§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 9th September, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Mr. HAYES
I desire to raise a matter in a spirit of helpfulness, I hope, to the Home Secretary and the local authorities who are charged with the preservation of order, peace and tranquility. The matter in question arose out of the conflict that took place in Liverpool yesterday between, very large numbers of workless people and the police. I raise it in 1948 the sense that these demonstrations are taking place in all the industrial areas of the country, and I think that, as we are embarking upon a period of considerable hardship for the unemployed, at a time of the year when the season itself will add to their difficulties, it is as well, if there is to be a, public policy upon the manner in which the unemployed are to comport themselves, that we should have that policy freely and frankly declared on all sides, so that there should be no misunderstanding.
If I raise the Liverpool question in particular I hope that it will not be misunderstood. I recognise that the Home Secretary does not carry any direct personal responsibility for police activity in any particular area, but it is because he carries a general responsibility for the police administration of the country that I quote the Liverpool incident of yesterday as a very severe example. There was a very big procession, consisting mainly of workless men and a number of their womenfolk and a number of children, to the extent, I should 1949 imagine, from the reports that I have received, of something like 8,000 to 10,000 people. I do not propose to deal with the details of what happened, because, obviously, I cannot speak as a witness of the affair as I was attending to my duties here, but from the information which percolates through the Press, and also from friends in Liverpool, I think I can state the general facts which are beyond dispute. I will quote from a report which appeared in a local and important morning newspaper, the "Liverpool Post," which gives a very fair report, I imagine, of what transpired; and if I quote from it I shall not be charged with overstating the case. It says:The procession, headed by a drum and fife band "—that is no offence up to now—marched through the crowded streets carrying banners and distributing literature. When they approached the municipal offices mounted police and 100 foot police suddenly approached the procession. This move was greeted with angry cries, and for a few minutes was in disorder. There were many scuffles before the police broke the ranks into two, diverting one away from the municipal offices and turning the other one back. Eventually the demonstrators returned to their open-air headquarters by Islington Square, where they were dispersed by the police.That really states how the atmosphere which was charged with trouble was preceded by a demonstration. It is a simple story. The unemployed on Merseyside, like the unemployed in almost any other industrial area, are organised, and all movements produce their leaders. It is no argument to point out that a particular leader is this or that type of person or that this or that person has a record. The simple fact remains that the unemployed are organised; and they appointed a deputation to wait upon the public assistance committee. It was representative in a sense of the vast army of unemployed on the Mersey side, the numbers of which can easily be imagined when it is remembered that the population there is 1,250,000. The deputation appeared before the public assistance committee a week ago, and yesterday waited upon them for a reply to their representations. By the time the deputation arrived the public assistance committee had dispersed, for reasons best known to themselves, probably in the 1950 interests of law and order, and had left their reply with the town clerk.
The unemployed had proceeded by way of procession towards the municipal buildings, which are situate in the main public thoroughfare. They were not allowed to remain outside the public buildings and, therefore, passed on while the deputation went inside. When the deputation returned with the reply they found that the procession had disappeared, but in course of time it wended its way back towards the municipal offices and approached the deputation, which had left the municipal offices. I wish to emphasise this point, that up to that point there is no suggestion from any quarter that the procession was an improper one. The deputation had been properly introduced to the town clerk by one of the local city councillors and a local Justice of the Peace. They had been brought back to meet their procession, and up to then there had been no suggestion or any warning notice issued at any time by the police or the Watch Committee or the Lord Mayor that this procession was in any way to be interfered with, or was not to be allowed to exercise its full rights to use the King's highway. But when the deputation met the procession, and the reply of the public assistance committee, which was not satisfactory to the unemployed, was read, loud cries went up, and I have no doubt it is quite true that there were such phrases used as "Down with the National Government" I do not think the usual term "Up with the Reds" was, in fact, used on this occasion. The phrases most used were "Down with the National Government" and "Not a penny off the dole" and phrases of that kind.
