§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 9th September, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I have given notice to the Secretary of State for Scotland that I wish to refer to various things that have recently been happening at Glasgow. Last Friday my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) called attention to the large number of arrests in connection with a demonstration on the preceding evening. The Secretary of State promised that an inquiry would be made into the whole matter. Since then I have visited Glasgow, as I generally do over the week-end, and have tried to find out the truth about the proceedings. Last Thursday was not the beginning of this matter. It was made the excuse for certain arrests which I am sure the Secretary of State will find it very difficult to defend. It may be as well if I review the events of the last week or two. Everyone, Conservatives, Liberals and ourselves alike, knew that there was bound to be a great deal of feeling in the country about the cuts. It has already been expressed in the Navy, and it was not human to expect that unemployed men and women would, without protest of some kind, accept these alterations in their standard of life. Therefore, no one can say that demonstrations were not likely to occur. The unemployed set about to organise themselves in the best possible way to demonstrate their grievances. A demonstration took place on the evening of Thursday week attended by about 50,000 people. It was an orderly demonstration, no disturbance took place, and there was 1057 nothing even of a semi-seditious nature. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who organised it?"] It was organised spontaneously by the unemployed themselves.
When in Glasgow I saw various types of men, some Conservatives and some councillors and others, and the unanimous view was that never before was there such an orderly demonstration or one more free from anything that might savour of the least form of violence. There was an effigy of a person to be burned and the only cry of the demonstrators was "Down with the National Government," and we have not yet heard that it is a crime to say "Down with the National Government." At half-past eight in the evening, there is no great traffic in the streets apart from the trams. It is, comparatively speaking, nil. Last Thursday the unemployed had two demonstrations. The first was in the afternoon, and it was attended by many thousands. It took place when the traffic was at its height. That demonstration was allowed. No one interfered with it or said it was wrong. The police took no action to stop it, no arrests were made, and there was not a single police complaint, as far as I know, of obstruction or disorderliness. In the evening men and women to the number of 50,000 or 60,000 assembled on Glasgow Green, a vast open space. The police at once approached the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and told him that the demonstration was not to take place. They gave no reason. My hon. Friend replied that he was not in charge of it, and he could not cancel it, but he was prepared, if the police gave them some little time, ten minutes or a, quarter-of-an-hour, to see the leaders of the procession and consult with them, and with the police as to what was the best line to follow. Surely that was not an unreasonable request, seeing that no previous notice had been given that a demonstration must not be held. With-oat giving the hon. Member for Shettleston any answer to his moderate request, the reply of the police was to arrest him, and not only to arrest him, but to assault him on the way. What happened in those circumstances? Fifty thousand people saw a prominent man arrested without any time being given, and immediately there was pandemonium. Everyone wanted to know what had happened, and there was 1058 a rush. The police then started without rhyme or reason on the defenceless people. I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland will tell us that some had bottles, some had sticks, and some had stones. When you have 50,000 people that will happen, but 999 out of every thousand of the crowd had no missiles of any kind. They did not want to not or to disturb the peace of the city, yet the police started to attack those men, most of them badly fed and badly clad, in a most cruel and vindictive fashion.
I am not going to discuss the merits of the arrests or of the charges, hut, in order to show how the police bad completely lost their heads, I shall deal with the type of arrests made. I attended the Court on Saturday morning and saw the 12 or 13 cases carried over from the Saturday night. One of them was a girl of 17 employed in domestic service in Cambuslang, about five or six miles from the City of Glasgow. She had got her afternoon off on the Thursday, and came into the city to see her people, as she did every Thursday. Within a few minutes of her home she entered an ice-cream shop, because it is a common thing for a girl in Glasgow to go for "slider" of ice-cream and sponge cake. While she was being served by the Italian, there was a great rush and roaring outside, and the girl ran out. She was immediately arrested by the police as an enemy of the National Government and of the Prime Minister in Whitehall. A wee lassie of 17—you should have seen her! Worse than that happened. She was kept in prison on the Thursday night, and, when she was brought before the Court next day, the officials had not even the decency to bail her then. She was kept in prison on Friday night, although she had never seen a gaol before. On Saturday she was brought up roaring and crying and only then got bail in £5. It so happened that somebody was there who had £5—for her folk had not got 5s.—and got bail for her.
