HL Deb 15 March 1886 vol 303 cc741-61

, in rising to call attention to the Report of Mr. Childers's Committee, and to move— That in the opinion of this House responsibility for the unfortunate occurrences of 8th February devolves on Her Majesty's Govern- ment collectively and not on any single branch of the executive, said: My Lords, I offer an apology to the House for not having appeared a week ago upon this Notice. In times like these, we ought no doubt to be superior to ailments; but those which affect the voice must often render men incapable of speaking. Whatever maybe thought of any Motion now submitted, it will be granted that some further reference to the disturbances on the 8th of February was inevitable. The discussion which arose on the 18th of February, although neither uncalled for nor uninteresting, took place when no question was before the House, when no document existed, and when scenes of violence and pillage were too recent to admit of cool examination, accurate reflection, or practical conclusion on the incident which led to them. In the other House of Parliament there has been a more regular debate, although it turned upon a rather fanciful proposal to hand the Metropolitan Police over to a control which is not in existence. Now, the proper object is to ascertain responsibility for what occurred upon the 8th of February, and thus to guard against a similar calamity. Beyond the alarm which is created among the middle classes, beyond the obvious blow to capital and commerce, beyond the manifest encouragement of tumult in the Provinces, it has been mischievous abroad, by leading foreign countries to look upon Great Britain as a State too much divided in itself, and too much on the verge of change, or even of convulsion, to be powerful. The event, of course, is magnified by distance, and we may know a great deal better. I will now inquire into the lesson which the Blue Book seems to furnish. That lesson is, that the unfortunate occurrence with which all present are familiar may be traced to the collision of two bodies in Trafalgar Square. Without one, there would not have been the animus of riot. Without the other, there would not have been the numbers to create it. It is clear, in the first page, and also from the evidence of Colonel Henderson, that the Government were fully warned as to the prospect. Indeed, it appeared in the public papers on the 5th of February that the Social Democrats had resolved upon assailing the platforms of the working men out of employment. The working men explained it to the authorities. It rested with the Government to secure the absence of one body or the other. There is an Act of Parliament, the 57 Geo. III. c. 19, s. 23, by which their interference would, at least, have been supported. If the Act of Parliament was doubtful—it does occasionally happen—the Common Law would have sufficed. It has been explained by Mr. Justice Holroyd, that assemblies formed to excite terror and use force—and such was the assembly of the Social Democrats—may be regarded as illegal. I do not dwell upon that part of the subject, as, after the hour of appeals, your Lordships will not like to sit judicially any more than the House of Commons is fond of being in Nisi Prius. If the Common Law was otherwise interpreted it was still open to the Government, as guardians of the public safety, to exceed the law, and gain a subsequent indemnity. There is no course more justified by precedent, or open to a statesman. During the whole of the last century, to relieve Dissenters year by year, it was resorted to. It was resorted to by the great Lord Chatham, in his second Government, to provide against a scarcity. In our age it has been employed in memorable instances—as regards the Bank Charter Act of 1844—with a view to avert commercial panics or to mitigate them. But still the end was otherwise attainable. From the complexion it has reached, the members it embodies, the influence of Her Majesty's Government over the Social Democrats is far from inconsiderable. A grave expression of opinion thrown into a message would have very possibly succeeded. But if the Social Democrats, in spite of such advances from a genial quarter, were inexorable, another plan was open. The unemployed labourers, who had communicated with the Government, who had evinced their deference and loyalty, might have been warned that, by appearing at Trafalgar Square that day, they would do worse than nothing for their admirable object. It ought here to be added that the necessity of averting the collision of adverse bodies on a given area has long been recognized officially and acted on. Some years ago, when Lord Palmerston was First Minister, the partizans of Garibaldi, who were English, and his opponents, who were Irish, proposed to meet in Hyde Park at the same moment, and were prohibited by Mr. William Cowper, who was at the Board of Works and did not wish Italian campaigns to be repeated or rehearsed upon the Serpentine. But, much more recently, Lord Spencer has acted on that principle in Ireland, and averted the collision of Orangemen and Nationalists. There was nothing startling or original in the preventive course which might have been adopted. The unavoidable arraignment therefore is, that the Government foresaw the peril and declined to avert it. The defence of Colonel Henderson may be that no efforts of the Metropoliton Police can guard against the movements which arise when hostile bodies have encountered one another. The defence of Mr. Childers may be even more plausible—that he was wholly unaccustomed to the Home Office. The Government collectively have no defence whatever. To them belongs the origin of the disturbance. With a large choice of measures, with ample