Something must have happened then which disturbed the tranquillity of mind of those who were responsible for maintaining law and order. What I would like to stress to the right hon. Gentleman is that it is just as well, in the interests of all concerned, that we should know precisely what it was that was responsible for the sudden emergence from the police bridewell of some hundreds of police officers, who immediately got into active conflict and contact with the procession. After then the procession was split into two fairly large processions, and an attempt was made to turn one 1951 of them from one thoroughfare into another into which the unemployed did not desire to proceed. There was a crush and panic, and the inevitable injuries were received, and there was the inevitable bad blood, but after that the procession reformed, apparently with the consent of the police. The procession made its way to the place known as Islington Square.
It is necessary for me to mention this because the principle that I have in mind, and what is exercising me in raising this matter to-night, is that I think there is a definite challenge to the right of free speech and of the right of organised members of the community, so long as they comport themselves in a proper manner, to have processions through a thoroughfare in regard to which there is no by-law or Act of Parliament to say it is improper. So then the procession returned to Islington Square—a place which is well known, for I am not at all sure that the right hon. Gentleman's very able assistant himself has not spoken in Islington Square when he had the pleasure of entering into a conflict with me at a certain election. The Islington Square of Liverpool is known as a free ground on which all kinds of speeches can be made without any interference from the police authorities. It is a place where no damage can be done, and it has been found very useful to enable various speakers of various kinds of thought to let themselves go. I, myself, have on many occasions spoken on Islington Square, and I am looking forward to saying a few kindly words about the present Government in a few weeks' time. The point I want to make about the Islington Square meeting is that there is no law or by-law to prevent the unemployed or any other section of the community meeting and speaking there.
There is no suggestion that this meeting commenced with any riotous or disorderly intention. The only thing that was known about the meeting was a resolution that had been passed—a resolution which in its terms was not unreasonable and not calculated to give the impression to the authorities that such a procession would be likely to do anything more than normally protest. 1952 If I may I will read the resolution in order to indicate the mind of those who were responsible for the organisation:This mass meeting of Liverpool unemployed who have for many years past suffered starvation and misery and the terrors of mental agony by fear of the landlord throwing us on the streets with our children, who have experience of our fellow workers being driven to suicide through these conditions, who see that the world contains all the raw materials and the machinery to provide food and plenty for all, emphatically protests against starvation amidst plenty. We claim from the powers that be and the system that makes these conditions, the right to live, and towards this end to make the following demands from the Liverpool Public Assistance Committee.That was publicly known to be the mind of the procession that was going to demonstrate on its way to the municipal offices to receive the reply of the public assistance committee. I know that this is a very difficult time, not only for the unemployed but also for the police. I do not think anyone will accuse me of bringing unfairly any charge against the administration of the police authorities as a whole. But I feel this, and it is with the memory sometimes of incidents that have not always been so thoroughly inquired into as one would like, that I would like to ask the Home 'Secretary to keep in very close touch with all his police authorities, and to let it be known to the police and watch committees generally that these are times when the utmost benevolence, consideration and clemency should be exercised, that there should not be any provocative display of a force which can always be applied if the worst comes to the worst, and, knowing what the difficulties of local authorities are and the mentality sometimes of watch committees, I should like to see the establishment of a mind that would approximate to that which prevailed during the period of the General Strike.
