Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £314,573, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1935, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department and Subordinate Offices, including Liquidation Expenses of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Contributions towards the Expenses of Probation."—[Note.—£156,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I think the Committee generally will welcome the fact that this Vote has been put down for to-day, instead of the Vote which it was previously intended to discuss, because, as has been shown by the columns of our newspapers during the last week, certain events have occurred which have very much stirred the public mind. I would like right away to refer to what took place at what is now called the Olympia meeting. I was not present at that meeting but I have read what has been written about the occurrences there, including letters by some who are Members of the House of Commons, and I have had furnished to me detailed reports prepared by two eminent journalists in this country who are special correspondents of their respective papers—papers of national standing—in which they have set out in detail what happened within their observation from the beginning of that meeting until the end.
The leader of the Blackshirt movement has claimed that he is associated with something which is new in our public life. It is very evident from the reports which I have received that there is something new in the way of public meetings. Apparently the arrangements on this occasion included bands—"sonorous metal blowing martial sounds"—uniforms, 1914 flags, salutes, a "gang shout-leader" and, it seems almost as if one had there all the incantations which one associates with an African witch doctor. There was a very remarkable way of dealing with interrupters. I am not speaking at present of the manifest brutalities which were complained of but there was some thing very new in the way of dealing with interrupters. I am told that at the meeting there were 24 loud speakers. Anyone who has had experience of the use of the microphone knows the enormous advantage which any speaker has over any audience, however large and however disturbed, by means of the microphone.
I know of a candidate in the last General Election who contested a division which has one of the largest Communist votes in the country, a vote that is not less than 10,000, in one of the largest electorates in the country, and he had no difficulty. Although there was disturbance and trouble such as we generally associate with elections and the natural ebullitions of feeling which one looks for on such occasions, he had no difficulty in putting before his constituency the views which he wished to express. In this case there were 24 loud speakers which should have enabled anyone to say what he had to say, whatever were the disturbances or cries in the audience. There was a very remarkable use of the are light, which I am told was used from time to time to be turned on to the centres of interruption as if there were a desire to magnify and advertise the interrupters. There were other expedients at that meeting which, taken with the accounts I have had from other parts of the country, would lead me to think that interruptions were not altogether unwelcome. When men have been trained and drilled and prepared for the purpose of dealing with interrupters, there is sometimes disappointment if the material is not forthcoming, and what was said by the leader himself at that meeting was very remarkable:We are grateful to these people for showing how necessary a Blackshirt defence force is to defend free speech.These are some of the strange methods that are new to our British politics. I pass on to what we have been told as to the action of the stewards. I have to rely on the reports given to me, as I was not at the meeting, and on what has appeared in the Press. So that we may 1915 get upon common ground I do not wish to condone, and my hon. Friends do not wish to condone, the action of those who go to a meeting for the purpose of breaking it up. Those who do that and get broken up themselves get what they deserve. A man in those circumstances invites trouble, and I am not putting any case for him at all. All I ask is that we should look generally at what happened. Remember that there are many kinds of interrupter. There is the interrupter whom we expect at an ordinary political meeting. We are used to it, and we do not expect a political meeting to be a sort of pleasant Sunday afternoon. If we have not the interrupter, the heckler, and the man who is able to express his mind in the audience, we must look to a different kind of political meeting in future. It is certain that many of the serious things that happened at this meeting and many of the serious cruelties that were inflicted on those who were not in the ordinary sense of the word Communists or breakers-up of public meetings—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense!"] I am anxious in anything I have to say not to use a word of exaggeration. The hon. Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Mr. Dixey) is evidently very excited at being in the House, and we are very glad to see him, but perhaps he will allow me to proceed.
We have had in the columns of the Press definite and categorical statements made by men of public reputation and standing who are not accustomed to newspaper correspondence, and letters have appeared signed in some instances by Members of this House. One appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" signed by a dignatory associated with the Church of England who is very well acquainted with public movements and public meetings. There appeared a remarkable letter in the "Manchester Guardian" of Tuesday, 12th June, which was signed by seven gentlemen associated with the University Union, Torrington Square, London. Each man gave his name. They said that the facts they gave in their statement all came within their personal observation and they were prepared to bear out their statements by affidavit. If any hon. Member reads the nine incidents to which they refer, which I trust have been brought to the attention of the Secretary of State, they will read something which, I sup- 1916 pose, has never happened before in the history of English political life.
§ Mr. FOOT
Seeing that I have raised that point I will quote two of the instances to which these seven men refer:A man was thrust out of the Blyth Road gates convulsed and fainting, streaming with blood from a number of wounds and gashes in the head. Two persons caught him as he fell and attempted to take him to the Olympia dressing station. The police, however, who had formed a cordon across the gates, refused to allow them to enter, and moved them on. They carried the victim for some distance along Hammersmith Road, but were then obliged by the police to leave him, unconscious, on the pavement. He was later picked up by the Communists.Their story of the man who was thrown out naked was thata semi-conscious man was thrown out, wearing only a torn shirt. He was deeply cut in the face, and collapsed almost immediately.I do not want to go into the many details which I have been sent, but those incidents have appeared in a public newspaper and the seven men associated with the University Union are prepared to stand by their statements, as I have no doubt Members of this House, declaring the result of their own observations, will be prepared to affirm them in the House to-day. The trouble about this is that all these stories are being dismissed by the leader of the Blackshirt movement as lies. He made his official defence over the wireless last week, and he has made one or two speeches since dismissing these 1917 stories as lies. He has described one hon. Member of this House as a "jackal" simply because he affirmed publicly his horror at what he had seen at the Olympia. If the leader of the Blackshirt movement, following upon these things, which cannot be read without a sense of sheer disgust and indignation, had said "These things happened because of the hard provocation and those who were responsible for the maintenance of order in the Olympia went beyond what they should have done, and steps will be taken in future," that would have been reasonable. But he dismisses all these categorical statements of public men as lies or by some other offensive epithet.
We are told that what happened in Olympia is to be regarded as the normal method of procedure and that what happened there is likely to happen again. There has been no word of apology for what happened, no expression of regret for these numbers of people who are at present lying injured. I do not know whether they are Communists or not. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who are they?"] There is ample evidence, and if hon. Members want one specific case, let them turn, if they will, to the "News-Chronicle" of yesterday. I quote from a newspaper because I have not seen these people myself. In the "News-Chronicle" yesterday, in answer to the definite challenge of Sir Oswald Mosley, the name is given of a man who is now lying seriously injured, and who gave his account of the circumstances. He went to the meeting not as a Communist at all, and with no sympathy whatever with Communism, but because he joined in some protest against the ill treatment he saw, or expressed his disapproval of it, he was treated with great barbarity and is lying wounded at the present time.
§ Mr. PIKE
With regard to the case from Sheffield which has been published, and now partly quoted by the hon. Member, is he aware that that gentleman is an active member of the anti-German movement or anti-Hitler movement, and is he aware that he went there specifically for the purpose of advocating his views at Olympia?
§ Mr. FOOT
I, myself, would be quite willing to join any anti-Hitler movement. If the person referred to was associated with any organisation to protest against the monstrous persecution of the Jews in 1918 that country, I should be happy to associate myself with that. All I have to say is that if this sort of thing happens now with the little power that is held by these people, what will happen later on? At present we see what happens in the case of a Blackshirt leader or master of ceremonies at Olympia. He aspires, we are told, to be master of the whole country. Is there any doubt that if he were presented with that office, all opposition would be bludgeoned underground? I have read what has been said by Sir Oswald Mosley in his defence repeated over the wireless. He says that they do not interfere with other meetings. That, I think, is perfectly true. He says that free speech is denied generally throughout the country. I think that there is ample ground for that statement. I listened to the Home Secretary the other day when he said that generally he had been able to obtain a fair hearing wherever he has spoken. Well, he is more fortunate than many in this House. I can recall twice during the present year having attempted to address a large meeting in London, and in neither case was I allowed to put six sentences. That is the experience, unfortunately, in too many parts of this country. It was a reflection upon the good, name of this country that at the last election there were many constituencies where candidates had not a chance from the beginning to the end of the campaign to put their views.
I am concerned, however, with something greater than the history of this matter or apportioning blame, but I am certain that if we are going to put an end to this growing violence, we must be prepared to condemn the violence of our friends as well as the violence of our enemies. I invite the attention of the House to the situation. There are two bodies in this country resorting to violence and threats of violence. There was a threat made by the leader of the Blackshirt movement at Shrewsbury as reported in the "Daily Telegraph" yesterday:He also declared that one of his first acts, given power, would be to suppress the Communist movementDoes that get cheers in this House?
§ Mr. FOOT
If this is to be a matter of recrimination, we shall find no common ground. Here is the leader of this movement, after the Olympia meeting, after all the discussion about it, declaring at Shrewsbury, as reported in the "Daily Telegraph," that one of his first acts, given power, would be to suppress the Communist movement. If that is the threat that is made, every Communist is entitled to fight against it, and the danger is that when this leader, given power, uses it as the first act to suppress the Communist movement, there are others who will come under his ban, and once suppression is started, no one knows where it will end. Take what he said at Olympia last week:It is in the Blackshirts' power to-day to stop any Socialist meeting in the country any night we might choose,[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am astonished that that should bring a cheer.
§ Mr. HOWARD
As one who was at that meeting to the end, although I have no connection with Sir Oswald Mosley, I would point out that he followed up the remark which has been quoted by saying:Can you name any Socialist meeting at which Blackshirts have ever interrupted?
§ Mr. FOOT
My hon. Friend will accept this from roe. I have taken the sentence which I have quoted, and the whole of the sentence as it was reported in the "Daily Mail," which is, I suppose, the authoritative paper on the subject. I hope I am not provocative, and that I am not making a violent speech. The words are:It is in the Blackshirts' power to-day to stop any Socialist meeting in the country any night we might choose.I say that no one in this country ought to be able to make a statement of that kind. Here you have two bodies threatening each other, clash and counter clash, with scenes of violence at Bristol, Brighton, Edinburgh and London, which have been the subject of questions in this House. Just now I heard an hon. Member interrupt with, "Let them fight it out." If they could fight it out among themselves and break each other's heads it would not matter so much, but in the clash between these two bodies other things are in danger at the same time. It is a salutary principle of our social life that no man is allowed to take the 1920 law into his own hands. If that is a necessary principle for the individual, how much more necessary is it in the case of these factions, bodies and organisations.
I think that the grave apprehensions in the public mind are, first of all, that what has happened at Olympia is no isolated occurrence, but is a symptom of a return to violent ways of thinking. I believe, too, public apprehension has grown by the experience abroad. Private armies are a menace to liberty. If that has not been taught by what has happened in Europe, we are incapable of appreciating current history. Private armies are the bodyguard of dictatorship. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oliver Cromwell!"] I am quite prepared to answer any question as to the part that he played in the history of this country, and if, instead of interrupting, the hon. Member would only study an elementary book on Cromwell, he would find that in his later years his effort was made always to rest authority not upon military power but upon civil power. The events which have happened abroad have shown how soon barbarism can break down the dykes of civilisation, and I have been surprised that some people in this House, and those with whom I have had conversation, are looking upon this Blackshirt movement with some element of favour as if they are going to make use of it. Hindenburg, when he found that he could not deal with Hitler, took over Hitler to make him respectable, and, as a result, Hitler has taken over Hindenburg, and there is a state of affairs in Germany which most people would regard as an affront to the spirit of man.
There is a temptation to turn to the Blackshirt movement as something that will crush Communism. I believe that what has happened of late has done more than anything else to create sympathy with Communism. If this movement goes on, Communism will not be weakened, but will be strengthened.
The third apprehension is the claim to concurrent power. There is now an organised private army, the existence of a semi-military force, claiming almost alternative powers with the police. Will hon. Members turn again to the closing words of the wireless address, the official 1921 apologia of the Blackshirt leader last week? He concluded with the words:I can promise you "—speaking to the people of this land—that we at least will continue to preserve law and order.I want to know who is this gentleman who promises that? A manifest partisan cannot be entrusted with the duty of maintaining and preserving law and order. If you have got a partisan administering, as he thinks, the power to preserve law and order, who is to call him to account? The other day we had the proceedings of this House held up for hours while we discussed the alleged invasion of the right of an individual at the hands of a couple of police officers, and at once the right hon. Gentleman gave facilities for a Debate on that very day. Inquiry was made forthwith, and the matter was dealt with. That is what can be done when the assertion of law and order is in the right hands. But if this newly-constituted dictator is to decide how law and order are to be administered, who can call him to account? If anyone challenges his action in the columns of the newspapers, he is denounced at once as a liar and in the derisive terms which have been applied to Members of this House. You cannot entrust the administration of law and order to anyone except those who are our representatives.
Take his speech at Shrewsbury, reported in the "Daily Telegraph" of yesterday. Sir Oswald was asked what he would do if the Blackshirt movement were outlawed? "That has not been suggested" he replied, "but in any case I do not tell my enemies what action I would take in advance." I do not know what interpretation is to be put upon those words. Are the "enemies" those who have to administer the law? Supposing we passed a Measure deciding that this movement was inconsistent with the law, or inconsistent with any new law? Are we then to be considered the enemies of Sir Oswald Mosley? I am surprised at the complacency with which people talk of these clashes, as if they were a trial of strength between one party and the other. It is not a case where the Blackshirts are out for supremacy over the Communists, or the Communists out for supremacy over the Blackshirts, but a case where both are 1922 out for supremacy in the State. That is their manifest aim.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Is the hon. Member being quite fair when he says that it is only two parties who are out for supremacy, the Fascists and the Communists? Has he never heard of another Member of this House?
§ Mr. FOOT
If the Noble Lord attaches importance to that I give him his point; but, whatever there may be in that intervention, he will admit that these parties are not out for supremacy over each other but out for supremacy in the State. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] If that is regarded with complacency, I am very much surprised. No one wishes to prevent ordinary public meetings. No one wishes to prevent the preaching of Communism. I would not lift a finger to stop Communists advocating their views. They are entitled to do so, and if they can convince the majority of their fellow countrymen that theirs is the right policy we have no right to intervene. We can use against them persuasion and argument. No other weapons are we entitled to use. I would not take any step to interfere with the preaching of Fascism. I would allow Sir Oswald Mosley to talk as long as he likes, and the more he talked the better I should be pleased. I only regret that he is not able to express his doctrines in this House. He is not in this House, but his comrade in arms, Lord Rothermere, is in the other House, and I wonder sometimes that he does not take the opportunity of explaining in the other House the objects of this movement. After all, anything may happen to Sir Oswald Mosley at any time, and if this Caesar fell Lord Rothermere might be called upon to take the part of Mark Antony, unless, indeed, Mr. Beckett, who was formerly in this House, came forward, as Caesar Augustus.
Sir Oswald Mosley last Thursday claimed that they were introducing something that was new in the history of this country. It may be new in the history of this country, but it is not new in the history of the world, and I ask the House to allow me to refer to what, I think, is a striking parallel with these events, something that happened very many years ago in Rome. There was a man there whose name was Publius Clodius, and he is described by Plutarch as "a 1923 patrician by descent, eminent both for his riches and eloquence." He got himself converted from a patrician into a plebeian and then chosen as tribune of the people. He became the head of a mob in Rome. The historian says:The portion of the burgesses who had still at heart freedom and order was disgusted with the reign of confusion. … avoided all political activity and kept aloof as far as possible from the political Sodom itself … The number of little great men was legion. … The real powers of the day were the compact and armed bands, the battalions of anarchy raised by adventurers of rank out of gladiatorial slaves and blackguards. … How often the scale was traversed from hissing and shouting to spitting on and trampling down opponents and thence to throwing stones and drawing swords.Against Publius Clodius rose a rival mob under Milo and each mob had its professional insignia, its distinctive salutes, pass-words and uniforms. That was the mob law in Rome, which led inevitably to the dictatorship of Pompey. I am against all dictatorship, and I think the most contemptible of all dictatorships is the dictatorship of the mob. Violence always breeds violence, and reprisal always brings reprisal. I do not want to touch here upon any aggravating point of discussion, but if we look to Ireland we see what was the inter-connection between reprisal and reprisal only a few years ago, with the National Volunteers and the Ulster Volunteers each trying to outdo the other, with gun running at Lame in April, 1914, and gun running at Howth in July, 1914. The result was that the politics of Ireland became bedevilled, because the ordinary powers of law and order were set aside by these forces.
In view of these events I want to ask, What is the policy of the Government? I want to ask about the presence of police at public meetings. I read with attention and interest what was said by the Home Secertary in the answer he gave to questions on Monday last, in which he relied for the present practice upon the Regulations laid down as the result of the departmental inquiry made in 1909. That is a long while ago, and what the House would like to know is whether the procedure then found necessary is a procedure applicable to the present day. All the assumption in the conduct of our public meetings has been 1924 that the stewards are there to maintain order. That assumption no longer holds after the events of last Thursday, and I suggest that it might be considered whether the stewards at a meeting of this kind, especially one at which disorder may be apprehended, should not be the police themselves, paid for by those who convene the meeting. It may be that we shall have to distinguish between one kind of meeting and another. There are some meetings which, as we know from recent experience, are likely to create disorder. I submit that we cannot leave the management of those meetings in the hands of partisans.
My next question relates to the Public Meetings Act, 1908. That Act provides that any person who acts in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business for which the meeting was called can be fined £5 or sent to prison for a month. That Act has been on the Statute Book since 1908. Does it not strike hon. Members as remarkable how rarely the machinery of that Act has been invoked, how rarely proceedings have been taken under that Measure? I think the main reason is that it is very difficult for the private citizen to take action. At the time of an election a candidate or his friends cannot call that Act into play, because they would at once become unpopular in the constituency. If that Act is to be enforced as Parliament intended it should be it will be for the public authorities to enforce it more than they do. I am told that at Manchester the other day in the case of a meeting that was carried on practically under normal conditions the procedure of that Act was relied upon and the police were the stewards. I have seen the instance referred to, and I have no doubt we shall hear more about it later.
I want to know whether it would be right to call into play the Illegal Training and Drilling Act, 1819. It forbids all meetings and assemblies of persons for the purpose of training or drilling themselves, or of being trained or drilled, in the use of arms, or for the purpose of practising military exercises, movements or evolutions without any lawful authority from His Majesty or a Secretary of State or any person deputed by him for the purpose, by commission or otherwise, so to do, and heavy penalties are 1925 imposed. Can that Act be brought into use? Further, what is to be done about these private armies which are now being formed, with their uniforms and their processions? What is the law in relation to processions? I understand that if a Protestant in Liverpool—or I will put it the other way if it is so desired—wished to take his class or his school or the members of his church through Liverpool, and proposed to lead them through quarters where disturbance was likely to arise, although he might be a man who has not broken the law and has no desire to break the law, he can be bound over on the ground that the procession is likely to provoke a disturbance and must not be allowed to take place. I understand that is the existing law, and that it has been enforced in that city. What about these other processions with their uniforms? The Home Secretary, in an answer he gave in this House, admitted that these uniforms were the cause, in some instances, of disorder. Speaking of a disturbance at Bristol he said that he thought there wasno doubt that this disorder was largely due to the adoption of semi-military evolutions by the Fascists, their marching in formation and their general behaviour, which was regarded by the crowd as provocative."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 9TH April, 1934; col. 15, Vol. 288.]If a Protestant cannot take his procession through a Roman Catholic part of Liverpool, and a Roman Catholic cannot take his procession through a Protestant part of Liverpool, because of the disturbance likely to arise, what right have these private armies, wearing uniforms which the right hon. Gentleman has stated in this House are themselves provocative of disorder, to have meetings involving the use at public expense of 760 police—as we had the other night—with all the broken heads and disturbance that have arisen? I am in agreement with the hon. Member who sits opposite, and whose name is down to a Motion on the Order Paper, in saying that ordinary meetings must be protected, but we have to distinguish between the ordinary meeting and the meeting which in the circumstances as admitted by the right hon. Gentleman is bound to be provocative.
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
Will the hon. Member allow me to put a question? I believe it to be a fact that the Communists going to this meeting at 1926 Olympia marched in procession, with police accompanying them. What have you to say about that? Are you in favour of your friends the Communists marching when they were going there with the avowed intention of creating a disturbance?
§ Mr. FOOT
I am objecting to any procession with uniforms or with such methods as are bound, on the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, to have the effect, or which are likely to have the effect, of creating public disorder where other people have their liberties put in jeopardy. It it not merely our reputation here which is at stake. Let hon. Members see what was said in Reuter's account of newspaper comment in Berlin newspapers. Mention is made there of the Red Terror in London, and the papers quoted speak of the bloody battle that took place in Olympia and said that the misgivings which Nazis had hitherto expressed as to Sir Oswald's apparently open attitude on the Jewish question seem now to have been set at rest and that increased interest was being taken abroad in his movement.
I have another question to put. What about the wearing of uniforms? I know that that was discussed recently in this House; but will the House remember that what may be tolerable at normal times, at the time of an election may give rise to most serious trouble.
What we want to know is this: Are the present laws inadequate? If they are adequate will they be used? If they are not adequate will powers be taken to strengthen them? I am not myself anxious for anything in the way of new legislation. I do not think that there is any necessity to do anything in the way of panic or under the influence of fear. I do not think that things have gone as far as that; but I think we ought to be thankful for what has happened at Olympia in one sense, and that is that it has revealed our danger, that it is like 1927 a flash of lightning that has lit up the political landscape.
In these circumstances, I hope I am on common ground in suggesting to hon. Members opposite that we are here to defend what is the common property of all of us. Let us not forget the great struggle for freedom won by men of all classes of thought, and that it is our common property. I believe freedom now to be in danger. I agree with every word of what was said by the Lord High Commissioner of the Church of Scotland the other day, in what I thought was a most notable speech, as to the precious things that are now in danger of being destroyed. I do not think those things are ours to do what we like with them. We have not won them for ourselves. We have won precious few liberties in our generation, and we cannot cut ourselves off from the past if we would. It was a great Conservative statesman who said that the State is a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living and those who are dead and those who are yet to be born. It so happens that in this generation these things are ours. I trust that we shall in our time, without panic, gravely and deliberately take such steps as will maintain, for our children what our fathers won for us.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I hope that the Committee will consider the question brought before it by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) as a matter of very great importance and as something that transcends all party issues. There cannot be the slightest doubt in the minds of any of us that events occurred at Olympia which must disturb all our minds. We have had the evidence, and I am perfectly content to rest on the evidence of eye-witnesses, Members of this House who are known and respected throughout the House. There is enough basis for an inquiry in the statements that have been made by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Lloyd) and in the letter of the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) and his co-signatories. Whatever may have been done in the way of organised interruption—I am entirely opposed to organised interruption of any meeting—there is no doubt that unjustifiable 1928 brutality took place. There is no doubt that people were "beaten up" outside the meeting. There is no doubt as to the general effect on public opinion in this country, and the very unfortunnate repercussions on public opinion abroad, from the report of what occurred at Olympia.
We should be considering very carefully what happened at Olympia, what may happen in the future, and the fact that what has happened is only a manifestation of the set policy of a movement. After all, Olympia was one of a series of meetings that have been held all over the country. We have seen an increase in political violence. I am not for a moment going to suggest that this country has always been free from political violence. Anyone who has read old accounts of the Westminster Elections and so forth, will know that in times past there has been political violence. Anyone who has read of those events will know of the serious disturbance of meetings, the great controversy that arose over the meeting at Birmingham which concerned Mr. Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Randolph Churchill, and the breaking up of meetings. But it is true to say that until very recently political violence was a thing of the past.
The breaking-up of meetings really cuts at the root of our political life. We of the Labour party are entirely opposed to the breaking-up of meetings. Let me say that we suffer most heavily from the breaking-up of meetings. For every attack that they make on the Capitalist system the Communists make two attacks on the Labour party. I have gone to meetings in the provinces where I have been shouted down the whole time, and have been unable to get a word in at all—shouted down, not always by Communists, but sometimes by other strange sects. But we have all suffered. We of the Labour party suffer particularly in two ways. First of all, we have our own meetings broken up, and then we are charged by the other side with the misdeeds of people outside our ranks. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] One can only go by one's own experience. I have had five elections in Limehouse, and I have always been on perfectly friendly terms with all my opponents. I have always told my followers that on no occasion must they break up meetings. But I have known my opponents to be howled down. That 1929 was not done by people from Limehouse, but by people who came from outside. There is no doubt that there is organised shouting down and breaking up.
We of the Labour party are opposed to both Communists and Fascists. They are both out to destroy democracy, and they say so. They are both out to destroy free speech. No one believes that when Sir Oswald Mosley talks about preserving the right to free speech he is really genuine in the matter. He preserves free speech just as long as it suits him. I debated with him not very long ago, and he talked about his plans. His plans were based on Continental methods. He used the Continental jargon. He said he was out now to win the battle of the streets. As a matter of fact he models himself on dictators, and his whole methods are utterly foreign to this country. [Interruption.] Whatever hon. Members may choose to interject now and again—I know it is hard to resist making a party point—I think that on the whole this country sets an example to the rest of the world in the way it conducts its political controversies. Broadly speaking, though there are exceptions now and again, there is good feeling between Members of different parties and the supporters in the constituencies of different parties. In this country we have never had our ranks divided into separate sections of people holding different political views, who have held aloof from one another and would have nothing to do with one another.