power to avert, they deemed it wiser to permit it. I do not mean that they are all equally responsible. Far from it. The great responsibility belongs to the First Minister, on grounds which easily present themselves. The First Minister appoints the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and, therefore, if that Secretary of State is inefficient, the First Minister is culpable and guilty. Who asked the right hon. Gentleman to send Mr. Childers to the Home Office? The General Election did not designate him for the function. The public did not clamour for that particular appointment. It had not ocurred to speculation or to rumour. It cannot be made out that Mr. Parnell and his followers demanded it. It was not exacted at St. Petersburg. The electors of Mid Lothian did not urge it, nor those of Edinburgh either. A Secretary of State was chosen with no experience whatever of the Department he approached, with no knowledge of the Metropolitan Constabulary, no habit of consulting their authorities. The action was more violent; because another Colleague, as the House is well aware, had been at the Home Office for five years, had long directed the police; and, however moderate his talents for administrative business—I offer no opinion of them—must have been more qualified to deal with an emergency of this kind than a stranger. He had been hardened by a course of dynamite explosions. But let us grant that Mr. Childers was inevitable. He was, perhaps, upon one principle the First Minister has frequently applied. It is that men ought to be appointed to an Office, not to exercise the faculty and knowledge they possess, but to acquire the faculty and knowledge in which they are notoriously wanting. On that principle we have before remarked a great commercial statesman, thoroughly devoid of military science, chosen to preside over the War Office, and to re-organize an Army. There are many other illustrations of it which might come back to your Lordships. It renders Whitehall a political academy, not to employ the talent, but to remedy the ignorance of placemen; a genial school in which the education of the man is purchased by the ruin of the Empire. Let it be granted then that Mr. Childers was inevitable. He might otherwise have died before he grasped the elements of street fighting, in which we may be sure that now his progress is amazing. The First Minister had been installed in Office for a week, and had no call to go away for re-election. Under these circumstances, a portion of the Government being scattered, and the rest of it being inchoate, be became the proper guardian of the country in every Department which was vacant. Such was the position of the Duke of Wellington at the close of 1834, when Sir Robert Peel was absent. But there is no occasion to insist on that particular example. It is on record that the Admiralty referred to Mr. Pitt, without scruple, in the middle of the night, when naval difficulties happened. Lord Palmerston, as First Minister—I learnt it from Mr. Hermann Merivale, the permanent official—transacted the business of the Colonial Office in 1855, when Lord John Russell, who was then Colonial Secretary, went upon a mission to Vienna. It was the duty of the First Minister, who had just forced himself on Downing Street by an extraordinary method, to sustain the burden of the Home Office until his fancifully chosen nominee was ready to endure it. The Attorney General was in London, ready with his legal knowledge to assist him. No one was better placed than the First Minister for pointing out to Colonel Henderson that the line of the Clubs was the special line to be defended. He could hardly have forgotten the inflammatory language in which, not long ago, he had referred to them as "temples of luxury and ease," and held them up, although not meaning it at all, to the resentment of the people. However, those who do not think it proper to identify the First Minister with such a wide responsibility as usually devolves upon him, who would confine his function to the Treasury, leave every Department to itself, and give him no control over subordinates, will approve of the word collectively being brought into the Motion. Even among those who are acquainted well with the political machine, there may be differences as to where reproach ought to direct itself. But all intelligent society concurs in thinking it a scandal that Colonel Henderson should be the only mark for retribution, that everywhere else impunity should reign, that everywhere else official wealth, official rank should be accumulated. Such is the proposal of the Government. Such is the proposal which the House is asked to counteract or modify this evening. My Lords, it is not irrelevant, it is indeed essential, to look back to a few instances of riot and commotion successfully or unsuccessfully encountered, and see whether the praise or blame was fixed upon the head of the Constabulary. In 1866, soon after the late Lord Derby began his third Administration, there was a signal triumph of disorder. A large mass succeeded in occupying Hyde Park, against the wishes and the proclamation of the Government. The police having undoubtedly been worsted, the arrangements having certainly been vicious, the whole blame might have fallen on them. Such was not the language in either House of Parliament. The attack was copiously directed against the Home Office and the Government. The Secretary of State resigned—I think it was an error upon his part. But it never occurred to anyone to make the predecessor of Colonel Henderson a scapegoat. In connection with this topic there is something to be particularly noted. The Metropolitan Police had been far more decidedly frustrated than happened on the 8th