Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £243,976, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1927, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department and Subordinate Offices, including Liquidation Expenses of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Contributions (including certain extra-statutory Payments) towards the Expenses of a System of Probation."—[Note: £178,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
It was my intention, had it not been for a time of crisis in which we now find ourselves, to raise very pertinent questions with the Home Secretary relative to several points of administration, and I gave notice on Thursday last that I should raise these issues with him to-day. I am a little astonished that neither the Home Secretary nor the Under-Secretary to the Home Office is present this afternoon—
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Austen Chamberlain)
May I say that my right hon. Friend will be here at the first opportunity, but he has been called away for the moment and I was preparing to take notes during his absence.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I wish the Home Secretary were present. It would be much better for him personally to hear the points we are about to put. Whatever his business may be elsewhere, I feel sure that the matters we desire to raise to-day are as important. I desired to raise several questions relating to the detailed administration of the Home Office; but I feel that the House will hardly be in a mood to listen to arguments relative to 700 ordinary matters of administration, and consequently I will come at once to what I regard as being a very important issue indeed in connection with the Home Office. Some of my hon. Friends and myself have had an opportunity of going into the country this weekend to see how the people generally and the working folk in particular, now on strike and locked out, are bearing themselves in this crisis, and I have had the privilege of visiting two large centres this week-end. I saw thousands of people congregating together in order to hear news from headquarters as to how the dispute arose, and as to any negotiations which may now he proceeding. After seeing Approximately 20,000 people in one city, and about 10,000 in another place attending public meetings, I am astonished to see the alarming reports of riots and disturbances appearing in the official newspaper of the Government.
I have not seen any indication of a disturbance of any kind anywhere. The people who have been locked out or who are on strike are behaving just as if they were on a general holiday. Their good humour is wonderful, and I have no hesitation in saying that it arises from the fact that they know they are supporting a very good cause, indeed. This is not a time, as I said, to deal with the ordinary points that arise in the administration of the Home Office; but I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us how many local authorities have passed resolutions, since the dispute began, appealing to the Government to commence negotiations once again. For my own part, I feel that our own case is good enough without making any appeal in a humiliating way, but it is only right and proper to ask the Government how many local authorities have passed resolutions urging them to do what the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked them. The right hon. Gentleman, who is taking notes of my speech for the Home Secretary, represents a Birmingham Division, and it may interest him if I read a quotation from a leading article in the "Birmingham Gazette." I am not sufficiently conversant—
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
On a point of Order. Is it proposed to discuss the whole situation arising out of the general strike?
§ The CHAIRMAN
It certainly will not be possible to do so on the Home Office Vote. So far, I understand, the hon. Gentleman was arguing that the Government newspaper did not represent an adequate view of what was going on in the country. If a general discussion of the settlement of the dispute is wished for, it cannot take place on the salary of the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
§ Sir ROBERT SANDERS
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has this afternoon told us that the Government "Gazette" will be a charge on the Stationery Office Vote, and will be under the Treasury. Will it be in order to discuss points connected with it on the Home Office Vote?
§ The CHAIRMAN
As the Home Secretary has taken responsibility for the newspaper, I do not think that I can prevent discussion on this Vote.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I hardly think so. I think he said that he was willing to answer questions with regard to it, but I confess that I think it would be rather a pedantic interpretation of the Rules if, after the Home Secretary said he was responsible, I should prevent discussion on the newspaper. The general situation cannot be surveyed.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
The "Gazette" falls upon the Treasury Vote. I have always understood it was a rule that when there was a specific Vote for a particular purpose, that matter could not be discussed on another Vote?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Although it may be the fact that it will appear on the Treasury Vote, still the Estimate has not been laid, and, as the Home Secretary undoubtedly did take responsibility, I cannot stop the discussion of the matter.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
The responsibility taken upon himself by the Home Secretary did not relate to the "Gazette," but to general supervision over any publication that went on. If any difficulty arose, as regards that, he was the responsible Minister to Whom to apply. He surely did not contradict the distinct statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day that he would answer any 702 questions with regard to the "British Gazette."
§ The CHAIRMAN
If I remember aright, on the first day of the publication of the newspaper there were references made to certain zoological and other features, and there were some rather chaffing references made to the Home Secretary, and he took responsibility.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
It will help the House if I mention the subjects that I intend to raise. When interrupted, I was dealing with the point that the Home Secretary is in charge of public order in the country, and using the illustration of the "Birmingham Gazette" to support the view that very many local authorities in this country have made appeals to the Government to alter their policy in connection with the dispute. The local authorities which have passed resolutions have done so because they are responsible for the maintenance of public order in their respective localities. I do not, however, intend to pursue that issue. The points that ought to be dealt with are these: First, the Home Secretary has been appealing for the recruitment of special police, and I do not think that any Member of the House will question the desirability of raising this issue at the first possible moment. I propose to put two or three questions to the Secretary of State through the Foreign Secretary. I cannot understand how, in the Home Secretary's appeal for special constables, it comes about that such contradictory statements are made. Let me say at once that no one will challenge the title of the Home Office to maintain order, but I would like a reply on the very contradictory statements I am about to mention. In the "British Gazette" to-day we have this headline:More specials required. To the loyal men of England.That is to say, Scotland and Wales are entirely left out, of account; there are apparently no loyal men in Scotland or Wales—at any rate I hope that they are not loyal to Tory philosophy or Tory policy. This is what the Home Secretary states over his own name:On Wednesday night I broadcast an appeal for special constables. On Friday night I added to that appeal by asking for 50,000 Londoners during the week-end. I am delighted to say that they are coming 703 in splendidly, but I am a few thousand short of my number.I would like to know who is the wonderful editor of this journal. He ought to be appointed editor of a parish magazine. This is what he says in another column:The reports from the country during the week-end are quite cheerful. They show that recruiting everywhere is more than enough to meet immediate requirements.That is in the same issue as the appeal of the Home Secretary. It will be seen, however, that the Government are still "a few thousand short" according to that statement. How many special constables is it intended to enrol? I understand that there are in London alone already 25,000 enrolled. How many are to be enrolled throughout the country? I should like to know, further, what the cost is likely to be. On that score it was very interesting yesterday—and it was Sunday yesterday—
§ Mr. DAVIES
Yes, but it was not Sunday to the gentleman who announced these figures. He did not do his task religiously in any case. This is the most diabolical and mocking part of the whole of this business. The announcer in the broadcast of yesterday informed us that a commander in the special police was to receive 10s. per day in wages—for four hours' work by the way.
Captain ARTHUR EVANS
As one who heard that announcement, may I point out to the hon. Gentleman that it refers to a special force on whole time duty?
Captain A. EVANS
It is a special force which is being recruited outside the ordinary special constables—who are giving their time free.
§ Mr. DAVIES
All my information is from official documents; and I may enlighten the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Captain A. Evans) if I read him the official announcement.The services of special constables are urgently required to assist the police during the continuance of the present dispute. 704 They would be required to give at least four hours per day.
Captain A. EVANS
That announcement, I think, refers to the ordinary special constables. The other announcement which was made through the wireless and from which the hon. Member is not quoting at the present time, refers to a different force altogether.
§ Mr. DAVIES
That does not destroy my argument one bit. If these men work eight hours a day it does not spoil my argument. A member of this force is going to get 10s. a day, and the announcer never said yesterday how many hours he was required to work.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I would ask hon. Members to allow the hon. Gentleman to proceed without interruption.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I wish hon. Gentlemen would behave in this House as well as the working class behave at their meetings. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary who is, as it were, the villain of the piece, has at last come into the House. I hope I can get the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. I was dealing with the rate of wages which he is going to pay to special constables. If I were called upon, or were willing to do this very doubtful task, I would undertake the job of a commander and nothing short of that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I never interrupt hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I hope they will listen to what may probably be very distasteful to them.
§ Mr. DAVIES
As I have said, the pay of a commander is to be 10s. plus 5s. per week for clothing and washing—and there will he some washing to do—plus rations and accommodation on an Army basis, plus 2s. 6d. a day subsistence allowance. I have tried to calculate the total sum which one of these gentlemen will receive, and find that his income for acting as a commander in this special police force will not be under £5 a week. If we take the case of a constable we find that the sum payable to him is 5s. a day—so I understood—and he gets all the allowances I have already mentioned, and I calculate that his total income as a special 705 constable will not be much less than £4 a week.
I have been comparing those figures with the wages which it is proposed to pay to the miners, and I wish some Divine Providence would enlighten hon. Members opposite on the comparison. How delighted and how willing they are to pay these wages—these millions—to special constables, to special constabulary commanders, men who after all will not produce anything. They will keep law and order I agree. They will sit on the omnibuses and probably prevent anybody damaging the omnibuses or anything else. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If that statement delights hon. Gentlemen opposite let me repeat it. These men will probably defend the omnibuses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] But I cannot understand the mentality of those who are willing to pay, it may be millions of pounds per day for this task, while declining to pay to millions of other folk producing the essentials of life a wage as high as that which they are paying to these constables. We on this side of the House are entitled to attack this strange idea that prevails among hon. Members opposite. I dare say that the Home Secretary will spend nothing short of £1,000,000 per day out of the taxes and rates of this country on the special police. I shall be astonished if the sum is less than that; and I object to the readiness with which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are willing to pay away the taxpayers' money in this fashion while they decline to support men who are doing the more necessary work of the world or to pay those people the wages necessary to keep them in decency.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is not the responsibility of the Home Secretary whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman or anybody else either goes down a mine or into the special constabulary.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Before the Home Secretary came into the House I put a question to which I should like a reply as to how many local authorities in this country have passed resolutions which, in ordinary terms, may be regarded as votes of condemnation of the policy of the Government. A question was raised to-day as to the attitude of the people in Newcastle. I do not know what has transpired in Newcastle. I do not know what the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies is able to do there; but I assure hon. Members that unless you can get the good-will of the people in this connection the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies will avail you little indeed. You must have the goodwill of the people—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—and you are not getting it. [HON. MEMBERS: Yes!"]
§ Mr. DAVIES
Another question I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman—because I prefer the statement of the right hon. Gentleman on the Floor of the House on this subject to anything which might be in print in the "British Gazette"—is this: Have there been any real disturbances during the last few days, and, if so, has anybody been arrested for the delivery of speeches in connection with the dispute, and, if so, how many? I think those are fair questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman, because, as I said at the commencement, practically all the Government of this country is now in his hands. He has a very grave duty to perform to the community in that connection. As he knows, it was my intention, in the first place, to deal with other matters entirely than those that I have raised. I had intended to ask something about the coming into force on 1st July of Section 1 of the Criminal Justice Act, and what arrangements have been made with the clerks of the Courts of this country in relation to probation work in future. Another point with which I had intended dealing was the question of anthrax and lead poisoning, and about conventions in which the Home Office is interested. But we are faced with very much graver issues at the moment, and I will, therefore, repeat very briefly the few questions which I desire to put to the right hon. Gentleman. How many arrests, if any, have been 707 made? Have any public meetings been suppressed as a consequence of the passing of the Regulations in this House last week? Has there been any violence of any kind in the country? How many local authorities have passed resolutions protesting against the action of the Government in connection with this dispute? Above all, how many special constables does the right hon. Gentleman intend to enroll, and what is the total cost likely to be to the State, say, per day or per week, in that connection?
I want, before I sit down, to say that I desire to protest once again—and I feel sure that I protest in the name of all my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House—that when the producer in this country is fighting for a standard of life, he is declined that standard of life by the forces of the employers and the Government. I have been a miner myself, and I know the life of the miner. I do not think God ever intended a man to be a coalminer; and if anybody is critical of the miners, let him go down the pit and work there himself. I protest, therefore, that whilst a million men and boys are failing to secure their rights and a decent wage, the Home Secretary can squander millions of money per week, the money of the State, the money of the taxpayer, in order to bolster up this wicked system and the policy of the Government. We protest against wages being paid in this connection, because, if the men who are producing the necessities of life were properly treated, we should not require a single special constable to do this work for the community.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I only rise to call attention to one special matter, and I am very glad the Home Secretary is here, because he accepted responsibility for this matter in the discussion last week. On Thursday, when I supported the demand of the Government for special powers, without any cavil as to the drastic character of the demands which they made, because I felt that they ought to be equipped with all the powers that they thought necessary to preserve order and to carry on the essentials of civilized life in this country during the emergency, I then urged upon the Home Secretary the importance of using these powers with complete impartiality, so as 708 to give the nation a sense that the Government were acting fairly between all classes of the community. The Home Secretary then gave an assurance which I certainly thought was very satisfactory, and, as I know he is not in the habit of giving assurances without honestly intending to carry them out, those assurances to me were absolutely satisfactory, but I must call his attention to one thing that has happened in reference to the "British Gazette."
I am not going at this stage to criticise the whole of that paper. The time will come when there is a good deal to be said about that paper, and about the way in which it has been negotiated, even from the commercial point of view, but I am not going to say a word about that now. [An HON. MEMBER: "Out with it!"] I am not going to say a word about a good many paragraphs which have been inserted, which contained offensive matter about political opponents—[An HON. MEMBER: "Then why mention them?"]—paragraphs which cannot in the least help what the Government have in view, namely, the preservation of law and order and the sustaining of the spirit of the nation. I think it is unfair to take advantage of the powers they have got. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are you complaining about?"] If hon. Members insist upon my going into that, I will do so, but I am only rising to raise one question. [An HON. MEMBER: "Have it out"] I am raising one question, and I propose to do it, whatever ill-mannered interruptions come from hon. Members opposite.
I want to call attention to the way in which the appeal of the Christian Churches in this country has been suppressed. There was a very important meeting of the leaders of all the Christian Churches of this country on Friday at Lambeth, with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the chair. The Archbishop of York was there, I believe Archbishop Bourne was there. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary referred to his sermon last night. He was present, I believe, at this conference; at any rate, I am informed that he assented to the conclusions come to. The conclusions, therefore, represented the opinion of all the Christian Churches, in so far as their leaders can speak on their behalf. Surely nobody will suggest that 709 they are the class of people who would interfere with the Government of the day in an emergency, that they would encourage disorder, that they would in the slightest degree encourage attacks upon the Constitution. They are just the kind of forces upon which any Government must depend in the last resort if there is a great struggle between the forces of order and constitutionalism and other forces in this land. They are the really strong, potent forces upon which we have to depend. They met, and solemnly they came to the decision that the time for conciliation had arrived, and they made certain suggestions. I am quoting from the "Times," which, to its honour be it said, published them. I am not quoting the whole of them, although they are very short. They said:Our proposal should be interpreted as involving simultaneously and concurrently: (1) The cancellation on the part of the Trades Union Council of the General Strike; (2) Renewal by the Government of its offer of assistance to the Coal Industry for a short, definite period; (3) The withdrawal on the part of the mine owners of the new wages scales recently issued.I am not arguing the merits of the case—I would not be entitled to do so now—I am only giving the appeal made by this very powerful, influential body. Their suggestion is practically that whether it is called a lock-out or what not and the general strike should both be withdrawn, that the mines should be reopened, that the Government should continue its subsidy, and that, meanwhile negotiations should continue. That was their appeal, and it was an appeal from a body of men, law-abiding and loyal. What happened? In the first place—I cannot dwell upon that—it was sent to the broadcasting department. They were told that they must not publish it. It was not published in the "British Gazette." Now this is a paper which is supposed, according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day, to give honest news, avoiding everything, of course, that provokes sedition, avoiding everything which would be an unfair encouragement to sedition. Can anyone say it is not really rather a reflection on the organised Christian churches of this country that the considered opinion by their most valued leaders, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is known to be a very wise, a very cautious man, who certainly has never been guilty of any 710 charge of impetuous interference in business not his own, and who is respected by the whole nation—a man of his years, of his very ripe wisdom—I should have thought that the Government would have published that. That is suppressed.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary know perfectly well that if there is going to be a conflict, they can only win by the whole of the nation being behind them. There must be a sense that the Government are representing the nation as a whole. This alienates, to a very large extent, the organised Christian churches of this country, and I am appealing to the Home Secretary, who gave what I thought was a very fair assurance last week, an assurance which I accepted in good faith, because I know him, and his word is quite good enough for me, and when he gave that assurance I thought he meant it. Now I ask him, is it right—I am not going into the other details of this paper—to have suppressed that very important declaration? I do not mind saying, I venture to predict that this cannot be settled except upon terms of this kind, without the most incalculable disaster to this country. We are not fighting a foreign fee, and I am perfectly certain something of this kind will have to be done. Would it not have eased matters for the Government to have published it? Because you want to get public opinion on the right lines. It. does not really get it on the right lines to rouse merely the spirit of antagonism, to rouse the mere spirit of saying, "Break them in pieces like a potter's vessel!" [HON. MEMBERS: "Who said so?"] That is a bad policy.
