HC Deb 06 November 1956 vol 560 cc2-15

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open, and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House, and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall, or in the pasages leading to this House, during the Sitting of Parliament, and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts; and that the Serjeant at Arms attending this House do communicate this Order to the Commissioner aforesaid.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

I wish to submit to the House that this is an Order which ought not to be passed formally and that, in present circumstances, the House ought to have an opportunity to discuss what are the means which it intends shall be used to carry out the Order.

This Order has been in existence for a very long time, and we hope that its intent will be carried out for a very long time to come. At the risk of taking up the valuable time of the House, I think it is better that the subject should be discussed on this Order rather than that we should try to select individual grievances which may occur from time to time and which cannot very well be discussed in Question and Answer with the Home Secretary.

The difficulty is that there are two aspects to the Home Secretary's task, the political and the practical. It is unfortunate that these are to some extent mixed up. It is very unfortunate, though I do not see how it can be avoided, that the head of the police has to be a politician of one party or another sitting on the Front Bench representing the Government. That brings into our discussions the suspicion that sometimes the Home Secretary can act as a sort of censor of banners or slogans, and I am sure that the whole House would not wish that to occur.

Last week, the Home Secretary, in replying in his usual courteous way to objections that had been raised on a specific issue, used his usual admirable technique of dry humour and understatement to say that he had seen a procession and that there were two kinds of slogans displayed, one "We want peace", of which he approved, and the other "Eden must go", to which he was opposed.

That was a good "crack" between friends, but politically, of course, it is inadmissible. Either the Order is applied or it is not applied. Either the demonstrations are permitted or they are not permitted. Either there is power to close streets or there is not power to close streets. The decision ought not to lie on the Home Secretary's opinion of the merits of the case which is being advocated. It has nothing to do with the merits of the case or the characters or the political opinions of the people who desire to make demonstrations and who desire to come here to see their Members of Parliament.

We really ought to work out a system which removes completely any suggestion of political prejudice in this matter. In particular, I wish to submit that the time must very soon inevitably come when the use of the "Whitehall cavalry" is discontinued. The use of mounted police is, I submit, both inefficient and provocative. I suggest, in the first place, that it is an unnecessary reflection on the capacity of the ordinary London "bobby" to control crowds.

If the mounted police were abolished there is not the slightest doubt that the resources of the police would be fully equal to devising some other means.

Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)


Mr. Parkin

If I have to have provocation from the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore), I am tempted to reply that the reflections cast by the crowd last Sunday afternoon were on the subject of Budapest—

Mr. Speaker

The affair on Sunday afternoon does not come within this Order, which refers only to the Sitting of Parliament and the access of Members. We were not sitting, curiously enough, on Sunday.

Mr. Parkin

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I was distracted.

Hon. Members seem to forget that the police have vast experience of dealing with enormous crowds in all sorts of situations, and this particular silly device is never used elsewhere. Even ticket collectors can do better than that. What would the public think if the Transport Commission decided that it was a good idea to help the ticket collectors by putting a lot of porters on dray horses and marching them up and down among the people?

This is a practical issue. I am sure that the genius who discovered the roundabout to solve the traffic problem at Victoria Gate can solve the problem of easily improvised crush barriers, a device which can be put up at short notice to direct a procession in a certain direction. There is in this Chamber a gadget, presented to us by the Government of Jamaica, which could be improved upon or operated hydraulically. It would not be difficult to find a way of sinking in the roadway telescopic tubes which could be raised and converted—[Interruption.] I am sorry if hon. Members opposite prefer their cavalry. I am making practical suggestions. Since the same police, by the same methods, were dealing with the demonstration on Sunday afternoon, I had hoped, as an eye witness of what took place, to be able to mention the matter here, not in a spirit of criticism. I do not propose to mention specific instances.

What I really want to do is to ask that the Home Office shall dispassionately conduct an inquiry to see whether it is possible to do away with the use of mounted police. I suggest that the inquiry should be along the following lines. First, there should be a serious inquiry into the possibility of using movable crush barriers or mechanical means of controlling crowds and demonstrations in the area of Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament. Secondly, in quiet calm, the Home Secretary should examine reports of what took place on Sunday, as a technical operation. When I followed—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must take up Sunday's incident in the usual way, with the Home Secretary. It is not relevant to the Order that we are discussing.

Mr. Parkin

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I could have taken up other examples, but I have no better example from my personal experience of the technical working out of a process; and, without prejudice, I wanted to suggest, purely as an example of the way the police work in these matters, that it is worth examining.

I am not trying to work into this speech an attack on anybody in connection with what happened on Sunday. I wanted merely to give an example of how, in my opinion, the demonstration could have been harmlessly kept on the move and how, by an unfortunate decision, the opposite result was achieved.

Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)

Before the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department replies—as I hope he will—I should like to say a few words in support of the very moderate case which has just been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). We all appreciate—certainly, in this House, we all ought to appreciate—that when Her Majesty's Government's policy arouses indignation among large sections of the population, which may happen to any Government, that automatically presents an extremely difficult problem for the police, particularly for the Metropolitan Police, who have to deal with large-scale demonstrations.

It would be wrong if we on this side were to assume, and I do not think we do assume, that every time there is difficulty arising from a demonstration outside this House, for instance, such as we have complaint of recently, the fault must lie with the police. But it is equally wrong to assume the opposite; and the reaction opposite to my remarks shows a tendency among hon. Members on the other side of the House to assume that in any scuffle the police must automatically be right. It is a very dangerous assumption for this House to make. I suggest that all hon. Members, without distinction of party, ought to be most vigilant in dealing with this problem.

It is perfectly true that the occasion during the last week which has aroused the most comment is probably the one which it is out of order to discuss; but it is not the only one. Now that we are sitting again in the new Session, and the political tension has not yet noticeably eased, there may well be future occasions related directly to access to this House in which this issue will arise.

In fact, there is evidence coming, naturally, with a lag of a day or two, into the hands of many of us to support fairly well-authenticated complaints—I will put it no higher than that—complaints of the judgment of certain police officers in what was, no doubt, a very difficult situation. In my view, it is only right that we should have an assurance from the representative of the Home Office that if this evidence is put to him he and his right hon. Friend will consider it quite dispassionately, and without any prior assumption either that the police are necessarily right or that they are necessarily wrong.

The point regarding technique, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North, is one well deserving of the attention of the Home Office. I do not know enough about this to say whether the use of mounted police is strictly necessary or not, but I can say, from personal experience, which could be supported by the experience of many of my hon. Friends over a long period of years, that when there is a big demonstration it is always the mounted police whose functions cause most heat, the worst bad temper, and the greatest indignation. If there is any conceivable manner in which very large demonstrations can be handled otherwise than by the use of mounted police, I feel quite certain that it would be of great advantage to the relationships between the public and the police forces of this country, which, by and large, as we all know, are exceedingly good.

I therefore hope that the Joint Under-Secretary, if he is to comment on this matter, will give us an assurance that if we take this matter up both in regard to the incidents which are in order in this debate and in regard to the other, he and his right hon. Friend will give most careful and unbiassed attention to the representations which have been made.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

I should like to say a word on this matter, perhaps from a slightly different point of view. I happen to be one who has been in a demonstration when mounted police—[Laughter]—there is nothing very funny about that—have attacked the crowd. I can assure hon. Members that it is a difficult job to keep open the roads and passageways to this House when there is a crowd of people about. It is a very difficult job to do for a man who has also to handle a horse, though that horse is supposed to be trained.

I am not speaking without knowledge. I am Deputy-Chairman of the Watch Committee in Liverpool, where we have a bigger force of mounted police, probably, and just as difficult crowds to control as there are in London. The policemen are specially trained; but nobody knows exactly when a horse will rear up in front of people. It creates a very difficult situation. The policemen themselves are put in a difficult position.

I know many policemen. I have a very great respect for the work they have to do, and I know that they consider it is a very distasteful job when they are given instructions to use their horses to clear a passage or to break up a peaceful demonstration. [Interruption.] It has been done. Some hon. Members on the other side of the House who are chuntering are just too young to know anything about it; they have not been in any sort of difficulty in that respect. There are many of us who have.

I am speaking now from both points of view, and I believe it is a matter on which I can do that. It is very difficult, as I have said, for a man on horseback to control a crowd and control a horse. When ordinary people have come into a peaceful demonstration to lobby a Member, perhaps on this side of the House—and it is the same on the other side—and find themselves confronted with a row of horses which are prancing up and down and edging their way through, there can be a very unpleasant situation. As soon as somebody in the front moves, all the people at the back panic. Why? Because they see a row of charging horses in front of them. Hon. Members opposite obviously do not understand that.

This is a very important matter, important to the electors and residents of London and the country as a whole. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will take notice of the Order which is being asked for and see whether it is possible, in a country which prides itself upon its democratic organisation, to find a better way of controlling crowds. Perhaps he did not see what happened the other day in Downing Street, when foot policemen simply moved along slowly, and the crowd moved in front of them. When there is in front of someone a horse whose hooves can trample a person under foot, the situation is very different from when there is an ordinary foot policeman there, even if he be a member of a row moving the crowd back.

May we be told, on this Order, when advice can be given to the Commissioner of Police that it is not in the best interests of all of us here, and the public generally, for horses to be used in clearing streets or clearing up demonstrations?

