HC Deb 23 May 1928 vol 217 cc1921-31
The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)

I beg to move, That it is expedient that a tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, the action of the police in connection with their interrogation of Miss Savidge on the 15th day of May, 1928. I desire to explain to the House how it came about that a different Motion was put upon the Paper from the one which now appears there and which I am moving. The House will remember that on Thursday last there were discussions in this House in regard to the matter, and as anyone who will read the speech which I made then will realise, my mind was very full of the original charges which were, made in certain quarters in regard to the action of two police constables concerned in the original prosecution of the gentleman whose name was frequently mentioned in the Debate. The House will also remember that I arranged that I would consult with the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) in regard to the terms of the Resolution. While the Debate was going on I drafted a Motion myself, sitting on this bench, containing a provision for a double inquiry so as to allow the Commissioners to advise me upon the guilt or otherwise of the original constables and the misbehaviour or otherwise of the police officers engaged in the particular action in regard to Miss Savidge. I took that Motion into the Speaker's room behind the Speaker's Chair. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) and my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General were good enough to confer with me there, and we all approved the terms of the Motion as they were subsequently put down at the Table of this House. I think it fair to say, however, as regards not merely the right hon. Gentlemen opposite who were concerned with me in the drafting Of that Motion but also myself, that when putting down a Motion for an inqui0 into the perjury or otherwise of the two constables it did not occur to any of us that by so doing we should be insisting upon a retrial of the summons taken out against Sir Leo Money.

4.0 p.m.

He is, of course, quite entitled to his acquittal. He has been tried and acquitted, and when the matter was pointed out very kindly to me by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, on my return from an official visit to the north of Ireland, I felt at once that the House would not desire, and that it would not be right, to put Sir Leo Money on trial again, and that it would be much better that the matters to be put before this tribunal should be confined to one question on which the House expressed—I am not prepared to assent to their expression—very strong views with regard to the alleged action of the police. Therefore, yesterday I put down the Motion which appears on the Order Paper to-day, that is to say, that it is desirable that a Commission should be appointed in order to inquire directly into the action of the police which was commented upon by the hon. Member who raised the matter last week. That, of course, is a clear-cut issue. I do not propose—it would be improper for me, and, with great respect, I should say it would be improper for anyone in this House, when we have decided to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry—to make any remarks on one side or the other. I, therefore, do not propose to say a word in defence or exculpation of the police. I told the House the other day that, of course, there are two sides to the case. Those two sides will have to be put before the Commissioners, and, I am quite sure, they will be put quite honestly before them.

Before I conclude, may I say one word with regard to the action of the police generally? This accusation which has been made against them has been, of course, very detrimental to the force as a whole. If these officers are found guilty, it will be exceedingly detrimental to the force. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I will riot say more than this. I do want hon. Members on both sides—people inside as well as outside this House, to withhold and suspend their judgment. I am quite sure that the Commissioners, whose names I am going to mention to the House, will hold this inquiry without any bias of any kind whatever. I have been at very great trouble indeed to find Commissioners who would meet with the approval of the House. I have been in consultation with the right hon. Gentleman opposite. We want to find Commissioners in whom the House will have absolute confidence. I am very glad to say that His Majesty's Government have been able to secure as Chairman the right hon. Sir John Eldon Bankes, a Judge of the High Court, who was subsequently promoted to be a Judge of the Court of Appeal. He is retired; he has the time and energy and he is willing to hand himself over to the House of Commons to devote his time, his energy, his very great ability and his very well-known fairness to help the House of Commons in this particular matter.