An HON. MEMBER
As a matter of information to the Committee, it would be interesting to know if the right hon. Gentleman is speaking on behalf of his party.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am speaking as a Member of the House of Commons, with a full sense of my responsibility, and with a real desire, as I have shown before, to save this country from disaster. I am as entitled as any man in this House to say that, and I am speaking my honest opinion at this moment quite sincerely. I am for con- 711 ciliation. Hon. Members may take a different view. They may think they must fight it out. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am very anxious to avoid that, and I was only referring to the interruption. I am sorry I have been taken away from it, and, therefore, I conform to your ruling, and I hope others will be forced to do the same; otherwise it will be unfair. I want to ask the Home Secretary, because he gave the assurance, whether he thinks it quite fair to suppress an important document of that kind, about which the nation ought to know, which contains recommendations from the most powerfully organised opinion in this country, given in all honesty to the Government, given with a real desire to save the State from disaster, and given by men who, it is hardly necessary to say, the last thing they desire is to upset the law, the Constitution and the wellbeing of the country.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Churchill)
Perhaps as I am taking responsibility for the general conduct of this organ, I may be allowed to say a few words to the Committee after the speech which has just been made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I do not for one moment pretend that it is possible to conduct this organ in the present conditions without there being a great many mistakes, both of omission and of commission. Such a thing would be quite impossible. The right hon. Gentleman, who has himself held in very many crises a high, or the highest, responsibility in this country, ought, I think, to be ready to make a little more allowance in the situation with which we are confronted. In view of the responsibilities of the Government at the present time, the many undertakings we are endeavouring to carry out, the functions we are endeavouring to discharge in order to avoid the catastrophe of a wholesale stoppage of supplies in some large areas of the country, this question of the "British Gazette" is a very small part of the problem.
712 This time a week ago no such thing was thought of, but all of a sudden the entire newspaper Press of the country, on which the people of all parties have been accustomed to depend for news, and which, in its balance of variety, has maintained a certain equipoise—perhaps not entirely satisfactory to the Labour party, it may be quite true—but, still, has given an equipoise of opinion to the country, this immense organisation was suddenly put completely out of action. As far as could be seen, there was no means other than that of the telephone and telegraph of conveying from one part of the country to the other information of what had taken place, or of giving information to the people and to the authorities in all parts of the country as to the policy which the Government were carrying out, and which, if they failed in carrying out, could only be attended by some shocking and calamitous breakdown. With all the expert printers and other classes of experts in the production of a newspaper suddenly taken away, and only a handful of loyal technicians, and a few amateurs coming in who have never been in a newspaper office before—[An HON. MEMBER: "Including the editor."]—No—and with no means of distribution that had not to be entirely improvised—in these circumstances it has really been a stupendous task. Yet last night there were delivered from Newcastle to the South of England upwards of 1,100,000 copies.
If you tell me that in this or that part there have been articles which ought to have been put in and which have been left out—that the observations of the Christian churches on this controversy ought to have figured in the paper—well you may be right and I am not going to contest it; but it is only possible to set up the type very slowly in many different places largely by amateurs unaccustomed to linotype—[Interruption]—and consequently the number of articles which can be got ready is very limited. It takes a great many hours after the news is received before the proofs can be completed so that the dies can be stamped and the production can begin and, once production has begun, it is impossible to stop the machines to make any alterations. In these circumstances, I say, quite certainly, that there will be any number of 713 important things that ought to be put in and which the Government would have not the slightest objection to seeing put in which will not be put in. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will you put this in to-morrow?"] Yes, certainly.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I can only deal with one matter at a time. If importance be attached to it, there is not the slightest objection—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No reproaches of that kind will have the slightest effect upon me. I am trying to do my best to produce what is advantageous and helpful. The hon. Gentleman is trying to win distinction by rudenesses. I see no reason at all why it should not be put in. I do not know whether it will be possible to-morrow, but, if there be a feeling that it would be helpful there is no reason why it should not be put in. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I really must ask the Committee not to attempt to judge these matters without weighing the difficulties in which we stand. They are enormous, and in the gravity of the situation with which we are confronted, to my mind it will be far better that gradually in the course of the next fortnight or so, assuming that this horrible ordeal lasts so long, independent newspapers should resume in all parts of the country. Those who sit on those benches have but to raise their fingers and the entire Press will resume. [Interruption.] While we are contending with these great difficulties, and this is the only means by which we can speak to the whole of the people at one given moment—we are bound to go forward in spite of the fact that there will be many shortcomings and some actual errors. The shortcomings are to be attributed to the difficulties, and the errors have no foundation at all except in the extraordinary pressure under which we are working.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? I understand that he does not know what are the difficulties about printing it 714 to-night, but do I understand that it can go in to-morrow.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have really not read this particular item myself, but I have said, if importance be attached to it—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—I will certainly see that it is put in, but between taking a decision to put anything in and putting it in, many hours may elapse, and I cannot assert that it will be in time for to-morrow. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make some other contribution to our difficulties at the present time than the careful selection of points on which he can make criticisms or create prejudice.
§ Mr. HADEN GUEST
I have a very painful and grave matter to bring before the Committee and the notice of the Home Secretary, and I hope I shall have the support not only of my own Friends on this side of the House but of all the House, for it is a matter which affects the liberty and the independence of the ordinary citizen. In the district which I have the honour to represent, North Southwark, on Friday evening last, in a very poor area, there was a raid by police constables in two motor lorries. They came down and, as they say in the United States, beat up the area, apparently with the idea of impressing the inhabitants with their power and authority and preventing them doing something which they suspected, but of which neither I, as their representative, nor they whom I have questioned are aware. Let me tell the Committee where that area is. It is just on the other side of the Thames. It is called the Bankside Area and is immediately opposite St. Paul's, the area upon which the theatre where Shakespeare's plays were produced stood. It is a very poor area covered with very small and poor houses. It is a very insanitary area. The death-rate is twice what it is in the other part of Southwark. The history of that part of England is a very wonderful one. It is associated with our great poet's name, and the people who live in that area are a sensitive people. I want the Committee to know this. At the last Election some ill-advised supporters of my own made a demonstration against my opponent at a meeting at which the inhabitants of this Zoar Street area attended. The inhabitants of that area thought that it was not fair play. It 715 was not, and I did my best to prevent it, as I always do, and I explained to those people who live in the Zoar Street area that I had not been responsible and could not help it. I lost several hundred votes in that area, because they thought that my conduct⤔of which I was wrongly accused⤔was unfair.
Those are the people to whom the police on Friday night went down, and, unprovoked as I have it, attacked. I will give the precise facts, because this is not only a matter of the gravest importance for my own constituency and for the men and women living there, but it is also a matter of principle, and I wish to know whether this method of dealing with civil disturbances is to be established as a precedent or not. At about nine o'clock on Friday evening a lorry load of police stopped outside a public-house called the "Queen's Head" where a number of men—I have 10 of their names—had been quietly playing cards and a game of darts. The landlord is an ex-policeman and I have the story from him, given as he would have given it in order to provide evidence at a police court. They entered the public bar. They did not ask the people what they were doing. They did not question any of those who were sitting there quietly playing their games. They shouted—I use the word "shouted" advisedly—at them, "Get out of this," and they commenced to beat them over the heads and bodies with truncheons before they had time to get up from their seats. They were uniformed constables and special constables. They then drove them out of the door, and the men were bludgeoned with batons as they ran into the street. [An HON. MEMBER: "Did you see this?"] I have a record of this from the landlord of the public-house whom I myself interviewed on Saturday morning. He gave me a precise statement as he would have given it to his superior officer in giving evidence. I had the story confirmed from half-a-dozen other people in different parts of the area.
I can assure the Committee that I am exceedingly and earnestly and honestly sorry that it should be my duty to raise a matter of this kind at a time such as this, but I hope I shall have the support of all hon. Gentlemen opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "If it be true!"] I hope my reputation in this House is such that no 716 hon. Gentleman will doubt my word. [An HON. MEMBER: "You did not see it!"] The police on leaving this particular public-house proceeded to raid the district. I cannot use any other word. They went up Zoar Street in a little pack, up Cauney Street, up Summers Street by Noah's Ark Alley and a number of other places, and, when they were in those streets, they shouted at the people, using abusive and obscene language which I will not repeat. They chased women, they charged a crowd of children, they went up to a house in Zoar Street and broke open the door by charging it, and they asked the people to come out into the street and to fight them. [Interruption.]
I agree that this sounds an almost incredible story, but it occurred just on the other side of the river. [An HON. MEMBER: "So you say!"] May I say, with regard to this house which they broke into, that I have the evidence of three people living in it. There is a man and his daughter and his son-in-law. May I also say this: Perhaps hon. Members will believe it all the more when they hear this particular man's occupation. The man whose house was broken into was a non-union worker as a fitter in an electrical establishment, and he has gone into work during the last few days. He is what I presume the Government would describe as a "loyal man," and what we on this side of the House would be described as a "strike breaker." The other two people in that house whom I have seen are an insurance agent who is employed by a friendly insurance society, and his wife who is an office cleaner in the city. I can give you their names, addresses, and all the details, and I am quite willing to give the Home Secretary all these facts. I have already, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, given him, on. Saturday morning, a full statement of the facts, and I have endeavoured not to treat the matter as a subject for attack but to give the Home Secretary an opportunity of disavowing the matter at the earliest possible moment.
I have the name of a woman whom I suggest was assaulted. I do not propose to give it to the House, but I will give it, if the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary requires it, to him. I have here the name of the woman, who is a war widow and whose husband was killed 717 on the Somme in 1916. I do not know whether she belongs to the party opposite or to my own party. She gave me this statement. She was chased on to the pavement by a motor lorry. A policeman used an offensive expression to her, a very foul and obscene expression which I could not possibly repeat in this House, but which is regarded in that particular part of the world as the acme of insult. That particular expression—which I will indicate if the Home Secretary will wish me to—that expression was used apparently as a war cry by this particular party at this particular time.
I did not take only one side of this ease. I went down at once to see the superintendent of police in charge of the whole of the police of Southwark. I saw that gentleman. He received me very courteously, very quietly, and we had a perfectly amicable and friendly discussion on the matter. I said to him: "What is the possible reason or justification for this conduct of officers, of uniformed constables, and police constables under your command?" He told me this: that there had been earlier in the evening, a considerable time before this outrage—as I cannot help calling it—took place, a row between a man, who was in plain clothes, I understand, and sonic pickets outside the electricity station, and that the man in plain clothes—I am not sure whether he was a detective or a special constable—had been injured, and no arrests were able to be made at the time. That is one thing. I deplore that. I have been round my district, on Friday and Saturday, speaking to the pickets outside the docks and outside the factories, and going to the strike committees, and saying: "My friends, this is an industrial dispute. [HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] I have said to them: "Keep quiet, let there be no violence, let there be no interference with the transport of food, let us see that no one suffers in this way from any ill-regulated action that we can do anything to avoid." I am proud to say, with a negligible exception, the people in that district have taken my advice; in fact, they had adopted that course before I went down to see them.
I was told that by the superintendent of police. I made inquiry as to what had happened at the electricity station. I found that at the electricity station the 718 men who were employed had come out on strike, and that they had handed over to naval ratings who took over from them, and there was so little disorder that it was like—and hon. Members opposite will appreciate this—one division handing over to another. The whole of the works were handed over, each man standing by his job and handing it over to the naval ratings in running order. Could anyone ask for anything better than that? They disapprove of the strike. Hon. Members may disapprove of the strike; but you cannot have a strike better conducted than that. I cannot, therefore, believe there was any strong or bad feeling. What, however, I want to point out is this: that some hours later this raid occurred. It did not occur at the time. It was not a baton charge of the police against men who had at that time injured a special officer or a detective, it was a raid in that particular little district in that very historical part of England, three hours or so after this offence which is alleged had occurred. This is not an isolated account. I did not see anything of this myself, but there were certain outrages unfortunately committed near the Elephant and Castle by people who overturned an omnibus and burnt it. I regret that very much. I am doing all I can to prevent that kind of thing—all I can. Hon. Members who know me in this House know that I would do that, but some hours alter this occurrence had happened and where nobody, I believe, was hurt—that particular district about the Elephant and Castle was also raided and the people terrified. The Government have really—I must not say the Government—but the police got several people, and one of the people whom they arrested in this case, was a little shopkeeper, a. greengrocer who, I believe, had been up till then a supporter of the Government. He is not so now, I understand.
The point I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is—and I will endeavour to put it without any heat—that this is what appeared to be the policy of reprisals. That is to say, an incident occurs, a man fights with a picket, the picket is fighting with a special or somebody, and somebody is hurt, and nobody gets arrested for some reason or another. Some hours afterwards the police go down to that district and raid it. That is a policy of what used 719 to be called in the bad days of Ireland a policy of reprisals. It led to a terrible tragedy in that country. I hope it is not going to reopen a chapter of such tragedy in this country. It is a serious question of the Labour party. It is a very serious question for the whole of this House. I should like also on this matter to ask what is the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), who was so very anxious to give us his legal opinion the other night on the position of the trade union. I should like to know on this matter what is the opinion of the Prime Minister.
On Saturday night I listened, if I may say so, with heartfelt satisfaction, so far as it went in my direction, to the very noble utterance of the Prime Minister, with much of which it is quite true I did not agree—but it is obvious that that elevation of sentiment is one of which to be proud. I have said that this is a reprisal raid, but I do not want to use strong language. These poor people say that this man had done no harm. The right hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that a number of the people who were in that particular public house which was attacked, are actually in work at the present time. They are not strikers at all. A considerable number, therefore, in the district are men who do not belong to any trade union. There is really no justification whatever for what has been done.
I ask that the House as a whole should extend its protection to these people. I want peace, I want the peace to be kept during this industrial disturbance. I am doing my best to preserve peace in so far as it lies in my power, but the action of the police in North Southwark makes it very difficult indeed for a man of peace, as I am, to keep the peace—very difficult indeed. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to let me know—and I hope he feels that I have not put the matter intemperately at all—but I want to know what is the Government account of this matter? I have given the right hon. Gentleman ample notice so that he could find out. What is the Government's action to be in the future in regard to North Southwark? Let me just add before coming to a finish one of the incidents which shows the absolutely indiscriminate nature of these police 720 reprisals. One man whose name I can give—his name is Jones—I have other particulars of him here—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is not my right hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown who sits behind me—was knocked about on Friday and had his left arm damaged. I looked at the arm and found that it was bandaged. I did not, of course, remove the bandage, but I saw a Guy's Hospital card describing the injury and I saw what it stated, and I saw also the injuries of other people. Later in the day, on Saturday, after I visited the superintendent, this man was arrested by a policeman, and on this second occasion he was hit upon the head and a lump was raised upon his head
I inquired about this man, as I was determined in so far as it lay in my power to protect my unfortunate constituents from what I could not help but feel were actions which, in my view, they should be protected from. So soon as I heard that this man was arrested I got into communication with the superintendent of police and asked the charge, and why he had been refused bail, and whether they would accept my proposal of bail and let him out? I was informed—I do not know how far it is correct—that he was charged with moving a large drum on which the electricity cable was rolled, and the weight is so great that it is reckoned, not in pounds, or hundredweights, but in tons. I had noticed that the poor little chap was rather small when I saw him on the first occasion. When I heard he was charged I thought it was a very astonishing thing, and I put it to the secretary of the North Southwark Labour Party, and said to him: '"Will you find out something about this man's height and weight, because I do not see how he could possibly lift cables of that very great weight?" The height of that man Jones is 4 ft. 10 in. and his weight is 8 st. 2 lbs. The right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know, in a public emergency like this, that he does not belong to any trade union, and is willing to take any job at this time which is offered to him.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
Perhaps I had better reply to the questions put to me by the hon. Gentleman opposite, and then later intervene in debate if other questions 721 are put to me. I do not complain of the hon. Gentleman having brought before the House this case as hon. Member for the division, nor that he called upon the Police Superintendent to ask for full particulars.