of February. On that day in Oxford Street—and this ought always to be mentioned in behalf of Colonel Henderson—they did succeed at last in gaining an advantage to which our safety at this moment is attributable. In 1866 they thoroughly collapsed, and made way for the Military Forces. But still they did not bear, as now, the whole responsibility. In 1848, law and order were successfully maintained against a Chartist demonstration, when anarchy had been supreme in Paris, Berlin, and Vienna; when Thrones were scattered by a revolutionary hurricane; when all the world looked on to see whether the British capital would ride unharmed over the tempest. The praise was given to Sir George Grey, the Secretary of State, who organized the special constables, to the Duke of Wellington, who placed the troops, to Lord John Russell, who invoked his prudence and activity. According to the present doctrine, or at least according to its converse, the police ought all to have been knighted, and a Garter, if nothing else, bestowed on the Commissioner. What do we find on recurring to 1780, and to Lord George Gordon? The riots were much graver than the present ones. For many days, and not for a few hours, disorder was ascendant. Magistrates and constables were paralyzed. The King alone retained his self-possession. Newgate was invaded; a number of Dissenting chapels burnt; the mansion of the Lord Chief Justice pillaged; terror universal. Against whom did the language of public men direct itself? Against the Government collectively. You may see it in the speeches of Mr. Fox, Lord Shelburne, and others which remain to us. You may see it in the well-known and classical defence of Lord George Gordon, by the great forensic master of that period. No officer, who guided or misguided the police, was chosen to be at once a target and a shelter trench. My Lords, it may be asked, even by those who do not venture to dispute this line of reasoning, on what ground and with what aim should either House of Parliament declare itself? It is the only mode of guarding against such lapses for the future. There is much to lure or drag Administrations into tacit compact with disturbance. It may appear a necessary method to conciliate electors. It may be thought conducive to the objects which the Cabinet are aiming at. At least, it gratifies the love of ease, of compromise, and of inaction which, on the late occasion, was conspicuous. But these are speculative arguments. What did we observe in 1884? We saw the group which has now returned substantially to Office initiating or encouraging a vast assemblage, by which the routes to Parliament were blocked, by which Members of either House were driven or excluded from their places, which was directed towards Westminster beyond its proper route into Hyde Park, for no purpose but the purpose of impeding and intimidating. The right hon. Gentleman, and those whom he employs—however great their merits—are not to be depended on for the maintenance of order, or I should rather say of freedom, in the streets of the Metropolis. But Colonel Henderson has been removed. In his removal, where is the security for better conduct of the Government? What is it to the Government, if, once a-year or once a-month, you change the head of the police? His groans are heard with perfect equanimity. It is true the vigilance of that official may be improved by such a process. It is true the successor of Colonel Henderson may be unerring, irreproachable. But he can never give the orders to prevent a conflict of opinion in Trafalgar Square. A step of that kind must depend upon the Government. He can only parry or resist the violence it leads to, He can only battle with the evil which a capable and honourable Government would not have suffered to present itself. Some think it useless for your Lordships to pass a Motion of this kind, unless the other House concurs in it. Governments are not of that opinion, since, when they are exposed to censure in the House of Lords, they regularly try to counteract it in the other. It was seen in 1850, in 1864, and even in the last Session. It is not obviously desirable that both Houses should concur in a Resolution of this character. The half is sometimes better than the whole, according to an old Greek proverb. If both Houses united, a Dissolution might be hurried, or a change of Government necessitated. It is appropriate that the error should be recorded in one House, when inconveniences would follow on empathic, although well-founded, reprimand from both of them together. Of course, no Motion of this House alone can promise to ensure a new, or a corrected, Government, which many feel to be desirable in reference to Ireland and every other topic. It is, however, true that insufficient measures may often be obligatory measures, when a principle dictates them. In medicine, war, or navigation, the rules of science may demand a certain course, although it will not reach the whole effect which is desired, although it seems that death, defeat, or shipwreck are impending. The same lesson is suggested by political affairs. To act at present on the maxim, that where error has been proved, one House of Parliament should notice it, may give a better aspect to a gloomy situation, may be the germ, the starting point, of remedy, or of improvement. It may, indeed, be otherwise. But where the voice of duty is emphatic, there is no room for searching calculation, or minute analysis of policy and prudence. Parliament is bound to see that in a transaction of this kind justice is maintained, and retribution properly distributed. The Government, as now disposed and constituted, has few supporters upon this side beyond the Treasury Bench. They have no claim on any Party which desires to uphold the Irish Union. But if noble Lords opposite, arrayed to criticize and censure, become their followers and advocates when such results have sprung from their deficiency, what power will remain, what refuge will be standing? The form of words which I have chosen may not, indeed, appear to them the most expressive of their judgment. In that event they may amend and supersede it. In the meanwhile I will move the Resolution of which I have given Notice.