With regard to the other two Commissioners, I promised, of course, that I would consult the right hon. Gentleman opposite. We felt it would be reasonable, and that the House would probably desire, that there should be some Members of this House upon this Commission of Inquiry. I am very glad to be able to announce the name of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Withers), who is well known here for his fairness in debate, who is a well known solicitor, and a man of very great experience of affairs. I do not think we could find on either side of the House a more suitable member. We have also been favoured by the nomination, from the other side, of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith). He is a man, I think, in whom the whole House has confidence. He has been a Member of this House for some time. He has not taken any active part in this particular kind of matter, but he is a man, all will agree, of openness of mind, honesty of character. I think that, taking these three Commissioners as a whole, we could not have found a fairer and better Commission, and one more likely to go right down into the depths of all the accusations made, and present to the House a full and fair result.

In these circumstances, I do not desire to detain the House any further. The right hon. Member opposite has asked me a question across the Floor of the House, repeating one that was asked in the Debate last week, that is to say, whether some arrangement could not be made for the expenses of the lady who has brought this accusation, and I entirely agree. I am quite prepared to say that reasonable and proper expenses incurred by her in connection with this inquiry shall be paid out of public funds. I think it is only right and proper that I should make this announcement at once. I am quite sure it will be felt that the right course has been taken.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Will the police be represented by counsel?


I have no doubt both sides will be represented by counsel. I think the House will feel that it will be for the benefit of the inquiry itself that the matter should be conducted by counsel with a knowledge of procedure, evidence and so forth, and I sincerely hope and trust that this matter, which has been one of very great anxiety to myself personally, and, I am sure, to the House as a whole, may now be left to this tribunal, and that good may come out of the trouble.


All I need say can be compressed into one sentence. We are very desirous of associating ourselves with the action which the right hon. Gentleman has taken. The little mistake about the wording was one of those little things which leave blame on no shoulders, and the right hon. Gentleman, in bringing the Motion forward to-day in this new form, shows his very proper desire to express in the Motion what, I hope, will be the unanimous finding of the House of Commons. I only say these words to express how completely we associate ourselves with what the right hon. Gentleman has said.


I only want to ask one question of the right hon. Gentleman. I have nothing to quarrel with what he has said this afternoon. I cordially endorse it. I want to ask whether, in the interests of the two constables concerned, they will not be denied subsequently the fullest possible opportunity of a thorough inquiry into the charge that hangs over their heads both by implication and by what is happening?


Perhaps the hon. Member will let that matter stand over without prejudice, as we say, on either side. I am concerned at the moment in dealing with this particular case, and I think the hon. Member may safely leave the future of the constables in my hands to do what is right in the matter.


I associate myself with what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition. This is a case where, very plainly, second thoughts or, rather, second drafts are best. It is probably a case, also, of "least said soonest mended." I reproach myself, because I did not look more closely at the introductory words suggested by the Home Secretary, but the fact is I did not, and nothing was said at the conference behind the Speaker's Chair as to a double inquiry. It never entered my head that we were going to inquire into anything but the one matter which the House wished inquired into, and we are now going to inquire under a better form of words.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am sure the House will agree that the appointment is satisfactory in every way from the point of view of fairness and justice, but I must say that, as this case concerns women, and particularly the treatment of a woman, we do feel that if the recommendations of the women's organisations which have been fighting so long in the country to see that women were in Scotland Yard, had been carried out, this would never have happened. We do feel that it would have been far better if the Government had seen their way to appoint a woman on the tribunal. I must, therefore, make my protest. There are women barristers—




On a point of Order. Cannot we have silence?

Viscountess ASTOR

I do feel that, from the point of view of women and of the many women's societies who are deeply interested in this question, we would have been far happier if the Government had seen their way to appoint a woman to the Commission. We could find women who would recommend themselves just as much to the House as the very honourable and splendid men who have been appointed, and if the Home Secretary could see his way to appoint a woman, many women throughout the country would be deeply gratified.