May I say in reference to that that I did that merely as a matter of fairness. I did not mean to attack the police without having their version.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have not the slightest complaint to make on that head; the report that I have here fully justifies the hon. Member in bringing the matter forward and also fully justifies the action of the police. I have the full details of the whole thing, and first of all I should like to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that the neighbourhood in question is one that would appear to be lively at times. Police protection has been afforded during nearly all last week. There has been a good deal of disturbance, it is quite true, in the neighbourhood.
In some cases attempts had been made to set fire to lorries, and the hon. Member is frank enough to tell us that one omnibus had been set on fire. Motor vans taking men and women from the City to their homes in South Eastern suburbs had been stopped in the Borough High Street and their occupants compelled to alight and the vans overturned, and when the police interfered to prevent this, they were assaulted. This is all prior to the particular assault in question. Nails were thrown in the roadway to injure motor tyres and tintacks to puncture bicycle tyres. Police protection had to be afforded nearly all last week to drivers in that particular district going to the riverside for food, and only yesterday, the 9th May—after the particular occurrence we are now considering—the same police superintendent received a request from the Mayor of Southwark for police protection to enable supplies of coal to be taken to the depot for some poor people who had illness in their house and who were without fuel. I do not know the political complexion of the Mayor of Southwark, but I would assume that he is, as all local authorities ought to be at the present time, entirely independent and desirous of holding the scales fairly between—I was almost going to say the rival parties in this dispute. That was 722 the position in Southwark, and I do not think the hon. Member will disagree with me if I say that it is a difficult district for the police when there is great trouble.
The statements of the hon. Gentleman and my own reports are in conflict with respect to the time. As far as I understood him, he said there was trouble that afternoon at the electric works between some strikers and a special constable and that some hours afterwards—three hours afterwards—police came down and created this disturbance.
The police came outside the Queen's Head, according to the landlord, an ex-policeman, at nine o'clock.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have here the statement of the man in question, a special constable. He is a special constable, curiously, who lives in Walworth, so he is a local man. He was at 7.30 p.m. on the 7th May at the electric power station. He was inside and heard some row in the street. He opened the gates and looked outside and saw about a dozen men there one of whom said, "Are you a—." The hon. Member has abstained from using expressions, and I will abstain also. The man said, "Are you a blank special?" "What is that to do with you?" said the special constable. There were eight pickets on duty and he gave a description of one of them, but it does not really matter one way or the other. I am told this man then struck him on the face and on the back. Other men pulled him away—I want to be quite fair—pulled the first man away. Another man came out of the crowd and said: "Give him one for me," to which the first man replied: "Give it to him yourself," and one of the other men struck him on the side of the face. His report continues:I drew my truncheon from my trousers pocket, and as soon as I did so it was seized and taken away from me.The special constable got information about this through to the police station, and the official report shows, on the roan's own statement, that it was 7.30 and I have no reason to believe that it was not approximately correct. The Inspector of Special Constabulary speaks of this being reported at Southwark Station the same night between 7.30 and 8. The times fit in remarkably. The Inspector of Special Constabulary was a doctor at 723 St. Thomas' Hospital, not a mere boy, but a medical practitioner of 35 years of age, and we assume that he was a man of responsibility. He was on duty, and he received information that the special constable had been assaulted. His report continues:I then proceeded to collect special constables and a few regular police.They proceeded by motor tender to Bankside, an area he frankly said he did not know. On arrival, he found that a constable had been struck—his mouth was bleeding and his clothing was torn—and this man pointed out a crowd of men in the street who, he said, were some of those who had assaulted him. They went up to the crowd, and most of them rushed into a public house.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Yes. The report of the Inspector says they went into the public house and the police followed and said there must be no disorder, and turned the men out of the public house. He says further:We then proceeded up two adjacent streets to clear the crowd away, no violence being used. I saw no women or children in any way interfered with, in spite of some jeering remarks, and no one, to my knowledge, entered any private house.This is a plain, unvarnished account of the whole transaction.
I will give also the official report from the Superintendent. It is quite true that somewhere about eight o'clock they did go down there. The Superintendent confirms what I have just read from the statement, first, of the special constable, and, secondly, of the inspector of the special constables. The Superintendent himself detailed police sergeant Hayman, who is a regular police sergeant, to go in a motor tender with special constables down to this spot, and he confirms exactly what I have said. He found this unfortunate special bleeding at the mouth, and there was a crowd of people at the corner of Sumner Street and Park Street, and the special constable told him those were the men who had assaulted him. He adds a detail which was not given by the inspector of special constabulary. This sergeant says that as the tender moved across the road the crowd commenced to throw stones at it. Then they went into 724 the "Queen's Head" public-house, several constables were assaulted, there was great disorder, and it became necessary to use truncheons before they could effect the removal of the disorderly crowd.
I am going to put it to the hon. Member that this was the position: Here was a district which admittedly had had considerable trouble during the last few days. A special constable was assaulted and had his head hit and his mouth was made to bleed—there can be no dispute about that. He telephoned, or got word sent by another special constable, for assistance. After all, he was entitled to do that. He was there as a special constable in the exercise of his duty to preserve law and order in that district. The assault was made upon him in the first instance. I am not suggesting, and I do not think the hon. Gentleman himself suggests, that this special constable assaulted anybody. He merely looked out from the gates of the electric station, on hearing a noise, and inquired, "What is it?" and at once one of those—I will not say strikers, whether they were strikers or not I do not know and the hon. Member says they were not strikers—one of those people there joined in an assault on the special constable. If I had been in charge of the police station when word came through that this special constable, or that any constable, had been assaulted, the first thing I should have done, knowing the district, as the superintendent would know it, and knowing what had happened on previous days, my first duty, and it would be very wrong if I had not done it, would have been to send out reinforcements to that district. There was no undue hardship or undue assault upon anybody. I cannot find that anybody was taken to hospital or anything of that kind.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
If the hon. Member will supply me with names, I will have the fullest inquiry made. But beyond that I do lay it down quite definitely—I do not want to be too harsh or too hard—that in these times when there is bad blood about, when there are numerous attacks on vehicles and on lorries, and attacks of one kind and another, the very object of enrolling special constables is to preserve law and order. It is essential in the interests of 725 everybody that law and order should be preserved. The hon. Member tells us himself that he has done his level best in the district to go round and preserve law and order but admits that he has not altogether succeeded. He admits himself that there were difficulties of one kind or another—the turning over of lorries, the burning of an omnibus, and so on. You cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs. You cannot indulge in street rioting in times like these without the possibility of being struck. I want to put this to the hon. Gentleman, whom I have always, found a very fair antagonist: Realise the position in Southwark at the present time; realise the position of the Home Secretary if he had not had sufficient force of special constables and other constables throughout what may be described as the danger portions of South London. Only this very day I have personally seen another special constable who during the last two nights has been engaged on duty on the other side of the Thames, I do not know whether in Southwark or Bermondsey—I forget—and this man told me "I have had a very rough time indeed." When there are rough times people have got to put up with roughnesses on both sides. If this were an ordinary case, when there was no trouble going on, when no men on either side were engaged or likely to be engaged, in making trouble, I should say that I express my regret to the House and the hon. Member that one of his constituents, or four or five of his constituents had been chased out of a public house or dispersed. At the present time I am bound to say I am not going to apologise. I believe there was no unnecessary violence. I have made the fullest inquiries, and I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for having given me such details as he has. I have got the report of the Superintendent, of the Sergeant, of the Inspector and of the actual constable who was assaulted. After full consideration of all those reports and of the hon. Gentleman's complaint, I am bound to say that, having regard to the circumstances of the times and days in which we are living and in the condition of affairs in Southwark, I do not think they in any degree exceeded their duty.
The right hon. Gentleman did not answer my question as to whether 726 this reprisals policy is one being adopted by the Government.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Certainly not. I have told the hon. Gentleman that his figures as to the hours were wrong. What happened was not in any sense a reprisal. A police constable was assaulted and as soon as he could he got word to the police station, and they came down not for reprisals but for the protection of the man himself, and they were received with a shower of stones from the same men who had assaulted him.
May I tell the right hon. Gentleman that I shall continue in my efforts to maintain order there, and in order to do so I propose, with the assistance of my wife, to identify myself more completely with the district, and to endeavour to be always present at any place where there is likely to be disorder, so that the right hon. Gentleman will know that if he sends his special constables down there, then he may find the next morning that I am one of his prisoners and I have been bludgeoned by his police.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I shall value the co-operation of the hon. Gentleman in helping me to preserve peace in the district, and I am quite sure from what I know of him that he will do his best to preserve peace and not to inflame the position.
Captain ARTHUR EVANS
I am certain the House was pleased that the first opportunity has been taken of dealing with those alleged incidents which are supposed to have taken place in Southwark. With the permission of the House I want to deal with one or two things which have been said by the late Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs (Mr. Rhys Davies). I do not think the House has ever listened to so many misstatements in such a short space of time as those in his speech.
When he rose he told the House that he was a man of peace, was one of those who desired to take the earliest opportunity of advocating the re-opening of negotiations and in the next sentence he 727 endeavoured to make a debating point on an obvious slip of the tongue, made, I presume, by my right hon. Friend in a statement which was addressed to the "loyal men of England" instead of the "loyal men of Great Britain." He then went on to compare two statements regarding special constabulary, one which apparently was printed in the "British Gazette" and the other which was apparently sent over the wireless. He said that in the first instance the Home Secretary said that he desired more men to come forward and volunteer as special constables and he compared that with the statement which had appeared in the "British Gazette" to the effect that an adequate response was being made all over the country. It must have been obvious to the hon. Member, if he sincerely desired to see the right side of that question, that the Home Secretary's remarks referred to in the London district only, and the statement which appeared in the "British Gazette" referred to the whole country. We all know when a statement of that kind is made that it may mean the district outside London. The hon. Member went on to say that the Government proposed to enrol citizens in a new force of special constabulary and that they proposed to pay the rank of commander 10s. a day for four hours work. I challenge the hon. Member to point to any regulations to that effect. He knows perfectly well that no Government would issue a statement of that kind. Then the hon. Member went on to say that he had added up the wages for the rank and file of this new force, and he was of opinion that they would be somewhere in the vicinity of, £4 a week, but he did nothing to substantiate that argument.
I have looked up the regulations, and I find that these special constables of the rank and file are paid 5s. a day, that is 35s. a week. They are also entitled to a subsistence allowance of 2s. 6d. a day, which brings up the pay to 52s. 6d. a week, and then there is a 5s. a week for clothing allowance, making a grand total of 57s. 6d. a week. I hope when one of the hon. Member's colleagues gets up to speak, he will be able to explain how an ex-Under-Secretary can make a statement of that nature at a time like this without substantiating it in a proper way. After 728 that the hon. Member went on to say it was no use the country and the Government making preparations for the continuance of supplies in any way whatsoever, and making adequate arrangements for preserving life and property in this country, unless public opinion was behind them. I do not think there is a single hon. Member on this side of the House who will disapprove of that statement. The hon. Member went on to say that it was not true to say that public opinion was with the Government at this time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] All I can say is that I visited Cardiff City on Thursday last, and as far as South Wales is concerned and the Principality of Wales that, to say the least of it, is an untrue statement.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member appears to be surveying the general situation, but he must confine his remarks to matters for which the Home Office is responsible.
I do not want to review the broad field in regard to this question, but I was simply trying to answer the arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman opposite. As far as I have been able to get in touch with the local authorities and the leader of thought in Cardiff, and as far as I have been able to ascertain the opinion of men belonging to the National Union of Railwaymen at Cardiff Docks, they have not the least sympathy with this general strike. [An HON. MEMBER: "How do you know?"]
§ The CHAIRMAN
As a matter of fact the Home Office have no responsibility for the Cardiff Police. I hope the hon. Member will not go so much into a discussion of the general situation.
If hon. Members opposite believe the statement which I have just contradicted, then they will believe anything.
Whether the hon. Member who has just interrupted me believes it or not is a matter of complete indifference to me. There is no doubt as to what the public feeling is on this point. I want to take this opportunity at the 729 request of the editors of a number of provincial papers in Wales representing all political views, of asking the Government if they cannot see their way clear to issue at least one or two official bulletins each day in order that these papers in the South Wales area—who are, I am glad to say, in spite of many difficulties, publishing more than one edition comprising four sheets per day—may have an opportunity of placing in the centre of those editions an official statement of the current state of affairs issued by the Government. They would then have a statement issued by a responsible body, because people are very anxious to have the latest information. As soon as these issues are on the street they are all bought up and they do want to have the latest in formation; not that which they hear on the wireless, but they would like a responsible statement issued by the Government.
The majority of the people in this country consider what I have stated is the truth. This is a matter upon which we have to accept the advice given by the Earl of Oxford and Asquith and wait and see. I know there are difficulties in adopting this course. We all remember the way in which this question of dealing with news was dealt with during the War through the medium of the Central Press, Reuters and Press Association, and these agencies, I am sure, would undertake the responsibility of conveying those official bulletins to the public.
Having now dealt with the matters raised by the hon. Members opposite, only want to say, in conclusion, that the message I bring back from South Wales is that in no circumstances whatsoever will the people of that part of the country be a party to any weakness shown by any authority in dealing with this matter. Providing that the Government remain firm, the people will be loyal and they will deal with this matter as it should be dealt with.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
The hon. Member who has just sat down has presumed to speak on behalf of South Wales, but when he has spent as many months in South Wales as I have spent years, then he will have some authority to speak on 730 behalf of that part of the country. Those interested in the Circular to which he has alluded no doubt desire the hon. Member to express the view he has put before us, but there are other parts of South Wales—
§ Mr. JONES
I am speaking on behalf of South Wales. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member in the description he has given of the state of things which prevails in South Wales, but I do wish to raise one issue of public importance. Yesterday I had the privilege of addressing a very large demonstration in the Birmingham area, and in the course of my visit a fact was brought to my notice which fills me, I confess, with some degree of disquietude. There happens to be in the Birmingham area a town councillor who latterly has joined the Labour movement. I understand that this gentleman is regarded amongst our followers in that area as being an extremely moderate person from the standpoint of the views that he holds, indeed he would almost be regarded as too moderate for the most moderate amongst us. Not so long ago, by way of proving his moderation, this councillor incurred the hostility of his colleagues in Birmingham because he insisted upon accepting an invitation to attend the complimentary banquet given to the Foreign Secretary in the present Government, and he attended in spite of the hostility of his colleagues. I give that fact to show what kind of person this gentleman really is. The other day this person was visited by the police and he was told by them that they proposed to arrest him. He was taken by them to the police station.
§ The CHAIRMAN
This man could not have been arrested at the instigation of the Home Office, because the Home Secretary is not responsible for the Birmingham police.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. JONES
My point is that it is necessary in these somewhat disturbed days and conditions that we should get an assurance from the Home Office that the law shall be administered without any bias or favour with regard to people outside. I was giving this case as an instance of the danger which now prevails. This person was visited by the 731 police in Birmingham and told he was placed under arrest. When he asked why he was being placed under arrest, and what was the precise charge on which he would be asked to appear at the Court, he was actually refused any information as to the precise charge, and he was called upon to appear at the Court this morning to answer a charge, the particulars of which had been denied to him yesterday morning. I raise this point because it directs our attention to the danger in which the private individual in the State lies to-day We have somewhat lachrymose expressions of opinion from hon. Members on the Front Government Bench concerning the freedom of the Press in these recent days. There, was a freedom in this country before the freedom of the Press was instituted, valuable as that is, and that was the freedom of the private individual; and, surely, if we are to protect the individual against any alleged attacks by our people, the private individuals of the country have a right to be protected against attacks upon, them by the officers of the law and of the Government themselves. I would submit to the representative of the Government that, if the Government are going to put into operation the unusual powers they are now authorised to use, they ought to give us a fairly sound guarantee—if they propose to give a guarantee at all—if earnest, honest, well-intentioned people are to be charged with wrong-doing in the eyes of the law, against unjust treatment such as I have indicated as having occurred in Birmingham.
The discussion this afternoon, initiated for a brief period by the Leader of the Liberal party, has ranged round the suppression of the appeal by the Archbishop of Canterbury and other religious folk in this country concerning the possible terms of peace. I do not propose to carry that argument any further at the moment, but, I want to ask on whose authority the statement was made during the last weekend, through Government organs, in the "Gazette" and over the wireless, that the Free Church Council of this country had handed over their organisation and placed it at the disposal of the Government? Who authorised that statement? On what authority was it made? Some of 732 my colleagues on this side of the Committee questioned the veracity of that statement, and we took steps immediately to get into touch with the Secretary of the National Free Church Council. The Rev. Thomas Nightingale assures us, as private individuals—and I think I have seen the statement made in public—that the executive of that national body has not even discussed the matter, no authority has been given, and no one has been authorised to make the statement.
