§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Mr. Speaker. Sir, you indicated that the opportunity afforded by the Second Reading of this Bill is a suitable occasion for us to speak upon the present situation in this country. I hope that nothing I say will add to the difficulties of the Government in dealing with the situation, which is certainly sufficiently difficult; and that nothing I say will inflame passion on one side or the other. I certainly do not wish to exaggerate the gravity of the position in which we find ourselves. An unrestricted, inquisitive, energetic and highly competitive Press does sometimes exaggerate episodes which occur on one side or the other in the course of trade disputes. But when all allowance is made, the situation is sufficiently grave to make any man joining in this discussion feel the responsibility of what he is doing, and a desire to exercise all care not to make the position worse than it is. I hope that nothing I say will weaken the hands of those who are responsible for the preservation of law and order, and for the protection of life and property in these times, as in all others.
I say it is a grave situation, and none of us can doubt it. The House has listened day after day, with eagerness and anxiety to the statements which Members of the Government have been able to make as to the progress towards settlement of the various disputes. We have seen the trade of the Metropolitan City paralysed for a time. We have seen the supplies of provisions falling far short of what was required. We have seen business and other supplies falling short and involving great hardship upon large numbers of people not directly connected in any way with the disputes which have arisen. We now see a similar state of affairs, but in far more serious form, existing in Liverpool. It has prevailed there for some days past and still prevails. We see evidences 1944 of unrest, and some signs of disputes breaking out, in many parts of the country. This is not a time to enter upon a full review of the proceedings of the Government in connection with the whole of these disputes. The Government themselves are entitled to the forbearance which the Home Secretary has rightly claimed for the police and other authorities. We should not expect the Government to make inquiries into particular episodes while all their energy and their time are needed to cope with the situation that still confronts them.
But I cannot help saying the Government failed to appreciate at the outset the gravity of the symptoms. A more earnest effort on their part to protect law-abiding men in the pursuit of their lawful occupations might have averted some of the unfortunate episodes and given courage to those who desired nothing better than to pursue their daily work. I do not propose to say a word upon any of the incidents which have accompanied these disputes. As the Home Secretary has said, they will come—the most serious certainly will come—in the ordinary course before the courts of law. I think it would be rash for anybody, until the courts of law have spoken, to deal with a particular episode, or the conduct of particular individuals. I have made some complaint of the action of the Government at the beginning of the disputes. We have noticed, with satisfaction, a greater recognition of the position in the recent answers of the Home Secretary. I wish to assure the Government that we will give them every support in our power in order to maintain the law, and in order to protect law-abiding citizens, The next thing I wish to do is to express the sympathy which will be felt by nearly every man, with the authorities who have been called in to deal with the disastrous disturbances. I think there is no more distasteful duty you can ask a soldier to perform than to lake part in quelling civil riots. Every man who has talked with an officer, or soldier, on the subject, knows that this is one duty he prays to be spared and which he enters upon with reluctance, and with the gravest sense of 1945 the responsibility which attends his action. I think the sympathy of the whole House is with the soldiers, in the first place, and not less with the police who have been called upon to deal with these violent outbreaks and who have shown—I say this without prejudging particular incidents—a courage and fortitude under great provocation, which must excite the admiration of all. There are other people not so directly concerned in the disturbances to whom our sympathies are also due, and for whom the Government are bound to provide every protection in their power; and if these men are not fully protected it is a confession of weakness on the part of the Government, because the Government must be held responsible. I do not want to enter into the disputes which are taking place, but quite apart from the men who are engaged on one side or the other in the actual disputes an enormous amount of injury and suffering is being inflicted upon people quite unconnected with the origin of the disturbances. It falls first and foremost and with the greatest force upon small men, who are less able to protect themselves and who most require the protection of the Government. Who can read what is taking place in the city of Liverpool now and not feel that the Government have not given sufficient protection to those in the position of small shopkeepers and tradesmen to carry on their lawful business and to get the supplies on which that lawful business depends. Those men also have our sympathy, and they ought to have it, and the Government ought to make it clear that they will have the fullest support of the Government both to protect them in their own houses and to secure for them free access to the goods in which they deal.
There is another class, and that is the workman who wishes to work, and who has a right to work. I am not here to decide whether a workman should be a trade unionist or not. If I had been asked the question a few years ago, and if I were a workman in an organised trade with a trade union open to me I should have answered without hesitation that I should have joined, and my sympathies were with those who did join. If I hesitate to express that opinion now, it is because the leaders of the trade unionist movement, by their deliberate and persistent action, have made it hard for a unionist who does not share their political views to continue to support or to join a body of that kind. I do not speak with 1946 hostility to trade unions, but I demand that, just as men have a right to join a trade union if they wish, they should have the right to remain out of it if they wish, and they should not be prevented from working because they do not choose to join a trade union. I think they should have the full force of the protection which the Government can bring in order to protect them while they are at work and to prevent them being driven from their work. In this connection I must make one other comment on the action of the Government. I wish to refer to the answer which the Postmaster-General gave at question time to-day. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the officials of his office, both in London and in Liverpool, had gone to the Strike Committee to ask for protection for His Majesty's mails and for the service which was required for those mails.
The Postmaster-General said that those were not his carts for which he sought protection but the carts of the contractors to the Post Office. I say that it is not right that a Government Department should seek for itself or for its contractors protection from anybody except those who are responsible for the maintenance of law and order, and instead of sending a representative of the Department to beg a strike committee to permit His Majesty's mails to be carried or the supplies of petrol or fodder required in connection with that carriage to be delivered, it is the bounden duty of the Government to summon to their aid whatever force is necessary and to give an escort through the streets that would have made it impossible for anybody to contemplate an attack upon it. If Government Departments are going themselves to ask for protection from the strike committee instead of getting it from the proper authorities, how can they expect that any men will be willing to refrain from these disturbances or adding to the area of unrest? How can they expect men to take a bolder course than the Government Department themselves take, or what confidence can those men place in the protection of a Government which does not protect its own servants? That is as far as I wish to go in speaking about the episodes of the strikes, and I hope we shall have an assurance from His Majesty's Ministers that such action as was taken by the Post Office will not again be repeated and that protection will be afforded alike to His Majesty's mails and His Majesty's subjects by the properly constituted authorities, and that 1947 they will not be left at the mercy of any committee engaged in one of these labour disputes.
There is one other question that I want to ask, and one general reflection that I want to make before I sit down. In the statement made by the Home Secretary to-day he said very little about the railway situation. I understand that negotiations are actually proceeding to-day with the Government at this moment, and probably the Government may not be in a position to give us any further information. If they are in a position to give us any further information, I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will do so, and I trust he will give us, in any case, an assurance that men who wish to remain at work upon our great lines of communication will have the fullest protection whatever the cost. I hope the Government will take whatever steps are required to prevent the whole trade and living of the people being placed at the mercy of a trade dispute. That leads me to the general reflection which I think must be present to all. Apart from particular instances the gravity of the present situation lies in the extent to which it has defeated the hopes we have founded on recent legislation. The provisions for the intervention of the Board of Trade were, I think, first embodied in an Act of Parliament by the late Unionist Government.
The activity of the Board of Trade, which began very gently and very tentatively in trade disputes has largely, and I think wholesomely, developed in recent years. No one can speak on this subject without expressing the debt which the whole community owe to Mr. Askwith of the Board of Trade, for the services he has rendered to all parties in the disputes in which he has intervened. Above and beyond the parties to those disputes the nation, as a whole, owes Mr. Askwith a debt of gratitude. From that Act we hoped for great things. For a time the Act seemed to be working with great success. When the great railway dispute of 1907 was threatened the Government took a further step in advance, and as a result of the conferences which were held, proposed, and may be said to have enforced, on both parties to the dispute, the reference of questions of difference between the employers and employed on the great railways to the Conciliation Boards. I think the most prominent feature of the present unrest is the extent to which 1948 agreements made under the the arbitration of the Board of Trade have failed to obtain acceptance by the men after their leaders have signed them. Another feature is the attacks which have broken out in various places against the system of Conciliation Boards for which the Government are responsible. Those Conciliation Boards offered to the railway men a peaceful means of settling disputes. [An HON. MEMBER: "Of shelving disputes."] They offered to the advocates of international peace a way of preserving: industrial peace in our own country and a way of averting violent actions which are only comparable to civil war in particular districts and particular trades. Those Conciliation Boards are the children of the Government and the children of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in particular, and I should have thought there was nothing in the right hon. Gentleman's ministerial career upon which he could pride himself with better reason than the part he played in establishing those Boards.
