HC Deb 19 May 1896 vol 40 cc1691-3
* MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

I beg to ask the First Commissioner of Works a Question of which I have given him private notice—by whose authority is a scene being enacted in Westminster Hall at the present moment, which is, I believe, without precedent—namely, that long tables containing documents wearing the appearance of being petitions to this House, are being exhibited with several persons in attendance; and I wish to know whether this has been done with the authority of the First Commissioner of Works or the Home Secretary?


I was not aware, until I got notice of the Question since I came to the House, of the facts to which my right hon. Friend alludes. There is some question as to who has jurisdiction over Westminster Hall. I am not aware that I have, and I certainly have not given my consent.


I beg to ask the right hon. Gentlemen whether they have borne in mind the Sessional Order of this House that no disorder shall be permitted in Westminster Hall or the passages leading to the House during the sitting of Parliament; that there should be no annoyance; and that the Serjeant-at-Arms should communicate this Order to the police officials. I wish to know whether any steps have been taken by the Home Secretary to carry out this Order.


Having been informed that leave had been given by someone that these petitions should be exhibited in Westminster Hall, I was applied to to sanction the police to prevent disorder, and I sanctioned the presence of the police to prevent disorder and annoyance. [Laughter.]


I wish to ask whether it is to be understood that such permission is to be general, and that all persons who desire to exhibit memorials to Parliament will have free access to Westminster Hall, or has the permission been given as a special act of favour to the petitioners on one particular question? ["Hear, hear!"] I think I am justified in asking you, Mr. Speaker, whether the Order of this House, to which our attention has been drawn by my hon. Friend, is still in force, and whose duty it is to enforce the Order.


I have no doubt the Order referred to is still in force, and it is the duty of the Serjeant-at-Arms to see it enforced by the police. I am not aware that anything in the nature of disorder has been brought to the notice of the Serjeant-at-Arms. As to whether the proceeding is a proper one I will not pronounce any opinion. I do not, however, understand that what has occurred amounts to disorder.


The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary says he has given orders to prevent disorder. [Laughter.] Has he also given orders to prevent annoyance? [Laughter.]


If the hon. Gentleman implies that these proceedings have been agreeable to me, I can tell him that they have not. [Laughter.] I was informed that permission was given by the proper authority, although I confess I do not know who the proper authority is—[laughter]—for the exhibition of these memorials in Westminster Hall, and it was my duty to sanction the police to prevent disorder and annoyance to Members rising out of it. There is some debateable ground as to who the proper authority is.


Is there any disorder likely to arise in Westminster Hall from the presentation of a memorial in favour of women's suffrage? [Laughter.]


Order, order! This is degenerating into a Debate, and the subject must cease.