HC Deb 19 May 1892 vol 4 cc1267-81

As amended, considered.

*(3.10.) ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)

I am very sorry to have to intrude on the attention of the House again. I would gladly have ceased all opposition to the Report of the Committee if it had been possible for me to do so, but I am sure the House will allow me its kind indulgence when it learns from me that it is not possible for me to assent to that Report. When I unfold my tale I shall be able to show that Eastbourne has a very strong grievance under the circumstances. The Committee was composed of duly-qualified men, five selected by the House and four by the Committee of Selection—all good men bar one, perhaps—myself; but to the composition of that Committee I must draw the attention of the House. We went into that Committee—that is to say, Eastbourne did—as I now find, doomed to failure. When I was a young man, and used to go round the Assizes and serve on Grand Juries, I used to hear talk among barristers about "hanging juries," and following up that expression and applying it here I say Eastbourne went before a "hanging Committee." The House will expect an explanation, and I am prepared to give it. The Committee, I expected, would be fairly balanced. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) and myself were in opposition; other Members were nominated by the House from either side. The Committee of Selection nominated good men—the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tewkesbury Division (Sir John Dorington), my hon. Friend the Member for the Harwich Division of Essex (Mr. Round), the noble Lord the Member for the Barnsley Division (Earl Compton), and the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton). We went into the business; we got into the evidence, or the address of counsel—I forget which; allusion was made to various clauses and bye-laws, and particulary to the repeal of the Torquay clause. I am permitted to say by my hon. Friend (Mr. Round) that then he suddenly realised, when it was too late to withdraw, that he had served on the Committee which recommended the repeal of the Torquay clause, and, therefore, he brought, to his own regret, to the consideration of this subject a biased mind. He would not have served on the Committee if he had remembered the circumstance that he had previously served on the Committee for the Torquay Bill; but it was too late for him to retire. If he had remembered it, it would not have been necessary for me to have objected to his nomination; he would have declined to serve, and the Committee of Selection would have nominated some other Member. I am certain the Committee of Selection would not have nominated him had they been aware of his having served on the Torquay Committee. The House will then understand that I feel fully justified in raising opposition to the Report of the Committee, for I say we have not had fair-play upstairs. It was impossible under the circumstances. If there had been an hon. Member from this side of the House who had not served on that Torquay Committee, I am sure I should have had his support, and then we should have been four in favour of the clause, and possibly there would have been four against me, and then the Chairman would have had to give his casting vote, the very thing I wished to compel him to do. But as the case stood, I had only the support of my hon. Friend on my right (Mr. Bartley) and the hon. Baronet (Sir John Dorington), and so we were three to five. Now, I do not think that is satisfactory. I believe when the Second Reading was carried in this House by a large majority, very many Members meant by their vote that this matter should go before a Committee upstairs, there to be thoroughly threshed out. They did not mean by their votes that the clause was to be repealed—many Members have told me so—but that the question should be thoroughly threshed out by a duly-qualified and well-appointed Committee. Well, now, how do we stand? I have given notice of three new clauses, which will be found on the Notice Paper, and I will deal with them presently; but before I do so, let me say a word about the hearing of the case. I wish to speak in terms of the highest respect