I want to know, therefore, were the Government deliberately lying in this matter, or had they authority to make the statement at all? It seems to me disgraceful that a Government organ should use in an unauthorised way a statement such as that, when the Secretary of the organisation denies that the executive ever even discussed the matter. It alienates, it must ultimately alienate, either the Government force on the one side, or the working-class people on the other; and I do not mind telling Members of the House quite frankly that when I saw that statement I was very concerned about it from another point of view. I have always been brought up to be a Free Churchman, and, in so far as I can, I have worked heartily for years with the Free Church organisation in this country, and it seemed to me to be a dastardly blow at what I had hoped would be a rapprochement sooner or later between the working class of this country and the forces of religion, this being a deliberate blow making such co-operation between the working classes and religious forces for the future utterly impossible.
I challenge the Government representative here and now to tell us on what authority such a shameful misrepresentation of the facts was made, both over the wireless and in the Government organ, the "British Gazette." If we are to have a fight, and apparently, we are, why cannot we fight honourably? Why must we have this constant lying? For instance, I went last Friday to the Midlands, and in one place, in an official publication, I read that the people in Leicester are told that in Birmingham everything is going all right. I arrive at Birmingham, and I read in Birmingham that all is well at Leicester. You go to Liverpool, and hear that at Leicester things are going all right, and at Birmingham things are going all right 733 You find attempts being made—dangerous attempts—to pit one town and one city against another. Surely, we can fight this fight without getting down to the gutter in this despicable way. Let us have facts, anyhow, upon which to conduct our fight properly and decently, for sooner or later we have got to get together again. There will be a day after this fight is over, and this constant lying, this constant misrepresentation, makes the day after the strike a far more difficult day than it need be if we abstain from lying about each other in this most terrible way. I therefore appeal to the Government to abstain from using in an unauthorised way statements which they know to be inaccurate and untrue, and I ask the Government representative, therefore, here and now to give this Committee, as it has a right to know, what authority they have for making the disgraceful statement they made last Friday over the wireless.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
We have had a most impassioned speech from the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), in the latter part of which he referred to Leicester, Birmingham and Liverpool, and stated that in each of these places news was brought to the other that affairs were going well. He said that Birmingham people are told that things are going well at Leicester, he complained that Leicester people are told that things are going well at Birmingham, and he suggested that things were going very well in Liverpool. Does he suggest that things are not going well at all of those three places? I understand from the information at my disposal that things are going on admirably at all three places.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I was in Birmingham myself yesterday, and I assure the hon. Member that absolutely no sort of work is being done on any of the tramways or omnibuses there, except by blackleg labour.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
What that comes to is this, that the omnibuses and tramways are being worked by loyal citizens who are determined not to be prevented from carrying on the ordinary duties of everyday life by a Soviet Committee which has usurped the power of the State.
We have heard suggestions—I dealt with some of them when I had the honour 734 of speaking on Thursday in the Debate on the special regulations—and we have before us this afternoon the question of the necessity for special constables. It was suggested last week, and I gather it is suggested by the Labour party now, that these special constables are only used for the protection of the rich and well-to-do. I say, as I said then, and I gave instances with regard to the need for these special powers, that they are primarily for the protection of the working people of this country. I gave instances of how men and women, to my personal knowledge, who had been to the City to work in their ordinary avocations, were taken off their bicycles—there is nothing in the nature of a public conveyance about a poor working woman's bicycle, is there?—they were knocked off their bicycles and told they were not to proceed. Then, again, other people that I know of, working girls for the most part, were taken out of lorries, and told they would have to walk home. When, after six or eight lorries had been stopped, two other covered lorries came up, the same procedure was adopted. The canvas sides of these two lorries were suddenly drawn up, and out jumped a number of special constables, and then those brave men, who had stopped these working girls from proceeding on their bicycles, ran like hares; and the women who were behind these men, urging them to unseat the girls, came up to the special constables and said, "For God's sake do not hurt these men; they mean no harm"; but they meant the harm that they would not let these poor, tired girls go to their homes, as they had a right to go, on their bicycles or in lorries. Do not let us have any more humbug about the special constables being only required to protect the rich. It is to protect the workers who want to get to their business and earn their livelihood and keep things going that the special constabulary are specially required for. Let me read a communication from a personal friend of mine, for which he gives chapter and verse. I am not going to give his name, but will give it to any hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench—he is a well-known man—who would like to verify it.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
It is your Front Bench I am speaking of, and they can verify it for themselves. My friend had 735 to conduct a case in the Law Courts, and at about a quarter to 10 or 10 o'clock in the morning he took a taxicab outside Selfridge's. He went in the taxicab as far as Piccadilly Circus, where he was stopped by a picket, and the driver was asked where he came from. He told them, and they said, "If you go any further on, you will be broken up." My friend said to the driver, "Are you going to turn your toes down and leave me here, when I engaged you?" and he very pluckily said, "No, sir, I will take you as far as you want to go." He drove on to Charing Cross, where there was a congestion of traffic, and my friend then said, "I will not ask you to take me any further," and he gave him his money. The taximan then put a glove over his flag, and said, "I have got to go home now, sir. Of course, sir, this is absolute tyranny"—I used the word tyranny just now in the House, and I want to justify it—"but this cab does not belong to me, and what are we to do? We have to work along with these men, and that is how they treat us." Therefore, I say that essentially this Vote which the House of Commons is asked to pass this afternoon, to provide people who will prevent the working classes being tyrannised over in this way, is essential. As my last word, I say that it is an absolute falsehood to say that either the Emergency Regulations or the Special Constabulary are for the protection of the rich; they are primarily for the protection of the worker.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and who has got as excited as he chided the previous speaker with being; he appears rather to have got beside himself. I will not talk about humbug, either. I want to take just the opposite view with regard to this Vote, and especially with regard to the Special Police, whom I will describe as blackguards and hooligans, and I am prepared to prove it from my own personal knowledge and experience this week-end. I would ask the Home Secretary whether these people are acting on his instructions. I have several letters in my hand. If you look at the broadcast news for Saturday, you will see that in Camden Town a 'bus was assaulted by one or two men with stones. This occurred somewhere 736 between 3.15 and 4 o'clock. A man was walking along Camden Town, and he tells me here in his letter—I have his name and everything—that when, under the legs of the prancing horse of a mounted policeman, there was a little child, and he ran into the road to rescue this little child and take it to the pavement, the man on horseback ran him into a shop doorway. An inspector, whose name and station I have, came up, and this man said, "Let me take the child away," and he hit the man behind the ear with his truncheon. He tells me he is a member of no trade union and no political party, but he did what he thought every upright Englishman ought to do. [Interruption]. They were sober when they wrote them at all events. [An HON. MEMBER: "What do you mean by that?"] The House knows what I mean. A member of my society, the National Union of Railwaymen, and his wife who were out shopping saw the incident, and without any collusion with other persons they brought the evidence of what they saw. At about a quarter to four I heard what was taking place, and went to Camden Town. When I got there at 4.35, these men who had been brought there were being sent away. I walked down one side of the High Street and back the other, and at 20 minutes to five, about an hour after the 'buses were assaulted, I nearly got trampled under foot by a police constable, whose name I have, who deliberately rode his horse on to the pavement amongst the people, who were merely doing their Saturday shopping, and when I remonstrated with him and told him who I was, an inspector with two stars on his collar, said, "People should do as they are told." The people were not being told anything, and the policeman was simply strolling about with the rest of the people.
What happened then is what usually happens at these times. They were men of the "S" Division, and the usual men on duty are men in the "Y" Division. They import hooligans who, they know, will do any dirty work, into a strange division. What happened at Camden Town? I have it on the evidence of witnesses. About half-an-hour after the omnibus had been attacked they sent out a call, and a number of motor cars came with these hooligans in. They stopped at the Britannia, a hundred yards from where the omnibus had been assaulted, 737 and turned them out and they batoned men, women and children, regardless of who they were. [An HON. MEMBER "Oh!"] I have the proof at home. Does the Home Secretary know this? Is this by his orders, and are these men who go about in these motor cars special men picked for their anti-patriotism and their callousness, because the average constable will not do it. Again, a friend of mine at Kentish Town last Thursday was standing talking to another man, who is also a friend of mine. A policeman came up out of a motor car and hit him on the back of the head. He turned round to remonstrate, when the other man said. "Keep walking, lad, keep walking."
§ Mr. GREAVES-LORD
Before making these statements, has the hon. Member conveyed these allegations to the Home Secretary?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Fitzroy)
I am afraid I am not in a position to know whether the hon. Member has communicated his stories.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
On a point of Order. Is it not competent for a Member of the House to raise these subjects in view of the fact that these men are under the control of the Home Office?
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Is it not usual for the Government Department responsible to have a representative on the Front Bench to answer these things? Surely, we are entitled to have a Government representative here.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Colonel Lane Fox)
My right hon. Friend has been called away for a short time on urgent business. He has asked me to take notes. I am taking them as carefully as I can, and I will communicate all these facts to him when he comes back.
§ Mr. GREAVES-LORD
I was not questioning the evidence but the fairness and accuracy of the statements.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
It is most interesting to-day that every time a Member of these Benches has said something, hon. Members opposite have risen to various 738 points of order, and it is amazing into what mazes legal minds travel when trying to outwit us poor, uneducated, inexperienced workmen, with no knowledge of the legal technicalities of logic and law. The last case I quoted has been reported to the Department. I myself took the evidence and reported the case to the police. With regard to these other cases I propose taking action, but in my present frame of mind I am not prepared to accept as a fact that the Home Office will inquire into these matters in a proper manner, because I am sure the police will cook the evidence before we get a reply. Of course, the ready lie is on the lip of the inspector. Whatever takes place these lies will be told in order to put the affair straight. Our men—the railwaymen—are acting in a very fine constitutional manner. They are cheerful, they are interfering with no one, and are simply walking about doing nothing, which is supposed to be very anti-patriotic. If you have a large banking account it is not wicked to walk about and do nothing, but if you are in receipt of a weekly wage it is anti-patriotic. I suggest to the hon. Member who cheered ironically just now that he should get a job down a mine or on the railway, and show his patriotism.
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN
These particular details do not seem to me to have anything to do with the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
I apologise. I do not often go astray like that, but when hon. Members opposite wilfully lead us inexperienced debaters away like that, we are, perhaps, to be excused. If the police will play fair with our people and not baton respectable men, women and children an hour and a-quarter after some young hooligan, if you like, has thrown a stone at an omnibus—if they will do things fairly and not countenance motor loads of these uniformed hooligans being turned loose on the population regardless of whether they are peaceful, law-abiding citizens or hooligans, I am sure we shall have a better time. If not, I am afraid there will be greater trouble, which, perhaps, is what some hon. Members opposite enjoy. It may be that some of them would like to see martial law declared and the Army brought in and that state of affairs brought about which 739 they used to exaggerate about Prussia at one time to get our men—the very same men—to suppress a few years ago. I ask that the Home Secretary should give serious consideration to this, because we are taking notice.
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
I do not propose to import any further heat into the discussion, nor to make any allegations against anyone. I have not seen anyone behaving in the least otherwise than in a perfectly orderly and decent way. Perhaps I come from an exceptional constituency. At all events, in London we are the one district—and a highly industrial district at that—which has not had a single adventure up till now. An appeal was made by the Home Secretary last week for special constables. I do not know what is the result up to to-day, but from the last inquiries I have made it has been that three have volunteered. I am sure it is through no lack of loyalty on the part of my constituents that there were not more, but I think they feel that it was not necessary to volunteer. I was talking to an inspector of police on Sunday and he said he hoped very few special constables would volunteer. The trouble with them was that, every time one got sent out on duty he had to send a real policeman with him. As soon as he let one go out on his own he got into trouble. Sometimes one or two special constables go together for company because they feel better. If one or two of them get together and stand at a street corner, people see them and think something is going to happen, and they wait to see what is going to happen. This goes on and a crowd gathers, until a real policeman comes and whispers to the special constables that if they walk away the, crowd will walk away too. That is what has been going on.
Some hon. Members seem to have been getting during the last day or two into a frame of mind that I rather regret. They seem to be trying to separate the community into two classes of people—heroes and cowards. The hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) seemed to echo the sentiments of some hon. Members opposite in that respect. All those who are coming forward with wire netting over their motor cars and dashing about London to be sworn in as 740 special constables are brave lads, loyal men and heroes. The people who are on strike walking about doing nothing are cowards and no language is too bad to use against them. After all if it were only possible for some of us to forget this for a moment we should remember that these chaps who are walking about the streets to-day out on strike are the same people who were in the Army from 1914 to 1918. I am not and never have been a trade union official. I have no direct connection with the trade union movement, but I know that a very large number of my constituents, honest, respectable citizens, who much to my surprise have come out on strike—I never thought they would—are the same lads I marched along with on the other side, and they are showing the same capacity. Someone quoted on Saturday a famous German war communique issued at the time of the Battle of Amiens: "The British are holding on with their usual tenacity." That is exactly the position of these workers—holding on with their usual tenacity. They have not suddenly become scoundrels. They are perfectly honest and law-abiding citizens, but we feel that there is something entirely wrong in the situation. Someone—I do not say definitely what it is—is losing his bead over this matter.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I was about to make precisely the same suggestion. It is an extraordinary thing that we are discussing the Home Office Vote, and the man whom one would have thought ought to be the busiest man in the community today, the Secretary for Mines, sits on the Front Bench opposite, and the only job that can be found for him is to take notes and pass them on to the Home Secretary. To my surprise on Saturday, the day on which this country was supposed to be trembling on the brink of revolution, a Member of the Government, occupying a very important position, spent a large part of his time going round his constituency in his motor car calling on the newsagents and handing out to them bundles of the "British Gazette." [HON. MEMBERS: "And well employed, too!"] In these times of crisis people do find their level, 741 I have no objection to special constables, but they are apt to get in the way of real policemen and interfere with their work. They are very expensive. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to produce another Budget presently to pay for all these special constables, and they will cost a great lot of money. I am not sure that it would not have been cheaper to have guaranteed the miners the ordinary wages which they have been getting, than to have incurred all this extra cost for special constables. As far as my constituency is concerned, and a large part of London also, whilst we have no particular objection to the special constables, we do object to, the alarmist reports that are going about, that not only are all the people who can possibly be enrolled to be enrolled as special constables, but that we are to have the military. If the military are coming into my constituency, I want to throw out a challenge straight away on behalf of my constituents. As soon as the military arrive in my constituency, I shall send a letter to the commanding officer challenging him and his men to play the strikers a football match. That is the best thing to do.
I am endeavouring to arrange a football match at the present time between the police and the strikers, and I have no doubt that if the Tottenham Hotspur Club will grant us the use of their ground we shall get from 20,000 to 30,000 people off the streets watching the game. That is the real British sporting spirit. Is not that better than all this talk about trying to divide everybody into rival sections, calling those with whom you do not agree scoundrels and villains and ruffians, and describing the people who enrol as special constables and so on as loyal, patriotic citizens who are out to maintain the welfare of the country? My way is to get back to our old British sporting traditions, to fight this thing out as sportsmen and to keep our tempers. That is more likely than anything else to help towards a clean settlement, and if we do not make a clean settlement, this dispute will go on for months. I am not a trade union official and I am not connected with trade unions, but I am one of those who believe in seeking peace along common-sense lines; but if hon. Members opposite continue to cheer the charge that the workers—
§ Mr. MORRISON
I will not pursue that subject. I thought you were going to call me to order. I will get back to the special constables. The special constables, whose Vote we are discussing to-day, will not solve any problem. If they are wanted, I have no objection to them, and I have no doubt that they will do their best. I do hope that people will not lose their heads or get excited and make wild speeches. I hope that my remarks have been of a very tame nature. I am endeavouring to keep my head, just as I did in the Great War. I was on the other side of the Channel during that struggle, and I was not a Member of this House. These men who are out on strike to-day are the same fellows whom you patted on the back during the Great War. I recognise that many of the special constables are ex-service men, and I am not going to say a word against, them, or to suggest either that they are cowards or heroes. They are ordinary human beings like ourselves. If the soldiers come into my constituency, should there be need for them, we will treat them as the people treated me and as they treated my comrades who were with me in the War. We will say to them, "Good old Tommy. Have a cigarette." I do, finally, appeal to hon. Members opposite not to assume that everybody who has come out on strike is a villain and a scoundrel, and that, all the special constables and others on their side are heroes. Let us fight out this matter in a good spirit.