Leaving aside the arrest of the hon. Member for Shettleston, let us look at the other arrests. It is only accidental that I am not as poor as they and that they are not here. It is not a case that they have less capacity or that I am greater than they. I saw these men marched in, men I have known from boy- 1059 hood, underfed, underclad and undersized. It showed me how completely the police had acted without any discretion, but were panic-stricken and went there to create trouble and not to create peace. To show how panic-stricken the city has become, I may mention that in part of my division we hold open-air meetings as is done in other divisions. I hope we shall still be able to hold open-air meetings even though the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. R. MacDonald) is Prime Minister. I hope that we shall get the same treatment as we did under the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin). After all, the right hon. Member for Seaham may think that he is very near the Deity, but some people do not think that he is the Deity, and the sooner he gets that idea out of his head the better. The right hon. Member for Bewdley granted us the right of public meetings when he was in office.
Last Sunday some people in my division decided to hold a meeting in the afternoon at a place where I have held meetings for the last 20 years. Since I was a boy of 17 or 18 I have held meetings there on Sunday afternoons and evenings. It is at the end of a street where there is little or no traffic. What happened last Sunday. Those men turned up to give their meeting at this place where there is no traffic, and they found the police were there in their hundreds to stop the right of free assembly because the Government were going to be criticised. We are going to have a General Election, and those people have a right to influence public opinion on the issues of the election. The right hon. Gentleman will say to me that some of them are Communists. So they are, but Communism is not a crime, and the Prime Minister should be the last to talk about that. During the War the Prime Minister was in the same position then as these poor devils are now, with this difference, that he was well fed and they are not, because the Socialist party saw that he was well fed during the War. He came to Glasgow then to a spot 100 yards from this place After the Sunday during the War that he had formed workers' and soldiers' councils. He addressed an open-air meeting within a short distance of the one which was prohibited, yet the police then allowed 1060 him the right to hold the meeting. Here was a man, who was in favour of soldiers' and sailors' councils a week before, yet the police gave him the right of free assembly and the right to express his opinion. The Prime Minister in those days was very much nearer Communism than ever I was in the past or have been since. I have never exploited the Communists like the Prime Minister did at that time for public office. I differ with the Communists, but I believe that Communists have a right to attack and oppose me and my policy. I fought Communism and fought the greatest Communist this country has so far produced, the late John Maclean, a man of great intelligence and capacity. He had the right to his point of view and to its expression. It will not be any excuse to me that the National Government have suppressed Communist opinion.
I would raise another point in connection with this matter. These men are all in gaol. The ordinary procedure in the Glasgow police courts is that a man appears within about three days before the sheriff and he can get the bail ready and his charge is formulated. What have they done with these cases? They keep them at the local police court until the last possible day, until the seven days are up, in order to keep the application for bail as long as they possibly can. There is really no charge against these men; they have committed no offence. The persons who should be arrested are those who started the riot and attacked the police. There is one other case, of which I have given details to the Secretary of State. It is that of a man who has been attending the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow for some months for some form of fits. He was visiting his mother and, after all, although the police have gone mad, men have still got to go about the streets. He was crossing the road, and was knocked down by the police and got a blow on the heart. An eye-witness went up to him and then asked a detective what should be done to help the man. The reply he got from the detective was, "Throw the devil in the Clyde." Here was a man who suffered from fits lying in the street and that was the reply of the detective. When an inspector was approached, all they got from him was advice to take him to 1061 the police office and see what could be done. He was taken to the police office, and there they were treated with scant courtesy and with anything but decency.
There is another matter in connection with these arrests. One of the men arrested is a candidate for municipal honours. The Member for Shettleston is bound to be a candidate at the next election. The late John Maclean was a candidate when Mr. George Barnes contested my division. He was also candidate when I contested it in 1922. On both those occasions the late John Maclean was undergoing terms of imprisonment. In 1918 he was serving three years for alleged sedition and when I contested the division he was doing a shorter sentence for another form of seditious crime. At that time the Government released John Maclean to fight both his elections. The least the Government can do is to release the men when the elections are on. Surely that can be done. I addressed a huge meeting together with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) on Sunday last and, to show how the police can make for peace or for riot, at that huge meeting of from 15,000 to 50,000 persons—around us were big iron rails and the men climbed upon the railings—a policeman came along and began to ask the men to get down. Some of the men got down, but others refused to get down. There was almost bound to be pandemonium.
What happened? A policeman wiser than the rest came along and said, "Let them stay up there," and they were allowed to stay, with the result that the huge gathering passed off peacefully, without anything untoward taking place. If the police had insisted upon hauling the men down and had batoned them, a not must have ensued. That shows the difference between calm, decent personal responsibility, and what took place on the Thursday before. I put it to the Secretary of State for Scotland that they can approach the subject in two ways. They can go out for blood, and still more blood. They can say that the unemployed must be smashed. They may say that if they allow Glasgow people to demonstrate without smashing them, other places may get going. That sort of thing might be successful for a week, 1062 a fortnight or a month, but at a time like this you cannot smash men and women with a bludgeon because sooner or later they will express themselves.
