HL Deb 24 June 1892 vol 5 cc1849-53


Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a"—(The Earl of Morley.)


My Lords, I hope your Lordships are not going to let this Bill pass. It was introduced entirely from electioneering motives, and the fact is that it is a Bill simply for sanctioning the rioting of the Salvation Army, which has set its face against a clause in the Act which this is to amend, and thereby made Eastbourne a riotous place. The Mayor and all the respectable inhabitants of the place petitioned against the Bill, and there does not seem to be any reason why such a bad principle should be adopted as to pass legislation simply to give way to demonstrations in the streets. There are Peers who have more acquaintance with Eastbourne than I have, and I hope they will address your Lordships on the subject. I move that this Bill be read a third time this day three months.

Amendment moved to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day three months.")—(The Lord Stanley of Alderley.)


My Lords, I have some difficulty about this matter. When I originally addressed your Lordships upon this subject there was no opposition to the Bill, and I was informed that the Bill would have gone through in the ordinary course with no Committee stage at all; and, in the then condition of things, I should certainly have been prepared to move the same Amendment that my noble Friend has just moved. But I feel a difficulty about doing that now for this reason: that the Bill has been remitted to a Committee of your Lordships' House, who have heard evidence upon the subject, which I have not, and have reported in favour of passing the Bill. My Lords, under those circumstances I hesitate to place my individual opinion against theirs. I am quite certain that the noble Lords who sat on that Committee were not actuated by any such bargain as it was suggested had taken place in the House of Commons; and indeed that bargain, as I understand lately, has been denied as having taken place. I can only say that I read with great particularity and minuteness the accounts in the papers, and I had at that time no other means of obtaining information upon the subject. I do not, therefore, myself intend to propose or to support the Amendment of my noble Friend. At the same time I cannot forbear from saying that the whole conduct of those who are promoting this Bill has been calculated to enlist the sympathy of every law-abiding citizen against them in the strongest way. The only thing I can say is that there appears to have been another party even more outrageous, if possible, in breaking the law than themselves; and the passing or rejecting of this Bill seems to be susceptible to a claim of triumph on either side. My Lords, I certainly am not disposed to give a cause of triumph to the Skeleton Army; the outrageous violence of which those persons have been guilty would seem rather to enlist one's sympathy on the other side. But, my Lords, I would certainly suggest to these persons, some of whom I believe are very good persons and desirous of doing good to their fellow creatures by preaching religion, that when they are very angry with people who outrage the law it is obvious to inquire who first set the example of defying the law. My Lords, I wish to take this opportunity of saying that I have received complaints of the conduct of the Magistrates and the police, and I can only say that, from the materials at my command, I am of opinion that both the Magistrates and the police have acted with perfect propriety and with unexampled patience and forbearance towards two sets of persons, both outraging the law, and joining together in nothing except defying the proper authorities of the place. My Lords, after what I said on a former occasion I feel that I ought to explain the reasons why I am unable to agree with the Motion for the rejection of the Bill. I have no doubt that the noble Lords who composed the Committee have proceeded upon the sounder ground than I suggested before,—namely, that a particular place ought not to have a particular law different from the rest of the community. It is part of the history of this particular Bill that my right hon. Friend Mr. Matthews, when he was applied to, objected to this particular clause upon that ground. Unfortunately his remonstrance at that time was not attended to, and the House of Commons passed the Bill in spite of that remonstrance. I believe in this House also the late Lord Redesdale objected to the clause, but, when it came back again inserted by the House of Commons, rather than reject the Bill he waived his own objection. Under those circumstances, with every desire to enforce the law, and to teach the people that they must not disobey the law, I feel myself compelled, in the interests of Eastbourne itself, not to throw them back again into the state in which they have previously been. As I understand, since this Bill has been before both Houses of Parliament things in Eastbourne have been much quieter and calmer than they were before. Strongly therefore as I desire to show that I would not yield one inch to those persons who thought proper to defy the law as long as it existed, still, on the other hand, in the interests of the peace of Eastbourne itself I do not feel I can properly support the Motion that has been made for the rejection of the Bill.


My Lords, I do not wish to enter into the question of who was to blame, or who was not, in these riots that have taken place at Eastbourne. I merely rise to add emphasis to the remarks that have fallen from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as to the extreme inconvenience and undesirableness of having a law differing in different places. I believe the noble and learned Lord is quite correct in saying that when, in 1885, the Eastbourne Act was before Parliament, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, my predecessor in office, did object to the clause which is now sought to be repealed. And, my Lords, I am very glad the noble and learned Lord has made that remark from the Woolsack; because I think it will add considerable force to any attempts that I may have to make in resisting such alterations in the general law as applied to individual localities in future. My Lords, as the Bill does away with this anomaly I think it is one that your Lordships should not hesitate to pass. I merely make these remarks, because I think, it will greatly aid me in resisting the introduction of any such enactments into private legislation in future.


My Lords, I do not know that I need add anything to what has been said by the Lord Chancellor; but, having sat on the Committee, I can assure the House that the question was examined most carefully by those who were on the Committee, and that the Committee almost unanimously, with one exception, came to a decision that there was no modus vivendi without repealing this clause. I think it only right to say that there was not the slightest wish on the part of those who sat on the Committee to do anything other than express their strong sense of disapprobation against those who were engaged in breaking the law, although that law was especially directed against one particular borough; I may go further and say that it was directed against one particular body of Her Majesty's subjects, that being the Salvation Army. Now nothing, my Lords, could be more clear to us than that these people were engaged in what they think their duty, generally carrying it on with propriety, until they were met by another body known as the Skeleton Army when these great disturbances arose, in which, on some occasions, several thousand people were scrimmaging and fighting in the streets; and I think during all these unseemly troubles something like thirty-six persons were sent to gaol. The Committee therefore came to the conclusion that there really was no modus vivendi except to repeal this clause; and they were the more disposed to do so because they felt that there was a complete remedy in the hands of the authorities of Eastbourne, by doing that which other boroughs have already done, namely, by framing reasonable bye-laws, and sending them up to have them confirmed by the proper authorities. Now, my Lords, I entirely concur with what has been said by the Lord Chancellor: that nothing could have been bettor than the conduct of the police. I heard nothing but praise of this admirable body, who had to put up with a great deal in dispersing these riots during those troublesome times; and the Salvationists themselves passed a vote of thanks to the police for the manner in which they had done so. For these reasons I hope the House will see fit to read this Bill a third time and to put an end to this unseemly state of things.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a, and passed.