of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who occupied the chair (Sir H. James). It was a real treat to serve on the Committee if only to see the way in which he handled his brother Q.C.'s and kept them to the point. We should probably be sitting in the Committee Room now but for our Chairman. He conducted the case with a desire to get it over rapidly, and I am bound to say he accomplished his purpose. I could not but admire the skill he showed in handling his brother sinners in the law. It was refreshing to get upstairs into the healthier legal atmosphere, to get away from political lawyers into the dry atmosphere of law itself. Let me give a short quotation from the learned counsel for the promoters. Said he— It is not for me to defend the breaking of the law, and I decline altogether to do it, even to defend those who break what they consider a bad law, and even if they do it by way of honest protest. I say it was refreshing and agreeable to get into a healthy legal atmosphere and not hear lawyers justifying open disobedience as a protest to get a law repealed. I will not detain the House longer than I can help; but let me call attention to some of the evidence given before the Committee, and particularly to that of Mr. Booth himself. The right hon. Chairman asked the witness a question, after some reference had been made to Bedford, and the question was— Supposing that we repealed this clause, and supposing that the Town Council of Eastbourne should make a bye-law regulating the playing of music at Eastbourne on Sundays, and that the Home Office approves of it, will you obey the bye-law? What a question to come from a Committee—whether a bye-law, being certified by authority to be a good bye-law, would be obeyed! Mark the answer— We shall, if it does not in effect obtain what the repeal of the clause is intended to abolish, In other words, he would, if he approved of the law—not if he did not like it! I will not read all the evidence on the point; it is too long. The counsel, Mr. Pember, interposes and says— I give the most solemn pledge on the part of the Salvation Army that that shall be so; that is that they shall obey the bye-law. Then Mr. Bramwell Booth goes on— Allow me to add one item of information. We now carry on our operations in a thousand towns. There are multitudes of bye-laws affecting us, and multitudes of local circumstances that require concessions here, alterations there, and modifications here, from time to time, and we have scarcely any difficulty in any towns. We are always ready to meet them except where we find, as we have done in cases like Croydon, a bad bye-law, and then we cannot stand it. See the arrogance of the man— Except in cases like Croydon, where we find a bad bye-law"! So Mr. Booth himself is the person to judge if a bye-law is good or bad! When a bye-law is passed by a Local Authority and approved by the Home Office, still, in his opinion, it may be bad, and then he will refuse to obey it! Then the Chairman pushed him further, asking— Could you not shortly say that you will obey any valid bye-law? Mr. Pember answers for him!— We will obey any valid bye-law. Then counsel asks— Will you put it to Mr. Booth whether he would accept these two bye-laws? The Chairman said— No. Mr. Booth has said through his counsel that he will accept any valid bye-law. That gives you the full scope under the Municipal Act of making any bye-law that shall be reasonable. Mr. Richards: The St. Alban's bye-law has been upheld by the Courts. So the questioning went on, and then it occurred to me that a concrete case would be better than much argument and I asked— A concrete case is better in my judgment. Do you accept the bye-law of St. Alban's which now exists as a valid bye-law? The witness replied— What is the St. Alban's bye-law? The bye-law was handed to him, and he went on— I am not a lawyer; but I should think that the bye-law is good. But I do not know; it is for the lawyers to say. The Chairman: If it is valid? Then I remarked to him— You were convicted under it? And he answered— It does not follow that it was good law. But he appealed to the High Court, and the Court upheld the conviction. The fact was established that it was a good bye-law; he could carry the case no further.

MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

And he obeyed it.


Yes; I am coming to that presently. Then the learned counsel (Mr. Pember) referred to the bye-law which was rejected by the Home Office, and finally my hon. Friend near me (Mr. Bartley) put this question:— Supposing that the bye-law is approved by the Home Office will you and the Salvation Army undertake to abide by it until it is proved not to be valid? The witness answered— I do not think that is quite a fair question to ask me. You see the kind of witness we had. But at last his own counsel would not stand it any longer, and, to use a nautical expression, "jumped on him," and said— It is perfectly fair, and I give that pledge. You must allow me, Mr. Booth, to give that pledge for you. He gave a solemn pledge to obey subject to a test case. The learned counsel saw his case slipping away. He wanted to get quit of Mr. Booth. He appreciated the danger of the situation, and he proved equal to it. He said— No; you must hear me give a pledge which I consider I am instructed by your solicitors and my clients to give. If you repudiate that pledge it must be done openly, but I do not think you will. I propose to pledge you here that, in the event of the Home Secretary sanctioning a bye-law for Eastbourne, you will obey it until by legal means you have got it proved to be a bad bye-law and overset. Then questions go on until at last it comes out— I accept that.


Hear, hear!


Yes, but the witness had already told us that as in the Croydon case he would not obey what he considered a bad law. Are we to believe this arrogant witness will keep his word? What guarantee have we that he will do so? We prefer to keep our clause, and we consider, after all the evidence given by witnesses, and the arrogance displayed by this man, who will yield no obedience but to a law of his own approval, that Eastbourne should not be deprived of this statutory power. It is because I conceive that the Committee were of opinion that the clause was somewhat too strict that it gave no latitude even to the Corporation, because under it the Corporation had no right to approve of a procession, that I venture to introduce a new clause to the notice of the House. It will be observed that I keep the old clause, but add certain words, and it will read— No processions shall take place on a Sunday in any street or public place in the borough, accompanied by any instrumental music, fireworks, discharge of cannon, or firearms, or other disturbing noise, otherwise than with the consent of the Local Authority, and in such manner as they shall direct. That gives a latitude to the Local Authority to allow processions under certain circumstances, having regard to the route they shall take and the times when the music shall play. That seems to me to give a reasonable amount of elasticity. Three of us stood for it in Committee, and we should have been four but for my hon. Friend the Member for the Harwich Division having committed himself to the repeal of the Torquay clause, as I have said. Then I come to some of the evidence, that bye-laws were drawn up by the Corporation, acting on hints in speeches delivered in this House during the Debate, that if the clause were repealed the Corporation should frame bye-laws and submit them to the approval of the Home Office. These bye-laws are in existence in St. Alban's and in Bootle; but the Home Office, having the draft of the bye-laws submitted, declined to sanction them, even though they are approved in St. Alban's and in Bootle! Well, Sir, it seems to me in this business Eastbourne is "between the devil and the deep sea"—not allowed to keep the clause and not allowed to have the bye-laws she wants. Now let me say a word or two on another clause I have suggested. During the inquiry I put a question to different witnesses. I put it to the Chief Constable, and asked his opinion whether such a clause as this would be acceptable— If on the conviction of any person for an offence under this Act it shall appear to the convicting justices that such disturbing noise was caused by the playing of instrumental music in a procession on Sunday, it shall be lawful for the convicting justices, if they shall think fit, to make an order for the seizure of such instruments aforesaid with a view to the destruction or sale of the same, in lieu of any other penalty or costs provided by this Act. The Chief Constable approved of the clause; the Mayor approved of it; the Town Clerk approved of it. The authorities would be glad to have such a power, for it would meet the difficulty they had in enforcing obedience to the law. This forfeiture of the instruments with which the misdeeds are done would follow the parallel of the Weights and Measures Act, which confiscates the false weights and scales used by a tradesman in the sale of his goods. This would meet the difficulty there has been found; there would be no necessity for imposing fines these people will not pay, and giving them the opportunity of going to prison and posing as martyrs. Simply, they would if they wished to continue to break the law, have to send for new instruments. I put this to the Clerk to the Magistrates, and he highly approved of it. Then another clause was suggested by the Clerk to the Magistrates for the recovery of penalties. This