The Secretary of State for Scotland should recommend the immediate release of everyone concerned, if not unconditionally, at least on bail. The second thing is that he should give the right to these men and women to demonstrate their poverty. I do not want to raise this issue—I only mention it from the point of view of comparison—but if a prominent man or a member of the Royal Family came to Glasgow, you would allow a demonstration and a stoppage of traffic because you would be demonstrating pomp, wealth and privilege. Why cannot poor people demonstrate their poverty as well as wealth demonstrate pomp and privilege I Let the poor demonstrate their sufferings. Surely, if the cuts in unemployment benefit are justified, you cannot be ashamed of the victims of your cuts. Surely, if your cutting down is right, you are not ashamed to see the victims of your cutting down. Let them demonstrate. Let them meet and have the right of free assembly. Do not attack their standard of life and then refuse to meet them on equal terms of debate. If you are going to attack their standard of life, at least be sportsmen and give them the right of debate alongside of you. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to release these men, to give them their liberty, and the unemployed masses the right to express their misery, poverty and degradation in the midst of this great, powerful and wealthy country.
§ Mr. G. HARDIE
I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will now try to give a reply to a question which I raised on a previous occasion in regard to the beginning of the first disturbance outside what is called the Jail Square. I pointed out to the Secretary of State that several papers, reporting from different observation points, stated that the bulk of the demonstrators was inside the gates before the attack was made. Since making that statement I have had it confirmed from various sources. I hope that by this time something may be said as to why, when the bulk of the demonstrators had passed peacefully inside the gates, an attack was made upon them. I agree entirely with what has been said 1063 with regard to what may be called the temper of both sides. When you get big numbers of people together, it is quite easy to turn a peaceful gathering into one which is not peaceful by some little act on the part of someone. I am very anxious to get to know who was to blame, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland has now the information with regard to that point, because it seems to me that that is where the disturbance really started.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Major Sir Archibald Sinclair)
I, for my part, shall be very glad to give to the House such further information as I possess in reply to the question put to me by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). As regards the incident to which the hon. Member for Spring-burn (Mr. G. Hardie) has referred, I have no further information, but if, as he suggests, these men were subject to an unprovoked attack by the police, it would be a perfectly good defence in the Courts of Law, and it would be tried in a court and decided there. The hon. Member for Gorbals raised two main points. The first is the question of bail for the men who have been arrested and the question of their release. The second is the question of the right to demonstration. The first question is one over which I have no jurisdiction. The question of hail is one entirely for the courts. And even in the case of the men who are candidates for election, the fact that the men are candidates does not alter the situation.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
This matter comes under the department of the Lord Advocate. The question of bail is a matter for the competent official, the procurator fiscal. Procurators fiscal who are your servants can advise or can refuse to advise the Crown authorities on the question of bail. That is a point I want to put. I agree that ultimately the sheriff has the last word, but the procurators fiscal have the power to advise, and, in certain cases, can grant bail without the question being decided by the sheriff at all.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The hon. Member for Gorbals agrees that this is a matter for which the Lord Advocate's Department are responsible, and not myself. The 1064 hon. Member asked the House to agree with him that the unemployed shall have the right of demonstration and that speeches should be made against the Prime Minister and the members of His Majesty's Government, and that the cry should be "Down with the National Government." Let me assure him that he is pushing a door which is wide open. No one would suggest for a moment that the citizens of this country have not an absolute right to shout "Down with the National Government," and an absolute right to criticise His Majesty's Ministers. It is no part of the Government's duty to limit or prevent those rights in any degree. On the contrary, I agree that these rights should be enjoyed. There is no distinction such as the hon. Member attempted to draw between a demonstration on the occasion of a visit of notabilities to the City and a demonstration on behalf of the rights of any section of His Majesty's subjects. There is no such distinction. In fact, all demonstrations are allowed provided only that individuals in exercising their right of demonstration and free speech do not infringe the rights of the public as a whole.
