HC Deb 13 February 1890 vol 341 cc183-5
MR. NORRIS (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he can state the reason why, during the Dock Strike, the Chief Commissioner refused to give the services of the police inside the docks, on the ground that the docks were private property, and the reasons why a similar course was not followed during the strike of the gas stokers; whether the Chief Commissioner provided an escort of police to vans loaded with meat, and to the dock strikers who perambulated the streets, but refused to give the necessary police protection to those men anxious to obtain work at the dock gates, who were daily subjected to intimidation; whether lie approved the action of the Chief Commissioner in throwing the whole responsibility for the maintenance of order and the enforcement of the law upon the District Superintendents; if he approves the statement of the Chief Commissioner as to the duties of the Metropolitan Police being subject to the judgment of public opinion, as conveyed in his letter of 19th September last to the Chairman of the London and India Docks Joint Committee; and, if he can give any assurance that in future such action will be taken as to ensure the same treatment to unionists and non-unionists alike, and that every man shall have the same liberty, freedom and protection to seek work as others to refuse it?


In the fourth paragraph of the hon. Member's question there is an irregularity, inasmuch as he asks the Minister for an opinion. Owing to the hurry attending the opening of the Session the irregularity escaped notice.


I hope the House will give me its indulgence if I answer this question at a some what greater length than is usual. The general rule of the police is not to patrol or watch inside private promises, to which their statutory powers and duties do not extend, unless some breach of the law or some public mischief has arisen or is likely to arise therein. This rule was especially applicable to the docks. The Dock Companies, by a series of statutes, have large powers of appointing constables of their own, with the fullest privileges of apprehending offenders and preserving the peace. The information before the Commissioner led him to believe that the danger of disturbance and disorder during the dock strike was not inside the dock premises, but in the streets outside. Accordingly he stationed at the gates sufficient reserves of police to keep order there, and in the neighbouring streets, and to enter at a moment's notice if the dock constables had need of assistance, and this help was given on the few occasions when the necessity arose. In the case of the gas strike there was a likelihood of disorder and public mischief inside the works, owing to possibly hostile action of men who were going out on strike, but whose notices had not expired, and who would have to work at the same time as new hands in the immediate vicinity of retort houses and gaso-meters, injury to which might have caused serious and possibly fatal mischief. The Gas Company had no statutory powers to appoint constables. The Commissioner consequently gave inside the gas works that exceptional protection which he would also have given at the docks if similar dangers had existed there. On one occasion meat vans were escorted by the police because their progress was obstructed by a crowd who refused to let them pass. In the case of all processions passing through the street the police escort them in order to prevent breaches of the peace, either by or against the processionists, and this policy was followed in the case of processions of dock strikers. The Commissioner informs me that police protection was not refused to any bodies of men anxious to obtain work at the dock gates. He knows of no case in which it was denied, but of many in which it was given. The Commissioner settled the line of action to be followed by the police, which was based on strict impartiality and observance of the law. He issued to the police the orders necessary for carrying out that line of action. It was only the execution of those orders which was left, and necessarily left, to the superintendents, under the personal supervision and control of a chief constable. The Commissioner's letter of September 19 is not correctly interpreted by my hon. Friend. The Commissioner was answering a letter from the dock directors of September 18, which concluded with the threat that if the Commissioner did not alter his conduct they would confidently appeal to public opinion as to whether the forces of law and order have been effectively used. It was in answer to this passage that the Commissioner said— He was quite prepared to leave the action of the police to be judged by his superiors and the public. The Commissioner is of opinion, as I am, that the duties of the Metropolitan Police are determined, not by public opinion, but by the law. The action that will be taken in future will insure the same treatment to unionists and non-unionists, to those who seek work and to those who refuse it, and the Commissioner's orders throughout both the strikes were carefully and judiciously framed so as to secure this uniformity and impartiality of treatment.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in reference to the fifth paragraph of the question, whether his attention has been directed to the arrest of Mr. Tom Mann?




Mr. Tom Mann, the well-known political agitator; and whether he approves of the action of the Inspector of police on that occasion?


Order, order. The hon. Member must give notice of that question in the usual way. It is not one that arises out of the answer of the right hon. Gentleman.


Then I beg to give notice that I will repeat the question on a future day.