HC Deb 09 September 1931 vol 256 cc248-66

MR. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House this day, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."


I desire to raise the matter of the action of the police outside the House last night. I have intimated to the Home Secretary that I intended to raise this question, and I do not propose to delay the House any longer than is absolutely necessary. I am sorry that the notice has been rather short and I hope that the Home Secretary, who is not in his place at the moment, will find it convenient to be present for a few moments. I am going to recount what was witnessed by myself and other hon. Members outside the House last night. I am not raising this question in any spirit of hostility towards the police. As an ex-Service man I realise that men who are in the service of the Crown or in the service of any authority are not free agents, that they are men acting under orders, and that the penalty for disobedience of orders is very severe. Therefore, whatever strictures I may make to-night they are not intended, and I hope will not be taken, as any reflection upon the integrity and honour of the police force as a Police Force or upon the individuals who make up the force. I had hoped that by the time I had made these preliminary observations the Home Secretary would have been in his place, and perhaps some of his colleagues will acquaint him with the facts that I intend to put before the House. One might at least have expected that the Under-Secretary would be in his place.


We have acquainted the Home Secretary with the fact that the hon. Member is raising the matter, but the notice has been somewhat short. I can assure the hon. Member that no discourtesy is intended.


One matter which I want to raise is the use of what is regarded by myself and some of my colleagues as provocative and unnecessary action against a body of peaceable and orderly citizens outside this House last night. The excuse that is given. I understand, is that of obstruction. In order to view the effect of the new flood lighting which is now prevalent over London huge crowds gathered outside this House last night, as they have gathered, I understand, on previous occasions. Indeed, I heard on the wireless that a famous dance band was held up by the obstruction caused by the crowd which gathered to view the flood lighting on that occasion. There was an enormous crowd outside the House last night viewing the flood lighting, but no charge of obstruction was made, and no action was taken by the police. I submit that unemployed men and women have as much right to be in that crowd as anyone else as individual sightseers. Some of the crowd were no doubt commenting favourably on the effects of the flood lighting. They were all right, and no action was taken against them. Others were commenting unfavourably on the National Government, on individual Members of the National Government and on the effects of the policy of the National Government.

The police were congregated in the vicinity of the House, and I understand that there was the greatest aggregation of police ever known in the vicinity of this House last evening. A group of my colleagues who were with me in Palace Yard, looking on at the proceedings, were only commenting, a few moments before the events that happened, on the good humour of the crowd. We said: Well, the cut in unemployment pay and the proposals of the new Government do not appear to have excited the revolutionary passion of the people. "John Brown's body" and songs like that did not appear to us to herald the coming of the revolution, or of disorder. The crowd was singing these songs quite good-humouredly, and obviously, from the nature of the songs they were singing, they were unemployed, or friends of the unemployed. The police apparently knew that. Just as we had commented upon the orderliness and good, humour of the crowd, we saw two or three platoons of foot police brought out of Palace Yard, and from various positions, and then we saw a body of horsemen brought out as well. Some of us suggested that this was provoking trouble. Here was an orderly crowd. I take it that the Home Secretary, who has just come in, would not call the singing of "John Brown's body," or even of the "International," a disorderly pro- ceeding. That is all that the crowd were doing.

A number of mounted police appeared on the scene, and that orderly crowd suddenly found mounted police among them on the pavement. The obvious object of the mounted police was to segregate that portion of the crowd which had been singing, and which had very likely been passing uncomplimentary remarks about the National Government, from the rest of the crowd. Quite deliberately, people were escorted across the road, and in different directions, and eventually a part of the crowd, which was obviously made up of unemployed, was isolated. Then they were driven forward by the mounted police. We saw one man at least being brought back, with blood streaming down his face, and with two hefty policemen holding his arms and the back of his neck. I am afraid some of us got rather excited and came back into the House in an excited state over the matter.