I want to say how pleased I am that this inquiry will be held, and may I express the hope that it will have its reverberations even outside the Metropolitan Police, for whom the right hon. Gentleman is somewhat responsible, because within the last few days there has been an almost similar case where a person has been tried. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, in this case, a railway accident occurred at a public level crossing at a place called Blackwood, near Tredegar, in Monmouthshire. Unfortunately, the driver of a motor van passing over the crossing was so injured by collision with a railway engine that he subsequently died in Tredegar Hospital. Immediately following the accident in this small village, the Monmouthshire police took the driver from his engine, and even took the guard, leaving the train with only the fireman in charge. They were lugged by the police through the public streets to the police station to take a statement from them, and then they were compelled to sign a blank form, and were told that their statement would be typed over their signature afterwards. To show the injustice, I need only mention that at the coroner's inquest subsequently, the coroner complimented the engine-driver on the whole of his actions in connection with the occurrence, and although, of course, we cannot extend the scope of this inquiry, the fact that there is an inquiry into the action of the police in this way, may have its effect in other parts of the country. I thank the House for its indulgence in hearing me, because I am sure that Members on both sides will not agree with dragging people away, especially leaving a railway train, without warrant or justification.


I want to say a few words on behalf of those who are associated with me, and I want to thank the Home Secretary for the readiness with which he has limited the inquiry to one incident alone, the action of the police in connection with their interrogation of Miss Savidge on the 15th clay of May, 1928. I wish to call attention to those three words "in connection with." It has been suggested, and some Government spokesmen have intimated, that those words may bring in the Hyde Park case in an indirect way. I cannot imagine that the learned Chairman would allow that, or that the Home Secretary intends to extend the inquiry beyond the interrogation of Miss Savidge on 15th May this year; but I wish to say that I am very glad the Government have acceded with such readiness to my representation.


I do not propose to move the Amendment which stands in my name—In line 1, after the word "established," to insert the words, which tribunal shall comprise at least one member having practical knowledge of police administration"— and I only put it down to emphasise what I am sure is the desire of the House, that the police force of this country should have perfectly fair play in any inquiry that takes place.


I beg to move, in line 1, after the word "tribunal," to insert the words "including at least one woman member."

The House ought not to leave this question without hearing this case argued, because I think there is a very strong reason for the inclusion of a woman. I think my Amendment should be carried because there are two women concerned, not only Miss Savidge, but also the woman police officer. I believe the inquiry will have to probe into the question of the treatment of women witnesses, and it seems to me very important that when women witnesses and their treatment by the police force are to be discussed there should be a woman there in order to be on the bench to judge these questions. I think this Amendment ought to be carried because of the method of the use of women police. I will not argue the case one way or the other, but it is obvious from the statements made by those who have pushed for many years in the country and in the House for the appointment of women police officers, that we ought to have a woman to judge the Scotland Yard methods of using the woman police officer in this particular case. The statement has been made that the woman police officer in this case was used as a cover to get Miss Savidge conveyed to Scotland Yard. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] There is another side, I agree, but if the statement made last week is accurate the woman police officer was withdrawn when she might have been a protection not merely to the woman, but also to the police officers.

There is one other reason. This is not a matter of man's liberty or woman's liberty but a question of the people's civil liberty, and I think that when a tribunal of this kind is set up there should be a woman upon it. If the Home Secretary says that there is no suitable woman for this inquiry I say that there are plenty of them. There is a very distinguished magistrate, an ex-Member of this House, Mrs. Wintringham, who is as capable of.sitting on this inquiry as any Member in this House. If it is considered by those responsible that a woman with legal knowledge should be appointed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed."] I have only two sentences more, and I do not propose to sit down until I have got them out. If it is considered by those responsible that a woman with a knowledge of the law is required there are plenty of women barristers, such as Mrs. Lloyd Lane, who are capable lawyers, and who are quite capable of looking after women's rights.