Moved to resolve— That in the opinion of this House responsibility for the unfortunate occurrences of 8th February devolves on Her Majesty's Government collectively and not on any single branch of the executive."—(The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


said, that he had listened with great attention to the noble Lord, and he hoped that he should be forgiven if he declined to admit on the part of the Government that he had made out a case against them. The Motion as it stood contained a very through and sweeping condemnation of Her Majesty's Government. It was, of course, painful that so sweeping a condemnation should come from a noble Lord who was generally a supporter of Her Majesty's present Government. He must, therefore, ask their Lordships to permit him very briefly to examine the Motion of the noble Lord upon its merits. The noble Lord said that Her Majesty's Government collectively were to blame for the disgraceful riots that had occurred on the 8th of February in the West End. Having the honour to represent the Home Office in their Lordships' House, of course he was very glad that the Motion should be framed in that way; but he feared that the position taken up by the noble Lord could not be maintained, for the reason that Her Majesty's Government did not exist collectively as a whole on that day, it not having been completely formed until a much later date. It was true that the Home Secretary had entered upon his duties on that day; but the only other Members of the Government that had actually entered upon their Offices at the time were the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack (Lord Herschell), the noble Lord the Lord President of the Council (Earl Spencer), the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs (the Earl of Roseberry), the noble Marquess the First Lord of the Admiralty (the Marquess of Ripon), and the noble Earl the Secretary for India (the Earl of Kimberley). At that time the Legal Advisors of the Crown had not been appointed, and therefore Her Majesty's Government could not be said to have existed as a whole on the day in question. The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Childers) did not think it his duty immediately on entering the Home Office to upset all the arrangements of his Predecessor in Office or of the police, in view of the meeting in Trafalgar Square, especially as he had been assured that these arrangements were perfectly sufficient. They had now, however, other guides more reliable than the noble Lord upon this matter, having before them the Report of the Commissioners appointed to consider the question of the organization of the Police. The last three lines of that Report indicated very distinctly where the mischief under the old system lay. They were as follows:— We conclude our Report by a strong expression of opinion that the administration and organization of the Metropolitan Police Force requires to be thoroughly investigated; and we hope that this investigation will take place without delay. It was evident from that Report that the riots of the 8th of February were due, not to the fault of the Executive or to the quality of the police, but to the defective system of our police organization. He desired to repeat what he had already said—namely, that the Metropolitan Police Force was second to none in material, but that it wanted an Intelligence Department which might be its eyes and ears and the means of conveying orders accurately so as to insure their being carried out. These riots would probably result in a great gain to the country which had escaped a great danger very cheaply. He was glad to be able to state that the Government and Parliament were taking steps to reimburse those who had suffered during the riots. He was also glad to have the opportunity of endorsing the praise of Sir Edmund Henderson which had been expressed by the noble Viscount (Viscount Cranbrook) opposite. The services of Sir Edmund Henderson, who had kept the peace of this Metropolis during the last 17 years, were in no danger of being forgotten. Times had changed, London had now greatly increased in population, and various dangers had grown up of which before they had little knowledge. Under those circumstances it was very natural that after the lapse of 17 years Sir Edmund Henderson might be permitted to relinquish the cares of his high office; and he thought it was very right that a new man should be selected who no doubt would be better able to introduce the reforms that were needed into the Police Force. In conclusion, he congratulated the noble Lord who had brought forward that Motion at any rate on the originality of his arguments, which were fully equal to the remarkable suggestion made in a former debate—that the late riots were caused by the annexation of Burmah. For himself, he ventured to hope that their Lordships would consider that the Government had acted with prudence on that occasion. He did not think it would be wise at present to accept the sweeping Resolution which the noble Lord had proposed. It would not be wise to trifle with the safety of the Metropolis by weakening the hands of the Executive at that moment of transition, and he therefore called upon their Lordships to reject the Motion.


