HC Deb 11 April 1893 vol 11 cc15-7
MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of the disturbance created in Trafalgar Square, on Saturday last, by an organised opposition of Temperance Societies to the public meeting which was being duly held in compliance with the Regulations issued on 26th October, 1892, he will consider the possibility of framing additional Regulations to prevent the collection of conflicting crowds in Trafalgar Square at the same time and the consequent occurrence of the same disturbances as might result from the holding of more than one meeting there at the same time?

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

I beg to ask what steps the Government intend to take in order to prevent the recurrence of disorderly proceedings, such as took place upon Saturday last in Trafalgar Square, to the inconvenience and annoyance of the residents in the immediate neighbourhood, and the general insecurity of the Metropolis?


Was an application made to hold a public meeting on Saturday last in Trafalgar Square; and whether, in accordance with the new Regulations, permission was granted, and, if so, why the meeting and good order of the Metropolis was not protected by an adequate force of police?


Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been called to the fact that, in adjudicating upon a charge of assault arising out of the assembly in Trafalgar Square, on Saturday last, the Magistrate at Bow Street observed that it was never safe for the police to assume that at such a meeting, in such a place, there might not be disorder, and very serious disorder; and, in these circumstances, will he direct that the Square be closed to such meetings, or that the police shall be present in greater numbers than the demonstrators?


Application was made for permission to hold a meeting last Saturday in the prescribed manner, and permission was granted. The police were aware that, owing to peculiar circumstances, there might be some opposition, and preparation was made accordingly. There was throughout the meeting present in the Square, and in the immediate neighbourhood, a force amply sufficient not only to secure freedom of traffic and protection for property, but to have dispersed the meeting and cleared the Square. It was the opinion of the officers, in which I concur, that no such step was necessary. The disorder has been greatly exaggerated, and I do not concur in the opinion of the Magistrate, which was no doubt formed with reference to the incidents which came before him, and upon information necessarily incomplete, as to the whole of the real facts. I have made full and careful inquiry, and find that beyond the destruction, which I greatly regret, of the two first banners of the procession, there was no damage done to the property of the persons holding the meeting. No personal injury of any kind was sustained by any policeman in the course of the proceedings, nor, so far as the police are aware, by any member of the public. One man had his pocket picked of 2d. The suspected thief was arrested, and is now in course of being committed for trial. There was at no time any general disorder; there was plenty of hooting and noise, such as there always must be at any meeting where there is a large body of opponents; but, except in the immediate neighbourhood of the platform, there was no disturbance, and even there, after a short struggle, the police succeeded in giving complete protection to the speakers. A hearing they could not secure them. I am informed by the police that throughout the proceedings perambulators, with their occupants and attendants, circulated freely about the centre of the Square. Traffic in the streets surrounding the Square was, except at the moment when the procession, protected by the police, was crossing the Strand, never for a moment interfered with. The disturbance was due to the organised action of a body of persons who wanted to hold a counter demonstration. In my opinion, that proceeding, if it was not a violation of the letter, was certainly a violation of the spirit and intention of the Regulations which have been laid down. I say nothing as to the character and objects of the meeting actually held, which, no doubt, had some peculiar features. But I was most anxious, as it was a meeting against the policy or Her Majesty s Government, that it should have all possible fair play. I gave special instructions for the purpose. I think those instructions were carried out and complied with. As to the future, in my opinion no additional Regulations are needed. I do not think that Trafalgar Square ought to be made the cock-pit of rival demonstrations. In the Regulations which I laid down I provided that no two meetings should ever be held on the same day. That Regulation will be strictly enforced. I think further, in view of what took place last Saturday, and after consultation with the Commissioner of Police, that it will be desirable in future that he should prevent the assemblage before the meeting, and in anticipation of it, of all persons in the Square till those who comprise the authorised meeting have arrived. I think further—and I throw out this suggestion for all persons who contemplate taking part in such meetings — that banners and flags, particularly if they bear inscriptions of a controversial or provocative character, shall be furled before entering the Square. I have only to add this; that, as I said last October, Trafalgar Square can only be used for future meetings if there is loyal co-operation with the authorities on the part of all persons concerned in the maintenance of order and of the prevention of public inconvenience. That co-operation has hitherto been uniformly exhibited, and I trust it will continue to be exhibited in the future.