HC Deb 11 June 1934 vol 290 cc1341-8
38. Mr. THORNE

asked the Home Secretary if he is aware that the British Union of Fascists have organised an air defence force and an armoured-car section; and if he intends taking action in the matter?


No, Sir, I am not aware that the British Union of Fascists have organised an Air defence force, though I am aware that in May last a flying meeting was held in Gloucestershire at which a number of Fascists attended. I should be glad to consider any information in the possession of the hon. Member. As regards the use of armoured cars, I am informed that the four vehicles in question are in no way armoured but are ordinary commercial vehicles with wire protection at the windows which are used to convey members of the organisation to and from meetings.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has read the supplementary question which I put to him the other day? If not, I will read some of it——


I cannot allow the hon. Member to do that now.


Well, then, may I ask the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to a statement made last year by the uncrowned king of the Fascist movement, that he is prepared to meet the situation with machine guns and that his party is organised for a struggle with violence? I want to ask the Home Secretary why, if that statement is in the hands of the chief of police, action was not taken against him then? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that when the hon. Member who is now talking made a less violent speech in Trafalgar Square, he was pinched?


We have all the information available, but I invite the hon. Gentleman to give me any further information.


Is it not a fact that the air defence force referred to is a flying club on all fours with other flying clubs in this country?


asked the Home Secretary the number of persons injured at the Fascist meeting at Olympia on the 7th June?

40. Mr. THORNE

asked the Home Secretary whether he has received a report from the Commissioner of Police in connection with the serious disturbances at the Fascist meeting at Olympia no Thursday night, 7th June; the number of persons injured and the number taken to hospital for treatment; whether he has been able to find out the fundamental aims and objects of this organisation; and whether he intends taking any action in the matter?

42. Lieut.-Colonel APPLIN

asked the Home Secretary how many baton charges were made by the police outside Olympia on Thursday night the 7th instant; how many police were injured in the disturbances; and why it was considered necessary to employ 1,000 police in this neighbourhood?


asked the Home Secretary what steps are now proposed to prevent any further outbreak of Blackshirt brutality?


I think that it will be for the convenience of the House if I make a general statement at the end of Questions in reply to these questions.


asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that unnecessary violence such as that shown by persons wearing political uniforms at Olympia on 7th June will inevitably provoke retaliation, the Government will give an early date for the discussion of measures to avert this menace to public order and political good will?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)

Perhaps my hon. Friend would await the statement to be made after Questions by the Home Secretary, but, as regards time, I would point out that the matter could be raised on the appropriate Vote on an allotted Supply Day.

At the end of Questions:


Early in May it was announced that a meeting organised by the British Union of Fascists would be held at Olympia on the 7th instant and would be addressed by Sir Oswald Mosley. The Commissioner of Police subsequently received information that the Communist party of Great Britain proposed to make a counter demonstration against this meeting, the counter demonstration to take the form of an organised opposition inside Olympia, and a monster mass demonstration outside Olympia. In the light of this information it became the duty of the Commissioner to make adequate arrangements for carrying out the responsibilities that fall on the police on occasions of this character.

The question of the extent of the responsibility of the police for preserving order at public meetings was fully considered by a Departmental Committee appointed by one of my predecessors, the right hon. Herbert Gladstone, in 1909, and the present policy is based on the recommendations of that Committee. In accordance with that policy, it is no part of the ordinary duty of the police to deal with interrupters at public meetings held on private premises, and they have no legal authority to enter the premises except by leave of the occupier or the promoters of the meeting or when they have good reason to believe that a breach of the peace is being committed. Nor again is it any part of the duty of the police to act as stewards at a meeting, but the police have been advised by the Home Office that, on extraordinary occasions when there is a definite reason to apprehend disturbance of a serious character, they should make arrangements for policing the meeting inside as well as outside if they are asked to do so by the persons responsible for convening the meeting.

On the present occasion, the British Union of Fascists informed the Commissioner that the Fascists did not require the assistance of the police inside the building and at no stage was any request made for police to enter the meeting. On one occasion, however, a small party of uniformed police entered the precincts of Olympia, but not the meeting itself, on being informed that there was a man who required attention.

The Commissioner took the necessary steps for controlling traffic and the crowd in the vicinity of Olympia before and during the meeting, and he arranged for a number of both foot and mounted police to be kept ready in reserve. In all, about 760 police were detailed for these purposes, and in view of what took place at Olympia, I think that the House will agree that the precautions which the Commissioner deemed it necessary to take were in no sense excessive.

As regards the disturbance inside Olympia, I have already explained that the police were not called into the meeting, and I have nothing to add to the very full accounts which have already appeared in the Press. Allegations have been made by responsible eye-witnesses that assaults were committed by the Fascist stewards in ejecting interrupters, but, as the law does not allow undue violence to be used and as the question whether unnecessary force was used may come before the courts, it would not be proper for me to make any comment on these allegations. I think, however, I ought to point out that, hitherto, the advice as regards police action has been based on the assumption that the stewards of a meeting in dealing with interrupters will act without undue violence and will themselves avoid illegal acts. If this assumption should be found to be unwarranted as regards meetings promoted by any particular organisation, the whole policy of police action inside such public meetings will have to be reviewed.