said, that after the studied reply just made by the Government to the vigorous denouncement of the noble Lord (Lord Stratheden and Campbell), he (Lord Dorchester) did not intend to follow up that matter at any great length, although it was one which concerned the safety of their households in that Metropolis, and the security of a vast amount of valuable property. He would, however, observe that he had never known that there was any mystery in the discipline of a well-regulated regiment; and he saw no reason why there should be mystery in the organization of the Metropolitan Police. It was a mere question of discipline, of organization, and of the relations which existed between the Home Department and the senior executive officer of a largo body of men, numbering, he believed, over 13,000, who had very responsible and onerous duties, and who were individually exposed by day and night to three of the most tempting influences that affected men's probity and their organization—namely, wine, women, and money. They were exposed to those three sources of temptation, and from them they had kept wonderfully aloof. No man who had lived, as he had done, in London for many years, and had watched the action of the Metropolitan constables, could fail to admire the steadiness and alacrity with which they discharged their duties. At the East End of London, in October last, there were some disturbances which the police were said to have been too active and energetic in putting down. He was not in the secrets of the Home Office or of Scotland Yard; but it was the general impression that the want of action on February 8 resulted, in a great measure, from the blame that was thrown on some of the Inspectors and subordinates of the Force for being too active in suppressing the disturbances at the East End of London. That might or might not be the case; but the disturbance of February 8 was known beforehand to be likely to take place. He had seen a letter dated 12 days before the occurrence forshadowing accurately what actually happened. He did not believe that the least possible blame devolved on Mr. Childers on that occasion. How far that right hon. Gentleman might have understood the duties of the Home Office on the first day he went there it was not for him to say; but there was no doubt that Mr. Childers gave every attention to every subject that was brought before him. But were there no Permanent Under Secretaries at the Home Office, no detective officer in Scotland Yard in communication with the Inspector of Criminal Detection at the Home Office? He was informed that the relations between the Home Office and Scotland Yard should be those that existed between the War Office and the General commanding an army in foreign parts. Well, he really believed that had that disturbance occurred in Cairo, it would have been known to the War Office before Mr. Childers knew of it at the Home Office. A gentleman warned a body of police near Stafford House of what was going to happen, and told them that the mob were going up Pall Mall and St. James's Street, breaking windows and looting, and the reply he received was that the police had taken precautions, which were to remain behind. Inspectors of police and bodies of men were distributed where they were not wanted; but those Inspectors appeared to have had their orders. Whence those orders came and what they were had not transpired. Later on an Inspector turned out with 15 men, and finding what was going on he sent men to Oxford Street, and the disturbance was put an end to. Probably by his prompt action that Inspector saved the Bond Street and Regent Street shopkeepers from being plundered. If the other Inspectors were right, that Inspector was wrong; but in his (Lord Dorchester's) opinion he was quite right, and at any rate his prompt action on his own initiative put an end to the disturbance. He maintained that their Lordships had a right to ask why the Inspectors of Police did not take steps to protect the property of the inhabitants. He believed that the organization of the Police Force was faulty. It had not a sufficient number of head officials to carry out whatever orders had to be enforced; the Force was not in sufficiently constant communication with the Chief Commissioner, and that officer was not in close enough touch with the authorities at the Home Office. If the police found themselves at some time unable to cope with a disturbance, the military could be called out to assist them. While everyone knew that a disturbance of some kind was likely to occur on this occasion, there was no police magistrate in attendance to read the Riot Act, although the policemen were being very much harassed by the mob; whereas for a week subsequently, without any symptoms of disturbance, the entire garrison of London were confined to their barracks and magistrates with them. It was of great importance to the happiness, comfort, and welfare of the inhabitants of London that they should know they were to be protected, that the police should be instructed in their duties, that the military should be told what action they were to take in similar circumstances, that police magistrates should be at hand on the occasion of a disturbance of this kind, and that the Home Secretary should be in close correspondence with the different authorities in order to prevent the recurrence of so deplorable a blunder.