I feel very strongly that this is a most inauspicious opening for the new Government. I want to appeal most earnestly to the Home Secretary to let us know what we are to expect in the future, so far as the relations between the police and the unemployed are concerned. Have orders been issued that no unemployed demonstrations are to be held? Have orders been issued to the police to treat the unemployed with severity when demonstrations are held? Surely we have a right to know what the unemployed, many of whom are our friends, are to expect now that this particular Government is in power. As I said before the Home Secretary came in, I am not making any charges or attacks upon individual policemen. I regard them as servants of the public, and I know that they act under orders. I know that the pains and penalties of disobeying those orders are too great to expect any man to incur them. I tried to get at those who are in higher authority than the actual policemen.

The Home Secretary will probably be responsible for any orders that have been given, and I want to ask him whether, after the display that we had outside the House of Commons last night, any suggestions or circular letters have been sent to the provincial local authorities, watch committees or standing joint com- mittees, on the question of the treatment of the unemployed. I want to stress the point that a crisis is having to be faced in the homes of these very people. I ask the Government not to think that they can cow down or frighten the whole of the unemployed. The action that was taken last night will do more harm than a thousand speeches from Communist or Independent Labour party platforms, and will do far more to create disorder and incipient revolution than any speeches or pamphlets. They do not realise the danger of goading hungry men and women to action that might lead to very serious trouble.

I hope not merely that no such orders have been issued, but that the Home Office might go out of its way, during this time of unparalleled distress and crisis, to issue a circular letter to the various police authorities, suggesting that special and sympathetic consideration should be given to the unemployed, and that every facility should be afforded them for their demonstrations, and that any ban on their meetings should be withdrawn. In my opinion and in that of my hon. Friends, if the police are compelled by those in authority to sit on the safety valve during this crisis, there may he a very serious explosion.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir Herbert Samuel)

In reply to the bon. Member, let me say that, in the first place, that I have received no notice at all that this subject was to be raised. I have been on the premises of the House from the moment that it met this afternoon until now, and, until a message reached me a few moments ago, when I was engaged in a conference in one of the rooms behind the Speaker's chair, I had no knowledge that this topic was to be raised this evening. I venture to suggest that the hon. Member has done less than his duty in failing to give due notice to the Minister responsible.


I would apologise for the short notice that the right hon. Gentleman has received, but I think my notice was sent an hour and a-half ago. I did not know that there was to be a Debate on the Adjournment to-night. At the first moment that I knew I could raise this matter, I sent a note direct to the Home Secretary.


The apology is due, not for the shortness of the notice, but for the fact that the notice was not sent in such a way as to make it sure that it reached me. I had no notice, and I was quite unaware that the subject was to be raised. I am, of course, acquainted with the occurrences that took place last night, when a comparatively small number of persons, largely, I believe, youths desiring to attract some public attention, collected in the neighbourhood of the House of Commons. It, was necessary to disperse this little crowd, particularly since there were large numbers of law-abiding, peaceful citizens in the neighbourhood who were visiting the flood-lighted scenes, and a certain small number of them were arrested. They have, I believe, been brought before a magistrate to-day and most or all of them were bound over to be of good behaviour for the future. They have been treated with much leniency. So far as I am aware, the Metropolitan police have handled this small crowd with the usual careful consideration which our London policemen give to those with whom they happen to be brought into momentary conflict. The crowd had to be dispersed, in order to maintain the public highways for the use of the population in general. If the hon. Member has any specific case which he desires to raise, of any policeman having acted in an improper manner, that will, of course, receive the fullest, most careful and impartial inquiry. He asks whether any special orders have been issued by the Home Office, in order to stir the police authorities in London and elsewhere to repressive measures. No such orders have been issued by my authority and, so far as I am aware, no such orders have been issued by any other authority. He asked whether any circular had been issued to provincial police authorities dealing with this matter. I have not heard of any such circular having been issued, and although I cannot speak negatively, since I have had no opportunity of inquiring, I have no reason to believe that, any such circular has been issued. The police and the police authorities are well aware what is their duty in ordinary circumstances, namely, to maintain law and order with firmness but at the same time with no unnecessary violence or spirit of repression. That normal duty of the police authorities has been fulfilled and will be fulfilled in the ordinary course in the future as in the past.