clause stands No. 2 in my Amendments, and runs as follows:— If on the conviction of any person for an offence under this Act it shall appear to the convicting justices that such offence was committed under the order, direction, or authority of any other person or persons"— we know these persons act in pursuance of instructions from head-quarters, and so the clause provides— It shall be lawful for the convicting justices if they shall think fit to summon such other person or persons to appear before them, or any other justices of the peace for the same county, borough, division, or place, to show cause why any penalty and costs imposed upon the person convicted should not be paid by such other person or persons under whose order, direction, or authority such offence shall appear to have been committed. And in case cause shall not be shown to the contrary to the satisfaction of the said justices they may make an order for payment by such other person or persons of such penalty and costs together with the cost of and incident to the making of such order, and in default of payment the said penalty and costs may be recovered against such other person or persons in the same manner as penalties may be recovered under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts. The power to summon such parties to fine them, and to recover fines by distraint would, no doubt, be an effectual remedy, and I have adopted the suggestion in my clause. There is one other matter I should like to allude to for a moment. When we had these matters under discussion in the House I made a statement which I know was not credited in full by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. H. H. Fowler). I said that all Nonconformist Ministers and all clergymen were agreed in objecting to these Sunday bands. I do not think that statement was accepted, but what happened in Committee? We had before us a Nonconformist minister of the old type; his name was Mr. Baxter, and I have no doubt he is a descendant of the pious author of The Saint's Rest. He gave his evidence admirably; and when he made his appearance in the witness chair, I saw the faces of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) and the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) radiant with joy at having a witness to whom they could yield implicit credit. Mr. Baxter was asked this pertinent question— In your opinion has the Sunday band-playing provoked all the opposition and noise? He had already stated that it was the unanimous belief of all the ministers in Eastbourne that it was the sole cause of the disturbance. His answer was— Yes; I believe so on two grounds: first, because it has been considered to be an unnecessary thing in itself; and, secondly, because the Salvationists have been considered to be over-riding even their own rules and regulations, because it is laid down there specifically that if the procession or the playing should prove to be provocative to a mob, there should be a cessation of it. That has been distinctly laid down in this Red Book, and has not been abided by. Another question he was asked, because it had been affirmed that all Nonconformist ministers in charge of congregations were on our side. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton had another arrow in his quiver; he had a Nonconformist minister without a chapel, and counsel asked— Do you agree at all with the Rev. Mr. Turner in the suggestion that there has been any terrorism exercised over the inhabitants to make them vote in opposition to the Salvation Army?—Decidedly not. So it goes on. I will not read all the evidence. Mr. Baxter gave it clearly and well on the side of order and the retention of the clause. But further than that, this rev. gentleman, Mr. Baxter, wrote a letter the other day on the subject from which I must quote a sentence or two, because this is à propos to a preposterous argument and a good reply to the right hon Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler), who called this "religious persecution." This Nonconformist minister wrote to a local paper as follows:— Religious persecution we do not desire, though to call the Sunday band a 'religious' affair, when it has not a scrap of warrant from the personal example or precepts of the Great Founder of Christianity, or from the practice of His Apostles, is a farce indeed. It is a Nonconformist minister saying this—Mr. Baxter, the possible descendant of the famous author of The Saints' RestAll the New Testament has to say of the 'sounding brass or tinkling cymbal' is to put them metaphorically in contrast with true religion (1 Cor. xiii. 1). And it does seem hard that after the town was provided with a clause which has no anti-Scriptural element in it, that clause should be repealed at the will of one man. But we live in an age of lawlessness. Yes, Sir, it is an age of lawlessness. We are asked to repeal a clause because a certain section of men refuse obedience to it. Let me quote a pas- sage from the speech—a famous speech—delivered the other day by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of our Party in this House (Mr. A. J. Balfour), at Manchester. He said— We have not got to wait till the last decade of this nineteenth century to learn that if you refuse to enforce the law, the law will be