HC Deb 14 March 1946 vol 420 cc1260-4
19. Mr. Piratin

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is now in a position to make a statement on the action to be taken by the Government to stop Fascist propaganda in this country; and whether, in this connection, he has considered the activities of the organisation calling itself Vigilantes Action League.

Mr. Ede

I am not yet in a position to make a statement on the Government's examination of the problem of Fascist activity in this country. As regards the activities of the Vigilantes Action League, I propose, with Mr. Speaker's permission, to make a statement at the end of Questions.

Mr. Butcher

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider examining not only Fascist but Communist propaganda?

Mr. Ede

I examine propaganda of all kinds, including that of the hangers-on of all political parties.

Mr. Janner

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider in this regard the question of community libel, and the preventing of libels of a group nature?

Mr. Ede

I am considering how far it may be necessary to strengthen the law with regard to seditious libel in order to deal with the kind of problem alluded to by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Beverley Baxter

Will the Home Secretary express his disapproval of the Communist Party taking unto itself the duty of —

Mr. Speaker rose —

Later —

Mr. Ede

Thank you, Sir, for giving me the opportunity of answering the second part of Question 19.

Last night's meeting at the Albert Hall was attended by an observer, not a member of the police force, who has submitted to me the following report:

"This meeting, even had it not been interrupted by the Communists, would have been a complete exposure of the futility of the Vigilantes Action League. None of the speakers whom it had been announced Mr. Preen had hoped to get were present, and the only person on the platform, apart from Mr. Preen himself, who is a very poor speaker, was Mrs. Lumley, an official of the organisation. About 150 to 200 people appeared to have attended for the purpose of hearing the Vigilantes speakers. In the large spaces of the Albert Hall they looked even less and the result was to make ridiculous both the organisers of the meeting and the Communists who attempted to make out of it a Fascist bogy.

About 200 Communists were in the hall. They had come with the intention of occupying the 2,000 free seats advertised by the organisers, but these were, at the last moment, withheld, and they eventually paid to come in. They were, almost without exception, very young. They were clearly out for an evening's entertainment and the proceedings had the air of a student rag rather than a serious political demonstration.

As soon as Mr. Preen began to speak the Communists started to shout: ' Fascist' and ' What about the 2,000 free seats?' They kept up a running commentary on Mr. Preens remarks and on those of Mrs. Lumley, who appeared to be trying to say that she only wanted to talk about housing, that she had been homeless herself, that she was an ordinary hard-working woman and was not intending to make a political speech. It was clear that the Communists expected Mr. Jeffrey Hamm to speak, and there was a good deal of difference of opinion among them as to whether they should not stop barracking the preliminary speakers and wait for the more important ones. It was clear that they were an organised body. One or two of their leaders were shouting, 'Comrades, orders are that we are to keep quiet,' and there were references to the London District Committee and to discipline. The rank and file would not, however, be kept quiet and when Mrs. Lumley had been attempting to speak for about 10 minutes they surged round the hall on to the platform and occupied the seats behind the speakers table. Mr. Preenand Mrs. Lumley disappeared and the Communists were addressed by one or two of their leaders. Mr. Cruikshank, a member of the London District Committee of the Communist Party, moved a resolution demanding the banning of Fascism and the group sang the ' Internationale.' Meanwhile the original audience had retired to another part of the hall where it appeared to be carrying on a discussion of its own.

At this point the police intervened. Their entry was greeted by the singing of ' While Irish Eyes Are Smiling.' An attempt was made to resume the original meeting, but as soon as Mr. Preen and Mrs. Lumley returned to the platform the Communists started shouting again and returned to the platform. Eventually Mr. Cruikshank announced that the police had undertaken that if the Communists dispersed the original meeting would not be held. Somebody shouted 'Three cheers for the Police. 'These were given and the proceedings came to a more or less amicable conclusion.

Outside the hall the Communists held a meeting in celebration of their success. This appeared to be attended by a number of people who were unable to get into the hall."

Mr. Gallacher

Having listened to the right hon. Gentleman's very amusing recital, and while agreeing that there is room for much amusement in connection with this meeting, may I ask him if he is aware that it is also a very serious thing that in this country a group of Fascists, whether small or large, should be in a position to take such a public hall as the Albert Hall for a meeting of this kind? I agree that it did not meet with much success, but is it not the case that its failure, its flop, arose from the campaign made in and around London, and in this House, against anybody participating in the meeting?

Mr. Ede

I believe that but for the agitation and the paper which was circulated — obviously not by the promoters of the meeting — it would have been an even greater flop than it was. The mere thought of anyone trying to address a meeting of 150 or 200 people in the Albert Hall, without the help of interrupters, would be in itself sufficient indication of the common-sense of the people who called the meeting.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his debunking effort this afternoon is one of the best way of dealing with everyone who tries to over preen his own feathers?

Mr. Driberg

While thanking my right hon. Friend for the very good entertainment he has provided for the House this afternoon, may I ask whether we can take it that the obviously ridiculous character of this organisation will not cause him to relax his vigilance against more serious Fascist elements which may or may not be associated with it? Will he also remember that before the war a number of people laughed at Mosley and Ramsay, whose activities were responsible for the deaths of quite a number of our fellow-citizens?

Mr. Ede

As I have suggested to the House before, what we require to do in this matter is to keep a sense of proportion, and to leave these people to the sense of humour of the British people. We shall not cure Fascism in this country by turning the Home Secretary into a Fascist, with powers to suppress opinion.

Mr. Orbach

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been called to the literature issued by this body, in particular, to a document entitled, "An Open Letter to the Jewish People," which is one of the most virulent anti-Semitic documents I have ever seen? Would my right hon. Friend like the original of the speech that was to have been delivered by Mr. Preen, for his files?

Mr. Ede

Judging by the report of Mr. Preen's speech which I have seen, I do not think that an extended version would be a very great addition to the archives of the Home Office. I have in front of me the document, "An Open Letter to the Jewish People," which is being considered by the appropriate people, and on which I am taking advice. But I urge Members in all quarters of the House not to over advertise these people, whose numbers are as contemptible as their opinions.

Mr. Piratin

While agreeing with what the Minister said about not over emphasising what took place last night on the part of this organisation, may I ask him whether he is aware that many of us are concerned about the backers of the organisation? Many of us are concerned as to where Mr. Preen was able to get his money with which to pay for the Albert Hall. Further, I would like to say something which, I am sure, will receive support from all parts of the House, that is to express my own thanks to the police for the splendid way in which they looked after us.

Mr. Ede

With regard to the question of where the money came from, I would like to know where the money for a good many parties comes from.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that we accept the Home Secretary's advice and do not advertise these persons by further questions in this House. I propose to get on with Business.