§ Mr. CLYNES
If I may for a moment continue the point, I would say that I find just a little consolation in the closing remarks of my hon. right Friend as to the possibility of further grants to Manchester. I would like him to keep his mind wide enough open to admit of some further consultation with the Manchester authorities as to what is the position there, if only for the reason that I find a real conflict between the argument in the speech to which we have just listened and the words of the letter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Here is the letter sent from the Ministry of Labour on the 31st August to myself and other Manchester representatives, explaining why further assistance could not be given to Manchester:Assistance can only be given where the position of unemployment in the area is appreciably worse than the general average.I understood my right hon. Friend to argue there has been no hard and fast law of averages laid down. I rather think that hard and fast average is expressed in his letter, and I hope that, on second thoughts, the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to concede some modification of the rather hard terms of that communication.
I will now proceed with the further theme, in regard to which I was saying that the country has been uniformly peaceful and that even in those areas where some 80 or 90 per cent. of the wage-earners must have been enduring the hardships of the lock-out, they have cultivated the sentiments and the spirit of peace and have tried to live down their hardships and enforced idleness by enter- 2056 ing into all manner of innocent and harmless activities and occupations, and have never in any sense shown any disposition to disorder. Notwithstanding that, the Home Secretary thought proper in October of this year, I think it was on the 19th of October, to issue a communication to the various Chief Constables. Yesterday, in this House an answer to a question was given by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who said:During the period 1st May to 19th October my right hon. Friend issued authorities for the prohibition of meetings or processions on 21 occasions in England and one in Wales."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 17th November, 1926; col. 1847, Vol. 199.]He went on further to say that from the 19th October to Sunday last there had been 63 such authorities. What conclusions must be drawn from that? I submit that there is no more evidence of the probability of disorder within the period from the 19th October onwards than there was in the period which precedes the 19th October. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thought that the chief constables of these different centres lacked activity, but I would suggest to him that whatever was the cause of the communication he addressed to the police authorities, such a communication at such a time must have been received by many such authorities as a stimulant to activity, and activity to them meant the suppression of assemblies and meetings. I submit, too, that facts have proved to us that freedom to meet has been generally an insurance for the peaceful condition of assemblies; that where you have had no suppression but liberty to gather together and discuss, there has been no illegalities and no tendency to break the law. On the other hand, the risk of illegality and the fear of the law being broken has been due to this unnecessary suppression of meetings and the right of free speech.
That suppression has gone the length of prohibiting meetings of an ordinary trade union branch character, to which the public are not admitted, meetings for the purpose of transacting routine business, or called together for the purpose of enabling the miners to consider on what terms a state of peace could be reached.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Yes, lodge meetings. I am all for appeals and communications to the public for the observance of the law and expressing themselves in terms that will avoid any incitement to breaches of the peace. But I am not at all sure that the right hon. Gentleman himself can claim that he has always avoided provocative language, and considering how very free and ready he has been at innumerable meetings, he might well consider the condition of ill-temper which would arise from this ruthless and needless suppression. The right hon. Gentleman might also remember that as a prominent partisan his public acts cannot always be placed above suspicion, and it is a bad thing that groups of workers, who may be assembling as trade unionists, as Socialists, or as Communists, should be under the suspicion that because of their politics political hostility is being shown by a Conservative Home Secretary, who is using the machinery of his office to suppress a free discussion of their politics.
Finally, I suggest that every recent evidence in regard to this prolonged trouble, every reference to the men as rank and file, has proved how deep is their sense of the wrong they are suffering. This is no place for entering into the merits of the dispute, but it is clear from their consultations and decisions, whether by district meetings or by ballot, that they do feel deeply the sense of injustice under which they have been placed, and that sense of injustice ought not to be aggravated and intensified by a partisan policy of the Home Secretary. I heard to-day, with a feeling of real amazement, a repetition of the arguments adduced by the Minister of Health as to the effect this policy has had in keeping children of the miners alive. The Minister of Health argued that as a result of the organised feeding of children and the other support that has been given, that the miners' children have been better fed during the course of this stoppage than was actually the ease prior to the lock-out. On that I offer only one observation, and that is this, that if it be true it is the most eloquent arid the most penetrating condemnation that could be adduced of the miserably low wages imposed on the miners before the lock-out began. This 2058 fact, if it is a fact, is one which any Minister should be ashamed to bring forward in support of any case he may have to advocate in this House.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
I again wish to draw the attention of the Home Secretary to this fact, that it is not merely our conjecture or our imagination but the actual actions of the chief constables, and the right hon. Gentleman's own admirers, that give positive proof to us that the whole of this policy of banning meetings is used for political aims and objects. I do not wish to enter at length into this matter. I do not ask him to tell us what his intentions are or were, I want him to examine his own conduct in the light of what has occurred. When this question was debated on a previous occasion, the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn) said the Home Secretary had proclaimed himself as a modern hero who had come to dispel Bolshevism in Great Britain, and actually slogans are going around to this effect: "Jix is the lad, when times are bad to keep the Reds at bay." However humorous that may be it is extremely unfortunate that a responsible Minister like the Home Secretary, with almost judicial duties in his hands, should have permitted himself to be so identified or at any rate take no effective measures to contradict it, thus giving rise to the suspicion that he has a lurking desire to be so identified.