That being so, and these Boards having been enforced by the Government on the railway companies, it is the bounden duty of the Government to support Conciliation Boards and the method of settlement by those Boards, and to throw the whole weight of their power into the scale against, breaking away from settlements of which they themselves were the authors, and for which to that extent they ought to be the guarantors. On those points, mostly as regards the future action of the Government, and partly in regard to the past action of the Government, I have said as little as possible in view of the gravity of the situation, and I hope in what I have said that I have kept my promise and fulfilled the hope I expressed that I should not say anything that would embarrass the Government in dealing with the situation or add to the passion which has been involved in the disputes. I hope the Government will feel that the whole country are looking to them to take stern and resolute action for the maintenance of law and order, and for the protection of their own authorities, giving ample protection to them in the first place and ample protection to law-abiding citizens in the second place.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
We have just listened to a very interesting and illuminating speech from the right hon. Gentleman. It is interesting mainly on account of the fact that not one single idea regarding the reasons why there is 1949 industrial unrest has been given by the right hon. Gentleman. It is illuminating because of the assumption from the beginning to the end that the men were wrong and the employers were right.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I made no assumption as to where the right lay in the dispute. I said I was not going to enter into that, and I did not.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
The point I had in my mind was this. When the right hon. Gentleman used phrases, those phrases, in nine cases out of ten, begged questions, and the questions which were begged assumed the employers were right and the men were wrong. I did not want to do it, but I may illustrate what I mean, because I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to think I am unjust or unfair. When he used the expression "law and order," what did he mean? He said the Government ought to take steps to enforce law and order. Supposing the case had been made out that the breach of law and order in Liverpool was a police breach, would he support—
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Of course, it was expected the right hon. Gentleman would scoff. He always scoffs at these things. That is the reason why there is so much unrest at the present moment, and why it is so exceedingly difficult for those of us who feel so keenly in this matter to restrain ourselves this afternoon within the bounds which I think the right hon. Gentleman very, rightly and properly laid down for himself. If he and Gentlemen in the position of the right hon. Gentleman had been less scoffing during the last seven or eight years there would be far less inclination now on the part of working men to take the law into their own hands in order to try and enforce the demands they are justly and properly making against their employers. However, let us try—I am going to impose the rule upon myself—to get back to something like calmness. Calmness would be preserved here and outside if we would just sit down round a green table, put all our cards on that table, and examine what each of us has to say on behalf of the various sides we represent. I am rather surprised to find when civil war—I think that was the expression used—breaks out in Liverpool it is such a great crime in 1950 the opinion of hon. Members opposite, who have been telling us for so long that, in certain eventualities, it would be right to break out in Belfast.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
And, under those circumstances, be supported by all the patriotic fervour and money that the party opposite can employ. I venture to think, if they had been a little more guarded in the language they have been using in political matters recently, perhaps we would have had less bother in our industrial disputes. At any rate, people must really understand if they play with fire in one respect the chances are sparks from that fire will set things ablaze in other directions. There is no party in this House and no party in the country that has been more reckless in its language of disorder than the party opposite when discussing recent political affairs. I will not say the assumption all through, because that is a mistake, but the first assumption is that because a man goes out into the streets with his fellows and says, "I will not work," and because men band themselves together in order to make their decision not to work effective, it is wrong. We hear about the small shopkeeper not having his goods, and so on. Supposing I agree it is so. Will the right hon. Gentleman and the employers assume the responsibility which they place upon their shoulders when they come to that conclusion, and when they condemn strikes, which was really the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's speech? You cannot have strikes if you are going to have all these nice things he asks the Government to provide for small shopkeepers and so on.
A strike is an industrial war, and you have to make up your mind to face it with all its advantages and disadvantages. I agree that during a strike trade is upset and poverty increased for the time being. It is made amply good later on, but for the time poverty is increased, and there is a general dislocation of trade. The right hon. Gentleman comes to the conclusion that is bad. I quite agree. All my hon. Friends here have been preaching that doctrine for at least the last twenty years. The difficulty is you cannot impose peace upon men unconditionally. If peace is going to be imposed upon the workers of this country, the employers must take their share of the conditions of peace. If we are going to have trade steadily going on and industry uninterrupted, then we 1951 must create some machinery which will enable men who have just cause to ask that their wages should be raised and their hours of labour reduced, and which will impose conditions on unwilling employers just precisely as you have machinery for imposing the opposite conditions upon unwilling men. I wish the Government would maintain law and order. It would be a great blessing if they did maintain law and order; but one way to maintain law and order is not to allow a policeman to break a man's head and then say no inquiry is going to be made for three or four months, while the man who retaliates in hot blood is hauled up before the magistrates the next morning. That is where the difficulty comes in. I think if the Government would take up a little bit less stilted attitude in this matter of law and order, peace would be proclaimed very much better, and bad blood would settle down in a shorter time than unfortunately it is likely to do at present. I want to make a protest, as firm and as strong as I possibly can make it. No policeman has any business to baton a peaceful citizen upon the public streets in this country whether there is a strike or not. I do not care what provocation has been given. You do not justify me if I go, under very severe provocation, and strike somebody in the public street. That provocation is no justification for me when I am brought before the magistrate the next morning, and I hope we shall never have such a sense of law and order as to make that a justification. What is good enough for me is good enough for the policeman. These men have no business to say—and Ministers—and particularly Liberal Ministers—have no business to come to this House and say: "men have lost their heads, they were put in a position of very great difficulty." They struck women and children and all persons, and then, although these facts are brought before them, and although the names of the persons giving the complaints—
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Churchill)
I never said anything remotely resembling that.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
What I say is this. These statements have been made and attested to by persons who saw the incidents. I myself have handed two batches of cases, one relating to Cardiff and the other to Poplar to my right hon. 1952 Friend, not anonymously or on my own, authority, but on the authority of persons for whose decency and honour we can personally vouch, and yet the reply of the Liberal custodian of civil liberty is "I am not going to make inquiries. The Chief Constable is exceedingly busy. The office is congested with work. When everything is over, and it suits me or it suits my officers, then it is just possible these breaches of the peace committed by my officers may be inquired into." The whole circumstances are such as to make the blood of anybody who has any notion of civil liberty boil with indignation. We know the position, policemen are in. I do not minimise its gravity, I do not minimise its difficulty; but there is a very great difference between that and the attitude the right hon. Gentleman has taken up in this respect. I have, as I say, given him notice about cases at Cardiff and at Poplar. I have in my possession at the moment attested letters written by men, the majority of whom we know personally. One of them, in this bunch alone, saw certain proceedings, and he raised them before a bench of magistrates. His name is attached, and he is prepared to give evidence. There are other cases relating to Liverpool, and one ease relating to a small place in the constituency of my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Chiozza Money) where pickets have been set on by policemen.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
As far as London is concerned, of course the Metropolitan Police are under the Home Office, but the police in Liverpool are under the charge of the Liverpool authorities, and it is there in the first instance these matters should be raised. We have no control over the exercise of the discretionary powers of the authorities who are chosen by the ratepayers to deal with the action of the police either in Cardiff or in Liverpool. I have always taken full responsibility where the Metropolitan police have been employed.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the cases at Cardiff I complain about are regarding the Metropolitan Police, and the cases in Poplar I gave are also regarding the Metropolitan Police. The appeal to maintain law and order was a general appeal. If we find, for instance, pickets are molested by police, and if we find non-unionists, who are commonly called blacklegs during a strike, are aided and abetted by the police—if, as in this case, I have before me, from Northamptonshire, pickets 1953 who turn out in a perfectly legal way under the Act passed by the present Government are set upon and prevented from doing their work by the police, then, whatever view may be taken of law and order and however high one may place law and order as a civic virtue, well, human nature is human nature, and certain things are bound to happen as a result, and the persons who are blameworthy when those things happen are not merely the men who are charged before the magistrates the next morning. You have to take a wide view of all these questions of civil law and order and civil proceedings and distribute your responsibility in a much broader and more generous way than the right hon. Gentleman did who preceded me. I want to say just one word about the general cause of the whole proceedings. After all, it is no use discussing this matter in a superficial way. The disputes at the docks in London, in Manchester, and in Liverpool were not created ten days or a fortnight ago. That is a profound mistake. They are the result of an accumulation of resentment that has been going on for a considerable number of years. Those of us who have been in touch with those movements know how very difficult it has been for us to control certain forces that have been showing themselves on account of that accumulation of resentment.
The matter of Railway Conciliation Boards has been mentioned. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well those Railway Conciliation Boards were really never accepted by the trade unionists. They were forced upon them, I think, at a very unfortunate moment. A Railway Conciliation Board is not the sort of thing that the Conciliation Board of the steel trade is, for instance. There you have your trade union represented, and your organised men speaking for themselves meeting quite properly. On one side of the table you have men who can speak for capital; on the other side you have men who can speak for organised labour, and the result is that you have got comparative peace. It is where capital has frankly organised itself, and equally frankly recognised the organisation of labour, that you have the very best security for peace, and it is because the Railway Conciliation Boards have denied that from the beginning that they have been so unsatisfactory. They were bound to fail. I am sorry they have failed in this way, and even now, if any assistance from any of us can be of avail for peace, that 1954 assistance will be freely, frankly and ungrudgingly given. At the same time, the men's case must be kept in view. It is not going to be sacrificed. If the railway directors are wise they will just do in the ease of the four large railwaymen's unions precisely what the steel employers have done to the Steel Workers' Unions, and thereby they will very soon establish machinery that will secure peace, for a generation at any rate, on the whole of our railway systems.
That is not all. Whoever reads the history of these Conciliation Boards must really undergo a very melancholy task. The men, time after time, have asked for these Boards to be established. They pressed for their creation; they begged and prayed the railway companies to consider the plan. The railway companies delayed. There was delay in the election of the Board; there was delay in the meeting of the Board, but there was very little delay when the arbitrator got to work, and, I must say, in justice to the arbitrator, that once he was brought in and once the Board started working the award was issued in no unreasonable time. But no sooner was the award given than sentences and phrases with double meaning, or rather with a vague meaning, were seized upon by the companies, who applied to them one meaning while the men attached to them another. But the companies refused to allow the award to go back to the arbitrator in order that he might put his meaning on his own words. That has been done at last. I really hope that fair-minded critics of the present unfortunate situation, the men who are really going to contribute something towards a solution, it may not be a solution to-day, but it is something that will contribute to the final solution, will remember the very bitter, the very unfortunate and the very discouraging experiences of those who have been honestly trying to work these Boards during the last four years.
Take for example the Shipping Federation. I am not going to weary the House with examples one after the other. But there you get the same sort of thing; you get good men, with some self-respect, who like to square their shoulders to the world and to look their employers as independent men in the face, you have these men turned away from the dock gates because they will not submit to the conditions imposed on them by the Shipping Federation. They are members of a union and are not going to surrender their union, and they find an inferior type of man, I 1955 was going to say, sneaking in behind their backs, prepared to submit to any conditions in order that they may get a job. These good men form the nucleus of the trades unions, they are not perhaps the men who officer them, but they are the men who retain authority and control amongst the rank and file of the trade unionists. For years they have been becoming more and more resentful—more and more resentful towards ourselves for not doing enough for them inside this House. Everybody knows what our difficulties have been, and what the difficulties of an honest trade union leader or secretary have been. Such a man may have done his level best to keep his men under control. He has made his agreements to the best of his ability, and he has done everything he could to secure that those agreements should be kept. We all know what his difficulty has been and those difficulties have only been intensified by his experiences in connection with the operations of the Shipping Federation, of the masters in the engineering trade, as well as of the railway companies in connection with the Conciliation Boards, compelling more and more men to come to this conclusion. Just as you say that in the State that the whole of our social fabric rests on force, they feel that justice is not going to be done to them unless they are prepared to resort to force. It is a pitiable, deplorable, and lamentable conclusion. But let us trace it out to its source, and not merely apply it lightly or mournfully as our disposition inclines us to the things that have happened in the last nine or ten days. Those events are Dead Sea fruit after a long ripening period, and we who have been watching events have been telling you again and again that something like this would happen unless you were wise in time.
