HC Deb 03 June 1890 vol 344 cc1857-81

, Member for the South West Division of Bethnal Green, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the threatened interference on Saturday next with the customary right of public demonstration in the Metropolis; but the pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. SPEAKER called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen,


This is the first occasion, Sir, on which I have ventured to take the somewhat extreme step of moving the adjournment of the House. I can assure the House that I should not have done so now if I had not been firmly convinced of the extreme importance of the action proposed to be taken by the Government, which action this Motion is intended to impugn. The action of the Government is most important from two points of view: in the first place, because, whatever its intention may be, it is calculated to cause public mischief and public disorder; and, secondly, because it seems to me to be really a consistent part of the policy which has characterised the present Administration, a policy that aims at destroying piecemeal all the great rights of public meeting in this Metropolis. When large bodies of men are brought together, if the public order is to be preserved, organisation is essential, and the best security for organisation is single control and undivided responsibility. In order to attain those great objects past experience has shown the propriety and wisdom of marshalling such processions as those which are proposed to take place on Saturday next upon the Thames Embankment, in order that they may proceed from thence in one continuous course to the place of meeting, namely, Hyde Park. The action of the Chief Commissioner of Police, which, as we have just heard, has the approval of Her Majesty's Government, is calculated to interfere very materially with that undivided control and responsibility, because we are told in the letter of the Chief Commissioner that those bodies of men who propose to go to Hyde Park from the north and west portions of the Metropolis, and also to some extent the processions which are to come from the south, are not to be allowed to go to the Embankment at all, but will be required to find their way to Hyde Park by various other routes. Now, I venture to assert that a proposal of that nature is likely to lead to confusion and disorder, owing to the divergence of route, and also to the division of responsibility. In 1884, and again in 1888, large demonstrations of the kind which it is proposed to hold on Saturday took place, and all that the organisers of the present demon- stration require is that the course then pursued should be adopted now. The Chief Commissioner does not say that either in 1884 or 1888 there was any disorder. Is it true that in 1888 there was a monopoly, as he calls it, of Oxford Street? I was present at that demonstration, and I say with some confidence that there was nothing like a monopoly of Oxford Street, nor was there any material interference with the public passing along that street. And here I wish to point out that the Chief Commissioner has not been quite ingenuous or fair to the Organisation Committee in the statement contained in his letter, because he has made it appear that the Organisation Committee insisted on passing along Holborn and Oxford Street. The fact of the matter is, that the Committee were perfectly willing to make every reasonable concession in order to meet the views of the Chief Commissioner; and although the Committee first proposed to go along Holborn and Oxford Street, and would undoubtedly have preferred that route, yet, in order to meet the objection of the Chief Commissioner; they were willing to alter the route. There is, therefore, a little disingenuousness on the part of the Chief Commissioner in ignoring the concession they were willing to make. But there is something still more serious in the letter of the Chief Commissioner, having regard to the preservation of public order. He says— It is also clearly to be understood that the police will not protect or keep open a route for processions to the Embankment, but will be instructed to arrest the progress of or interrupt and divide such processions whenever and so long as may be necessary in order to allow the ordinary traffic to pass. That course was not taken in 1884 or in 1888, but on both occasions the bodies of men who were passing to the Embankment had the protection of the Metropolitan Police; and upon the present occasion the City Police have promised the protection which the Metropolitan Police refuse. It seems to me that whatever the intentions of the framers of this Order may have been, its operation will be to hold out almost an invitation for the interference of those persons who, we know, look with disfavour and hostility upon the processions of Saturday next. The intimation that the police will not afford protection to them is a distinct invitation to those who are opposed to them to bring out brewers' drays and other vehicles for the purpose of breaking up the order of procession and provoking the hostility of those who may take part in them. As to the grounds on which this rescript has been issued, the author of it lays great stress on what he calls the right of every individual member of the public to free and unrestricted passage along the public thoroughfares. To use language of that kind is to use the language of pedantry, seeing that the suggested right is interfered with every day and every hour in every day. Unless it were for the observance of mutual forbearance and the good-humoured exercise of the social virtue of give and take, the legitimate business of the Metropolis could not possibly be conducted. The Chief Commissioner himself recognises this, because in another place he says— I am not able to find in the incident of 1888 any valid grounds for asking the public, in the absence of any expressed wish on their part, to submit to such sacrifice of their rights in 1890. The words "in the absence of any expressed wish on the part of the public" are somewhat peculiar. They may suggest two questions. In the first place, what mode of expression of the public will does the Chief Commissioner require? If he will kindly indicate what will satisfy him, there may possibly be a mode of supplying the deficiency. But this further question is also suggested—has the public ever expressed a burning desire to sacrifice its convenience in order to enable persons to attend Drawing Rooms and Court ceremonials? The other day an allusion was made to the Lord Mayor's Show, and the right hon. Gentleman based the case for permitting it upon custom. It is upon custom that I mainly rely now. There has been, until the present Administration came into power, for many generations an absolutely uninterrupted custom of holding public demonstrations in the Metropolis; and if the right hon. Gentleman is to set up a custom on behalf of the Lord Mayor's Show, and to say that custom is to have no force and validity where political demonstrations are concerned, then I say that the Government are playing against the popular liberties with loaded dice. A short time ago the right hon. Gentleman referred to the statutory powers which the Chief Commissioner possesses. I do not propose to enter into any legal argument, but I will simply state what I believe to be the fact that, properly and fairly construed, these enactments were designed not to suppress, but to protect, processions. They give power to organise a demonstration, but they give no power to the Chief Commissioner to suppress, practically, the right of demonstration in London. I am not anxious, as I said, to discuss the matter from a purely legal point of view, because I know that, if popular liberties are to be taken away, there is seldom any difficulty in finding a more or less plausible pretext. I know, also, it has frequently happened that popular liberties have been destroyed in the very name of law. Another point of view from which I regard the question is, that it is a step in the progress of encroachment. It is obvious, from the very terms of the Chief Commissioner's letter, that it is not the last step, because I find this passage— I wish it to be distinctly understood that these arrangements have only been sanctioned as a special case. In conclusion, let me recapitulate the steps of progress through which the present administration have passed. In the first place, they laid an embargo upon Trafalgar Square; in the second place, they blocked up the approaches to Trafalgar Square; and now they prohibit the right of the exercise of the old custom of public demonstration through the main thoroughfares of the Metropolis. The next step, I have no doubt, will be, as is indicated by the threat in the Chief Commissioner's letter, to forbid processions altogether. And then, Sir, may come the last stage of all, which is already realized by our fellow citizens across St. George's Channel, whose happy privilege it is to be at this moment in the full enjoyment of the ultimate stage of the Government régime; the last stage of all will be to proclaim the meeting itself, and to bludgeon or even to shoot down those citizens who have the impudence to take part in it. For these reasons I think it is imperative that a protest as effective as we can make it should be entered against this gradual process of encroachment upon the popular liberties, and I beg to move the Adjournment of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)