8.0 P. M.
We are in a somewhat unfortunate position. The Home Secretary takes the responsibility at certain times, but at others he relegates his powers to chief constables; it is said to be within their absolute discretion, and he disowns responsibility for what the chief constables may do. When we go to the chief constables, or to local authorities, we are told that they are doing it with the sanction and authority of the Home Secretary. The intention is to convey the idea that for a specific purpose they have obtained this authority, but it is discovered that it is an all-pervading authority, and it means this, that the Home Secretary has told the country that he is not necessary and that the chief constables and police officials throughout the country are quite good enough to run his Department. On the previous occasion, about a week ago, when this question was raised by the 2059 hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), we were answered in the following terms on behalf of the Home Secretary:At Question Time yesterday I thought I made it clear to the hon. Member when I told him that the responsibility was given to the chief constable in any district to ban meetings if in his opinion to hold them would be likely to create a breach of the peace. When the hon. Member suggests that these meetings are banned in order to suppress certain political thought, he is quite wrong. It is only if the chief constable believes that the meetings would lead to a breach of the peace that he has the authority to stop the meetings."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1926; col. 1418, Vol. 199.]Last Tuesday I put a question on the Order Paper, and I must apologise for not being in my place to ask it. But the answer given to my question was this:If the chief constable considered that meetings arranged by the Communist party were likely to give rise to the conditions contemplated by the Regulations, my right hon. Friend is not disposed to disagree with them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1926: col. 1704, Vol. 199.]Where do we stand exactly? The duty of the Home Office is to demand explanations for any erratic conduct on the part of chief constables or police officials generally. If I, or any of my Communist colleagues, had had a notorious career in the past, if event after event had happened, and that as a result of my addressing meetings, riots and brawls had taken place, I can understand that it would give a prima facie cause for anyone honestly to suspect that whenever I addressed a meeting, it would end in a brawl. But I have addressed a few thousand meetings throughout the country and there never has been in any instance any occasion for anyone to be turned out, such as is often the case at meetings held by friends of the right hon. Gentleman. Nothing of that sort has ever happened, and it is therefore surely wrong for any chief constable to turn round and say, "I am going to stop this meeting because I fancy so." Then the Home Secretary disowns all responsibility and says it is the action of the chief constable, and if the chief constable so imagines, then he is "not disposed to disagree with him." I think the Home Secretary must take some responsibility for the action of his own friends, his own party, and his party Press. I know how 2060 the Press news is made up, how it is wired through from one town to another. But that is not the point. The point is how public opinion is created. The last time I went to Notts, I addressed a meeting of very little importance in itself. In fact, I was only asked to address it because they expected I should be doing nothing on that particular morning. That meeting was banned. But how was it advertised all over the country I The "Daily Mirror" of the 9th November begins with a big heading:Communist banned." "Police stop Saklatvala from speaking in Notts." "Welsh meetings prohibited.The last paragraph is,The Chief Constable of Glamorgan has banned meetings arranged to be held by the Communist party at Caerphilly.Then there was the "Southern Daily Echo" with the heading "Ban on Communists"; the "Cheshire Daily Echo" also with heading "Ban on Communists"; the "Staffordshire Sentinel," "Ban on Communists in Notts"; the "Portsmouth Evening News," "Ban on Communists"; the "Swindon Evening Advertiser," "Ban on Communists"; the "Wolverhampton Express," "Ban on Communists"; the "Bristol Evening News," "No speeches: Communists banned in Notts"; the "Bradford Daily Telegraph," "Ban on Communists"; the "Paisley Express," "Ban on Communists"; and the "Aberdeen Express," "Ban on the Reds.I put it to the Home Secretary that, under the Emergency Powers Act, his bounden duty is to watch the action of the Press of his own party as well as to watch the Press of the Communist party, and if the Press of his own party is giving a false interpretation to his action, is giving a. notorious and unconstitutional character to his action, then the Home Secretary, if he does not contradict that news at once and if he does not take proper measures to stop it in the future, is perhaps acting with a double object, that of denying his responsibility in this House and of taking credit in the country that he isthe ladWhen times are badTo keep the Reds away.That is a doubled-faced policy, and we want to put a stop to it. If the Home 2061 Secretary says that it is not the intention of the Emergency Powers Act to ban meetings simply because they happen to be organised by a political party which has as much right to carry on its propaganda as has the Tory party, then it is his duty to stop the newspapers from giving this false and unconstitutional news.
On a previous occasion in this House I pointed out what happened when the Chief Constable of Glamorgan stopped a meeting which I was to have addressed. It was a procession one afternoon, and it was banned, and when I raised the matter in this House I was a little misunderstood by my colleagues on the Labour benches. That very afternoon when the procession was stopped, a very mischief-making paragraph appeared in the Conservative party newspaper in the district—it is called the "Evening News" or "Mail," or something of that sort—a definitely mischief-making and a false paragraph, stating that the Chief Constable had banned these meetings for the satisfaction of local Labour leaders. They knew very well it was not so. However we might disagree with the local Labour leaders, we soon realised that those leaders viewed with the utmost disgust and contempt the banning of our meetings. Here was definite, political propaganda. The Chief Constable takes action and says he does so with the specific permission of the Home Secretary, and yet that action is used in a very doubtful manner by the local political authorities in order to drive a wedge between the Labour ranks—between the Communist section and the official section. I drew the attention of the Home Secretary then to that matter, and I said that it was impossible fur him to exercise his rights and functions and to carry out his duties—sometimes in a responsible manner and sometimes in an irresponsible manner—if he has given general powers to a chief constable. That does not make him any the less responsible for any wrong caused by a chief constable. If the Home Secretary takes up the general attitude that he is not even disposed to disagree with a chief constable, he should resign his position and save the country £5,000 and let the chief constables run the country, for he is not required.