On the Merseyside during the General Strike we went from beginning to end without a single conflict between those who were demonstrating and the police authorities. I think it is possible to go on in that spirit. I think that we are entitled to ask whether the local authority has been able to give to the Home Secretary a detailed statement up to the moment. I do not press the right hon. Gentleman too much for a reply in detail now, because he has had but 24 hours. 1953 But it is of sufficient importance to the House and the general public outside, in connection with the policy of the Government and local authorities in dealing with the acknowledged and professed right of all citizens to congregate together in orderly manner, that there should be no restriction upon their processions and the thoroughfares that they may use, or at least if they are to be barred from certain thoroughfares that the first opportunity should be taken of acquainting those who are taking part in the processions. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will institute that measure of inquiry into the circumstances of this case, not only in fairness to the people of Liverpool who have been disturbed by this occurrence, but in the interests of the police themselves, who are always in a difficult position in conflicts of this kind; and I am certain that the example of his action, taken on this occasion, will be reflected by the interest shown in industrial areas in other parts of the country.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir Herbert Samuel)
The hon. Member has spoken with his accustomed moderation and restraint and with that sense of responsibility which the House expects from him, and also with consideration for the police force with which he himself was so long and so honourably associated. It is well that the facts of occurrences such as the incident to which he refers should be publicly known, and I make no complaint whatever that he should have wised this question. He has mentioned the constitutional position of the Home Secretary in matters of this kind. Where the Metropolitan police are concerned, the Home Secretary is the police authority and takes responsibility for the actions of the Commissioner of Police, but outside London, in the counties and the boroughs, that is not so. The police are administered by the standing joint committees in the counties and by the watch committees in the boroughs. They are not employed by the Home Secretary, and the Home Secretary, does not issue orders to them, and is not directly responsible for their actions. He can indeed intervene, if at any time it is shown that a particular police force is not properly administered, and he in- 1954 tervenes in such cases for the reason that the State provides half the cost of these forces and has to assure itself that the money is properly expended and that the forces are administered in a right manner.
For the rest in a case such as this, any citizens of Liverpool who may feel aggrieved should have recourse to their own municipality and its watch committee, who are the police authority for the police force of Liverpool, or else, if they have any grievance which would justify legal proceedings they should take legal proceedings in the courts. However, it has been customary for the Home Secretary on occasions like this to give all the information in his possession to the House of Commons when it is asked for, and I gladly give it in this instance. I have received very full reports from Liverpool, and I will give the substance of them. Meetings of unemployed people have been held on several occasions within the last few days without any objection or interference, and resolutions such as that quoted by the hon. Member have been moved and adopted. There have also been processions. There was a procession on the 14th which led to no interference from the police. There was a procession on the 16th which led to no interference from the police and there was this procession on the 23rd which was not in any way interfered with on its march to the offices of the public assistance committee which are in the centre of the city.
The actual procession numbered 2,000 to 3,000 persons. They attended at those offices and sent in a deputation which was received. When it was about to return the Chief Superintendent informed the leaders of the procession that they should return by what was the most convenient route, through Stanley Street and Victoria Street, and the procession set out accordingly, along the line of march indicated by the Chief Superintendent. But on the way it turned aside and insisted upon going through another street, called Dale Street. Cries and shouts were raised, the procession became somewhat disorderly, and the police had to intervene in order to see that the injunction of the Chief Superintendent of Police was observed. That was the only cause of the intervention. It was not any desire to prevent the procession marching to the centre of the city, it 1955 was not any thought that the resolution which was read out was one that ought not to have been passed, it was not any attempt to exercise a censorship over what was done at the meeting; it was solely the fact that the police in the performance of their duty to regulate the traffic through the city, had instructed the procession that on its return it should go along a certain route, whereupon numbers of the people tried to break away and to go through other streets.
Then the police had to intervene, and did so, and turned back the procession along the authorised route; and there was some conflict at that point. Afterwards the people re-formed their procession and held the meeting to which the hon. Member has referred. There was no objection at all to their holding the meeting. There was no desire to interfere in any way with it, but what happened was that there was a good deal of excitement and shouting, and a certain number of people began to throw stories at the police. The hon. Member omitted to mention that not unimportant fact. When the police began to have stones thrown at them, not unnaturally they thought it was necessary to take action, and they proceeded to disperse the meeting. No force was used other than was required, no batons were drawn, there was no undue violence of any kind, and no one was seriously hurt at all.
Four persons were arrested for resisting the police. One of them, it is alleged, was brandishing a hammer, a somewhat dangerous weapon. These four men were brought before the magistrate and they were remanded until Tuesday next, and, as the case is sub judice it would obviously be quite improper for me to say anything with regard to it. That is the whole simple story of the occurrence, and I do not think the police, on the information given to me, are in any way to be held blameworthy or to have exceeded in any degree the duty cast upon them to maintain due order and to see that when processions take place they go along the authorised routes and do not break away into other streets along which they are not directed by the police to proceed.