The Home Secretary mentioned that a very small and a very insignificant crowd caused some disturbance among the more law-abiding sections of the crowd who were here to view the flood lighting. Since it was a small and insignificant section of the crowd, can he inform the House how many mounted police were in the vicinity of the House last night, how many foot police were here at the same time, and what proportion of plain clothes men were held in reserve near the House? What proportion did the numbers of police, mounted and foot, within the precincts, bear towards the total number of police in the Metropolitan area?


I wish to associate myself with the most moderate statement of the case put forward by the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. Simmons). We who have known the Home Secretary for a couple of years or so and have known his unfailing tact and patience when ho sat on the Opposition benches, must confess a slight surprise at the reply he has given to us. I was among the crowd for a very considerable time last night, and if, as the right hon. Gentleman said, a comparatively small crowd was concerned with the disturbances, the matter has become much more serious than the hon. Member for Erdington suggested. If it was a comparatively small crowd it was almost equalled in numbers by the foot and horse police who were there. In my life I have not seen so many foot and horse police sent out to deal with a comparatively small crowd. I wish to know why the Home Secretary states almost explicitly, or at any rate by implication, that this comparatively small crowd was not law-abiding. Who told him that? Who gave him the information that the crowd was not a law-abiding crowd, and that when some of them appeared at the police courts this morning they were treated almost with kindness in being allowed to go away?

A considerable number of hon. Members of this House were out in the street, and the important feature of the gathering was this: That first of all one could not tell who were the unemployed as distinct from the ordinary sightseers; and, secondly, that throughout the crowd one could hear songs like "John Brown's Body" and "Are we downhearted?" the whole of the time. It was while they were in that mood that this extraordinary and most provocative display of force was sent out there. With great respect to the Home Secretary, we arc not attributing the blame for this extraordinary display of force to the ordinary individual constables; they did not go out on their own account. That display of force was sent out by a higher authority, and I say without hesitation that the right hon. Gentleman ought to bring that person into trouble. If it was a comparatively small crowd, they were most law-abiding and in the utmost good humour, yet before very long mounted police were among them, they were driven hither and thither, and in a short time, although there had been no attempt at any violence by any of the crowd, we found numbers of them coming towards us bleeding. I think that nothing need have happened at, all, that if there had been tact and patience shown by those in authority the whole thing would have passed off without any incidents whatever.

This winter is going to be a very severe one for the unemployed, particularly after the "cuts" have been inflicted upon them. I ask the Home Secretary to issue some kind of instruction that because of the rigours of the approaching winter and the hardships which the unemployed will have to suffer, whenever possible, without difficulty to the public welfare at all, demonstrations like that of last night might well be allowed. It is infinitely better that they should be allowed than that they should be suppressed and burst out somewhere with violence. I ask also that the police throughout the country should be specially requested to show great patience and tact and sympathy with these poor folk. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not accept the facile report that has been given to him with regard to last night's occurrence, and that he will go much more fully into it. If he does so I am sure he will come to the conclusion that there was a wholly unnecessary and provocative display of force against a good-humoured crowd, who probably felt that they had a grievance, as we know they have. When the right hon. Gentleman makes inquiry, not alone from his official advisers but from every source open to him, I am certain he will find that there was bad judgment on the part of those in control, and that their sense of judgment must have been warped entirely, because there were really two crowds, those who had come along here and the great mass of ordinary sightseers who were interested either in the financial crisis or in the floodlighting of this House.


As a London Member I would express my appreciation of my hon. Friend the Member for Erdington (Mr. Simmons) for having raised this matter. I am glad that he raised it because he was a witness of the occurrences outside the House. I cannot claim to give the same evidence, but I came through the crowd shortly before the occurrences happened, and I have very rarely been through a crowd, assembled for the purpose of a political demonstration, which was more good-humoured than that crowd. But the particular reason why I want to intervene is that I have been alarmed by the tone of the Home Secretary in the reply which he has given to these criticisms. I am one of those who have appreciated certain aspects of Liberal principles. Perhaps it is because I was brought up in those Radical principles myself. What has appealed to me in Liberal principles has been the belief that force and repression arc harmful and should be avoided.