2062 Then we have pointed out on previous occasions that the very purpose for which the Regulation was sanctioned by this House is frustrated by the manner in which the Home Secretary is exercising his power or is permitting the chief constable to exercise it. We have been specifically told that the meetings have been banned in order not to throw an undue pressure upon the resources of the police and we were staggered as to the undue pressure thrown upon the resources of the police whenever our meetings were banned. Last Monday we saw a sight. I was in a very small courtroom where one of the hon. Members of this House was set upon his trial under the orders of the Chief Constable and the minimum number of police I counted present was 29 constables in uniform. And that is the way in which the Emergency Powers Act is relieving the pressure upon the police. We have read descriptions of the banning of meetings. We read a description in one of the newspapers that about 1,000 police were sent round a whole area as a cordon to stop A. J. Cook from reaching his audience, or to stop his audience from reaching A. J. Cook. If it is the case that the Emergency Powers Regulations were put forward in order that the Chief Constable might put less pressure on the police, then I suggest that far less pressure would be put on the police by allowing the meetings to be held than by banning them, because those of us who have been organising, conducting and addressing meetings for a long time past, have found that we know how to keep the law and how to keep order far better than do the chief constables and the uniformed police. There is one incident to which I would like to draw the attention of the House as an illustration of how far the law has been stretched. We have a borough council by-election going in Battersea at present. Two of our Conservatice friends are retiring and we have to elect members in their place. There have been certain interesting developments and there has been a little excitement in the Labour camp. Sometimes it is pantomimic rather than formidable. It has not given rise to riots or anything of that kind. Last night we held a meeting in one of the committee rooms of Bath House. There were about 60 or 70 per- 2063 sons present. Let hon. Members note that this was a meeting called specially for the purpose of a borough council by-election. The police had sent their detectives and were watching there. Before I reached that meeting—I was late—police officers twice came up and whispered to the chairman: "Is Saklatvala coming to-night?" I am not proud, but I do say that that is a waste of police energy. Such investigations are not made with the object of saving pressure on the police. More than half of the 60 or 70 persons present were women, and yet the police wanted to know, "Is Saklatvala coming?" The whole thing brings law and order into contempt. The Union Jack and the British law have to be subordinate to the Tory party. It is only a lunatic who would believe in law and justice in Great Britain while this sort of thing is being carried on and yet the Home Secretary says: "I am innocent. I am a simpleton. I can only receive my salary, but the orders will be carried out by the chief constables and I will let them carry on." That is not the way to carry on a Minister's job.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I want to associate myself with the protest which is being made this evening concerning the conduct of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs. I want again to draw attention to those figures which were given by the Home Office in reply to a question yesterday. The first figures show that up to 19th October 22 meetings were prohibited. At that time the Home Secretary was directly responsible, and according to the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, and all the rest of them, we were faced with the most grave constitutional crisis, and all the rest of it, that we had ever had in this country. Yet during that period, when the Home Secretary might be arraigned and challenged in this House for his action in connection with those meetings, in 172 days only 22 meetings or processions were prohibited in this country. But as time went on and as no rioting occurred, it became apparent that this Government was regarded every day with greater disgust and loathing by the people of this country. When we were coming near to the municipal elections a new policy was adopted by the Home 2064 Office. Instead of the Home Secretary retaining his responsibility in connection with the banning of meetings, that power was handed over to the chief constables, and the extraordinary result was that in 26 days 63 meetings and processions were banned by the various chief constables. I am not at all sure that those last figures are accurate; I think they represent the minimum. I notice that the Home Secretary has on his face an expression of incredulity when I question the accuracy of those figures. I am not putting it down to anything malicious on the part of the Home Office with regard to those figures, but I say that I believe that the latter figure is a lesser figure than it should be, because when a meeting has been banned and an attempt has been made possibly to hold a meeting elsewhere so many miles away, and that meeting also has been stopped, then I do not think that that second meeting has been taken into consideration, and I do not think it is counted in the 63 which I have mentioned. Those 63 are the meetings at which the chief constables have issued formal documents in connection with the ban. There are the figures—22 meetings in 172 days when the Hume Secretary has to face the responsibility for answering to this House, but when he has got rid of that responsibility, and the meetings are in the hands of the chief constables alone, in 26 days we find that an increasing number of meetings have been banned, to the extent at least of 63. I ask the Home Secretary why the change was made? I put it to him that the change was made in view of the possibility of great meetings in the mining districts resulting in such a tremendous turning of public opinion that there would be overwhelming Labour victories in the council elections. I suggest that it was a deliberate policy on the part of the Government to prevent their opponents from revealing the kind of administration that we have in this country.
I used to think that the present Home Secretary, whatever else might be said about him, was a very courageous individual. One of my colleagues once described him as "stupidly honest." I would have been inclined to say that, possibly, he was stupidly courageous, compared with some of his fellow Ministers. For instance, I would never have thought of him running away from 2065 a constituency and still remaining in this House as a Minister of the Crown. But since the handing over of this power to the Chief Constables I am not sure that my opinion of him in the past was not too flattering. Unless the Home Secretary can give very much more sound reasons than any we have had hitherto, I believe that the change was due to the fact that the Home Secretary was afraid to face the responsibility of answering for the banning of meetings in this House. Then I want him to tell us how many Conservative party meetings were banned. Will he state also how many of the meetings of the Primrose League, the Economic League, the Fascist organisation and the other curious chameleon forms that the Tory party takes in this country, have been prohibited. For example, did not the Home Secretary think that his own meeting at Newport was more likely to provoke riots than a meeting addressed by the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) or the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) or 'the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) or myself? I put it to the Home Secretary that, from what he knows and has heard of the opinion in the mining districts, this meeting in Newport was more likely to result in disorder than a meeting addressed by a Member from this side of the House. There were members of the Newport Council who were very anxious about that meeting. I do not know that they were anxious about the life of the Home Secretary, for I do not know that they were impressed by the wonderful jingle aboutJix the boy for work,Jix the boy for play,and all the rest of it, that has been sung from Tory platforms for some months. I understand that it is taking the place of the National Anthem at Tory meetings. These Labour councillors were concerned about ordinary individuals in that district who had suffered and who regarded the Home Secretary as the Member of the Government very largely responsible for their sufferings. But the meeting took place. There was no attempt made to ban it, although to the ordinary fair-minded individual there was everything to be said for the banning of it, even though it was to be addressed by the Home Secretary. The meeting took place. There did not seem to be very 2066 much disorder. I read in the Press a report in which there was a suggestion that the Home Secretary slipped in by the back door or some sort of hidden entrance, or something like that. I forbear to quote the Scriptural injunction which beginsHe that entereth not in by the door.The right hon. Gentleman knows what follows, because I understand that he is one of the leading representatives protecting, the faith of this country. I would like him to give us some information on the points mentioned. I want also to draw his attention to what happened in Derbyshire last week-end. I have heard expressions as to the unfortunate position in which Chief Constables are being placed in this respect. People are asking why the Chief Constables and the police are so evidently on the side of the coalowners. What is the reason for it? How can we explain it? From the ordinary human point of view, from the point of view of the suffering millions of people in the country, there is so much reason why there should be a great amount of sympathy among the police for the miners. Yet all their actions are the other way. Meetings are banned in increasing numbers, and in districts where there is no disturbance and no suggestion of any incitement to riot or destruction of property. The Home Secretary himself could hardly find words to express his admiration of the peacefulness and quietness with which this tremendous industrial dispute has been carried on. Yet in those districts the people are finding their meetings banned more and more by the police. They also have the consciousness that they were coming nearer and nearer to the crisis in the struggle, that what was taking place was an attempt to hoodwink the miners into acceptance of intolerable terms, and that to do so the police force somehow or other was being dragged into the dispute and was no longer simply the guardian of law and order, but that the police had become the thugs of the coalowners for the defeat of the miners. It may be said that that is an unfortunate view to take of the action of the police in those districts, and that it is not right. But there has been an increasing volume of opinion in those districts that there is something in this view.