§ Mr. GREAVES-LORD
The hon. Member who has just sat down has furnished the hon. Member for South Leeds (Mr. Charleton) with an example of a more correct way of dealing with things than he adopted. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R Morrison) was, however, a little unfair to his own constituency, because I cannot believe that in that constituency there are only three men who have volunteered to take part in that excellent force who at the present time are regarded as defending the liberties of our people. So far as the main body of the strikers are concerned, the men who, quite wrongly and unconstitutionally, are on strike, there is no need for force, even in the way of special constables or any other protective 743 measures, but we all know perfectly well, and no one knows better than hon. Members opposite, that any large dispute, be it as some are, industrial, or be it, as this is, constitutional, is bound to give an opportunity to the wilder and the lawless elements of the community. In these circumstances it is absolutely necessary that the forces of order should be aided by volunteer efforts, and that volunteer effort must be supported by everybody who desires his country to be supported in time of trouble.
I say frankly in regard to some of the men on strike in my own constituency that they are thoroughly orderly. I was at church yesterday, and so far as three parts of the congregation were concerned they consisted of members of the Transport and General Workers' Union. Their presence and their behaviour convinced me that 99 out of every 100 of them did not understand the dispute in which they are engaged, but as far as their orderliness was concerned, there can be no question about it, that they were not only orderly but determined to keep order as far as they could. We all know of the wilder elements, and even those who have attacked the police this afternoon—the police have been attacked and the special constables have been attacked in this Debate—have prefaced their statements by illustrations of that very disorder against which it is absolutely necessary that the special constables should be recruited. There is good reason for that recruiting. The hon. Member for South Leeds agrees with that statement. Each occasion which they have instanced of disorder originated in the action of the wilder and more lawless element. That being the position, surely one thing is necessary, and above all for Members of this House, and that is fairness towards the special constables. Let me take an illustration from something which was said by the hon. Member for South Leeds. He mentioned one instance, and I asked him if he had given the facts to the Home Office in order that they might be inquired into. He said the last incident had been reported to the Home Office.
§ Mr. GREAVES-LORD
From Saturday to Monday afternoon at 5.30 there has 744 been plenty of time to give information to the Home Office. It should have been easy for the hon. Member to give in the information by now if it was in his possession on Saturday night or Sunday morning. It is not a question of excuse about time. He has ruled that out. He said, "The other was not given to the Home Office, because I had no intention of pursuing it further." He went on to say, "Not only that, but it would not have been much use, because the police would have cooked their evidence. The police inspector had already begun to cook it." Let us follow up that statement. Here are two charges made against men in responsible positions. There is a proper place in which the hon. Member could make these charges in order that inquiries might be made. That proper place is the Government Department which is responsible for the police. Complaint has not been made there There is the charge of unnecessary violence by the police which has been made in this House, without any previous opportunity of inquiry by any impartial body, and there is the charge, worse than the charge of violence, of preparing to give false evidence.
What I want to follow out is the effect of that even upon law-abiding men if charges are going to be made by people whose presence in this House should be a guarantee of some responsibility There are a large number of people who may not be entirely unjustified if they look upon a Member of this House as a person who does not like to make charges. They do not know that that particular Member has not given the slightest opportunity to the Government of inquiring into the charge; but they will know that a Member of Parliament has got up in this House and made two extremely serious charges. Is that going to render the position of the policemen easier in the maintenance of order? Is it not perfectly obvious that these charges, made in this way, are, I do not say intentional attempts, but efforts on the part of hon. Members opposite which must result in creating in the minds of some people a definite and clear prejudice against those who are responsible for establishing and preserving order.
Whether that is the reason for making them one can only judge by some of the expressions used by the same hon. 745 Member who made these charges. He followed it up by saying that a band or a van load of hooligans, that is special constables, were discharged on the streets. The hon. Member for North Southwark (Mr. Haden Guest) also used the word hooligans, and apparently it is to be a stock word, and is to be used in order to persuade the population of this country that these men who have come forward and volunteered to protect the poor, the children, men whose only offence is that they are doing their duty, these loyal citizens who are keeping order in this country, are simply hooligans trying to vent their violence on the population.
The hon. Member for North Tottenham made some facetious remarks about people "finding their level," and apparently because a Minister of the Crown had distributed a certain paper that his level was the level of a newsboy. Let me remind the hon. Member that in the humblest task there is a dignity, provided that task has a real and definite national purpose, and any task however humble which is going to make for the spread of truth and constitutional principles in this struggle is a far better task than any in which some hon. Members of the opposite side are engaged at the present time. The hon. Member went on to say that some people were trying to create two parties among the population, that we were trying to make a horizontal cleavage. No Member on this side of the House has ever attempted to make a horizontal cleavage. There is one cleavage, and that is the cleavage between those who are doing their duty and those who are not. But among those who are not there is a further cleavage. There is the cleavage between those who at the moment have been misled into what is their duty and the section who are determined, if possible, to continue to lead men to a betrayal of their trust and duty. They are determined, if they can, to lead people to believe that you can protect liberty by destroying it. The liberties of our constitution and of this House will not be destroyed by hon. Members opposite, who are to-day trying to assail the Mother of Parliaments, by putting in its place the threat of a conspiracy which will destroy Parliamentary Government and the Empire.
§ Mr. GROVES
I do not profess to be sufficiently clever to debate the question of the constitutional issue on the Home Office Vote. I rise to put my own views on this question. I have no facts or figures as regards sabotage or rioting in West Ham. It is unique to relate that in West Ham, an area which has been often discussed in this House and where perhaps one might have expected a little disorder, where there are some of the wildest political spirits, that there has been no disorder strangely enough, no arrests, and no necessity for any arrests. It is an area that has been perfectly peaceful, and I have seen no special constables. I want to say this with perfect sincerity. I do not believe in inflammatory speeches or in talk about civil war. I am as much against it as any true blue Tory; and perhaps the Home Office might send someone down to West Ham to inquire how things are run there. We have paid out to-day to probably about 4,000 people what is commonly called R. O., and the whole administration was left to the local authorities. Not a policeman was to be seen. There was no provocation, no disorder, no arrests and no special constables. I want to emphasise this. The Home Secretary has referred to the mayors of boroughs. We have a Labour mayor who has made an appeal to the whole area—I hope the hon. Member for West Norwood (Mr. (Greaves-Lord) will pay special attention to this—not for people to enrol as special constables to defend life and property, but to all the citizens of the borough to respect order and act peacefully and with good will. We have not obeyed—that is an absurd word to use in this connection—but we have all loyally acted within the spirit of that appeal, and there is no disorder, no rioting, no provocation in West Ham. It is an area where you might have expected a little trouble, and where you can get it if you provoke it, but where you will not get it if you do nothing to provoke it. We do not provoke the Government to do things we do not want them to do, and I hope the Government will not provoke the population to do things they do not want to do.
I do not wish to say anything against the ordinary police in our area. The splendid thing about West Ham is that the police know our men and we know every policeman in the force—and there is 747 no trouble. But if people from outside are brought into the area then follows the trouble that has already been indicated. I want to put this sincerely in regard to the area I represent. I address three meetings a day and speak to about 9,000 people, and I never ceased to urge upon the people to meet the obstinacy of the Government with patience. Then we cannot lose our tempers, and if we do not lose our tempers we shall not lose our cause. If you do not bring in anybody else into the area our people in the Borough will work in the spirit of peace and in harmony with the police force, but as soon as you bring men into our area who are not uniform men there is sure to be riots. I give you that as a tip. If you want West Ham to carry on as it is keep them out. On Sunday morning there was a procession of about 3,000 working men and women, and there were only four policemen with it. It was not a procession of Communists or Bolshevists, but an assemblage of ordinary working men who have not the slightest desire for disorder or to do anything which would aggravate the police; and this spirit, in my opinion, prevails all over the country. But loyalty is not a purely one-sided thing. It is not only those who support the Government who are loyal. Those who hold the views we hold and serve the party we serve may sometimes be right. It. does not follow that those who enrol as special constables are all decent law-abiding citizens and that those who support us are bad. There are always two sides to a question, as everyone who has been in this House will realise. I do not think the way in which the hon. Member for Norwood referred to the attendance at church of the transport workers as the spirit that is going to lead to peace. I went to church myself during the week-end. There were plenty present who agreed with the hon. Member and disagreed with us, but I did not assume that they did not understand the issue.
§ Mr. GREAVES-LORD
Evidently I did not convey to the hon. Member what I intended to say. What I intended was this; that in as much as I believe this is a direct attack upon the liberties of the people, and as these people were so obviously men who revere the Constitution of our land, it was quite obvious 748 they could not understand what the real issue was.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I think I was wrong in allowing the hon. Member for West Norwood to refer to this question at all. He only did so in reply to a speech made on the Opposition side of the House, where again I was wrong in allowing the hon. Member to go too far. I do not think it should proceed any further.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. GROVES
I do not think there would be any harm in carrying it a little further, but I have no need to say more on the subject. I wanted only to emphasise my own point of view with regard to my own area. I speak from immediate experience of the crisis, and I speak with sincerity. I think it would be a great national disaster if we said or did anything that brought our civil population into conflict with the police. My arguments apply to both sides. There is no satisfaction in cracked skulls, and there is no answer to the crack of the rifle. I would not stand up at the meetings I address and say anything that would provoke people to do what I do not want them to do, and I do not ask them to do anything which is against the maintenance of ordinary civil order. But that is a two-sided theme. I repeat that in the Borough of West Ham there is not the slightest sign of disorder. What is the reason? It is simply that the Government have not drafted in strange policemen, and people have not volunteered as special constables. There is, therefore, no prime cause for conflict.
Yesterday morning, as I have said, there was a procession of thousands of people accompanied by only four policemen. That shows that the people who have ceased work on behalf of the miners consider that they have done so in an industrial battle. That is their point of view. I see that the Solicitor-General shakes his head. He must realise that while he can explain the technical details of the law in the Law Courts, it requires even more than the art of dialectics to persuade 5,000 hard-headed men and women in West Ham to disbelieve the 749 truth that is in them. They may be wrong, but that is what those 5,000 believe, and you have to recognise the fact.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
If I allow the hon. Member to proceed with that subject, I shall have to allow an answer to him.
§ Colonel DAY
Why cannot the hon. Member reply to the hon. and learned Member for West Norwood (Mr. Greaves-Lord) on the question of the British Constitution?
§ Mr. GROVES
There has been talk about provocation. Here am I, I hope with calmness and coolness, putting forward a view which I consider to be good for the country. The Solicitor-General, sitting opposite, is shaking his head and indicating to me that I am not correct. If I do not reply to that and I sit down, I know advantage has been taken of me.
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN
That shows how wrong it was of me to allow any hon. Member to deal with the subject.
§ Mr. GROVES
Yesterday's procession in West Ham was an indication that there is no need for the enrolment of special constables or for the sending into our area of special protection, because the people are perfectly peaceful in their demeanour and desire. I suggest to the Government and to the Home Office that if they want this dispute, however long it may last, to he carried on with a reasonable degree of order and quietness, for once they should follow the example of West Ham, where there is provocation neither on the one side nor on the other. I am sure that then all will be well. I am not saying anything which in the long run will be inimical to the well-being of the country. It is wrong to cause conflict with the police. If anything is done on the other side, by drafting strange persons into West Ham, without blue uniforms but with bludgeons, that would be provocative. The Home Secretary in discussing the Emergency Regulations said that everything depended on their interpretation. I am spending all my time mixing with the strikers, and I say that there is not the slightest desire 750 among them to come into conflict with the police or to do anything disorderly. They want to be left alone. They will not interfere with lives or property, and I appeal to the Homo Office not to do anything provocative. Fair play is two-sided. Loyalty is not confined to those who are against the strikers. Many of our men fought for the country during the War, and are prepared to defend it now. At present, they are defending their own cause.
§ Sir H. CROFT
Although I think that the last speaker is misguided, no one could take exception to the tone of his speech. If we all preserve the balance which he has displayed, we shall not be guilty in this House of adding fuel to the flame. I rose to say something about the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I have been listening to his speeches in recent days with considerable amazement, and I have been watching his attitude ever since the coal crisis arose last year. At that time, when the Government decided on the subsidy policy, the right hon. Gentleman taunted the Government that they were buying off trouble, because they were afraid of cold steel. I think the right hon. Gentleman should be the last person at this moment to get up and suggest the continuance of the subsidy.
§ Mr. THURTLE
On a point of Order. May I submit that the Home Office is not now being discussed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but the merits of the coal dispute.
§ Mr. MARCH
On a further point of Order. May I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, to ask the hon. and gallant Member whether he has informed the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that he was going to talk about this matter? We had a point raised a little while ago about informing a Member that he was going to be spoken about.
§ Sir H. CROFT
Since we have these new defenders of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who was apparently prepared to use cold steel against hon. Gentlemen and was ready to call into being on the last general dispute the armed forces to the number of some 600,000, I must leave it to hon. Members to decide the matter with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. I would also inform the hon. Member that it has been my custom, the last three times I have spoken of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, to inform him that I was going to speak, and he has not done me the courtesy of listening to what I was going to say. The Liberal party is, as usual, absent from the Debate. I wanted to deal with what the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said at the beginning of the Debate. He made an attack on the Government with regard to certain omissions from the newspaper which the Government very wisely and correctly decided to publish when the freedom of the Press was interfered with. I happen to know something about the difficulties at the present time, and I believe that I am right in saying that to get any sort of newspaper published, your type has to be set up and the newspaper built up by 1 o'clock. It is, of course, ridiculous for anyone to bring charges like this against the Government without knowing the facts, when, as far as I can gather, this announcement was forthcoming only about 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
§ Sir H. CROFT
It may or may not be Parliamentary to say that it is nonsense, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to realise that there are other people who are just as sincere as himself. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs found great complaint about a certain statement not appearing in the Government newspaper, but to stand up in this House as he did and to make insinuations against the Government as he did is not to help the cause of peace. I am certain that nobody will object to read what was said in the discussions at Fulham Palace or somewhere, and everyone will give it respectful attention. But one fact is perfectly plain, and that is that, as far as the Government newspaper is concerned, it would have been absolutely impossible 752 to produce the statement. The difficulties are very great. On the general question of the Government newspaper, I imagine that every well-affected citizen in this country is determined that the point of view of the Government shall be made known to the whole of the people of the land. We cannot follow out a policy which is adopted in another country and which was suggested for this country, namely, closing down the Press, without expecting that the Government will take steps to see that the public are informed. I believe that all Members of the House, with the exception, perhaps, of very few who go a long way on this question and might be described as extremists, will agree that it is absolutely essential for the Government to put forward the Government's ease. It would be possible for any other newspaper to be published the moment the hon. Gentlemen of the Labour party lift their embargo and once more permit what they have always told us they fought for—the freedom of speech and freedom of the Press.
I regret very much that I was led away at the beginning of my remarks to say anything that was out of order, but I submit that at the present time it is most ill-advised for Members in any part of the House to get up, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs did, in order to make insinuations and to divide the people of the country, when we want to keep cool. I for one realise the legality of the miners' strike, and I have a great deal of sympathy with the miners; but I say that that has nothing whatever to do with the issue with which we are confronted now, and that the Government has one duty and one duty only, and that is to protect the lives of the people and to see that women and children shall not suffer through any misguided effort.
§ Mr. AMMON
I only intervene in order to protest against the interpretation which the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken places on the repression of certain news in connection with a point raised earlier in this Debate. This has not been a case of suppressing the views of the other side at all. It is not to anything of that kind that we object. It has already been pointed out that there was an opportunity of giving the Primate's message through the wireless and that it was prohibited by Government inter- 753 vention. They had an opportunity of publishing it in the "British Gazette." The fact that the "Times" published it is an indication that there was such an opportunity, and if there had not been time to publish it on Saturday, there was ample time to do so to-day. The point is that the appeal made by the Primate, on behalf of himself and other religious leaders, was an appeal that we should find means whereby we could sit down together to discuss terms of peace. I cannot disguise from myself the fact that the gentleman who is now controlling the "British Gazette" is a person who does not want peace but rather wants to do anything he can to prevent a settlement, so that he can bring down the iron heel and show that in this matter he is going to be the saviour of society. That has to be said, because everyone who knows this gentleman's past knows that he fancies himself in a Napoleonic position and that he has adopted that position. Here was a deliberate suppression, not of news which favoured the other side, but a deliberate suppression of some of the most eminent people in this country, who were putting forward proposals whereby both sides might come together and discuss terms of peace.