There is another point. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the political action of the trade unions. Well, the political action of the trade unions is a very awkward thing. It is one of those awkward things that we are all trying to swallow in our own parties and in our own experience every day of our lives. This world was not made like a Chinese puzzle for all pieces to fit nicely into each other and then to be laid on the table while we smile at our own ingenuity in putting them together. The fact of the matter remains that when capital federated itself and when it attacked labour as a unit nobody ever blamed it for it. But then the only 1956 move that labour could make was to meet capital on the political field. You can argue the matter as you like, you can twine it about, you can try and persuade yourself otherwise until the Day of Judgment, but you will never be able to resist the conclusion that while you have labour combined formerly simply for industrial purposes, now if it is going to meet capital fairly and squarely and upon a common level it is bound to have its representative in this House looking after legislation. Next, we had extraordinary judgments delivered, and the effect of those judgments, whether they were good law or bad law does not matter, the effect of those judgments on the mind of the active and intelligent trade unionist was to make him come to the conclusion that it was no good appealing to the English courts. He got a judgment on his own account. He went to the best lawyers and was given certain advice, which he followed to the letter, and, when his action in following that advice was revised by our bench, he discovered that the eminent lawyers sitting on the bench denied the accuracy of the advice which he got from, equally eminent lawyers. The conclusion he has been forced to is that it is of no use appealing to our trade unions, and that he does not get fair play when he appeals to the law. He, therefore, sulks and goes into his tent. He becomes a centre of a little cave which is opposed to everybody that stands for the ordinary peaceful operation of things; he runs a discordant movement inside his political, party or inside his trade union, or he appears on the street having come to the conclusion that the hand of society is lifted up against him; and if he lifts his hand up against society he is only giving what he has already received.
I am not defending the situation; I am sure hon. Members know perfectly well I am only describing a situation to which I think we had better apply our minds first in order that we may understand it for ourselves. This House must realise that these men read in the sensational Press, day after day, accounts of the enormous wealth of this country and of the brutal, Byzantine display of vulgar wealth which is going on in the West End—a display which makes men who do not think very much angry, and which makes men who think a little simply feel the most hearty contempt for the whole lot of them. These men are poor; they are trying to keep wives and families on 17s. or 18s. a week, and at the same time they see these 1957 extravagant goings on; there is this vulgar display parading itself, naked and unashamed, and when they go to the very men who are displaying this extravagance and ask for an extra shilling a week on their wages they cannot get it. They are thrown back once more into themselves, and they fall into that immoral state of mind into which all men are driven when they find there is no helping hand outside and no real comradeship in their society. Their hours of labour have been increased; their wages have been actually lowered in many cases; there have been very few cases in which they have been heightened. Yet all this time the house owner, the man who can extract rent from them, has simply been watching every change in their circumstances for the purpose of putting up the rent. During this period I have in my mind, I find that in the East End of our large cities—the places most affected by these unfortunate circumstances—Cardiff, London, Manchester, and elsewhere—house rents have gone up a substantial percentage. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have gone down."] That may have been the case in one or two districts, but on the average rents have gone up. I looked into the figures this morning before venturing to deliver myself of the statement, and the information published from London County Council sources shows that the rents have gone up. These sources may be wrong, but I quote them in order that hon. Members may check them. Rents have undoubtedly gone up in industrial quarters during the last nine or ten years. The price of food has gone up; the cost of living has gone up; and you are forcing these men to try and maintain themselves and their families in decency on a few shillings, a task which, I believe, not half a dozen men in this House have tried to do for themselves, to say nothing of the wives and families, large as the families generally are in these districts and under these circumstances.
Our case is this. We deplore as much as you can deplore and as much as any section of this House can deplore, all this unsettlement, and more especially its later development. But what is the use of doing that alone. You have to go into the causes; you have to trace those causes right the way back, and it is the duty of leading Members of this House not merely to get up and talk about law and order, but to see whether this House cannot do something to establish something like justice, so that these people may feel that the House is their custodian, and that the 1958 only time when they hear themselves talked about here with enthusiasm and energy is not when they have broken some policeman's head or some policeman has broken their head. With regard to the actual cases of shooting, I read to-day in the newspapers an account, which I quote with all reserve, of the action of an officer seeing a man coming up menacingly firing first of all at him in such a way as to miss him, and then, when that did not frighten the man, deliberately shooting him in the head. If that account is true—and I want to lay the greatest emphasis on that proviso—that man ought to be tried for murder. There is absolutely nothing that can justify such an action as that. There was not a soldier injured, apparently not an officer touched. One does find it exceedingly difficult to understand the complacency of those who are responsible. Certainly law and order by all means, but law and order on both sides; protection for the men, protection for peaceful meetings, protection for foot passengers, protection for crowds which have assembled for absolutely legitimate purposes, and protection for crowds which I hope will assemble for absolutely legitimate purposes, for we are not going to allow the right of meeting or the right of discussion, or the right of user of the public roads to be upset simply because certain civil disturbances are going on which have been heightened tremendously, and made tragic by the blunders, so far as information has reached us, of those who ought to have kept the peace.
I hope I have said nothing which will make peace difficult, but I will tell you what is the first thing which will make peace not only difficult but almost impossible, and that is that the men who feel they are in the right, and who themselves are deprecating this lawlessness, the genuine trade unionist—the one thing which will make him more bitter than ever and more opposed to reason and commonsense, and to work in harness, and under the control of the leaders, will be the sort of feeling that even here there is no case put up for him, and no statement made of the conditions under which he has had to live, and the state of mind which has been growing in him during the last six or seven years. As a matter of fact, a good, honest statement of the case for the men will do more to promote peace than all the silences and the carefully-balanced sentences which can be practised by the most skilful lawyer in this House. At any rate, 1959 be it perfectly well-known we stand here for the men. We are not going to agree to any proposal which will take away from the men the power to strike, unless, when that is done, the machinery is such that it will impose responsibilities upon the employers equal to the responsibilities which it imposes upon the men. So far as these disturbances are concerned, whilst we deplore the lawlessness, we are bound to say that the persons who are mainly responsible are the employers, who used their economic power in order to crush down their workmen and keep them in a low state of economic efficiency.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)
It is a little difficult at this stage to contribute anything to a Debate of this kind which might not be prejudicial to the delicate negotiations which are proceeding, and that is why any Member of the Government who intervenes in the Debate must choose his words with very great care, and, above all, not even appear to indicate any conclusions on merits between the disputants, because the moment that is done the whole value of Government intervention disappears. If any word is said which indicates that we are favouring either the employers' view or the views of the employés in the dispute before we carefully inquire into them, the other party to the proceedings is entitled to say, "your intervention is valueless because you come here as a prejudiced party and as one who has already made up his mind." Therefore I shall refrain from saying anything which will in the slightest degree render more difficult the already very difficult task which has been undertaken by the Prime Minister in conjunction with the President of the Board of Trade, and the equally difficult and dangerous task which the Home Secretary has got in maintaining law and order during the progress of these strikes and lockouts. There are, however, just two or three quite elementary propositions which one could lay down, which would not prejudge the position. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the position is, I will not say a grave, but a serious one. There are industrial disputes in connection with some of the leading industries of this country, industries which are essential to its very life, and any dispute which affects these industries must lead to a very grave state of things. I confine myself now merely to 1960 indicating the general position which the Government take in reference to disputes of this kind. We accept fully the position laid down by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) that it is the elementary function of the Government to protect life and property, and we shall certainly not depart in the slightest degree from that position. The right hon. Gentleman rather suggested that we have been tardy in discharging that function. No request has been made by any local authority to the Home Secretary for assistance to the civil power to preserve law and order in any district which has not been fully and amply honoured. I do not see what more he could have done from that point of view. The hon. Member (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) said, I think very properly, that the fault is not altogether with the men in this case. There has been a very good deal of loose language during the last few months with regard to the maintenance of law and order. It has been by no means confined to those engaged in these strikes. Here is the kind of language which has been used by fairly reputable journalists. Here is one which appeared in a Unionist paper on Saturday in reference to a purely political dispute:—We are back in the circumstances of the seventeenth century. Are we then to appeal at once to arms? That again is a question of expediency, utterly unaffected by any consideration for the Constitution wreckers.That means His Majesty's Ministers for the time being.Our business is to destroy, and not simply to turn out, the anarchists at present in possession of the seals of office and the King's person. In these days when the main social nexus is economic, a boycott may be a more immediately effective weapon than a direct resort to force. There is, of course, no reason why anyone should pay taxes on the fiat of a revolutionary junta posing as a constituent assembly.That means the House of Commons—The choice of weapons is really a minor point, since a boycott could only be dealt with by force, which in turn would be forcibly resisted.That is not language used by strikers on Tower Hill. It is language which appears in a responsible Unionist journal, the "Saturday Review." The hon. Member (Mr. Harry Lawson) is entitled to treat, that with scorn. He has taken a more responsible and reasonable attitude. But he must remember that it represents the views of a very considerable and powerful section in his party, not the section to which he belongs, and really supposing this sort of thing were said at a meeting on Tower Hill, "the choice of weapons is really a minor point," and suppose as the result of that there were a riot, what 1961 would happen? I have heard in this House within the last few weeks a direct incitement to violence by very responsible and influential persons inside the House. It is a very serious thing that anything of that kind should be said at a moment when everyone knew there was great unrest in the country, and it was with the greatest difficulty in the world that law and order could possibly be maintained. The only difference is this. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen and journalists who use that language say, "If there is a law that we do not like and we cannot induce the majority of the country to agree with us in altering it, let us resort to force; the weapon which we use is quite a minor consideration." Should there be one law for Unionist Gentlemen in the House of Commons and another for poor strikers on Tower Hill? I do think to use language of that kind in present conditions is really just like striking a match when you are at a powder magazine, and no man who uses it has the slightest right to come to the Government and insist on the use of the military or police forces for the preservation of law and order. I have heard language used from the Front Bench opposite—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I ask the hon. Gentleman to quote a single phrase used by me at Limehouse or anywhere else in which I incited anybody to use force or to break the law. I should regard it as a most criminal action on my part if I had done anything of the kind. I argued my point of view, and I might have used very strong language about grievances which I felt strongly, but I never used a single phrase which would incite poor people to face the perils of the law which I was not prepared to face myself. The man who brings that charge against me is uttering something which is absolutely untrue. But I have heard right hon. Gentlemen on that Bench within the last few weeks using language which was an encouragement to breaking the law. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) heard it but never repudiated it. He did not condemn his own colleagues, but he condemns the Government because they 1962 are not free enough in the use of the military. These men are treated as if they were all strikers. Are there not lockouts? In Liverpool there is a very considerable lockout. I still stand by the position that is laid down by the Home Secretary. It is the first business of a Government to protect life and property and to administer the law, whether in London, or Liverpool, or in Ireland, once it is adopted as an Act of Parliament, and then to do our best by constitutional means to alter it afterwards, if it requires alteration. But my hon. Friend has complained about the action of the police and the action of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I think my right hon. Friend, if I may say so, has taken absolutely the only possible position he could take. Are the facts, as stated by my hon. Friend accurate as to what occurred at Liverpool? He did not on his own responsibility say so. He only quoted newspaper reports, and he condemned the Liverpool police and my right hon. Friend, and he used very passionate language in reference to something which he saw in the newspapers. When you bring serious charges of that-kind you ought to make some kind of inquiry.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I think the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. I gave cases regarding Cardiff and Poplar, and mentioned persons whose names are on the Paper, and whom we know personally.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
No, no; I cannot allow my hon. Friend to get away from the point. I am speaking of Liverpool now. There is a charge there which he says is a charge of murder. That is a very serious charge to bring against an officer who was engaged in the execution of a very difficult duty, and who was acting upon the authorisation which he received from the magistrate. My hon. Friend did this merely upon a newspaper report. He had no opportunity of verifying it, and yet he used language as to a charge of murder when he himself could not verify the facts, and he worked himself into a great passion. He might consider after all that a charge of murder is a very serious charge. There are means of investigating a charge of that kind which are just as open to the strikers in Liverpool as to anyone who has been assaulted.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
There is no use of my hon. Friend shaking his head. Exactly the same means of investigating the charge are open to the strikers as to others, whether policemen or soldiers. First of all there is the coroner's inquiry. We have no business to prejudge what will be said or done there. It is the duty of such a person as was referred to by the hon. Gentleman to give evidence. He is liable to be prosecuted like anybody else, and I say that to prejudge his case merely upon a newspaper report, for which the hon. Member himself is not responsible, is not fair. I have always been fair to the men who are strikers, and my hon. Friend ought to be fair to the police and the soldiers who had a very obnoxious duty to perform. There is nothing they dislike more. It is with the greatest reluctance they engage upon it, and they do it because it is part of their duty, and I do say that they are entitled to every fair play and consideration in a matter of that kind.