What fills me with alarm is not so much the occurrences of last night, as the spirit which the Home Secretary has revealed in the House this evening. It seems to me that the Home Secretary has very rapidly changed in his mental attitude as a result of contact with his colleagues in the new Government. I hope that the temper revealed in his reply is not going to be the temper of the Home Office in its attitude towards the unemployed during the coming winter. I do not think one is using words which are too strong in saying that the right hon. Gentleman revealed a complacency as to last night's occurrences and a contempt for those who were demonstrating which ought not to be expressed in the speech of one who has called himself a Liberal. We might have expected to find it expressed if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) had been Home Secretary. [HON. MEM- BERS: "Or the Member for Platting."] One notices that the kind of temper which has been expressed in the Home Secretary's speech is also finding expression in the mouths of some of the Liberal Members occupying back benches opposite.

I wish to put this point as strongly as I can to the Home Secretary. Even if he takes the view, which we on these benches cannot take, that it is necessary in the present national circumstances, to impose further hardships on the unemployed, then the very fact that he believes it to be a national necessity to do so ought to make him much more careful as to the manner in which he treats the unemployed when that suffering is imposed upon them. If they are to be sacrificed to the national crisis, the Home Secretary ought to have an added determination that in the administration of his office he will not treat them with harshness and rigour in the event of protests which must inevitably arise against those hardships. I beg of him to take warning from the events of last night; to make a thorough inquiry into what happened; to investigate whether the display of force was necessary; to discover by whom the orders were given, and to use his influence to see that that method of dealing with such demonstrations is not repeated in London or anywhere else during the occurrences which are likely to happen in the coming winter.

We are facing a winter in which there will be demonstrations of revolt by the unemployed and by the working class as a result of the policy which the Government are going to pursue. If that situation is not to become dangerous, then, at least, the Government who carry out that policy of hardship to the unemployed and the workers, must be very careful indeed in the manner in which they deal with the workers when they protest against those hardships. It is because I desire to appeal to the Home Secretary to inquire into last. night's events, and to take the utmost care that those events do not recur, that I venture to intervene in this Debate.


When the Home Secretary made those remarks, which I am sure he meant about the courtesy and kindness of the London police, my mind went back to his previous occupation of the office which he holds to-day. In those days he made very much the same kind of speech as he has made to-night about certain other occurrences, and about how the London police were to be trusted in all circumstances, to use the utmost consideration in dealing with those who came under their hands. I remember friends of my own, who were asking for the vote, being brought broken and bleeding, into the offices of the Suffrage Society of that time. The people who demonstrated last night were not women of position and wealth as many of those women were. Those women in many eases had influential friends and relatives and could make their voices heard. I am sure the Home Secretary meant what he said tonight, and I have no doubt he meant what he said all those years ago, but I put this to him, as a man of great intelligence. He ought to ask himself whether if such things were done in those days—and it is admitted that they were done, now that all the letters and memoirs have appeared—if those things were done then, against women who had every power to protest, what is being done by those same police to-day to friendless, homeless, and unhappy men who have no one to speak for them?