said, be thought it might be convenient to their Lordships if he were to state what the law was regarding some of the matters under discussion. There was no doubt that if a number of people, however innocently intentioned they might be, occupied any part of the public highways, or places which were used for the traffic of the public, and which might come under the description of the Queen's highway, to such an extent as seriously to interfere with the free circulation of the people—which was the natural and proper use of the highway—when that took place to a serious extent, an unlawful act was committed. The people who committed this unlawful act were indictable; the police were warranted in dispersing them, and if any person resisted the authority of the police he could be taken into custody. In reference to meetings in the Park, he said it was absolutely certain that there was no right, or anything in the nature of a right, on the part of people to hold a meeting for political purposes in the Park, unless by gracious permission of Her Majesty, or of those authorities who are intrusted with its care. He did not deny that the public had certain rights in the Park, partly from long indulgence and partly from the maintenance of the Parks coming out of the Consolidated Fund. Those things combined undoubtedly gave a practical right; but the right of the people in this respect was that of recreation and quiet enjoyment, and not of holding political meetings. There was no right in anyone to go into the Park to preach. Further, the law undoubtedly was that if a number of persons met and so conducted themselves in demeanour, language, or action, as to excite a reasonable fear in the minds of people that violence would or might take place, such was an unlawful assembly. The parties to it were indictable; the police were justified in dispersing it, and were also justified in arresting anyone who resisted their lawful dispersion. In reference to the military, his opinion was that a soldier was not only justified but bound to assist the police in keeping the peace; if this was true of one soldier, it was true of 20 soldiers, even although they were under the command of an officer. He had not the slightest doubt that the law was so. If the posse comitatus were called out, soldiers would be included. He had not referred to the question whether or not these particular meetings in Trafalgar Square were lawful or not. He could not help saying, speaking of those meetings as a whole, that they were not bonâ fide meetings for the purpose of discussion and enlightenment. They were meetings for the purpose of exciting awe in those who lived in the West of London, or in the minds of those persons who were supposed to have influence to alter the law in the way in which these persons desired it to be altered. Persons did not come seriously together to discuss questions in the open air in the month of February; they went to some more convenient place for the purpose. One of the reasons why this disturbance on the 8th of February happened resulted from the expectations of the police that the persons who did the mischief, coming as they did from the South-East of London, would go back to their own neighbourhood as soon as the meeting was over. Why did not those people give expression to their feelings in their own neighbourhood?


said, he did not think that he need offer any apology for bringing this subject under their Lordships' notice, because there was, no doubt, a considerable amount of ambiguity attached to it. The Queen's Regulations laid down that troops were not to be taken out except on the requisition of a magistrate in writing, or in cases of great and sudden emergency. If an officer was called upon to act on a so-called great emergency without a magistrate, and loss of life ensued on account of his giving the word of command to fire in the case of Infantry, or to charge in the case of Cavalry, who was to decide whether he was warranted in so acting? Why, the jury empannelled to try him for his life! On the other hand, suppose that he did not, and that the case was such as to warrant his taking extreme measures, he was liable then to be tried by a court martial for neglect of duty; he, therefore, considered that the officer was placed in a most delicate position. In the one case, the officer was acting, as it were, with a rope round his neck; and, in the other, he rendered himself liable to a court martial. He did not for a moment contend that when a soldier was out of barracks for his recreation, he was not bound to render all the assistance in his power to the police, the same as any other loyal person. There was no such thing as an armed soldier in the streets off duty; when he was armed he was under the control of an officer or non-commissioned officer, who was responsible for the acts of those under his command. He ventured, therefore, to think that the military should not be called out in aid of the civil power, except in the most extreme cases, and where the mob were armed, and that a magistrate should always accompany the force. The plan adopted in 1848, during the Chartist demonstrations, appeared to be most sensible—namely, to have detachments posted in various parts of the town, and kept out of sight. The persons assembling generally became aware of this, and it was calculated to exercise a very wholesome check on their proceedings. He begged to recommend that the mounted police be increased. Six mounted men, with their horses well in hand, would be of more use than 50 dismounted men in dispersing a crowd. He trusted that these few remarks would lead to something more definite being laid down for the guidance of officers.


