HC Deb 01 March 1962 vol 654 cc1537-40

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

67. Mrs. BUTLER

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he intends to take on the report of the Commissioner of Police following the inquiry into complaints of police conduct in Trafalgar Square on 17th September last; and whether he will make a statement.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will now make a statement on the report of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis on the incidents in Trafalgar Square on 17th and 18th September, 1961.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

With permission, I will now answer Questions Nos. 67 and 71 together.

The Commissioner has caused each of the 54 specific complaints about incidents in Trafalgar Square and at the police stations to which arrested persons were taken to be thoroughly investigated by senior police officers not concerned in these incidents. Statements have been taken from over 400 police officers and over 50 private persons, in addition to those from the complainants themselves.

It is clear from a careful examination of all this evidence, including medical evidence, that, apart from a very few cases to which I shall refer, the great majority of the police officers concerned acted properly and indeed, in very difficult circumstances, with commendable restraint.

But towards the end of this long operation there appear to have been a few cases, during the clearance of the Square and afterwards, in which some officers fell short of this standard. In particular, it appears that four or, possibly, five individuals were put in the fountain basins. [Laughter.] This was, of course, most improper. [Laughter.] Unfortunately, the complainants were unable to identify any officers concerned and most searching inquiries have failed to do so. A police sergeant has been admonished for allowing a hose to be turned on in the yard at Bow Street when some demonstrators were there, although it was not directed at them. A woman police sergeant has also been admonished for a remark to which objection could properly be taken. [Laughter.]

In compliance with the request by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), copies of the Commissioner's detailed report have been given to the Royal Commission on the Police. The Commission will no doubt take this information fully into account in its examination of the general question of dealing with complaints by the public against the police; and on this question we can only await its final report.

Mr. Goodhart

In view of the deliberately provocative action of a certain element in the crowd, whom some of us saw at very close quarters, will my right hon. Friend underline the fact that the overwhelming majority of police behaved with commendable restraint? Can he say how many members of the public and of the police were injured in the disturbances?

Mr. Butler

I have studied the extremely voluminous report of the investigation made by the Commissioner and I fully endorse the view that the few and minor cases in which complaints have been found to be justified emphasise the patience and competence with which the police acted over a long and sustained action.

I should also like to tell the House that a number of policemen suffered bruising and other superficial injuries. According to our information, no member of the public was admitted to hospital, which I think the House will find a very satisfactory result. Police records show that only six members of the public asked for medical attention because of injury, and I am glad to say that all the injuries were slight and no one was admitted to hospital.

Mr. G. Brown

Is the House aware that one of the things that distinguishes a democracy like us from a Fascist country is that charges against the police are not here regarded as a laughing matter? Is the Home Secretary further aware that while we are, of course, convinced that the police behaved in the way that the Commissioner's inquiry has shown, nevertheless this is a case of the police inquirying into themselves? We have to remember this in judging the value of the report to ordinary people.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, in view of the last paragraph of his statement, arrange that the Royal Commission, if it thinks proper, shall be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses and the police on the evidence which has been tendered as a result of the Commissioner's inquiry?

Mr. Butler

I certainly think that the Royal Commission should have available to it not only the report, but any other information on this matter that it desires. The right hon. Gentleman will realise that the Commission is reporting on the general issue, namely, how future complaints should be handled. We shall be only too glad to have the Commission's report and to make available to the Commission any information to make its report worth while.

On the right hon. Gentleman's point about this being a laughing matter, I assure him and the House that the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and all those engaged have taken this matter extremely seriously. I may say, on their behalf, that they have regretted that they have not been able to identify some of the officers to whom I have referred. That does not detract in the least from my general tribute to the police. They would have been glad to identify any of those who had done wrong.

Mr. G. Brown

I am sure that there is no difference between the Home Secretary and myself about this. It was the reaction behind him that worried me. The only issue on which I rise again is that the right hon. Gentleman said that he is making the report available to the Royal Commission. The Commission is considering matters for the future. Will it also be allowed, since the right hon. Gentleman is to make the report available, to go further into it if it is thought necessary?

Mr. Butler

I will certainly put myself in touch with the Chairman and ask whether there is any further information that he desires.

Mr. Deedes

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that one matter of general concern which emerges is whether the present methods of expressing grievances against the police by the public, or, perhaps, the other way round, are suitable?

Mr. Butler

Yes, and that would fall within the general terms of reference of the Royal Commission. That is why I thought it advisable to send the Commission the report.

Mr. Fernyhough

Can the Home Secretary say how it came about that some of those who had been arrested and required medical attention were compelled to pay for it? Is it the normal practice that when a man is arrested, even before he is tried and found guilty, he must pay for whatever medical attention he requires? Why were not these people given the facilities of the National Health Service, the same as everybody else?

Mr. Butler

If the hon. Member will bring particular cases to my attention, I will have them investigated.

Sir G. Nicholson

Are there not more remote and far-reaching issues involved in this matter? Would my right hon. Friend agree that incidents of this sort are always liable to recur when political or quasi-political demonstrations are allowed in the centre of London? Is it not time that demonstrations of this sort were held outside the central area and the central area kept free?

Mr. Butler

There are certain matters in regard to giving permission which fall within the discretion of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works. That is the main control at present in the hands of the Government. I would only like to say, in general, that we have to walk between two extremes, one extreme being to stop the liberty of speech and the other to allow licence.