Some of us have a memory of the right hon. Gentleman's previous Home Secretaryship. I have no doubt that he spoke to-night the comfortable words which were given to him by superintendents and chiefs of police. The police of those days gave him reports that all was well. We know now that all was not well. We know now some of the things that were done in those days. Therefore I urge the right hon. Gentleman to go deeper than the smooth words of officialdom. I am not, Heaven knows, blaming the individual constable. He acts under orders, but anyone who has been in conflict with the police as I have been and as ninny of my friends have been, knows that there is all the difference in the world between an individual dealing with an individual policeman, or being dealt with by an individual policeman—and there I admit our police are probably the best in the world—and a crowd being dealt with by police who have orders to clear a particular place at any cost and anyhow. It is true that we are facing a very difficult winter. We have been facing it for the last 10 years. If the story of what the police have done during the last 10 years had been written as the story of the previous occurrences has been written, I wonder if the smooth words of the Home Secretary would be borne out. The events of last night happened here where we all happen to be, and the same kind of thing will probably not happen again so near the House, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that something is done to prevent this kind of thing happening again not, only here but in other places. The Home Secretary said, as though they did not matter, that the crowd consisted mostly of youths. That may be true, and probably is, but I would ask him why it consisted mostly of youths. It is not merely a matter of the ebullient, high spirits of youth. There is precious little high spirit left in some of these youths.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

They were not university students on this occasion. It was not boat race night.


I would ask the Home Secretary to remember that it is very difficult indeed for these youths to get public assistance under the new public assistance committees, for many of them, especially in London, in spite of the circulars that were issued by the previous Ministry of Health, and in defiance of those circulars, are being denied out-relief of any kind whatever. Quite a lot of them are not even qualified for unemployment benefit, so bad has the thing become, and it is extremely difficult for youths to get unemployment benefit under the present regulations. There is, therefore, all the reason in the world why a crowd of unemployed demonstrating at the present time should consist of young men, who are being driven from both sides to desperation, not being able to get either any kind of relief or any kind of unemployment benefit. Therefore, under the circumstances, I ask the Home Secretary if he will not go a little deeper than he went on a previous occasion and see whether anything can be done.


I was not one of those who witnessed the events of last night, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for East Leyton (Mr. Brockway), I have heard what has been said to us to- night by the Home Secretary, and I consider his speech and the tone of his speech the most alarming thing that has happened since Parliament was called together. I associate the fact that he has made that speech to-night with the other fact that he was the one Minister last night on whom was left the emphasis upon the point that the unemployed must pay, and he has continued the tone and matter of that speech last night in what he has said to-night. He has given an impression that the magistrates have been too lenient in their judgment upon the unemployed.


No. I heard the whole of the Home Secretary's speech, and he never said anything of the kind to justify the remark that the hon. Member has made.


The Home Secretary spoke specifically of the leniency that was shown in the courts when the matter came before them, and I said that he gave the impression that it was too great leniency. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I gave only my own impression. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a wrong impression!"] At any rate, I have no mistake about the impression that I have of the hon. Member opposite. The Home Secretary, without any evidence whatever, spoke of the disorderliness of this small section of the crowd with whom the enormous posse of police had to deal. I suggest that last night of all nights they might, when they were talking about economy here and tightening the belt, have suspended that waste of money that goes on in the form of flood lighting the Tower and the other public buildings of London. They had attracted the people to this neighbourhood in a spirit of levity. They might have expected the people to sing songs, without much idea of the seriousness of the situation that we were in, and they might have conformed to the levity which themselves were showing by at least keeping the police in some sort of proportion to the small section of the crowd that the Home Secretary mentioned.

Instead of that, at the very earliest moment they have used the mailed fist, when a little tact and ordinary common sense were most required. I am not saying that sometimes there are not in the community, especially in times of difficulty like this, men who lose a sense of proportion. I am willing to admit that there are in crowds those who must be carefully dealt with, and ultimately strongly dealt with, but it was not the time last night, and it was not the time to-night for the Home Secretary to adopt the tone that he did adopt. I want to ask some other Minister on that Front Bench to give us an indication that the attitude of the Home Secretary to-night is not to be the attitude of the new Government, for if it goes forward that the new Government are to associate their policy of the poor tightening their belts with the further policy of hammering the poor while they do tighten their belts, we are in for periods of difficulty in this country which will need far more than the words that the Home Secretary has used to-night to deal with. I suggest that we have had to-night a display of an attitude that was entirely unwarranted by the circumstances, and I ask for an alteration of that attitude at the earliest possible moment.

10.0 p.m.