We have often been told of the purity of administration in Britain and a con- 2067 tract has been made between this country and the United States. People have pointed out that in this country we have not the doctrine of "the spoils to the victors" and that the administration here is incorruptible. There is no possibility of persuading the mining population in reference to that doctrine to-day. They know—they are convinced—that there has been corruption in connection with this matter. It may be said that one ought not to make a statement like that, if one is not able to prove it. I am quite willing to admit that I cannot prove it, but I would say that looking at the facts as we have seen them and as we have had experience of them, concerning the banning of these meetings, corruption is the only reasonable explanation. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) went to Derbyshire at the week-end. He had not spoken for over six months in England or Wales. There was nothing to suggest that the hon. Member had been making provocative speeches of any kind, but the first time he went to address a meeting in this country after an absence of six months he was prohibited by the action of the chief constable. The 'Home Secretary may say that he cannot challenge the action of the chief constable and that the chief constable must have had a feeling that something was going to happen. 'The Home Secretary cannot tell us, and no chief constable in the country can tell us of any untoward happenings following these miners' meetings. Yet a Member of this House is prohibited from speaking, and in that connection I ask the Home Secretary if the reason why Labour Members of Parliament have been prohibited from speaking is because Conservative Members can find no answer to their arguments.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
On what date was this alleged prohibition of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton)?
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Last week-end—on Sunday of this week. Meetings were banned at Staveley on Saturday and at Halfway and Swallow Nest on the Sunday. The hon. Member had to go into another county in order to address a meeting. Evidently the chief constable of the other county did not think the speech 2068 was likely to cause the overthrow of the British Constitution, as this strange individual in Derbyshire seemed to think. I suggest another possibility in regard to this matter. I charge the Home Secretary, in his action in prohibiting Members of Parliament from addressing the people, with being afraid to let the truth be known concerning his own administration
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I contrast his action in that respect with his action in speaking himself at Newport where there were grave possibilities. Afterwards he went on to Scunthorpe, where he evidently felt he was in a comfortable position, and he proceeded to make this statement on which I challenge him. I quote from the Times":Surely no one who knows the facts will deny that there are members of the British House of Commons who have been over to Moscow and have been in close touch with Moscow.If the Home Secretary makes that statement, I would say this: Surely no one will deny that the Foreign Secretary has been over to Italy and has been in close touch with Mussolini? I do not think any Member on this side of the House would suggest that the Foreign Secretary is in the pay of, or is receiving a subsidy from Mussolini. But does the Home Secretary, in making a statement like that, merely wish to indicate that Socialists in Russia and Socialist Members of Parliament in this country have been conferring together regarding the advancement of Socialism generally? The Home Secretary is now face to face with the Opposition and with the Members to whom he refers, and I challenge him that in the sentence I have quoted there is an implicit charge of corruption against Members on this side of the House. The Home Secretary may say there is not such a charge, but I am confident that the implication left in the mind of any fair-minded person, or any ordinary Conservative at that meeting was that the people to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred were in the pay of Moscow.
As the Home Secretary has proved himself such a hold, gallant and chivalrous warrior on the Conservative platform with all this talk about Moscow, I wonder if he will use his influence with 2069 the Conservative party and induce them to publish, within six months after the closing of the coal dispute, the accounts of the Conservative party and the contributions made to the Conservative party by the coalowners of this country. Many things have been said. The Home Secretary has said a lot of things about Mr. Cook, and the Secretary of State for India at times has allowed his spirits to overflow exceedingly when discussing Mr. Cook, and has made all sorts of charges. Frankly, I do not like that sort of thing. I do not like to say anything with regard to hon. Members opposite. I know that many hon. Members opposite think that it is not British and very unfair to make any suggestions regarding them, but with regard to Mr. Cook and hon. Members on this side of the House all sorts of things are suggested. We do not object to fair and legitimate criticism, but we object to our meetings being banned, and to the Government of forgery using the opportunities they have at the present time to try to shut down criticism of this wretched administration.
I believe there are millions of people in this country who believe that the Conservative funds, under the direction of the new chairman, a big coalowner, are going to profit exceedingly. I am referring to the chairman of the party, not the chairman of the people who work the organisation behind the scenes, but the chairman who presides at the conference, Lord Tredegar. We have got at the head of the Conservative party this coalowner, and with meetings in my constituency being banned, I say, though one cannot prove it, that there is a prima facie case at least for an inquiry as to whether there has not been corruption in connection with the banning of those meetings, and I would suggest to the Home Secretary that he might have a Government inquiry into the actions of those chief constables in prohibiting those meetings. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in a message to his candidate at Howdenshire, has suggested that this Administration will be remembered in history, if for nothing else, by its Widows and Orphans Contributory Pensions Act. That may be the best that can be said for it, but I am inclined to think that this Administration will be remembered for something vastly different, and that the 2070 Home Secretary's actions will be the actions which will give this Government its place in history. When I think of how the miners and our people have been treated in connection with these meetings, and that there are so many people corning along to-day with an appeal about industrial peace and a truce for the next five years, I think they are a whole lot of sanctimonious humbugs, after the miners have been bullied and bullied, and after they have been reduced, and after they have been threatened with terms which will so reduce their standard of life. The responsibility of the Home Office and the Government for the position in which the miners are placed seems to me to make it much more likely in future that this Government will be remembered for its repressive action against its political opponents, whom it was afraid to meet in argument, and the headline that will greet the scholar in the history book in the school of the future in regard to this present Administration will be: "The Silly Willy Government."
§ Mr. WHITELEY
Like my right hon. Friend who opened this Debate, it is difficult for me to understand why there should have been such a large banning of public meetings since 19th October. I could quite understand that during the general strike the Home Secretary might have taken it into his head to have this particular Emergency Regulation put into operation, yet, as he knows, there were scores of us who left this House, and went into the various big industrial towns in this country, and held meetings during the course of that general strike which had the effect of keeping the peace in a far greater sense than all the police he could possibly have drafted into those areas could have done. I remember being in Derbyshire two or three weeks ago, when I saw, in every place to which I went, notices published by the chief constable to the effect that all public meetings in that area were from that time onward to be banned, yet I addressed 11 meetings in that area, two of which were open-air meetings, and we had not the slightest disturbance, in spite of the fact that at the open-air meetings particularly there were cordons of police around the crowd, and there was no trouble at all. As a matter of fact, these public meetings which have been held from time to 2071 time in various parts of the country during this dispute have been the means of keeping the peace, and it is a strange thing that everybody on that side agrees, and even Magistrates in Court and Judges at Assizes agree, that there has never been such a great industrial conflict in the world as the present conducted on more peaceful lines.