§ Mr. VAUGHAN
I crave the indulgence of the House for a few moments 1956 because of my experience as chairman of a standing joint committee, and having had a good deal to do with the administration of the police in South Wales. If there was one argument for the National Government to remain in office, I agree that it would be that the present Home Secretary is very well adapted, by his toleration and fairmindedness, for the office that he holds. There is only one criticism I would make of his speech. He said that the Home Secretary had the right to withhold the grant from a standing joint committee when the police force was not properly administered. I agree, but that phrase "properly administered" is a very elastic one, and, speaking as one who has suffered from the interference of the Home Office in withholding the grant in Monmouthshire, I am not prepared to accept that without qualification. Let me say at once that I am a great admirer of the police, and I have learned to admire them more because of the conflicts I have had with them.
We must admit that the clothing of an ordinary man in blue and brass does not make him more than human. I admit they have an exceedingly difficult task in a case like that at Liverpool, for they are likely to be blamed whatever they do. I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that in many police authorities—I speak of the police authorities in Wales—and in some cases the chief of police there is a disposition to regard our democracy as a mob in times of difficulty. I ask that the people whom we on this side regard particularly as our treasure, who have fought for their country and are now fighting for their wives and children, should be regarded as citizens and Britons. I ask also that some appeal might be made by the Home Office to the authorities to keep their heads cool this winter. I have reason for saying that. There are many in the police force, who are temperamentally and mentally unfitted to deal with crowds in times like this. In our troubles of 1926 there was one superintendent of police no more fitted to take that particular job than I am. I know of another who commanded columns of unemployed and locked out men. He actually accompanied thousands of people and marched at their head to the board of guardians when they wanted to send in a deputation.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would remind the hon. Member that the Home Secretary is not responsible for the police except in the Metropolitan area.
§ Mr. VAUGHAN
I was only trying to argue that the Home Secretary is responsible in this sense that he can, through the Home Office, appeal to the local police authorities as to the way they should handle the people in their areas. I recall an occasion when we on the Monmouth Standing Joint Committee implored the chief of police to handle the people through their trade union leaders—
§ Mr. VAUGHAN
May I therefore appeal through this House to the local authorities which control the police forces—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have informed the hon. Member that the Home Secretary is not responsible for the local authorities.
§ Mr. VAUGHAN
I accept your Ruling. I will only ask that as much moderation and mercy as possible shall be shown in places where the Home Secretary has direct control, and where he has indirect control through the local authorities, who will be charged with great responsibility this winter, particularly in our crowded valleys of South Wales, and even in the Forest of Dean.
§ Mr. GIBBINS
Islington Square will easily hold the number of people mentioned by the Home Secretary without incommoding anybody, and if it is true that only that small number of people was there, our complaint that such a large display of force was brought on the scene is justified.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Here, again, the responsibility is that of the Liverpool Watch Committee, and not of the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. GIBBINS
My only point is that if we can show that the cause of the trouble was due to an unnecessary display of force, we ought to be able to persuade the Home Secretary, by the use of general instructions, to induce watch committees to insist cm keeping a large 1958 display of force out of the way of these people at a time when they are in a very bad temper because of the troubles they are going through.
§ Mr. LOGAN
As an old member of the Liverpool Watch Committee, I think the Home Secretary has some responsibility as regards instructions which can be given to watch committees. The management of the police in any borough is one of the factors to be taken into consideration in deciding the grants from the State. I am fully aware of my responsibility for any words I utter in this House, but as one who has seen trouble with large bodies of people in this city, as one who has been chairman of the board of guardians at a time when demonstrations come along, and know the danger that can arise through people who ought to keep a firm grip of things losing their heads, I wish to impress upon the Home Secretary the gravity of the situation. I submit that when a peaceful body of people come along a head constable has no authority to map out a line of route for them.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It would be quite wrong of the House to criticise the watch committees and chief constables in various localities. We have no responsibility for them.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I am reminded in Liverpool that the watch committee have complete control, and we are told the same thing in the House of Commons, but this House has control over finance, and, if there is no other method, the Home Office may be able to let these autocratic bodies know that if at this time of crisis they do not act in a proper way, the Home Office will not be able to give them money. The gravity of the situation calls for some kindly word of advice; it might be possible, through the Home Office to get co-operation with various bodies at this critical time.
