of very respectable men, we want, first, to have, if possible, some opportunity of a peaceable kind of obtaining a legal decision on the matter; in the second place, we want not so much that the right of meeting in Trafalgar Square shall be declared as that the right of the Commissioner of Police to prevent such meetings by perpetual decree shall be declared not to exist. That is the real question in the matter, but you go off into the right of public meeting, and that is not the real point. We deny that the Commissioner has this right, and declare he has acted illegally. I challenge the Government to face that point. You say, "Why do you not go to Trafalgar Square?" and some of the more energetic and less thoughtful among us would do so. We reply, "Simply because we do not desire to hurry the people of the Metropolis into violence and possible bloodshed." The Government and the Home Office have much to answer for in disturbing the peace, and not allowing this matter to be concluded. We do not wish to have our meetings interfered with by order of the police. Let them be prohibited by order of the House, or let them be permitted under proper regulations—we have nothing to reproach ourselves in making that proposition. The Attorney General says there is no ground for re-opening this question; and I say—and I speak, I believe, for the whole of the Metropolitan Members on this side—that we shall re-open it on every possible occasion, and shall continue to re-open it until we get the decision we are asking for. I am rather surprised—and I am sure it will be remarked—that no London Tory Member has spoken in this debate. We had the action of the Government supported by the hon. Member for Reading, but no Metropolitan Member has given them support. But I did not rise to prolong this discussion further, but to state distinctly what our position is. I can speak with the authority of all the London Liberal Members, and desire to point out that our action is taken upon the principle that has animated us all through—the desire that the people should not lose any cherished right we and they believe they have; and that no false rights—illegitimate rights if I may use the expression—shall be claimed or exercised by the Chief Commissioner of Police in the Metropolis; but that this matter shall be put by the Government, or, if they like it, by the initiation of a private Member of the House on some footing, so that the prohibition of these meetings by the Commissioner, by means of an universally applicable order, shall not be permitted henceforth; but that the right of meeting shall be recognized under proper regulations. We shall go to a Division on this matter, and we shall raise it again whenever we shall get an opportunity, and urge with all the force we can the same argument we have urged to night, and with, I hope, some endeavour on the part of the other side to meet those arguments a little better than they have to-night.

* MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)

My hon. Friend has clearly stated my views, but I, in common with other Metropolitan Members, must express my deep regret at the attitude Her Majesty's Government have taken up on this matter. The Government does not seem to appreciate the fact that it is a most serious question to be dealt with immediately in a serious, practical way. The Home Secretary has taunted Liberal Members for London with having headed processions, and with having done many things that they really have not done; the fact being that it is due to those Members that further disaster has not arisen with regard to this matter. The Home Secretary refuses every proposal in the direction of peace, and all the comfort we get from him is practically a challenge to hold another meeting in order to obtain a legal decision. It is clear from to-night's discussion that lawyers disagree, and I, as a layman, say, considering the serious nature of the question to be dealt with, the Government should afford facilities for obtaining a judicial decision. In times past a former Tory Government told the people that Trafalgar Square was the proper place for them to hold public meetings, and I believe I am correct in saying that, in days gone by, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has himself addressed a meeting in Trafalgar Square. To-night we find legal opinion in conflict, and Her Majesty's Government refuse to advance one step towards arriving at an authoritative decision. I fear what may result from this indiscretion; but I hope the Government, on reflection, will see their way to some action which will allay the bad feeling that has been excited. I must express my regret that no London Tory Member has spoken. Surely they are as much interested as the Liberal Members are in the peace and order of the Metropolis. The Home Secretary has said the citizens of London are a law-abiding people, and so we wish them to remain. I am sorry our Conservative colleagues do not see their way to assist us by joining in the debate.

Question put, "That the proposed words be inserted."

The House divided:—Ayes 109; Noes 188: Majority 79.—(Div. List, No. 4.)

Main Question again proposed.