(4.25.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

I have no doubt the fact that a great demonstration is to be held in Hyde Park on Saturday next is a most inconvenient thing for the Government to contemplate. They have, during their term of office, invariably displayed a terrible fear of the democracy. [Cries of "Oh!"from the Ministerial Benches.] Oh yes, I quite understand that; but I do not mean what you call a Tory democracy, which you have for the time being managed to manufacture for your own particular Party purposes. I am speaking of the genuine democracy, the people themselves. The honest expression of opinion on their part which you have always dreaded you dread to-day; but underneath all the efforts which you are making to stifle the expression of public opinion on Saturday next, the voice of the people will be lifted up, and the action of the Chief Commissioner, endorsed by the Home Secretary, will only have the effect of increasing the volume of sound. You have already, in fact, recruited our ranks by sending over to us people who were at first scarcely as strong as we could have desired—weak-kneed brethren, who were somewhat halting between two opinions. You have managed to brace them up and strengthen them, and the only result of your interference and attempt to stifle this honest expression of opinion on the part of the people will simply be to give increased volume and force to our demonstration. During their term of office the Government have invariably displayed a great dread of popular opinion, except when it has expressed itself in the endorsement of the course they have pursued, and that has been very seldom indeed. The demonstration on Saturday next is one which the people out of doors are looking forward to with very great interest. I do not mean the publicans and sinners. They are dreading the result of that demonstration, but I mean the people themselves, who are anxious to protest against the proposals of the Government to endow the publicans and to give them a permanent interest in their licences. I am very glad to say that up to the present time we have always avoided any collision between the police and the people when we have been met in a spirit of fair-play by the Government. In fact, when you have left us alone, we have managed to preserve the peace, but when you have attempted to divert our processions into back streets where no one can see them, the peace has not always been preserved. The object of the Government on the present occasion is to send the people through back streets where nobody can see them. When left alone we have always conducted our proceedings in an orderly manner. No communications were addressed to the Times, the Standard, or the other reactionary journals, complaining that the public convenience suffered in consequence of the demonstration of 1888. That demonstration having passed off in such an orderly and peaceable manner, we selected the same route for the demonstration of next Saturday. Now, for the first time, the Chief Commissioner of Police is setting himself up as the authority to select the routes through which processions shall pass. The police never attempted, except in regard to two or three very recent instances of very small demonstrations, to interfere with the routes of processions, but left them to be arranged by the promoters themselves. One would have thought that out of courtesy the Chief Commissioner would have sent his letter first to those to whom it was addressed, and invited them to sit down with him to discuss the desirability of changing the route, so that an amicable understanding might be arrived at. Nothing of the kind. This high and mighty Police Commissioner issues this ukase and sends it to the Press before he sends a copy to the Demonstration Committee. This is an extraordinary proceeding, and we should be wanting in our duty to our constituents if we allowed the action of the First Commissioner to pass unchallenged. To my mind it is clear that this is part of the policy which the Government have for a long time pursued. They are trying to transplant into this country the arbitrary rules which have been set up in the sister isle. First of all they struck a blow at the right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square on the plea that it was an interference with the traffic of the Metropolis. There were a great many people who were caught by that cry, and I myself have admitted that Trafalgar Square is not the best possible place in the Metropolis in which to hold a demonstration. The action of the Government, however, is not animated by a desire on their part to consult the public convenience. It was a blow struck against the rights and liberties of the people. I baited a little trap for the Home Secretary on the last occasion, and the right hon. Gentleman fell into it. I asked whether the people would be allowed to make a public demonstration on the Horse Guards' Parade, and after six months' serious consideration of the question the right hon. Gentleman announced that the Government had resolved that they could not allow public meetings to be held there. It is clear, therefore, that their intention was on that occasion to strike a blow against the right of the people to meet in order discuss their grievances. Now another effort has been made, and it is obvious that the Government will be able to have their own way. They have had it for three or four years. In a few months, however, the turn of the Opposition will come, and we shall then restore to the people not only the right to marshal their own processions, but the right of meeting in open spaces. Without indulging in a threat I tell the Home Secretary that all his efforts and those of the Chief Commissioner of Police will be simply futile, because they can not prevent the tide of public opinion from rising. The democracy is now omnipotent. The fact that you are going to interfere with the demonstration proves that you dread an honest expression of opinion on the part of the people. I presume you fear that such an expression of opinion will somewhat endanger the passing of a Bill which you hope will help you at the next General Election.