I will not say more. I think the hon. Member for Edgehill (Mr. Hayes) has dealt very tactfully with the matter; but as one interested in the poorest areas of the Scotland division and in my own people—and I can say they are my own people—I want to see the poor protected, and to save a repetition of these disgraceful scenes in the City of Liverpool.
§ Mr. TILLETT
I have had experience of hundreds of cases of this kind in which the Army and Navy have been employed. I would like to know from the Home Secretary what authority the Home Office has over the Army and Navy in matters of industrial disputes?
§ Mr. KINLEY
If the Home Secretary would search the records of his Department he would never find, in any such case as this, any report from the chief constable other than the kind of report which he has read to the House to-night, because no chief constable ever sends a report which will implicate the police force of which he is in charge. I want the Home Secretary to take upon himself the responsibility of making an investigation in order to discover why the order was given to divert the procession away from the buildings where the body was sitting which the procession had gone to interview. They might have been sent down Stanley Street as being a quieter road than Dale Street, but the municipal buildings are in Dale Street, and in those buildings were the body which the procession wanted to interview.
It must be remembered that it was from those buildings that the procession was diverted by orders of the police. Quite naturally the people tried to get back as near as possible to the buildings in which they wanted to be interviewed. While asking for bread to eat they were diverted in this way from that purpose by the police, and when they turned back to ask for more bread they found a large force of police turned out to see that they did not get it. If stone-throwing took place, whose fault was it? Are the people who are asking for more bread to blame? Surely it is not right or proper that we should be expected to allow incidents of this kind to go by in silence. I suggest that the Home Secretary should get in touch with the governors of Liverpool University who have placed on record after full investigation that 16 per cent. of the overcrowded people in that particular area are below the poverty line. These people below the poverty line went to ask for more bread—
§ Mr. KINLEY
While I agree, as a member of long standing of a local authority, that initially the local watch committee is responsible for law and order, this House cannot divest itself of responsibility. The House has recently decided that the condition of those people is to be worsened, and these people are bound to ask that their legitimate rights should be granted to go to the local authorities concerned and appeal to them to make up what has been taken from them.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is much beyond the subject raised by the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Hayes). It has nothing to do with the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. KINLEY
What I am saying not only operated in this case but will operate in every case in every other industrial area in the country and that we cannot divest ourselves of responsibility. While it is technically true that the local watch committee is responsible for the conduct of the police, this House also is responsible for this change in the standard of living of the people which may bring them into conflict with the police.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must get on to some definite subject. He cannot talk at large of the general policy of the Government in a case of this kind. This is a particular occasion on which the action of the Home Secretary is brought into question.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Is it not in order to ask the Home Secretary not to take merely the report of the local police, who are interested parties? My hon. Friend was asking the Home Secretary to get some neutral body to carry out an inquiry and report on it. Further, you, Sir, said in an earlier Ruling that we could not criticise the superintendence of certain bodies. The Chief Constable is appointed by the Watch Committee and by the Home Secretary jointly. We are arguing that the Home Secretary ought to withdraw his approval of the Chief Constable unless a different tone and outlook is taken. In view of that I ask if my hon. Friend may not be allowed to develop his point.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I cannot enter into an argument with the hon. Member, but he must recollect that there is a system 1961 of local government in the country, under which these matters are dealt with, and we cannot be constantly dealing with them in this House.
§ Mr. KINLEY
I am bound to accept your Ruling. I come back to the narrower issue that there has been no record of any conflicts on the part of these people with the police until this occasion. I want the Home Secretary to accept the assurance of hon. Members from Liverpool and the neighbour- 1962 hood that this trouble would not have arisen but for the action of the police, and to insist that there shall be an inquiry into it, and that it shall be presided over by some impartial individual, who will see that the unemployed have a fair chance of trying to get their wrongs rectified.
§ It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.