I could have wished that I had not been tied to time on the important subject with which I am about to deal. I should also have liked, had it been possible, to have moved my Amendment in its original form. As however, it was not allowed to stand, I wish to express my gratitude to you, Sir, for allowing me to raise, however imperfectly, a subject of such deep importance to many of our fellow-countrymen. I feel that at half-past 11 o'clock at night, with only half-an-hour before me, it is little use to expect to be able to lay my case before the House in the way I should have liked. To many, no doubt, the question of the condition of the working classes will appear a matter hardly worthy of discussion in the House of Commons, or hardly within the province of the House of Commons to discuss; but I am bound to express my strong disagreement with any such view. No one will deny that in the midst of the great wealth of this country there exists concurrently the deepest and most intense misery. It does not need any statement from me to prove to the House the existence of great distress amongst the working classes, distress rendered all the keener by the spectacle of the riches of many of our more favoured countrymen. The measures promised in the Queen's Speech have been referred to. Well, I have read the Queen's Speech, but I fail to find in it any promise of legislation on the subject of the condition of the working classes. If we are not to have legislation from the Government on this subject, how are we to have an opportunity of discussing these matters? Private Members have no chance in obtaining a place in the ballot for it. In the past private Members have always been able to raise questions of this sort, and I do not think anyone wishes the functions of private Members to be reduced to those fulfilled by an automatic cigarette machine at a railway station. There are functions other than that of trotting into the Lobby to vote at the command of a Whip or Party Leader. Under the circumstances I think I am justified in endeavouring, even at this late hour of the evening, to bring the question of the social condition of the working classes before the attention of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has said, in a speech which has become historic, that we are all now Socialists, but as a Member of the House of Commons I do not wish that all the discussions on these questions should be left entirely to Socialist lecturers at street corners. It seems to me that the House has a duty to perform in discussing these interior affairs of the kingdom, affairs relating to poor men by whose labour we are all sustained. In this matter the House has a function to perform as important as the discussion of the recent questions of Imperial policy, and of those questions which, though perhaps more glittering and more alluring, are not so near to the people's heart as that I am now dealing with. I see from the Queen's Speech that we are to spend this year a large sum of money upon national defences. I will merely express a wish with regard to that, that after we have defended the nation in an adequate manner, and built ironclads in order to pull them to pieces again and build others in the course of a very few years, some of these huge sums of money to be expended may wander in the direction of the poor. No doubt this question of national defences is one of supreme importance to the rich. It is also of importance to those who have a stake in the country—to your landed estate holders of £50,000 or £60,000 a year, and to your great monopolists, comer- cial and otherwise; but to those whose case I am anxious to bring before the House, I am at a loss to see what interest can attach to any national defence whatever. I wish to ask hon. Gentlemen who disagree with me in this matter whether the lot of the chain-maker of Cradley Heath or of the sweated toiler in the east of London, or of the Scottish Crofter, or of the iron-worker in some of our iron factories, could possibly be more miserable under the rule of the Prussians, or under the rule of the French, than it is now? I do not think that they require any National defences. It is because there are so many men and women in this country who have nothing at all to defend that I think we should have a discussion on their condition. I suppose it is useless to expect that anything practical will result from this debate, but still we might have an expression of sympathy from this House, to which these unfortunate people look in their despair—because it is a condition of despair that is arising amongst them. According to Karl Marx, the working classes are in a desperate condition all over Europe. Railway communication, the telegraph, and other modern developments have so drawn together the working classes of every country, that for the purposes of argument, they may be considered as one vast miserable suffering family. Although considerable advances have been made in some respects, notably on the political side of the question, life has of late become more intolerable to the working classes than it has been heretofore. Mines are worked at greater depths, furnaces have become hotter, and altogether more work is exacted or extorted from the labouring classes—they have, so to speak, to bear more pressure to the square inch than was expected of them fifty years ago. I am not greatly concerned to prove that there has not been an advance in the social condition of the working classes during the past fifty years. What I am more immediately concerned with is their condition to-day; and the first reason that I shall adduce in support of my case is this, the constant presence of large bodies of unemployed workmen in every industrial centre throughout Europe. Not only in Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester, Dundee, but in Rome and in Paris, and even in such towns as Tunbridge Wells. I hold such a phenomenon, arising at the same time in so many different countries, may fairly be regarded as an indication that the commercial system under which we now live is seriously threatened, and shows symptoms of collapse It has been my unfortunate lot many times to speak of the unemployed in this House, and it has been my misfortune, moreover, never to have interested the House in their cause. No doubt the fault lay with myself; I do not accuse the House. I feel like one of the Governors of Mexico who, when Charles the Fifth asked him what he most felt when he undertook the office he held replied, "The sense of my own