Notice of Street Processions

Part of Nottinghamshire County Council Bill [Lords] (By Order) – in the House of Commons at 6:46 pm on 13th February 1983.

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Mr. Nellist:

I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification of the position in the area from which he comes. He has outlined correctly the representational nature of those trades councils.

I have been interested to note that support for the Bill comes overwhelmingly from Conservative Members. I wondered why that was so. Many organisations in Nottinghamshire have protested about clause 6. Could it be that Conservative Members look a little further into the future when considering the use of such clauses? Are they taking what was once called the long view of history?

I wish to draw the attention of the House and of working people outside to two crucial reasons why the Bill should not be passed in its present form. I shall draw a lesson from events in London 100 years ago, which I regard as extremely apposite to the Bill.

In London 100 years ago, poverty was much deeper and the conditions of working people — in terms of unemployment, living standards and so on— were, by any objective measurement, far worse than they are today. I believe that the programmes and policies of the Government are rapidly taking us back towards those conditions.

I have been reading about conditions in those days and about the marches of the unemployed in London. Because of the laws restricting demonstrations, a favourite tactic was to organise the swelling of church congregations and to use them as a platform for the discussion of poverty and the need for jobs. In October 1887, a demonstration took place following a march to Westminster by a huge number of unemployed people. The 19th century equivalent of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Charles Warren, had hundreds of police officers, the Grenadier guards and a host of other forces on duty to contain that demonstration.

The demonstrators went into Westminster abbey and spoke to Canon Rowsell who allowed them to take part in the service, which they did, without interrupting it. Unfortunately, when they tried to leave the abbey, the reactionary Sir Charles Warren instructed the police to apprehend people, attack marchers and so on. After that demonstration, meetings took place daily, particularly in Hyde park. Even the Illustrated London News, which was not a particularly liberal paper, said that there were thousands of demonstrators protesting about unemployment.

The people who assembled in Hyde park to protest about unemployment attempted to march to Trafalgar square. The square was built between 1829 and 1841 and in the first six years after its completion — it was declared Crown property in 1844 — it was the responsibility of the commissioners of woods and forests. I am not sure how many woods and forests there were in the Trafalgar square area at that time. Later it was transferred to the Commissioner of Works. The right to prohibit public meetings in the square was assumed in this House by a majority of 316 to 224 in March 1888. The 3,000 or 4,000 demonstrators who left Hyde Park to demonstrate about mass unemployment and poverty swelled to a number of 10,000 as they marched through London, and they wanted to assemble in Trafalgar square. Sir Charles Warren attempted to prevent that. A few days later he issued a notice that gave him the power, with the sanction of the Secretary of State and the Commissioner of Her Majesty's Works and Public Buildings, until further instruction, to order that no public meetings would be allowed to assemble in Trafalgar square, nor would speeches be allowed to be delivered—