*(4.43.) SIR R. LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)

The two hon. Members who have just addressed the House have claimed to speak on behalf of the people of London. On a famous historical or quasi-historical occasion I think there were three gentlemen who claimed to speak on behalf of the people of England, and I hope the two hon. Members opposite will allow me, as I, too, am a Metropolitan Member, to say a few words on this subject on behalf of the people of London. I speak for those peaceable and law-abiding citizens who desire to be allowed to go about their own business and to use the thoroughfares just as much as other people, and with no greater monopoly. It seems to me that only two points demanding any serious reply have been submitted to the House. The first was brought forward by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill). The hon. Member pointed out that the City Police Authorities hadgiven facilities for processions that had, according to the hon. Gentleman, been denied by the Chief Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I am doubtful whether that is quite accurate. The hon. Gentleman forgot, however, that in the City the streets are comparatively deserted on Saturday afternoon. In this respect they are much on the same footing as the Embankment and Birdcage Walk, which are opened by the Chief Commissioner to the hon. Gentleman and his friends. Then there is the point raised by the hon. Member for Shoreditch, that the rights of individual citizens to the free use of the thoroughfares of the Metropolis are frequently interfered with. The hon. Member mentioned such occasions as the visit of the Shah of Persia, the Lord Mayor's Show, and Drawing Rooms or Levees of the Sovereign. I would point out to the hon. Member that such occasions stand on an altogether different footing from a demonstration like that which is to take place on Saturday. Of the merits of that demonstration I will say nothing, but it is confessedly a partisan demonstration, confined to one party and to one section of the people of the Metropolis. I venture to say that the hon. Gentleman would be very much surprised if he were to find the humble individual who is addressing the House or any hon. Member on this side taking part in the demonstration. I would point out to the hon. Member that I claim no more for those for whom I speak than I allow to others. I have the honour to be a member of the Primrose League. Would not hon. Members opposite think the League was claiming too much if it demanded the sole monopoly of the busy streets of London for the purpose of marching through them in procession? I think we should be asking too much, and I should never dream of putting forward such a claim on behalf of the Primrose League, or any other organisation. I apply the same rule to the proposed procession on Saturday. Moreover, it should be remembered that when special facilities are given for the occupation of the streets on such occasions as the visit of the Shah we are acting in a national and Imperial spirit. I am bold enough to say that even with regard to the Lord Mayor's Show, that function is, at any rate, a non-contentious one. It is a demonstration of a strictly Municipal and Metropolitan non-partisan character, and in regard to which all parties are to a certain extent agreed. Therefore, I say, hon. Members opposite are not justified in demanding for Saturday's procession an undue and unjust monopoly of the streets of London, although they may have the right to ask for such facilities as might be given without interfering with the rights of the other inhabitants of the Metropolis.