I come now to the Poplar case. What does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say? He says that at the present moment when the whole resources of the police are concentrated upon the preservation of life and property, under very abnormal conditions, he cannot undertake to institute an exceptional inquiry before every other form of inquiry has been used. If an assault is committed upon a policeman he gets no special inquiry. All he gets is a summons for assault against the person who commits it, and the same process is open to persons who have been assaulted by the police.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
As a matter of fact, a person who was assaulted went into the police station to lodge a charge and was practically kicked out.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I should like more information about that. I know something of the process in these cases, and I never saw a case where any information was laid on evidence where a summons was refused for assault. At any rate, the Court is just as open to the subject as to the police. They are on quite equal terms so far as the remedies of the law are concerned. If all these have failed it would be open to him to come here and ask the Home Office for a special inquiry, but let him first exhaust the means 1964 which are just as open to strikers and others as to the police. That is all I have to say in regard to that matter. The second thing I have to say is that the functions of the Government are not exhausted merely when they protect life and property. A Government is responsible to see that fair play and justice are done in these disputes, as far as its powers go. I think it will be the experience of everybody that whenever there is a strike people are rather too ready to assume that the workers have no business to interrupt trade in this way. That is the first impulse of anybody outside of the industrial classes. They say, "What a worry these people are again striking." No Government could take up that position. After all the working classes want to improve the conditions of labour. They have increased their wages by a series and succession of labour struggles of more or less magnitude—labour struggles conducted through great suffering to themselves. No body of men engage light-heartedly in a strike, and they do not keep strikes going for weeks unless they are convinced honestly that they have got grievances, because the sufferings they endure are much too great.
It is the duty of the Government to see, in so far as its powers extend—and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that its powers are quite inadequate at the present moment—that fair play is done between the contestants in these industrial struggles. It is a very difficult task. I had some years' experience at the Board of Trade, and I know how difficult it is to get at the real merits. It needs a great deal of patience, and that is why, drawing upon my experience in these matters, I should deprecate any sort of rushing into expedients which simply cause irritation, and which seem rather to be favourable to one side than the other. I agree that life and property should be protected, but when the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) says that we ought instantly, when free labour comes on the scene, to rush in without appealing, to the employers to exercise patience in the matter, I do not quite accept his view there. The natural grievance of trade unionists is, as indicated by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) in the course of questions, that although these men come in to claim their right—the right of every citizen to be able to sell their labour without interference— they are always taking advantage of the increases in wages and the improvements 1965 in their conditions which are the result of struggles which they have done their best to thwart. That naturally causes grievance and irritation, and I do not think the Government can altogether leave out of sight that those very men will benefit by agreements which are wrung out of employers by the sufferings of others.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I do not deny the right to strike. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny the right to work?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
No, I do not lay down so sweeping a proposition as that suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. What I do say rather, by way of appeal to employers—and I think the Government are the right men to make the appeal to them—is that they should exercise patience in the matter of introducing expedients of an irritating character, which would have the effect rather of prolonging the struggle than otherwise. I think if the right hon. Gentleman had had my experience at the Board of Trade, he would see how very important that is. I have never seen any reluctance on the part of employers generally to respond to an appeal of that kind, but sometimes you get an employer who does not respond.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not wish to put it any higher than that. Sometimes there is a kind of employer who is obstinate and stubborn, and who insists at the most irritating moment. He is generally the employer who is responsible for the prolongation of labour struggles. Some of the worst struggles I know of have been the result of action of that kind. I do not forget that it is the duty of the Government to protect life and property and freedom of labour, but I think at the same time that we are entitled to make an appeal to employers of labour to exercise patience, which in the long run will enure to their advantage and to the advantage of the community generally.
The right hon. Gentleman said something about the railway struggle. I frankly regret that only twenty-four hours have been given to arrive at some kind of understanding. I cannot help thinking that it is a great mistake not to give a little longer, because it is quite impossible for anybody to be able to negotiate with 1966 any sort of satisfaction in the course of twenty-four hours. I do hope if I may make that appeal—having made one appeal to the employers—to the workmen that they will not carry out the threat which they issued yesterday to strike in twenty-four hours, when it would be quite impossible for the machinery of conciliation to be brought into operation at all. I would not like to say a word here which would make it more difficult for my right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, to effect a settlement. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester about Conciliation Boards. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) suggested that I forced Conciliation Boards on the employers, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) said that I forced Conciliation Boards on the workmen. Well, I think that shows how very impartial the Board of Trade were on that occasion. It is perfectly true that something is given which was not asked for by the men—something which the employers were not prepared really to accept, but they did accept it. I hoped that the agreement would be worked with the same unanimity and good spirit with which it was accepted. I am expressing no opinion on that. I have heard some complaints as to the action of some of the railway companies. I think it would be very unfortunate if these Conciliation Boards did not work in the way which was intended, because it is really in the interest of the railway companies, as well as of the men, that they should be worked in the way intended when they were originally set up; but if there has been interference with the free choice of delegates, a deliberate attempt to prevent men getting on the boards, a deliberate attempt to delay the settlement of grievances and to get them away from the arbitrators, then all I can say is that the railway companies who have done that, if there are any, must accept the responsibility for what may happen. But I do still say that, if they are worked freely and fairly between the parties, there is no more effective method of settling disputes than a board of that kind where the parties meet on equal terms. I have no doubt at all that, just like any other instrument, there were defects in it, and that those defects have been revealed in the working, defects of procedure, which have perhaps led to too much delay: delay, of course, leads to irritation. 1967 I think, therefore, it may be very possible that there may be some amendments of procedure which may be desirable. Those I am sure can be effected once the men and the employers meet each other at the Board of Trade.
I always regretted that the employers did not see their way to meet the men. I think it is a mistake. First of all, I have to meet the directors and managers of railway companies in one room, and then I have to go upstairs to talk to Mr. Bell, and then I have to come down and tell them what Mr. Bell has said. I have always felt that this was more or less of a farce, because they were meeting Mr. Bell indirectly; and there was never more a popular man than Mr. Bell, a more reasonable man, a fairer man, or a man capable of greater restraints. I remember absolutely ruling his great demonstration in the Albert Hall, because I said to him, "Do not say a single word that would cause any irritation or difficulty with the railway representative." There were 12,000 men there, and if he had said strong words they would have cheered him to the echo. He let down his meeting. He deliberately had a flat meeting in order to avoid giving any cause of irritation. I thought that that was a matter of first-class moral courage, and anybody who is in the habit of addressing public meetings knows what terrific restraint is required for that. And yet here is this man who has exercised all the real offices of statesmanship, a man of perfect temper and great moderation, and they would not even meet him. On all these Conciliation Boards the delegates of the men do meet the employers. All they want to be sure of is that these conciliation arrangements are worked fairly. I have just appealed to the men that they should not precipitate a struggle until at any rate there is an opportunity for the machinery to come into operation to see will something be done. It is a very serious responsibility for them to take. No strike can be conducted in the teeth of the general sentiment of the public, and if the men put themselves wrong with the general public that is the one way to cause and to ensure defeat. If they exercise restraint and patience, and show that they are willing to exhaust every means which the Government places at their disposal to discuss things fairly, and to try to come to a solution, they will be in an infinitely better position. Therefore I would appeal to them not to precipitate a 1968 very grave struggle which would put them in a difficulty, and put the general public in a difficulty.