I desire to associate myself with the protest made, as one who saw that crowd from the very beginning of its formation in Museum Street. I was fetched by a deputation of my own constituents to see them outside this House being paraded round by a big posse of police, which was absolutely unnecessary under the circumstances. I was asked by some of my constituents, many of whom are unemployed, to be present at their demonstration in Museum Street if my duties here could possibly allow me to go there, and I went there to see if it was possible to address them in the square in Museum Street. I found there the most orderly crowd—[Interruption.]—I do not see why you should laugh. I went down to my own constituents, many of whom were in that crowd, and I found the most orderly crowd—bitter, it is true, in view of what they knew was going to be imposed upon them by the dictatorship of this House, bitter, it is true, knowing what was to come to them during the cruel winter that they have to face—a more orderly crowd it would be difficult to find.

I had borne in upon me in Museum Street last night something that has been mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). I compared the crowd which I saw in Museum Street last night and the crowd which I saw outside this House last night with crowds which I have often seen in the streets of Cambridge, crowds of undergraduates, behaving with a hooliganism which has very often distressed and disgusted the citizens of Cambridge. The police in Cambridge are very tender with them, and I am very glad that they are. Our police in this country are a decent set of gentlemen when they are not goaded on to behave otherwise. The police in Cambridge are very tender with these men because they regard their actions as the ebullience of youth and realise that we can only be young once. Certainly our youth departs from us very quickly when we come to this House. Last night's crowd was an orderly crowd when it was in Museum Street, and I was amazed when constituents of mine sent in a card to me last night to ask me if I would go outside the House of Commons and see the preparations for their reception. They were preparations, as the right hon. Gentleman has admitted. Preparations for what? What is it that the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentlemen behind him fear? I do not wonder that they have fear when they know what they have prepared for the poor unemployed men and women.

These people came here in an orderly fashion and in very small numbers, but there was a very large crowd outside, as good-humoured and good-tempered as a London crowd always is unless it is goaded on to anything else. It is force that breeds force. These men came here in an orderly fashion, and, if they had not been met with force, there would have been no trouble at all. Are they the only people who are demonstrating? There are some very respectable people demonstrating this week, and they will continue to demonstrate knowing what the House has in store for them. The unemployed are as law-abiding as the other people who are demonstrating, and ought to be treated with the same consideration.

I was amazed at the words of the right hon. Gentleman. When he sat on this side of the House I learned to respect him. I never saw his name go up on the "ticker" without coming in to hear what he said. One of the things he taught me was respect for the real Liberal mind. There is no doubt that evil companions corrupt good manners, and I shall regret it if they corrupt good principles also. It has been a matter of the deepest regret to me to hear the right hon. Gentleman speaking in the way he did of the poor unemployed who are threatened with a cut—men for whom the Government have been changed and who are the cause of the crisis. I wonder what hon. Members opposite thought was in store for them last night. My word, you must have guilty consciences that you should have had mounted police outside! I am astonished at the words spoken by the right hon. Gentleman, a Liberal. I was brought up a Liberal, but, good heavens, it was not that sort of Liberalism. I beg the right hon. Gentleman not to adopt the attitude which he has adopted here to-night. I ask him to give this matter his consideration, not as a Member of this Government, but as the gentleman whom we knew when he sat on these benches. I hope he will realise that this is not a matter that should be tampered with, but a matter that should he given grave treatment. If the kind of treatment that was meted out to them last night is to be meted out to these men, there will he much more bitter scenes during the coming winter.


I hope that the House will allow me out of courtesy to hon. Members who have spoken to add a few words to what I have said. If I had had even a quarter of an hour's notice that this matter was to have been raised, I should have provided myself with all the information to enable me to answer the questions addressed to me as to the numbers employed, and as to the more detailed circumstances of the incidents of last night. Let me point out just one fact in answer to what has been said by the hon. Member for East Islington (Mrs. Manning), and by the hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Brockway). He said that this demonstration ought to have been allowed, and that in view of the hardships of the unemployed they should not be denied their opportunity of bringing their complaints even to the door of Parliament itself. Why, they ask, should the police have interfered with a procession which was of an orderly character?