*(4.50.) MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)

I desire to join my hon. Friends on this side of the House in protesting against this unnecessary interference with the right of public meeting. It is rather remarkable that the Government should avail themselves of the opportunity, when an inconvenient demonstration is about to be held, to interfere with the Temperance Associations. I quite concede the legal right of the Home Secretary and the Chief Commissioner of Police to regulate, for the public convenience, the route which the procession should take, but they should exercise that right with discretion, and should, as far as possible, endeavour to meet the reasonable wishes of those who desire to take part in the procession. It must be obvious to the right hon. Gentleman that one of the purposes for which this procession is to take place is to enable the Temperance Associations to demonstrate in an organised fashion. The idea was that the various societies should assemble on the Thames Embankment, and then inarch through some public thoroughfares to Hyde Park, there to hold a meeting. There may be objections to the processionists marching through Oxford Street, but I do not see what objection can be raised to their proceeding through Northumberland Avenue. The only point at which any difficulty might occur would be, I apprehend, Trafalgar Square. But if a large procession is to march from the Embankment the same difficulty will occur in crossing from the Embankment to the Bird Cage Walk. I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman should have assented to the proposal of the Temperance Associations to march through Northumberland Avenue, and he would have met the requirements of the associations. He would thus have afforded them an opportunity of displaying their numbers. When I put the question to the right hon. Gentleman earlier in the evening I was led to believe that he had prohibited the assemblage of the processionists on the Embankment, but I find that is not so. But if the people are to assemble facilities should be afforded to enable them to get to the place of assemblage. Unless the right hon. Gentleman will enable them to come in forties, fifties, and hundreds, with their bands, banners, regalia, and other paraphernalia for display, they will not be able to avail themselves of the privilege of assembling and marshalling themselves in processional order on the Embankment. It is essential that the Home Secretary should give them the opportunity of getting from their various neighbourhoods to the Embankment. The suggestion that the people should form themselves into a number of processions might be a convenient suggestion if the right hon. Gentleman anticipated the demonstration on the Embankment would be so enormous that it could not conveniently be organised in one procession there and inarch to Hyde Park. I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman has not quite realised that the duty of the police is to afford accommodation to the public, and to provide for all the public, and not merely a few individuals who are casually using a street. If half-a-dozen individuals are to have facilities to walk up and down a street, surely 10,000 people who want to use a street have far greater claims to the protection and assistance of the police in exercising their increased requirements in connection with a public thoroughfare. I must confess I am surprised at the line adopted in Mr. Monro's letter, or ukase, as it has not been inappropriately called by a pre-ceding speaker, and for a subordinate officer of the Government to talk about his "duty as far as possible to prevent large bodies of menmarching in procession through the crowded thorough fares" makes it appear that he entirely misunderstands his duty. If large bodies of people march through public thoroughfares of this city it is his business to afford them facilities, and not to interfere with them and create a disturbance by attempting to break up their procession. If the people were likely to be disorderly or seditious I could understand the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety and fear, but the right hon. Gentleman will hardly suggest that the Bands of Hope, Good Templars, and other organisations of the Temperance Party are dangerous or seditious in their character. A great many of the people who will join in the procession desire the assistance of the police in getting from the Embankment to Hyde Park, and they are the very people whom the Chief Commissioner and the right hon. Gentleman ought to afford facilities to. There is a great deal in this letter of the Chief Commissioner of Police which grates very much on English notions of the right of public meeting. The tone of the letter is certainly very objectionable. There is a reference to a statement made in Parliament by the right hon. Gentleman himself. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will disavow that statement. To say that a body of 600 persons marching in procession with bands and banners through a crowded thoroughfare is a public nuisance is to use very strong language indeed. If a thoroughfare is crowded it is the duty of the police to facilitate the traffic. Towards the end of this remarkable letter of Mr. Monro there is what I submit is really an invitation to disturbance. It is, of course," he says, "to be understood that the police are not prepared to keep open the route for the processionists to the Embankment; they will be instructed to arrest, break up, and divide such processions whenever and so long as it may be necessary to allow the ordinary traffic to pass. But I say that if there is an extraordinary addition to the traffic, and the police have notice of this addition to the ordinary traffic in a particular district or place, then I say the police should have regard to the larger number of persons wanting to use the streets, and use every effort to afford them free passage. By refusing to discharge that duty, the police are actually inviting disturbance, and suggesting interference with processions by those who hold views adverse to those who take part in them. If the Home Secretary would give an assurance that every facility shall be offered by the police for people to proceed to the Embankment on Saturday next, that would satisfy most reasonably minded people, but while the right hon. Gentleman admits the propriety and reasonableness of the proposal to assemble on the Thames Embankment, and yet refuses to afford facilities to persons to proceed to the place of assembly, he acts inconsistently, and invites disorder and trouble in this city. I am not here for the purpose of making an attack on the reasonable exercise of discretion by the police and the Home Office in regulating the passage of processions, but I say it is the duty of the Commissioner of Police, and his superior here, to afford reasonable protection and assistance to any number of the public who desire to have the opportunity of making a peaceable demonstration on any public question. On this occasion it happens to be an unfortunate question for the Government. The Government do not want to see a large demonstration, and possibly they might be glad to have obstacles in the way of any large procession or any great meeting. It may not be so, but the very suspicion of such a thing should have induced the Home Office to use the greater forbearance and consideration. If the demonstration should happen to be small and insignificant, then the Government would serve their own purpose by assisting the demonstration. If it is large and important, then it has the more claim to appear before the public in its true proportions. Certainly the Government should be more particularly careful to display fairness towards political opponents. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will re-consider his arrangements, and allow of police assistance to facilitate the assembling of the various contingents of Temperance Societies from different parts of London, allowing these to march along selected routes to the place of ! assembling for the general procession. An hon. Member opposite has suggested the possibility of a Primrose League demonstration; and all I can say is that if the hon Member and his friends desire to organise such a procession and demonstration, and the police throw difficulties in the way we will join in protest against such interference. Indeed, we would willingly do this, for we should like to see the numbers of the Primrose League, and we would heartily join in endeavouring to secure all facilities for a Primrose League procession, with all its paraphernalia, insignia, and decorations. I protest against unnecessary interference with a peaceable procession, and I protest against Government interference indirectly with public meeting. I am not prepared to say the interference is with the desire to embarrass political opponents, but it certainly wears that aspect, and is likely to encourage such a suspicion.