Let me apply the general principles to the incidents which took place in Glasgow last week. The hon. Member for Gorbals drew a contrast between what happened last Thursday and the previous Thursday.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Let me deal with the main point. I have not the actual information as to what happened in the afternoon. I have information as to what happened on the previous Thursday and what happened last Thursday. On the previous Thursday a permit was granted by the magistrates to hold a meeting and to hold a procession and to have a band, and a crowd of 25,000 persons marched through the streets, and, as far as I am informed, no weapons were carried. They marched in force, and there were no untoward incidents except that the organisation of the procession was not very good, and as a result of that there was great disorganisation of traffic. There were good feeling and forbearance on both sides. There was no interference by 1065 the police. Apart from the disorganisation of traffic, which, after all, causes great loss to Glasgow, the demonstration passed off well. On the second Thursday no permission was given.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
My information is that no permission was asked either on the first or second occasion. I cannot say whether I am right or wrong, but I made most minute inquiries, and I could not find any record of anybody applying for permission either on the first or on the second Thursday.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
My information is that undoubtedly a permit was granted by a magistrate, and I must ask the hon. Member to accept it, because it is official information which was given to me. On the second occasion no permission was given.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
No permission was given, and at one o'clock a meeting was held in George Square and a deputation was sent to interview the town council, and on their return they intimated that a large mass meeting was to be held that evening. A crowd mustered at night, 60,000 strong. They carried iron bars and batons of wood. Not everyone, but quite a large number, had iron bars. There were no organised baton charges. The hon. Member said that the police were out for blood. He knows Glasgow police better than I do.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
They showed the utmost restraint, and it was only when they were surrounded that the city police drew their batons to defend themselves. Before the police took action at all a large number of plate-glass windows were smashed. On 1st October, 95 plate-glass windows were smashed, a large number before the police appeared. Traffic was completely disorganised. The people were out of control. The following is an extract from a report by a superintendent: 1066I found the Square (Jail Square) and Glasgow Green and converging streets a closely-packed mass of humanity of not less than 40,000 persons of all ages and of both sexes. The noise and bad language were appalling. Windows were smashed in Salt Market and the crash of glass could be clearly heard above the general din. Stones and missiles of every description were being hurled at the foot contingent of police. Weapons of various descriptions were being openly brandished by a contingent arriving from the North in the Salt Market. All traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, was at a standstill. The whole scene was one of the utmost confusion and disorder, with a complete want of control by anyone.May I draw a contrast between the two demonstrations? The general principle is, that His Majesty's Government recognise the right of individual citizens to free speech and to freedom of demonstration. They say that is the law of the land., but the law must be exercised in such a way as not to interfere with the general rights of the public and of free passage through the streets. Moreover, order must not be broken. The people who have the duty of reconciling these rights are the magistrates, and it is the duty of the people who wish to organise demonstrations to go to the magistrates and get permission to hold their demonstrations. They will find that if they pursue that course, as happened on the first Thursday, the fullest possible facilities will be given to them for their demonstration. The first demonstration passed over without any disturbance or mishap. It. was only the second, demonstration, where no application for a permit was made and where the persons in the demonstrations took weapons, such as iron bars, and broke plate-glass windows that trouble arose. They had no understanding with the magistrates or with the police, and very little order was observed. It was then that the unfortunate and disorderly incidents took place.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
Would the demonstrators have the right to proceed through the streets on the second Thursday, if they had no permits from the magistrates?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
If they impede traffic they violate the law. It is easy to reconcile these two principles, and the police and the magistrates are always 1067 ready to reconcile those two principles and to make such arrangements as to give freedom of demonstration and freedom of speech, but those who wish to exercise it must do it in such a way that a minimum of inconvenience is caused to the public, a minimum of loss to industry and a minimum of dislocation to traffic. As regards the case of the girl of 17, to whom the hon. Member for Gorbals referred, this is the first time that I have heard of it. I am informed, however, that the girl made no application for bail.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The girl could not make an application. She is only 17. Those people who did get bail were only able to get it after a good deal of negotiation.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am assured by the Lord Advocate that this girl was denied no legal right. With regard to the meeting in Crown Street and Clelland Street, it is true that last Sunday two meetings were to be held in Sloane Street. Great crowds gathered at the place, and it was feared that more shop windows would be broken. A number of shop windows had been broken on previous nights in that neighbourhood, and the police were afraid that more damage would be done. That was the only reason why, to avoid painful incidents, which we all deplore, such as those to which the hon. Member has called attention, the police felt bound to act as they did in that case. The hon. Member also referred to the case of Mr. Rushton. That case was brought to my attention a day or two ago by the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. T. Henderson), who made very strong representations about the case, and explained it very thoroughly. He made forcible representation with regard to Mr. Rushton, stating that he knew him well, and I at once instituted an inquiry.