I beg to second the Amendment. I feel a little bit upset at the way the House has received the suggestion that a woman should be appointed on this tribunal. I thought it was very extraordinary when a woman rose in this House to raise this matter, which is felt very keenly by a large number of women connected with all parties judging by the letters we have received on this subject, that the suggestion should have been received with shouts of derision. It seems to me that Members of this House will have to realise that where a woman's honour and good name are at stake, and when she has been dragged through the filth of publicity as this unfortunate woman has been, many of us feel that there should be a woman on the tribunal. We make no suggestion that the three gentlemen on the tribunal may not be extraordinarily good, but there are plenty of women of proved public ability, and I would like to ask the Home Secretary if he would give the reasons why he did not put a woman on this tribunal?


All I can say is that I considered very carefully the composition of this tribunal. I discussed it with the leaders of the Front. Bench opposite, and with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), and, without betraying any secret, I may also say that I also consulted the Lord Chancellor, and we came to the conclusion that the three names I have suggested would form an admirable tribunal as representative of all parties in the House. Unless this Commission is one which has the confidence of all parties in the House, it would be very much better not to appoint it. I hope the Motion I have made will be carried unanimously and that the whole House will show full confidence in the tribunal which has been set up at its own request. I hope the hon. Member who has moved and the hon. Member who has seconded the Amendment will not press it.


At this consultation with the Opposition Front Bench was there any consideration of the question of the appointment of a woman representative at all?


In view of the obvious feeling of the House, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.


I would like an answer to my question.


We must have one thing at a time. The hon. Member can ask his question later.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.


Was the question of the appointment of a woman really considered?


Many names were considered, but I do not think it would be right to mention the private discussions which took place.


Your are evading the point.


I would like to ask a question about the meaning of the word "police" in this Motion. Is it quite clear that this inquiry and the terms of reference are wide enough to include an inquiry into the instructions which may have been given to the police by the Director of Public Prosecutions or by the Chief Commissioner and to apportion the blame accordingly; because, if that be not the case, it looks as if the conduct of these two individual police officers is alone in question, whereas it may transpire that they were only acting under superior orders.


I think that the first question that would be put to these officers would be, "Where did you get your instructions and what were they?" I am quite satisfied that the question raised by the hon. Member will be rightly interpreted.


Will it be possible for this tribunal to censure or exonerate the Chief Commissioner of Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions?


It is quite impossible for me to say what the tribunal will do, but Lord Justice Eldon Bankes is a very experienced Judge. I should say that the Chief of Police is responsible for all the actions of his subordinates.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

With reference to the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Hayes), I am not questioning the action that has been taken, or the Motion that has been put down, but long before my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) raised this matter last Thursday the Home Secretary promised to look into the question of the two police officers out of which this case has arisen. In fairness to those two men who have a charge of perjury hanging over their heads, and without connecting it with the tribunal which we have decided to set up, I think the Home Secretary should be a little more explicit. He told the hon. Member for Edge Hill that that matter could be safely left to him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"] We must be fair to these two men, who must be under great anxiety as to the kind of action that is being taken either to clear them or to punish them, and it cannot be left like that. They cannot go through life branded as possible perjurers because we do not want to run the risk of retrying Sir Leo Money and Miss Savidge. The Home Secretary should tell us what is going to be done in reference to these two police officers.


I must really ask the hon. Member not to press me. It is the wish of the House that this tribunal should be limited in the way it has been limited, and, if I were to say anything with regard to the two officers either on one side or the other, it might have an effect which I do not want it to have.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The right hon. Gentleman himself has made a statement about the police, and he has told us his reasons for altering the terms of reference. I submit that he himself is being unfair to these officers, and he should tell us what kind of inquiry is being held, and what is being done in order to give them a fair trial.


I fully realise what the hon. and gallant Member has in mind, and I say again that the two police officers may safely leave themselves in my hands. I cannot make any further statement at this moment. I have very carefully refrained from making any statement since last week, and I do not propose to make any further statement on the matter until we get a report from this tribunal.

Resolved, That it is expedient that a tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, the action of the police in connection with their interrogation of Miss Savidge on the 15th day of May, 1928.