It appears to me that democracy has failed in many countries abroad simply because they have forgotten their common citizenship in their extreme partisanship. Sir Oswald Mosley is really introducing into this country ideas and methods that are entirely foreign to us. What is he doing? His is really the Italian method. It is the method of the gang. If you trace through Italian history you get over and over again an instance of the man who raises a gang. Perhaps someone else has a gang. The two gangs fight, and the one that wins proscribes all the followers of the other gang. You can trace that through the history of Italy, from Catiline to A1 Capone, and from Marius to Mussolini. The methods employed have always been foreign to this country—the weapons used and the use made of them, the organisation of gangs drawn from some 1930 of the worst elements of the population. I do not think there is any doubt about that.
In making complaints one has a mass of information brought, and it is practically impossible for a private individual to sift it and find out what is true and what is false. But there is a tremendous volume of evidence as to the line which Sir Oswald Mosley and his Fascists are taking. First of all there is the military side, the use of resounding military titles, the drilling, the organisation, the barracks, the uniform, the gangs who live in barracks under Sir Oswald Mosley's control and are sent from meeting to meeting at Sir Oswald Mosley's expense. That is something quite new. In my constituency I have known cases of meetings broken up by people from outside. That kind of thing, the introduction of gangs from outside, is a very serious danger. It prevents the proper ventilation and discussion of political matters by the people in the locality with their representatives.
There are very disturbing suggestions about how far Sir Oswald Mosley is carrying these militarist methods. You may say that it is all "guff" and that he "talks very big." I agree that all dictators seem to talk in a far more bellicose manner than they actually think. But there is evidence available. There is the use of armoured cars, there is talk of forming aeroplane squadrons, and even talk of forming special wireless units; and there is the whole militarist idea. But beyond that there is another class of method which I think is particularly distasteful to people in this country, and that is the use of the agents provocateurs. There is no doubt, I think, from the evidence submitted to me, that in addition to the Blackshirts at these meetings there are plain-clothes inciters to disorder, and that alleged attacks on Fascists by Communists are not attacks by Communists but are attacks by agents provocateurs. There is abundant evidence of deliberate incitement in order to give excuse for the exercise of force.
All kinds of weapons are used. There is the use of rubber truncheons and knuckledusters, and there is evidence of the use of razor blades. I do not approve of the use of weapons of this kind by anybody, and if we find anybody on any side using such weapons then by all means let action be taken against them. I do 1931 not think there is the slightest doubt that such weapons are being used. There is abundant evidence that many people brought in for treatment by medical men were suffering from wounds after the Olympia meeting.
The Communists have been a nuisance for a long time in breaking up meetings. They have been a great nuisance to us, as they have to other people but, after all, the Communists in this country have been a feeble folk. The Committee will remember when the late Lord Brentford had a raid, and we know the kind of correspondence that he found. The Communists are made up of various people, but whatever else they are they are poor people. I doubt whether they get very much money from any source. The danger of Sir Oswald Mosley is that he is backed by big money power. All these things are not provided out of the subscriptions of Fascists. We should like to know where the money comes from. We should like to know whether the money as well as the methods are imported from abroad.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Certainly. It came from this country, and the money was fully accounted for. There were no secret funds. We cannot say that about Sir Oswald Mosley. No one knows who is behind Sir Oswald Mosley. The money power has been used to buy up agents all over the country. There is the maintenance of gangs. There is elaborate transport, and behind it all we have an influence which I think any serious politician regards as a danger, that of the irresponsible newspaper magnate. We have various newspapers run by various people and most of them, however much we disagree with them, have some definite political conception. I do not pretend to agree with the "Morning Post," but I understand the "Morning Post" point of view. It is a perfectly clear conception. I do not agree with Lord Beaverbrook, but every now and then I see what Lord Beaverbrook is after. Who knows what Lord Rothermere is after, except money? Every kind of stunt he has tried. Sometimes he supports hon. Members opposite and sometimes he is against them. He supports this stunt and that stunt, and 1932 at the present time his stunt is to be at the back of Sir Oswald Mosley.
It may be said that the doctrines which are being preached by Sir Oswald Mosley, he is entitled to preach. Any man is entitled to put forward his opinion, but we look at the overt acts of the man. We see what he is doing. He is definitely anti-Parliament. He is definitely antidemocratic. He is at times definitely anti-Semitic. I question whether he is not against all religions, because he is the great I AM. Here we have this movement at the present time backed with big money, using foreign methods, and at the head of it there is the enigmatical figure of Sir Oswald Mosley. He is a man of considerable ability and considerable attractive power, but with a very peculiar mental make-up. People who have studied Sir Oswald Mosley's career know that. There is a certain meglomania about him. I think there is a streak of cruelty in his character, and I doubt whether he is mentally entirely stable.
It is a very dangerous thing in a country when you have a figure like that, backed by money, raising a semi-military force and raising against himself opposition. Let there be no doubt about it, there is a feeling in this country that this thing has to be stopped. When I went home last night I was speaking to a man who said: "You are going to have a Debate to-morrow." I said "Yes." He remarked, "Something must be done. The people will not stand this." That is the feeling; people will not stand this. I think the Home Secretary has been extraordinarily patient with Sir Oswald Mosley hitherto. I think he was extraordinarily patient when he openly avowed tithe war. I do not want to enter into the merits of the tithe question, but undoubtedly Sir Oswald Mosley wanted to enter as an independent force.
There have been all kinds of grave incidents. What is to be done? We want to know from the Home Secretary what is going to be done in the future. We are threatened with another big meeting at the White City. Are the events of Olympia to be repeated at the White City, or will the Home Secretary take the same action that was taken in another case, where it was feared there might be disturbance, and bind the man who is considered to be the chief instigator to keep the peace. I do not think Sir Oswald Mosley would suggest for a 1933 moment that anything in the movement is done without his orders. The whole point of the movement is that everyone must do what the great chief says. Therefore, he is fully responsible. Will the right hon. Gentleman take action and see that he is bound over to keep the peace? [Interruption.] Certainly, I would say exactly the same thing.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
If the police conveyed a Communistic procession to the Olympia to break up the meeting, should not that sort of thing be stopped?
§ Mr. ATTLEE
If it is established that a body of persons are meeting for an illegal purpose, I should consider it entirely wrong that they should be given a conduct through the streets by the police. If it is an ordinary political demonstration it is a different matter. I have attended hundreds in my time, and we always go along with the police and we are very good friends. I would say certainly that if people are plotting to break up meetings or to promote disorder, by all means use the power of the law to stop them. The central danger in the present situation is the claim of a man like Mosley that he is entitled to keep order himself. That is not his prerogative.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Yes, inside his own meeting, but subject to this condition, that if you have people who fear or have reason to suspect that illegal acts are being done in that meeting, they can summon the police. If the police have it brought to their notice that illegal things are being done in that meeting, they can go in, and they ought to do. I should like to know exactly what orders were given to the police at the Olympia meeting. We have a very great crowd of witnesses as to what happened in and around Olympia. I cannot think that these facts were not known to the police, and I am sure that if the police knew, they would want to interfere, unless they had orders to the contrary.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what he is going to do with regard to the whole question of the militarisation of the country. This sort 1934 of thing ought to be stopped in its early days, because the danger is that if you let it run on you will get counteraction. The last thing we want in this country are rival gang fights. We want security. If these kinds of incidents are going to continue there will be danger that people will be armed. All sorts of threats are made. We may not take the threats seriously. I have been threatened because I protested against the treatment of Jews in Germany. We have had a threat saying that the streets would soon run with our blood if we carried on our protests. We all know that these threats are made. We know that there are beatings and there are numbers of incidents which are extremely disturbing. There is no doubt that although there are people who join the Fascist movement perfectly genuinely and although there are honest people who are Fascists, there are lots of blackguards.
We want an inquiry into the whole question as to how far this kind of thing is going to be allowed. We want an inquiry into the entire activities of the Fascist movement. We want an inquiry into the whole question of uniforms, into the whole question of setting up a kind of glamour of civil war to attract youth. Whatever differences we may have with hon. Members in other parts of the House, I believe we all value our English political institutions. We feel in this House something that makes us all members one of another in the building up of the structure of Government, in which for so many years we have avoided these violent outbursts. We have managed to carry on and to make transformations in our society without rupturing friendly personal relations, without dividing house from house, without dividing our whole social life as it is divided in some continental countries by a political line. We believe that that tradition is worth preserving and that it is essential to preserve it.
We believe that the changes that we want must be brought about by the action of the majority of the people of the county and not be forced on them by the minority. These changes if they are to be successful must be brought about in such a way that, as in the past, we can transfer from one state of society to another without violence, without civil war, without events that might bring down our whole civilisation. We think 1935 that there is a very grave responsibility on the Government, and on the Home Secretary in particular, to see that this country, which is the oldest child of liberty in the world, should not succumb to the forces that have prevailed among some of her younger sisters on the Continent, but that this country in its home and foreign policy should lead the world back to sanity.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. GEOFFREY LLOYD
I should like, with respect, to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken on his speech. I do not agree with everything he said, but I think the whole Committee will agree that it has taken the Debate on to the sort of level that we want to establish. It was a thoughtful speech which I think will be read by thoughtful people all over the country and will affect the serious public opinion of this land. With regard to his practical proposal of an inquiry, I am not so sure. I wonder whether that is not going rather far for the present situation and whether it would not be better to adopt an attitude which I think is more characteristic of this House and of the country and to pay attention to the immediate problem before us and try to devise a practical solution of the great difficulty we are faced with at the moment.
My principal purpose in rising is to put before the Committee what I hope may be a practical suggestion which will help to deal with the problems we have been discussing. Perhaps the Committee will allow me first to make a few preparatory remarks. I agree with the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) that you must not regard Olympia as an isolated incident. It was the culmination of a series of movements that have been going on for some time. On the one hand, you have the organised interruption of public meetings by Communists accompanied very often, or at any rate on occasions, by grave outrages and the use of weapons, and, on the other hand, you have the semi-military drilling of the Fascists and their generally provocative behaviour. We have heard how these military organisations are formed, addressing each other as orderlies and by military titles, and how Sir Oswald Mosley, presenting a standard to an organisation, charged them to lay down their lives for it if necessary. You may 1936 say it is tomfoolery, but it is very dangerous tomfoolery, and we must agree that Olympia was the culmination of these two movements.
Perhaps the Committee will allow me to say a few words about my experience at that meeting. I was in a very special position, because I had a definite mental background in regard to Mosley. We in Birmingham have experience of his meetings. That was in the days when he was a Socialist and the bitterest enemy the Conservative party has had in the City since the War. He was then surrounded by an atmosphere of Red hooliganism, and I wondered when I went to Olympia whether I should find that they had stayed with him when he changed his colour from red to black. I was amazed at the way Sir Oswald Mosley stopped speaking at once for the most trivial interruptions although he had a battery of 24 loud speakers capable of overpowering everything except the most general and severe disorder. Hon. Members will agree that loud speakers to-day are a great instrument in the hands of public speakers in dealing with interruptions. They are capable of magnifying the voice 2,000,000 times and of making a single man audible over nine square miles. Yet as the meeting went on one found he was not taking any advantage of this peaceful instrument, and I formed the impression as the proceedings went on—it may be that my background at Birmingham was partially responsible—that he was out deliberately to exacerbate interruptions and foment bitterness and fighting.
As the meeting went on I saw things which made my blood boil as an Englishman and a Tory. After the meeting I consulted with my friends, and I found that in some cases they had seen worse examples of brutality than I had, and that is why I decided to speak out. I spoke from my heart, and I do not regret it. Hon. Members may say to this: What about those Communist interrupters? I myself have been a good deal puzzled. I think the Committee will take from me a statement of fact, and I accept unreservedly the statement made to me by hon. Members who are friends of mine in this House. I have been puzzled, and I daresay other hon. Gentlemen have also been puzzled, but I think I have the explanation, and I offer it with diffidence to the Committee. 1937 Everybody who was there knows what an almost incredibly vast hall it is. I do not suggest that every Blackshirt behaved like a blackguard, and I do not think my friends would suggest either that every interrupter was a Communist or that every Communist was a violent one. I suggest that some incidents happened in one part of the vast hall and some in another and some people saw one type of incident and some saw the other. Where does this lead us? I think to the very significent conclusion that when you take all responsible testimony and put it together you have it proved up to the hilt that there occurred at Olympia a substantial amount of outrage by Communists and a substantial amount of disgraceful brutality by Black-shirts. I think the Committee as a whole will accept that as a reasonable conclusion.
We have to take stock of the position, and I agree with the hon. Member for Bodmin that violence leads to violence. If you have a private army, it is bound to lead to the formation of a counter private army. But I need not develop that point which the hon. Member developed at length. We all agree that we want to maintain the rule of law. What is our practical problem? On the one side, we have subversive movements, and on the other a movement which seeks to usurp the function of public order. We all agree that we want to maintain free speech. I would like to address my hon. Friends opposite on this. I hope we are going to have their thorough support in this matter, not the sort of support which consists in passing pious Resolutions but the sort of support which means taking action to control some of their own unruly spirits. I think in this matter the House was deeply interested in what the Home Secretary said on Monday in regard to the position of police at meetings. As I understood the right hon. Gentleman, the present practice is that the police enter public meetings only when they are asked for by the promoters, and, secondly, if a breach of the peace has been or is being committed, they do not take charge of the meeting but assist the stewards in restoring order.
I would like to suggest an alteration of the practice, and I shall be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman can tell us later whether it is possible to devise 1938 that at any meeting at which there is good reason to apprehend disorder on a scale sufficient to prevent free speech the police should be present in sufficient force from the beginning without waiting for the outbreak to occur. It is possible some hon. Members would like to see the police at every meeting, but I think there are practical objections, and it is far too precipitate. Nor do I want to see any alteration in the relations between police and stewards at the meetings. I suggest that this proposal would have the effect of restraining both the Communists and the Fascists, and I hope it will be sufficient. I think, if it be not sufficient, the country will expect the Government to come down to this House and ask for any powers that may be necessary.
That is my view on the strictly limited question of law and order, but I think that closely linked with it is the wider problem of the defence of our country against extreme parties. I feel profoundly that we do not need such parties in this country. There is no parallel between life in this country and life in Russia, Germany or Italy. Here there are no degenerate upper class, no servile peasantry and no widespread corruption, and we have a people who though they do not lack spirit are energetic and kindly. At the same time the breeze of free criticism blows through every department of our national organisation, and, most of all, we have a mighty national tradition that many countries lack which centres finally in the person of His Majesty, the King. I am one of those who think we have to stir ourselves to bring our national organisation up-to-date to meet the times. I believe the young people of this country inside and outside this House have to take their part. It will be hard work but not harder than our fathers did. I have no sympathy with this conceited attack on the older generation. If we do our work as well as some of them, we shall do well.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
While my point of view is in some respects different from the hon. Member who has just sat down, I think the Committee will agree that the speech we have just heard was one of weight and reason, and, whatever may have been its approach, it reached a conclusion with which we can all agree. I think the gratitude of 1939 the Committee is due to the Liberal party for having taken the opportunity of raising this very important matter. I do not imagine there is any Member who does not feel that it is a matter of the very gravest importance. When the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) says that the events at Olympia are new, I would like to refresh his memory. I have in my hands extracts from the "Times" in reference to a public meeting held at the Queen's Hall on 19th June, 1901, to hear addresses from Messrs. Merriman and Sauer on the South African crisis. Mr. Labouchere presided, and among those present were the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), Mr. Keir Hardie, Dr. Clifford, Mr. Silas Hocking, Mr. Burt, M.P., Mr. Passmore Edwards and other members of the Socialist and Liberal parties. The report states that the meeting was fixed for eight o'clock but long before that hour people gathered in the neighbourhood of the hall. Outside, the crush was so great that men as well as women fainted. A good deal of destruction of hats took place, whether deliberately caused or by accident it was impossible to decide. I will not read the whole account of the meeting but there are two points of interest. The "Times" said:Every precaution was taken to prevent anyone hostile to the speeches from being present.One incident was reported in these terms:A soiled Union Jack on the end of a broken stick having been handed up, Mr. Labouchere held it up and said: 'I have been asked to state that this is the little flag of the Stock Exchange contingent which was sent here to disturb the meeting and which has been captured '.The "Times" leader in the same number remarks:Extraordinary precautions were adopted to make it quite clear that no dissentient element should enter into the Queen's Hall meeting when Mr. Labouchere, supported by Mr. Sauer, Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Keir Hardie and the rest denounced the British Government and the British Army. But a good many persons were present who did not agree with these sentiments, and, in spite of Mr. Labouchere's highly constitutional plea for the right of free speech, those who expressed dissent in any way from the opinion of the speakers were promptly ejected amid 'crashes of glass,' which suggests rather vividly a summary exit through the windows.1940 A letter signed "American," and printed in the "Times" of 24th June of that year, stated:Long ere the meeting had opened, I had seen a dozen gentlemen, who had the temerity to express themselves in ordinary tones to their waiting fellows, as against this pro-Boer agitation, isolated, surrounded and severely pummelled. After the meeting started the lowest note of dissent was the signal for a gang of ruffians to drag out and punch the objector's face.
§ The TEMPORARY-CHAIRMAN (Sir John Ganzoni)
I think the hon. Member's statement as to what happened in 1901 is not altogether relevant to the Motion, and is getting rather far away from the subject of the discussion.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I apologise for having taken the Committee perhaps rather far, but I thought it was desirable, in view of what was said by the hon. Member for Bodmin, that I should mention the school in which those who were responsible for the disorder at Olympia learned their tactics. I would be grateful if the Committee would allow me to make one personal statement on the matter of Fascism, since the "News Chronicle" with the same happy facility with which it prophesied a Liberal comeback in 1929 has hailed me as "the first Parliamentary Fascist convert." I understand that another organ of the same party has received the information that Sir Oswald is organising a mounted unit of which I am to be put in command. I am not a Fascist, but as an avowed anti-Democrat and an avowed admirer of Fascism in other countries, I am naturally interested in the movement and in its application in this country. I have done my best to study things, but I have not any connection whatever with the movement. I was present at Olympia from start to finish, and I drew my own conclusions which I will later, if I may, give to the Committee.
First, I would say a few words on the general question raised by all the preceding speeches in regard to Fascism in this country. I dissent most strongly from the view that Parliament would be well advised to do anything in the nature of suppression. You may or may not like it, but to describe the Fascists as a gang of thugs in the personal following of Sir Oswald Mosley is simply not a statement of fact. Up and down the country a large number of respectable, reasonable and intelligent people are 1941 joining this movement. They may be wrong. They may find when they investigate it more closely that it is something which they cannot continue to support, but they will only find that out if the movement is allowed to put its case before the public. I do not think that there is any dissentient from that proposition. It is perfectly useless to pretend, however little you like a movement, that anything you may do by way of preventing it from stating its case will be of any use. I will quote in this connection what was said by by Noble Friend when he spoke on this matter a few days ago. He said:I can assure him that Bill Smith of England is a very different man from Gustav Schmidt of Germany. Bill Smith does not allow himself to be walked over by anyone in peace or in war. He will not vote for Sir Oswald Mosley because a lot of young blackshirted men tell him to do do so. He will only vote for Sir Oswald Mosley, or Mr. Pollitt or Mr. Fenner Brock-way if he thinks their policies are right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1934; col. 1771, Vol. 289.]Any suggestion that the Fascist movement should be proscribed would be the greatest recruiting agent that Sir Oswald has even had.
It is beyond dispute, I think, that the opposition at Olympia was very largely organised. As I was coming down to Epsom on the previous day, where I had an appointment, I saw a large notice written up on the wall at Hayes, Middlesex, which said: "Come and smash the Fascist Rally at Olympia on Thursday." It is beyond dispute that gangs of processionists assembled from the East End of London and elsewhere with the avowed intention of breaking up the meeting, and that they were allowed so to do. It is unfortunately no new thing in this country that meetings are broken up and that free speech is not allowed. It is all very well to say that geniality and personality will put the matter right. The Home Secretary may be able to do it, but the geniality and the personality of the Prime Minister had no such effect at Leeds. The Financial Secretary to the War Office had the same thing at East Fulham, and the well-known charm of manner of Lord Beaverbrook did not save him from similar treatment at Camberwell.
The situation that has arisen—and this is where it is new and serious—is that a number of people are getting tired of 1942 organised interruptions. One of the reasons why the Fascist movement is gaining recruits is, I am quite convinced, that people will not tolerate interruptions. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. There are a number of people who believe that. I am not saying that they are right, but I am merely saying that it is so. For a long time there has been a feeling in the country among a substantial section of the population, that various Governments have been remiss in not taking this matter in hand before, and when people see a party who are determined to resist, they are inclined, with too little thought, to go and join them. There is also this new factor: in the past, the breaking up of meetings has not been of so much importance because the meetings have always been those of big, organised parties who have had opportunity of putting their views before the public in other ways than by public meetings. There is this party, which, as the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) said, has the "Daily Mail" behind it, although I am certain that neither Sir Oswald Mosley nor anyone else knows how long the "Daily Mail" will continue to be behind it, and which has to rely upon public meetings for putting its case before the country, and it must have freedom of speech. To guarantee that is, I think, the desire in all quarters of the House,
Before I come to my actual experiences at Olympia it is very important to say a word on a point which has been raised about the provocative nature of the Blackshirts, and the difference between provocative and non-provocative meetings. I do not believe that it is possible to hold a non-provocative meeting in this country, unless a man is either completely devoid of ideas or prefers to conceal those ideas. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) says "Nonsense." I wonder if he has any idea how provocative he is. I have a great respect for the hon. Member, but I can hardly number the occasions in this House when he has provoked me to the point of fury. I remember well when I was contesting the Forest of Dean a gentleman who used to take the chair for me, and who used to say, "You must be careful to-night, because there is a good deal of feeling in this district." If that meant anything it meant that you were not to put before the electors the 1943 views which you proposed to ask them to support. I do not believe that it is possible to have a non-provocative meeting. I do not believe that the wearing of a black shirt is one bit more provocative than the carrying of the Red Flag or remaining seated and covered during the playing of the National Anthem. These things are done in this country. I saw them done at a meeting the other day and it had the most violent effect upon me, but, as a law-abiding citizen, I had to control myself. Other citizens in this country, when they receive these provocations, have to learn to control themselves also. Too long has it been the case in this country that we allow provocation from one section of the community and not from the other, and if the impulse arises from this House to cure that, that will at least be an advantage.
Now we come to the actual events at Olympia. I was present, as I say, from start to finish. I accept unreservedly the experiences of my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Lloyd), as he unreservedly accepts mine. This was mine: To start with, outside the meeting, my secretary and a lady with her, were forcibly prevented by the Red mob from entering the meeting in order to find the seats that I had bought. I entered the meeting with the very greatest difficulty amid insults, shouts and resistance from the crowd. When I got inside the meeting, I saw what was obviously an organised opposition, gangs of people rising in order to create interruptions, and being thrown out. From what I saw at that meeting, it was my honest opinion that no one there, as far as I could see, got anything more than he thoroughly deserved. That was my experience, as I saw it. With regard to the allegations of severe Fascist brutality, if it is true that objectors—incidentally there were some hon. Members there who were not entirely free from the excitement of the meeting—were taken outside, severely treated, and kicked in the stomach and other parts of the body, why is it that persistent investigation has only been able to find one opponent of Fascism in hospital suffering from an injury o£ any sort, and that was from blows in the face? I cannot conceive that such violence as has been alleged could have been used so universally as has been alleged, and no 1944 trace of it be able to be produced. If all the second and third hand unsupported allegations of what occurred are true, the population of London would be nearly decimated.
In what I am going to say next I hope that neither the Committee nor the Home Secretary will think that I am endeavouring to criticise the police. They, as always, behaved with admirable impartiality. It is very easy to be wise in this Committee after the event. What the Police Commissioner has to do, when dealing with this question, is to be wise before the event, which is a very different matter. I doubt whether it was advisable in view of what was known—I have extracts from the "Daily Worker" in my possession which lay down very definitely a campaign to smash up this meeting, and which went so far as to publish a map showing the entrances to Olympia and the way the matter was to be done, exactly like a military campaign—in view of these facts, I question whether it was wise to allow and encourage that mob to assemble. One cannot help wondering whether 760 policemen were, in fact, an adequate force to deal with a situation such as that, and whether there was no way of preventing it, and I hope that the Home Secretary, when he replies, will deal with that question. I have had a number of letters from independent people stating the difficulties that they had in entering the meeting and getting out, and resenting what they consider to have been a one-sided attack on the promoters of the meeting; but I do not think anyone would deny that on both sides at that meeting things were done which both sides, if they do not regret them, ought to regret. I do not think anyone questions that; I know that Sir Oswald Mosley himself does not question it.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I am aware of his speech at Shrewsbury, which I have read and which I have in my possession. If 1945 the bon. Member will read it with care, he will see that the context was to the effect—I have not the exact words by me—that he had no regrets in regard to the attempt to ensure that every member of the audience should hear every word that he said. The situation is one which we all agree in regretting. We all take the view that free speech and public order must be preserved. I would end by addressing to the Home Secretary very much the same question which has been addressed to him by other speakers, namely: Is it possible, under the present law, for the police to see that meetings where views of any sort or kind are put forward are protected from organised interruption? If not—I know it is not in order to talk about forthcoming legislation—will the Government consider acquiring those powers from the House? I commend to the Government and I commend to the Committee what I do not think there is any substantial disagreement about in any section of the House—the taking of action to provide that the onus of keeping order and the onus of ensuring free speech shall be taken over by the State, so that thereafter no Fascist, Communist or Socialist shall have the right to cause violence in a public meeting.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. THORNE
I am sure that all Members in the Committee have been very interested in the last two speeches. It appears that the two hon. Members differ very much in their opinion as to what really happened at the Olympia meeting. I do not want to refer to that meeting, but I want to declare in this Chamber, as I have declared outside many times on public platforms, that this old country of ours is the freest country in the world, and I want to preserve that freedom as far as I am able. In the old days, everyone was at liberty to get a soapbox, or any other box, and go to the street corner and talk about any subject he liked, always provided that he kept his tongue within the bounds of reason; and that right I claim at the present time.