§ Mr. AMMON
I will give you that right away, and I come back to the position. Here we are in a fight. I will not say who are the aggressors. [HON. MEMBERS: "We know!"] Hon. Members say they know, but let me tell them that the Government are the aggressors—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—and the irony of the situation is that the person responsible for law and order is one who a few years ago was preaching rebellion in this country and was prepared to take arms against the State. That is the irony and humbug of the opposite side and we protest against their view that there is something different in the circumstances of men acting as they are acting now, compared with what happened on a previous occasion. However, as I say, we are in the fight. The fight has been declared. Here we have people coming along who are quite detached, who say they want to find a way out, and who feel that the nation cannot afford to go on like this, 754 whether the dispute is right or wrong. They put forward certain proposals which I believe would have been acceptable to both sides, whereby we could have called a truce and endeavoured to sit down and consider matters. Those proposals were deliberately suppressed by the Government in order that the fight should go on and, therefore, it is not fair to accuse the strikers of perpetuating this dispute because it is being perpetuated by the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer who want to try their hands at the Napoleonic business and who think they can crush the trade union movement and the political Labour Party. That is the trouble which we are up against. This country has already paid an expensive price for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and we look like paying another price for that luxury as this business is going on. Let it be borne in mind that we might now have been discussing terms of peace had it not been for the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and those responsible for suppressing the message of the Primate.
§ Sir GERALD HOHLER
I have listened with considerable interest to all the speakers in this Debate and what surprises me more than anything else, is the irrelevant matter which has been introduced. I cannot discover what the Home Secretary is supposed to be responsible for and I am at a loss to understand whether or not we are supposed to be censuring the right hon. Gentleman on this Vote. I hope that later speakers will concentrate on that point and give the Committee some enlightenment concerning it. The speech of the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) astonished me. Could one believe that from the lips of that gentleman should come the complaint or the charge that the Government have suppressed something? If the hon. Gentleman can carry his mind back to the War he will recall that all through that great crisis we had at the most six secret Sessions of this Parliament, but now at the instance of the Labour and Socialist party this House has really been sitting in secret session for a week. Who is to blame for it? If I am not using too strong a word, I would say that it is impudence on the part of a member of that party to come here to talk of suppression. He and his friends have it in their own power to ex- 755 pose this matter. They claim to have power to prevent us from having the necessaries of life; they claim to be able to call upon people to walk to and from their businesses no matter what the weather or what the age or class of the people may be. If they have a case and if they want to show up a wicked Government and a Chancellor of the Exchequer who is declaring war to the knife and who is to be likened to Napoleon, then they can get their Press back and publish it to the world. Why do they not do it?
§ Sir G. HOHLER
Hon. Members will not do it, because they know they have no case. Let them call the printers back to work and then they can publish the Parliamentary Debates and all the news that they say the Government have suppressed, but they cannot have it both ways. They cannot make a grievance of it here when they themselves are the cause of the trouble and the head and front of the offending. That is the issue. If they did so they would be able to give publicity to all their views, and I have no doubt it would be most entertaining to read some of the inflammatory speeches which are being delivered. Indeed, I think it is rather unfortunate, because some of the choice phrases of Mr. Cook and others would be very desirable when the time comes at the next Election. Hon Members are really spoiling a great deal of sport by their attitude in this respect and they should see to it that their speeches are published. The hon. Member for South Leeds (Mr. Charleton) in the course of his speech read certain letters and I accept everything he says, but I would recommend him, if he is bringing these cases in a court of law, to get as much corroborative evidence as he can. Then we had quite a nice speech from the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) but I do riot think the hon. Member is in a position to say with such confidence what the people of West Ham will do. I understood him to suggest that if the Government sent special constables into West Ham, they should take his tip and look out. I believe, notwithstanding the hon. Member's threat, the people of West Ham will respect the special constables and the purpose for which they are sent there. We should remind the 756 people of West Ham—and I wish we could do so publicly and generally—that those who support what they call the constitutional movement, are apparently trying to call out the millers and that attacks are being made on the transport of the necessaries of life. I think if it became necessary to send special constables there to give protection in these respects, it might be found that the people of West Ham do not, perhaps, think so much of their Member as he thinks they think of him. I may be wrong but I think that it was in West Ham that electricity power was cut off. I rather think I saw a notification to that effect.
§ Mr. THURTLE
On a point of Order. I submit that the hon. Member is not discussing anything which has any reference whatever to the Home Office Vote.
§ Sir G. HOHLER
I was simply summing up what has been said. I would suggest to the hon. Member for Stratford that he should say to the Corporation of West Ham that if they do not want the special constables there I would advise them to let us have some electric light in West Ham. Suggestions have been made against the Home Secretary but I never heard less real complaint against the Home Secretary on an occasion of this kind in the course of my Parliamentary experience. I could say much more damaging things about the right hon. Gentleman than any of the hon. Members opposite have said so far. I am sure the hon. Member for South Leeds recognises that while in the House of Commons one may say anything which is in order and in decency and is consistent with what I shall call behaving oneself as a gentleman, yet it is desirable if one is going to make allegations, to write to the Minister on charge of the Department concerned in order that he may make some inquiry. Reference has of course been made to the disorganisation of the post, and I know that my cheques do not reach their destination as rapidly as they should—though I do not complain of that—but again I would remind hon. Members that the disorganisation of the transport and post is a matter for which they are responsible. The hon. Member for North Southwark (Mr. Haden Guest) referred to an incident at the Queen's Head public 757 house, and I think the Home Secretary has answered that point. But when hon. Members are always protesting that they want to maintain law and order, why do they not support the Home Secretary in regard to specific cases which come under their own notice. Why do they not come along and say, "I have found out the man or men who overturned the omnibus" or "I have the man who threw the stone at the motor car" or "I know the men who pulled clown the wall and used the bricks" or "I know the pickets who have done something." I may say that in my view the pickets are entirely illegal in this case, and if hon. Members opposite would withdraw the pickets we should not have any trouble at all at the docks and we should not have even to show a soldier or a special constable, much less a machine gun. But if hon. Members opposite will do silly things they must not complain if there is trouble somewhere.
Hon. Members seem to want to sit in white clothes and to pose as the most constitutional party. I do not wish to use the word "humbug," although the hon. Member for North Camberwell denounced us as humbugs. Let hon. Members come forward and give us evidence and information, as they can, as to the man who held up the motor-car and turned working girls—I would have said ladies, but hon. Members opposite like the term "working girls"—out of a charabanc when they were going back from their work. They can give us the names of all those people, as the sources of information are all open to them. What is the good, therefore of coming here with a case or two where they allege that somebody has been wrongly hit on the head? They should have been at home if there was trouble there. If hon. Members really want to assist the Government—I do not believe they do—let them become special constables. I do not know whether it would be possible to take the hon. Member for Poplar as a special constable. The thing is too absurd, and I would send an inspector to look after him; I would not let him alone. How can the Committee take hon. Members seriously when they muzzle the country and the freedom of the press, of which they have always boasted? Let us get freedom of the press back, and let us get back to what is normal. Let hon. Members opposite 758 educate their people through their papers, and we will educate our people through our papers, and then they will not have to come here and waste the time of the Committee by making most able but most ridiculous speeches in regard to the Home Office Vote and the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. CECIL WILSON
I do not know that I should have intervened in this Debate had it not been for an incident that took place not very far from here yesterday afternoon, in which the question of agents provocateurs seems to be raised. I want to ask the Government if we may have some understanding as to whether agents provocateurs are being used, either for money or otherwise, in the course of this dispute. I am sorry that it should be necessary to introduce the name of the hon. Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Erskine) here, not that I am suggesting that he has any direct connection with this matter, but his name has been introduced in this connection, and I am only mentioning it in that way. Yesterday afternoon—and this information has all been conveyed to the police, and is in their hands, but I think it is right, when the Home Office Vote is up, that we should have the matter debated here—a man was selling papers not far from Victoria Station. He was approached by a man, who purchased one of the papers. He was asked certain questions in regard to the strike, and while this conversation was going on, a second gentleman came up, asked him his name and address, and told him that after the strike he would find him and his wife a job. The first gentleman joined in what was being discussed, as to how long the strike would last and so on, when the second gentleman said: "I am Mr. King, Mr. Erskine's secretary." The first gentleman handed a card to the other and asked him to obtain an order for him for the gallery of the House for to-day. Mr. King took out a wallet, in which there was a card, upon which were some words as: "King, secretary to Mr. Erskine, M.P." Then certain discussion took place, into which I do not think it is necessary to enter here, and Mr. King then proceeded to ask the man whether he had ever made pencils out of bullets, and this led—
§ Mr. HANNON
On a point of Order. I submit that the subject being dealt 759 with by the hon. Member exceeds all possible relevance to the Vote under discussion. What possible connection can there be between the incident that is being recounted by the hon. Member and the question we are discussing in relation to the Home Office?
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
On the point of Order. I submit that, if an hon. Member thinks and has any reason to believe that men are employed in the way he has hinted, he is entitled on the Home Office Vote to bring such a question forward.
§ Mr. HANNON
No allegation of any kind has been made by the hon. Member as to any connection between this incident and the administration of the Home Office.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I understood the hon. Member to suggest that there might be a possibility of such a thing transpiring in this dispute as what they call on the Continent agents provocateurs, and I understood my hon. Friend to put the question to the Home Secretary as to whether such men are really being employed. He was recounting the incident and actually giving the name of the man who, he thinks, was acting in that capacity.
§ Mr. HANNON
What has that to do with the Home Office Vote? Can hon. Members stand up in this House and recount incidents of that kind occuring from day to day in the City of London and bring them down to bear on a particular Vote in this House?
As my name has been mentioned, I, for my part, hope it will not be ruled out of order, as I should like to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I was waiting to hear the end of the hon. Member's speech, in order to know in what way it referred to the Home Secretary. Until he has accused the Home Secretary, I can scarcely say whether or not it is in Order.
§ Mr. WILSON
In the earlier part of my remarks I suggested that we ought to have some declaration from the Home Office as to whether agents provocateurs 760 are being employed in this way, because, unless we can have that made perfectly clear, if incidents of this sort do occur—and I suggest that this is not an isolated incident—[An HON. MEMBER: "What sort?"] If incidents like that which I am going to detail in a moment are occurring, there is nothing which is more likely to cause disorder with which the Home Office will have to deal, and it is because of that that I am raising this question to-day.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Perhaps the Home Office will let the hon. Member know, so as to save him the trouble of telling his story here.
§ Mr. WILSON
My speech would have been very nearly finished now if I had not been interrupted. I was saying that this Mr. King made some reference to bullets, and then handed to this man—forced upon him practically—a closed box. There was no question as to who the man was, as he had colours about him so that others knew perfectly well he was one of the strikers. When the box came to be examined, or, rather, before the box was examined, he said to him: "Have these; do what you like with them." The man wanted to know why he did not want them, and he said: "I cannot explain now." He said also: "Do not drop them, because they are explosive." My suggestion is this, that this was a deliberate attempt by an agent provocateur.
§ Mr. WILSON
There were bullets in the box, and what does it matter whether or not they were explosive? I suggest that it was a deliberate attempt to foist these upon this man, for him to carry them away to his meeting room of his trade union, and then for that room to be raided and the people there to be arrested. What I am going to suggest is that this matter ought to be dealt with by the Home Office, and that we ought to have a definite declaration as to whether, in this direction or any other, these abominable people are being used.
The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. C. Wilson) has told us that my secretary, Mr. King, did all sorts of extraordinary things, but he does not connect me in any way with my imaginary secretary, Mr. King In the first place, I may tell him that I never had a secretary Mr. King. In the second place, I do not know what he bas talked about at all, because it is a purely trumped-up story, but where there is a little smoke there is usually a little fire, and the hon. Member may have got hold of the wrong end of the stick, as hon. Members above the gangway generally do. It is perfectly true that I have a secretary called Mrs. King, who is a charming little lady, and I am quite sure she knows her duties as private secretary as well as anybody, because she had been for five years secretary to a well-known public man before she came to me, and never in the course of my life have I come across a more competent and more thoroughly reliable secretary than Mrs. King. It is quite true, also—I do not know whether I should waste the time of the Committee in regard to these absurd statements—that I did have a visit, I think this morning, from a police officer, who said that a Communist, or a Bolshevist, or a Socialist—I really cannot remember which—had taken to the police court a small box of cartridges, and he asked me whether I could connect it in any way with my own house. I said: "Well, there is only one manservant in the house at the moment, and you had better interrogate him." I had my butler up, and the officer cross-examined him, and asked him whether he could in any way connect the matter with the house, and he said he could not. How this is connected in any way with my secretary, or family, or manservant, or myself, I have not the faintest notion. If they will give me any further particulars I will make further inquiries, but I think the whole story is absolutely absurd.
§ Mr. THURTLE
It seems to me that the material point is not whether or not the hon. Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Erskine), is con- 762 nected with this matter, but whether the incident really took place, because, if there was a man who was obviously a striker, by virtue of the fact that he had his strike colours on, and was selling a strike edition, and some person came to him in the public street and, by some cock-and-bull story, forced upon him a box containing a quantity of bullets—
§ Mr. THURTLE
According to my information, they were bullets, but if those bullets or cartridges were forced upon this striker, it seems to me that it might easily be an act by someone who wished to get that striker into very serious trouble.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
Is it not possible for either a Socialist or a Communist to have tried to pass this box on to the man?
§ Mr. THURTLE
That is quite so, and I realise that, if agents provocateurs are being employed by the Home Office or the Government, they will seek to get hold of all sorts of people. It would not matter what their political views might have been in the past. Indeed, if they could find someone who at some time or another had held Socialist views, he might be a much more suitable person for their work than anyone else, but it would be desirable if we could have a definite and specific assurance from the Home Office or the Government that they are not stooping to this despicable method of the agent provocateur in order to stir up trouble.
The hon. Lady the Member for Berwickon-Tweed (Mrs. Philipson) says, "We do not require an assurance." If we go back into the history of this country, it is an undoubted fact that the agent-provocateur has been employed in cases of serious disturbance. I do not want to go a long way back, but I daresay hon. Members opposite are as well acquainted as I am with the Cato Street Conspiracy, in which the Government employed all sorts of agents-provocateurs for the purpose of getting people into serious trouble, and having them executed, and what was done in those days might, I think, be easily emulated by the present Government.
I do not rise, however, to deal with that particular aspect of the question, 763 but I want to deal with the so-called national newspaper, the "British Gazette." It really ought not to be called a national newspaper by anyone who has got the slightest regard for truth, because it is not a national newspaper. It is merely a propaganda sheet, of a somewhat unscrupulous character, of the Tory Government, and I say we have every reason to protest in the strongest possible terms against public funds being used for the purpose of publishing this sheet. The hon. and learned Member for Gillingham (Sir G. Holder) said that the real difficulty about this was that this national newspaper had to come out, because we had interfered with the freedom of the Press. If we are really going to get at the cause of our present difficulty, we have not got to take a secondary cause like the strike of the machine-men and the printers. If we are going to got at the cause, we have got to get back to the first primary cause; that is, the deliberate breaking-off of the negotiations by the Government at a time when a settlement was possible. That was really the cause of our present difficulty, and not the matter of a strike on the part of the machine-workers and the pressmen attached to the newspapers.
I want to emphasise the point made other speakers as to the act of suppressing the statement made by the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the whole of the organised churches in the country. I am astonished there has not been a very vigorous protest from the Conservative benches against that act. I understood it was the proud boast of the Tory Party that they stood for King, Church, and State. They are supposed to have particular affiliations and connection, with the Established Church, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is the head. The Archbishop of Canterbury, after deliberating for a considerable time with the representatives of the other churches in the country, decided that he would put this suggestion of his before the Government and before the country, as a possible means of achieving peace. I think the least the Government might have done in a case of this sort was to allow the proposal to go before the public, as far as they could get it by means of the "British Gazette," and let the public 764 weigh up the pros and cons of the proposal.