said, he was under the impression that, as a rule, the military could not act without the authority of a police magistrate. It was true that in the case of a burglary anyone would be justified in assisting the police; but however laudable and proper it might be for a soldier or anyone else to do so, there was no doubt, as a rule, that when any considerable body of troops were called out to assist the police on any occasion, they should always have a magistrate with them to give the requisite authority. It would be a very dangerous experiment indeed if a commanding officer were to depart from that rule, which was, he thought, a very safe one.


said, as the illustrious Duke had referred to him on the subject of what had occurred in Ireland, he might say that his recollection of what occurred in 1882–3 was that any body of troops going out to preserve order was accompanied by a magistrate; but his opinion also was that all citizens were called upon to assist the police, and that this included soldiers. He could recall one case in 1882, in Dublin, when the police were attacked in the most savage way by some of the worst characters in that City. Sergeant Danvers, of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, interfered, and secured the man who led the attack on the police. That was an example where a soldier, having loyal instincts towards law and order, came forward and acted properly, and with the highest possible credit to himself, in assisting the civil power.


The discussion, while it has been very interesting, has somewhat wandered from the Motion of the noble Lord; but it has called attention to the law regulating the assistance which may be given to the civil power by the military. My own impression is that it is desirable for soldiers to act under a magistrate in all ordinary cases; but in case of an emergency, when riots and disturbances occur, it would be monstrous to suppose that soldiers, like other citizens, may not interfere to preserve order, even if no magistrate be there. Though soldiers as a body had better act with a magistrate and under the orders of their officers, they may act with perfect safety individually in assisting the police. I recollect a case that occurred in Ireland while the noble Earl opposite (Earl Spencer) was Viceroy. Some soldiers were attacked, and defended themselves with their arms against their assailants. I certainly think that soldiers, like other citizens, if put in peril of their lives, have a right to fix their bayonets and defend themselves. Referring to the Motion before the House, it will, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, censure the late Government as well as the present. We went out of Office on the Saturday, and the present Government came into Office on the Monday. By passing this Motion and censuring the Government we should be inflicting a backhanded blow upon ourselves. We were the de facto if not the de jure Government up to the Saturday previous to the 8th of February, and therefore it would be difficult, under the circumstances, to say who were the Executive responsible for what preceded the meeting. While speaking on this subject, I must be allowed to say that I have never seen anything more manly than the conduct of Sir Edmund Henderson in taking upon himself the whole responsibility for these unfortunate occurrences. Sir Edmund Henderson seems to have miscalculated the action the mob was likely to take and not to have provided for it. No doubt the consequences were very serious, as were also the consequences of orders being sent by word of mouth. Moreover, the want of initiative shown by the inferior officers in not taking upon themselves to stop the mob when they saw rioting going on is extremely lamentable. It seems to me that an Inspector or Superintendent in command of men is not called upon to wait for orders when rioting is going on around him, but should act for himself as a single constable would if he saw robbery being committed. The greatest credit is due to the constable at Marylebone Lane who, with the aid of 15 men, checked further disturbances in that quarter. The arguments of the noble Lord are well worthy of consideration. I trust that the noble Lord will not press his Motion; but I think there is a duty cast upon any Government in such matters. In this case two meetings were called—one by the unemployed, and the other by the Social Democrats. The latter gave notice that they were going there to put the others down; and nothing is more clear than that the unemployed were not the authors of the disturbance. Two hostile mobs were allowed to assemble in the centre of London without interference. If there is not power already to prohibit the assemblage of such mobs there ought to be. There ought to be power for the Government to prohibit such meetings and to make them immediately illegal. The responsibility would rest with the Government; but the order of the Government would justify the police for any action they might take to prevent the assemblage of the mob.