Of course, our duty is perfectly clear. We owe a duty to the public in this matter, and to protect the railways whatever the cost. The whole food supply of the public, the whole life of the community, depends upon these railway lines, but we shall also do our very best not merely to protect the public, but to protect the workmen, and see that they get fair play on these Conciliation Boards. But it will make our task very much easier if they will endeavour to comply with what must be the general sentiment of the community, and what I should have thought would be the advice of the organised representatives of labour here, that they rather should first of all see that every method of conciliation has failed before they resort to a weapon which, whatever damage it may inflict upon others, also inflicts a deep wound upon the hand that grasps it. Therefore I do make this appeal. I should be very sorry if I said anything which would in the slightest degree aggravate the situation. I have done my very best. All I say to the public generally is that there is always a tendency towards a little exaggeration in a situation like this, and though it is quite serious enough I do not think it is by any means as alarming as some of the Press would lead us to think. With all the knowledge of the facts which I have got I do not think it is an alarming situation. It is a serious situation, and will require very delicate handling and very firm handling, but above all it will require handling in such a way as to give confidence to the community that the Government mean to deal justice to both employers and employed.
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire has referred to some action taken by the Post Office in connection with these disputes, and has asked me to give an explanation of it, which I shall be very ready to do. In the first place, it is necessary to reduce the matter to its proper proportions. There seems to be an impression abroad that the Postmaster-General has been to the strike committee in order to get permission for the mail vans to go through the streets and carry on the postal service of the Metropolis. Nothing of the kind has occurred. Our mail vans have not been in any respect interfered with in their passage through the streets. Indeed, 1969 there are no mail vans in London directly belonging to the Post Office. The whole of the mail service is carried on by contractors. These contractors have not been in any way interfered with in the conduct of their business in the carrying of the mails through the streets. A difficulty arose in connection with the supply of fodder for the horses and of petrol for the motor vans. A few days ago representatives of the contractors came to see the Comptroller of the London postal district and explained to him that the supplies both of fodder and petrol were running short, and asked whether the Post Office could assist in any way. They did not ask for police protection in order to guard their vans carrying the supplies from the docks. That was not the request made to us. Had it been made to us we should have referred it to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. No communication was made to the Home Secretary in the matter and the contractors did not ask us to give them forces for the purpose of getting their supplies out of the docks. They inquired whether the Post Office would use its good offices in the matter. The Carmens' Trade Union has no grievance against the Post Office. They have the full advantage of the Fair-Wages Clause, and several of their grievances which were legitimate grievances I have been able to remedy during the last year and a half; and they have no quarrel whatever with the Department. One of my officers—I was not consulted; it was considered such an obvious and natural thing to do—went to the representatives of the Carmen's Trades' Union, and pointed out that supplies were coming through for hospitals without let or hindrance and asked whether supplies could not also come through for the contractors of the fodder and petrol which they needed. The Carmen's Trades Union, after consulting the Strikes Committee, agreed that this should be done, and fodder and petrol came through for the contractors, who were able to replenish their supplies. That is the long and the short of what took place in the matter.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I am very glad to be able to refer to this matter this evening, because I am, as the House will know, in a position of very serious responsibility in this matter. The scene of this struggle in Liverpool is largely in my Constituency, and the strike affects my Constituency perhaps more than that of any other Member for Liverpool. I would have held my 1970 peace if it had not been my duty to state the case very briefly and I hope without any rancour and certainly without any provocation. I should have been tempted under other conditions to have adverted to many matters to which now I will make only the most casual reference. This state of things in Liverpool has not unfortunately come up to-day. It has been led up to by many and various circumstances which I endeavoured at various times to mitigate and control—a thing which I failed to do. I will not make any further reference to certain episodes in this House and outside the House, but I may be taken to have some knowledge of what has taken place in Liverpool. At the present moment negotiations are going on. I most heartily wish, as everybody in the House does, that these negotiations should end in peace between the disputing parties. Therefore I feel under very strong bonds to be more than usually careful in any language which I may use.
I have received several letters from my Constituents. I have two letters here. One is from an Englishman and the other is from an Irishman. These letters make a very strong complaint on the action of the police, especially on last Sunday. They make very strong charges against the police, and I think that these charges, perhaps, are made with a little more vehemence because the police force with which they find fault was a police force which does not belong to Liverpool itself but has been brought from elsewhere. Policemen, like other people under stress of very hard and trying conditions, when they have to pass through times of strike and riot are liable to lose their heads. I do not think it would be fair for me at this moment to read these letters to the House. The statements are ex parte; they are strong statements; they bear upon their face the evidence of being made in perfectly good faith; but I think at this moment it is better for me to postpone any discussion of any particular instances until a calmer moment has arrived, and I only mention them now for the purpose of urging upon the Government and upon the authorities in Liverpool the strong desirability of their impressing upon the police the necessity of acting with no hot-headedness and with no vindictiveness, but with as great a discrimination as the circumstances of the moment will permit between those who are really endeavouring to break the peace and innocent bystanders, and especially women and children, some of whom, I regret to say, have 1971 been assaulted during these disturbances. I think that word of warning is necessary. I will not say anything further at this moment, except this: I am in entire sympathy with the purposes of the dockers and with working men generally in the country. I think the time for a general advance in wages is not only due, but overdue. I do not think that any man can have read the statistics and the accounts in the newspapers of the gigantic and boundless prosperity of this country without feeling that the time has come for the working people of this land to have a larger share than they have in that prosperity. My hon. Friend opposite to-day has proved that the wages have been overtaken by the advance in the price of food, and that while there has been an extraordinary increase of wealth in the country, wages have remained stationary and the cost of food has advanced, during the last ten years. If there be any class in this community that has more urgent need than any other of an improvement of their conditions, it is the dockers of Liverpool and of other great ports of the country. Anybody who knows their lives knows that their case is one of peculiar hardship because of the low wages they receive. Anybody who passes through my Constituency will find pathetic evidence of the low standard of remuneration of these people. I have already indicated to my friends in Liverpool and the Home Secretary that any poor influence I may have in Liverpool, among my own people, that will be useful in the restoration of order, I am prepared to exercise among my own Constituents, if local opinion justifies my intervention.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I wish first of all to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Home Secretary on the Front Bench, to the fact that those who are urging and pressing for an inquiry are very much concerned to protest against the denial of it for this reason. We had, for the first time, a large pile of information, got together by very reliable witnesses, of the disturbances that took place outside this House in connection with the Women's Suffrage demonstration, and the answer we received from the Home Secretary was that the date was too far away from the occurrence to allow of an inquiry being made. The inquiry was refused, as a matter of fact, because the matter was out of date. The Home Secretary cannot now, in view of that action, 1972 take up another position, and ask us to postpone investigation into the particular matters to which attention is now being called. I want the House to quite understand the position that I as an individual take up in regard to this matter. I am no advocate of unarmed people throwing themselves against armed people. I said that on Tower Hill the other day, and I repeat it here. I used the argument that they had only to sit still, and that we should all very soon be brought to our senses—employers, landlords, and everybody else. There is no need in my judgment for the working men to fight at all. All that they have to do is to stop working, and then we in this House, like everybody else, will know how dependent we are on the very poorest casual labourer that there is in the land. While I believe in that, however, I still maintain that these men have a clear and indefeasible right to go on strike, to meet in the streets, and to try and persuade their fellow men and women to go on strike too. It is because there is a disposition on the part of the police in London and other places to look upon a gathering of men in London as illegal that we are raising this protest this afternoon. We desire that there should be absolute freedom of meeting for working men at all times. It is necessary for them to meet, and we want freedom to explain to non-unionists and non-strikers what the position really is.
People talk about patience in this matter. I was very much struck by the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer just now, because I considered it a very unequal and uneven utterance. He preached patience towards the end of his observations. The first discussion which I heard when I entered this House was one on the Welsh miners' dispute, and the Home Secretary then told us that while disorder was going on no investigations could be made. Things have quieted down, but no investigation has taken place to this day. These unhappy men have had patience, they have not broken the law, and yet in this House no one troubles about them. Ten thousand, including wives and children, have been starving on the hillsides for twelve months, yet there is not one man in this House who has bothered and badgered the Government to put a stop to the starvation of these men. It is you who have taught the men to be violent, because you have never troubled about them until they become violent. Immediately they do become violent you order an inquiry into their grievances. We 1973 know what took place in Poplar. I marvel at the patience of men under those conditions. We are told that they should have recourse to the law. It seems to be imagined that everyone of them could employ a K.C., and that a man assaulted in the streets has nothing to do but employ a lawyer and go into the courts. I have nothing to say against the police individually. I admit their position is one of tremendous difficulty, and one that I would not like to occupy; I have the greatest sympathy with many of them in carrying out disagreeable work; but everybody in London knows that it is the most difficult thing in the world to get a conviction against a policeman. Everybody knows that due account will be taken by the magistrates of the hubbub going on, and the fact that the witnesses might not have seen everything quite clearly. But take the facts in the case of Poplar. It was in the afternoon at four o'clock, when work at the docks has ceased under ordinary conditions, that a large number of people were holding a meeting at a well-known meeting place outside the East India docks.
