HC Deb 03 June 1890 vol 344 cc1845-50

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department under what authority, statutory or otherwise, the Commissioner of Police in the Metropolis acts in forbidding the passage of public processions through the streets of the Metropolis; whether, in so doing, he is acting by the express instructions of the Home Secretary, or on his own responsibility; and whether the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown has been taken as to the legal power of the police to prohibit the passage of organised and peaceful processions?

The following questions on the same subject were also on the Paper:—

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green S.W.)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether it is with his sanction that the Chief Commissioner has informed the Demonstration Committee that "the Metropolitan Police will not afford protection to processions to the Embankment;" and whether he is aware that the Committee have received from the City Police the promise of such protection to processions while passing through the City?

MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he can explain why the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has prohibited the promoters of the demonstration on Saturday next from taking the same route which was followed in 1888 by a similar gathering; and whether the demonstration in 1888 was of the most orderly and peaceable character?

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

To ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the action taken by the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police with regard to the Hyde Park demonstration on Saturday next, when the Chief Commissioner declines to allow the procession to take the route which was taken in 1888, has his sanction and authority; and whether he endorses the statement of the Commissioner in his letter to the Executive Committee organising the demonstration that— It is also clearly to be understood that the police will not protect or keep open a route for processions to the Embankment?

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

To ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the letter of the Chief Commissioner of Police, altering the route of the proposed procession to Hyde Park on Saturday next, was written with his knowledge and authority; and whether representations have reached him that such interference will be provocative of confusion, by divergence of routes and by dividing the responsibility and control of those who have undertaken the duty of organising the procession?

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

To ask why the Temperance Associations are to be prevented from assembling on the Thames Embankment on Saturday next, and marching from thence to Hyde Park in one organised procession, to hold their proposed demonstration in the Park On that day?


I propose to answer the various questions which appear upon the Paper at the same time. I am advised by the Law Officers that the Commissioner of Police is authorised by Statute to regulate the route to be observed by public processions, with a view to prevent obstruction in the streets. He has my sanction for so doing; and I consulted the Solicitor General before giving the Commissioner specific instructions with reference to the proposed procession of Saturday next. These organised processions, now so frequent, largely interfere with the convenience and rights of the public. If the processionists were left to their strict legal rights they would have to take their chance of being interrupted and divided, like all other traffic, and would soon cease to be a procession at all. When the police undertake to keep open a route for a procession they can only do so by hampering the right of free passage of other persons. It is wholly unreasonable to expect that this privilege should be conceded to processionists simultaneously taking a number of different routes in several directions across the Metropolis. The Temperance Associations will not be prevented from assembling on the Embankment on Saturday; their route thither has been regulated as public safety required, and they must make their way thither subject to the conditions under which all persons have to use crowded streets, and without a monopoly of the thoroughfares. The procession of 1888 was orderly and peaceable; but it only got to its destination by practically taking possession of the streets and stopping public traffic. The object of the Commissioner in the regulations he has made has been to minimise the recurrence of similar public inconvenience. I have no information as to the course taken by the City Police, and no representations have reached me to the effect suggested by the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green.


The right hon. Gentleman in his reply mentioned Temperance Associations. Does he draw any distinction between those Associations and other bodies, and does he not think that the orderly conduct of the Eight Hours' procession on the 4th of May may be taken to afford some indication of the orderly character of the proposed demonstration on Saturday next?


I should like to ask whether it is not the fact that the orders of the Chief Commissioner contemplate the fullest protection to all these processions which is compatible with protection to the trade of London from serious dislocation, and protection to the peaceable citizens of London from intolerable annoyance and inconvenience?


In reply to the question of the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. C. Graham) I have only to say that I mentioned the Temperance Associations because they were referred to in the question of the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. T. H. Bolton). Of course, there is no difference between one body of processionists and another. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for North Kensington (Sir Roper Lethbridge), I entirely concur with him. It seems to me that the orders of the Chief Commissioner of Police do contemplate such protection to the proposed processions as is compatible with protection to the rights of the citizens of London.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, as he has gone out of his way to answer the question put by the hon. Member behind him, there is any chance of dislocating the trade of London either on a Sunday or on a Saturday afternoon?


Judging from my experience, Sunday in London is a quieter day than Saturday. But there are many thoroughfares in which there is an enormous traffic on Saturday, and, sometimes, in order to enable a large procession to pass, the traffic has been stopped for three-quarters of an hour, or more, and enormous inconvenience has resulted.

MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

I should like to understand from the Home Secretary what it was in the experience of 1888 that prompted the Chief Commissioner of Police to make the Order?


It was the extreme inconvenience suffered by the public through such a thoroughfare as Oxford Street being monopolised for several hours by the passing of a procession.

SIR W. LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

Were any statements made at the time with respect to the inconvenience that had been suffered?


Information was received on the subject from various quarters.


If I am not mistaken there were two processions in 1888, and I should like to know whether the same representations were made in each case as to the inconvenience which the processions had occasioned?


I cannot give an answer in reference to these details with accuracy without notice, but I will make inquiries with regard to them.


Inasmuch as the right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged the right of the temperance and other associations to assemble on the Embankment on Saturday, will he afford facilities to the members of those associations to proceed to the place of assembly?


I am afraid that I can offer to the members of these associations no greater facilities than the general public are entitled to.

MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)

Will the Government not give to Englishmen in their own capital the same facilities as—


Order, order!


Is it not the fact that the executive organising the demonstration submitted an alternative route which would have avoided Oxford Street and Regent Street?


Is it not the duty of the police to provide for any increased traffic which may be expected to occur in any part of the Metropolis?


I do not conceive that it is any part of the duties of the police to prevent persons from using thoroughfares in the Metropolis in order to enable other persons to go in procession. Of course, people going to the Embankment with banners or otherwise will receive the same protection from the police as other persons.


Then am I to understand that if a body of 50, 60, or 100 people march towards the Embankment with banners they will not be interfered with?


Order, order! The hon. Member is now arguing the point.


Will the Government give the same facilities on Saturday as were afforded on the occasion of the visit of the Shah of Persia?


Order, order! The question is quite out of order.