There is no party outside or inside the House of Commons which has done more than the party to which I belong to preserve the right of free speech. As far back as the year 1893, I myself, being then a member of the Social Democratic 1946 Federation, of which I am a member now, had to fight for the right of free speech, and I had to do so for a good number of years. We had to fight for the right of free speech in the East End of London, and, after a good number of my companions had been sent to prison, we were eventually allowed to hold our meetings there. Later on we had to fight for our right of free speech at the World's End. There again a number of our companions were locked up, and, after a fight against the police, and against other people as well, we successfully claimed the right to hold meetings there. The same thing happened at Edmonton. Therefore, as I have said, no party either outside or inside the House of Commons has done more than the party to which I belong in claiming the right of free speech.
As far as I am personally concerned, I do not want to suppress the organisation of which Sir Oswald Mosley is the chief. Everybody knows that he is a very ambitious man; everybody knows that he is a disappointed man. If the present Prime Minister had given him a job in the Cabinet at the time when he was a Member of the Government, I doubt whether any more would have been heard about Sir Oswald Mosley. He is a man with any amount of money, and I think every Member of the House who has heard him on a public platform will agree that he is a great orator and public speaker. He has a method of persuasion, and he is a very forcible man. But what I object to, and what my party object to, is this man having a semi-military organisation behind him. That is my main objection. Sir Oswald Mosley, so far as I am concerned, can go to the street corner, he can hold public meetings, he can develop and explain his theory as much as he likes, as long as he is not prepared to adopt the methods that he is adopting at the present time.
Another question that we have to ask is: What is the aim and object of this organisation? The aim and object' of this Fascist organisation, so far as this country is concerned, is to bring about what is called the "corporate State," and, if it is in a position to bring about the "corporate State," it is quite certain that this old House of Commons and similar institutions in this country will be dissolved; not only all our democratic 1947 institutions and, local authorities, but every trade union in the country will be dissolved. I think the reason why some Members of the House of Commons feel inclined to back up this propaganda is because it suits their purpose for the time being. They know that, if a Fascist State were brought about in this country under the dictatorship of Sir Oswald Mosley, the wage system would operate; there would be the same wage system as there is at the present time.
There is a good deal of difference between the two dictatorships—the dictatorship of the Fascists and the dictatorship of what is called the proletariat. So far as we are concerned, we are up against both dictatorships. I am not in favour of the dictatorship of the Fascists and I am not in favour of the dictatorship of the proletariat. No one has suffered more at the hands of the Communist party than I suffered for a long time. From 1925, for about two years, I had an awful time in my own Parliamentary division, where the chief of the police decided, in consequence of the interruption of a number of meetings, that the first party who had the rostrum at a particular corner should claim the right of meeting, and nobody else. I lived at Hammersmith then, and I paid a visit to that corner at 10 in the morning and put my rostrum there. There was not a living soul there, and I had to start and talk about all the silly things I could think of until I was able to collect a crowd for the purpose of keeping the other fellow out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) gave his experiences of public meetings. I could give him a good number. I can give him one that happened at Camborne, which is not far from his own constituency. During the General Election of 1906, I went there to support my hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones). Before the time of the meeting, the gates of the meat market, where it was to be held, were broken open, and as soon as we got in the platform was upset. I myself was thrown into the crowd, and, if it had not been for seven mining students, your humble servant would not have been here to-night.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Is it not the case that at the last election the Socialists denied a man a hearing at Camborne?
§ Lieut. - Commander AGNEW
Is my hon. Friend aware that Camborne is a place where public meetings are now conducted in a most orderly fashion?
§ Mr. THORNE
All I can say is that there must have been a change in mentality. That meeting was broken up, I was thrown off the platform into the middle of the crowd, and seven mining students took me to a hotel where I had my leg dressed. The following night the same crowd served the Conservative very much worse, and my chief said to me that it was about the roughest election he had ever seen.
I now come to what the Home Secretary knows is a very important point. I suggest to him that at Scotland Yard they have all the violent speeches made by Sir Oswald Mosley filed away and docketed, and the Chief of Police can put his finger upon very nearly every speech that he has made. I want to know why, in consequence of the very violent speech he made 12 months ago, he was not arrested at the time. I remember a lecture by Mrs. Annie Besant 45 years ago, and she said, "I want to warn you as public men, whether you are talking at the street corner or on the public platform, be very careful about the kind of language that you use, because the police take notes and, if you make a violent speech, it is documented and put away and they can put their fingers on it at any time." I believe that is true. I am sure the Chief of Police has the speech to which I am referring in his possession.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Is the hon. Member aware that the alleged report of that speech is questioned by Sir Oswald Mosley, who is bringing a libel action against a newspaper for having reported it? It is only fair that that should be mentioned. The matter is sub judice.
§ Mr. THORNE
I am not sure that the Noble Lord is referring to the same speech. In the speech 12 months ago he said, "We are prepared to meet the situation with machines guns——"
§ Commander OLIVER LOCKER-LAMPSON
That is not the one. That was not withdrawn. I have had a letter from Sir Oswald Mosley asking me where I got my facts from. I quoted that, and he himself wrote the article.
§ Mr. M. BEAUMONT
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is in error. It was not an article but a report of a speech, and it is the subject of a libel action at the moment.
§ Mr. THORNE
Is it not plain to everyone that a potential dictator must either have a private army or must worm his way among the members of the Army, Navy and Air Force, so that when the time arrives he will be able to use them. That is just what happened in Italy.
§ Mr. THORNE
No, it is not. I was in Rome before Mussolini got his authority, and I could tell you how he got it. If I were inclined, I could also tell you how Lenin got his authority. We all know how Hitler and Dolfuss got theirs. I am up against all forms of dictatorship or anyone having a private army behind him. The Government should not allow any military force to be formed outside the forces of the Crown. If you allowed Sir Oswald Mosley to have a semi-military force, how could you stop us from having a similar force? I do not say we intend to have it but we should be entitled to have it. I was amazed at the latter part of the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont). In giving his version of what happened in the hall, he said that in his opinion those who interrupted got all they asked for. That is a very serious statement for a Member of the House to make, because it is well known that the greater part of the stewards were armed with all kinds of dangerous weapons. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not true."] The brutality shown affords evidence that they had very dangerous weapons. It has been proved over and over again that they carried knuckle-dusters about with them and had india-rubber truncheons. It is certain that they could not have done the damage with their fists.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
If the hon. Member will accept it from me, I was at the meeting and I did not see any weapons on either side.
§ Mr. THORNE
It is astonishing to me how these men got their cuts and wounds. Their clothes were torn and jagged by old safety razors and things of that kind. How is it that these people are allowed 1950 to organise and fetch men from all over the country in trainloads? I put down a question to the Minister of Transport asking how many Blackshirts came front different parts of the country on that occasion, but the Clerk at the Table refused to allow the question. On the day of the last meeting at the Albert Hall I saw a trainload at Euston. What was the object of fetching people from other parts of the country to the Albert Hall, and to Olympia? On my way home last night I saw a meeting not 50 yards from where I live. There was a big van and about 50 Blackshirts were brought along, I expect from Chelsea. I am pleased to say that the meeting was very orderly. No one interrupted. The Communists had a go and no one interrupted them. We all know what Sir Oswald Mosley is after. The Communists are out for a proletariat dictatorship and Sir Oswald Mosley is out for a Fascist dictatorship, and I am against both. If Sir Oswald Mosley can persuade the people by constitutional methods, he is entitled to do so, but he knows perfectly well that it cannot be done, and that is why he has organised a force. His intention, in my opinion, is to overthrow this House of Commons by forcible methods, and he has almost said so in so many words. This is a quotation from part of his speech at Shrewsbury:Is there no evidence of a corrupt alliance of the old gangs of politicians to frame up against the new movement which threatens them all with political destruction at a future election?It is evident that he and those behind him are out for the purpose of upsetting this House of Commons. I think he is making a mistake, because he has a different mentality to deal with from that of Italy or anywhere else. We have been-used to free institutions for many years past. We have been used to the right of open-air meetings. One disadvantage-under which he is labouring he knows as well as anyone else, and that is the reason why he is organising this semi-military force. In every other country, with the exception of America, there is compulsory military training and, after a man has served three years in the regular army, he is a drilled and efficient man. He has not that material to deal with in this country, and that is why he is organising a semi-army. There is 1951 another thing to which I object. He has a very large number of majors and ex-majors. If they are receiving superannuation or pensions from the Government, it ought to be stopped, because they cannot serve two masters. I am sorry for my rambling remarks. When the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) was making that charming and forcible speech against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) this Debate flashed across my mind, and I thought I only wished I had that fluent language and I should be able to convince most Members that I was right. We have never encouraged anyone to break up meetings. I have said to my people time and again, "If you do not like what is going to be said at a meeting, keep away and let them say what they like."
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
The hon. Member commands such widespread respect that no one would ever think he had ever done anything but encourage the widest possible freedom of speech and oppose anything of a contrary character, although perhaps one would be entitled to be a little amused at his account of his early attempts to obtain freedom of speech. They rather seem to me to be fights for the purpose of securing the right to obstruct the highway, which is not quite the same thing as the matter we are discussing to-night. We are discussing to-night the right to safeguard the freedom of expression of speech, not of finding a place in which to speak. As to what happened at Olympia, a good many matters by this time have become common ground. First of all, we are all agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) that it would be unfortunate if this Debate should develop into anything like an attack upon the right of the Fascist movement to express itself. It must enjoy that right. Sir Oswald Mosley could hardly be deprived of it unless we also deprived, for instance, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) of the right to express somewhat similar views.
One must recognise that a movement of this kind which is capable of filling first the Albert Hall, where, as far as I understand, a meeting was perfectly orderly, and subsequently Olympia with 15,000 1952 people has its roots in something in the country, and is not to be wholly ignored. It is an expression of something. What it is it is not our business in this Debate to inquire. I think it represents to some extent a revolt of the middle classes who have felt themselves ground between two formidable and organised bodies of opinion, and have felt that they have never had the champion they think they now have. Every time the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol opens his mouth he adds thousands of recruits to Sir Oswald Mosley. I think the Fascist movement thrives upon the feeling that is prevalent, especially in the Conservative party, that it is utterly fed-up with interruptions of meetings—organised interruption and hooliganism which no amount of pious expression of belief in free speech can efface from our memories; and possibly when Sir Oswald Mosley, seeing that he has no other programme to advocate, turns his batteries in support of the ancient edifice of free speech in this country, he recognises that he is attacking a target which really commands a good deal of public sympathy.
With this preliminary observation and one or two other observations, I want to approach, first of all, the question of the meeting itself. I do not think that it would be a bad thing that the House should hear an account from one who was there, and who did not go there for the purpose of writing letters to the "Times" or making speeches here, but who went very much in the spirit in which I think most of the audience went there—to see what was going to happen, thinking that there might be a bit of fun and wondering what particular type of person could have bought the enormous number of tickets which were necessary to fill the meeting. I went there in no antagonistic spirit and without any very deeply-formed preconceptions. I accept at once what my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Lloyd) said that one must remember that in a vast hall of this kind, where 15,000 people can be accommodated, it is impossible from half-way down the hall even to see people's faces at either end of the hall. I was situated somewhere in the middle, and one could not identify people's faces in the galleries, still less could one see whether they were armed or not. As my respected 1953 leader has remarked on a previous occasion, in those circumstances really it is not the diversity of the testimony, but the many sideness of the truth which is remarkable.
I am prepared to believe that there were scenes of violence and organised violence, and I am going to tell the Committee, with complete frankness—and for the purpose of greater accuracy I have written down a concentrated resumé, attested both by my recollection at the time and by my recollections since—what, according to my eyesight, I saw. First of all, I came to this conclusion. There were no unmanageable interruptions up to the end of the first half-hour. There were a few sporadic individual interruptions, but after the first half-hour the meeting became progressively unmanageable, and at the time I left—I did not stay to the end—it was very unmanageable indeed. I attributed that—and here it is a matter not so much of fact as of inference—to three things. First of all, the audience were listening to a very boring speech; secondly, that it became unmanageable because a great deal of heat had been engendered by the treatment which the interrupters were receiving; and, thirdly, it became unmanageable because the only speaker was persistently challenging the interrupters to try their strength. Those are my impressions. I came to the definite conclusion that the meeting was not arranged for the purpose of answering people who interrupted, but to devise a method for the purpose of overpowering the interrupters.
On what do I base that statement? On two or three rather significant things. First, as the hon. Member for Ladywood said, the moment there was an interruption it was dealt with. The very first interruption was one still, small voice calling out something like the ordinary remark we hear in a meeting, "How would you like to live on 15s. 3d. a week?" Immediately the leader stopped and the searchlight was turned on that individual, who was then dealt with and ejected. That was obviously preconceived machinery, and, in my opinion, inconsistent with the meeting having been devised with an eye on anything else except overpowering interrupters. We have since been told that there was a Harley Street surgeon at a dressing station in the corridors, and a skilled staff to deal with 1954 first aid cases, and I think that also lends some colour to the belief that the object of the meeting was to demonstrate the value of the Fascist defence force in securing free speech. If I had had any doubt left in the matter it was confirmed when I heard Sir Oswald Mosley himself say:Before the organisation of the Black-shirt movement, free speech did not exist in this country. No great open meetings could be held. There have been cases of Reds with knives, razors, and spikes entering meetings for the purpose of denying free speech and preventing audiences of British people from discussing their problems. Gangs subsidised by Moscow gold and paid by alien finance carried weapons never seen before in Britain. These people succeeded in breaking up meeting after meeting in this land. To-day their power over English audiences has come to an end. The inter-ruptors go out as you have seen them go out to-night. If there are any more of them they will go out as well.Let us pass by the little euphemism which talks about the people "going" out. I did not see much "going," though I saw-many who went. That indicated to me at the time that the meeting was a demonstration, at any rate, of a method of overcoming organised interruption in England.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I accept that statement, which is not inconsistent with my argument. I believe it to be the case. What I am saying is that he was demonstrating to the meeting and to the world at large a new method of dealing with that kind of practice.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
My hon. and learned Friend says that chucking out has always been the method, so it is now perhaps appropriate that I should pass to three incidents—I will take only three, though they are not all—which I saw with my own eyes. On the left where I was sitting—and I was with a party of two or three other Members of Parliament and some ladies—where the tiers go up, there was a lady sitting with her hat—a large one—upon her lap. I mention that fact because it indicated to me, thinking 1955 of it afterwards, that she was not likely to be prepared to engage herself in a conflict if she could help it. There was an interruption close to her, and the man was bundled out very quickly indeed, and violently. I could not see much of the details, but that was what happened in her neighbourhood. She made some remark connected, I think, with the ejectment of this man which annoyed the people round about her. He was not in her company, but it seemed as though she was protesting about what had happened to him. A sort of subsidiary conversation went on around her. While one or two people were talking to her—this was not in the nature of interruption at all, as Sir Oswald Mosley was continuing to speak, and it must have been impossible for him to have heard what was going on because it was halfway down the hall—five or six Blackshirt women stewards were being collected. They arrived, and with one sort of pounce they got hold of this lady. She was from that moment invisible to me, but it took about five seconds from the moment when she was so confronted and carried along struggling, to her disappearance down the stairway. I thought that that was very quick and very unnecessary.
Now I take the second instance. A young man stood up and called out something. It was not possible to tell what was called out unless you were near. The speech was immediately stopped. In the way I have described, the spotlights were reversed, and this young man was thrown to the ground by at least six people. Some four or five other people came down, and while he was securely held and unable to do anything they struck him with their fists as he was on the ground. [An HON. MEMBER: "A good English method!"] He was then out of my sight because he was behind a barrier as I might be now and two Fascists from behind came along and kicked him until he reached the gangway when he was thrown down the stairs. That is the second incident. The third is of a young man who was sitting immediately in front of me, and in the end we got up to go because we felt that we were being placed in the position either of being manhandled or of being cowardly cads for not interfering. The young man whose feelings overcame him had expressed himself somewhat 1956 forcibly about what was going on. He was seized very quickly and face downwards, his jacket over his head, he was struck by the people carrying him, and he was struck by others. In that position, face downwards, he was thrown down the steel staircase of over a dozen or more stairs.
These are things which I witnessed with my own eyes, and in my submission to the Committee you cannot merely get away from that by saying, as Sir Oswald Mosley says, that I am a liar or that I am a disgrace to the Conservative party. I think that it would really be discreditable to the Conservative party if those who saw things like that did not say so. One can only say this, that those who were prepared to countenance, approve and endorse that kind of method can be expected to deny them with violent words and the mere reply, "You are a liar," does not cut any ice at all. But when I am referred to in the Rothermere Press as a Conservative softy and sentimentalist, I am bound to reflect on my historic past and to recall that I have been a boxer and have ridden in steeplechases and had all that valuable addition to one's language that comes in those ways. Incidentally, I have seen a Russian pogrom—the nearest analogy I can remember to the Olympia meeting.
I wonder whether people who write in that way ever take the trouble to find out whether there is any substance at all in the charge they make that one is one of those effeminate, degenerate people who would be unduly shocked by methods which really would not shock or appall any normal Englishman. I leave the House to judge.
What is much more important I think is really to come to the reflections that follow from the proceedings I have been describing, and for which there is a good deal of testimony besides my own—so much that it is really beyond dispute that overwhelming force was used on that occasion. Why is it that to-day we have not in this House absolutely unanimous condemnation for the things I have been witnessing? I think it is because in this matter we cannot forget on this side of the House our long experiences of meetings. There are among us those who cannot resist some satisfaction at seeing the biter bitten for once, and who feel that perhaps an old poacher like Sir Oswald Mosley is the best keeper. 1957 I am sorry to say this after the statesmanlike and magnificent speech of the deputy leader of the Opposition, but we are, perhaps, a little disinclined to believe in this new-found enthusiasm of the party opposite for free speech. It is so easy to pass it off on to the Communists; the party opposite always do it, but when you try to find the Communists you never can. Really, a Communist is only a logical Socialist.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
We have all had experience of political meetings and we know the people who go there for the purpose of breaking them up. They would deny at once that they were Communists. They would say, "We are members of the Co-operative Society." They never admit that they are Communists, and, as far as I am aware, there is no real and tangible reason for saying that the smashing up of meetings all over the country is organised by the Communist party. We have all had experience ad nauseam, of political meetings. There are two kinds of interruptions. There is the ordinary straightforward heckler, the interrupter who is the salt of every political meeting. I am reminded of the saying of David Harum that "a certain number of fleas is good for a dog." It is all to the good that we should have the heckler at our public meetings; they would not be public meetings without him, and politics would not be worth while. It is the democratic, rough-and-ready but good method of testing out wit and humour, good nature and judgment, and all the other qualities which are no lsss essential than a power to harangue an audience for an hour and a quarter on some dull topic, by which it chooses the representative it wants to choose.
I remember one election meeting where an old gentleman was a candidate. He delivered a most excellent speech, the only defect being that it was entirely read from a large number of sheets of notepaper. Owing to the respect in which he was held he was able to continue for about 15 pages and was only stopped by a heckler in the front saying, "Chuck us a bit, guv'nor." There is no obligation on any British audience to tolerate long, gloomy dissertations, still less needlessly provocative ones, without 1958 exercising its native wit. We are all used to it, and it is of the greatest importance that it should persist and even be encouraged, The man who cannot stand up against it really is of no use in democracy. It is one of the criticisms I have to make about this meeting that there was no method by which an interrupter could even be heard. There was no method of pitting personality against personality——
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. It may be that there are meetings which are so large that they are beyond what may be called "a political meeting." But there is a different kind of interruption in regard to which democracy must do something quickly. It is the organised, passionless, intolerable, mechanical noise which does not permit one solitary syllable to be uttered. We have had that kind of meeting. I will not say that they are rare though they are not as frequent as one might expect, but in' certain parts of the country the practice still continues. That kind of organised interruption does not come from anybody with a grievance, from people who really go there to protest about cuts in pay. It comes from people who sit there and with a futile mechanical precision take up chant after chant, that gloomy hideous tune which I always thought was called Tannenbaum, but which I am told by knowledgeable people has been appropriated to the Red Flag. I attended a meeting in the East End of London, and from the moment I began, first one section, and then the next and then the next took up the chant with enthusiasm, and it was impossible to get a single word out. I suggested that we should go outside, and we did, and had a perfectly orderly meeting at the street corner—there were some hecklers—because, and only because, in the streets it is the duty of the police to keep order; indoors there is at present no effective method of preserving order or freedom of speech.
Per contra, I addressed a meeting in one of the worst districts of Durham during all the bitterness and anger which followed the coal strike and the general strike of 1926, a meeting at which I bad not one friend in the place, attended by 1959 400 or 500 miners, whose bitterness had been increased by the local authority of a pronounced Socialist character removing the chairs from the hall so that the men should not sit down. That meeting of men whose faces were lined almost with despair, certainly with hunger, whose Adam's apples were standing out from their necks, and whose features were like whipcord, after the first few sentences, listened to an hour's economic exposition of the coal strike which was then going on. That underlines the fact that this organised interruption is not the spontaneous expression of grievances but the machinations of people who do it mechanically in order to make free speech impossible.
What are the remedies? That is what the Home Secretary will have to consider. One thing is perfectly certain. We cannot permit any self-appointed protector of free speech. It would be deplorable to think that the right to protect an essential bulwark of democracy has passed from this House to Sir Oswald Mosley, or anybody else. Ought the existing law to be strengthened, and the administration tightened? The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) referred to the Public Meetings Act. That Act only provides for a penalty of £5 or one month's imprisonment. That is not adequate in serious cases, and it makes no provision for the organisers of interruption; it merely deals with the person who is acting at a public meeting in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing public business. It should be strengthened, the penalties increased, and it should be made applicable to the organisers. To organise the break-up of a public meeting ought to be prohibited by Statute. I do not think that the case was quite correctly stated by the hon. Member for Bodmin when he spoke about no Protestant being able to invade a Roman Catholic neighbourhood. He must have in mind the case of Wise against Dunning, on which the Lord Chief Justice said:The appellant used with respect to a large body of persons of a different religion, language which the magistrate has found to be of a most insulting character, and that the appellant challenged any of them to get up and deny his statements.That is not merely the case of a Protestant going into a Catholic area or a 1960 Catholic going into a Protestant area, but it is a definition—a very near definition—of the action of Sir Oswald Mosley when he thought fit to describe an ancient and a honourable nation as the outpourings which the ghettoes empty on our shores. Insulting remarks of that kind might well have brought the author of them within the limits of the Common Law. As regards administration, I am not at all certain that the proper method is not that one policeman should attend every political meeting of any size. There is a great deal to be said against it, but if it were the practice that at any meeting over a certain number there was one policeman in the hall, with a telephone available at close quarters for communication, I think it would prevent the worst excesses and outrages inside the hall, and would provide a ready means of communication in case there was a serious disturbance of the peace.
Lastly, let me say that it is not an unimportant matter which we are raising this afternoon. The example that has come before us should cause us to pause and consider whether there is anything we can do by administration and by legislation to preserve what is one of the essential bulwarks of democracy. Democracies are going down like nine-pins all over Europe, largely because the right of free expression of opinion has been denied to democracy. We have to pre serve that right if we are to see democracy survive, and in order to do that we must be vigilant and, in an extreme case such as this, learn its lessons and take in time the steps necesary to maintain our position as the greatest democratic country in the world.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
Every hon. Member in the House must be profoundly indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) for the speech he has delivered. For myself I could find only one point, and a minor point, of disagreement. He rather implied that the menace of the break-up of the public meeting to which he has referred was a new thing. That is not the case. One of my earliest political memories is an address by Mr. Keir Hardie at Oxford in 1909. For my sins I happened to be the organiser of that meeting, and I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that 1961 in breaking up public meetings those who acted against Mr. Keir Hardie had nothing to learn from anyone. Chairs were thrown into the hall, potatoes and lumps of sugar were thrown on to the platform, on which women were present, and afterwards I had an angry correspondence with people who were trying to make me pay for the broken chairs when I thought it was a charge which the Proctor ought to meet, but upon which he did not see eye to eye with me. I recall that meeting because the hon. and learned Member referred to the making of mechanical and repeated noises as if it were a new thing. It was done at that meeting. The singing of the Red Flag is one thing and the singing of "God Save the King" is another, but they have the same effect at a public meeting—in my opinion it is a grave misuse of the National Anthem. I agree also with the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) that the methods of dealing with interrupters are not new. Chucking out has always been the method. An interrupter who will not shut up you do your best to chuck out, although on the occasion to which I refer we singularly failed to do it.