§ Mr. HANNON
On a point of Order. May I ask how far repetition is permissible in these Debates? You will recall that this afternoon the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) raised this point in pretty well the same terms and the same process of argument as is now being pursued by the hon. Member opposite, and a very full, comprehensive reply was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Is it not a waste of the time of this House that hon. Members one after another should repeat the same kind of argument and expect the same kind of reply?
§ The CHAIRMAN
If I were to rule out of order all arguments that might be held to be wasting the time of the House, I should be continually on my feet.
§ Mr. HANNON
On that point, is there not a Standing Order relating to the repetition of the same arguments in this House?
§ Mr. THURTLE
I was going to submit that it would be a most revolutionary doctrine for the Chairman to rule out repetition.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I take it that the repetition meant in the Standing Order is repetition by the same member. I was going to say, that as far as this particular statement is concerned, the hon. Member tried to put up a specious defence of the Government by suggesting it was not issued in time to be published on Saturday. The "Times,'' at any rate, was able to publish it, but even if it were not possible to publish it on Saturday, there was ample time to publish it this morning, and it was certainly of sufficient public moment for it to be published this morning. I would remind the hon. Member that a speech was made on Thursday by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) about 11 o'clock. Unfortunately, there was not time to get it in the "British Gazette" the next day, but the Editor of the "British Gazette" took very great 765 care that it was in the following day, and it has been given extraordinary publicity by means of broadcasting and other methods.
§ Mr. THURTLE
At any rate, that part which seemed to be favourable to the Government was given the very widest publicity. I do submit that that in itself is evidence that the "British Gazette" is being used by its editor for the purpose of giving a partial and a biased account of matters of public interest. I want to deal with one or two other points which bear out that contention. In the very first issue of the "Gazette" there was an article of the most irritant character dealing with Trade Unionism. It had nothing at all to do with the news of the day it was an article written by someone who evidently held most anti-Trade Union views, and in the course of the article he attempted to make out that Trade Unionism was being used for purposes quite foreign to its real purpose. I submit that that kind of article certainly ought not to appear in a Government publication which purports to hold the scales evenly between all sections of the community. Then there was something which appeared on Saturday which was even worse. We have been appealed to in this House recently to do all we can to see that good order and law are observed. There has been a good deal of lip-service given to that doctrine by the Home Secretary and hon. Members opposite. To my astonishment, when I opened the "British Gazette" on Saturday, I saw in that newspaper a statement of the most provocative character, one which, I think, would easily lead to very serious breaches of the peace. There was a statement there—upon whose authority it was issued I do not know, but I imagine on the authority of the Secretary of State for War—to the effect that the Government would undertake to support either now or at a later time any acts by members of the armed forces which were undertaken in the honest belief that they were for the general wellbeing. That is a paraphrase. I am not saying those were the actual words employed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Read them."] I have not got them to read, but anyhow, that was the general tenour of this statement. The 766 statement has now been handed to me. It is:—All ranks of the armed forces of the Crown are hereby notified that any action which they may find it necessary to take ill the honest endeavour to aid the civil power will receive both now and afterwards the full support of his Majesty's Government.[Hon MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members cheer that statement. I think those cheers are, a confirmation of this, that it is not only the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer who wants a fight to a finish, but Members opposite also seem to want a fight to a finish, and they want to land this country into most serious trouble, because an incitement of that character giving carte blanche to the armed forces to do whatever they think in their judgment is necessary and proper, is likely to lead to the most serious trouble and, possibly, most serious bloodshed. These three things—the suppression of the statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the whole of the churches, the insertion of this article against trade unionism, and the insertion of this incitement to the armed forces to go out of their way to cause trouble and provocation—these three things in themselves condemn the use which the Government are making of the "British Gazette," and for my part, mean to protest most strongly against it. An hon. Member opposite said we cannot protect liberties by destroying them. We subscribe to the doctrine. [An HON. MEMBER: What about the Press?"] We do not believe you can protect liberty by destroying it, but this Government has done all it can in the last few days to destroy liberties which had liken generations for the people to gain. Those Regulations, some 30 of them, which we passed last week, have all tended in some way or other to restrict and curtail the ordinary liberties of this country.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. THURTLE
Hon. Members are always concerned about the taxi-drivers or the poor girls who have to walk two or three miles to work. They are never concerned about the miners and their starving families, or about the whole of the working classes living in poverty year 767 after year. I wish they could extend some little sympathy to them as well as to taxi-drivers and the girl who has to walk to work. To act in the way that the Government have done is a violation of our liberties, and if the Government persist in this kind of thing, it is going to create very dangerous precedents for the future. This country is supposed to be governed by precedents. I have said already in this House that the time must inevitably come when this Government will be replaced by a Government of an entirely different complexion. When that time does come we shall have before us this precedent of the Tory Government, which has taken away from the people of this country nearly all the liberties they have enjoyed for generations—for no real reason whatsoever. We may be tempted I do not say we shall succumb to the temptation—to apply exactly the same kind of treatment to hon. Members opposite, and, when that does happen, I am afraid they will not like it at all.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
In the present crisis great care should be taken in everything which is said, and I shall exercise moderation and I hope successfully. I repeat that we must recognise that the one thing—and probably the most important thing—at the present moment is the usefulness and the dignity of this House. It is in that connection that I wish to make a few observations. I am not going over the ground about the "British Gazette," for that has been done by other hon. Members, but I do wish to draw the attention of the learned Solicitor-General, whom I assume is answering for the Home Office, to the way in which the "British Gazette" is treating Parliament. I do not think it is quite in keeping with a Government publication, published by the Stationery Office and paid for by this House through the taxpayer, to issue the kind of Parliamentary report that has been appearing in it. I would ask hon. Members who doubt this complaint of mine or the ground for it, to compare the report of last Friday's proceedings in the "British Gazette" with the report in the "Times." The "Times" will not be accused of wishing to prolong the struggle or of rousing passions or anything of that kind. It supports the 768 Government of the day, and it has done for generations. The Old Thunderer stands where it did. It is still corning out in four pages and I am very glad it is, because it gives us a little truth and it gives a summary of what is done in this House.
This issue of the "British Gazette" contains a report, from a snappy sketch writer, who in his heading talks about "Truculent Socialists in Commons." I am not sure that is not getting very near to a question of privilege, for Socialists are Members of this House. He goes on to describe Mr. Herbert Smith, the President of the Miners' Federation, as "Dour, glum, heavy-jowled, unsmiling." I do not think that is the kind of thing which ought to he said about a man who, at any rate, was trying for peace and who is not particularly blamed now for this pass to which the country has come. He had handed over the negotiations to the Trade Union Congress, and I do not think he ought to be alluded to like this in a Government organ. The Solicitor-General has a great respect for this House. He is a Conservative of the old school, and I think he will say that a Government publication, even though treating matters with interest, ought at any rate to be a little dignified. The paper then goes on to talk about one hon. Member "waving his arms and shouting." That is not the way a Government publication should put it. Perhaps hon. Members will read what is said. The paper goes on:On one side of her stood Mr. George Lansbury.It is describing the introduction of a new Member to this House, the hon. Member for one of the East Ham divisions (Miss Lawrence).On the other Mr. Arthur Henderson. The queerly assorted couple led her to the Table, where she took the oath of allegiance. The Socialists shouted their glee…Their whoops of joy were short-lived. A few minutes later the news of the result of the by-election in the Buckrose Division were flying round…and then it was the turn of the constitutionalists to shout their welcome of the tidings.Of course, that is very good journalese, I daresay, and it is very bright and snappy, but it will bring this House in disrepute at a time when it may stand between this country and absolute anarchy. This is a matter which con- 769 cerns the Home Office very nearly, as being the department of State responsible for law and order. There is much more of the same sort of thing in the report. That is not the way that the proceedings of this House should be treated. They should be fairly reported even if the editor of the "British Gazette" who, I understand, is the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, does not agree with what all the various hon. Members say. He has no right to use Government stationery and taxpayers' money to hold hon. Members up to derision in the country.
I am glad to be able to raise this, matter though so far I have had no personal attack or misrepresentation made on me. They were good enough to report one point I raised, though I must say on Friday when I spoke I did make an appeal for order and cool heads and no violence, and the "Times" mentions that, but there is not a word of it in the "British Gazette." If the Home Office wishes to preserve order and calm among the population—and so far it has been the admiration of the whole world—then they ought at any rate to publish conciliatory statements as well as inflammatory statements, but here the editor has gone out of his way—whoever it is. I have it on good authority that the editor is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is a little inspired paragraph in one of the other papers describing the picturesque scenes with the Chancellor of the Exchequer slumbering on rolls of papers tired out after his exertions.
There is also published a report of the imaginary scene in the National Liberal Club and of Members shouting "Fight it out" when there was some talk of conciliation. I am told it is quite untrue. Yet it has appeared in two editions. I do not want to go into that at all, because it has been dealt with, and the paper this morning is better. I want to be quite fair, except for repeating this ridiculous story with regard to the National Liberal Club, it is a good deal better. No Member of my Party has been held up to ridicule yet, but I think we shall all agree that we ought to object to and to resent hon. Members who will come here and play their constitutional part as Members of the House, being held up to derision in a Government publication.
770 It may be said "Well, war is war and a certain amount of these things are bound to happen." I hope that is not the official view. So far, I understand, not a shot has been fired. I have been every day in touch with Hull on the telephone, and the statements that have appeared in the newspapers—I am not talking about the "British Gazette"—give rather a false impression of the situation in Hull, which is quite orderly. The affair last Saturday was not a serious one in the meaning of the word. One of the officials there got in the crowd and he was there for an hour and gave a full account of it, and I have also been in touch with the Chief Magistrate, and I can say that the position is peaceable—and I hope it may so continue—and I am sorry such a bad impression has been given in the papers.
I admit the very difficult task of the Home Office at the present moment. If the Home Office officials remain in charge, I believe we will get on fairly well—if excitable amateurs do not come in. If the matter is left with the regular police officers, I believe that we shall avoid unnecessary disorder, but I hope the Home Office will realise who are the people they have to control. I do not propose to snipe at the Government, and I do not want to pinprick them, but only to do what I can in a small way to help towards a very speedy settlement. I do hope the Home Office will remember the people they have to control and keep in order, and I hope order will be kept as has been so far in most parts of the country. We have got to live with them in the future, and, if bitter feelings are aroused now by action on the part of the new recruits to the police force, it may leave a deep mark; and if the country is in trouble again, we may find it has left memories with men who suffered injustice and injury. I hope the Solicitor-General agrees with me there and that the general orders given throughout the country to magistrates and police constables will be to avoid all provocation. In connection with that, I do not like to see lorry loads of young men going about the streets as special constables and shouting. The bearing of the police should be exemplary in their dignity.
I have only one last word, and that is in connection with Government communiqués. One Government communiqué issued on Saturday was a most astonish- 771 ing piece of journalism. During the war there was a saying that there were three sorts of lies—white lies, lies with an adjective before them which I cannot repeat here, and Government communiques—in the ascending order. If the "British Gazette" is conducted as it has been up to now, no one will believe a word they see in it, and the result will be that the Government publicity department will defeat its own ends. The Solicitor-General is a great upholder of Constitution and law and order. I hope that what I have said finds general agreement in his mind.
I repeat that the Home Office has a most difficult task before it, and anything I can do to help towards peace I am prepared to do. I am not making this speech in any aggressive or sniping sense at all. I can only repeat what I said on Friday—let us so conduct ourselves in this struggle that we shall not be ashamed when it is all over and passions cool down of anything that has been done or said.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not intend, if I can help it, to be provocative, but with regard to the incident connected with the "British Gazette", the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in answering the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), pleaded that they were very much rushed and were not able to get skilled men and so on, but, for the purpose of editing the paper and for the purpose of deciding how the news shall be sent out and the getting together of news, there is not any strike among the journalists in this country. The journalists are not on strike, and I am perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman has at his disposal some of the most skilled journalists in the country. It is not good enough to tell us that because he could not get the Archbishop's communication in on Saturday it was quite impossible to get it in on Monday, that is, this morning. The right hon. Gentleman himself earlier in the afternoon made me, at least, understand that it was because this newspaper was not impartial and could not be impartial, and that that was really the reason for the document being left out. I think it is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman did not make up his mind 772 exactly what it was he was going to say on the subject, because when we get the Official Report we shall see that be has made a statement rather contradicting his first statement.
He has also said that we, by raising a finger, could remove this embargo. Those who do not know the situation outside may think that anything of that kind could happen. The incident that led up to the bringing of these charges, and which have caused this discussion this afternoon was taken by men who are not in the habit of being ordered about by one or two men. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen may consider that there are dictatorial leaders, but the trade union movement is a different movement from any other labour movement in the country, and everybody knows that there has been a ballot taken of most of the Unions—I do not mean to develop this—but it is necessary that one should make this clear; that a ballot was taken of the bulk of the members of the Unions, who took the decision the other day, between last July and now as to the way they would act under certain circumstances, and only by that ballot vote was it possible for the orders to be issued that were issued last week.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
It was not settled with consideration; it was exactly the same as if the Government had decided that, in certain circumstances, they would take certain action and that if a dispute arose certain things would be done. The Unions knowing perfectly well that the discussions were going on, and that they might fail, did take necessary steps to build up their organisation. I am not aware that there is anything illegal about that, at least they did not do it by any underground methods at all. It is regularly published in the "Morning Post," everything that they did.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that, if we are not careful we shall get into a discussion as to why the newspaper Press were called out. I do not think we can pursue a discussion of that sort.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
No, Mr. Hope, I am the last one to pursue the discussion in 773 a disorderly manner. I am perfectly well aware—
§ Mr. GREAVES-LORD
On a point of Order. I should like to ask whether the men's Unions have not a rule which debars a man from benefits if he does not obey the Executive.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Norwood knows as much about the matter as I do, and does not require me to give him information. I was answering certain points made this afternoon that we on these benches could, by raising our finger, remove the embargo. I want certainly to say that there are those men and women in the Press who do not take any more notice of some of us here raising our finger or our voice—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] Well, you cannot have it both ways. We cannot be charged with the responsibility.
§ Mrs. PHILIPSON
On a point of order. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley said that they could not recall members of the Press back to work. He also said that there were enough journalists about to supply the "British Gazette," to which some hon. Members seem to have taken exception this afternoon. Does the hon. Gentleman know that there are a great number of journalists in this country who are feeling it very, very hard, married men with wives and families to support, who, owing to the withdrawal of members are unable to earn their living?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not think that is a point of order, and I do not want there to be any misrepresentation of the matter. I must repeat that the only point I am replying to is the statement that we could by lifting our finger in connection with the embargo on the Press, have removed it. I want to say that the British labour movement is organised in such a fashion that no two or three, or two or three thousand, men could order the community to do what it does not want to do. There is 774 no more democratic institution in the whole world. I am not an official of a trade union, but I have taken part in the trade union movement for very nearly 40 years, and I know that the biggest General Labourers' Union in this country could not engage in the struggle without a ballot vote of its members. The rules under which any of the executive act are rules made by a democratic vote of the men belonging to the Union. The Press have been stopped by the men themselves. Everybody knows that who knows anything at all. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!"] Everybody knows that the men who stopped the "Daily Mail" stopped it of their own volition. Now the Government in order to meet the situation has brought out a newspaper. I want to point out, Mr. Hope, what I said a while ago that in the dispute as to whether there was time or not to get this communication of the Archbishop into that paper, that the right hon. Gentleman used two arguments this afternoon, and I hope that the next time he speaks he will snake up his mind whether it is that the newspaper cannot be impartial with public news or suppose that it will hurt, as it were, the moral of the country in this great crisis, or whether it really was that they could not possibly, because of mechanical difficulties, get the communication in I hope I have made that point clear. Now I desire to raise one or two quite practical questions, and in doing so I want without discussing it to say that it is a criminal libel on the British working man to say that, at this moment he is engaged in an attack upon the Constitution. That is an absolutely criminal libel—
§ The CHAIRMAN
This is the Home Office vote, and the hon. Gentleman can only refer to matters under the control of the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am speaking in the recollection of yourself, Mr. Hope, and of 775 hon. Members who have been here since 3 o'clock as I have been, and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Norwood made a very long and I think a very able attack from the point of view of the Constitution. None of us have been allowed to reply to that. I think it is a very great pity if I may be allowed to say so, that the hon. and learned Gentleman—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Norwood used certain specific arguments to which the hon. Gentleman can reply.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I shall not abuse that privilege, Mr. Hope; I shall not do so because the whole business is much too serious for any of us to score in the matter. But I want to put it to the Committee as to whether they really believe that at the back of all this there is a gigantic conspiracy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Well, all I can say is that you have a very poor opinion of four or five millions of your fellow-countrymen. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, then of a section of them.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Norwood in his arguments, admitted by the Chair, was answering something which had been said. I think the matter ought not to be pursued further.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I have only one observation to make if you will allow me to say so. I do not think that the right hon. and learned Solicitor-General has any right to come and instruct the Chair.