I need scarcely say that I thank the noble Viscount (Viscount Cranbrook) for the straightforward way in which he has met and disposed of the Motion of my noble Friend (Lord Stratheden and Campbell). I may say that I never considered this Motion of a serious character, otherwise I should have regarded it as a Vote of Censure upon the Government, and desired that it should be brought forward on the earliest possible day. Had I regarded it as a Vote of Censure, I should also have thought it my duty to prepare myself with facts and arguments to lay before the House. I think your Lordships will agree with me that it has given rise to an interesting conversation, but not in the least in favour of the Motion. While I agree entirely with the noble Viscount that the responsibility of dealing with particular cases rests with the Government, we must not dismiss from our minds the fact that with 4,000,000 of inhabitants it is absolutely impossible to put an end to open-air meetings in the Metropolis. We must be careful in looking at this question—while not forgetting the responsibility of the Government in each particular case—not to lay down any general rule as to the prohibition of public meetings.


said, that the questions raised in that discussion were of great importance. Had he thought that these questions would have arisen he would have taken care to satisfy himself more than he had done with reference to the exact law on this subject. It was very important to bear in mind that military force was not to be called in aid of the civil power except by distinct civil authority. He quite agreed that a soldier did not cease to be a citizen because he was a soldier; and any soldier, like any citizen, ought to help the police in an emergency. But in that case the soldier should do it as a civilian and not as a soldier. He quite agreed also with his noble and learned Friend (Lord Bramwell) that there was no objection to one or half-a-dozen or more soldiers assisting the police as civilians. But the soldier quâ soldier was armed with a weapon intended to be a dangerous weapon, which might not only disable, but cause loss of life. The danger was not in his assisting the civil power as a soldier, but in his using his military weapon in doing so. That a soldier must do at his own responsibility, though he did not say that an emergency might not arise where soldiers would not be justified in taking the responsibility of using their military weapons. But if the military force acted as a military force against the people, using their military weapons, they ought to have the previous sanction of the civil authority. He was anxious to emphasize the distinction which existed in his own mind between the action of soldiers in their character of citizens and their action as a military force. The latter action should be confined to cases where they were called to aid in the repression of disturbance by the civil authority.


said, he agreed with the Lord Chancellor (Lord Herschell) that when persons had deadly weapons, as soldiers had, their action could only be justified when they were under the orders of the proper authority. The point of his noble and learned Friend's observations was founded on the fact of the weapons being deadly. But, so far as the responsibility for conduct was concerned, the policeman was equally responsible with the soldier if he used his baton unnecessarily. The Queen's Regulations in the case of the soldier could not supersede the Common Law. The soldier was, no doubt, primarily bound to obey the commands of his officers; but if he contravened the Common Law, the commands of his officers would be no defence. If the soldier refused to interfere in a riot he might be liable to the Common Law; and he might be equally liable if he interfered without proper authority. It was, therefore, misleading to speak of the law as drawing a distinction between the soldier and the citizen. The noble Lord behind him (Lord de Ros) had referred to the Riot Act. The law was that when the Riot Act was read everybody who continued to assemble was guilty of felony. Until the Riot Act was read it would have to be established by evidence that a felony had been committed; but the continuance of the assembly after the reading of the Act would itself constitute a felony.


said, that he had no choice but to act on the opinion of the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Cranbrook), by whom that evening the majority were guided. At the same time, the noble Viscount had entirely corroborated his arguments as to the origin of the disturbances in the coincidence of two meetings, of which one might have been easily averted. Neither the noble Lord who followed him (Lord Thurlow), nor the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Earl Granville), had even attempted to overthrow a single proposition which he (Lord Stratheden and Campbell) had brought before their Lordships.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.