§ The question is not whether at this particular meeting they were justified in chucking them out—everybody realises that in some cases it is absolutely necessary—but whether in regard to the people who received this treatment unreasonable force was exercised or not. I can understand the feeling of indignation of those hon. Members who asked who began it, but I cannot understand them defending the Blackshirts for actions which we have heard described and which we have no reason to doubt. After the testimony delivered in this House by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Lloyd) and the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham nobody is going to disbelieve them—certainly not a person here.
§ If the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) says—and every one would believe him—that he did not see things of the same kind, he is, after all, only testifying to a negative and his negative does not dispose of the affirmative of the other hon. Members. In the case of a great meeting like that you do not take matters very far by saying as in fact these hon. Members can say "Well, there was nothing very much wrong anywhere 1962 near me." That statement only covers a small part of the enormous ground, and we have unimpeachable testimony of actions by the Blackshirts to which I would only apply this test—that neither the hon. Member for Penrith and Cocker-mouth (Mr. Dixey) who has been interrupting nor the hon. Member for Aylesbury, if they had been there acting as stewards at that meeting, nor any Member of this House in the same circumstances, would have dreamt of employing such methods upon anyone, however much they might disagree with those persons.
§ Trampling upon fallen enemies, kicking unconscious men—these things are not within our British tradition, and they are not things of which anybody in this House would approve. I believe that the greater part of the objection taken to these proceedings by competent observers was not so much to what was done in the hall in the necessary process of getting the interrupters out, but the way in which their punishment continued after they had been effectually removed. A witness from my own family whom I have personal reasons to believe and who is supported by others, was disgusted with this more than anything else, that when an interrupter was removed it was not only the attentions of those who removed him that he had to put up with, but other quite irrelevant Blackshirts, who had no part in the glory of his removal, proceeded to join in his punishment when he was helpless. No one in this Chamber would sanction that conduct for a moment.
§ In justice to Sir Oswald Mosley it must be said that there is not lacking evidence that some of those who appeared to be superior officers among the Blackshirts did object to some of this treatment and tried to stop it, in some cases with a certain amount of success. As I have had evidence of that, I think it only right that it should be stated. It may well be that Sir Oswald Mosley himself as he stood on the platform was not fully aware of what was going on in other parts of the hall, and certainly not of what was going on outside. I believe that if he had conscientiously made himself acquainted with the facts which have been testified to since, and had then told the nation that this was not what he had intended and that it was an exaggeration and a caricature of any orders given by him, a great 1963 deal of toleration would have been extended to him and his movement, which at the present time is denied to them because they appear to be glorying in what happened, even though all the nation knows what it was.
§ That particular movement is in an unfortunate position in claiming to be the special champion of free speech. Others who are attacked may say, "We have done nothing, and are contemplating nothing which will interfere with free speech and free political action." But if a British political leader deliberately chooses to found himself upon a foreign model, everybody is bound to look at that model to see what they have to fear. When we are talking about methods of interfering with free political action, catcalls and the interruption of public meetings may be bad, but I do not see that they are any worse than castor oil, and when people go out to menace political liberty, they are bound to arouse, from the first, an antagonism which would not be met with by an ordinary political party which was ready to meet its opponents on the lines of reason and argument and those only.
§ The danger, as I see it, lies in the fact of having these two bodies, both unconstitutional, at daggers drawn with each other. It is an ugly problem which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is called upon to face. When there were Communists only in the field, I do not believe that they did themselves any good by their violence, or anybody else much harm. Certainly, their outbreaks of rowdiness did not appear to gain them many votes in the elections in which they took part. I do not think that their proceedings did them any good, and such a movement could be left almost to perish of the contempt which it brought upon itself. But when we get another party employing the same methods, one does not settle the question merely by asking who began it. The truth is that two rather unconstitutional bodies in the political field are a great deal more than twice as bad as one such body. One unconstitutional body may succeed in making a riot. Two can make something much more like a civil war.
§ Proceedings such as took place at Olympia must inevitably leave behind a bitterness which, I am afraid, will drag 1964 into the two contending movements a great many people who do not understand and do not very much care about the political and economic issues involved in the programmes of the two parties. Into the ranks of the Communists may be swept people who know nothing about Communist practice, either to its credit or against it but who have merely heard that some people of their own class have been "beaten up," who are angry, and who want to join in, so as to get a knock back. On the other side, in Sir Oswald Mosley's ranks I am afraid you get more and more people of the "Bulldog Drummond" type, whose idea of the acme of bliss is some kind of political activity which involves a free fight at the end of it. With the two forces growing in that way, it will be harder and harder for the ordinary private citizen to keep out of the way. The ordinary citizen has no inclination towards revolution and no liking for drilling or dictatorships, but he may find himself being crushed between these two opposing political forces and he may find that he is just as likely to suffer oppression from the self-constituted guardians of his liberty as from any of the disciples of Moscow.
§ That is what I am afraid of at the present moment. Is this just an isolated incident, or are we witnessing the beginning in our own land of the adoption of methods, the fatal effect of which we have seen in other nations and from which we proudly assumed—perhaps too proudly and too confidently—that we were immune? It is not so long ago since Hitler was almost a figure of fun in Germany, and his party an unconsidered party. Without anyone intending it or understanding how it came about, the movement grew, and there was conflict, and we see the result. Are we going to see the same thing in our own country? I sincerely hope not. The victory of Communism would be, I believe, a disaster to the country, but I see no salvation in the victory of the other extreme.
§ Those bodies which form themselves to protect society against Red organisations always say, as we heard from the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), that as a first step the Red organisations should be suppressed. The second step is to say that all organisations of the Left are to be suppressed. Then they go 1965 on to the organisations of the Centre, which they describe as lukewarm, as ineffective elements, not doing any good, and it is said "We must get rid of them also." In the end not even the organisations of the Right are exempt from this treatment, and the only bodies which are allowed to exist are those of the overmastering faction itself. When that happens liberty is dead. I believe that the best object and effect which this Debate can have, besides obtaining a statement from the Home Secretary, is to call the attention of public opinion to the things that are happening while there is yet time to see that liberty may be guarded. I believe that there is a core of common feeling in the House of Commons which has been expressed in this Debate; that we all desire that peace and order should be preserved, and that we all appreciate the fact that, in the long run, if civil peace is to be preserved, the King's peace ought to be maintained by the King's arm and by that alone.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Gilmour)
I should like to say at the outset that, as far as I, personally, am concerned, and I think I can speak for my colleagues, we are obliged to the Members of the Liberal party who selected this Vote and gave us the opportunity for a discussion of this problem. It is perfectly clear from the tenor of this Debate, which I am glad to think has been conducted in a spirit of perfect good humour, that there is no kind of implication that Parliament, in looking at this problem, is taking the view that we are on the verge of a complete breakdown in our system. Quite the contrary. I am, for the time being, the Minister responsible to the House of Commons for the maintenance of law and order, and for the executive action which is taken here in London, and I have some responsibility also in connection with affairs outside in the country. I am indebted to the hon. Members who have spoken for the frankness with which they have discussed a problem, the solution of which is by no means easy. I welcome the various points of view which have been put forward and I welcome more than anything else the fact that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee and belonging to all parties have given their 1966 own experiences in some of the recent disturbances, and have explained their own position, and have so enabled, not only Members of the Committee here but the far larger body of public opinion throughout the country, to try to judge for themselves the problem which the country has to face and how it is to be met.
I have been asked a number of questions but perhaps I might at the outset give a brief addition to the report which I made to the House on the actual facts of what happened at the Olympia meeting. It is true that opinion here has concentrated upon what happened on that occasion, but of course that is by no means the whole story. It goes back, as hon. Members have said, into the distant past in the history of our country. Those of us who have had considerable experience of political meetings know some of the difficulties which have to be faced. In answer to a question the other day I indicated that, on the whole, in spite of those difficulties, I had been able to make myself heard in the contest? which I myself had conducted. I do not disguise from the Committee that in order to do that I have always arranged to have my meetings properly stewarded, and let me say that that is, indeed, the duty of those who organise large meetings of the public or of their supporters for various political occasions. I would emphasise the fact that the stewarding of a meeting by the ordinary method, and keeping a meeting correct and regular is the affair of the people who run the meeting and who have their own stewards.
When we come to the happenings at Olympia, one or two very interesting facts arise. We knew some time beforehand that this large gathering was going to take place. We knew, as I told the House, that so far as Sir Oswald Mosley and his organisers were concerned, they desired to run the affair inside the meeting for themselves. We had, of course, the duty of making provision for keeping the traffic of the streets moving and dealing with such crowds as might arise. The Commissioner of Police has a very grave responsibility, and I would like to say that, as has already been said both in this House and certainly in the Press, that in so far as the police generally handle these crowds in London, they do so with good humour and effectiveness. I beg the House and the public outside 1967 to recognise and to remember that in dealing with these problems the police are being asked to come to decisions at very short notice. They have a strain placed upon their judgment and sometimes mistakes are made. I would plead with the House to recollect that if mistakes are made they are not made of evil intent, and I hope that this House, irrespective of political differences, will support the police in the actions which they take in carrying out their duties.
With regard to this meeting, of course it is true that we also knew there were people who disapproved or disagreed with some of the views which would be expressed there. Criticism has been made in, some of the remarks to-day of the action of the police in conducting to the Olympia processions coming from the East End, which were well known to consist of some of those people, whether Communists or otherwise, who disagreed with the meeting and the things that might be said at it. I think that kind of view is a misapprehension. What happened was that the police were aware that processions were starting from one part or another, and in accordance with long practice, and, I think, practice very well tested by experience, such processions were shepherded by the police for the purpose of maintaining law and order in which they were successful. Indeed, the instructions of the Commissioner and the action of the Commissioner were to take them away from the vicinity of Olympia and to direct them into side streets. There were individuals in the processions possibly having tickets for the meeting which they had bought, and the police conducting some of these bodies had no idea whether they were Communists or how they obtained access to the vicinity of the hall. I think, from such inquiries as I have made, that every effort was made by the police to keep the crowds moving and to keep the traffic flowing.
I want to make it quite clear that the Fascists organisers of this meeting declined to have any police intervention inside the hall. The instructions which the Commissioner gave to the police in the vicinity were that they were not to go into the hall unless they had reason to believe that something contrary to the law was taking place. In fact, information was given to the police that certain 1968 things were happening to individuals, not in the meeting itself, but in the precincts of the meeting. The House must recollect that the actual forum where the meeting was taking place is only a small part of the total area of Olympia; I emphasise that fact because it is essential for the House to recollect the difficulties which are placed on any body of police which has to deal with meetings of this magnitude. The fact remains that the police did go in. They found one man who had been fairly severely handled, and as they went in they observed other groups of Fascists struggling with and pounding and beating up others. There was a cry of "Police!" and the Fascists in the groups ran into the Olympia. Such individuals were removed or were thrown out in varied circumstances. It was impossible for the police at that time, without having been previously posted before the meeting began, to have really effective control or to have apprehended anybody who may have committed any act of extra severity against any individual.
I want the House to understand that the law provides that unless the promoters of a meeting ask the police to be present in the actual meeting, they cannot go in unless they have reason to believe that an actual breach of the peace is being committed in the meeting. It may well be that after this Debate, and in view of the considerations which have been in the minds of Members in all parts of the Committee, we may have to look at that side of the law, and we may have to arm ourselves with further powers. That, of course, would entail legislation and I am not entitled to discuss that at the present time. I want the House to understand that if the promoters of any meeting desire to have the police in, the police are available if there is reason to anticipate disorder without charge upon the promoters of the meeting. While I am very well aware that there is a hesitation on the part of those who may organise meetings and who may be standing as candidates, whether for local government or for the House of Commons, to involve themselves by bringing in the police if they can avoid it, I would say that I hope that in future it will be realised by those who complain of their meetings being broken up by gangs of disorderly people 1969 that they have, in fact, at their hands the opportunity of making use of the proper arm—the arm which is provided by the State and not by any other usurping authority.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
This is rather important. Is my right hon. Friend referring now only to the Metropolitan Police or to the police of the country as a whole?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I am not an arbiter of what may be done in military matters. One thing is clear, as I have repeatedly said in this House, that no Government could for a moment entertain a position in which anybody, whether semi-military or not military, tries to ursurp the power which ought to remain alone in the executive Government. If there is a disturbance in a meeting the stewards are perfectly justified in ejecting the disturbers, so far as they do not use methods which are in excess of the necessity of the circumstances. Let me in view of the kind of statements which have been made in the Press that certain attacks have been made on people in that meeting by weapons of one kind or another, draw the attention of the Committee to a letter which appeared in the "Times" of Monday, the 11th June:I was a Blackshirt steward at the Olympia meeting. While I was stationed at the back of the lower balcony a man jumped from the upper balcony on to the people below. Spitting abuse, he slashed a girl Blackshirt's face with his knife. I will leave it to the judgment of your readers as to whether the violence I inflicted on him when I eventually succeeded in throwing him down the stairs was 'wholly unnecessary'.I have only one comment to make on that. If that was a true statement of the facts, that man ought to have handed the other man over to the proper authorities. There is no justification for anyone, whether a Blackshirt, a Greyshirt or a Blueshirt, to act as this man did. If he has a case like that his duty undoubtedly is to take legal action. I am aware that in disturbances in meetings it is difficult very often to obtain either the name or the address of the person concerned, yet there are chances and opportunities open 1970 to those who are running the meeting to take action under the existing law.
I was asked as to the amount of damage which was inflicted upon some of the people who attended this meeting. I have taken care to make some inquiries as to what happened to some of the people, irrespective of whether they were Communists or Fascists. I have no concern with that, but I have a concern with what were the kind of cases that were treated and, as far as possible, to obtain information how they sustained their injuries at Olympia. The West London Hospital treated the following cases. One man suffering from a bruised face and head, probably received as a result of blows, and who, after treatment, was discharged forthwith. One man suffering from cuts on the face, possibly received as a result of blows from a knuckleduster; after treatment he was discharged forthwith. One man suffering from a cut over the right eye, possibly received from a blow, and who, after treatment, was forthwith discharged. One man suffering from a leg injury, possibly as a result of a kick. He was detained for treatment and was discharged on the 9th instant. One man suffering from a severe cut and bruising over the eye, possibly caused by a knuckleduster; he was discharged forthwith after treatment. One man suffering from a cut on the left hand informed the hospital authorities that he received this injury when breaking a pane of glass at Olympia; he was detained and discharged on the 9th instant. One man suffering from abdominal injuries, possibly received as a result of kicks, informed the hospital authorities that he was kicked during the melee at Olympia; he was detained until the 9th instant. The hospital authorities informed the police that they saw no injuries which were consistent with razor slashing, though it is possible that some of the injuries treated might have been caused by the use of knuckledusters.
There were other cases treated at St. Mary Abbott's Hospital. One man suffering from an injured head and right hip and a small contused wound over the left temple; the hip injuries were possibly caused by kicking and the eye injury by a blow from the fist; he was detained and discharged on the 9th instant. One man suffering from injuries to his chest and a suspected fracture 1971 of the ribs, but the X-ray revealed no fracture; he was detained and discharged on the 14th instant; the injuries were possibly the result of falling on a hard surface. One man suffering from multiple scalp wounds and suspected fracture, but no fracture was revealed by the X-Ray; he is still receiving treatment in hospital. One man suffering from head and eye injuries; the head injuries were probably caused through knocking on a hard surface, and the eye injuries probably from fist blows. One man was suffering from head injuries, possibly caused through blows from falling on a hard surface. The hospital authorities were of opinion that none of the injuries treated were caused by any instrument, and certainly not by razors. The cases treated at St. George's Hospital were: one woman dressed in Fascist Blackshirt uniform suffering from contusion and discolouring of the eye apparently received as a result of a blow; one man suffering from contusion and discolouring of the eye and a cut lip received, apparently, as a result of blows. The hospital authorities state that these injuries were not considered to have been caused by the use of any weapon, and could not have been caused by a razor. The patients informed the hospital authorities that they had been struck by fists.
Hon. Members will see that out of that list nobody, so far as we are able to ascertain, was suffering from the effects of the use of razors. At the same time I am well aware that razors, and particularly safety razors, have been used by people in meetings both in my own town of Glasgow and elsewhere throughout the country. It is evident, and it becomes more evident, that the present position of affairs is highly unsatisfactory. While I am not prepared at the moment to advocate any definite line for further legislation, I think that this Debate has been useful; that it has pointed out the direction in which the Government should consider the review of some of these existing regulations and laws and, very possibly, additions to them. It has been suggested to me that there should be a public inquiry. The worst thing that we could do for democracy and for this House is to appear as if we were being stampeded. I am satisfied, from my executive point of view, that I shall be 1972 able to deal with some of these problems, and I trust that the attitude of refusal to allow the police in any way to appear in these meetings, adopted by this Fascist body on these occasions, will not be repeated. If it is, I may indeed have to take quite other lines, and I shall not hesitate to take them.
This problem affects not only those of us who are discussing it here to-day, but it also materially affects every class of persons up and down the country. We should be well advised to consider most carefully how best we can serve the interests of free speech, and obtain the assurance that we shall have free speech, before we take further action. I have been asked if I will hold a public inquiry. I think that is unnecessary and undesirable, but I am entirely in favour of considering this question from my particular point of view, and I shall welcome the opportunity of bringing into consultation the leaders of every party in the House to see whether, after we have formulated our proposals as a Government and as an executive body, just agreement can be achieved on what ought to be done. I feel sure that this Debate will have served a useful purpose if for no other reason than that it may have dispelled some of the wild rumours in certain quarters and disproved other statements on the other side. I am not concerned either with the Communist point of view or with this other point of view which has recently arisen. All I will say is that it is contrary to all democratic ideas and customs; it is contrary to the traditions of our country that we should allow the usurpation of power, which can only be met by power, by anybody other than the State. I therefore listened with interest to this Debate. I have taken note of some of the suggestions and I have no doubt that I shall hear further suggestions, but I invite the leaders of all parties to consider this problem and I trust that the invitation which I have extended will be accepted.
§ Mr. PIKE
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman before he sits down whether, in view of any applications coming to his notice in the future for police guidance for the purposes of traffic control of any body of persons marching upon a public meeting with the specific declared object of breaking that meeting 1973 up, he will take such action as will prevent such passage of persons to that meeting?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I will only say that one must of course deal with each of these circumstances as it arises.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
It is with some anxiety that I rise to take part in this very important Debate. I am anxious by my intervention not to lower the standard of the Debate, but I have listened to practically all that has been said to-day on this important matter and especially to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. I felt, until the last two sentences of his speech, that he was much more eloquent than usual and more emphatic and determined than is his custom. I rather welcome the determination of the right hon. Gentleman to deal with this very important problem, but he made only one suggestion to which I need allude at the moment—when he threw out an invitation to leaders of all parties in the House of Commons. I understood that he desired to consult them on the best methods of dealing with this problem in the near future. I feel sure that the leaders of our party will take note of that invitation that he has thrown out and will give it due consideration.
Nothing, so far as I remember, has brought this House to so vivid a realisation of modern tendencies as the meeting at Olympia the other evening. I am, however, not quite so sure that the right hon. Gentleman was correct in his estimation of events in this country when he said that we were not on the edge of a complete breakdown of our present system of Government. If that is so, it is not because the Fascists have not tried their level best to break it down. Then he said that the solution is not a very easy one. On that point I think that he might have informed the Committee of the difference which prevails in the handling of public meetings by the several police forces of the country. If he had refreshed his mind with the report of 1909, when nearly the same issue was raised then as was raised to-day, I am sure that he would have found that that Committee, although it never came to any very definite conclusions, pointed 1974 out the three distinct ways of dealing with this issue, which they termed the Birmingham, the Liverpool and the Manchester police methods.
If I make a criticism at all, it is not of the police. The police carried out their duties in connection with the Olympia meeting very fairly. Indeed, it has been noticed in this Debate that there has been no criticism of the police at all. There is, however, room for criticism of the methods adopted by the authorities in instructing the several police forces of the country. I happen to live in Manchester and have had something to do with organising meetings there in the past. The custom in Manchester differs from that of Liverpool and of Birmingham, and I am not so sure that the three do not differ not only from each other but also from the methods employed by the police in the Metropolitan area. Is it not possible to secure that the method employed in one of these three cities which is the most effective for the purpose of the proper conduct of public meetings shall be adopted throughout the whole of the country? I cannot conceive how the Manchester Watch Committee can issue instructions to its police force on how they should conduct themselves in connection with public meetings, while different instructions are issued by the Birmingham and the Liverpool Watch Committees respectively. That is what the Committee of Inquiry found out when they went into this matter in 1909.
Like most hon. Members of the House, I too, have had some experience of public meetings, and I must confess that during the last couple of years I have had to face in some public meetings a new element that I never found up to about two or three years ago. The difference in the treatment of the platform from the audience that we find to-day is indeed a fundamental one. The difference between the meetings of the last two years and those held before the War may be illustrated by reference to the Olympia gathering. When the right hon. Gentleman said that the police were not allowed to enter Olympia, I began to wonder why the Home Office did not ask the promoters of this gathering what authority they had for precluding the police from entering it. It seems an affront to the Police that the organisers of any gathering should prevent 1975 the police from entering it when they find that the peace is going to be disturbed. We are told, however, that they ultimately entered the Olympia gathering, and I felt a little proud that they had asserted their authority in so doing. The point at issue, is, however, that up to recent years the complaint was that the audience did not deal fairly with the platform. The new charge that is now made is that the platform does not act decently towards the audience. That was the case at Olympia. You therefore have the reversal of the usual custom, and, instead of the audience destroying the meeting against the wishes of the platform, you have the stewards, on behalf of the platform, using brutal measures against members of the audience. We have therefore reached a stage when we have a new problem to deal with.
I regard the Olympia affair as the culmination of a series of recent events. I never liked the story that was told about the antics of the Fascists in connection with the payment of tithes in one rural part of England. I have never been happy either in the belief that some of the authorities in this country have treated the Fascists with as much severity for the same offences as they have treated the Communists. That is a thing that bothers me. From the very commencement I have placed the Communists and the Fascists in exactly the same category; I see no difference whatsoever between them except the colour of their shirts. Their objects may differ just a little in colouring, but their methods are the same. They do not believe in Parliament, they do not believe in government by argument, they do not believe in arriving at a decision as a result of debate. If they can achieve their object thereby, they are willing to transfer their argument to the mouth of the revolver, and that is the end of it. We are therefore a little disturbed, and I think we are entitled to ask the Home Office how it came about that the Fascists secured so much sway and power in connection with the agricultural problem in Norfolk. Indeed, there is room to believe that not only the authorities there but some of the people above the ordinary policeman have a knack of distinguishing between these two bodies, and that the same 1976 penalties are not meted out to them in the courts.
§ Earl WINTERTON
On a point of Order. The hon. Member has just made a suggestion of a most serious character. He has suggested that the courts of law, in trying cases in which Communists and Fascists respectively are concerned, show a partiality towards the Fascists which they do not show towards the Communists. I ask whether it is in order, under the Standing Orders of the House, to bring such a charge against the courts of law?
§ Mr. DAVIES
I did not say anything of the kind. What I said was that the people in authority who handle these cases do somehow or other take a different line against Fascists from that which they take against Communists.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I would like very much to hear the Ruling of the Chair upon the point of Order just put. I have always understood that it was not in order to discuss cases which are sub judice, but I would like to hear what the Ruling is with reference to the general operation of the courts.
§ The TEMPORARY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Cadogan)
I suggest that we should avoid all allusions of that kind to the courts of law in this discussion.
§ Mr. DAVIES
That, of course, is not a Ruling against dealing with that point, otherwise we should be stultifying ourselves in regard to the very liberty of speech which we are pleading for this afternoon. I have read practically all the evidence given before that committee in 1909, and, apart from the wearing of uniform for the purpose of expressing political opinion, this problem is not quite as new as people suppose. In my younger days, when arguing the policy of the Labour party, I was confronted many times with organised opposition by young members of the Tory party and our meetings were broken up.
§ Mr. HANNON
How many meetings of the Tory party have been broken up by members of the Socialist party?
§ Mr. DAVIES
I have condemned that equally. I condemn the breaking up of meetings by members of any party.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. and learned Member ought to know that we on these benches can never keep account of all the meetings that we have addressed during our lifetime. I have addressed public meetings, on an average, on almost every other day throughout my life, for the last 30 years, and I cannot recollect them all; but if he had been with me during the War in Stephenson Square in Manchester he would have found out that the military caste in this country could be as brutal to Pacifists then as are the Blackshirts in dealing with Communists to-day. But I do not want to divert the Debate from its original purpose.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I myself appeared as counsel in a case in which a meeting held by the Prime Minister was broken up by young Conservatives.
§ Mr. DAVIES
All these events have brought us face to face at last with the question of how we are going to deal with this problem. I am convinced that nation which cannot listen to argument is a nation which is intellectually on the down grade. If people cannot listen to an argument which they do not like, the nation to which they belong is depreciating its own intelligence. If there is a crowd of 100,000 or so at a football match the police and the Home Office, and the authorities in the town where it is held will see to it that there is no disturbance, and if there is a pugilistic encounter in London, Manchester or Liverpool. I am sure that order is kept there also. When, therefore, a nation has reached the stage that it can keep order everywhere except in political meetings that nation, I repeat, is on the down grade. Mr. Keir Hardie, who gave evidence before the Committee in 1909 to which I have referred, suggested one way of dealing with the problem. Here, I may say, I was a little disappointed that the Home Secretary did not carry us a little further this afternoon. I liked the spirit of his determination. He spoke to-day almost as though he were a convinced democrat, and that is saying a great deal. Some one referred to a meeting at Oxford. Mr. Keir Hardie had just returned from that Oxford meeting at the time, and he said in evidence that he could never understand how the police were compelled 1978 to keep order in the streets but never bothered about keeping order inside a building in exactly similar circumstances. If the trouble which arose in his meeting in Oxford had occurred in the streets of that city the police would have intervened to see that he got fair play. That Committee of 1909 never came to a definite conclusion and that, in fact, is the trouble with which we are now faced.