As regards what took place outside Olympia, the Commissioner informs me that, while the meeting was assembling, considerable numbers of persons collected outside the building and that it was necessary to clear the approaches to the hall. Throughout the duration of the meeting, crowds remained in the roads adjacent to Olympia, and at times became disorderly. During the course of the evening 23 persons were arrested by the police on charges of assault, obstructing the police, and using insulting words and behaviour, but I am informed that there were no baton charges by the foot police, though on one occasion a party of four mounted police drew their truncheons but did not use them. During the disturbances outside Olympia two constables and one woman were assaulted in the street and received slight injuries. It is know that a number of persons were injured inside the meeting, but the police are not aware of the number of persons so injured, though 10 persons are known to have received treatment at neighbouring hospitals for injuries believed to have been sustained during the disturbances inside Olympia. Order was finally restored soon after midnight.

I am sure that I am voicing the feeling of this House and of the country as a whole when I say that scenes of disorder on the scale which we have recently witnessed cannot be tolerated and that if they continue it may be necessary to arm the executive authorities with further powers for the purpose of preserving public order. I am not concerned to-day to apportion blame between the Fascists and the Communists. It is the function of the Government to preserve law and order. They would be failing in their duty if they allowed any faction, either of the Eight or of the Left, to disturb the public peace, and they are certainly not prepared to allow their responsibilities for the maintenance of order and the preservation of our free institutions to be usurped by any private and irresponsible body, no matter what may be their avowed aims or objects.


Is it not quite evident to the Home Secretary that the reason why Sir Oswald Mosley did not require the police inside was that he had hundreds of men there, brought from all parts of the country by train, and that the majority of them were armed with some very dangerous implements. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh! What about the Com- munists?"] Those implements were used inside the hall, as hon. Members of this House and others who were at the meeting can bear witness. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that in consequence of the avowed declaration of the ultimate aim and object of this organisation it should be declared an illegal organisation—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—in exactly the same way as the Land League was declared illegal in Ireland?


Is the Home Secretary aware that the Fascists propose to hold a meeting at the White City on the Sunday before August Bank Holiday, and, in view of the fact that the White City holds ten times as many people as the Olympia, what steps is he going to take to prevent disturbances and casualties there?


In considering any future arrangements will the right hon. Gentleman endeavour to ensure that any party in this country, however distasteful its views may be, has a chance of presenting its case to the public, and that the public are enabled to attend meetings without organised opposition and molestation?


Is my right hon. Friend aware that leaflets were issued in East London on the morning of Thursday urging East London workers to assemble at Stepney Green and march to Olympia in order to fight Fascism, warmongers and capitalists, and that a great demonstration did meet at Stepney Green and was escorted by the police to Olympia, with the object of fighting Fascism; and does the right hon. Gentleman not think that that ought to have been prevented, and that people who engage a hall, for whatever purpose, ought to be protected?


Is my right hon. Friend aware that when Sir Oswald Mosley stood for Smethwick in 1926 practically every Conservative meeting was broken up by his Socialist supporters; and, although a leopard may change his shirt frequently, is it not obvious that he cannot change his spots?


I think I have made it sufficiently clear that the view of His Majesty's Government is that a repetition of the kind of behaviour which has recently taken place cannot be tolerated. I am sure it is in the interests of every party in this country that our meetings should be orderly; and, as one who has been long accustomed to political meetings, and in fairly rough quarters sometimes, I have always found that if you make a reasonable appeal to the common sense of the audience you will succeed. There may be organised demonstrations but there are powers to deal with those, whoever may be running the meeting. All I want to say from the police point of view is that we try to take no part with either side, because the duty of the police is to keep order. I have no reason to think that they did not do so on this occasion.


Having regard to the information which they received, did the police take any steps to have a police observer within the meeting?


There is a distinct difference between uniformed police going to a meeting, which is not proper unless they are asked to go, and the police taking such steps as they think are desirable to have the fullest information of these meetings.


Were there not private detectives inside this meeting in the same way as there are at our meetings, and does it not seem strange that not one of the people who attended this meeting and were locked up belonged to the Fascists? Did the Fascists not use violence on several occasions?


I am not aware as to whether those who have been taken by the police were either Fascists or non-Fascists.


Is it not probable that they were the organised interrupters?


Without wishing to imply any criticism of the right hon. Gentleman's answers at this stage—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—I mean this entirely respectfully—I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely: To call attention to the violence accompanying the Blackshirt meeting at Olympia on Thursday, 7th June.


I am afraid that the Motion hardly complies with the Standing Order, if for no other reason than that it is not definite, and that I could not allow it.


May I make a submission on that. As to its definiteness I should have thought, with great respect, that what occurred last Thursday was all too definite. As to it being an urgent matter of public importance, surely the public are exposed to this danger of extraordinary and unprecedented disorder unless peculiar steps are taken?


I do not propose to make any remarks about what took place at Olympia. All I say is that the terms of the Motion do not comply with the Standing Order relating to the Adjournment.


In view of the importance of the matter, I beg to give notice that I shall raise it on the Adjournment at an early date.