I did not make, and I do not think that the hon. Lady made, any reference to a procession here, for we are aware that a procession is not allowed in the precincts of this House. This was not a procession.


There was certainly a crowd of persons who were engaged in a demonstration. There is an Order of this House which requires the Commissioner of Police to take action in such circumstances and I will read it. This Order was passed as a Sessional Order on the 28th October, 1930. It has been passed every year for many generations, and it was moved on the last occasion under the auspices of the Government of that day, as it had been moved under the auspices of other Governments. The Order is: That the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passages through the streets leading to this House he kept free and open, and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House, and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall or in the passages leading to this House during the Sitting of Parliament, and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts; and that the Serjeant-at-Arms attending this House do communicate this Order to the Commissioner aforesaid.


Did that Order apply when the Government were helping to attract large crowds by permitting the flood-lighting of the eastern end of the House?


The late First Commissioner of Works sanctioned that arrangement, and I would point out that it involves no expense to the country—[Interruption].


If the Home Secretary is attacked, the least that hon. Members can do is to allow him to reply.


Those crowds involved no obstruction or danger of disturbance or deterrence of persons approaching or leaving the House of Commons. That is the answer when I am asked why it was that it was necessary to disperse these crowds. The Commissioner has his orders through the Serjeant-at-Arms which this House unanimously passed, and he would have been doing less than his duty if he disobeyed those orders. As to my previous observations, I would venture respectfully, but with some indignation, to repudiate the accusations that I spoke either with complacency or with contempt. Those who have heard my previous speech will, I am quite certain, bear me out when I say that neither of those epithets could fairly be used to characterise my remarks.


Your actions speak louder than your words.


Nor did I say or suggest that I thought that the magistrate was too lenient in dealing with these cases. As a matter of fact I said that the cases had been dealt with leniently. I do not think anyone has been sent to prison, and, so far as I know, no one was even fined; they were bound over to be of good conduct for a period of months. My consciousness of innocence in the face of the accusations of hon. Members opposite is confirmed by my even more complete consciousness of innocence in regard to the accusations of the hon. Member for East Middles-brough (Miss Wilkinson), who told us that her memory went back to the time when I was Home Secretary before, and how on that occasion I defended the police when they had made attacks upon women engaged in the suffrage movement, told us how those women were seriously injured by the brutality of the police, and how I as Home Secretary had defended the police in all circumstances. I am afraid the hon. Lady's memory has deceived her, because when I was Home Secretary formerly was in 1916, during the War, when the whole of the suffrage agitation was in abeyance, when no such incidents occurred.


I apologise if my memory was wrong as to the date, but if the right hon. Gentleman was not actually occupying that office at the time to which I referred I can quote from books the words which he used on the subject. He actually was in the Government, Mr. Asquith's Government, at that time and defended the police in words strongly reminiscent of those he used to-day, when there was a particular raid on this House and when many women were seriously injured.


I should be interested to see the quotation. Personally I do not recollect the incident. [Interruption.] An hon. Member says that perhaps it was when I was Under-Secre- tary. I was Under-Secretary before the suffrage agitation. This reminds me of the fable of the wolf and the lamb and the stream. On this occasion I can claim complete lamblike innocence.


Tell us what you are going to do about the unemployed?


With regard to a further inquiry into the incidents of last night, as several Members of this House have desired, such an inquiry certainly it shall be made, and if they have any specific cases which they desire to bring to my notice I will gladly make special inquiries into those cases; but in consenting to make an inquiry it must not be supposed that I accept in any way the condemnation that has been passed upon the action of the police in these cases. When Members of the House desire that particular inquiries should be made with regard to incidents of which they have first hand knowledge, in the normal course such inquiries are naturally undertaken.

It being one hour after the conclusion of Government business, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put.

Adjourned at Eighteen Minutes after Ten o'Clock.