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has pointed out on previous occasions that he has used these Regulations quite fairly and has shown no bias, and on the last occasion when these Regulations were before the House I tried to show that there had been a good deal of bias displayed against the workers, that he was trying to prevent the workers from having their true freedom, and that he was giving a good deal of preference to the coalowners in this dispute. I want to know whether he is prepared to put into practice that which he has stated on many occasions, namely, that he is prepared to see that the balances are held as fairly as it is reasonable to expect. I want to draw his attention to a meeting reported on the 16th of November, and some of my hon. Friends have endeavoured to get a question on to the Paper in order to call his attention to this matter, but even their questions have been banned by the people at the Table, and we could not get them passed. This particular report states thatColonel C. F. T. Leather, of Middleton Hall, speaking at Belford ex-service men's re-union, said that should the nationalisation of the land, for which Mr. Lloyd George was fighting at the present time, take place, the landowners, who were in the minority, would have to fight for their estates, and there would result a bloody revolution in the country.If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to carry these Regulations out in real justice to all sections, then this gallant Colonel's name ought to go on to his list, and he ought not to be allowed to address any further meetings in this country, because this is really creating disaffection and is preaching bloody revolution, and that is by a man representing the opinion of the Conservative Government in this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Read it again!"] I am asked to read the letter again.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
I want to say to the Home Secretary that I think he has got the wind up very badly with respect to certain calls that are made on him from time to time, and that, as a result, he is seeing that large numbers of people are drafted into areas in this country who have been connected with the Guards, or with some ether section of His Majesty's Forces at one time or another in their life. They are put into policemen's clothes, and sent into those areas with no numbers, so that no one can report them. These people are creating disaffection. They have gone into our colliery areas, where there has never been trouble in the history of the country, and have said, "We came here expecting to find trouble, and we can find none. You people have no fight in you." They are using foul and filthy language, and irritating the people, making even the most mild men turn round and take action from time to time.
Therefore, I want to say to the Home Secretary that there are two or three things which he ought to keep strongly in mind. One is with regard to the importing of these people into these areas. We have no fault to find with the Durham county policemen, who have been there all the time. It is with these imported people, who are sent there with the idea that there is going to be a row, and if they cannot find one, they are determined to make one. That is one of the points I want the Home Secretary to take into his serious consideration. I quite appreciate that he has a difficult time, because 80 per cent. of right hon. and hon. Members on the opposite benches would put into operation to-day, if they dared, the dictatorship of a Mussolini. I have never known it so near in this country as during the last two or three weeks, and I can appreciate the Home Secretary has a very difficult time in retarding or rebuffing the people who are pressing from behind for the bringing into operation of some dictatorship of that kind.
The next point to which I would refer is the unfair method that is operating in our local Courts to-day. I do not know how it is operating in other parts of the country, but in the North of England we are having to stand all kinds of 2073 insults in Courts to-day from actual coalowners who are sitting on the bench, and are using their authority as justices of the peace, and as acting magistrates, to go out of their way to insult our people. At least, we are entitled to full justice. We are entitled to go into Court, and to face and expect the consequences of whatever action we have taken if we have contravened the law of this country. But we ought not to have to sit there and be insulted by people who are actually coalowners on the bench.
Rather than have the intimidation which has been going on for so many weeks in our colliery districts by these imported police, I think the Home Secretary ought to get back to the old days, ring the curfew bell and all have to go to bed at 9 o'clock, and so save a lot of the insults which are going about. Rather would. I have him pay attention to the fact that we are citizens of this country and entitled to treatment as citizens, and we ought not to be insulted by these imported blackguards who come in under the guise of police officers. If the Home Secretary wants to keep our people in good spirit, and get them to show the same good will which they have shown all these weeks, he will pay a little more attention to that side of the matter, and see that a little better treatment is meted out than has been the case in the past.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I think that the Home Secretary himself will not regret the initiation of the Debate this evening, because there are so many allegations made and specific instances adduced in support of the allegations by previous speakers, that he will desire an opportunity to be given to him of replying to those allegations before the House adjourns for the day. We could very well have left this discussion to another day, when, possibly, we could have raised this great issue in another form, but we desired to concentrate upon this particular aspect of the problem with which we are now concerned, namely, the banning of public meetings. It is in respect of those banned meetings that I propose to invite the Home Secretary's attention for a few minutes. The charge which I would like, in common with my fellow Members on this side, to adduce against the Home Secretary is in plain terms that, in spite 2074 of an undertaking which he quite distinctly gave on previous occasions when we were discussing the Emergency Power Regulations in this House, that the powers under those Regulations should not be used vexatiously, those powers have been used vexatiously, and have been in such a way as to betray political bias and political prejudice. That, I think, the Home Secretary will agree, is stating the case quite broadly, quite frankly, and quite brutally. And yet I think, in a way, he would not have it otherwise. I think he prefers to have stated frankly what we have to say, rather than that it should be clothed in a nice form of words.
§ Mr. JONES
I accuse the Home Secretary, therefore, of having failed to guarantee to all citizens in the State the same measure of freedom under the law. I accuse him of having failed to carry out the undertaking which he gave on previous occasions that this extraordinary piece of legislative power with which he has recently been endowed, should not be used in a harsh and vexatious way at all. The banning of these meetings has been undertaken under the Emergency Powers Act. It will be agreed by everybody in the House that those powers are extremely wide. They are very unusual in character; they are comprehensive in their scope and they endow the right hon. Gentleman with a measure of authority with which, in ordinary circumstances, he is not endowed. Especially on account of the extraordinary powers with which he is clothed by these Regulations, Parliament, in its wisdom, has said, "Now, these powers are so wide and so extraordinary that we cannot allow you to exercise them except from month to month, and you must come back to Parliament for authority for a continuance of this period as every month goes by." It is quite clear, therefore, that. Parliament regards these powers as being highly dangerous in character, or, at least, very extraordinary in their nature, and as powers which it is incumbent upon Parliament and the officer responsible to Parliament to exercise with the utmost measure of care and caution. What were the words the right 2075 hon. Gentleman himself used, about the beginning of July? He said:I shall be prepared to say that the Regulations will be administered in accordance with the best traditions of British justice.I submit to the Home Secretary that so far from his having carried out that pledge we have had the law administered in accordance with the worst traditions of this country, and that the law has been applied with a considerable measure of political bias.