§ The CHAIRMAN
No Minister has any right to instruct the Chair. But any Minister can give information to the Chair as to what has passed when the occupant of the Chair was out.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Yes, but I think it ought to be done publicly and not privately. I emphatically protest against it. You may be able to muzzle us in this sort of way, but Mr. Hope, we shall not be muzzled outside. [An HON. MEMBER: "Get on with your reply."] I will get on with it. That is if Mr. Chairman will allow me. I repeat the last thing that I said: Hon. Members opposite have a poor opinion of their fellow-countrymen 776 if they think that a handful of men can persuade them to do what they are doing in these days. If hon. members say that this small number are making them do it, where is the courage of the British race?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must ask the hon. gentleman to get back to matters for which the Home Secretary is responsible. These observations may be in order on the motion for Adjournment, but we are now in Committee of Supply on the Home Office Vote.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The next point I want to ask your guidance upon, Mr. Hope, is that I understand the Home Secretary is responsible for law and order, and that the army or the armed forces of the Crown are called in to aid him in maintaining law and order. It is on that point that I next want to speak. Several hon. Members have talked about their constituencies. I represent what is called the Bromley side of the Poplar Division, and I think I can say that since the first day, both on the Poplar side and on the Bow and Bromley side, there has been practically no disorder at all worth speaking of—in Bow I believe there has been practically none, and if the Home Secretary has allowed the East End of London to be invaded by thousands of troops, in steel helmets and with fixed bayonets, and accompanied by armoured cars—[Interruption.] Yes, the hon. Member below the Gangway is just revealing the spirit that is in his colleagues. Not a blunderbuss has been discovered, not an old horse pistol has been discovered; there has not been found even a box of bullets given by some Tory Member's secretary, not even that, and yet we got thousands of fully-armed and fully-equipped troops clumped down on us, and I want to know what for. It is said that it was to keep us in order, was for the protection of the flour mills and the docks. Well, now, do you imagine that we people in the East End are such stupids as to want to stop you or the Government getting food, of which we hope to eat some when the time comes? [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did you picket the docks?"]
We told those who have the management of this business, told the authorities before the strike, or at the time the strike was declared, that, knowing that essential 777 Industries—essential services, I think the words should be—should be carried on, the strike should not apply to those services. [An HON. MEMBER: "The British people would sooner starve."] An hon. Member below the Gangway says the British people would sooner starve. Again I say, you cannot have it both ways. If we offered to co-operate to bring food in, you cannot charge us with doing anything wrong when, because you will not allow us to do it, we do not do it. If you do not want us, why all this hullaballoo? The fact of the matter is that we in East London are perfectly willing that you shall go on organising services. We will stand still and see you do it, and will join you in doing them; and we will do another thing. We will line the roads with men with their medals for the late War on their breasts We shall demonstrate.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Where was I in the War? Exactly where you were. It is extremely difficult to talk to people whose intelligence is at such a low ebb as that of some of the hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member wants to know where a man of my age was in the War. I was where most old men were, quite safe at home. I hope, as I have said here once before, that in the next War it will be, "Old men first," and then that old gentleman will be able to go. But I got up on a perfectly serious question, that of putting the military into a district where there is no disorder and where the police are quite capable—because they are friendly with us all—and where we are quite capable of preserving order without any military or without any extra police whatsoever. Bow and Bromley is as peaceful as South Kensington or any other part of the town.
I want the learned Solicitor-General to convey this to the Home Secretary. In our district, in Bow, one of the breweries in Bow for two days at the beginning of the strike gave away free beer (Interruption). I hear someone say, "That is very good". I think it is a sheer criminal act on the part of anybody to do any such thing.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
It is on all fours with this agent provocateur business. You give beer to men, and then whisper to them to heave a brick, and the men have not sense enough not to do it when they are half drunk. Everyone knows that people who gave away that cheap beer did it in order—knows that before free beer was given away no disorder took place.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
No, but it is the Home Secretary's responsibility to put an end to it. I say the Home Secretary has no business to put down one kind of provocative action and not be prepared to put down another kind, and I say that those who gave away beer during a big dispute like this are the worst enemies of the community, and that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who cheer the brewers who give away free beer ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for doing so.
§ Mr. GREAVES-LORD
Is the hon. Member in order in making a general charge of that kind, of most disgraceful conduct, if it be true—
§ Mr. GREAVES-LORD
—without naming the persons who have been guilty of it? The suggestion is that free beer was given in order that people might be incited to throw bricks.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I repeat it, and it is true. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name?"] There are hon. Members in this House who can prove it equally with myself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name?"] Bow Brewery.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
On a point of Order. Has the hon. Member who interrupted got any personal interest in that brewery?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I would not have made the statement were it not for two facts—one is that I have verified it by quite competent witnesses, and the second is that only on the days when that free beer was given away was there any disturbance at all in the Bow Road.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am confident that if the Superintendent of Police of Bow were here in this House, and could make a statement, he would verify what I am saying; and I am sure also, that he would verify this statement, that considering that nearly the whole population there is on strike the peacefulness or quiet orderliness of the district surpasses anything any of us could expect. You do not believe me when I tell you that I am always preaching against violence of any sort of kind. (Laughter). Well, that just shows. I challenge that hon. Member to quote a single passage that I have ever given or that I have ever spoken that supported violence of any kind.
§ Major KINDERSLEY
The hon. Member is the editor of a paper called "Lansbury's Weekly". I have not got a copy of the paper in my possession, but I have read numbers and numbers of articles in his paper that have contained in so many words—that have told people—that have incited them.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am continually charged with that, and then men get away like that. The other night the Home Secretary made a similar statement, and when I challenged him to prove it he withdrew it like an honest man. Over and over again I have told people that I want a complete revolution of our social system, and I have told them it ought to be done in this House. Friends of mine who believe otherwise do exactly what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen outside do when I moved the reduction of the Navy, think of me and treat me as if I were a sort of person who has got views entirely visionary or entirely mad. I do not believe it is any more right to kill by order of a Government than it is to kill in any other way. Killing is killing, however it is done. The sending of troops, the sending of the Army, the sending of all that parade of force down to the East End, 780 is simply done for the purpose of terrorising the people, and not to have peace. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, that is my opinion. I stood this morning in Bow Road and saw those great armoured ears trundling along the road. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, all right; that is the sort of terrorism that you are exercising against people in the part of London that sent more men in proportion to its population to the War than any other—this is the way you treat them under these conditions. I make my protest against that.
The next thing I want to ask is, "Have the police been instructed that under the Emergency Powers Act picketing is legal?"—peaceful picketing. The Act says:Provided that nothing, in this Act shall be construed to authorise the making of any Regulations imposing any form of compulsory military service or industrial conscription.That is one provision; and the next is,Provided also that no such Regulation shall make it an offence for any person or persons to take part in a strike, or peacefully to persuade any other person or persons to take part in a strike.The reason I ask what instructions have been given to the police in regard to picketing is because it is a fact that in most places where the men are picketing the police do seem to be under the impression that no one has a right to picket—I mean peacefully or otherwise—and I think it would clear the air, and probably prevent a good deal of disorder, and a good deal of discussion between the police and the pickets, if some sort of statement could be sent to the police on this question. I have read this out at meetings, and I shall go on doing so, because when I asked the Attorney-General the other day whether one of the regulations did interfere with that proviso he said, "Certainly not". I think the police ought to be given to understand that so long as a man does not use threats or physical violence he is entitled to try to persuade his fellow man not to go to work. That is expressly provided for in the Emergency Powers Act, and I think the police ought to understand it.
There is only one other thing I want to say. If we are to have peace during this period—I am not talking at the moment about permanent peace, because I am not one of the persons who is en- 781 gaged in the negotiations—but if there is to be peace during this period of disorder (Laughter)—no, not disorder, during this period of strife, I want to join in the plea that we should not be divided up into enemies of society and friends of society. It may be we are quite wrong. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman over there was quite wrong when he assisted to arm people in Ulster. [Interruption] I may point. I have seen right hon. Gentlemen point from that side, and I shall point. I have never thought, and do not think now, any evil or think anything wrong of the right hon. Gentleman, or the noble lord in another place, who took their stand on what they believed was for the good of Britain and for the good of Ireland. I disagree with them thoroughly, but I should hate to think of them as enemies in the sense that I am one of those people who want to do my fellow countrymen an injury by subterranean and sneaking methods. We are fighting for what we believe to be right, and you have no more right to charge us with being anti-national than we have to charge you with the same thing. On the Labour benches we represent nearly as many people in this House as hon. Members who sit on the Government side. Our constituencies have sent us here knowing our views, and we are entitled to say that they are as patriotic and love their country, although they sent us here, just as much as those who elected how Members opposite.
It is absurd to say at this time of day that we who believe in Socialism, and who believe in transforming this capitalistic system into something different, are enemies of society. All down our history things have changed, and the rebels of yesterday have become the orthodox members of society the next day. You cannot put a limit to human progress. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Com. Ken-worthy) says that we must not forget that we have to live together when all this trouble is over. So we have, and whatever anyone else may do, I plead with you to put an end to all this strife in no other way than the way we want, and if we are going to fight this thing out we should fight it out without libelling one another and without reviving old hatreds. I hate evil doing. I believe in the com- 782 munity of life. That is why I am a pacifist, and that is the only reason why I am telling people in the East End to fold their arms and be quite sure that in that way they will win.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)
A number of questions have been put to me by hon. Members opposite—
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I am afraid that I am not in a position to answer that question. I am sorry that the Home Secretary is prevented by other duties from being present, and I am not in a position to give that information. What I am anxious to do is out of courtesy to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley and the hon. Member for Central Hull, to reply to some of the questions they have raised, I have been asked whether the Home Secretary is responsible for sending out people who stir up trouble, so as to bring others within the clutches of the law. I am sure the Committee will not require any assurance from me on a point of that description. What was related to the Committee by one hon. Member opposite was merely a mare's nest, and it is a matter which could not possibly concern the Home Office. The Home Office knows nothing about it, and no policy of that sort has ever entered the mind of the Home Secretary. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley spoke about free beer or cheap beer being supplied to these men, but I can assure the hon. Member that that is not any part of the responsibility of the Home Office. If the hon. Member desires to bring that matter before the attention of the Home Office he must of course supply them wit, more particulars.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
If he has done so, then all I can say is that it is within the province of the Home Office to prevent anything that is likely to excite persons to disorderly conduct, and no doubt the Home Secretary if necessary will take action in the proper way. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley protested against the Government sending the military into a peaceful district, but 783 whatever action was taken on Saturday or Sunday was taken by the Home Secretary on the full responsibility of the Government and with a view to protecting die sustenance of the people. As the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley has already indicated, this sustenance is as necessary for those supporting the Government as for those who are supporting the strikers, and if the Home Secretary thought it necessary to secure that no violence should be done to those maintaining this necessary service, I believe the Committee will support his action, and we are fortunate in being able to say to-day that no attempt was made to interfere with the passage of these necessary supplies for the sustenance of the population.
I have also been asked whether the police have been instructed that picketing is illegal, and the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley read several passages out of the emergency regulation. I hope the hon. member in future will instruct those whom he addresses as to the extent to which peaceful picketing may go. I am sure he knows the difference between peaceful picketing and picketing which is not peaceful. Picketing is not peaceful when people merely refrain from using blows or force. There may be an indication of a readiness to use force on a more convenient occasion.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I quite understand that peaceful picketing means that you must not threaten or indicate that you are going to use force now or at any other time. I have always said that, but the police seem to think that the mere speaking to a man is illegal.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I think the police thoroughly understand their duties, and it does not lie in anybody's mouth to say that there has been any undue interference with peaceful picketing, indeed public opinion tends to go in the other direction, and they believe that it has been interpreted with undue latitude and moderation. I may say, however, that when a very great number of people are brought together, far greater than is necessary to pursuade individual workmen, and they are showing a capacity to bring force to bear on their fellow workpeople, that is not peaceful picketing at all. As the 784 hon. member for Bow and Bromley understands what is peaceful picketing, the Home Secretary will look to him to spread that knowledge amongst those with whom he comes into contact.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull said something about the British Gazette; he stated that it was getting better and better, and I hope we shall be so happy ultimately as to secure his complete approval. He can hardly expect, however, that after such a very short existence it should have reached that state of perfection which suits his nice taste. I would remind the hon. and gallant Member that it is being carried on under some difficulty, and this publication only shows how inconvenient it is that anybody should interfere with the freedom of the Press which but for this interference might be carried on in the ordinary way. The "British Gazette" is not intended to be what some hon. Members think it ought to be, that is an impartial statement of both sides, because it is the organ of the Government, and it is run scrupulously within the limits of truth and accuracy. The "British Gazette" is intended to represent the views and the determination of what I believe is a vast majority of the British nation, and it would be impossible for anybody who understands the duty of the Government at the present time to conceive of the Government publishing any document or newspaper which takes up an impartial attitude. The Government is not impartial, but it intends that the will of the nation shall prevail through established institutions against those who are attempting to subvert it. It reflects the opinions of the Government and the opinions of those who have the determination to which I have already referred.
The Home Secretary is not here, and there are some other questions which have been raised which more strictly concern the Home Office Vote, and to some of those questions it is not within my power to reply within the rules of order. If hon. Members have any further particular points to raise, it may be desirable that the Vote should be kept open for discussion on another occasion, and if that is agreeable I will move to Report Progress.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I want to ask if the Home Office controls 785 the Central News Agency. I am informed on very good authority that in regard to the speech of the Archbishop of Canterbury the Central News was forbidden to publish it. I should be glad to know if that is the case, and especially if the Central News is being in any way controlled or censored by the Government.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
The Central News is in no way under the control of the Government, and no such action as the hon. and gallant Member suggests is taken by the Government in such a matter as that to which he refers.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Earlier in the proceedings I asked that some representative of the Government should tell me on what authority the "British Gazette" announced last Thursday, the 6th May, that the whole of the machinery of the National Free Church Council had been placed at the disposal of the Government. I called that statement in my speech a lying statement and I asked for a refutation of that allegation.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I am afraid I am not in a position to deal with that point. I was not here when the hon. Member made his allegation and, as this Vote is to be kept open, I have no doubt that on some other occasion there will be an opportunity either to substantiate or to correct it. I am not even aware that the statement was made or of the facts as to the statement if it was made, so that the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to be a position to deal with it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman deal with the other question that was raised by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) about the proclamation to soldiers, sailors, airmen and so on?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
The proclamation to soldiers, sailors and airmen was a proclamation which informed those public, servants that the Government would stand behind them in anything which they conceived to be their duty in accordance with their proper duties.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
Yes, of all ranks. The right hon. Gentleman would be the last to suggest that all ranks 786 of the forces are not to carry out their duties in regard to the matters assigned to them; whether they be officers or private soldiers or bluejackets, every man has his duty to perform. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) suggested in terms of which I hope the Committee will disapprove that that was an invitation to members of His Majesty's forces to commit any illegal act, that it was, as he put it, practically an invitation to shoot. That need hardly be repudiated by me. It was not intended to be an invitation of that sort and I am sure that, no hon. Member opposite really believes that it was intended in that sense. It was intended to be a statement to public servants, many of them, let it be remembered, drawn from the class which is said to be represented by hon. Members opposite. It was a statement to public servants, acting in circumstances possibly of great difficulty, that they would be supported by the Government in the performance of any tasks which they conceived to be in accordance with their duty to the State, and I believe that that public declaration by the Government will commend itself to hon. Members in all parts of the Committee. As I have said I understand it is the desire that this Vote should be kept open, and therefore, unless any hon. Members wish to prolong the debate, I should propose now to move to report Progress.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
If the hon. and learned Gentleman has not yet actually moved to report Progress, I should like to ask if he would under certain conditions—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman moved to report Progress.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[The Solicitor-General.]
Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.