§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
Seeing the noble Earl the First Lord of the Treasury in his place, I take the liberty of asking him a Question. There have appeared upon the walls in various parts of the metropolis and upon the Park gates a very long and grandiose proclamation signed "Edmond Beaks." I shall be glad to know from the noble Earl, Whether the contents of that proclamation are correct, and whether it contains an accurate statement of what has taken place between the Reform League and the Home Secretary?
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I am very much obliged to my noble Friend for the opportunity he has given me of disabusing your Lordships and the public with regard to the communications which have taken place between the Council of the Reform League and Her Majesty's Government within the last twenty-four hours. After the discussion in the House of Commons the other night, the Council of the Reform League communicated with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, stating that they had heard with great satisfaction the statement made by him last night as to the state in which he conceived the law to be, and were gratified by the conciliatory tone in which he had spoken; and stating that they were very anxious to have the opportunity of conferring with him next day, if he would receive a deputation. In consequence of this request my right hon. Friend, about two o'clock yesterday, received a deputation of the Council of the League, who expressed their great regret at the scenes which had taken place in Hyde Park. Of course, they had their own view of the matter as to the violence used by the police. That was not a question which it was necessary to discuss; but they expressed a great desire to do everything in their power to put an end to these outrages and to prevent any further damage being done in the Park, and they represented to my right hon. Friend that, if they were allowed to go into the Park without interference by the police or the military —without any demonstration of force by the 1492 authorities—they thought that they might be able to persuade those people who were still doing more or less mischief in the Park to retire quietly to their homes. Some conversation took place, which, as far as I can understand, is very accurately reported in The Times of this morning; and certainly, after reading the terms of the understanding and the proposal made by my right hon. Friend, I must say that nothing can be more directly opposed to the statement in the placards to which my right hon. Friend has referred, than what actually did take place. What my right hon. Friend did state was this—If you will assure your friends that the Government will give you every opportunity of trying the legal right, and facilitating the determination of that right, and that they ask of you in the interim not to insist on that right until it is determined one way or the other; that in the meantime you will convey to your friends that the Government wish to meet them in the fairest and frankest manner, as to the opportunities they may have of discussing public questions, in places which are recognized as places where the police would not be ordered to interfere;—if you will only do that, I think I see the solution of the present difficulty. In that case I will undertake to say that, unless any mischief arise to-night, unless any disturbance be created, unless property be attacked—which it is my duty to defend—there will be no demonstrations of either military or police.The conditions, therefore, were that they should be permitted to address their friends who might be remaining in the Park to induce them to withdraw, and that every facility should be given them to try, if they were disposed, the legal right of the public to admission into the Park at all times and for all purposes. Every facility for the trial of this right was to be given upon the condition that in the interim there should be no attempt made to insist upon the exercise of the alleged right. This conversation took place between two o'clock and half past two. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary acted entirely upon his own responsibility and without communication with his Colleagues. Between four and five o'clock he informed me of what had taken place. I then expressed to him my doubts whether the influence of the Council of the League would be sufficient to effect the object they had in view, but I quite agreed with him that they should be permitted to try. Certainly, nothing could be greater than my astonishment when I found a placard posted up all over the neighbourhood of Hyde Park, stating directly the reverse 1493 of that which my right hon. Friend had said; not that in the interim no attempt should be made to insist upon the supposed right, but, on the contrary, setting up an agreement between the Government and the Council of the Reform League, and proposing to hold a Reform meeting in Hyde Park at six o'clock on Monday evening next. My right hon. Friend was just as much surprised as I was. The fact is that, after the deputation left him, Mr. Beales and one or two more personally returned to ask my right hon. Friend whether he would consent to a meeting being held in the Park on Monday night next. My right hon. Friend gave the only answer he could—namely, that the question was one of far too much importance for him to take the responsibility singly of coming to a decision upon it. He also said that, in order to prevent the possibility of mistake on so important a matter, the request must be made in writing, and that after he had had an opportunity of consulting his Colleagues an answer should be given in writing. This was between two and three o'clock. About half past six my right hon. Friend received from Mr. Beales a letter, of which I have a copy—The Reform League. Manhood Suffrage and the Ballot. 8, Adelphi Terrace, London, July 25.Sir,—I am requested by the Council of this League to most earnestly press upon you the advisability and even urgent necessity—as the most effectual means of putting an end to the dangerous state of exasperation now existing in the public mind — that you will offer no opposition to the meeting proposed to be held by the League in Hyde Park, on Monday afternoon next, at six o'clock; such meeting to be held on the general subject of the Elective Franchise and Reform, and to be without prejudice in any way to the decision of the question in Parliament or in a Court of Law as to the abstract right of the people to meet for political discussion in that or any other Park, the Council of the League undertaking on their part to do everything in their power to preserve the peace and prevent any act tending to riot or disorder.—I am, Sir, with the utmost respect, your obedient humble servant, "EDMOND BEALES, President." "The Right Hon. Spencer Walpole.To that letter, up to the present time, no answer has been returned. Yet within half an hour of the sending of that letter a placard was posted all over the Park intimating that the Secretary of State, on the part of the Government, had given his consent to the holding of a meeting at six o'clock on Monday next. One of the members of the deputation was Mr. Holyoake, and having seen the placard, Mr. Holyoake this morning came to the Home Office to 1494 repudiate, in the strongest terms, Mr. Beales' proclamation. He perfectly understood Mr. Walpole to decline to sanction any meeting in the Park, and to ask that any application for that should be made in writing. He spoke to many Liberal Members last night, and also to Mr. Beales when the proclamation was being posted. There is, therefore, on the part of one of the deputation themselves, on the part of one of those who asked for the meeting, a distinct repudiation, and a declaration of the absolute falsity of the placard. My right hon. Friend thought it necessary to refer this question to his Colleagues, and I hope that your Lordships will approve the answer, not yet sent, but determined upon by Her Majesty's Government. Her Majesty's Government have directed Mr. Walpole to acquaint the Council of the League that they have no disposition whatever to interfere with a meeting held in any proper place for the purpose of discussing Reform or any other political question; but that it is impossible they can give their sanction to the holding of a meeting for that purpose in any of the Royal Parks; at the same time, they are quite ready to give the Council or any other person every facility for trying the alleged legal right; but, in the meantime, it is impossible for Her Majesty's Government to sanction that which they believe to be a violation of the law. It is added that if they desire to hold an open-air meeting no objection will he raised to their meeting, as on former occasions, on Primrose Hill; but a meeting in any of the Royal Parks will not be sanctioned. That is the answer which will be given; and I hope the good sense of the leaders of this movement, after fully considering all the consequences of their action on Monday last, the serious damage done, the alarm excited in the minds of quiet persons, the injury which has been done, not to property only, but in some cases to persons also, and the impossibility of their being able to answer for the conduct of those who do not belong to them, but who follow in the train of a monster procession, will show them that they are incurring very serious and grave responsibility. If, after the warning which has been given—after the voluntary offer to permit a meeting upon Primrose Hill, they persist in that which we believe to be a violation of the law, they must be held responsible for all the consequences which must follow from such a reckless course of procedure.