I regret that the hon. Member who has just sat down should have departed from the reasonable temper and rational concessions of his opening observations. Of the opening part of his speech I should not have had a word to complain, but when he imputes to the Government a political motive—some dislike of the opinions and views of those who want to organise the procession next Saturday—I can only assure him that he is entirely mistaken; and if his mischievous advice be followed by my hon. Friend, and the Primrose League should inconvenience the Metropolis in the same way as is proposed next Saturday, the same measures precisely will be taken. I do not wish to treat the subject with acrimony, and I hope hon. Members will excuse me if I do not follow them into many heated comments as to popular rights and so on. Really it seems to me that they have no bearing on this question, but I ask leave to offer a few common-sense suggestions upon the question of processions. I think hon. Members must feel that, in the condition to which the streets of this Metropolis are rapidly coming, the frequent passage of such organised bodies of men is, to say the least, a highly inconvenient thing, and I venture to say that it is not consistent with the public rights to the thoroughfare. If half-a-dozen men choose to walk down Bond Street arm-in-arm, sweeping everything before them from the foot pavement, and preventing others from going on that foot pavement, they would be clearly exceeding their rights, and I think it would be the duty of the police to interfere. These processions consist not only of one rank of half a dozen men, but of hundreds of such ranks of men, linked together, and not giving and taking—as I think the hon. Member for Shoreditch said—which is the rule of the thoroughfare, giving others just as much opportunity of using the thoroughfare as they take themselves, but sweeping before them carriages and foot passengers alike, and preventing all use of the thoroughfare so long as the procession is taking place. Let us get rid of the idea of processions entirely. If an owner of carts were to take half a dozen of them, and tie them together, and insist upon their passing in an uninterrupted line down Bond Street, that would be in excess of his rights, and his string of carts might be broken up in order to allow other vehicles and foot passengers to cross the line occupied by his carts so connected. Do not let it be forgotten that this organised occupation of large portions of the highway, to the prevention of all other use of the highway, is an abuse of the right which we all have equally in the streets. It is a departure from that principle of give and take by which alone the use of our thoroughfares can be maintained; it is a monopoly claimed for processions, but the good nature of the public is such that on most occasions they wink at this sort of usurpation, when persons, having no mischievous intention in their minds, make a demonstration of their views by means of a procession. But do let the House observe that the matter has now become one of serious consequence. On inquiry I find that there is an increasing mania for these demonstrations, for it really is so. The recorded figures which I have before me show that in 1887 there were 200 of these processions, in 1888 there were 1,400, and in 1889 there were 1,200 altogether.

An hon. MEMBER: Of what sort?