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

Mr. Speaker, I saw some of the demonstrations to which reference has been made today. I saw the way the police handled the very large crowds. I should like to say that not one single truncheon was drawn by the police, that banners were carried by the crowd saying "Law, not War," and that the sticks of the banners were being used to beat the horses as they went past. Furthermore—

Mr. Parkin

On a point of order. I was an eye witness of that demonstration. There has been only one demonstration of this kind—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is intervening. He is not raising a point of order. Sir Charles Taylor.

Sir C. Taylor

Furthermore, I picked up—

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps I misunderstood the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). If so, I am sorry. Was the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) raising the question of Sunday's demonstration?

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

That I did not understand. That is out of order. It must be taken up in the usual way.

Sir C. Taylor

I did not refer at all to Sunday's demonstration, Sir. I merely said that I had seen some of the demonstrations which have been referred to by hon. Members today. I would like to say—

Mr. Parkin

On a point of order. Sunday's demonstration was conducted by a large number of people carrying banners, specially prepared for the occasion, carried on poles and inscribed "Law, not War". There is no doubt that the hon. Member was referring to that demonstration, at which I was present and on which you, Mr. Speaker, have correctly ruled that I may not speak.

Mr. Speaker

It would be most inadvisable if, on this Sessional Order, we were to lead to a general debate on the Metropolitan Police. It really would be irrelevant and would open the door as a very bad precedent to all sorts of undesirable consequences in procedure. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will confine themselves strictly to the Sessional Order, which concerns only the access of hon. Members to this House and the ways and approaches to this House.

Sir C. Taylor

I was going to refer to the glass marbles that were thrown under the horses' feet to make the horses fall, but I will not refer to them, Sir. All I would say is that in every demonstration I have witnessed the police have behaved with great courage and good humour, and as we would expect English policemen to behave.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Reading)

It is a very great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor), a pleasure which is generally denied to us because we do not see him all that often. I propose to confine myself strictly to the Sessional Order and to make no reference to matters which you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled out of order, partly because you have ruled them out and partly because I did not see them and. therefore, I am not competent to speak about them.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) referred, in terms which I am sure we would all appreciate, to the excellent relations which exist almost all the time between the police and the citizens of this country. Those excellent relations arise from the fact that almost all the time the police look upon themselves as being, and behave as being, ordinary citizens in uniform on a par with and parallel to the rest of their fellow citizens. In this we differ—and I am glad that we do—from many other countries in which, by one means or another—by means of the police being armed, for example, or by their having fearsome uniforms—the police do not behave merely as citizens in uniform, as our police do.

This position of equality between the policeman and the rest of his fellow citizens is immediately broken once one of them is put on a horse. Once he is several feet higher than the people all around him, once he is sitting on a horse, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) pointed out, is not always easy to control in the middle of a crowd, this very important atmosphere of equality between the policeman and the citizens all around him is broken down. He depends upon that atmosphere for the peaceful enforcement of order, almost by example rather than by dictation.

I always suspect that we have developed the use of mounted police from the experience of some of our administrators in Colonial Territories because they think that because a crowd of uneducated people in a Colonial Territory can be frightened by the use of men on horses, we will get the same effect by frightening a crowd of British citizens.

That is a profound psychological error, because it is not true that a frightened crowd is a less dangerous crowd than an unfrightened crowd. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is the frightened crowd."] The whole theory of this—[Interruption.] I wonder whether I might be allowed to hear myself speak, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Mikardo

The whole theory of this, it has always seemed to me, is based on the idea that if the crowd can be made afraid they will be docile. But crowds of people are like individuals, even like individual Prime Ministers, and are most likely to lose their heads when they are scared. I do not believe that the maintenance of law and order is furthered by frightening a crowd.

I therefore add my voice to those of my hon. Friends who have spoken in requesting the Joint Under-Secretary of State—I am glad to see that he, as a responsible Minister, unlike his hon. Friends beside him, is doing me the honour of listening to what I am saying—seriously to consider whether it is in the interests of maintaining free passage to this House and of maintaining law and order, of keeping crowds in control and of maintaining that good relationship which, happily, exists between the police and the public, that we should continue to use our mounted police to control crowds. I do not for one moment believe that our police are incapable of dealing with demonstrations without the aid of horses. I beg the Joint Under-Secretary to consider this matter and to consider it seriously.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

The only reason I rise is because I have spoken about this matter before and have also mentioned it privately to the Home Secretary. This is the only occasion on which we can discuss this issue in an unprejudiced way, because if a particular incident has happened immediately we take sides, some with the crowd and some with the police. We discuss the matter today unprejudiced by a particular incident because we are talking about the Order. I beg hon.

