HC Deb 27 January 1970 vol 794 cc1509-16

7.5 a.m.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

It is right that the House should consider, even at this hour and after this length of silting, the problems which are basic to the good ordering of our society and which are raised by the violent demonstrations which have taken place and which are threatened at sporting events. It seemed to me appropriate that in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill we should focus attention on the cost to public funds of combating violence at sporting events.

Perhaps I may be permitted to try to put this matter in perspective. The Rugby Union, the duly constituted body which regulates rugby football, decided to invite the South African rugby team, the Springboks, to this country. The M.C.C. has similarly decided to invite the South African cricket team over here during the coming summer. Those were decisions which, undoubtedly and incontrovertibly, those two bodies were entitled to make. I observe that the Joint Under-Secretary of State acknowledges that. Indeed, it has been so acknowledged by reputable people throughout the country.

Of course, the M.C.C. is entitled to invite the South African cricket team to come here, as the Rugby Union was similarly entitled to ask the Springboks. Similarly, incontrovertibly, those were decisions which were disagreed with by quite a large number of people.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)

When I showed assent, I wished only to record that they were legally entitled to send the invitation.

Mr. Buck

They were certainly legally entitled to do so. The hon. Gentleman is the person, in the stead of the Home Secretary, who is charged with the maintenance of law and order and legal activities in this country, so I am obliged to him for his intervention.

Those who disagree with those decisions are, of course, entitled to say in the most trenchant manner they choose that they disagree with them. Similarly, if they think it productive for the causes which they espouse, they are entitled to demonstrate against those decisions, but to demonstrate, I emphasise, only in a peaceful and legal way. That, as I see it, is the position.

The Springboks' tour has gone through. The authorities stood firm and were not intimidated. The Springboks, who consist of young players devoted to the game or rugby, stood up splendidly to the strain imposed on them by demonstrations, although it is not, perhaps, surprising that they were perhaps not able to play their best because of the strain that the demonstrations imposed upon them.

The police were—in the view, I hope, of the whole House—extremely restrained and the manner in which they dealt with the demonstrations was admirable. It is not surprising in the circumstances that there should have been individual complaints against the police from time to time. These are, of course, being properly investigated in a regular manner under Section 49 of the Police Act, 1964.

My feeling is that the Home Secretary, together with the chief constables, was right to ensure that proper police forces were deployed outside the grounds to contain the demonstrations and see that they did not get out of hand.

Similarly, I suspect that the Home Secretary, with the chief constables involved, was generous in his interpretation of the charges which should be made for the services of the police inside the grounds. The Home Secretary and the chief constables involved were right to see that appropriate numbers of police were available inside grounds as well as outside, and that some of the cost of the police services inside the grounds should fall on public funds. As it has fallen on public funds, I should like to hear from the Joint Under-Secretary what is the final figure. The House is entitled to know the amount which, overall, these demonstrations have cost the Exchequer, but, as I say, in the extraordinary circumstances here I commend the Home Secretary and the chief constables for the fact that it does appear that they were probably generous in their interpretation of the amount which they would charge the clubs for providing police forces inside grounds as well as outside.

The common practice, as the Home Secretary has said, is to base the charges made under Section 15 of the Police Act, 1964, on the number of policemen who are required to attend inside the ground or premises. The exact legal position is somewhat obscure. There is legal obscurity about interpretation of that Section. and it derives from a case way back in the 'twenties, but my impression is that the chief constables involved and the Home Secretary have been sensible in allowing adequate numbers of police inside grounds as well as outside and in not always, at any rate, making the full charges which they are, perhaps, strictly speaking, entitled to put on the clubs.

That is all of the past. Now we must look to the coming summer. As the M.C.C. has issued the invitation, as it was entitled to do, and as it has been accepted, the tour goes on. Mr. D'Oliviera expressed the view in a recent article in the Sunday Telegraph—and I must say that they carried considerable weight with me—that it was not wrong to issue the invitation. Still, even if one took the view that the invitation was wrongly issued, I think the whole House would agree that it would be an ill day for the rule of law and order in this country if the invitation had to be retracted because of the threat of violence or because of violence itself.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) put a similar point rather succinctly in the House on 17th November, when he said: Is it not plain that, whatever may be one's attitude to the desirability or otherwise of these games, people who desire to take part in football matches "— and the same applies to cricket matches— or to watch them, have a perfectly valid legal right to do so, and that if this right is to be interdicted by those who do not happen to share their views there will be neither freedom nor law in Britain?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1969; Vol. 791, c. 854.] Therefore, I reiterate that, whatever view one takes of the decision to invite the South Africans, it would indeed be an ill day if the invitation had to be retracted because of the threat of violence or, indeed, because of acts of violence.

The preservation of law and order at cricket matches obviously presents enormouse difficulties. I would ask the Minister to tell us this morning what arrangements have been made by the Home Secretary, in conjunction with chief constables and those who are responsible for the organisation of the forthcoming tour, to see that the burden of combating the organised campaign to stop a perfectly legal activity does not fall entirely on the clubs and the cricket authorities generally. It would be wrong, in face of an organised effort to try to stop a legal activity, if strong measures were not taken to combat this campaign, which has extremely unhealthy overtones, and some guarantee should be given that the full cost will not have to be borne by the clubs. Otherwise, we might have the situation in which, the invitation having been issued, it is withdrawn, indirectly because of the threat of violence.