The large processions numbered 17 in 1887, 13 in 1888, and 60 in 1889. I leave the House to imagine what sort of labour that threw upon the police in keeping the route open for the passage of these processions. All traffic is stopped on both sides in order to enable them to pass, and enormous numbers of the police have to be employed on that duty. Indeed, the amount of extra work is so great that the increasing frequency of these processions may well suggest the consideration whether it is not expedient to make a large increase in the Police Force. Now, the hon. Member for North St. Pancras has stated the rights of the police with fair accuracy; they regulate the passage of processions so as to cause as little general inconvenience as possible. Can it be contended that a demonstration of public opinion cannot be made in Birdcage Walk or Grosvenor Place, and that it is absolutely necessary to obstruct Piccadilly and Oxford Street? The hon. Member opposite is somewhat mistaken in his facts. The processionists desired to take, not the shortest, but the most circuitous route they could, and through the most crowded thoroughfares, to Hyde Park. What they wanted to do was to cause the maximum of inconvenience to the public and the maximum of trouble to the police. The difficulty and trouble that the police have in keeping a route for a procession of this sort are enormous. What the Commissioner says is this:— If you want to go to Hyde Park, where you can have your speeches and your expressions of opinion and your demonstration, the nearest way is by Birdcage Walk and Grosvenor Place. But do not let it be supposed that even then inconvenience is not inflicted upon the public. An hon. Member told me that the last Sunday when a procession was protected by the police the necessary interruption of traffic caused no less than 81 omnibuses to be stopped in the Knightsbridge Road, while it was passing Hyde Park Corner. Can it be said that processionists have a right to obstruct the traffic like that? If they were kept to their strict rights, the police would break up the procession and allow the other traffic to pass, as they do with all other traffic. But if that course were taken the procession would cease to exist, and would be broken up; it would not get 200 yards in a crowded thoroughfare before it would be broken up, to permit the passage of traffic from other directions, and would cease to be a procession. The hon. Member for St. Pancras and the hon. Member for Bethnal Green want the procession to be preserved unbroken in the crowded thoroughfares, as the various contingents proceed towards the Embankment. That is a claim to use the streets in a manner which does not belong to any one section of the public. I am not aware of any body of persons having the right to use the streets to the exclusion of others in the manner contended for by hon. Members. I wish to deal with this matter in the most liberal spirit; but I confess I have felt doubtful whether the police ought to keep a route for these processions, as they have done, or whether they ought not to treat them as other traffic is treated, and stop them when necessary to allow other traffic to cross. If that rule were applied rigidly to processions, and they were treated as other traffic, neither more nor less, then they would soon cease in a crowded thoroughfare to be processions at all. But that was not the course taken in this instance, which was only to forbid the processionists going into the most crowded streets, where they would inflict the greatest inconvenience. Then the Commissioner says that if 15 processions approach the Embankment from different routes he could not undertake to protect them, but they must divide themselves to let the other traffic pass. In saying that the police would not protect the processionists, the Commissioner did not mean that the police would not protect them from violence and harm, but that he could not undertake to keep a route for and protect them as processions to the exclusion of the other traffic.

*MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)

That is not what the Commissioner said.


I think the hon. Member will find the meaning of the Commissioner is clear. He uses the ordinary phrase. He means that the police will not prevent the other traffic from breaking up the processions. The police will simply deal with the pro- cessions as they would deal with ordinary traffic, and as a necessary result in crowded thoroughfares the processions would be broken up to allow the passage of cross lines of traffic. These subsidiary processions would necessarily become divided. Personally, I should be glad if the streets were so nearly empty as to allow the various sections of the contemplated procession to march to the place of meeting, but the streets never are empty, and it seems to me it is only reasonable prudence on the part of the police to say that persons must make their way to the place of meeting like other members of the public.

*(5.25.) MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)

There is one great advantage in this Debate—that there is no difference of opinion either as to the objects of this meeting being lawful, or that the place where it is proposed to hold it is a perfectly proper place. But Her Majesty's Government have laid down a doctrine with regard to processions which, in my opinion, is far too high. Their major premiss is far too wide. The basis of the Debate is the letter of the Chief Commissioner of Police, in which he sets the case out very clearly. He said— I have the authority of the Secretary of State that a body of 600 persons marching in procession, with bands and banners, through a crowded thoroughfare was a public nuisance. Now, I think that is far too high ground to take. Of course, a very much smaller body of men than 500 or 600 might cause great inconvenience. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary admits that six people walking arm in arm in Bond Street might be a nuisance, but if this doctrine were applied they were always a nuisance.


In a crowded thoroughfare.


Crowded, if you like—which means a broad street in the day time, when traffic is passing. The words quoted by the Commissioner cover a very broad doctrine, under cover of which it may be possible the right of procession may be altogether lost. With much that the right hon. Gentleman has said I fully agree; but my contention is that we cannot lay down any such doctrine. It is perfectly impossible to enforce any fixed rule of the kind; the facts in each case must guide us There is danger in accepting this proposition which is put forward by the Commissioner, and I think we ought to protest against the overstraining of this doctrine of public convenience. The fact is that a great mistake has been made in this case, and I hope that the Government will not insist upon a doctrine which would be extremely mischievous in its results.