From my own experience I regard the problem of the interrupting and breaking up of meetings as almost entirely a town and city problem, it does not belong to the county and smaller urban districts. The Under-Secretary represents Chorley. I am sure that he has never had this trouble in Chorley, and I am sure there will never be a row in Westhoughton, because they are too intelligent for that sort of behaviour. Whatever incidents may have happened in some districts outside this is, in the main, a problem of the big towns. That is where interrupters seem to collect. There is no glamour in going to a meeting in Chorley. If the people want a free excursion to a meeting they come to London. There is some attraction in coming to London. I was glad to note how many spoke in favour of dealing with this problem once and for all and saying that the State and its instruments should be paramount against any person who tries to usurp power. I was indeed very proud to hear speeches from Members of all parties in favour of keeping Parliament still the instrument of public expression in this country. The challenge of the Communists and of the Fascists is after all a challenge against this institution, and whatever may be its deficiencies I can say of Parliament with all sincerity, after having sat here for 13 years, that I have always been more free to give expression to my thoughts in this place than in almost any other of the many organisations to which I have belonged. For that reason I am a great believer in Parliamentary democracy.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not mind a joke, but I hope the hon. Member will make 1979 it quite clear that that was a joke and not a fact.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. Member made an observation to me, and I did not think he would mind a return. As I said, it is very pleasant to find that practically every party in this House to-day is agreed that we ought to resist all the military antics of the Fascist party and the Communist party too. There is one point to which I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to reply. Unless I am mistaken, the Home Office have already taken two steps which are not generally remembered by Members of this House At the beginning of last year the Home Office called in all the firearms, such as revolvers, which were in the possession of private individuals in this country, and not very long ago this House passed a short Act defining what a firearm was; and knowing a little of the Home Office and its mentality I had the impression, when those steps were taken, that they were proceeding stage by stage to some sort of objective. I am wondering whether this latest experience at Olympia does not bring them a little nearer to their objective in dealing with this problem.
I have always objected both to the Fascist and the Communist movements, because they have not grown out of the experience of our own people. During the last five or six years I have had the privilege of visiting some of the countries where there are dictatorships. One certain feature of a dictatorship is the abolition of trade unionism as we know it in this country, and I am sure that our working people will never take kindly to Fascism on that score. People imagine that when the Fascist state is established all that happens is that the character of the Government is changed at the top. The Fascist policy in Italy—and Sir Oswald Mosley has, I understand, made Italy his copy—does not stop there. It has abolished all elections in town councils. There are no town council, urban district or city council elections under the Fascist régime, and I begin to wonder what would happen in some of our villages and towns in the North of England, in particular, if all electioneering for these local authorities were abolished. That idea will not be accepted very readily here.
§ Mr. HANNON
It is not true to say that municipal administration in Italy has been abolished, but it is true to say that the nomination of urban and other councils is under the direction of the Fascist organisation.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I hardly think the Home Secretary can be made responsible for administration in Italy.
§ Mr. DAVIES
My trouble is that Mussolini appears to want to dominate our country, perhaps through Sir Oswald Mosley. The hon. Member was not quite correct, because what I said and what he said are exactly the same thing. One can destroy municipal government entirely if it is carried on by a single party, and that party appoints a retired colonel, say, to be the governor of a city or town. But I do not want to digress in that direction. I think I can say this without speaking specially on anybody's behalf. The right hon. Gentleman has to remember one thing above all, that just in proportion as this Fascist movement is allowed to grow in the same proportion will trade unionists feel that they have to do something on similar lines to stop it. From what I know of the trade union movement, the organised labour movement outside the political side of it, I cannot believe that it can remain quiet for very long unless the State once and for all declares to the Fascist body that it cannot be allowed to proced further on militarist lines.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Earl WINTERTON
The interest has largely gone out of this Debate after the very admirable speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We have had a most interesting Debate which has reached a very high level, and we have had one of the most judicious and temperate and statesman-like speeches from the Home Secretary that I have ever heard delivered by the holder of that office. I have much pleasure in saying that, because I have often been a critic of my right hon. Friend's administration. He will know that I have raised questions that I thought were pertinent and searching, and there have even been times in this Parliament when he and I have raised our voices somewhat to one another. I have not much to complain of in a speech of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys 1981 Davies). I would say to the hon. Gentleman—I still adhere to the old custom of calling those who sit opposite hon. Members—that I am sorry I had to raise a point of Order. I see now what his real views are. But I rather regret that in his speech he should have brought forward a suggestion of partiality against the police. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, he did. He suggested that the police were less unfriendly to Fascists who have broken the law than they were to Communists.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I am sure the Noble Lord will recollect what happened in a court of law when Fascists interfered in some agricultural dispute in Norfolk. They were practically told that they were nothing but naughty boys.
§ Earl WINTERTON
The hon. Gentleman has brought a most serious charge. If accusations of that kind were brought up in this House, I should table a Motion asking the House to express the opinion that no Member is entitled to bring accusations against the courts of law. I speak as an old Member of the House in asserting with the utmost emphasis that it has always been out of order to charge any court in this land with partiality. It has always been so. If an hon. Member wants to do that, he must put down a specific Motion on the Paper criticising a judge. [Interruption.] Whether that be so or not, it is highly undesirable to bring such a charge. I can well understand the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) doing so, because he is a self-styled revolutionary. Of course, he wants to bring charges against the courts of this country, but I should not have thought that the hon. Member for West-houghton wanted to bring such a charge.
We are not this afternoon discussing the relative merits of Communism or Fascisism. This is not the occasion to do so, and we cannot do so on this Vote. I appeal to hon. Members, to members of the Labour party, to the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). What is the use of the kind of argument that the hon. Member for Westhoughton has just used? He gave a sort of warning that if Fascism were persisted in he could not hold himself responsible for what the trade unions would do. But the preaching of Fascism and Communism is not illegal in this country. What then does the hon. 1982 Gentleman suggest should be done by the Government?
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
I think my hon. Friend has been misunderstood. If this sort of militarisation of politics is coming, if private armies are to be raised, it will be very difficult to prevent other people doing the same thing, and that inevitably will lead to many more clashes like that at Olympia.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. That is a most fair way of answering my question, and I accept the statement fully. It was probably my fault that I misunderstood what was said. But all the same, running through this Debate, there appears to be a suggestion on the part of some hon. Members that the Government ought to take powers to prohibit the preaching of the doctrines of Sir Oswald Mosley and of the Communists. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Hon. Members say "No." I am glad that what I say is generally accepted. If hon. Members ever did that, I should agitate for a similar law to prevent the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol from preaching his doctrines, which to my mind are equally revoluntionary. But I am glad we are all in agreement. Really the respective merits or demerits of Fascism and Communism, or the doctrines preached to the electors of East Bristol, are not in dispute this afternoon. I hope that during the forthcoming Session of Parliament, when private Members will have an opportunity of moving resolutions, some of us will move a resolution which will bring under review the whole of these, as I think, revolutionary policies which are preached to-day. But we are concerned this afternoon only with the question of the administration of the law at the Home Office, whether that administration is good or bad, and, in so far as it is in order to hint at it when a Vote and not legislation is under discussion, whether it is necessary to strengthen the law.
Respectfully, I commend most strongly what has been said by the Home Secretary. I think he has given an answer to some of my hon. Friends here, the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Lloyd) and the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor). I did not quite understand the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham. I dare say that his recol- 1983 lection of events at Olympia is correct, and was not in any way exaggerated by his own views. What I saw at the meeting was not quite the same as what was seen by my hon. and learned Friend. I think that the opposition was organised and dangerous. In many cases that I saw unnecessary violence was not used, but I am bound to admit that in some other cases I did see what seemed to be very unnecessary violence used. My hon. and learned Friend used the phrase "The meeting was not organised to answer interruptions." Why on earth should it be? Political meetings are not held as a sort of amusing game in which interrupters come in and have a bout with the chairman and the speakers.
There has been reference to give and take. This is not the way in which a serious country should take its politics. It is a bad thing when at political meetings people think it necessary to shout and interrupt. We have taken great exception to the barracking of our cricketers in Australia. When we allow speakers and statesmen to be interrupted in a gross and rude manner that is not committed in other countries, it is not give and take. The duty of people is to listen to arguments and to ask questions at the end. I do not know what my hon. and learned Friend meant by saying that the meeting was not organised to answer interruptions. Nor are my meetings in Sussex. My hon. and learned Friend also used the expression "Self-appointed guardians of free speech," Surely every person at a meeting who is responsible for the promotion of that meeting, ought to be a guardian of free speech.
If my hon. and learned Friend had come round with me when I was a young Member of this House to practically every by-election of the 1906 Parliament, and some of the 1900 Parliament, I wonder whether he would not have agreed that one must have some self-appointed guardians. We had to have them, and sometimes their methods were very drastic. I was very glad that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it abundantly clear that, provided they act within the law and with reasonable tolerance and moderation, it is the duty of the promoters of a meeting and their supporters to keep order in that meet- 1984 ing. I beg the Committee not to accept the idea that that work should be done by the police. If they had done it at Olympia it would have meant numberless questions from both sides of the House, perfectly genuine questions, alleging that the police had shown partiality. It would be the most fatal thing. Therefore, I appeal to my hon. Friends. By all means let them characterise as brutal actions that undoubtedly were brutal, but do not let us be mealy-mouthed about the way in which interrupters are dealt with.
One interesting thing has come out of this Debate—what the Home Secretary said as coming not merely from a very authoritative source but as based on fact. One thing the Fascists have been telling the public—there are no people better able to tell the tale than the followers of Sir Oswald Mosley—is that the interrupters were armed with all sorts of lethal weapons, razors and things of that kind, and that their men were slashed about. We have been told by the "News-Chronicle" and people who write under rather suspicious names in that paper, that people were so man-handled at this meeting that they would have to spend weeks in hospital. We now know that both statements are incorrect. I will tell my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Central Nottingham as an old boxer that they were hurt in the good old-fashioned way by the use of a fist.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
The use of a fist m the old-fashioned way was when both parties were erect and untrammelled. If that had been the case at Olympia, I should have had nothing to say. There was another point made with reference to what I said. It is one thing to say that a person by himself ought to be a self-appointed guardian of public order. It is quite another thing to say that a body of people should so constitute themselves and move about from place to place with that as their policy.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Stewards must be a disciplined body. In the old days the Tory party had great difficulty in holding meetings in the East End of London. We appointed stewards, sometimes recruited from the ranks of the pugilists, and they were under the orders of a leader. Their business was to move about a meeting and to see that order was kept, and, if necessary, to throw anyone out. I would be the last man 1985 in this Committee who wished to say anything friendly to the Fascists, because I happen to be the only Member of the House who is opposed by a Fascist candidate; but in my opinion, as an old politician, some of my hon. Friends are saying and doing things which are calculated to help the Fascist cause. Too much altogether has been made of this meeting at Olympia. Do not let us shed tears, or say that we cannot sleep at night and cannot eat anything because of the dreadful things that were being done. It is altogether exaggerated.
There is a very serious side to this business. It is leading our friends and enemies alike in foreign countries to think that in this country there is a menace similar to that which existed a few years ago in other countries. I do not believe that any such menace exists, not of disciplined forces attacking each other. The sort of menace that does exist, and it has existed for a long time, is the menace to free speech We do not come well out of that as a nation. We tolerate things—interruptions, abuse, insults and physical threats in a way that they are not tolerated, for instance, in the United States of America or Canada. I hope that the very wise words of the Home Secretary this afternoon will be remembered and that his invitation to the leaders of all parties to try, by persuasion or in other ways, to improve our record in this respect, will have effect.
In fairness to the Fascists the Committee must realise that they have brought things to a head. Up till now a great many people have been subject to interruptions. I admit that during the War hon. Members opposite were scandalously treated. Others have been badly treated by some of the followers of hon. Gentlemen opposite. In later years people have been subjected to interruptions from Communists. Speaking generally, it is true to say that there are many constituencies in this country where at both Parliamentary and local elections from the first day of the election to the poll particular candidates have not once been allowed to speak. Is it not really nonsense, is it not losing all sense of proportion, to devote so much of our time discussing events at Olympia, or other recent events in the Fascist movement, without dealing with the funda- 1986 mental causes of a great deal of the trouble? Blackshirts may be quite unnecessary. They may only want to wear them for provocative purposes. I would not put anything past Oswald Mosley. But they have a good cry. Hon. Members should have heard the thunderous cheers when Sir Oswald Mosley said—I heard his speech and I thought it was one of the worst speeches I have ever heard—"We are determined to see that free speech is maintained in this country." Does the hon. Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson) find that funny?
§ Earl WINTERTON
I should have thought that my hon. and gallant Friend was the last person who would think that it was funny, because over a series of years he has been complaining of the way in which the Reds break up meetings.
§ Earl WINTERTON
There may have been. There is only one further point to which I wish to direct the attention of the Committee. I am in full agreement with my right hon. Friend in what he said regarding what should happen in the interior of meetings held in a building. Clearly the authority should rest with the promoters of the meeting and the stewards to keep order, except in the case mentioned by my right hon. Friend, but I am not quite so happy as to the wisdom of the police authorities—I am not criticising them—in regard to keeping order outside. My right hon. Friend skated over rather thin ice in regard to the Communist procession. He used a strange phrase, and I found myself in some doubt whether I was in agreement with him. He said that it had been escorted by the police. Is it desirable when you know that there is going to be one of the biggest meetings, in fact the biggest meeting ever held. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, I think there has never been a bigger meeting held—15,000 people—indoors. When you have known for weeks beforehand that the opponents were talking about what 1987 was going to happen, and when there had been posters telling people to muster, was it desirable to allow a procession, with the Red Flag, to approach the meeting? We have been told that the procession was turned into a side street, but surely the conduct of those people was provocative and likely to lead to a breach of the peace. Why should they march through the streets of London bearing the Red Flag, with the intention of going to a meeting to break it up? That was their intention. I think they had made that sufficiently clear beforehand. I do not suggest that any procession should be prohibited, but when a procession is going with a particular object, surely those who are leading it could be charged with conduct likely to lead to a breach of the peace.
I have indisputable evidence from people who went to Olympia—I did not see it myself, but I have it from friends, including the wife of a Member of this House—that the Communists used the most disgusting language. They said: "We will have your blood in a year or so, you dirty rich. We will pull you out of your cars. They broke windows. We have heard nothing about that to-night. I saw some of them, and I have no hesitation in saying that they were the dregs of humanity, wild, revolutionary-looking people, waving their arms in an excited fashion, and shouting out insults to any person, whether they were Fascists or not, if they happened to be well dressed. They were the real type of revolutionaries. They may be all right at Tower Hill, but not in the streets of London.
My right hon. Friend might consider whether in the vicinity of meetings there should not be stricter regulations. I should like to read to the Committee an example of a case which I think ought to be avoided. It occurred in the provinces, and I think it would be out of order to comment in any way on the conduct of a provincial police force, but I am entitled under the Rules of the House to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend what occurred, so that the Committee and my right hon. Friend can form their own judgment. The quotation is taken from a report of a meeting in Newcastle, a famous meeting, which was addressed by Mr. John Beckett, a former Member of this House. It is natural to 1988 think that if in any part of the country there would be reason to anticipate a certain amount of excitement, it would be if Mr. John Beckett was addressing a Fascist meeting in Newcastle.Mr. Hutchinson, who defended the Fascists who were charged as a result of the disorders that took place, asked:The Blackshirts were being brutally attacked?P.C. Lowther: No, I would not say that.Inspector Egmore said he was on duty at a Fascist meeting at the Cowen Monument and had with him a sergeant and two constables.Mr. Hutchinson: Not a very adequate force?—No, I don't think so.It was a very noisy meeting, the inspector declared, and stones were thrown.No arrests were made. The Fascists were stoned as they were returning to headquarters. None of them wore uniform except Mr. Beckett. Mr. Hutchinson exhibited a large stone and asked:Why did not you or some of your men arrest the people who were throwing that sort of thing?—We never saw the stones thrown: we have to get the right man.It would be a good thing if the Home Secretary issued instructions to the Metropolitan Police and a Memorandum to the provincial police pointing out that when political feeling runs high between these factions, whenever one of them, whether it be Communists, Fascists, or any party represented in this House, holds a meeting in a public place it is the duty of the police to take adequate steps to preserve order in the vicinity of the meeting. It is intolerable that there should be stone throwing in the streets of a town like Newcastle and that nobody should be arrested. The same thing has happened elsewhere. I am not blaming the police. Perhaps they were not prepared for what occurred, but I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will issue general instructions, because you cannot blame any of these bodies of people if they take the law into their own hands when they feel that in the streets outside the meeting adequate protection is not being provided.
Apart from that, I feel that my right hon. Friend's speech was of a most satisfactory character. It was so satisfactory because it was the speech of a man who showed that he was not going to be driven into the panic courses that have been advocated from different directions. It was the speech of a man who occuppies a very high and important office and 1989 showed that he was fully master of the situation. Let it go out to the world at large from this Committee that we are not as frightened as some Members of this House and some people outside are of the Fascists or the Communists on the ground that they are indulging in conduct which is likely to destroy law and order in this country. If they get into office it is a different thing, but they will not do that by violent methods. Let the law be impartially applied to both. My only doubt is whether it has been applied with sufficient firmness in some cases. Let us remember that we shall never destroy either Fascism or Communism by making charges about the tactics of those who are engaged in it. We shall not destroy its political case in that way. What we can do is to destroy its case by irrefutable argument. I hope that the House of Commons in future will turn to attacking the politics of these people rather than questioning so much their actual tactics. If we simply question their tactics, we shall inadvertently bring recruits to them.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not propose to intervene to any great extent. We are discussing the Home Office Vote and have applied the discussion particularly to the Home Secretary's responsibility in the matter of keeping the public peace in London. I, like the Noble Lord, would, if I understood him correctly, infinitely have preferred to have had a Debate about the bigger issues lying behind this type of trouble. I can speak to some extent, although not entirely, for those who were disturbers in the meeting. I am certain that those men who went there consciously as opponents of Fascism and got the worst of the trouble are not squealing in any way. They knew perfectly well that that type of battle ebbs and flows and that sometimes you have the ebb end of it and sometimes the other end. That would be the general attitude of those who went there deliberately and definitely as very hostile opponents of the Fascists.
I want to put this issue to the Home Secretary, although if the noble Earl's dictum about what is orderly and what is not orderly be accepted by the Chair I shall be somewhat cramped. I did not interrupt the noble Earl for the sake of being offensive nor for the sake of drawing from him a rapier thrust. If I were 1990 going out to do that sort of thing, I should go for some man who was a little less adroit.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I hope the hon. Member will not think I was offensive in what I said. Directly I had said it I regretted it, because there is no one for whom I have a more genuine fear in debate than the hon. Member.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I think that is about a draw. It seems to me that this question of judicial impartiality and police impartiality is of the very essence of the particular thing we are discussing to-day It may or may not be true that the courts and the police are strictly impartial as between various groups who are challenging law and order, but it is not believed, and, if the handling of this matter is going to be satisfactory in the future from the point of view of the Government of the day and those who are charged with keeping the public peace, it will have to be demonstrated very much more clearly than it has been up to now that there is a complete impartiality in the handling of these cases.
I would ask the Noble Lord to examine the records for the last 12 months. The Fascist is as much a revolutionary against the existing Constitution as any Communist; admittedly he is not a revolutionary with reference to the existing social order but he is a revolutionary with reference to the existing political State. Indeed, if I interpret the mind of Sir Oswald Mosley correctly—and I have had some opportunities of knowing his mind reasonably well, and very interesting it is to see how rapidly the political cycle turns in these matters—he will regard his particular task at this moment, not as being that of smashing the Communists or revolutionary working-class people in general, but of discrediting and destroying the existing political State. He would regard that as his first task. Later on would come, from his point of view, the crushing down of all working-class organisations, but just now his main task is to hold the present National Government, the present Home Secretary, the present Parliamentary institutions up to public contempt. His desire at the moment is to show that he can maintain law and order better, more effectively, more efficiently, and do the strong man better than the people who have been publicly appointed to do that job.
1991 That is his desire, and, if those who are working-class revolutionaries are to be expected to assist the existing State to resist that type of attitude on the part of Fascism, the present State will have to show that they are sitting in a position of impartiality, determined to maintain their political structure against all comers, whether from the Left or frrom the Right. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman—and I will only make the most passing reference to this and not to the essence of it—the right hon. Gentleman knows just now that there are two Communist leaders, Mr. Mann and Mr. Pollitt, awaiting trial. I am not going into the merits of the trial at all, but the speeches on which they are charged are trivial things compared with the speeches that Sir Oswald Mosley has been making publicly throughout this land. We are discussing upstairs an incitement to disaffection Measure, and it is presumed that we are going to get powers to arrest any Communist who issues some pettifogging leaflet tending to seduce soldiers from their allegiance. The leader of the Fascist party in this country has boasted of his influence and power in the Army and the extent to which his ideas are penetrating both the officer class and the rank and file, and there is not the slightest sign of objection. The newspapers support him, and there is no attempt to suspend them or interfere in any way.
If one looks at the newspaper accounts of the various admittedly pettifogging things, trivial assault and breach of the peace and so on, that come into the courts arising out of this Olympia meeting, what does one find? To-day I was informed by one who can speak for the Communists that everyone who was brought up from their side was sentenced while everyone from the Fascist side was bound over to keep the peace. I say, there you are; there is the position. It may be that there is no double standard of action on the part of the State at this moment. It may be that the State believes that it is being completely impartial, but people with whom I am associated who look at it from the other end, do not believe in this impartiality. They believe there is a double standard, and they do not believe the State is being honest and genuine when, through its spokesman, it says that it will deal with impartial justice with 1992 anyone who becomes a disturber of the peace. I have said more than I intended to say and delayed the Committee much longer than I intended, but the right hon. Gentleman has suggested in the latter part of his speech that he is prepared to bring into consultation various parties in the House to discuss some way for a better regulation of public meetings. I am in this position that I and my two hon. Friends who usually sit beside me are Ishmaels; the hands of all men are against us.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am not complaining about it. I do not think that any Member of the House is likely to regard the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and myself as unduly depressed about that position. It has its advantages, but I have had a fairly long life of political agitation usually at what is popularly regarded as the wrong end, at the lesser, unpopular and losing end of whatever political controversy was on at the moment, and I must say that in the whole of my political life I have never had to confront situations which I regarded as being of a serious nature. I have seen in my own town—and the Home Secretary knows this as well as I do—desperate battles between rival gangs where the most vicious and brutal things have been done. We have seen a similar type of warfare between rival religious sects where very desperate and brutal things have been done, but so far never at any time as far as political warfare is concerned have I seen anything that could be described as brutality. I have seen many times two rivals come out of a political meeting on a direct challenge and settle it man to man and face to face outside with the majority of the crowd keeping the ring and with the result that the poor orator, who has come to address the crowd is left as only a secondary-attraction. I agree that it is very easy to get worried unduly about a breaking up of an odd meeting here or the incessant interruption of a meeting there. I would not worry about that.
I have done my work as a politician very largely at the street corner, and I hold the view that the audience a man is entitled to is what he can command. That is an entirely different thing from what the Home Secretary has to deal 1993 with, and I am afraid he and the National Government will have to deal with the big job for themselves. The political parties can assist him in discussing arrangements for a better regulation of public meetings, but, for the preservation of peace and the prevention of atrocities—I use that word deliberately—for the prevention of things that are revolting to anybody, partisan or nonpartisan, the Government of the day must take the responsibility, and if they are going to do it successfully, they must do it in a way that commands respect.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Commander O. LOCKER-LAMPSON
Those who heard the last speaker must applaud his moderation and the interest of his speech. Is there anything in what he says? Unionists must ask whether it is not right to examine what he says, to see if it be true. Can we look into our hearts and say that Fascists have been arrested as freely for disturbances as Communists? If it be not so, the Home Secretary, in spite of his judicial speech, ought to see that the scales of justice are evenly held and that a man is arrested regardless of any politics solely on the question whether he has broken the law or not. There can be no question that the Fascists have broken the law. Upon their own declarations, their policy and purposes are subversive, and, as nobody else in this country preaches subversive doctrines except the Communists, who are arrested for so doing, I do hope that, this being a National Government, it will remember that the Fascists ought to be treated in exactly the same way as anybody else. The question of where they stand in relation to other parties should not allow anybody who has the law to administer to think of anything else than a desire for justice.