despised, contemned, and disobeyed. Yes, I know he was referring to the maintenance of law and order in Ireland; but you may apply the precept to this smaller instance, as we (the Committee) saw when we had that arrogant witness before us, who showed that he was disposed to obey no law but his own will, and who with difficulty was compelled by his counsel to give a guarantee of obedience. What guarantee have we? We have our law, and we want to keep it. We had an illustration the other day in this House. A few days ago we had a Private Bill before us in relation to Glasgow. I was not here, but I just looked in. I had to go to Hastings to do better work. There was before the House a very novel clause—a very novel clause indeed—in regard to disorderly houses. Very well. The Under Secretary representing the Home Office got up and opposed the clause on general grounds, and he quoted Eastbourne in relation to matters which should be regulated by bye-law. But what did the House do? What did this House care about the opinion of the Home Office? It was disregarded; the Home Office had to give way, and the clause was adopted. Very well. But do you call this consistent conduct to put a clause in which the Home Office objected to, and strike out a clause accepting the statement of the Home Secretary that it ought to be done by bye-laws. Oh, I like the consistency of politicians in this House! People are not all of one mind. We were provided on the Committee with the notes of the evidence on the Torquay Bill. Mr. Sclater-Booth, now Lord Basing, was Chairman of the Committee on that Bill, and he certainly was opposed to the view of the Home Office. The talk was upon the Hastings Clause. The Chairman said— We all thought the Hastings Clause was quite sufficient. The Eastbourne Clause is the same— It was settled after a great deal of discussion. The Home Office object to the clause altogether. It seems to be the fortune of the Home Office to object— Therefore we are giving you something in allowing you the Hastings Clause. Now, the remark of the Chairman is worthy of note. He had been President of the Local Government Board, and knew something about upholding the law. He continued— I do not agree with the policy of the Home Office in that matter. I wish he were here to support me in this controversy— I know what they want—they want general legislation. Then why not bring in a Bill making it general and we will support you?— But we may have to wait ten years general legislation, and we must put these clauses into this Bill. And he put the clause in, and this House struck it out afterwards on the advice of the Home Office. But then this House acted in a totally different manner when it inserted the clause the other day in the Glasgow Bill. I think the Home Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) are bound, if they wish to be logical and consistent, to bring in a Bill now to repeal all these clauses where they exist in Hastings, Reading, Carlisle, and Eastbourne. Do not punish Eastbourne alone. To be logical and consistent repeal the whole, and then we can understand your policy. Talk of persecution! You are persecuting Eastbourne. Eastbourne is persecuted by the Salvation Army. Eastbourne wants the peace kept; wants her law maintained; and if we cannot get justice here we will go somewhere else. There is a final Court of Appeal still in existence, and to that purer legal atmosphere I propose to take these clauses, away from the unhealthy atmosphere of this House. I will not trouble the House to divide on this matter. No, I am not going to give you the chance of boasting of another victory, for no doubt there would be a majority in support of this Report of the Committee to which I object. We will take our cause to the House of Lords, where the discussion will be unembarrassed by the fear of the lessening of votes, uninfluenced by the prospects of a General Election. They can bring their strong legal minds to the consideration of the question, and Eastbourne will come out of the furnace of her trouble—(An hon. MEMBER: Purified!) No, Sir, Eastbourne has no need of purification; it is in one of the purest constituencies in the country, and it is a most charming town to live in. All she wants is peace and quiet on Sundays. That is what the inhabitants want—they, including the ministers and clergy of all denominations, are in favour of my proposals. ("No!") No? Except one man who is a minister without a chapel, who is what may be called a "returned empty." But I am provoked into these remarks by interruptions. I will not take up more of the time of the House. (Cries of "Go on!") Oh, I am game to go on, if I could see any useful result, for another half-hour, but we have important business before us. But I wanted to show the House that I am justified in drawing its attention to this matter. I have shown it was impossible to get justice from that Committee, constituted as it was. I believe it was the desire of the House that Eastbourne should have a full inquiry and a fair decision. That fair decision we have not had from my point of view, for I have shown that one Member was committed by his previous action in reference to Torquay.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not entitled to cast reflections on the action of Members on a Committee.