unworthiness." It is no light task for any young Member of this House, standing almost alone as I stand, to come before this House and ask hon. Members to consider a question so vast in its importance and so far-reaching as this of the social condition of the working classes; but I claim to be as good a patriot as any of my colleagues, and I maintain that Great Britain has always been a pioneer on all these questions. I claim that we have made greater strides towards fairly grappling with this question than any other country in the world, not even excepting the United States of America. I am not so blinded by party feeling, or so embittered by opposition, as in any way to wish that the credit of solving or of grappling with these matters should rest with any one party. I want everyone who feels the distress existing around us to add his quota to this discussion. I fear I am too sanguine, but I must express the hope that we shall have some expression of opinion from those who have grown grey in the service of the House, and know what it is to watch the economic development of the working-classes and our social system during the last 30 or 40 years. I trust hon. Members who disagree with me will approach the question with no personal bias against myself, and, approaching the question in a fair spirit of inquiry, will lend me that assistance which I should be willing to lend them if our positions were reversed. Neither the Liberal nor the Conservative Party, so far as I have been able to see, have a policy upon this question, and, so far as I have been able to perceive, the future clearly belongs to those who have a policy. Well, it must be evident to everyone that we cannot look for trade to revive in the same proportion as it has existed for the past 25 or 30 years, and it is evident that in the near future we shall be confronted with this question of the unemployed. Though we are now passing through a slightly improved period of trade, that improved period has been unable to absorb all the workmen in our industrial centres who are out of work, and, reasoning from analogy, it does not seem to me that any improvement in trade will ever be able to absorb these people. It is, therefore, evident, that we shall be perpetually confronted with this question of the unemployed. This is not a factitious question; it is not the result of a conspiracy to represent a state of facts which does not exist. Any hon. Member can satisfy himself on this point by going to the Dock Gates in the East of London, and seeing the crowd of unem- ployed struggling to get work. Take another instance—the answers received to the most paltry advertisements. We cannot insert an advertisement for the most menial employment for man or woman in a daily newspaper without receiving replies from hundreds of applicants, each ready to undersell the others, each ready to undertake work on almost any terms so that they might get work, and might know that for one night at least they had a place to lay their heads. I have said that I should wish this country and the House to endeavour to find a remedy for this state of things; but, before touching upon the remedies, it is incumbent upon me to endeavour to show that distress does exist in many trades. Distress, I maintain, exists, first, from the severe competition amongst not only the men, but the masters; and, secondly, from the uncertainty of employment. Take the case of house painters employed in London. Their work is uncertain, and for a large part of the year they are bound to remain idle. They are employed by fits and starts, and frequently have to work so hurriedly as to break down their constitutions. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers have the same complaint to make with regard to their members. There are seven or eight millions of adult male workers in this country, and of these there are out of work more or less throughout the United Kingdom some five hundred thousand. In London alone there are some forty-five or fifty thousand men out of work; and these men, it must be remembered, are a constant danger to those who are in employment, as they may at any time come to their employers and endeavour to undersell them, and take the bread out of their mouths. It has been estimated that each workman in the country produces five times as much wealth for the nation as he receives, and if that is the case it is obvious that the hours of labour can be shortened so as to give employment to larger numbers of men, without depriving any individual of the full amount of his present earnings. It passes the ingenuity of man to produce any scheme which will make the poor richer without at the same time making the rich poorer, but it is quite clear that if a workman produces five times as much as he receives, his employer receives more than he is justly entitled to. I think we may claim, therefore, that the source to which we may look to relieve the necessities of the working classes and of the unemployed is the profit of the capitalists. It has been said, and many hon. Members have accepted the proposition on both sides of the House, that rent is that which remains after the cultivator has been paid, and if that proposition is accepted with regard to rent, I think it might fairly be said that profit is that which remains to the employer after the workman has obtained a fair subsistence. I know that no side can claim a monopoly on these questions; but hitherto they have not been fairly debated at all from either side, and too many people have rashly assumed that, by attacking them with a wish to solve them, we may not only solve them, but land the working classes in a far worse position than they occupy to-day. Well, I would wish to go into the question of the hours of labour. There are many figures which I propose to refer to when I have time, by which I hope to be enabled to prove my case. All these questions, if not discussed in this House, transfer themselves to the forum of the streets, where I, in common with the Attorney General and other hon. Gentlemen, entertain the strongest wish they should not be decided. It may personally occur to some hon. Gentlemen that, if my proposition be allowed, you cannot make the poor richer without at the same time making the rich poorer, you attack vested interests and aim a blow at the root of that commercial prosperity which has always been so dear to this country.

It being now Twelve of the clock, the debate, by the Rules of the House, stood adjourned.

House adjourned at five minutes after Twelve o'clock.