The Noble Lord, who has made an admirable speech to-day, has had the misfortune to provoke Sir Oswald Mosley into running against him a candidate whom I am sure he will beat. We should all regret his disappearance from the House and his being supplanted by a Blackshirt. He indicated that Sir Oswald Mosley and those with him do not advocate force, and he said there was an action pending against a newspaper, and it is sub judice. But in the "Sunday 1994 Express" of 30th July, 1933, Sir Oswald Mosley said he would use force to obtain power, he would abolish Parliament, he would abolish the House of Commons. He said that and he had never denied it. I have taken the trouble to find out whether that was an ordinary interview written by somebody in the office. It was, on the contrary, an interview written either by the leave of or by Sir Oswald Mosley himself, and there is a signed copy in the office. He acknowledges there that he is outside the law, and that he wishes to act extra-constitutionally. Can we blame Socialists or anybody else for trying to stop him if those are his purposes? He is the greatest provacation of all.
I have often dealt with Communists at meetings of mine, and we have never had any trouble. We have got rid of them in what is called a gentlemanly fashion. I even had a letter from one applauding me for the delicate manner in which he was conducted out of one of my meetings. Those who support Sir Oswald Mosley have recently published in the "Evening News" a cartoon of Sir Oswald Mosley in which he is represented in anything but a pacific spirit. Sir Oswald is represented, rather Semitic-looking, despite his professions, with a pistol in his hand pointing at a co-operative octopus. He is in uniform, and it is not even a British revolver. It is a Yankee automatic, which he is pointing with intent to destroy. I cannot believe that his professions and propaganda can be within the law, and, while I applaud the Home Secretary's remarks, I would beg him to see that we do not allow any man to be treated in a manner differently to the treatment of the Communist.
§ 8.18 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
I am sorry that the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has left the Chamber, because I have to comment specifically on one or two things that he said. Perhaps I might briefly refer to his speech before I come to the substance of what I have to say. I agree that to-night we are not pitting Communism against Fascism. I agree also with the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander O. Locker-Lampson) that it is perfectly relevant to the Debate to discuss the springs of the novel disorder which is now besetting the community. Had the Noble Lord been here I might have said at some 1995 length that he rather surprised me when he used the phrase "mealy-mouthed" regarding the protests that have been made this afternoon about interrupters who were floored and were then not merely kicked on the floor but kicked along the floor. The phrase "mealy-mouthed" used in that connection is quite unnecessary. The Noble Lord asked the Committee whether abuses and insults were to be tolerated. When addressing public meetings I have had to stand such abuse and insult, not merely from the Communists but also from Fascists.
I was going to deal at some greater length with the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) who avowed himself a convinced anti-democrat. I was a little amazed to discern that sentiment here. We have the greatest respect and admiration for the hon. Member for Aylesbury, but how is it that he comes to be here at all? It is a little surprising for anybody in this, the first—and some people say the last—democratic assembly in the world, to stand up and avow himself hostile to the system of Democracy. Several hon. Members in the course of this extraordinarily interesting Debate have said that they welcomed the opportunity of discussing the disorders which occurred at Olympia. For my part, I say with great sincerity that nobody could be more regretful than myself that such a necessity has arisen, because we are giving to Lord Rothermere, Lady Houston and Sir Oswald Mosley exactly that which they desire, free advertisement. The king of political turn-coats, his name and the antics of his travelling circus, will now be mouthed by at least twice the number of people who mouthed them one week ago.
The necessity has admittedly arisen, and it is right that this honourable House should deal with it at the earliest possible opportunity. The Government have before them no easy problem. As yet that problem has not reached any mountainous magnitude, and peculiar action might have been deprecated or apprehended on the ground that it would be treated as a means of martyrdom or advertisement on the part of the Black-shirt movement. I have in my own way sought to use against that movement the weapon of ridicule. A month or so ago 1996 I referred to them in this House, as hon. Members may remember, as "uncertified lunatics." I have since received a large anonymous correspondence, and the Committee may be interested to hear one of the anonymous communications which that remark of mine evoked:Sir,—In answer to your question, re uncertified lunatics in this country, I beg to inform you that there are over 600 in the House of Commons, and the rest are either on country or town councils or in Government billets.No hon. Member will endorse the accuracy of that remark.
Now that we have seen, and have to deal with, a system of organised brutality at public meetings, I suggest that the moment has arrived when this sovereign House of Commons cannot ignore the situation any longer. Some hon. Members to-day have half apologised for the disorders that occurred and the manner in which interrupters were dealt with at Olympia, on the ground that the interruptions were systematically organised. I put this point to the Home Secretary, or alternatively to his deputy, who is now on the Front Government Bench: Are the right people to deal with the systematic interrupters young toughs or young dupes from the Blackshirts, who are themselves wearing that uniform which is symbolic of foreign and alien methods of tyranny? I suggest that they are the last people in the world who are able to discriminate between legitimate interrupters and obvious trouble-makers.
In common with every National Member of this House who represents an industrial division, I am entitled to refer to rough meetings. We are used to them. Thin skins are not a very good protection in politics. I have the honour to represent a division in the city of Leeds which contains say, nearly 100 industries and nearly 500,000 souls. In that great industrial city there must be, as everyone will concede, a certain number of hot spots. 'There are some of them in my division, but I have never needed a bodyguard or anything more than one or two plain clothes policemen. During the last general election campaign just after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) had delivered a Free Trade broadcast, I was endeavouring in a fairly packed meeting to advance the cause of Protection, and 1997 my audience discomforted me with loud, sustained and continuous conversation. Suddenly above the general undertone rang out this interruption: "We want Lloyd George, not a stuck-up thing like thee." That was one of the minor interruptions which I had to sustain. There was interruption of a different character, and every hon. Member sitting with me, and roughly representing the same point of view, knows perfectly well the kind of interruption that we have to endure. I do not know, however, that it did any of us any permanent harm. At all events, I have succeeded in surviving, as other Members have, without a system of organised uniformed chuckers-out.
I do not know why Sir Oswald Mosley claims for himself this godlike immunity from democratic interruption, but I think it can be attributed to two things—first, that he is suffering from the type of cowardice from which most bullies suffer, and, secondly, that power is so precious to him that he will compass it by any means whatsoever. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Lloyd) in his strictures upon the character and outlook of the leader of the Blackshirt movement. I believe that he is so in love with power that he has collected behind him all the resources of stupidity and Sadism that he can possibly assemble. He is pursuing precisely the same technique as his highly unpleasant prototypes abroad in various countries on the Continent. He starts, as we know, by raising the quite unreal, but to some people appalling, bogey of Communism, whereas every hon. Member knows perfectly well that that system is least likely to grow in this country now, with its progressively rising revenue and steadily declining unemployment. It is far less likely to overtake us than ever it was to overtake Germany. But the sudden apparition of the uniformed imitators of foreign autocracy gives Communists just the very chance they have been looking for.
The central point which emerges when we try to discover the cause of the present disorders is that, if there had been no Blackshirt meetings, there certainly would have been no counter-demonstrations. I deplore with all my heart the claptrap that the Blackshirt movement is always spilling about patriotism. In this case, if ever before, 1998 it is the last refuge of a political scoundrel. Most decent people are as reluctant to talk about their country in these terms as they are to prate about their wives and their God; but the monopolist of this noble sentiment and his half-witted entourage seem to have forgotten even the last line of the chorus of "Rule Britannia." What is the quality which we in this country find justifies us more than any other in loving our country? It is the quality of freedom which in fact, in deed and in sentiment really exists here. But can you anywhere discover that same freedom under any dictatorship?
In my view, Sir Oswald Mosley is seditiously—I use the word advisedly—undoing the work of Grey, Gladstone, Disraeli and other emancipators of the unenfranchised in more modern times, and I say deliberately that a prosecution could certainly be sustained against him and against the Press which nourishes him in his various activities. I think it is pertinent to ask whether, if the Communists behaved in precisely the same way, they would have precisely the same measure of toleration. I think that that is a fair question. What would have happened supposing that the Communists had got special cars, which have been described, I believe, as armoured cars? What would have happened if Communists had drilled in the same manner? What has become of the Illegal Drilling Act? I do not think that the conscience of this country is going to allow Sir Oswald Mosley indefinitely to get away with the slogan, "Britain first," as though that is the sum total of all political wisdom and the excuse for every kind of social disorder.
I am not allowed to do more than merely hint at possible legislation, but I feel in my own heart that the real centre of this problem, and its real solution, lies in dealing with political uniforms. Let no hon. Member labour under the delusion, if I may respectfully say so, that there is any clear-cut alternative between the opposing forces of Fascism and Communism. Thank God, we have not yet reached that situation. Nor does it, I think, lie in anybody's mouth to discover an excuse for Fascism in the vague possibility at some not very far distant date of a Socialist administration acquiring power. I have no patience with those rare individuals who 1999 suggest changing the rules because they may happen to lose the next round. Indeed, if the minor calamity of an ephemeral Socialist administration were again to overtake this country, I do not expect that any lasting damage would be done to this community; all that I expect to see is a Government painfully respectable, completely bourgeois, and hopelessly incompetent.
There is, I think, this final point, this paradox, this situation of irony, that just at this moment, when there is a growing up a lively hope, a sanguine expectation, that we may be able to lead the world into introducing into the international sphere the police function, that that police function is threatened by a faction in ourown country. I have had placed in my hands, by friends whose authority I cannot dispute, the most irresistible evidence as to the disorders—indeed, the atrocities: I think that that word is not at all too strong to use—that occurred a week ago at Olympia. One must realise that, owing to the absence of the police from the interior of Olympia, the right to keep public order—and it is an extraordinary problem of public order to keep orderly a crowd of no less than 15,000 persons—was definitely arrogated to himself by Sir Oswald Mosley and his own stewards.
I think that the whole source of this disorder has been due to the histrionic activities of a political charlatan with whom other Members than myself, who have sat in three or four Parliaments anterior to this, are more familiar than I. He is inciting, at the other end of the political scale, a faction which believes in just the same brutality, but utters different slogans, and I suggest that this House of Commons, which I hope will not have to deal with the problem in any graver form, has to face the possibility, if this situation is allowed to continue unchecked, that we may find growing at either end of the body politic two cancers, which would eventually cause the whole organism to become putrefying and moribund. It is only by keeping liberty and holding the scales of justice impartially in this House and in the courts of law that we may preserve it from that terrible catastrophe. There are at the end of the play of "King John" three lines which I think have in this connec- 2000 tion rather a striking significance, and particularly the third. They are near the beginning of the final speech at the end of that play:This England never did, nor never shall, Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror, But when it first did help to wound itself.It is only internal blows that can really knock out Great Britain. I thank you, Sir, for having given me the opportunity of addressing the Committee on this subject, about which I feel profoundly. We do not usually parade our patriotism in public; it is that objectionable feature of the Fascist movement about which some of us are so suspicious, because it necessarily attracts to its banner persons who think that the whole of civic responsibility consists in waving some flag or other, whereas of course nothing is more absurd. They ought, if these words reach outside this Chamber, to examine the career and the credentials of the man who is seeking to lead them and seeking to arrogate to himself the whole mass of that patriotic emotion which most of us are reluctant to display. I tried to move the Adjournment of the House on Monday, not because I welcomed the opportunity of discussing Sir Oswald Mosley and the activities of his circus but because I believe the House must really be alive to the danger of allowing this kind of disorder operating under the mantle of patriotism to continue unchecked.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
It was my fortune for a short time to be a follower of Sir Oswald Mosley. In the Parliament of 1929 he was very dissatisfied with the progress that was being made in dealing with unemployment, and he formed a group and issued a manifesto. As I was equally discontented with the progress that was being made in regard to unemployment, when he invited me to join his group I did so, and I signed the manifesto. He was then a Member of the Labour party, but he left the paths that he had been following and broke out on new lines on which I could not follow him. It is idle to talk about him being a fool. My view if him is that he is a man of very great ability and great ambitions. The impression I formed of him was that he was the kind of politician who had to sow his wild oats, and 2001 I fancied that, after he had sown his wild oats, he would settle down into a respectable Conservative. Disraeli and Lord Randolph Churchill, with whose extravagances those who have read their biographies are familiar, shocked the world but eventually settled down into Conservatism. That was my view of Sir Oswald Mosley. What his views are now I do not know, but, after all, that is a secondary matter. His chief value to-night has been in causing this interesting discussion.
It was with very great satisfaction that I heard the speech of the Home Secretary, and I am sure we shall consider it a privilege to support him in what he undertakes to do. I do not think that even in this House we realise how important the right of free speech is. Our government has been described as government by public meeting, and, if public meetings are not held, the foundations of our government are restroyed. John Milton, in a very remarkable sentence which I was rather surprised the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) did not quote, said:Give me the liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely, according to conscience, before all liberties.The right to argue freely, to express one's views and to propagate one's thoughts is the greatest of all liberties, because it is the Mother of all liberties, and anything that tends to restrict the right of men to express their thoughts freely must ultimately conduce to slavery. The right of public meeting free and unhampered is a great protection to us against one of the evils of modern times. One of the great evils of modern times is a certain section of the Press. There are journals that we honour and trust, but there are others that we thoroughly distrust, whose sole function is the spreading of venom and lies, whose proprietors are actuated by the lowest motives, and the great protection against that kind of Press, which is powerful in these days, is the right of everyone to express his thoughts freely and openly without hampering or control. I was present at a meeting at which Lord Salisbury said he always regarded the platform as more important than the Press, and he regarded a speech as more valuable than the best newspaper article.
2002 We all know that there are meetings where good nature, conciliation and persuasiveness prevail. Very often a clever politician will turn interruption and opposition to his advantage. But there are people who are perfectly determined that meetings shall not be held. The last by-election in which I took part was in Scotland last year, and we had bands of organised Communists going from meeting to meeting, conveyed in vehicles, who deliberately prevented us from holding our meetings and saying what we wanted to say. We want measures such as were outlined by the Home Secretary which will deal with that class of interrupter, who is out with the sole object of preventing speakers being heard.
It is very hard lines on speakers that they should be subjected to that kind of trial. Even a normal, good-natured contest is a great strain. I have taken part in about nine elections and, the more I fight them, the less I like them. Napoleon once said that men grow old quickly in battle. A famous statesman said that men grow old quickly in general elections. It is a strain on a man to conduct even a normal and friendly election, but, when you have men deliberately interrupting meeting after meeting, it becomes a strain that is entirely unfair to expect politicians to endure. We want the Home Secretary to be ready for the next General Election. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) thought that a new spirit had come into our meetings and that they are very much quieter than they used to be. The interruption of meetings was very bad at the beginning of the century and the Public Meetings Act was passed to deal with interruptions and rowdyism. I think there is now a more venomous spirit than those of us who can look back on a considerable political life have experienced.
We had a discussion a few days ago as to the legalising of military accoutrements and costumes. I cannot help telling the House a little bit of history which slightly bears on that question. In 1745 the Scottish Highlanders rebelled against the British Government and, under Prince-Charles Stuart, came into England and gave the country an awful fright. They shook the English Government. After the war was over, the tartan and the kilt were made illegal and any Highlander found wearing the old military costume was, after a second offence, sentenced to 2003 death. One result of that prohibition was to kill the military spirit in the Highlands. When, some years afterwards, the right to wear the kilt was restored the spirit of the Highlanders had completely changed, and the peasantry did not want to wear the kilt again. That is the story, and I leave it to the Committee to say whether or not we shall have to discuss seriously the question of whether military accoutrements are to he allowed.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. ANSTRUTHER-GRAY
I do not possess the political experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) of having fought nine elections, but I was an eye witness at the meeting at Olympia last Thursday, and I can endorse the whole description given by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor). I will not weary the Committee with details, but I am prepared to vouch for everything I have written on this subject. I freely admit that I went to the meeting not with a view to listening to the speech of Sir Oswald Mosley, because I knew that I could read it in the morning's papers, if I so desired, but rather with the definite purpose of watching what was going on round about. Like the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Lloyd) I have been at great pains to find agreement in the various versions of eye witnesses, and we have members of the public and responsible hon. Members of this House, for whose truthfulness one could absolutely vouch, giving different accounts. That is probably accounted for by the size of the hall, and because perhaps some of those Members were paying more attention to listening than they were to the actions of Sir Oswald Mosley's stewards.
I have been brought up in my short political life to look upon Communists as anathema and to regard it as criminal to break up political meetings. Frankly, if anybody had told me an hour before the meeting at Olympia that I should find myself on the side of the Communist interrupter, I would have called that man a liar. Yet after I had been watching for 20 minutes the methods of the Fascists stewards I found myself involuntarily on the side of the interrupter almost every time and especially because I was far from sure that every interrupter was a Communist. Personally I believe that several 2004 were merely ordinary decent Englishmen standing up and appealing for fair play. I am not against interrupters being ejected at a meeting or for that matter of seeing a man knocked down in a scuffle but when it comes to seeing eight or 10 men kicking and beating a man on the ground then everything British in me swells up on the side of the fellow who is not getting fair play, and in saying that I think that I am voicing the opinion of the whole Committee.
I am not disposed to proceed further on that line. I am not disposed to affix the blame to one side or the other. The fact which faces the Committee to-day is that when you get Communist interrupters on the one side and uniformed Black-shirts on the other the result is public disorder. The idea of Fascists and Communists slamming at one another does not really worry me very much but when it occurs in public on the scale it did at Olympia it is a national disgrace and incumbent upon the Government of the country to take steps to meet it. It is not only that it will happen in Blackshirt meetings and become part and parcel of every meeting where black and red clash hut I think it will inevitably spread to other meetings and we shall have a general lowering of the standard of our public life. Political goodwill is none too safe as it is and what we have in this country is better than what most other countries have and is very precious and we cannot allow it to be undermined. I was very pleased to hear the Home Secretary indicating that the Government were prepared to take measures firstly for the suppression of hooliganism for there, after all, is the prime cause.
But there is another thing the Government should do and that is discourage provocation, and in my view the wearing of uniforms is definitely a provocation. I appeal to hon. Members of the Committee who have had much more experience than I. Is it not true to say that any rough meeting which they have ever attended would have been made rougher still had the supporters of opposing parties been dressed in aggressive uniforms? When feeling is running high as at election times and you have a political meeting with people of opposite views if your orator on the platform is anything like eloquent he is going to make a section of his audience feel it to be their 2005 bounden duty to tear the shirts off the backs of their opponents. This sort of thing is not limited to the meeting itself. It is what is likely to happen outside. When a rough crowd collects outside the hall after an election meeting we know that the speakers are generally accompanied by a number of friends but what of the supporter who gets cut off from his friends? If he is wearing ordinary clothes he just mixes with the crowd, but, if he is wearing a black shirt or a distinctive uniform of any type, what happens? What happened at Edinburgh when the Fascists held a meeting there the other day? After the meeting there was a rough Red crowd waiting outside. They waited for the Fascists to leave one by one. As each Blackshirt came to the door to leave the hall they were in exactly the position of rats leaving a haystack when there is a pack of terriers waiting to tear them to bits.
I think that that sort of thing is inevitable if people will persist in the wearing of black shirts. I read a letter by a Fascist in the "Times" the other day in which he complained bitterly because when he left the meeting at Olympia in uniform he was pursued by a mob and violently assaulted. I say that it was his fault. He was to blame for wearing a provocative uniform. People who provoke other persons to a breach of the peace are to blame. I think that the Committee will agree that if people by wearing political uniforms provoke other people to a breach of the peace those people are doing the very reverse of helping the Government to preserve a measure of law and order, and that is one of the avowed intentions, so he always claims, of Sir Oswald Mosley. I wonder if the Government could not take some action to try and do something towards discouraging in the country the wearing of these uniforms.
There is one question I should like to put to the Home Secretary if he is going to reply. It is a definite categorical question: What step do the Government propose to take to prevent the meeting at the White City on the Sunday before August Bank Holiday from being a repetition of the meeting at Olympia. The capacity of the White City is about ten times as great, and in my view, unless stronger precautions are taken than were taken last Thursday, we shall get such 2006 disorder that it may even turn to bloodshed. If it were to turn to bloodshed and we were to link the words Blackshirts and bloodshed, it is certain that this country would not stand these things. It is the duty of the Government to step in before it goes too far. It is all very well in the name of liberty to allow foreign names or foreign policies, Bolshevism, or Fascism, but I do not see why we should allow these foreign methods. It is British methods which have made us the foremost country in the world, and it is up to us to see that they are not usurped.
§ 8.56 p.m.
Like most hon. Members I am a believer in free speech, not only for the Labour party, but for the Communist party, for the Conservative party and even for Sir Oswald Mosley. Sir Oswald Mosley has as much right to be heard as I or anybody else. At every meeting I have attended and in every election I have always appealed to my own people to give other speakers fair play and a decent show. But even if I did not believe in the principle of free speech I should still support it on the lower ground, that those who smash up meetings lose very much more than the party whose meetings are smashed. I have good reason for believing that. My worst political defeat came at a time when some people unconnected with my party smashed up the meetings of my opponents. History shows and proves that you cannot suppress ideas and parties by force, and that is especially true of politics. If the people of this country are so stupid as to be converted by the doctrines of Fascism, if they want to embrace those doctrines let them do so, but I believe that the British people have enough common sense to reject with utter contempt the doctrines preached by Sir Oswald Mosley. There is a tendency to exaggerate the dangers and size of Mosleyism or Fascism. I read in the "Evening News" of 26th May, a passage in which it was said:Mosleyism from a small party has grown to an organisation of millions strong.There you have an idea of the party being millions strong. I have just been in a by-election which illustrates my point. In North Hammersmith some of my friends who have not been politicians for very long saw the Communist proces- 2007 sion and said, "Look at their tremendous numbers." The Communist newspaper referred to the enormous numbers which were attending their open-air meetings. They thought that the Communists were sweeping North Hammersmith and that their candidate would get in by thousands. When the result was declared he had only 614 votes. The same is true about the Fascist party. We see half-a-dozen Blackshirts in Kensington or in the Strand and we multiply their numbers enormously. I shall be very much surprised if at the next election the average vote of the Fascist candidate approaches 1,000 in any constituency. The Olympia meeting; it looks a lot to talk of 15,000 people, but does anyone suggest that there were 15,000 London Fascists at Olympia let alone Hammersmith Fascists? Of course not. They were largely drawn from all parts of the country, brought in wagonettes, charabancs, special trains. And they were not all Fascists. There were a large number of Communists, many members of the Labour party, many of no party at all. There were also Conservative Members of Parliament, and I should be much surprised if in the whole of that vast audience there were more than 3,000 or 4,000 London Fascists, out of her population of millions.
Although I think there has been a great deal of exaggeration as to the numbers and importance of the Fascist movement, there is one point upon which Members of all parties are agreed. It is proper and right that those who go to public meetings for the purpose of smashing them up should be ejected, and not by too gentle means, but we are agreed that at this meeting, in particular, ordinary methods were not used, but forcible methods of a really barbarous and inhuman character. If the Fascists or Mosley had treated the interrupters differently they might have done great benefit to the Mosley movement, but he has certainly alienated the sympathy of thousands of people who went there by the brutal tactics that were adopted. The southern part of Hammersmith is close to my Division, and I know scores of people who went to that meeting, I have relatives who were there, and all of them, whether they are supporters of the Labour party or not, support entirely the 2008 evidence given to-day by Members of the Conservative party and say that they have never seen in any hooligan affray in the poorest slums of London such methods of brutality which Mosley's supporters inflicted on many innocent people who went to the meeting out of curiosity.
I agree about the provocativeness of their methods. In Notting Hill there is a famous meeting place called Rag Fair. I have spoken there from 1920 to 1929 with great regularity. It is a poor area, some of the worst slums in London are found in the district, and among the audience are some of the poorest people in London. At this meeting place there have been meetings of Conservatives, Liberals, Communists and the Labour party for 10 years, and in the whole of that time I have never known of a single outbreak which has called for the intervention of the police. There have been plenty of interruptions, they have even shouted me down, perhaps quite rightly, but there has never been any brutality or fighting which has necessitated the police being called upon to intervene. Recently the Fascists have begun to hold meetings there and for three weeks in succession the meetings have ended in really dangerous disorder. Hundreds of people have been engaged in fighting, and only last Sunday a large force of police had to intervene to prevent a serious riot.
I believe these disorders are mainly caused by the provocative methods and manner of the Fascists. A large body of them arrive there in a car. They form fours and march in military formation and the speakers adopt a most provocative manner. I cannot describe it, but the hon. Member no doubt has heard them, and he knows that they have a manner which invites interruption and also, in my opinion, invites disorder. At all events the fact remains that for 10 or 12 years representatives of every party have addressed people at that particular meeting place, and there has never been, until now, a single case of real disorder. But immediately the Fascist party come upon the scene disorder begins. It has been shown too that there have been cases in which Fascists have brought with them weapons which nobody ought to be allowed to bring into a political meeting. I feel that the responsible Minister ought 2009 to take steps to see that free speech is obtained for speakers of all parties in the country, whether they are blue, red, green or black.
I agree, but better late than never. But just as important as the maintenance of free speech is the necessity in my view that the Minister should take steps to make sure that these barbarous actions of which we have heard on the part of the Blackshirts shall not be allowed to occur again in this country at the White City or anywhere else.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. HOWARD
I think the proceedings here to-day will do nothing to diminish the growing popularity of the Blackshirt movement in this country. We have provided it with the finest advertisement it could have had. I am not a supporter of the movement. I have no respect or admiration for the principles advocated by Sir Oswald Mosley, but I do agree with him on one thing, and that is his declaration that he will obtain the right of free speech at his meetings. I was at the Olympia meeting from its commencement at 8 o'clock until its close about 11 o'clock. I know that the stewards used force to eject interrupters. The moment an interrupter opened his mouth he was ejected, but although I saw, within a short distance of my seat, eight or 10 interrupters ejected I saw no undue brutality used in that section of the meeting. What hapened in other parts of the hall I was not in a position to see, and what happened to the interrupters after they had been thrown out of the hall I cannot tell. Whether any lethal weapons were used in other parts of the hall I cannot say, and no Member of Parliament who was there could possibly give an account of anything except what happened in the section where his seat was situated. Therefore, most of the stories which we have heard must be second-hand.