The meeting was quietly breaking up and there was no disorder whatsoever, when all at once a body of police came up and charged the crowd with batons, and three patrols rode up one side of the street and down the other of the side pavement. I say that under any circumstances, even if a disturbance was taking place, there should be some inquiry as to why that happened, especially when you remember that no disturbance of any kind has taken place, and that the police simply wished to clear the crowd away from the East India Dock Road. What happened? A man was carrying his child, and was accompanied by his wife, on the footpath, He saw the patrol coming, and to prevent his wife being ridden down, he seized the bridal of the horse. He was immediately taken by the throat by a policeman, and practically hurled along the road to the police station, where he was detained a short time, and then chucked out. No charge was made against him at all. All this the Home Secretary knows. We are told to wait until an investigation takes place into the case of that man. The facts are that in Poplar police-station the man was not charged, and was liberated. Yet we are told this is a matter which we ought not to raise. I am raising it because, in common with the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), I 1974 hold that, under all circumstances, citizens have a right to the usual peaceful user of the streets, and on this occasion there was no breach of the peace whatsoever. I am ashamed of this House in regard to what has taken place in Liverpool, because I have not heard a single voice raised in sympathy here with the wives and relatives of the two men who have been shot down. They might have been dogs for all anyone has thought about them. At that table the Home Secretary poured out his sympathy with the police and the soldiers in a difficult task. What about the relatives of these two men lying dead in Liverpool? Is there no sympathy to go out to them? Are we to be told that men may be shot down simply at sight? For my part I have much more sympathy with the relatives of these men, and with the wounded people in this struggle, than I have for anybody else connected with these events, and I think this House ought to have exhibited some sympathy for the relatives of those who have been killed. I at least, speaking for myself, believe with the good Quaker, that murder is murder wheresoever and by whomsoever it is committed:—He who takes a sword, and draws it,And goes stick a fellow through.Governments ain't to answer for it,God will send the bill to you.If armed soldiers in war attack people who are unarmed they are guilty of the most nefarious kind of murder that it is possible to conceive. You have only to read your newspapers to see that in this struggle in Liverpool hardly a man or a horse was injured, and the least an English gentleman should have done was to disarm the man if he was afraid he was going to assault him. I at least am not going to be any party to whitewashing anyone in any sort of way. I protest against the use of soldiers in these troubles at any time. It is not their work. If you believe in war, you should not have armed men against unarmed men. In real war the armed force that fires on unarmed people generally meets with a good deal of disgust and disapprobation. In this business the first thing that was done was to bring out the soldiers. Why is it we read in the newspapers about camps of soldiers around London? What is it for? It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to talk about his sympathy for the people, his sympathy for the poor, and the rest of it. This House is doing nothing for the poor, and the poor only get things done for them by doing them for themselves. 1975 What are troops being brought in for? Really to overawe strikers, and make them imagine that they must not strike but must go to work. I at least am not paying money towards the Army for this purpose, and labour disputes should be dealt with in another sort of way. Soldiers have no business in this sort of struggle, and, if I vote alone, I shall vote against military forces being brought in under such conditions. I hear well-fed men like you, well-fed as I am, talk about these men and about the things which they do and of their extravagant demands. Let the House read the settlement of the carmen. They settled at a paltry wage of 24s. or 27s. per week for seventy-two hours' labour per week. Let every Member of the House ask what this House is doing to deal with the grievances of the common people. What must have been the conditions of those men. When you talk about those men being extravagant, I say again I marvel at their moderation, and that they carry us on their backs for the paltry pittance we ladle out to them.
The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpood (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) spoke about the casual labourer. How many times has the House heard about the casual labourer? You have in your Library here volume after volume telling you all about it. What have you done to deal with it? What have you troubled about it? There are 10,000 more men than ever could get work at the docks, and those men are locked out. You talk about strikes, but I have not heard anybody get up and denounce the employers for locking out the men over a dispute with 700 men, or denounce the shipowners who have directed it. I think the Government ought to take the business out of their hands and forbid them to lock our their men. When they are locked out, and when there is a general strike, I do not want, and I say this quite advisedly, the workmen to give in until they get real concessions from the governing classes. I want them to use their weapon of a strike, the weapon of doing nothing, just standing still, like many of us do hour after hour in our lives, until the community gets them living conditions. When I hear people talk of the starving nature that will handle this weapon of the strike, why it only means just a little bit more starving. As a Christian employer in Bermondsey said to-day when he was appealed to because of the starving, "Oh, they can but- 1976 ton up their buttons a little tighter." I want the workmen to button themselves up a little tighter, and I want this House to say that soldiers should not be used to coerce men, and that police and magistrates should not be used to deny the men the right of meeting, a right which our fathers won for us. I say if the Government want to put an end to this, if this House wants to put an end to it, do not go away golfing and shooting and yachting, and all that kind of thing. Let us stop here and face this problem of preventable destitution and poverty. Let us settle why it is that in the midst of wealth, unexampled in the history of the world, you have got millions of people living below the borderline of existence. Let us, instead of wanting holidays, show the poor that we care for them in a very real sense. Instead of sending soldiers and policemen to bludgeon them, let us bring in such legislation as will secure for the man who does a day's work a real living wage, and for the woman who goes to work a living wage for that day's work also.
§ Mr. CARR-GOMM
I think the House will agree that it has benefited by the statements of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) and of the last speaker. We are not always able to obtain the information that they have been able to give us, through the Press and other sources, and it is to the advantage of the House, I think, that those views should be expressed here. I venture to respond to the best of my ability to the appeal which has been made to us in the very grave words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I wish to call the attention of the House and the Home Secretary to one matter affecting the situation in London. I should like to express my gratitude as a London Member to the Home Secretary for refusing to call upon the military forces of the Crown to take part or to be brought upon the scene. I have reason to know that the Home Secretary was pressed from certain sources to use the military forces of the Crown in the dispute. I know London, perhaps not as well as some here, and having some regard for the people of London I feel a sense of gratitude that the soldiers were not brought on the scene and on to the streets of London. The reason why I feel grateful is this: in the first place, the people of London, I submit, have behaved throughout this very difficult matter with great calmness and with great patience and quietude. I also sub- 1977 mit that they have on the whole been controlled easily by the police. I am not one of those who would ask the Home Secretary at this moment to institute any inquiry into the action of the Metropolitan police. I would not for a moment suggest that he should do so at the present time, but what I want to say is, if he feels on the evidence he has before him and which has been brought before him by hon. Members here, and I am putting some as well, that an inquiry can be instituted into the action of the Metropolitan, police that then he will include in that inquiry not merely the action of the police in the east of London, but will also include parts of London south of the river.
I have received information that some ill-treament was meted out to some persons, women and children on the south side of the river in that part of London known as Horsleydown. While I say that, I think there is no one here on these Benches who would fail to respond to the appeal the Government has made. We realise the gravity of the situation. We who represent Metropolitan constituencies will feel thankful that the people of London have behaved with such calmness; everyone knows the difficulties under which the people of London suffered, and one is almost astonished at the way they behaved, but it is necessary that the Metropolitan police, for whom I have a great admiration, should in all cases exercise great care in clearing the streets and carrying out their duties. And because I do not ever wish to see any of the military forces used in the streets of London, I am anxious that the Metropolitan police, whatever way you like to enforce the supervision, should be very carefully watched and should not be allowed to exceed their duty even in isolated cases. I feel, therefore, that if the Home Secretary will look very carefully into the cases which the hon. Member who last spoke has mentioned, and the cases which I am going to put before him from the south side of the river, that he will feel it will be necessary to institute some sort of inquiry into this matter. The people of London are a law-abiding, well-behaved people, and it speaks well for them that, under arduous conditions in the Port of London, they have maintained calmness and patience even during a time when speeches were made from benches in this House encouraging violence and disorder. It speaks well for them that they were not moved in any way by those words, but that they 1978 listened to their leaders and that in every way they have done their duty well. Therefore, when I am told of cases of women and children having ill-treatment meted out to them in the streets, I am anxious that those cases should not be overlooked. I felt it my duty, as a Member for a Constituency where one of those events took place, that the matter should be ventilated in this House. One knows perfectly well that peaceful citizens go out and take no interest or part in a dispute, and I feel confident that those people were unfairly treated, and that those cases should be looked into. I assure him, however, that while this matter is at issue, we, and I speak for myself and others who will agree with me, should not in any way press for an immediate inquiry.
§ Mr. CHIOZZA MONEY
I am one of those who find it difficult to preserve a fine impartiality in this, particular matter. I am one of those who think that had it not been for the fact that certain strikes had occurred this discussion would not be taking place on the Appropriation Bill. I ask the House to consider what that means? You have had already a long Session. So far as wages are concerned, I have myself endeavoured to bring the subject before the House. I put a Resolution on the Paper for an early day, and I eagerly awaited the opportunity of winning a place in the ballot. I did not win the ballot. The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Crooks), fortunately, gained the ballot for a private Member's evening and put down a Motion as to a minimum wage. We had a very thin House indeed, and the newspapers scarcely reported the Debate that took place. I recall these matters to the attention of the House because they are entirely typical, if the House will pardon me for saying so, of the treatment of the subject of wages by this House. I do very earnestly represent to the House that it is high time this question should have its earnest consideration. It is useless for us, quite useless it seems to me, merely to turn our attention to questions of the amelioration of the condition of the poor by first allowing the struggle to go on, and then, after certain amounts of increment have been taken off people who have more or lees earned them, to tax that increment to be given to certain of the poor. I venture to represent that it is far better surely we should turn our attention to the fundamental matter of the remuneration 1979 of labour, and if we do that the rest will be done unto us without further exertion on our part.
I rejoice very frankly that some signs at last are evident that what I do not hesitate to term the underpayment of labour is receiving due attention in this country. I may add that I rejoice also that those signs are not only evident in this country, but evident in other countries also. That is a sufficient answer to those publicists who at present are telling the reading public that the British workman is driving trade abroad by what he is doing. As a matter of fact the number of strikes in Germany and the number of men involved in the strikes in Germany recently have of course largely exceeded those engaged in labour disputes in this country. I have not the exact figures for last year, but certainly not less than 400,000 persons have been engaged in labour disputes in Germany last year. I think any competent observer must agree that it is only owing to the labour disputes that have occurred in Germany in the last ten years that German workmen have been able to gain the increases in wages which they have happily gained during that period. I may give just one example. Last year about half a million, or 460,000, of the men engaged in the building trade in Germany gained increases of about 2s. 6d. per week as the result of a prolonged labour struggle. I venture to disagree with the right hon. Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. A. Chamberlain) when he said that the strike fell chiefly upon the poor. I think the truth lies more with the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). The poor are already sufferers to such a degree that, as was well said by the employer whom the hon. Member quoted, it is only a matter of tightening the belt a little more in order to cover the extra suffering involved. In this matter as in every other we have a balance of advantages and disadvantages. We have a balance of loss and gain. We have to put against the present loss of wage for the wage-earner the permanent increase in wages which is often secured by such efforts as are being made at the present time. It requires but the smallest arithmetical calculation to find that in the case of the building trade dispute in Germany or in the case of the increases already gained in London, small as they are, the workers will gain in a very short period more than they have lost by the temporary period of dispute. I beg the 1980 right hon. Gentleman opposite to have regard to this consideration when next he addresses himself to the subject.