(5.30.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

The whole question before us now is whether from this time processions shall cease in the Metropolis. I appealed to the right hon. Gentleman, who was so careful not to introduce any heated language in his speech, to give us a reason for the action the police have taken; and I venture to say that he has entirely failed to meet the charges which have been made from this side of the House with regard to the ten our of the language held by a subordinate of the right hon. Gentleman. I say that this document is couched in language totally unbecoming in a permanent official speaking of the people in whose employment he is. It contains almost an incentive to disorder. Those of us who have raised this discussion are most anxious that there should be nothing in the shape of disorder, and we want the Government to act in such a way as will do away with all friction between the public and the police. The defence of Mr. Monro has been based on a statement by the Home Secretary in 1889, in reference to a Salvation Army procession, which was making its way to Exeter Hall, and had proceeded more than two-thirds of the distance when it came into collision with the police. And what was the reason for that collision? According to the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary this procession of 600 persons became a public nuisance directly it entered the area controlled by the Metropolitan Police, although it had just passed, without difficulty, through the crowded streets of the City, where the arrangements were controlled by a police force managed by the citizens themselves. The citizens of London are face to face with a state of things which cannot be equalled in any other town in the country. We know that at the great Franchise Demonstration in 1884 the processions were allowed to pass from the Embankment, up Whitehall, and through Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park, and the Heir Apparent and his family occupied a seat in Whitehall, from which they viewed the citizens expressing their opinion in a Constitutional manner. There was no danger felt then; why should there be now? Yet here we have an edict issued by a permanent official and couched in language which we are bound to resent. All that the promoters of Saturday's demonstration desire is that the same facilities should be accorded to them as have hitherto been enjoyed. They are not anxious that the methods of the Chief Secretary should have too strong an influence on the Cabinet, or that the right hon. Gentleman should try and induce his Colleagues to imitate in this country some of his characteristic acts. I protest most strongly against the action of the Chief Commissioner. I protest against the speech of the Home Secretary and against the ideas which underlie his views on the subject of public processions. The ukase of Mr. Monro practically prevents the people from assembling on the Embankment, for it directs that those who come from certain directions, as from Westminster Bridge, shall proceed direct to Hyde Park. The right of public meeting has been the safety valve of public opinion in this country in times gone by. Men have been allowed to meet and demonstrate in the past, and I say by all means do not prevent them doing so now. You ought not to rob them of a privilege they have so long enjoyed, and I submit it would be a most dangerous thing to do so. I think we are bound to press this matter to a division.

*(5.48.) MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I agree with the Home Secretary that these questions are of growing seriousness because of the huge population we now have in London. This population is increasing year by year, and consequently these public assemblies on important occasions also grow larger. The Home Secretary says that the duties thrown on the police are exceedingly heavy. That is so, and yet he is now putting upon them duties which they used not to be called upon to discharge. I have during the last 30 years had wide experience of the police in connection with public meetings. It has been my good fortune never to come into collision with them. But I have never gone to the police for assistance in connection with any of the great meetings I have held. I have not conceived it to be the duty of the police to interfere or to do anything except to keep order so far as their jurisdiction extends. It is not for me to criticise the action of the promoters of next Saturday's demonstration, but I am not sure that they have been wise in applying to the police authorities. Those who summon huge demonstrations of this kind should take reasonable precautions for maintaining order, and should not have recourse to the police, except as ordinary citizens. What has happened, especially during the last half a dozen years, has been a disposition on the part of the Police Authorities to interfere in political demonstrations. I recently put some questions to the Home Secretary as to some inquiries made by the police with reference to a Post Office employés' meeting, and I received a denial founded on information supplied to the police by we know not whom. I am afraid there is a growing feeling on the part of the police that it is their duty to act in the same way as the Continental police, and to interfere with the arrangements for holding political meetings. They used not to adopt this policy, and it ought to be no part of their duty so to act now. I think we ought, therefore, to enter a strong protest against their action. The Home Secretary tells us that there are more meetings now, and that it may be his duty, unless something is done, to ask for an increase of the Police Force.


I said that there were more processions, and that if the police are to be charged with these duties the number of the Force must be increased.


But why do you not shut your eyes to these processions, as other Governments have done before you? Most of my demonstrations have been held without any police interference. The working of the Police Force is not a thing merely in the hands of the Home Secretary or of the Chief Commissioner. It is regulated by statute, and I deny that the Act gives the Chief Commissioner any sort of authority to break up processions or to hinder them. He has the duty cast upon him of making regulations for the preservation of the peace; but when he acts as he is now doing he brings himself into conflict with the people, and that is a very dangerous thing to do. It is absurd to say that the police can control the whole of the people of the Metropolis. The people are only controlled by their desire to be law-abiding, and unless they are law-abiding it is impossible to restrain them without the assistance of the military. I repeat that the Chief Commissioner had no right to issue from his room at Scotland Yard such a decree as Mr. Monro has sent out.

*(5.55.) MR. CACSTON (Southwark, W.)

The hon. Member for North Kensington has rebuked two of my hon. Friends because they have come forward as the spokesmen of the London people.


I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I am sure he has no desire to misrepresent me. What I said was this. If the two hon. Members who have spoken claim to represent the people of London, they surely will not object to my also claiming to be a Metropolitan Member, and, like them, to represent the people of London.


