HC Deb 21 June 1937 vol 325 cc846-9
65. Mr. Watkins

asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called io the proposal of the British Union of Fascists to organise a procession through the Jewish districts of the East End of London on Sunday, 4th July next; and whether, in view of the disorder caused by the attempt made by the British Union of Fascists to hold a similar procession on 4th October, 1936, he proposes to take any action in pursuance of the powers conferred by the Public Order Act, 1936?

Sir S. Hoare

Yes, Sir. I am informed by the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis that the British Union of Fascists have applied to him for permission to meet in Piggott Street, Limehouse, on 4th July, and to march thence to Trafalgar Square by one of two alterna- tive routes, both of which would involve the procession passing through the main Jewish quarter of the East End of London. The House will remember that when the Fascists organised a similar demonstration on 4th October, 1936, strong opposition was organised by the anti-Fascists, and a very ugly situation developed. At that time neither the Secretary of State nor the Commissioner possessed any statutory power to prohibit a procession in advance, and the only effective way c4 preventing serious public disorder was to deal with the demonstration on the spot after it had assembled. The demonstration on 4th October, 1936, was dealt with on these lines, and in pursuance of his common law powers the Commissioner informed the organisers of the procession on their arrival at the starting point that, in view of the imminent risk of a breach of the peace, the procession would not be allowed to take place.

Since then the powers of the police have been strengthened by the Public Order Act, 1036, Section 3 of which confers powers for the preservation of public order on the occasion of processions. Sub-section (1) of that Section empowers a chief officer of police to give directions imposing upon the persons organising or taking part in the procession such conditions as appear to him necessary for the preservation of public order, including conditions prescribing the route to be taken by the procession and conditions prohibiting the procession from entering any public place specified in the directions. While this Sub-section would accordingly enable the Commissioner to route the procession, it would not empower him to prevent the procession from passing through every street in the Jewish districts; for this would in effect amount to imposing a complete prohibition of processions in a particular area. The Commissioner is satisfied from information which has reached him and in view of the experiences of October, 1936, that a procession of the British Union of Fascists through the main Jewish quarters would give rise to serious public disorder.

After carefully considering the Whole situation, the Commissioner has come to the conclusion that, by reason of the particular circumstances existing in the Jewish quarters of the East End, the powers conferred on him by Subsection (1) of Section 3 would not be sufficient to prevent serious public disorder being occasioned by the holding of the proposed Fascist procession, and he has accordingly asked my consent to his making an order under Sub-section (3) of that Section prohibiting the holding of public political processions in a certain area of the East End for a period of six weeks. The order will apply to the area north of the Thames bounded by a line running along the City boundary northwards to Highbury Station on the London Midland and Scottish Railway, thence eastwards along the line of the railway to where the railway crosses the River Lea, thence southwards along the course of the River Lea to its junction with the Thames. (This area includes the Boroughs of Stepney, Bethnal Green, Poplar, Bow and Bromley, Shoreditch and parts of Finsbury, Hackney and Islington.) It will apply to all political processions irrespective of party, but is not, of course, intended to have any application to other processions, such as processions of the Salvation Army, or any procession held in connection with industrial disputes, if it is of a nonpolitical character.

I am satisfied that, in the particular circumstances obtaining at present in the East End and in view of the risk of serious conflict between the Fascists and their opponents, there is no alternative to the making of an order in pursuance of the powers conferred by Sub-section (3), and I have accordingly conveyed to the Commissioner my consent to his making an order on the lines proposed.

I should like to take this opportunity of stating that if opposition is organised against any lawful procession held outside the prohibited area during the period prescribed by the order made by the Commissioner of Police, it will be the duty of the police to take such steps as may be necessary to deal with disturbers of the peace, including the organisers of the counter-demonstration.

Sir H. Croft

May I inquire whether similar treatment will be meted out to a procession marching through the West End of London on 1st May next year, such as took place this year, with enormous red banners and provocative emblems?

Sir S. Hoare

I have shown in my answer that I intend to be entirely impartial.

Mr. Stephen

Is it not clear that the procession which passed through London on 1st May was not provocative inasmuch as there was no disturbance arising out of it?

Mr. Gallecher

Is not the Home Secretary capable of stopping provocation without interfering with public rights and the right of public procession?

Sir S. Hoare

I think that I am carrying out the spirit and the letter of the policy that was adopted by Parliament last year.