§ Mr. HOWARD
There is this fact to be taken into consideration. The stewards of that meeting expected interruptions. They had been warned that an organised body of Communists were marching on Olympia. I, myself, saw at half-past five 2010 o'clock in the evening eight young men of the university student type marching along Oxford Street in twos shouting "Down with the Blackshirts," and they were moving towards Oylmpia. It happened that three of those young men sat before me at the meeting. They remained quiet until about half-past nine o'clock when suddenly one of them shouted "Does Hitler allow free speech in Germany?", in reply to Sir Oswald Mosley's plea for free speech at his meeting. Immediately stewards jumped on that young man, hit him in the face and pulled him from the chairs. Then his friends jumped up and interrupted, and all three were thrown out. In the throwing out the canebottomed chairs which were joined together with laths in sixes were overturned. The Fascists and the three interrupters became mixed up with the rows of chairs and it is possible that, in trying to pull them out of the mess of broken woodwork, somebody was cut and some clothes were torn. Then the accusation is made that these injuries were the result of the use of lethal weapons. Accidents can occur at a meeting of this kind and I do not think that we ought glibly to make charges about the use of lethal weapons unless we have actually seen them. A person may be wounded in more ways than one and it is possible, just as one's feelings dictate, to assume that a wound has been caused by a particular weapon.
Here was a meeting of 15,000 people organised as a mass demonstration. What right had anyone to go there to interrupt it? It was not the sort of meeting at which interruptions or questions could be taken in the ordinary way. No man has a right to interrupt a mass demonstration of that kind. For one thing, the speaker on the platform could not possibly hear any interruptions coming from the greater part of the hall. But all the people sitting in the section where the interrupter was, would be prevented from hearing the speaker, notwithstanding the use of 24 loud speakers. Loud speakers do not provide a perfect method of conveying a speaker's voice throughout a great hall. There are echoes and resounding notes which often overwhelm the natural tones of a speaker's voice and make it difficult to hear him, the moment any movement or interruption starts in one's vicinity. We all know that when listening to the wireless any slight movement in the room 2011 makes it difficult to hear and the fact that there were 24 loud speakers in this hall does not justify the assumption that the interrupters had a right to interrupt.
I think that in the past there has been too much excusing of interrupters, of suggesting to the interrupter that he has a right to interrupt if he does not approve of the objects of a meeting. That statement has been made over and over again this evening. We have just heard from an hon. Member the suggestion that the wearing of a black shirt is, in itself, provocative, and that opponents of the movement have a right even to use force against the man who is wearing it. He described a man coming out of a door wearing a black shirt as being like a rat emerging from a haystack and he excused the score of bullies who set upon that one man, whereas five minutes earlier he had deplored the fact of these stewards pummelling one interrupter and endeavouring to put him out of the meeting. That shows the bias which has been brought into this Debate, in attempting to condemn the Blackshirt movement because we do not agree with the principles behind it. I submit that we are not displaying that sense of impartiality which one would expect from Members of the House of Commons. The Blackshirt movement derives its strength to-day from the one plea, that it is the only political body representing the opinions of the Right, that can hold open public meetings. That is Sir Oswald Mosley's boast, and when he made that statement at the Olympia meeting the whole audience rose to respond to it. In my division young men are going over to the Blackshirt movement in shoals.
§ Mr. HOWARD
The reason they are going over in shoals to the Blackshirt movement is that they resent the constant prevention of free speech from both Liberal and Conservative politicians in the whole of north London. When it is suggested that I am provocative, I agree that my demeanour is of that type. I openly admit it. From the age of 15 I have had to face Socialist interrupters at my meetings. I have been shouted down as a 2012 boy, as a youth, as a man, and now as somewhat decrepit. It cannot be wondered at that when one's life has been spent fighting against unprincipled hooligans one begins to develop a provocative air. That, however, is not the reason for the interruptions or the shouting down. No one would accuse the hon. Member for Finsbury (Sir G. Gillett) of being provocative. He is a pacifist, a Quaker, a man who believes in brotherhood, an ex-Liberal, then a Labour man and now a National Government supporter. All his life he has held brotherhood and religious meetings in his own constituency, and yet at the last General Election he had to abandon every one of his indoor meetings. He was not provocative.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I did not accuse the hon. Gentleman of being provocative. I merely said he lacked persuasion.
§ Mr. HOWARD
Will the hon. Member throw the same accusation against the hon. Member for Finsbury? I challenge any leader of the Conservative party or of the Liberal party to organise a meeting in London, except in Westminster—anywhere in south-east London, north London or north-east London—and to advertise the meeting as an open meeting and then to get a hearing. It cannot be done. When we hold meetings at the Queen's Hall or the Albert Hall, they are ticket meetings and we get a hearing, but you cannot have an open meeting for the leader of the Conservative party or the Prime Minister or the leader of the Liberal party anywhere in London if it is advertised as an open meeting. That is the position which is causing resentment among tens of thousands of poople in this country and forcing them into the Blackshirt movement. At the recent London County Council election at South Islington, my colleague and I were prevented from addressing meetings. My colleague is a justice of the peace, he has been brought up in the Division, and he has spent all his life in the social work among the schools. His father did the same before him. He was prevented from speaking during the London County Council election.
Who does this? Hon. Members opposite have been accusing Communists. That is not true. In the General Elections from 1918 until now the Labour party in my Division has led the opposition to prevent free speech. The chairman 2013 of the Labour party has led the singing of the "Red Flag." When I went to South Islington in 1923 to speak on behalf of a Conservative Member of Parliament (Mr. Garland), I found members of the Executive Committee of the official Labour party siting on the Front Bench with walking sticks with which they banged on the table at which the member was speaking to prevent his voice being heard. I followed in 1924 as the candidate. At my first indoor meeting I was howled down. There was a woman with a red hat and a red blouse sitting on the top of the London County Council's school cupboard. She had a large red flag, and she led the singing of the "Red Flag" before I had opened my mouth and showed that provocativeness of which I have been accused by the hon. Member opposite. At every other meeting in that Division for 10 years I have never been able, and no other speaker has been able either, to address an open public meeting. We have only been able to hold meetings when they have been ticket meetings.
This is the kind of unfair behaviour that has gone on in London, and in the Provinces, too, for the last 16 years. I might mention the recent by-elections. In the by-election at East Fulham Conservative meetings were smashed up. The Secretary of State for War was howled down, a mob of Communists invaded the meeting, and the police had to be called in to turn half of them out. The "Daily Herald" each morning boasted of the prevention of free speech at the Conservative meetings during that by-election, and said, "This is an indication of the unpopularity of the Government." When the North Hammersmith by-election took place, a well-known writer for the "Daily Herald," Hannen Swaffer, wrote:This candidate, Mr. Davis, is the well-known anti-Dora man from the south coast. I hope that Labour people from all over London will come into North Hammersmith and heckle him.
I was a candidate there. Mr. Davis, the Conservative candidate, complimented me and our party on having given him the most sporting and fair election he had ever had.
§ Mr. HOWARD
I am not arguing about the meetings in North Hammersmith. I am pointing out the advice which was given by the hon. Member's 2014 own daily paper, the "Daily Herald," which urged Labour supporters from all over London to go to the by-election. I am not in a position to say whether they went or not. I am only showing the advice that was given by Hannen Swaffer m the "Daily Herald," which is the official organ of the Labour party and not of the Communist party. The official Labour party blame the Communists, and I have a shrewd suspicion that it is only a method of covering up their own guilt.
§ Mr. HOWARD
I cannot give it, but if the hon. Member will write to Hannen Swaffer he will no doubt point it out to him.
§ Mr. HOWARD
I cannot give the date, but it was during the by-election and within a week after the hon. Member was nominated. The hon. Member for Bridge-ton (Mr. Maxton) imputed that the police were acting in a partial manner in their conduct towards the Reds and the Fascists. That is an unwarranted statement. The facts of the matter are that when a policeman tells a Fascist to move on, he moves on, but when a policeman tells a Communist to move on, the policeman gets abuse and language which in itself would warrant the man's arrest. The Communists, and indeed the Labour party, too, teach their followers to regard the police as the enemies of the working class. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true!"] In every speech which is made by a Communist the police are held up to condemnation and ridicule, with the result that the Communist does regard the policeman as his enemy, and there is great trouble when the policeman asks him to move on. Then hon. Members turn round and say, "How is it that no Blackshirts are arrested, but only Communists?" When a Communist procession passed along the Embankment two years ago I stood on Waterloo Bridge. Special constables were on duty for two hours, and I listened to the people in the procession calling out to them, "Blacklegs" as they went by.
That is the typical attitude of the forces of the Left towards the forces of law and order in this country. To say that the 2015 police act in a partial way between these two factions is not a true statement. For 16 years we have had Red hooliganism in this country. Nothing has been done by the Government in a stern way to put it down. Here, however, when the first great meeting held by the Blackshirts has been successful in kicking out the whole of the interrupters and allowing its leader to finish his speech from 10.30 until 11 in absolute silence, indignation is expressed on all sides. One hon. Member said that he went out before the end and did not know what happened. I can tell him that from 10.30 until 11 the leader of that meeting was able to speak without a single interruption; he made his peroration in perfect order and the meeting was brought to a successful end. That in itself was a justification of the force used to get rid of the people who had come there deliberately to smash up the meeting.
If we had dealt with the Red interrupters at our meetings as the Blackshirts dealt with them at theirs, we should not have had a Blackshirt movement with the strength that it is showing at the present time. People are going into it because they resent the methods adopted by the other side. The processions that have marched on London organised by Socialists from all parts of the country—men who wear uniform, red shirts or khaki shirts, displaying red banners, preaching open revolution, the sickle and hammer as their symbol, asking you to imitate the bloodshed that has taken place in Russia—are to me as obnoxious as the Blackshirt is to any Member of the Labour party opposite. I do not, however, rush out and strike the members of the procession. I can stand by and see the procession go along without wanting to rush out and hit them.
The toleration that we have to show-to the Redshirts they should be taught to show towards the Blackshirts or any other shirts that care to come into the political field. This sudden outburst of indignation in the House against the Blackshirts of 1934 would have been more in keeping with an air of impartiality had it been shown against the Redshirts 16 years ago. Hon. Members have waited until now. The Redshirts who have marched on London have brought lethal weapons with them; the police have 2016 searched their transport and have found heavily-laden cudgels, which have been brought to London with the deliberate object of creating disorder and revolution. When they came to London they were disarmed, because the police had searched them at Oxford. On two occasions, this year and last year, these cudgels have been taken away, but when they reached Hyde Park they pulled down the railings to use against the mounted police who were there to keep order. Those were your Redshirts; those are the people who are preaching revolution. I hold in my hand one of the Hyde Park railings, which was taken away from a Communist in Hyde Park by a friend of mine.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is very much indeed to be discouraged. I am not at all sure that it is not entirely contrary to the Rules of the House. It would be advisable that the hon. Member should very soon take it out.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
Might I call attention to the fact that the First Commissioner of Works, who is responsible for such objects, is not on the Front Bench?
§ Mr. HOWARD
I do not wish to break the Rules of this House, or to bring anything here which is out of order, but I have seen samples and articles brought here by hon. Members of all parties to try to prove the points that they wish to make.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must ask the hon. Member not to discuss my Ruling. I have never seen an article of that sort brought into the House, and I am quite sure that he has not.
§ Mr. HOWARD
I am not discussing the Ruling for one moment, Sir. I apologise if it was wrong of me to bring that here, but I have heard so many denials about the use of lethal weapons by the Reds put forward by hon. Members of this House in newspapers that I thought that if I could show one of the weapons used by the Reds in Hyde Park it might be an object-lesson that would go home.
I wish, however, to finish by saying that if Sir Oswald Mosley's meeting has done nothing else but cause His Majesty's Government to give serious consideration 2017 to the rowdyism that has characterised British public meetings for the last 16 years, it will not have been held in vain. We have been promised to-night by the Home Secretary that further powers may be necessary, but that he is determined at any rate that this kind of disorder shall cease. I shall be most thankful if he can achieve that object. The police, if I might offer a suggestion, should be empowered not only to go into every meeting to keep order, but also to put out interrupters who misbehave. At the present time you can go to a police station and ask for police protection. The police will come to your meeting, but I have found out by experience that the Labour interrupters imagine they know the law sufficiently to disregard the police altogether. The police tell me that they are not there to prevent interruption; they are only there to prevent actual disorder and physical violence. When your Labour interrupters know that, they simply sit there and sing the "Red Flag" with the policemen as spectators. That has happened in our meetings at Islington time after time during the last 10 years. I seriously say that the Public Meetings Act, which enables you to take the name and address of an interrupter, has proved a farce in its operation.
A threat was made to-night that if Sir Oswald Mosley holds another meeting it will be seen that the police are inside as well as out. I ask, if policemen are sent to the meeting at the White City against the wish of the promoters, that the same rule shall apply to public meetings held by all parties in politics. The boast of all the Labour supporters to-day is, "We can hold meetings without the need of police protection, whereas our opponents always must have police inside." That taunt is thrown out by the Members of the Labour party with the object of trying to prove to their supporters that the working class are on their side and are opposed altogether to the forces of the Right. Sir Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts say, "We are not going to put up with that taunt, and we shall show that our meetings can be held without police protection, in the same way as Labour meetings." Therefore, we get the present position arising, and I say that we must be very careful to see, whatever the measures we take, that there is 2018 absolute impartiality between the Black-shirts and the Redshirts as regards using the police. Otherwise, we shall only add to the flame of enthusiasm going round the country now in support of the Black-shirts. It is a flame which I deplore, because I want to see this country governed by rational politicians. Maniacs, whether Sir Oswald Mosley or Harry Pollitt, have no sympathy from me, I trust neither of them; but I do admire the tens of thousands of young men who have joined the Blackshirt movement. They are the best element in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I invite any hon. Member to look at a procession of Blackshirts and compare it with a procession of Communists, and ask himself in which of the two he sees the best type of our people.
§ Mr. HOWARD
They are the type of people turned out by our secondary schools and other educational establishments, and their quality makes any man proud of them. I am sorry that they are following a leader whom I do not regard with any respect. They are following him because he is appealing to their sense of fair play and the right of free speech, and I hope the Government will insist upon the right of free speech by the forces of the law and take away the necessity for the Blackshirt movement in this country.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I think I detected in the speech of the hon. Member for South Islington (Mr. Howard) a certain degree of warmth which I feel is a little unsuitable to the subject and the calmness of this discussion. We are examining the present position of the Blackshirt movement and what ought to be done if that or any other movement creates disorder, and I do not think it will be inapposite to discuss for a moment or two the question of freedom of speech. I feel that the hon. Member for South Islington spoke with the heat he did probably because of some unfortunate personal experience, because he had had many of his meetings broken up. It is very interesting to observe what causes a meeting to be broken up. Not infrequently 2019 the speaker himself has used extreme or provocative language. I have spoken at many meetings in various parts of the country where, to be quite frank, those who were organising the meeting had anticipated a row; but those who were speaking decided that they did not want to cause trouble and, therefore, they laid their case before the meeting in a dispassionate manner and the trouble did not occur. After all, if you are looking for trouble you can always get it. Those who wish to cause a riot at a political meeting have only to call the other side, "Thugs," "Thieves" and "Incompetents" and all the rest of it, and you can instantly get a howling mob, if the people composing the meeting have sufficient energy to make a noise. At the same time it is not impossible to calm down a meeting, and, indeed, very many of us actually welcome the opportunity of having hecklers at a meeting. Sometimes the speaker finds that a meeting is becoming very dull, very likely through his own lack of the power of oratory. Someone makes an interruption, the speaker makes a happy "come-back," and the whole meeting is a success.
What, in fact, happened at the meeting in Olympia? I was not present. I have not any Scottish blood in my veins, but I was very averse from paying even 6d., let alone 7s. 6d., to get into that meeting. However, I took the trouble to ask a large number of people who were there exactly what happened, and I got conflicting evidence, as I expected. Olympia is a very large place and although one can see a scuffle going on three or four tiers away it is impossible to see the details of what is actually happening, and whether a man is getting his teeth knocked down his throat. I have heard of abominable cases of Fascist brutality. A man of unimpeachable responsibility who was there told me that a man sitting quite close to him got up, said only "Down with Hitler," and was sitting down again. Unfortunately, he had a bald head. Someone sitting behind him had a very thick stick, and whether he found the bald head openly provocative or, in fact, irresistible, or whether he did not like to hear Hitler denounced I do not know, but he broke his stick over the man's bald head.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
Whether he was a steward or not does not matter. He appears to have been a supporter of Mosley. That is merely one piece of evidence of brutality. On the other hand, there is no doubt that a certain number of Communists went to the meeting for the express purpose of breaking it up. As I say, there were a large number of people there, and possibly some were annoyed, as people often are annoyed, by something the speaker said, and they made a perfectly innocent interruption, which probably in any of the meetings which are addressed by hon. Members of this House would not have caused any trouble. Perhaps we might have answered the interruption and perhaps we might have gone on with our speech.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Does the hon. Member think it possible to make an innocent interruption with 15,000 people present?
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I think it is more than possible to make an innocent interruption with 15,000 people present, because probably the interruption will not be heard, except by those who happen to be around. Let us admit that the evidence was conflicting; at the same time one must also admit that there was clear evidence of brutality. As the hon. Member for South Islington says, Mosley boasts that he is, in effect, the only man in England who can keep order for his own political meetings. I think that is a very grave allegation. He practically puts himself above the law. He is taking upon himself duties which are properly carried out by the police forces of this country. When we come to the question of how the police forces are to be used we come up against a very much more difficult proposition. As has been pointed out, there are certain cases in which it is not proper to use the police in a public meeting. In other cases, where disorder is expected, we can use them, and it is really up to the Home Secretary to decide when disorder is expected and when, in fact, the police are to be used. Anybody would be reluctant to use the police except in the very greatest emergency and where disorder was confidently expected, because if we were to have the police at every public meeting in the country their whole time would be occupied in that way and they would have time for nothing else.
2021 My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that every political party, however subversive they may be, have a perfect right to express their views, impartially, as long as they do not preach actual sedition; they should have as far as possible complete freedom of speech. The police should intervene only where that is absolutely necessary to prevent actual disorder. I do not think it is wise to allow-complete irresponsibility, for example. You have in the House of Commons at the present time hon. Members who are defending the Fascists on the ground that they are the only people who care to promote freedom of speech, but I feel that the reason for the defence of the Fascists by some extreme Conservative Members is not that they are so very keen on freedom of speech, but because they really and thoroughly dislike the Communists. I dislike both extremes. I believe that, when they are putting their policy across in a perfectly orderly way, that is legitimate, but when they start to provoke disorder and do provoke disorder, the police should step in and deal with them as they would with two rival gangs of racecourse rowdies.
I am not allowed to suggest any legislation in this Debate. Perhaps I am not allowed to say even that I hope the Home Secretary will not promote legislation. But I do feel that if anything is done to prevent the wearing of political uniforms it will give Sir Oswald Mosley the greatest advertisement he has ever had. I am convinced that if this faction is handled in a proper way, as the Communists have been handled, the good sense of the British public will lead them to realise that there is really nothing in these Continental and new-fangled notions. It was put to me very aptly once by a friend of mine, who said that he had been asked by a foreigner why it was that we allowed such extreme latitude to Communists, and that he replied "You see we have a different method of dealing with these people in England. What we do is to turn them into Hyde Park under police protection, and let them have their revolution in time for everybody to get back comfortably for dinner." I believe that that is the method we should adopt. I think it is the method which the Home Secretary will adopt. I certainly hope we shall not be led into taking any action which would give undue advertisement to what 2022 is in effect an unreasonable and unreasoning faction.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
The House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) for bringing forward this discussion. Let me attempt, in passing, a brief analysis of the mentality of the hon. Member for South Islington (Mr. Howard), who a few moments ago told us that he was able to see red, in fact that everything he saw was red. He did not mention anything about the red nose, but everything else appertaining to the lady was red. He wanted reliable evidence, and so he started to deal with what he had not seen. He had not seen anything; and therefore he started to describe what it was like in that particular place, although credible evidence had already been given by other hon. Members, supplemented by the statement of the Home Secretary, that certain minor accidents did occur at the Olympia meeting. I take a peculiar point of view. The hon. Member for South Islington told us, "I do not support the Fascist movement, but I certainly do support Mosley in his stand for free speech." That seems to be a familiar phrase. History seems to be repeating itself. Freedom of speech terminating in licence. We are told that young men are leaving the hon. Member's division and joining the ranks of the Fascists. My remarks are not applicable to the old but to those who are young.
Reference has been made to the French Revolution. I want to come to an English revolution. To-day's Debate has been centralised round two points of view. Either the House of Commons is the country's forum and debating ground in which legislation can be passed, or the combination that we have heard of will be the proper place, should the House of Commons not fulfil the function for which it was brought into existence. My contention is that both Communists and Fascists are a danger to the nation. Because of that I am anxious, from the point of view of sedition, from the point of view of the protection that every man and woman has a right to expect from a Constitutional Government. Freedom of speech is not licence. There is such a thing as the right of the oppressed to speak, and there may be a point when 2023 even armed insurrection is justifiable on a moral cause, when it is necessary that men should lay down their lives for the sake of conscience. But is there any conscience here?
The hon. Member for South Islington said that Sir Oswald Mosley was a fool, but that he admired those wonderful young men who were associated with him. I do not know whether it is the custom in this country for fools to lead great movements and for a Member of this House to admire the mentality of young men who follow fools. I have not been able yet to guage the mentality of the hon. Member. The hon. Member spoke about 16 years ago. I think he is living in the past and not the present.
But what is the present position? Whether we like it or not we are confronted with two bodies that are not preaching constitutional methods, the Fascists and the Communist party. Either we are going to govern in this country or we are going to be governed by them. If this be a legislative body we have a right to see that we control those who do not act up to the Constitution. Government in this country is by the people. The people have the franchise and under the Constitution can be elected to this House. What greater power could anyone want? If second-hand Punch and Judy shows outside are wanted, the House of Commons is not the proper place for followers of the Mosley movement. The whole European position is an indication of the turmoil and ferment abroad. When the disease spreads to this country we are not doing our duty unless we see that it does not exercise the minds of the people here.
I am an Irishman who believes in a scrap. I am anxious to fight if it is necessary to fight. I am anxious to see that my home and the homes of other people are protected from those who, if licence were given to them, would simply despoil everything in the nation. If the Home Office is anxious to protect the lives and liberties of the people of this country, independently of what faith the people may have, the people have a right to demand that protection. There are the Army and the Navy to protect them if necessary, and no one has the right to raise a false army, with false colonels and majors walking about in uniforms, when 2024 the State provides an army out of national funds. We are not going far enough. Hon. Members talk about interfering with the liberty of speech. How many madmen do we interfere with every year? Is Mosley sane? Has he the right to have the opportunity of going about? Judging by the standard of any member of this House, I ask is he sane? Even as regards some Members of this House there may be a doubt of their sanity. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about yourself?"] I am talking about myself as well as others. The question of sanity is a very remarkable point. The line of demarcation is very narrow. The border line is very fine, and because of that I am not anxious to see many insane men outside leading phantom armies.
The hon. Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Mr. Dixey) has, by interruption, been advocating the Mosley position. I wonder if he has been forming fours during the last six months. His seat has been vacant for six months, and now I find the hon. Member coming here to-night and practically condoning, by applause and interruption, the action of Mosley. Why should we pay so much attention to mad people outside?
§ Mr. LOGAN
I thought the hon. Member was anxious to say something, and I thought I would give him the opportunity. I am very pleased to see him back in his seat. It is a serious matter from the Mosley point of view and from the point of view of those who support him, that they should play with fire. It is a very dangerous thing. Playing with the Communist movement or with the Fascist movement by any section of this House is most dangerous. It is something that I do not advocate, and the sooner we face the position the better. We ask the Home Secretary to face it, and take action. I think the Home Secretary has power to deal with the matter without coming to the House. When sedition is preached the Home Secretary has power to bring the offenders to book. Surely, when an organisation is going about in the form of soldiers, in bat- 2025 talion form, calling themselves by military titles, carrying on a system of insurrection by seditious speeches, telling the people that they think Parliament ought to be done away with—a good many other people share that opinion—strict action ought to be taken. The Home Secretary has great power vested in him. The Fascist and Communist movements are somewhat similar to what is seen on the Continent, and if we do not govern them, we shall be governed. We must see that there is no further contamination. We give people freedom to enunciate policy, but we have no right to allow anybody to preach sedition. I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) has brought this matter forward, and I hope that the National Government, backed by the condoners of the Mosley party, will be prepared to support him.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel POWELL
I have of late had few opportunities of addressing the House, and I hope that I shall be excused to-night for taking up a little time, for the reason that I have been associated, either as a candidate or as a Member, with one of the difficult constituencies of London for the last six or seven years, and during the whole of that time I have been in the habit of having no stewards. It may interest some hon. Members to hear what my experience has been. I am the first Conservative Member for 25 years to represent my division. That may give hon. Members an idea of my position. I have had difficulties at certain meetings, but I am prepared to say that my opponents of the official Labour party have on the whole treated me very fairly. The occasions when I have had difficulty have been very difficult to avoid, occasions when there has been a party slogan. According to one party slogan which was used quite lately, I was called a child starver, a baby starver, and it was said that I was in favour of slave camps. I think these slogans are unfortunate and I do not think they are worthy of a responsible party like the Labour party. Such slogans have the effect of inflaming certain people, and I found speech impossible, but in the course of six or seven years I have only found speech impossible on two or three occasions, although I had no stewards.
