§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
My Lords, perhaps you will allow me to occupy your attention for a few moments while I make a suggestion to the noble Earl the First Lord of the Treasury; and that I 1589 may be strictly in order, I will move that this House at its rising do adjourn till Monday next. It had been my intention to give Notice of an Address to the Crown, the effect of which I will now state. It refers in some measure to the present crisis, though it conveys an opinion and project which I have entertained long anterior to the present time, and before, therefore, the disturbances which have arisen from the attempt to meet in Hyde Park. These are the terms of the Motion of which I had intended to give notice—That in the event of the appeal to a Court of Law respecting the right of the people to hold Public Meetings in Hyde Park being decided in the negative, to move an Address to the Crown, praying Her Majesty to take such measures as shall secure to the people one or more open spaces, or covered buildings in or near the Metropolis, for the purpose of political or other discussion.Now I have long entertained the opinion that open spaces for public meetings should be provided in London, and have had some notion of bringing the subject under the notice of your Lordships; and I think you will see that there is some justice in the proposition. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Court of Law to which this appeal is made decides that the people have no right whatever to meet in the Park; the people will naturally say, "The Constitution recognizes our right to hold public meetings," which it undoubtedly does, "in order that we may assert our privileges, express our opinions, and transact any business which we may think of advantage to ourselves or to the community; but where have we the power to hold such assemblies? You shut us out of the Parks, and there are no other places in central situations where we can assemble without, as you say, committing a breach of the peace." My Lords, it appears to me, therefore, that we are only following the example of the great free States of antiquity in providing open spaces where the people may have the undisputed right of considering all the affairs relating to their own condition, and the state of the commonwealth at large. It may be said that the people can go to Primrose Hill. That may be perfectly true; but the people have no undisputed right of meeting even at Primrose Hill; and I am quite certain, from what I know of the people—and I have had a good deal of intercourse with them for a very long time—that that for which they look is the provision of some place or places where they may have an undisputed right 1590 of meeting without any other appeal than to the authority which has charge of these places. I would take care that these places should be under no sort of official control in any way connected with the Government. They might, however, be provided by and subject to the control of the Metropolitan Board of Works. That Board has power to levy a rate, and might levy such a rate as would enable them to provide places in which the people might meet and deliberate, and of which they might have the use simply upon a requisition to the authorities signed by five or six householders, stating that they wished to hold a meeting at such a place and on such a day. It appears to me that we should really in this way not only give to the people the opportunity of exercising their constitutional right, but we should obviate the possibility of any future disturbances similar to those which have taken place in Hyde Park. If my noble Friend should say that it is inconvenient that I should give formal notice of an Address to the Crown, I will abide by his advice. But it is a subject of very considerable importance, and I hope it will receive the favourable consideration of the Government. May I, therefore, ask my noble Friend to state his views upon this question? I hope he will be able to say—without, of course, pledging himself to adopt any particular course respecting it—that the subject is one of importance, and that he will take it into his favourable consideration.
§ THE EARL of DERBY
My Lords, I think my noble Friend has exercised a sound discretion in not giving formal notice, or in asking the House in its present state, and at this period of the Session, to sanction an Address pledging the Crown to take any particular course.
§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
Pardon me. What I proposed was to give Notice of an Address in case a Court of Law should decide against the right of the people to meet in Hyde Park.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
Exactly. I think that another objection to the Motion is supplied by the fact that my noble Friend anticipates that an Address should be presented in certain contingencies which may or may not arise.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
At all events I think this is a question which it would be very inconvenient to discuss in the shape either of a formal Motion or, as I now 1591 understand my noble Friend, of a Notice of Motion for next Session. He will excuse me, therefore, if I refrain from discussing the merits of so hypothetical a question, more especially looking at the various difficulties which may arise in carrying out his project. However, I have no objection to say that I think it is not at all unreasonable that there should be such open spaces within a convenient distance of the metropolis in which the people may exercise without question an undisputed right of holding public meetings. I say that is not unreasonable—on the contrary, I think it desirable—that the people should have these places; and the subject shall, therefore, have our consideration during the recess. If we see our way to introduce any such measure, in the event of its being laid down, as will certainly be the case, that the public have no undisputed right of entry into the Park, the question of doing so will certainly be worthy of the consideration of the Government. As far as I am concerned I shall be ready to give to such a project the most favourable consideration in my power. At present the noble Earl would hardly expect me to say more than that it is a question worth consideration, and that it does form a reasonable ground of complaint on the part of the people that they have no such open places to which they can resort. Permission to use Primrose Hill has been granted for the present, and I have no doubt that on similar occasions similar permission will be granted; but the privilege to use Primrose Hill rests not on right, but on permission.
§ Lord REDESDALE
I wish to say a word upon the subject of the Notice which the noble Earl had proposed to give. It seems to imply that, provided it shall be held that Hyde Park is not open for meetings of this sort, it would be desirable that it should be made open for them. On the contrary, however desirable it may be that some place should be secured where meetings of this sort may be held, I think Hyde Park is not a fit and desirable place for such meetings, and I believe that is the general opinion. I wish to call your Lordships' attention to facts which show that this opinion as to the impropriety of holding political meetings in parks is one which is held independently of party feeling, or of considerations arising out of 1592 temporary occurrence. A gentleman well known to many of your Lordships, and certainly to the public for his liberality to the district to which he belongs—Sir Francis Crossley—in 1857, gave a park to the people of Halifax; and in the indenture by which he conveyed that park to the people of Halifax the provision is made that the park shall on no occasion be used for the purpose of a political or any other meeting, nor for open air preaching, nor for the celebration of the anniversaries or other reunions of clubs or benefit societies. Sir Francis Crossley is a Liberal and perhaps an advanced Liberal, and these arc the conditions on which lie made the noble gift of this park, which is of the value of £30,000, to the town. This year a gentleman has given a park to Middlesborough, and again in the agreement under which the park is handed over to the local authority it is provided that it shall not be used for the purpose of a political or any other meeting. I think it is desirable that your Lordships' attention should be called to these facts, which show that parks have been given and are reserved for other purposes than political meetings and open air assemblages of that kind.
§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
desired to set himself right with their Lordships by saying that he was extremely averse to the Parks themselves being used for public meetings. What he desired was expressed in the terms of his proposed Motion—that in the event of the Courts of Law deciding against the right of the people to hold public meetings in the Parks, their Lordships should address Her Majesty to secure to the people some open space or covered building for the purpose of holding political or other discussion.