I apologise, Sir, if I have said anything wrong. One word in conclusion. A good deal has been said against religious persecution and in favour of religious liberty, and I am a strong supporter of liberty, religious and every other kind of liberty, to the utmost possible extent. But, Sir, liberty without law is licence, and I take my definition of liberty from a great thinker, Mr. John Stuart Mill— The liberty of each bounded by the equal liberty of all. That is what we want in Eastbourne. Let every man have liberty to do as he likes, provided that the rights of others are not thereby infringed—that he is not a nuisance to his neighbours. These men, the cause of these complaints, acknowledge no law but the order of their chiefs in London who direct these proceedings, and who are a law to themselves. From my point of view we have failed to get justice in this House, owing to the peculiar conditions under which we were placed. We live in lawless times, said Mr. Baxter, and we live, I must say, in a "flabby" age, when men, knowing the right thing to do, have not the courage of their convictions. But I will not dwell on this. I thank the House for allowing me my protest, which I felt it my duty to make. We have failed to get what we believe to be justice; so we carry our cause to the Court of Appeal where, with no fear of shaking seats, our claims, unmingled with election cries, will have a fair hearing and a wise decision.

(3.40.) SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)

I am not disposed to treat too seriously the speech of the hon. and gallant Admiral, nor do I think my Colleagues on the Committee will take to heart anything he has said. But I must I point out that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not justified in saying that Eastbourne has not had fair play, or in making charges against any Member of the Committee. I think he mentioned the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Round) as being biased in his judgment.


I beg your pardon. I made no charge against individual Members. I referred to the position of the hon. Member for Harwich, and I said that it was impossible for us to be four on each side.


The hon. and gallant Admiral seemed to treat us as if we were a portion of his crew and bound to obey his orders. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich he would reduce to the level of cabin boy. The hon. Member for Harwich had the advantage of having heard the evidence in reference to the Torquay Clause under similar circumstances, and he brought his experience to the investigation of the Eastbourne case. The hon. Member is known for his sound judgment. I can only say in regard to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said as to my conduct of the proceedings that I never stopped any counsel without having the full concurrence of the Committee. The hon. and gallant Admiral sat on my right, and I had the advantage of his advice. He acquiesced in the manner in which the counsel were treated, and I think he used the expression "superb" in regard to the conduct of the proceedings. In this respect the Committee acted with perfect unanimity. We had to deal with a very exceptional state of circumstances, and with a Municipality not likely to be impartial in the treatment of those who chose to assemble for the processions—we had it in evidence that the Mayor had said he regarded the Salvation Army as "an atrocious, infamous, and degrading institution"—and that it was desirable to give to that Municipal Body entire discretion in such matters was not the view taken by the Committee. We delegated to them the duty of framing bye-laws, which shall afterwards receive the sanction of the Home Office and be held by an impartial judge to be reasonable before they become valid. That duty will, I hope, be carried out. The Committee, I may say, unanimously deprecated the view that Mr. Booth could break the law if he disapproved of it, and I hope the House does not share the view of the gallant Admiral that the Committee did not act impartially.


The hon. and gallant Member does not move?


No, Sir.

*(3.48.) MR. ROUND (Essex, N.E., Harwich)

The gallant Admiral has objected to my serving on this Committee, because I had served previously on another Committee which dealt with a similar state of things; and I freely confess I may have been bound, to a certain extent, by the decision we came to upon that Committee, but I hope I was not unduly biased. The Home Secretary issued a very full Report of the way in which similar difficulties had been dealt with in various towns; and I can assure the gallant Admiral that it was only when I read this Report, in which the proceedings of the Torquay Committee were referred to, that I remembered I had been a Member of that Committee. All the Members of this Committee were then aware of it, and I did not think it incumbent upon me to make any statement in regard to it. The fact that I did not follow in the wake of the gallant Admiral was not simply because I had had a part in the Torquay decision. I came to a conclusion on the evidence before us, and if similar circumstances were to arise I think I should do the same again.

(3.50.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

As one who was outvoted with the gallant Admiral, I must say I regret that my hon. and gallant Friend has criticised the decision of the Committee as unfair. We are not going to try the case again. I only wish to say that though I do not think the decision was a wise one, I do not think it was arrived at unfairly.

Bill to be read the third time.