The legal aspect seems somewhat obscure. In the past, the Home Secretary and the chief constables seem, in the case of the Springboks' tour, to have been quite generous in the way they have interpreted the relevant Sections of the Act and case law. I hope that a similar attitude will be taken in relation to the forthcoming cricket tour, the more so since the cricket grounds are more vulnerable than the rugby football grounds and the cricket clubs will face considerable difficulty in their efforts to preserve law and order and counteract violent demonstrations.

I have received a letter from a constituent on this topic which I would like to quote. Since I have not had the opportunity to communicate with him, I cannot now give his name. The letter adds point to what we are discussing. It says: I am worried—worried about the way I am being governed. I want my liberty to watch the South African rugger and cricket matches to be protected. Last night's vandalism at the cricket grounds is symptomatic of too much that is declining in my country today. The freedom to protest I acknowledge. My freedom must also be acknowledged and protected. That is the nub of the matter. A perfectly legal decision has been made to invite the South African cricketers. It would be inappropriate now to go into whether that is a right decision, but my view, much affected by the view of Mr. D'Oliveira is that it probably is right that it should have been issued and accepted. But, whatever one's view, it would be wrong if the invitation had to be withdrawn directly or indirectly because of threats of violence. It would be an ill day for law and order if that happened. I hope that stern measures will be taken to prevent people from conspiring to prevent others from doing something perfectly legal, and that the Home Secretary and the police authorities will be generous in the help they give to the clubs in the preservation of law and order.

7.18 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)

The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) referred to unhealthy overtones in relation to the campaign now conducted by some persons who seek to have the 1970 tour of the South African cricket team cancelled. I hope that, when he used that term, he was referring to unlawful methods and not to the activities of those who, in a perfectly lawful manner, express their abhorrence of apartheid.

Mr. Buck

Early in my speech I emphatically made the point that those who disagree with the decision to issue the invitation to the South Africans are perfectly entitled to demonstrate in a peaceful, lawful manner. But it appears that the organisers of this campaign are stating that they are likely to use violent means. It is that to which I object, and that alone.

Mr. Morgan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

The first point to impress upon the House is that these matches take place on private premises and the operators of such premises have general obligations in law and have moral obligations to society with regard to the maintenance of good order. In addition, they have rights at law which allow them to deal with trespassers and those who break the law in a certain manner.

The authority of the chief constable to provide officers in consideration of payment to attend at these grounds is governed by Section 15(1) of the Police Act, 1964, which says: The chief officer of police of any police force may provide, at the request of any person, special police services at any premises or in any locality in the police area for which the force is maintained, subject to the payment to the police authority of charges on such scales as may be agreed by that authority. We should remember that it is within the discretion of the chief officer of police to provide men for these purposes and that it is within the discretion of the police authority, not the Home Office, to decide what payment, if any, shall be charged for the provision of such a service. The practice in the past has not been entirely uniform, but in the vast majority of cases a payment was demanded for the provision of officers who attended inside these grounds. The number attending varied greatly, depending on the decision of the chief officer of police in each case.

Having said that, it is right to remember that the police have only limited manpower. We often hear how much they are under strength and we must bear in mind that a chief officer often does not have unlimited resources at his disposal. He must direct his mind to the question of priorities. Surely the first priority must be the protection of life, and following upon that the prevention of serious breaches of the peace. Thirdly, there is the protection of property. The police have the general duty of preserving the Queen's peace. That means that society should be allowed to carry on in its normal ways, according to its ordinary habits as it wishes, and that order, the natural tranquility, should not be interfered with, save with good cause.

In considering whether or not substantial numbers of men can be deployed for this purpose, a chief officer of police must always bear in mind whether that diversion of resources in any way weakens his own position in the discharge of his duties in the three main periods I have mentioned.

The real answer to the case put by the hon. Member is this. There are many private functions at which there is the possibility of a breach of the peace. Obviously, the police cannot attend all of them. Crowds assemble for many reasons, and the principle that somebody connected with the occasion should pay for the work of the police in maintaining order would be of wide application, embracing, for example, political meetings, sports events of all kinds and the appearance in public of celebrated or notorious people.

In some cases a demonstration in the streets can be directly connected with an action of a person or body occupying private premises. In other cases the action may be less obvious or such action may be entirely laudable. It is not for the police to judge the worthiness of the motives of persons organising events on private premises. I know that the House readily accepts that the position of the police in this matter is one of absolute neutrality.

Mr. Buck

I, of course, accept that, but would not the hon. Gentleman agree that we are confronted, or are likely to be confronted in the summer, with an extraordinary situation? Having dealt with the generalities, will he now indicate what consultations he or the Home Secretary is having with the cricket authorities about this matter.

Mr. Morgan

I am aware that the M.C.C. has requested the Home Office for a meeting with the Home Secretary which will take place later this week. The House will appreciate that neither the Home Office nor any other Government Department has any authority whatever to ban the holding of any sporting event. The limited powers which exist under the Public Order Act certainly do not apply to the type of situation which we are now discussing.

Two principles must be borne in mind when considering this complex problem. The first is that from time immemorial a distinction in regard to police activity has largely been vested in the chief officer of police. The developments of the last 150 years have accepted that precedent. Section 15(1) of the Act which I have already quoted is clearly in line with the traditional discretion of the chief of police. Therefore, the question must be faced as to how far it is proper for that discretion to be affected by any central authority. The second question is whether it is right that substantial expenses should be met out of public funds for the costs of a private function held on private premises.

There is one final matter. A question has been asked about the additional cost to police and clubs arising out of the Springbok tour. I am informed that the sum is £50,000, of which approximately £5,000 falls upon the clubs.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Committee this day.

  1. ADJOURNMENT 17 words
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