HC Deb 21 June 1901 vol 95 cc1064-6

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he can state what numbers of police were employed at the meeting held in favour of the Boer cause at the Queen's Hall on Wednesday last, in the hall itself and in the approaches to it; and will he state what numbers are usually employed at other political meetings in the same hall, and what extra expense has been entailed on the ratepayers or taxpayers of the country.

The following question also appeared on the Paper:—

MR. MALCOLM (Suffolk, Stowmarket)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will state the number of extra police employed to maintain order in connection with the recent meeting on 19th June at the Queen's Hall; whether the constables thus employed were withdrawn from their ordinary duties or leisure for the occasion; whether any parts of London were thereby deprived of their normal police protection; whether the cost of such extra protection will now and in the future be paid by the promoters of meetings; and whether he will consider the advisability of prohibiting similar meetings as calculated to cause a breach of the peace.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

Before the question is answered I wish to call attention to the expression in the question, "the meeting held in favour of the Boer cause," and to ask whether this is not controversial matter, and whether therefore such an expression is in order.


It is desirable to exclude controversial matter from questions, but I presume that this is an account given by the hon. Member, who vouches for the description himself.


I was chairman at the meeting, and I entirely deny the accuracy of the statement. The meeting was held against the Government, sitting on that bench.


It is very difficult to draw the line exactly as to whether a phrase in a question is controversial or merely descriptive. If my attention had been called to it, I think I should have suggested a less controversial form.


I should like to say that I had no wish to put this question in a controversial form, and the form in which it was put arose simply from my having read the resolutions passed by the meeting.


In answer to these two questions, I have to say that, in accordance with the invariable practice in the case of meetings of a political nature, there were no police employed inside the Queen's Hall. The total number of police employed in the course of the evening in the vicinity of the hall in consequence of the meeting was 357. So far as I am aware, there have been no political meetings there before with which a comparison can be made. Promoters of meetings are never asked to pay anything in connection with the employment of extra police for the purpose of keeping order in the streets, but on this occasion no extra expense was incurred. Whenever an abnormal number of people are likely to assemble, extra police must necessarily be present, and necessarily also these extra police are withdrawn from their ordinary duties and leisure for the occasion. It is not in my power to prohibit meetings in private buildings.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the presence of the extra police was in any way due to the incitements which appeared in various London newspapers for several days in connection with this meeting, also by way of handbills circulated on the Stock Exchange and anonymous placards published in the press?


No, Sir. I am not aware that the presence of the police was due to any such cause. It was known that in all probability a great amount of feeling would be displayed, and that a large crowd would collect, and it is the duty of the police in these circumstances to keep order in the streets.


May I ask whether it is not the fact that the policy of allowing extravagant opinions to be expressed in perfect freedom is the best means of bringing those opinions into contempt?


Order, order! That question does not arise out of the answer.


Arising out of the answer of the Home Secretary, may I ask him whether on the next occasion that extra police are required—


Order, order!


Whether he will draw them from County Mayo, where they are not required?


If the hon. Member asks an irregular question and I call him to order, it is not usual to disregard my ruling. It is highly disrespectful, and contrary to the rules of the House.