I ventured a week or so ago to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman concerning certain happenings in my own constituency, and at the risk of repetition I will tell the House what actually happened. A young lady who, I gather, does not usually appear on public platforms for the Communist party, at least does so very rarely, was sent down to my constituency and landed at Caerphilly Station rather late in the evening of Saturday—Saturday week. She was due to address some meetings in the Caerphilly area and the Abertridwr area. She gathered there was some objection to these meetings on the part of the police, and in order to verify the position she took the trouble to go to the local police station in company with a local convert of that party—a party to which I do not personally belong—to ask if there was any truth in the general statement that the meetings were banned. In reply she was given this notice, and I ask the Home Secretary to note the words:—COUNTY OF GLAMORGAN. PUBLIC NOTICE.In pursuance of Regulation 22, Subsection (1), of the Emergency Regulations, No. 7, 1926, I have been duly authorised by the Home Secretary to hereby prohibit the holding of any meeting under the control of the organisation named the Communist party of Great Britain, or under the control of ally branch of that organisation, within the districts and at the places hereafter mentioned.It will be observed that there is nothing in that paragraph to indicate that the ban upon the meetings of that particular political organisation was not to apply right to the end of this industrial dispute. No initial date and no final date were given. It was a general ban, and apparently it was implied that it was to apply until such time as either the Home Secretary or the Chief Constable of Glamorgan, in 2076 their good will, might presume or condescend to withdraw the ban. Then the notice named the places: Caerphilly and Abertridwr, and continued:The holding of any such meetings within the prescribed period from the 6th November to the 8th November, 1926, is also prohibited.That was signed by the Chief Constable of Glamorganshire. This lady was an entire stranger to the district, and she must have been an entire stranger to the Chief Constable of Glamorganshire. I do not suppose he knew anything about the lady, except that she had been announced to speak for the Communists in Caerphilly. If that be true, what right bad the Chief Constable to assume that this lady, an entire stranger to him, would be likely to say something of which he would be likely to disapprove? If she had been allowed to speak and hat contravened the law in some way or other I could have understood it, but I object to either the Home Secretary or any of his underlings presuming in advance that so-and-so is likely to say something that is likely to be a breach of the law. Let us at least give people the opportunity to break the law, and if they do, then bring to bear on the situation the vast and extensive powers which are already in existence. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. JONES
I think my proposition is a fair one. Assume everyone is innocent until you have evidence to prove they are guilty, and in order to prove they are guilty use the ordinary processes of law, but do not make a chief constable both Judge and jury and chief witness as well.
That is one side. Let me put the other side. I cited this in the House some week or so ago. My local Labour party agent was due to address two meetings—to hold two debates—in my constituency. I ask the Home Secretary to note these facts as indicating the point I wished to drive home, that of political bias. He was to have a public debate with a Tory speaker who had visited the area several times, a man by the name of Sheppard. A public challenge had been thrown out for a public debate and had been accepted by my agent, and representatives of both sides had met and had decided to print a certain number of tickets for the meeting. I think 500 were to be printed, and 250 given to one side and 250 to the other. An independent 2077 chairman was also appointed. Another debate was also arranged with a Communist at Aberitridwr. On the day the debate was to take place with the Communist, my agent was summoned to the local police superintendent's office. He was told, "You are going to debate with a Tory." My agent said, "Yes, I am." "Well," said the officer—not the chief constable, but I presume he was acting under the instructions of the chief constable—"I am sorry to say that I must prevent the debate." "What, with a Tory?" said my agent. "Yes, with a Tory," was the reply. "Why, are you afraid of a row?" asked my agent, "No," said the officer, "I am not afraid of the debate or of a row, but of the consequence after the debate."
That debate was stopped. My agent asked the local officer, "If the debate is not to take place, will this speaker be allowed to come into the area? He has been several times during this strike, and has been allowed to speak, and never once has a meeting been banned." "Oh, no," said the officer, "I will see that he does not come in." Then the question turned on what was to happen to the Communist debate. The officer said, "You are debating to-night with a Communist." "Yes," said my agent, "is that banned, too?" "Oh, no," said, the officer, "you can hold the debate with the Communist." I ask why is one debate stopped and another debate encouraged? Why is it to be assumed that a debate with a Tory, where the Tory point of view would be put forward, would lead to a riot, and the debate with a Communist, where the views of Communism would he put forward, would lead to no riot whatever? The debate with the Tory is banned while the debate with the Communist is allowed to go on. I think that is evidence of real bias. Will the Home Secretary tell us on what ground, if it is not political prejudice, that the whole of the meetings of the Communist party have been banned? Why should the right hon. Gentleman assume that people ought not to be allowed to hear the arguments for Communism? Why should he act in such a grandmotherly way and say that the people shall not be allowed to listen to appeals on behalf of Communism? I can assure the Home Secretary that I am quite able to look after Communism in my own constituency 2078 without his assistance, and I cannot meet that propaganda unless the Home Secretary allows free discussion. What is the main argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite against the Communist movement? [Interruption.]
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is entitled to be listened to in silence, and also every hon. Member and right hon. Gentlemen who follows him.
§ Mr. JONES
What is the argument? They say that the philosophy of Communism is of such a nature that it involves a dictatorship. They contend that by Communism the principle of individual liberty is in jeopardy, and they say that in Russia, for example, the right of freedom of opinion is crushed. What has the Home Secretary been doing in this country in this respect? What has he been doing in Caerphilly, Yorkshire, and Durham? As a matter of fact there is scarcely a county in the mining areas where you have not interfered in one way or another with the right of public discussion during the coal stoppage. No doubt the Home Secretary will say that my statement is true, and he will probably say, "I do not do it. It is the Chief Constable who does it." How does the Chief Constable come to be possessed of such powers? If representations are made to the Chief Constable of Mon-mouthshire by the County Council for acting in such a way he simply replies, "Fiddlesticks to you!" The obvious deduction is that there is no local authority that has any control over the exercise of the discretion of the Chief Constable. No Watch Committee can control him, and no Standing Joint Committee can control him, and if the Home Secretary cannot control him I would like to know who can.