2026 The House may be getting bored by references to the meeting at Olympia. Certain things have been proved and others have not been proved. One of the things that has been proved is that the speaker at the meeting did not show that patience which every one of us shows, as a matter of course, when we address a political meeting. It was also proved that, to put it mildly, unnecessary force was used. What has not been proved, and it is important that this point should be made, is that the spot-light leader of the Fascist party has no right to claim sympathy by claiming that he stands for free speech. My view of his party is that he stands for free speech as long as it is convenient for him, and not one day longer. People would be living in an atmosphere of very sweet innocence if they thought that the leader of the Fascist party was the responsible, suitable, appropriate guardian of the principle of free speech in which every Member of this House honestly believes.
With regard to the question of stewards, as I have already said, I have on one or two occasions met with organised interruption which is practically impossible to deal with, as I say, with no stewards. Organised opposition generally is different from the opposition of the heckler. We welcome the heckler and are friendly with him. He makes our meetings more interesting. I am so accustomed to interruption that I find it difficult to speak in this House. I think that the problem is to educate the people of this country to behave in the same way as we do in this House. When we cannot possess our souls in patience in listening to a speaker whose arguments we have heard a thousand times before, what do we do? We walk out, and the public should be educated to do the same thing. The difficulty in my experience is that people who attend my meetings do not come with the idea of walking out if they do not like what I say, because they have come to have a good sit down and they do not want to go.
To be a little more serious, I want to put one point which I hope will be of interest and which I would like to be treated very seriously. If you are against organised opposition a very great problem arises. I have always thought that if I were in a position I am not likely to attain, of being responsible for law and order in this country, I would 2027 not suggest that the best method of avoiding fighting, disorder and ill-feeling would be to have stewards at a meeting responsible for ejecting their political opponents. I look at it in this way. If your agent and yourself organise a meeting and you have stewards, of whom do they consist? Surely, they consist of the more enthusiastic supporters of your own point of view, and if you have interrupters at a meeting they are, to put it mildly, the most enthusiastic supporters of your opponents, and from the point of view of law and order I cannot think it sound to set the most enthusiastic supporters of one party to throw out the most enthusiastic supporters of the other. I do not think it is the least likely to lead to law and order, and if I were responsible that is not the procedure I would suggest.
If it is said, "What do you suggest?" I think the answer is very obvious. The function of the stewards should be to usher people to their seats, and at that point I would stop. I would say: "Your duties stop there, and you must not try to throw people out." As far as the removal of people is concerned, if they cannot be persuaded to act as we do when we cannot possess our souls in patience any longer, they should be carried out by an impartial party, by men of no political opinion. I believe you would perfectly easily get a great response if you would organise people to act as stewards during a General Election irrespective of party. I do not believe in uniformed police. I do not think any of us is likely to call them in or that it would be successful if we did. We might work on the lines of the special constables, or appeal, as has been done before, to men of good will who have only the question of free speech at heart to act as stewards in an official position. I think there is some possibility of that kind but I do not know if anybody will agree with me or not.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. DIXEY
I want to give a few reasons why I do to some extent support the remarks of the Home Secretary, but deprecate the matter ever coming before the House. I know the natural good will of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), and it has come as an amazing fact to me that he should take up the position he has this afternoon, 2028 and say he is alarmed and perturbed by these monstrosities which have happened, these grave breaches of public order at the meeting at Olympia. The hon. Gentleman was present in this House in the year 1923 when Conservative and Liberal candidates for Parliament were having their meetings broken up, their stewards assaulted and so on. A question was put to the right hon. Gentleman the late Leader of the Labour party who was then the Member for Burnley and now sits in this House for Claycross (Mr. A. Henderson) asking the Government of that day, who were held in office by the vote of the hon. Gentleman and the Liberal party, whether the Government would make some order and introduce some Act of Parliament to give His Majesty's Government control over disorders at public meetings. At that time the hon. Gentleman did not take any view of the matter. Members of the Labour party were his allies in this House, and his view of disorder at a Tory meeting was very different from what it is to-day.
I deprecate these disorders, and whatever my attendances may be in the House in the last six months I can claim to have conducted as many meetings on the platforms and in the open air as any Member of my party. I know what it is to conduct hostile meetings, and I have never complained of interruptions. I have no sympathy nor any regard, personal or other, for the leader of the Fascist movement. The scenes which took place the other night were no worse than, and no different in character from hundreds and hundreds of scenes at meetings broken up by the organised opposition of the party opposite. Let us be blunt. It is perfectly true to-day that the Labour party is a party of great respectability. We all know it. It has tasted the fruits of office and, if I may say so without offence, it has sat in the seats of the mighty and it is now because it is scared, doing everything to conform to law and order. Colleagues of mine in this House and members of my party in years gone by remember the growth of the movement of which Members opposite are complaining. It was fostered and reared entirely through their aiding and abetting. Members of the Labour party come here to complain of the Government for not properly controlling public meetings, but they themselves are the greatest offenders time after time. 2029 Right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen know it. The excuses are always lame that those were the sole operations of Communist agitators. We well know what has happened in the mining areas, and the deputy-chairman of the Labour party and leaders of the Independent Labour party have come actively to our meetings in various constituencies, and have helped to organise opposition, and to prevent us from being heard.
I am going further than that. What is the position of Members of the Labour party? I am quite blunt. I am entitled to ask that question. What about the Conservative working men? There are a few of us still, though some of us are supposed to be joining the Fascists. What about the Conservative miner? [Laughter.] Hon Gentlemen may laugh, but some of us have had many years' experience in politics, whatever people may say about us. A number of Conservative working men dare not put a photograph of a Conservative candidate in their houses because of what would happen, and because they are not allowed to express——
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Does the hon. Member also agree that many agricultural labourers dare not put a photograph of the Labour candidate in their windows?
§ Mr. DIXEY
The hon. Member may have had that experience. I merely say that I complain of the party which, I say without offence, has the impertinence to come to this House, and of its deputy-leader—I do not know whether he is deputy or deputy-deputy-leader—a certain well-known learned King's Counsel. The hon. Member for Bodmin quoted the remarks of the leader of the Fascists as a terrible speech, which the hon. Member most bitterly condemned. What about the speeches made by right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen on those benches, which have been just as provocative as any speech made by Sir Oswald Mosley?
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
The two quotations that I made were, first, that the Fascist leader told the people of this country over the wireless that they could be assured that he would preserve law and order, and that, I said, was an arrogant claim that no private person had a right to make; secondly, a speech which he made at Shrewsbury a few days ago, that 2030 given power, his first act would be to suppress the Communist movement. I said that to threaten suppression in that way had, as far as I knew, never been done previously in our history. I do not know of any threat that has been made of that kind by any member of the Labour party.
§ Mr. DIXEY
I bow to the hon. Gentleman's correction. I might refer to certain sentences in their isolated state from speeches made by hon. Members opposite, as the hon. Gentleman has referred to one passage without its context in Sir Oswald Mosloy's speech. Every meeting must lead to provocation. All the political leaders I have ever heard in this country have made provocative speeches, their personality has been so great. The ornaments of the parties always sit on the front benches, and we know that their speeches are bound to be provocative. If they are worth their salt, they must contain some form of attack. Therefore, it is ridiculous to say that there can be any question as to where legitimate, provocation ends and unfair provocation begins.
One allegation has been made in this Debate which, so far as I know, has not been answered, and that is the allegation that a party of Communists, marching in fours, were allowed to go to a meeting which was obviously being held by their bitterest political opponents. I consider, if I may say so with great respect to the Home Secretary, that, if that allegation were true—the statement has been made and it has not yet been denied—it would have been unwise for the police, however orderly this counter-demonstration might be, to allow it at a hot political meeting, as a Fascist demonstration must be. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes; you do not take your coat there, so it must be warm when you get inside. I think that, if it be true that people of an opposite political party were allowed to go and demonstrate, so to speak, at a meeting such as this, held for a specific object, it showed, if I may say so, some lack of foresight. I believe firmly—and hon. Gentlemen opposite are coming rapidly to this view—that any man who likes to say anything should be allowed to say it. If anybody does not like to hear it, let him stay away. And I believe that the Home Secretary would be taking a very strong line if he were to say that, where 2031 a demonstration is being conducted on legitimate grounds of which he approves, as I presume he must have done in this case, a counter-demonstration shall not be allowed to be held against it.
The only other thing that I would like, with respect, to say to the Government, is that I consider the question of police attending big public meetings to be an impossibility. If all that we are told of did take place, of what use would be two or three or half-a-dozen policemen in an enormous place like Olympia? An hon. Member behind me made a marvellous suggestion with regard to stewards, but I do not think that any gentleman in a private capacity would like to take on the job of steward at any of these meetings. No one knows better than the Home Secretary the necessity of keeping order at political meetings, but a large amount of this opposition is organised opposition, and I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that it would be in the interest of the Government to bring forward some legislation which would give some sort of adequate protection, not merely to deal with this Fascist question, but to deal with the whole question of keeping decent order at public meetings.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Mr. HALES
It is surely a significant fact that a movement which in 1931 was hardly considered to be serious, and nearly all of whose candidates forfeited their deposits, is of sufficient importance to-day to be given a whole day's debate in the House of Commons. I had the opportunity of being at the meeting at Olympia, and shall endeavour to give to the Committee a plain and unvarnished account, which I hope will be in contrast with the hard things which have been said on both sides, of how that meeting was conducted. A fortnight before the meeting, when I casually mentioned to a friend that I was going, he warned me, "I should not take your wife with you. There is going to be trouble." As far as I was concerned myself, that was an added inducement to go. My wife also, who has stood by me in good weather and foul, went with me. We shall never forget our experience for I believe that when the history of that eventful night is written it will designate it as an epoch in the political life of England which will have far-reaching consequences. There 2032 are those who think the movement will die of its own inertia when the novelty has worn off. There are others—I think I am of the number—who see in it something that has captured the imagination of the youth of both sexes and increased the number of its adherents from a few hundreds to about a quarter of a million in all parts of the country, and there must be some serious reason for its advancement. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where do you get the numbers from?"] I had the number from one of the party who gave it to me quite unofficially. But that is by the way.
For the greater part of that meeting the audience was in entire sympathy with the stewards who were trying to evict the interrupters. I think there will be few who will contradict me in that respect. There seemed from the very beginning to be an atmosphere of electricity, and the audience, so to speak, was kept on the tiptoe of expectation directly the first interruptions became manifest. I, sitting near other Members of the House, was an observer of what happened quite close to where I was. One interruption was typical of the remainder. A man would get up, and the people at the far end of the hall could not hear what he said. It is sufficient to say that a man rose and shouted. The stewards immediately concentrated on him. There was a rough-and-tumble and chairs were broken, the audience standing on tiptoe to watch the proceedings. Is it to be wondered at that there were blows and kicks given and all sorts of maltreatment? We have only to look at any casual row in the street, where it is difficult to trace the originator of the trouble and where hardly two people will give the same account of what occurred. The audience had to thank the stewards for the safety of their friends in the building. It would not have needed much more excitement for the whole place to be in pandemonium from one end to the other.
It has been said that immediately an interrupter commenced, Sir Oswald Mosley ceased his speech, and it has also been argued that, with 24 loud speakers, they could have drowned any one interrupter. Imagine, if you can, what that meeting was. The great hall was filled from one end to the other, with hardly an empty seat. There was the limelight, and the Fascist supporters came along like an army marching with banners fly- 2033 ing. It might be characterised as theatrical. They might have been Roman warriors coming home from battle, and followed by their leader with immobile features like the Sphinx itself. Then we commenced an epoch in this country which, I think, will have far-reaching consequences.
What is the object of this movement? It has been said that it has been caused by Communist opposition. I do not think so. I think that a good many hon. Members will agree with me that the Fascist movement of this country has been caused by the impatience of Members of the Conservative party who want some action taken instead of matters being carried on in the lethargic way in which the Government are carrying on. Is it not a fact that the members of the Fascists, both male and female, are some of the most cultured members of our society? They are not from the rough and tumble of society. I am not arguing from the Fascist standpoint, but endeavouring to give a fair and unbiased opinion of my impressions of what occurred that night. It would be a mistake for us to belittle a movement which is spreading its tentacles in all parts of this country, and, undoubtedly, if it continues to make progress it will have a big effect on the next election. There is no question about it. If this movement continues to grow, there will be very grave disturbances, especially among the lower strata of society in this country, and what will have to be done, whether by legislation or by police instructions, is that the interrupter at any meeting, no matter to which side or which cause he belongs, will have to be given to understand that he will have to leave if he interrupts when he has no right whatever to interrupt.
If we are to have a repetition of what is happening on the Continent to-day, I fear for the future of this country. A leading banker in the City of London has recently returned from a tour through Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy and France, and he had not been returned more than a couple of hours when he rang me up and gave me an account of what is happening on the Continent. He said, "I was an optimist in the past. I am a pessimist in the present, but I shall be an alarmist in the future if what is happening on the Continent comes into our good country." 2034 Those are the significant words uttered by a man of great integrity and one who is universally respected in this country. We should, as far as possible, take measures to preserve the peace of our meetings and not copy the example of Germany and Italy, where terrorism is running from one end of the country to another.
I do not welcome interrupters, I do not think that anyone really does so. I should not like to-night to be shouted at and interrupted by any hon. Member here, and I should like to have the same attention at an open air meeting as I receive here. I remember well one night a young woman who had followed me about from one end of the constituency to the other during the General Election—she was not a women of prepossessing demeanour and she was always very vocal—until it came to the culminating point. At the meeting, it was a very cool night, she came up to me and said, "For two pins I will give you a biff in the jaw." I was not in a fighting mood that night, and on the principle that "a smooth answer turneth away wrath" I said, "Would you rather not like to give me a kiss instead?" I may say that that young lady was one of my strongest supporters afterwards, because apparently that was the first token of any affection she had ever had. Why should we not sometimes have a little candid introspection as to our own shortcomings? One of the most remarkable impressions in regard to this Parliament is that the strongest opposition has generally come from the Government's own supporters.
§ Mr. HALES
I shall not digress very far. I was only illustrating the point that we are responsible to some extent for this Fascism. We ought to let the people of the country know that we are the people who are to do the work and who will preserve the old country from these banners and such like things. This Government will never be accused of sins of commission; it will be sins of omission which will bring us down.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. WALTER REA
I do not rise to continue the discussion but only, in the unavoidable absence of the right hon. 2035 and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), on behalf of my hon. Friends on these benches, to thank the Home Secretary for the speech he has made and particularly for the suggestion as to consultation regarding the measures that should be adopted to deal with this difficulty in the future. Obviously, the ultimate responsibility must rest with the Government, but so far as it is possible to come to an agreement with all parties as to what is the best method of dealing with a difficulty which we all acknowledge and all deplore we shall be pleased to co-operate. As I am now in the unaccustomed position of addressing this Committee, may I as an old Member of the House, be allowed to express some satisfaction at the Debate we have had the privilege of initiating to-day. At any rate, in the early portion of the Debate the Committee has shown itself worthy of its best and greatest traditions on a non-party occasion. We are truly conscious of the danger that lies in front of us and I believe that this House has shown its determination in very serious circumstances to hand on to its successors those liberties it has inherited and which it regards as its most priceless possession.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
As the hon. Member has just very properly said, the Committee is indebted largely to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) for initiating the Debate, but, if there be one member of the British race who is more indebted to the hon. Member than anybody else, it is Sir Oswald Mosley. I should think that he will throw up his hat with glee to-morrow when he sees the magnificent advertisement he has been given by the hon. Member for Bodmin, and still more when he sees the House, and all parties in the House, in such a state of panic. That will be Sir Oswald Mosley's interpretation of the Debate; it is not mine. I consider that the Debate has arisen simply because the hon. Member for Bodmin and the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) are not endowed with a proper sense of humour. If they were, they would laugh at the whole business; it is ridiculous. Sir Oswald Mosley will take it as an honour that the leaders of all parties are to be called together to concoct methods for dealing with the great Mosley; it shows what a terrible person he is.
2036 The hon. Member for Bodmin certainly paid a certain amount of tribute to the necessity for free speech and the wrongfulness of the conduct of the Communists and other interrupters of public meetings but the tribute which he paid to that idea was pale and colourless compared with his attack on the Fascists. He reminded me of those people who are opposed to capital punishment, and who get up petitions in favour of people who have committed murders. Their sole sympathy is with the gentleman who is about to be hanged and they have very little sympathy with the murdered person. That seemed to be very much the line taken by the hon. Member. Why are we making all this fuss about this wretched meeting at Olympia? The trouble which took place there was nothing compared with what took place at Aston Manor in 1886 when Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Randolph Churchill went down there. There were colossal riots, and hundreds of people were injured. In this case nobody seems to have been seriously injured. About a score of people got black eyes and that sort of thing. Why, they would get more than that in the Cow-caddens in Glasgow on a Saturday night.
All this talk about weapons is bosh. Nobody has any weapons, neither the Communists or anybody else. I do not believe there has been any serious use of weapons. A great deal of the stuff we have heard has been from people who do not know what it is to be in a real scrap. I heard the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) speak about people being hit in the face and that sort of thing, and no doubt that is very painful, but if there had been any really serious blows given in this affray there would have been broken bones as a result. This appears to have been a kind of juvenile scuffle and it has been given a preposterous amount of importance. The hon. Member for West Leeds displayed much venom and bitterness towards Sir Oswald Mosley. What is the good of treating that gentleman so very seriously? It may be said that he is suffering from megalomania but if he is there is no doubt that he is stealing a great deal of the thunder of the Conservative party by declaring that he is going to do all the things they said they would do but have not done yet. That is very awkward for the Conservative party but that 2037 is a matter on which hon. Members had better talk to the Conservative leaders. As for the ridiculous suggestion that Sir Oswald Mosley should have used loud speakers to shout down the interrupters, why should a man who has taken a hall for the purposes of a meeting be called upon to shout down interrupters? In a gigantic meeting of 15,000 people you cannot have interruptions at all. You must have absolute silence if a speaker is to get any kind of hearing at all. It is totally different from the ordinary political meeting.
I think I have had more troublesome meetings than most people but I never had one broken up and I think I can say that I have never been baffled by an interrupter. I remember one fellow who used to go about to political meetings and who interrupted by calling out "Rats." He did not call it out to me a second time because my retort to him was "Well, Sir, you ought to drink less and you would see fewer of them." I never heard from him again. In another case some people tried to interrupt the proceedings by singing that melancholy chant the "Red Flag" but their singing was flat and I offered to conduct it for them. I never had any serious trouble because I always told interrupters, "While you are shouting I am whistling, and I can whistle much longer than you can shout." There is no doubt that Mosley is a man of very great gifts, but he was born without a sense of humour; otherwise, he would be able to laugh at himself and not take himself so seriously.
The meeting was really a big thing for people to handle. The organisers had unmistakable indication that there was going to be a determined attempt to wreck it; consequently, every steward was on the hair-trigger, and at the least sound of interruption they acted. The hon. Member who spoke last said that it was dangerous for six or eight men to get on to one man. I think it is far better because six or eight men can handle an interrupter easily but, if there are only two men, there is likely to be a struggle and they are more likely to come to blows. There cannot have been many serious blows at the Olympia or any serious injuries done, or the hospitals would have accounted for them. When I read of this trouble first I was reminded of a remark made by Dr. Johnson when he was asked what he thought about a prize fight. He 2038 said, "It is a good thing to see two blackguards getting hammered." There is no doubt that there are a lot of both Communists and Fascists who are very violent.
In the last 16 years Conservative meetings in this country have been broken up, and there has been no protection. It is a rotten business, and we do not get the right of free speech. There is no doubt that what Sir Oswald Mosley said is true; he does get quietness. We are entitled to that, but we cannot get stewards enough. If this Debate brings that about, it will be a good thing. I do not believe in bringing in the police to meetings. If the Fascist movement goes on—and this Debate is bound to strengthen it; I am sorry the Debate has taken place to-day—we shall ultimately get free speech everywhere; and, if we get free speech and are able to express our views and use the power of criticism that we have, I am not afraid of democracy or the maintenance of our liberties. It may be that this Fascist movement, misguided as it is in many ways, and led by a man who suffers from megalomania, will be the thing that will rescue our liberties from the danger into which they have fallen during the last 15 or 16 years. The Labour party also have a lot to put up with from the Communists, and it may be that we shall all be profoundly grateful to the Blackshirt movement. I am sure, too, that Sir Oswald Mosley is profoundly grateful to the House for this Debate.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. PIKE
I have been sitting here all day in the hope of asking the Home Secretary one or two very pointed questions. The first question I want to ask—and I think it very appropriate that it should be asked at such a late hour—is whether or not his attention has been drawn to the issue of the "New Leader" of to-day? In that issue, under the heading "Behind Fascist Brutality," one reads this editorial:Those who interrupted the Olympia meeting do not squeal about their treatment at all. They expected it; they knew the character of the Fascists. Indeed, they deliberately did what they did because they knew the character of the Fascists.Later on in the same article I read:To-day Socialists and Communists are interrupting the leader of the Fascist 2039 movement to arouse public attention to the character of Fascism.If that is a true statement of the aims of the people responsible for organising the opposition to this publicly-convened meeting, it demands—irrespective of what the hon. and learned Member who has just spoken said—immediate action, and I believe that the only form of immediate action that can be taken is that, irrespective of party, whether the meetings be Liberal, Conservative, Communist or Socialist, representatives of the law in uniform shall be there to apprehend; those persons who are responsible for the disruption. I have seen in my own division meeting after meeting wilfully broken up, and I am perfectly convinced that every other Member of this House has had the same experience.
I also wish to ask the Home Secretary whether or not he did for a fact know that this Communist gathering was going to assemble at Olympia for the purpose of preventing the demonstration from being held. I want him to say whether or not, days before the meeting, it was arranged to withdraw 750 police from ordinary duty in order to prevent, as far as they possibly could, the disturbance from getting too large a hand. If he knew, and the police knew, that such a disturbance was to take place, I want to know in the name of the law why appropriate action by the police was not taken. I believe that the Committee is entitled to know why, since they had accumulated for the purpose of disturbing this meeting, the police did not move the Communists on. It has been stated from all parts of the Committee that the Communists were gathered outside the hall and attempted to prevent the ordinary public from entering. If that is true, why were those Communists not moved away from the meeting, as any other ordinary disturbers of the peace would have been moved away?
As for the Fascists themselves, I am entitled to ask why, in view of the fact that the police allowed them to look after the inside of the meeting, and if it is true that they threw people out and inflicted injuries by throwing them out, action was not taken against them for brutality. Was it because the Communists who were thrown out have them- 2040 selves lodged no complaint to the police against the people who inflicted injury upon them? If the Communists have not ventured to charge the Fascists with brutality or with injury, very little of what has been said to-day can hold water. Irrespective of the fact that I do not agree with Fascism or with its leader, I believe there is sufficient evidence to show that no person who, as alleged, was brutally treated has attempted to take the slightest action against the people who illtreated him.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Does the hon. Member think that the offending steward who threw the man down the stairs supplied him at the same time with his name and address?
§ Mr. PIKE
If it be known that one single individual has been responsible for inciting a number of individuals to brutality, anyone who has been subjected to that brutality can take out a summons against that person for the damage caused. We should ask the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to a statement made by Mr. R. J. Campbell, Secretary of the Communist party of Great Britain, two days prior to the meeting in Olympia, in which he stated that 3,000 tickets had been bought to enable members of the Communist party to gain admission to that meeting. We should know who bought those tickets, whether they were bought directly on behalf of the Communist party, and whether it is satisfactory to say that they were bought for peaceful purposes. We also want to know whether the Home Secretary was informed by the police authorities throughout the country of the transport being organised in every area to bring those Communists from the country to Olympia for the purpose of smashing up that meeting.
I also wish to ask whether the Home Secretary is going to allow this kind of thing to happen in the near future. Sir Oswald Mosley is coming to Sheffield at the end of this month. Is Sheffield to be subject to the same kind of thing as arose at Olympia? What steps have been taken by the Home Office, in conjunction with the Sheffield City Police, to prevent a recurrence of these happenings? Lastly, I should like to ask the Home Secretary whether he can assure the public that it is vitally necessary that he should consult the leaders of the various political 2041 parties in this House before taking action. This Government was elected by a most unanimous verdict of the people of this country to deal with imminent national affairs. The other political parties in this House are in such small numbers, and carry the support of so small a section of the community, that it cannot be the wish of the people of this country that they should be consulted. The real wish of the people of the country is that the Government should take action. The Home Secretary has the power, and if he uses that power not only will disturbances such as were experienced at Olympia be prevented in the future, but the country will have great respect for the Home Secretary for taking the action for which he was appointed and which, I have no doubt, he intends to take.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Committee do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.