I think the House must face very seriously the fact that, while it has been said on the part of the Government that there is no intention of interfering one way or the other, what we are really doing when we employ the military in connection with labour disputes is to intervene on behalf of the employer. We have to face that as a fact. It is useless to cover it up by any phraseology. If we call out the military it is for the purpose of overaweing the strikers, and that is an intervention on behalf of the employers. I am perfectly certain that my right hon. Friend has issued such warnings as will at any rate secure that the soldiers concerned in this matter shall be exceedingly cautious in their proceedings. Indeed, we have some evidence, of which it is only fair to remind the House, that a magistrate actually called upon the soldiers to fire down a street where not only men but women were also present, but, to the honour of the soldier in command, that advice was resisted. The name of the magistrate has not yet been revealed to the public, but I hope it will be forthcoming. With regard to the question of railways, what are the facts? The facts are that we have just been going through a period when, according to the most authoritative sources—according to the railway shareholders' newspapers, according to "The Times," and every other authority— railways have been making bigger profits than ever before. Their dividends have been larger and their profits greater. What has been going on at the same time? Conciliation Boards have been in existence, and we may judge of the extent of their success when we find that as a result of their working, at a time when the railways are confessedly making larger profits than ever before, the men whose cases have been adjudicated upon have gained increases of something like, ½d, or 1d., or at the outside 2d. per day. The result is that when this increase is deducted from the profits, those profits are larger than ever before. Take that great authority the "Daily Mail." That paper states:—The general improvement in the intrinsic value of home railway stocks really began about two years ago, when the new policy of co-operation and economy in working was inaugurated.The railway companies have more than offset the trifling increases in the cases which have been adjudicated on by the Concilia- 1981 tion Boards by the gains they have made in discharging workers and by general cooperation. That is the position with regard to the railways. I earnestly suggest that nothing can satisfy this belated demand by labour for better remuneration, but a juster wage.
I pass on to the movement of wages in recent years. The figures need no apology. They do not rest on my authority. In recent years the Board of Trade has given much more attention to industrial statistics, and I think they deserve every credit for so doing. In regard to wages they have taken five great groups of trades in which wages can be easily tested, and worked out an index number. Taking the last fifteen years, wages have risen in those five groups of trades by about 12 per cent., but the cost of living in the same period, as measured by the retail prices of food, has risen by 18 per cent., which means that in those years the real wage of the worker has diminished. But that only partly expresses the gravity of the situation in that regard. If we take the period since 1900, a little over ten years, wages, apart from small increases, have been practically stationary. The Board of Trade index number has moved from 100 to 100.2. What is the movement of retail food prices? In the same ten years it has gone up 10 per cent. That means that the worker's sovereign has become worth only 18s. in that period. Even that does not wholly express the truth, because in those figures there are not included the railway workers and other employments where wages have been either stationary or falling. If they had been included there is no doubt whatever that, the index number would have appeared worse than I have stated. I do not claim any monopoly of sympathy with the poor. That is a claim that ought not to be made by anyone. All I want to do is to endeavour to bring the mind of the House back from the mere details of this dispute to the great underlying cause. I am convinced that unless that underlying cause is examined we shall get no further. We cannot cure strikes by bullets. That has been proved by the experience of Germany. Even the most careless reader of the newspapers must have seen that last year not two, but many, men were killed by the military in Germany. Did that stop labour disputes in that country? What is the case? Hundreds of thousands of men are involved in labour disputes in Germany at 1982 this moment. We cannot cure this matter by the police or by the use of the military. There is only one way to cure it, and that is by seeing to it that there is a juster reward for labour than now obtains. In no other way can we find a surcease from the troubles which so much disturb us at the present time.
I earnestly put these considerations before the House. I represent to His Majesty's Government that something more than an attitude of impartiality in the matter of wages is required from them. No man in this House is ashamed to say that he desires better conditions of life for the poor of this country. Where is the man or the Member of the Government who is ashamed to rise in his place and make that statement? If that is true, if that is his real opinion, how can he be impartial in this matter? What other remedy is there for these evils but an increase in wages? Therefore, much as I support His Majesty's Government in their endeavours in regard to insurance legislation or labour law, I say that it is their duty to supplement those endeavours by giving closer attention to this particular subject. The House of Commons is brought face to face by these troubles outside the House with a question which should continually engage its attention. If politics has any mission at all at the beginning of the twentieth century, surely it should be specially directed to the solution of this particular problem. It is useless merely to offer measures of amelioration to people who are not justly paid for their labour. You must do something more than that. The wage has to come in. The question of wages has to be discussed on the floor of this House. I rejoice at by whatever means this discussion has arisen to-day. I hope we shall not cease discussing the question until we find some better solution than the mere application of police or military to this terrible problem.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
The hon. Member opposite began his speech with a humorous touch, quite foreign to this serious Debate. He reproached this side of the House with not raising the question of the condition of the people and the amount of the wages paid to the poor. I should have thought the House was tired of that question being raised on these benches. It is the burden of song of all those who speak about Tariff Reform. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I do not say whether they are right or wrong, but that is the burden of their song. They 1983 quote the exact figures quoted by the hon. Member to show that the wage of labour, and especially of casual labour, has increased very little, if at all, and that measures ought to be taken by this House to better the condition of the people. I agree with a good deal said by the hon. Member (Mr. Chiozza Money) and by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) as to the condition of those— and the great bulk of the casual labourers are in the category—whose wages have not risen, whilst they have had to pay a good deal more for the necessaries of life. The hon. Member for Leicester is wrong, however, in one particular. He said that in East London rents had risen in the last few years. That is not so. I appeal to hon. Members below the Gangway whether it is not notorious that in East London the number of empty houses is very large, that men can now obtain three rooms for the same rent that they paid ten years ago for two, and that the practice of key-money— which was the premium paid on entering into occupation of rooms—has practically disappeared. What it is fair to say is that rent has fallen, but it is the only thing that has fallen. The price of the necessaries of life has risen, and, therefore, the real wages of the bulk of casual labour living in East London are less than they were.
But whatever our sympathy may be with men like the carmen, whose hours of labour were undoubtedly too long, and many of whose conditions were extremely hard, nothing has been gained, but much has been lost, by allowing the City of London for two or three days to become a place of anarchy—not, as Carlyle says, anarchy with a street constable, but anarchy without a street constable. I will not say anything about those who have to administer the functions of the Home Office, except that they ought to have had more foresight and to have seen that if they did not make better provision for the public safety it was inevitable that there should be scenes of gross outrage even in the City of London and in the thoroughfares approaching the City. I will ask the Home Secretary whether it is not correct that on the bridges lorries and vans were overturned and their contents scattered about, without the smallest interference on the part of the police. Carts coming out of the very heart and centre of London were overthrown. I do not say that injuries were committed on the persons of the drivers except by accident. I think that in London there has been a happy 1984 absence of that sort of personal outrage. But I say that to have given up the streets of London in this way to mob law is not good for the community and is very bad for the interests of labour. It teaches a bad lesson, a lesson which has to be corrected later on by the use of such power and such forces as we all in common deplore. The result has been that the lesson of successful anarchy in London was learnt too well by the north, and what happened as a consequence the House very well knows. That was a most unfortunate thing. I believe there is no mob so little disposed to violence as the Lon-don crowd, and I believe that if there had been any show of adequate force these things would not have happened. They have happened. What is called the Metropolitan Press, as well as the Press of East London, will show anybody who looks at their pages that it was, in fact, impossible to take a van or a lorry out of picketed yards while the strike lasted.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
As a matter of fact, cases occurred where they could not take them out of the yards, because, although the carters, as in the case of the employés of particular firms, like Messrs. W. H. Smith and Sons, were willing to do it, violence was feared. I am not going to say in the least that that was the fault of the police. I think everybody will admit that the Metropolitan police have behaved on the whole—although there may have been occasional mistakes—with marvellous tact, and have shown great forbearance during the whole of these troubles. But it is the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary who is himself responsible for London. It is not a case of the requisition of a local authority. I quite believe him in saying that he could not refuse any force asked for. The cities of the North are able to command the forces they want, because it is impossible for the Home Office—practically impossible—to refuse. Public opinion is too strong. But in London there is no local authority who has anything to say to the police.
The Home Office is entirely and directly responsible. If there was the sin of omission on a large scale, as I venture to say there was, it is entirely owing, and must be owing, to the Home Secretary. The London police have been used far too hardly for many a long month. They were not meant to be employed as 1985 a movable column, nor to be sent about the country at the call of all those who thought they wanted assistance in times of difficulty. I got an answer to-day to an unstarred question, in which the right hon. Gentleman says himself that "the whole of the Metropolitan Police Force has been under special strain." Yes, but not only during the last week, but for many many months. These men have not been so-called strikebreakers, because they take neither the one side nor the other. But they have been used to deal with strikes all over the country, because the Home Secretary has had, what I do not deny is a natural and proper reluctance to send soldiers to stop these disturbances. So he has sent the Metropolitan police. I hope their services will be fairly recognised. I do not, however, think it is a question of money payment. I hope in the future they will not be used in that way. They are not too numerous for their duties at home. At the present time it is impossible not to send them away, but in any case I do not believe it to be a right principle to use them at every turn.