We are in this position. There is no power in this country at this moment and no one answerable in the House of Commons for the exercise with due caution of the most priceless liberty this race possesses, namely the right of free speech. The Home Secretary disclaims responsibility, and this power is in the hands of somebody who is entirely above local control. In handing over his control in this way the right hon. Gentleman has betrayed the undertaking he gave to this House some time ago. I 2079 have already said that there is political bias in this matter. Not long ago a public meeting was held in St. Pancras under the auspices of the Fascist organisation. If the Home Secretary will look up this case he will find in the columns of a local Tory paper public notices to the effect that at the meeting I have referred to there was rowdyism expected and an intimation was given in the local Press that a disturbance was anticipated and a staff of stewards was provided by the local Fascist organisation. Here you have a case of a publicly advertised meeting with a public reference to the possibility of disorder. Was that meeting banned? That meeting was not banned because it did not happen to be held in a mining area by a Labour organisation, but it happened to be a political organisation acceptable to the friends of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. For that reason this particular meeting gets ample protection and freedom to hold its meetings.
Let me now come to the Home Secretary's meeting at Newport last Monday. Let me say that I am entirely and heartily in accord with his right and with the assertion of his right to address a public meeting anywhere in the country. I want him to speak as often as possible, because the more he speaks the stronger our movement grows. At the meeting of the Home Secretary at Newport the Chief Constable was on the platform. I do not complain of that, but I want to ask th right hon. Gentleman if he is entitled to adequate police protection at a public meeting why, instead of banning other public meetings, does he not provide public protection for those who are in a less fortunate position. If the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to public protection so is everybody else. There is nothing sacrosanct about the right hon. Gentleman, but there is something sacrosanct about the great principle of entire freedom for everyone to address public audiences on public questions anywhere in the country.
During, the War some of us took a very unpopular line. We addressed public meetings here, there, and everywhere, but. I do not remember in my own case one single meeting being banned. I do not remember being prevented by the operation of the law from addressing any public meeting. I know disorders were 2080 threatened. I know there was the case of the Leader of the Opposition who came down to address a meeting in Cardiff, and an agitation was worked up against that meeting for days and days, but the meeting was not banned. Here we are in times long after the War when the public mind is not nearly so exacerbated as it was during the War, and there is not so much ill-temper or intensity of feeling in regard to public issues as there was during the War. Yet in those days when the whole nation was involved there was comparatively little doing in regard to the banning of public meetings. Now the Home Secretary uses extraordinary powers in this way for the simple purpose, as I think I have tried to prove, of suppressing his own opponents.
I submit to him that this form of activity is a most unfortunate one, is an unjustifiable one, and is a very prejudiced one. I say more. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the list of banned meetings in Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and South Wales, he will find this curious fact, that the banned meetings were nearly all during the weekend, 5th, 6th and 7th November. There must be a master mind behind the whole lot. It is rather curious that the Chief Constable of Derbyshire thought of this at the same time as the Chief Constable of Glamorganshire, and that the Chief Constable of Glamorganshire thought of it at the same time as the Chief Constable of Yorkshire. What is the meaning of it? Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the assurance to-night that that is an entirely spontaneous act on the part of the local officials concerned? In any case, whether it is or not, in our judgment he is answerable to the House for the due exercise with caution and discretion of the powers under this Act. I assert again"—I regret to have to do it—that the right hon. Gentleman has been unfair and unjust in his application of this law, and that he has done more, he has brought the administration of justice during the application of these Regulations into contempt among well-meaning citizens throughout the country.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
If I were guilty of the terrible things of which the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) has just accused me, I should be unworthy of holding the high office which I now hold. [Interruption.] As I have 2081 sat here now for nearly two hours, and have listened without a single interruption on my part, I think hon. Members might listen to me without interruption during the half-hour or so for which I shall speak, and I trust that they will at !east give me fair play. [Interruption.] I am suggesting that all should keep quiet.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The point at issue is whether I have acted improperly in regard to the administration of these Regulations. In the first place, the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly would have been quite sound if no Regulations had been passed, and if I had exercised some abnormal powers for prohibiting free speech. But, under the provisions of the Regulations which were passed by the House of Commons, the right of free speech is, during the present emergency, limited. Let us get that quite clear. I have spoken in previous Debates in this House in regard to the right of free speech. It is one of the greatest possessions of the English nation. There is no dispute between hon. Members opposite and myself in regard to that matter. But, during the emergency, Parliament has enacted certain Regulations, which have the power and force of law, and I am given by Parliament authority, under those Regulations, either myself to prohibit, or to allow a chief constable to prohibit on my authority, any meeting or any procession which, in his or my opinion, is likely to lead to a. breach of the peace or to cause disaffection. I agree that that—let us realise it at once—is a very great inroad on the ordinary right of free speech; but the ordinary right of free speech does not exist in its fullness at the present moment—it is modified by that particular Clause in the Regulations.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am responsible if, in the administration of these Regulations, I act unfairly, if I act with bias, or if I act wrongly—I am responsible to this House; and let me say at once to the House, in order to clear one matter away, that I take the very 2082 fullest responsibility for what has been done by the chief constables. I gave them their authority, and, therefore, if any of them have made mistakes, I am responsible for them; I am responsible to the House of Commons for the way in which they carry out that delegated authority to act on my behalf. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), who opened this Debate, complained, as some other Members have complained, of the extraordinary difference between the number of meetings banned in the first five months and the number banned during the last month. He complained also of lodge meetings having been stopped. Probably he did not know that a few days ago I received a deputation from the Miners' Federation, which included Mr. Herbert Smith and Mr. Cook. The secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Mr. Citrine, was also there, and several other leaders of the Trades Union Congress and the Miners' Federation. They came to see me in regard to my action in this matter. We came face to face, and they made certain complaints. Two of the main com-plaints were that the police had banned lodge meetings, and that the police had acted improperly in regard to peaceful picketing. I see on the Front Opposition Bench the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who was one of that deputation. They put their ease to me, I think, quite fairly, and I hope and think that the gentlemen who came were satisfied to some extent with my answer. I gave them two undertakings. I said quite clearly that, if lodge meetings had been banned, it was an improper exercise of the power—