I accept the hon. Member's explanation, although I remember the hon. Member's verbal reference to the Tailors of Tooley Street; but I want to draw attention to the fact that it is the London Liberal Members who have risen to uphold the rights and privileges of the people, and that the only London Member on the Tory Benches who has spoken is the hon. Member, who has already avowed that it is not his intention again to seek the suffrages of his constituency. Now I do not wish to prolong this debate; but I want to emphasise the fact that it is a Tory Government which is trying to deprive the people of London of their rights and privileges, and unless the people through their Parliamentary Representatives make a strong protest, they will soon have no rights left at all. The Home Secretary has referred to the increasing number of these processions. But why are these demonstrations held? Simply because the policy of the Government is so distasteful to the people of the Metropolis; and the more educated the people become, the more frequent will be the protests of this character. I can assure the hon. Member for North Kensington that, if he desires to have a Primrose League demonstration, nobody will be more willing than the London Liberals and Radicals to assist in keeping order. The fact is, that the Government have no confidence in the people; on the contrary, they have a terrible fear of the people. I believe, however, that the people of London are as orderly as any body of people to be found in any part of the world. We very much object to the fact that we have not the same rights and privileges as people resident in cities and towns such as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, and the City of London, where the police are under the control of the directly elected Representatives of the people, and not under the sole control of the Home Secretary or a Chief Commissioner. The Chief Commissioner has said that he is responsible for what is contained in his letter, and the Home Secretary has in this House taken the responsibility upon himself. Whom are we to rebuke? I hope it is not too late for the Government to say they will allow the different branches of the procession to go to the Embankment and assemble there without any restriction being placed in the way of their meeting, as they have hitherto been enabled to do.

*(6.1.) MR. NORRIS (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)

I rise, Sir, for the purpose of answering the taunt that hon. Members on this side of the House have refrained from taking part in this Debate. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary on the firm position he has taken in this matter, and I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman's subordinate, Mr. Monro, upon his action. The reason for the action which has been taken in this matter is to be found in what has been going on in the Metropolis for many months past when processions of this kind have been taking place almost day by day to the great interruption of business and the extreme inconvenience of the inhabitants generally. I am the Representative of a large democratic constituency, and should be one of the last to attempt to restrict the legitimate rights of the people in regard to public meetings; but I assert unhesitatingly that the regulations and rules laid down by the Home Secretary are not intended to interfere with those rights, but merely to regulate the proper use of the thoroughfares, by diverting processions from the busy streets so as to prevent their interference with the regular traffic of the Metropolis. As the Civil Governor of the Metropolis, the right hon. Gentleman has a perfect right to prevent interference of the ordinary use of the thoroughfares by the public, and I think the boldness of the language he has used is fully justified by the fact that as these processions have been carried out of late they have become an intolerable nuisance. Although I support the legitimate exercise of the rights of the people, I think that those public demonstrations ought to be carried out in such a manner as not to interfere with the ordinary public business. There are undoubtedly many who sympathise with the object of those who wish to make the proposed demonstration; but, at the same time, due consideration ought to be given to the rights of that portion of the public who do not desire to take part in the contemplated procession. Although I am aware that what I have just said may not be popular in certain quarters, I think we have every right to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary on the stand he has taken in this matter.

*(6.5.) MR. CUNINGHAME GRAHAM (Lanark, N.W.)

I am not one of those who deny that any Government has a right to control and regulate, to some extent, public processions; but it seems to mo that this matter, which has already occupied the attention of the House of Commons for an hour or two, is rather one that ought to be within the jurisdiction of the County Council, which is specially elected for the exercise of municipal functions, than that it should be allowed to take up the time of the great representative Council of the nation. For once I feel myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Northampton. I think that during the last year or two the police seem to have taken upon themselves the right of controlling the public meetings and breaking up public processions in a manner which creates some ground for alarm; but I ask the Government whether they think that in the future these processions are likely to be increased or diminished by the course they are now taking? Some observations have fallen from the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Causton) with which I do not altogether agree, He said the people of London were demonstrating in large processions because they do not agree with the policy of Her Majesty's Government, thereby inferring that if the Government were to be replaced by a Government composed of Members sitting on this side of the House the people of London will necessarily be in agreement with the policy of that Government. That I believe to be an absolute fallacy. I do not think that the policy propounded from either side of this House will ever in the slightest degree be accepted by the vast bulk of the population of London. I may, however, say that there is one matter which is not a cause of any astonishment to me, because I have become accustomed to it, and that is the attitude taken by the occupants of the Liberal Front Bench on this occasion. We have just had a halting little homily from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Last Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) of a kind to which we have become accustomed. But, apart from the right hon. Gentleman, we have seen to-day, as on many previous occasions when very serious matters are going on in the Metropolis, the occupants of the Front Bench have sat like so many stuffed figures at Madame Tussaud's, making no observations whatever, but occasionally running out to look at the telegraph tape to see what news was coming from Connemara or other parts of the world out of which they might be able to make political capital. Such conduct does not much astonish me; but I hope that the people of London, if they attach much importance to this question, will read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the silence of those right hon. Gentlemen; and I trust, also, that at some future time, when votes are to be caught and kudos is to be gained at a small expense, we may be enabled to hear a word or two from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, or from some other right hon. Gentleman now seated on the Front Opposition Bench in the undignified attitude of members for Madame Tussaud's.

(6.10.) The House divided:—Ayes 121; Noes 231.—(Div. List, No. 114.)

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