May I state, in conclusion, that demonstrations will, of course, be held in the future and that we fully recognise the right of individuals to demonstrate? The hon. Member for Gorbals has referred to the Communists. I am afraid that they exploit the grievances of the unemployed at the present time. I can assure the hon. Member that the right of free speech is fully recognised. If the organisers of these demonstrations will 1068 enter into consultation with the magistrates, I have no doubt whatever that they will find that arrangements will be made for such demonstrations to be held in such a way as not to conflict with the rights of the public. If they do that, it will be possible to hold demonstrations and to give expression to strongly held opinions without either endangering the public peace or without any unfortunate incidents, such as those to which the hon. Member has called attention.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I thank the right hon. Member for the answer that he has given, but I should like to make a few comments. I cannot say that I am in the least satisfied with the position after hearing the right hon. Gentleman, and I would ask him whether it is not possible to have a public inquiry into the happenings in Glasgow. Our information is quite different from the report that was given to the right hon. Gentleman. In regard to the two demonstrations, for instance, I should like the right hon. Gentleman to go into the question with regard to the permits granted on the one occasion, and the non-possession of the permit on the other occasion. I should like him to inquire into the circumstances why a permit was granted on the one occasion and not having been applied for on the other occasion. Will he also make definite inquiry with regard to the demonstration when the trouble occurred, as to whether there had been any breaking of windows until the arrest of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern)? Our information is entirely to the contrary. The crowd was in a good humour. There had been no disorder, and when the hon. Member for Shettleston was addressed by the police he was willing to consider complying with their refusal to allow the procession to take place, but he asked that he might be given time to consult with those who were responsible for the organisation of the procession. The right hon. Gentleman may say that that is a matter for the courts, but there is more in it than that. It is for the Secretary of State for Scotland to see that the public who are being so much affected by the policy of economy are given an opportunity to demonstrate. In regard to the meeting that was banned, I should like the right hon. Gentleman to deal with this point. It may not be possible for us to get an answer in the House, but I hope that 1069 we shall get an answer before the election takes place. Was it not the case that on the Tuesday night, when there had been no windows broken, there was a prohibition of a meeting in that same place?
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman only had information in regard to the one meeting. I am now taking up the point in order that there may be inquiry into all the points. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the magistrates. I shall be interested to hear whether the magistrates had anything to do with the prohibition of any of the meetings in Glasgow. I doubt whether there has been anything except police interference. I should like to know whether instructions have been given to the local police from headquarters in regard to these meetings?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I cannot possibly answer these questions. The magistrates have the responsibility, and delegate their powers to the police. The police are responsible to the magistrates in the exercise of their powers. These are matters for the magistrates.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I should like the Secretary of State to ascertain whether the local police have received instructions to prevent as far as possible this kind of meeting taking place? Have there been any instructions given by the Scottish Office?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Craigie Aitchison)
I can say clearly that no orders have emanated from my Department with regard to the preservation of law and order in the streets of Glasgow, or anywhere else. That is a matter within the jurisdiction of the magistrates, with whom I have nothing to do. I can assure the hon. Member that no such orders as those to which he refers have come from my Department.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
There is a, widespread impression in Glasgow that there are spies, individuals, employed by the Department. There is a definite feeling that agents provocateur are being employed; that there are individuals who are seeking to stir up the mob and to prevent the orderly organisations taking place; that there are those who would be more extreme than the Communists. The Secretary of State has said that it is a great pity that certain people are seeking to exploit the present difficulties and circumstances of the people. I do not think the Communist party are doing anything in that respect more than any other party. They are seeking to carry on their own work. I do not belong to the Communist party, but I hold that they are entitled to carry on their propaganda to secure the realisation of their ends in the same way as any other political organisation. We are not asking for any favour. I am asking that there should be a further inquiry by the Scottish Office.
The statement made by the Secretary of State that there was so much disorganisation of traffic by the previous week's procession fills me with the utmost misgivings as to the reports which are supplied to him. I made most particular inquiry as to that demonstration, and my informants told me that they were struck with the very orderly character of the procession. The right hon. Gentleman himself knows that on a Thursday evening at half-past eight there is very little in the streets of Glasgow except tramcars and a few motor vehicles. Lorries and such like vehicles are off the road by that time. Consequently, these reports fill me with misgivings when it is said that there was so much disorganisation the previous week. I am anxious to get through the difficult weeks and months that are ahead of us as peacefully as possible. I appeal to the Lord Advocate on the question of bail. This will largely depend on the point of view taken by the Fiscals who are under the direct control of the Lord Advocate—
§ It being one hour after the conclusion of Government business, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put.
§ Adjourned at Ten Minutes before Eight o'Clock.