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Certainly. A lodge meeting is perfectly free. It is not a public meeting; it is a meeting, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting said this evening, of the members of the union in the district in order to discuss measures between themselves and do the business of the lodge, and the police ought not to interfere. As I have explained to the House, I received this deputation from some of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in regard to this matter a few days ago, and I undertook to put that matter right with the police. I was also questioned 2083 on the subject of the interpretation by the police of peaceful picketing, and one gentleman who came with the deputation produced a Circular which I had issued some 11 months ago, at the end of last year, explaining the position in regard to peaceful picketing and peaceful persuasion. I said to the gentlemen who came, "Are you satisfied with my interpretation of the law in that respect?" and someone was good enough to say that I had explained it quite fairly in my last speech in the House of Commons. They said, "We are satisfied. Will you communicate that Circular again to the police, and tell them that that Circular has not been abolished in any way by the provisions of the Emergency Regulations?" Immediately after the deputation had gone, I took steps to prepare a letter to the police, and, on the 12th of this month, I sent out to all the chief constables a letter, which I am quite willing should be laid on the Table of the House. I will read some of the Clauses in it. In the first place t detailed the fact that this deputation had been to see me, and proceeded as follows:In the first place, representations were made to the effect that steps had been taken by the police in some instances to stop the holding of miners' lodge meetings"—I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give his very careful attention to this, because it has been really the prevailing incident to-night—which, it is stated, would ordinarily be held in private premises and be attended by only a limited number of persons, members of the lodge, and could give rise to no fear of any breach of the peace or promotion of disaffection in any way, and the Secretary of State undertook to point out to the chief constables that in such circumstances the prohibition of the meetings would not he within the scope of Regulation 22. He also undertook to point out that the police are not entitled to he present at such meetings.I have carried out my undertaking, I think the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley will agree. I was also asked if I would write to the police regarding the circular about "peaceful picketing."It was also represented by the deputation that in some cases pickets acting strictly in accordance with the law, as explained, for instance, in the Home Office Circular of 30th December last, had been interfered with by the police, and, in particular, had been forbidden to speak to 2084 miners going to work unless first addressed by them. The deputation suggested that it might have been thought in some instances that the Home Office Circular of 30th December had been superseded by the provisions of the Emergency Regulations, but that, of course, is not the case. The Circular of the 30th December must be read in conjunction with that of 8th of October last relating to safety men, but read together these Circulars represent, the Secretary of State believes, a correct statement of the law, and should be followed by the police in dealing with pickets.I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that I carried out my part. That really disposes of the attack made this evening by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting. I think he did indulge in a little persiflage in regard to my own speeches, and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. C. Stephen) made some jokes about my speech at Newport. It was a subject of common joking by Members opposite that I had gone down and made what might have been a provocative speech. It is difficult for me to condemn a speech that I am going to make, but if anybody had taken the trouble to read the two speeches which I made in Newport that evening—there were good reports in the local papers—they will see there was not one single word of a provocative character in them. They really were an appeal for peace. Those speeches were made when I knew negotiations were taking place and that a grave responsibility was upon any speaker on any side of politics at that moment. Certainly I am not ashamed of the speeches made. There was no disturbance of any kind. Although there were some of my political opponents in the room, the meetings were of an exceedingly friendly character, and I have no complaints regarding any action taken by any member of the audience in regard to myself.
The hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) really complained mostly in regard to overstepping the mark and the banning of some of his own meetings. He told me that a meeting connected with some of the municipal elections in his district was visited by police in order to see whether he had arrived there or not. The hon. Gentleman should take that as a compliment. I always like to read his speeches, and I have instructed the police to let me know of any speeches made by him. I generally do him the courtesy of reading his speeches. He has not made a speech for some little time that I have 2085 any objection to at all. I would like also to say—I think it was the hon. Member for Camlachie who raised the point—that no meeting in connection with any municipal election has been banned either by chief constables or myself. There can be no idea that I was using the Emergency Power Regulations—
Mr. C. STEPHENS
The point I have made was not that a distinctive election meeting was banned but that general political meetings in the district, or the meeting in connection with the miners that they wanted to run, were banned in order to prevent the development of that opinion which at the election would manifest itself.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The statement of the hon. Member is a little farfetched. Let me clear some of the chief constables of the accusations laid against them. It came to my knowledge about a month ago that the Communist party determined upon a whirlwind campaign throughout the mining districts against any settlement at all. The language they used was not against myself but against the leaders of the Labour party whom they threatened and accused of selling the interests of the miners and so forth. In the "Workers' Weekly" less than a fortnight ago there was a statement on behalf of the Communist party. Here it is:Within the Miners' Federation the party must consistently fight for the intensification of the struggle by the withdrawal of the safety men. At the same time the party has been foremost in fighting and exposing every defeatist—Varley, Spencer, Hodges, the Bishops' memorandum, etc.They went on to publish their plan of campaign. In weak areas where a large number of miners had gone back they were concentrating on getting the workers out. The problem of the safety men was to be their second line—In places where the safety men have come out and places filled with blacklegs, get them all out.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I will not say there is anything illegal in that. If there had been, they would have been prosecuted. These Regulations were passed by Parliament to give extra legal power to the Secretary of State to prevent meetings which might cause a breach of the peace or disaffection. I 2086 admit they are not within the Common Law, otherwise there would be no need to pass these Emergency Regulations. They are an additional power, given to the particular officer of State by the democratic assembly of the House of Commons in order that he should exercise those powers to the best of his ability for the safety of the State to prevent crime or riot, and not wait till crime or riot has taken place.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
Would the right. hon. Gentleman suggest that an alternative political programme, however foolish it may appear to him, is criminal? There is no suggestion in that article for a rising or a disturbance of the peace. It is asking the miners to refuse terms put forward by the coalowners and their agents, the present Government. Why is it criminal?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The hon. Gentleman has taken the opportunity of my courtesy in allowing him to ask a question to make statements not ordinarily made in asking questions. The whole House knows I am willing to give way. It is not fair of the hon. Gentleman to get up and interrupt the line of my speech in that way. The point I am making is that at a critical juncture, when a great many of the best and most trusted leaders of the Labour party were endeavouring to secure peace, there was this attempt at a definite programme of campaign throughout the country in the mining districts by the Communist party speakers, who were named in their published advertisements, and were told off to certain districts—Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, Nottingham and so forth. May I ask the House to listen to the kind of thing that is spread about:A fresh outbreak of scabs, the disease commonly found amongst rats, vermin, and other creepers, was discovered last week. The majority of the patients were affected by the disease during the last week or two, but a few mass poultices cured them. This disease leaves an ugly scar known as the Traitor's Scab Brand. This brand very often visits the descendants for three or four generations.We know quite well what that means.It is hard lines, but the sins of the fathers shall dwell upon the children.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
One of the "Fight to Win" Young Workers' Com- 2087 munist publications, Supplement of 9th October. I have an early copy of the Workers' Weekly," which is to be published to-morrow.