Special emergencies may have justified special missions in time past, but the Home Office is not justified in turning to them in lieu of other forces, and because he does not like to introduce the military element. The men themselves have made no special complaint, but they look upon this thing as a grievance, as I can assure the Home Secretary. Though they are a very loyal force, it is not a wise nor a proper thing to use them in the way I have described. I should think, too, when he heard the Postmaster-General's confession he must have realised how inadequate the forces of London were. The Postmaster-General did what I do not think a Minister is justified in doing. He threw the blame upon a subordinate, and said the fact was that the contractors who worked for the Post Office did not approach him for police protection, but asked one of his officials and the latter made terms with the Strike Committee unknown to him. He said the matter was decided by a subordinate. This does not show a right state of discipline in the Post Office. Other public bodies in London had those in command who were responsible for deliberately refusing to petition the Strike Committee for "permits." They said they would obtain their supplies in the right way, and would apply, if necessary, for police protection. This was a case of local authorities, although that example might be 1986 studied with advantage by the Government. They ought not to put themselves, or ask any regular contractor to place himself in the humiliating position of having, to ask "permits" from a strike committee to do what he ought to do under the protection of officers of the Crown. I would like to draw the Home Secretary's attention to these two points: Whether the anarchy in London was justifiable, and. whether it was not a very serious thing, for the whole trade in London that lorries; and carts should be overturned in all directions without the police being able to interfere? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] Yes, on the bridges coming into London. Whether, in the second place, it is advisable to continue to use the London police in the way they have been used during the last few years? If any mistakes have been committed by them, surely the irritation at the treatment to which they have been subjected, not only in London, but all over the country, is a sufficient palliative? I do not imagine there has been any dereliction of duty, and I am only putting it hypothetically in reply to the hon. Member. Surely we can feel for them just as much as for any other class?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
All I said about the police was that my sympathies went out to the relatives of the dead men.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
Yes; but what, about the dead policeman whose death at Liverpool is chronicled in the papers today?
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
He died from natural causes, but in the discharge of his duty, and probably from over-exertion in dealing with the Liverpool mob. I ask the Home Secretary to consider whether he can take such measures as will prevent the possibility of our city being disgraced in the way in which it was last week—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh"]—yes, certainly by anarchy, which was open and flagrant, and accompanied by personal violence, doing great harm to our industries and jeopardising the good name that we are proud of?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. Gentleman has asked me several questions. I venture 1987 to suggest that it is a great mistake to use the language of exaggeration and that which goes beyond the facts. After all, there is quite sufficient material to justify the use of serious expressions. It is not true that London has been under mob law and unbridled anarchy. What did happen was that owing to a strike of the transport workers the functions of distribution were temporarily arrested. That is not a matter which it would be possible to guard against without some inconvenience. There are no arrangements which could be made, no matter how great was the number of police employed, which would enable you to safeguard every van which was distributing provisions, in every street all over London, at all hours of the day.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I quite agree; some vans were overturned. But the importation into London of any large body of troops would not have prevented that kind of inconvenience resulting. The only thing that would have done it, and would have been done, had the dispute not been happily terminated, was to arrange for regular convoys. That was already being taken in hand by the police. The idea that it would be possible to protect every individual van moving about all parts of the Metropolis from being stopped is beyond the actual facts. But annoyance of that character does not constitute anarchy, nor does it constitute mob law. The authorities did employ forces to deal with any disorder of a serious character which showed itself in any particular place. Of course, it is not possible on an occasion like that to squander and fritter away the whole of the police force in twos and threes over the whole of the city. The force must be held in hand to deal with any serious riot or disorder if it occurred. The statement of the hon. Gentleman is entirely of an alarmist character.
There was not at any time the danger that the forces of law and order in London would be outweighed or overborne in any way. Annoyance, inconvenience, dislocation, and unfortunate incidents undoubtedly did occur. I am afraid that it would not be possible in any circumstances wholly to prevent that. If the strike continued a regular system of convoys would have had to be organised. The police did actually during these days meet a very great number of requests for their aid. 1988 In some cases they offered escorts, and made all arrangements to protect convoys moving from the depot to the market. They afterwards found that the persons who had asked for protection had changed their mind and thought they would not press for it. Further orders were given to arrest all persons guilty of molesting others in the street, a number of arrests were made, and suitable punishments followed. I am bound to say, looking back on the London strike, although about seventy persons were injured, there has not been anything of that serious violence which occurred either in South Wales or at the present time is occurring at Liverpool. I think that is very much to the credit of London. I hope, therefore, hon. Members will not describe or paint in darker colours than is very well justified what actually took place in London.
In regard to what the hon. Member has said about the Post Office applying for "permits" from strikers, that has been so thoroughly dealt with by my right hon. Friend that it does not require any remarks from me. Except to say this: that had the matter been brought to his attention I have no doubt he would have come to the Home Office and applied for protection, and the Home Office would have instantly supplied all the protection necessary to secure the mails being taken safely and expeditiously through the streets. So far as the conduct of the police is concerned, let me repeat what was so well said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the policeman is a private person. He has no right that a private person does not have, and no special law of protection. He can be summoned for assault by any person, just with as much facility as he can summon a striker or rioter for assaulting him. Besides, he has a number with which he can be identified. He has to stand the same test in the court as any other citizen. In addition to being under that ordinary restraint which we ourselves are under he is under the disciplinary charge of a Commissioner of police. If there are any complaints made to me which appear to be well founded I will have them investigated as soon as a reasonable chance and opportunity is afforded, and when matters regain their normal condition. For the rest I must refer the members of the public who feel themselves aggrieved to the courts, which are open to them. I do not know whether the House would care to have two official reports which have been received from Liverpool. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, 1989 hear."] The first one deals with the riot on the plateau. It is from the Head Constable. I would just like the House to note how coolly and impartially it is written. This refers to the affair of Sunday:—The National Transport Workers Federation had, early in the week, announced a monster demonstration of all the trades which this Federation seeks to gather into its fold. I had, after a consultation with Tom Mann agreed that I would trust him and his fellows to conduct the meeting with decorum, and that I would as far as possible, keep both police and military out of sight. It is right to say that I am sure that Mann and the others did their very best to carry out their undertaking.The meeting was held in the plateau of St. George's Hal) facing the London and North Western Hotel. Inside St. George's Hall I had 100 men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and a large number of police, while mounted police were kept in their quarters at a quarter of a mile away. Upon the street were merely a few police to deal with ordinary matters of traffic and so on. As is usual in such cases it is absolutely impossible to say for certain how the row began, but I am inclined to describe it as follows. Next to the London and North Western Hotel is the Empire Theatre of Varieties. A cart called at the back of this theatre for scenery to be taken to a railway station. Some of the fringe of the crowd, the fringe which at this corner consisted no doubt, of the roughs from the adjoining Irish district, always ready for an opportunity to attack the police, regarded this cart as out of sympathy with the strike, attempted to overturn it. The few police who were there prevented this, but there was some disturbance, which rapidly spread to Lord Nelson Street which runs down to Lime Street, between the theatre and the London and North Western Station and Hotel. A brutal and unprovoked attack was made by the crowd upon three policemen who happened to be scattered at the bottom of Lord Nelson Street. This disturbance spread until it became necessary to call out some of the reserves from St. George's Hall.The latter began to clear Lime Street, and were immediately attacked with showers of missiles which must have been brought for the purpose by the people actually forming the meeting, who, standing upon the plateau, are separated from Lime Street by a low chain and row of posts. This attack became so persistent that the police, perforce, had to turn their attention to the meeting and drive it from the plateau. A scene of great violence ensued, and it is quite possible, nay, probable, that many innocent persons received injuries. The police suffered severely. Superintendent Boulton, of the Birmingham force, was knocked down, had his leg broken, and received other injuries, and, indeed, if it had not been for the bravery of one of his men who missed his officer and turned back to his rescue, there is little doubt that the superintendent would have been killed. His rescuer also received severe injuries, and is in hospital. The number of injured altogether amounted to some hundreds. While the latter part of this was going on the Warwickshire regiment were turned out and Mr. Stuart Deacon, the stipendiary magistrate, read the Riot Act, and the plateau was finally cleared. The disorder quickly spread to the adjoining Irish quarter, and a fierce attack upon the police began, stones and bottles being thrown from the roofs of the houses, The magistrate read the Riot Act again.Immediately after the dispersal of the meeting, Tom Mann and other organisers called upon me in my office from which I was directing operations, and complained at what they called unjustifiable interference with the peaceful meeting. I of course told them that, without giving expression to any opinion upon its merits, their complaints will be fully investigated.I do think the House will consider that a frank and straightforward statement, and I think it is greatly to the credit and character of the officer that in a moment of 1990 tremendous responsibility and embarrassment upon his hand that he should keep his head so well and write a report which shows that he is trying to clear a way through the difficulties without inhumanity or panic or partiality as between the different legitimate interests at issue. I have also had a short report about the incidents of yesterday from the officer commanding the troops. That is in regard to the firing. This took place yesterday.Reports just received that detachment of two officers and thirty-two men of the 18th Hussars in charge of a prison van was attacked by a big crowd. Six men were unhorsed, and about twelve shots were fired by order. One civilian was killed and two were wounded. The magistrate who was present fully concurred in the action taken.That is the only information I have to give the House at the present time, and I think the House will feel that we must not in our Debates say anything that will attempt to prejudge matters which undoubtedly will come within the purview of the law. I am quite certain that military officers have no greater detestation and loathing than in being brought into conflict with their fellow countrymen in these scenes of riot and disorder. There is nothing they have a greater repugnance for, and I am certain the House will feel that, after all, they are men with feelings such as we all have, and I am quite certain that not a single shot was fired that did not create feelings of agony and pain to the men called upon to fire them. And after all, these matters must, under the law of the land, be the subject of judicial investigation before the Coroner, and, if necessary, afterwards; and I do not think we ought to indulge in violent language in regard to anything that has taken place at any rate until there is clear evidence that the law is not operative for the purpose of investigating these matters properly.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Has the right hon. Gentleman any information about the state of the superintendent of police who was injured, and can he tell us what his present condition is?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have not, There was a considerable amount of injury done, and there were several casualties and several of the soldiers have been hurt. With regard to the railways that matter has been disposed of by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Board of Trade are still discussing these matters with the parties concerned.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the latest report 1991 that the Government promised to support the railway companies against the men is true?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No, Sir. The Government have not promised to support the railway companies against the men nor to support the men against the railway companies, but it will be the duty of the Government in the event of the paralysis of the great railway lines upon which the life and food of the people depend, to secure to the persons engaged in working them full legal protection and to make sure that no great disaster or catastrophe overwhelms the people owing to the breakdown of the machinery by which we live from day to day. That duty is a primary and fundamental part of the duty of the Government, and I trust no one will ever suppose if the need arises that the Government would shrink from doing it.