Members opposite to listen to us on this matter.

It is my invariable experience—and I have had as much experience of crowds as any hon. Member in this House—[Interruption.] Yes, certainly. Indeed, I am bound to say that if the restoration of order and a condition of docility is the main object of using mounted police, a few among the Conservative Members now and again would be a great advantage.

The fact is that almost invariably the presence of mounted police converts a happy, peaceful—[Laughter.] It is no use hon. Members opposite reacting so irresponsibly. Surely they do not want crowds who are approaching the House of Commons always to be turned into angry demonstrations, accompanied by injury.

There is a profound difference between the psychology of the policeman on horseback and the policeman on foot and between the psychology of the crowd towards the policeman on foot and the policeman on horseback. If hon. Members opposite do not appreciate that, they are too dumb to be in this House. Therefore, I beg and pray hon. Members opposite to take advantage of this occasion to impress upon the Home Office that in our opinion it is undesirable to use the mounted police until the demonstrators have obviously become themselves unlawful. I am not saying for a moment they should not be in reserve. That may be necessary, but to use mounted police in the first instance when a demonstration is peaceful is to create an unlawful demonstration out of what was a lawful one.

I am not saying this in any other spirit, or with any other desire, than that of preventing ugly incidents, having been in demonstrations, having taken part in demonstrations, and regarding myself as an average person. When I see a policeman on horseback nudging the haunches of his horse against women in the crowd my natural instinct is to pull him off his horse—and that is the natural instinct of any ordinary Englishman.

I ask hon. Members opposite to have more regard for these things, to have more regard to the maintenance of law and order and less to bullying the public as they are trying to bully the Egyptians.

Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South) rose

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Deedes.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. W. F. Deedes)

My right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary will, of course, take full notice of what has been said on this Motion today. I think that that is the main assurance that hon. Members who have raised this subject require from me. All hon. Members are familiar with this Sessional Order, the need for it and the manner in which it is usually—indeed, almost invariably—enforced. It is traditional in form and in detail, and its object is broadly approved by hon. Members.

As to Thursday's affair, on which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Padding-ton, North (Mr. Parkin) asked one or two specific questions, and about which my right hon. and gallant Friend gave an assurance, last week, that he would make an inquiry into what occurred, I can say that there has been a full inquiry into the events of that evening. They occurred when the Sessional Order was in force. My right hon. and gallant Friend is satisfied that the action taken by the police then was necessary to ensure compliance with the Sessional Order and that no undue force was used in dispersing demonstrators.

Mr. George Craddock

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have since been in touch with some members of London University, one of whom was brutally assaulted by the police, and the information is in my possession, and I want the Home Secretary to make a study of it, because I saw that young man in the Lobby. He was assaulted on the way to interview myself, and that was why I wanted an opportunity to speak on this occasion. We are very much concerned with keeping the approaches to this House open so that constituents can see their Members. The young man concerned was a constituent of mine, a Conservative, and he was manhandled by the police.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a rather long intervention in the middle of another speech.

Mr. Craddock

Will the hon. Gentleman receive the information from me and examine it?

Mr. Deedes

We will, of course, look at any evidence the hon. Gentleman brings forward. The information before me is that the injuries on that occasion were two slight injuries to the police, and that there was none to civilians. That is the best of my information.

Mr. Craddock rose

Mr. Deedes

I have told the hon. Member that we will consider any evidence he brings to me or to my right hon. and gallant Friend.

The police have no knowledge of the incident to which the hon. Member referred on the Motion for the Adjournment last week, and about which an inquiry was made.

I do not think that this is an appropriate time to enter into a discussion about the merits of the mounted police or otherwise, and I do not propose to do so. The hon. Member for Paddington, North, who raised the subject, described them as inefficient and provocative. I do not think that that will accord with the view or the experience of most hon. Members. On the reports which I have seen of recent events there is every evidence that, under some provocation—on occasions great provocation—the police, both mounted and afoot, acted with great restraint.

One hon. Member referred to the good relations between hon. Members and the police in their enforcement of the Order. My right hon. and gallant Friend will have that particularly in mind when he considers what has been said on this occasion.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I gather, Mr. Speaker, that you have ruled that it would be out of order for anyone to refer to Sunday's demonstration. I shall not do so, but may I say that I have witnessed every demonstration that has taken place near the House of Commons in the last fortnight, and that I have never in the whole of my life seen such restraint as has been exercised by the police. I would say to hon. Members that if the same manners had been shown by the demonstrators as were shown by the policemen's horses there would have been nothing to complain of.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open, and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House, and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall, or in the passages leading to this House, during the Sitting of Parliament, and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts; and that the Serjeant at Arms attending this House do communicate this Order to the Commissioner aforesaid.