§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
My subject is less important than the debate about Rolls-Royce, but it is of some importance. I refer to the question of facilities for those who lobby us at the House of Commons. The House will have to deal with plenty of lobbies in future, and we can learn some lessons from the lobby of miners and their wives on Tuesday, 15th February. Due to magnificent help which the Members representing mining constituencies received from many of our colleagues we were able to see what was I believe a record number of constituents. I do not know whether it is in the Guinness Book of Records, but the latest figures I have had from a very good source is 3,642.
I pay tribute to the Leader of the House, who, along with my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip and other Whips, performed manfully in helping our constituents, who have a democratic right to lobby us. On the whole the miners and their wives were good-humoured. Some were angry and expressed this anger when we met in the various Committee Rooms. They were angry about the last part of the route they were forced to take before coming to the House. Some said they did not think it right that they should have been funnelled or decanted up some narrow steps. I assume that was so that the crowd could be better controlled. This was done by the police and had nothing to do with the House.
There was a time when St. Stephen's was under siege, when the doors had to be closed, and, if it is not touching upon raw nerves—I see that there are no Six County Members present—it was rather like the siege of Derry. The doors were slammed rather dramatically, lots of people were trying to get in and there was a bit of noise and pushing and shoving.
The anger, which was due to a lack of communication between those who were 354 lobbying, hon. Members and the police, quickly subsided. I pay tribute to the police for the sensible and good-humoured way in which they handled the situation. Many miners and their wives had travelled great distances to see their Members of Parliament and were perhaps unaware of the limits on the accommodation available in the House.
I praise the Serjeant at Arms and his staff for helping me on this occasion. I was liaison officer for the mining Members because our secretary the hon. Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. Elfed Davies) was waiting to have an operation. I was acting secretary. The Serjeant at Arms and his staff helped us to secure as many rooms as possible. My colleagues had booked as many rooms as they could, but, because of the priority which Standing Committees have, we had to give up some of those rooms. We did reasonably well. Fortunately, we had managed to secure the Grand Committee Room in Westminster Hall. If we had not had that room, with the pressure on accommodation, we would have been in a fix; the situation would have been even worse and much angrier. By its nature and the geography of the place, it is a room into which many hon. Members can be got speedily. They do not have to traipse through the central Lobby and upstairs. Equally, they can be got out into New Palace Yard more quickly than from any other room, and this proved a great boon to us. I do not know how many we got through, but I imagine that the Grand Committee room must have taken certainly half of those who came in to to see us.
Fortunately, too, we had Committee Room No. 14, which is not so easy to get into and out of; nevertheless, I think it has the biggest capacity in the House, and this helped.
Returning to communications, I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Roy Mason) sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. He showed some courage when lots of people were pressing round, and the "bobbies were doing a manful job. If 2,000 or 3,000 people want to get into a room, this is difficult, but my right hon. Friend got on to a chair with a loud hailer and tried to tell them what the position was and assure them that we would get them in as soon as possible.
355 I have also paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip, who also addressed the miners from a balcony with a loud hailer. In a day and age when we can communicate with men on the moon, using a loud hailer to address a crowd of people who feel that they should be allowed in, and who are not aware of the limits of the accommodation in this House—who feel they have been thwarted or denied their democratic right—is a primitive system which really is not on. I think we would all agree that we should have some communications, both audio and visual, so that people can be more readily acquainted with the position.
I know we all wanted to get them in as best we could. It was because the people thought they were being denied this right to come in that they were pushing all the more. It quickly subsided. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to have a look at this.
I have seen the Select Committee report, which only came out on 8th February; our lobby was exactly one week later. I know it could not put into practice all the things which we now know within the existing limits should be put into practice. I welcome the idea of a barrier across the Lords entrance as well as the principle of trying to segregate those people who simply come to gain admission to the Strangers' Gallery. But, in the report, I noticed that the question of segregating the strangers from our constituents who were lobbying us creates a problem for those constituents who, whilst not lobbying us, want to see us and send in green cards.
I had people visiting me, and I told them I would not be able to see them, being on the lobby. I told them I would leave tickets with the policeman in the Central Lobby. Unfortunately, they did not get the tickets because they could not get in. If a segregated queue of people is trying to get into the Strangers' Gallery, they could also include—I see this from the report, with which I disagree—constituents who are not in the lobby, and not seeking access to the Strangers' Gallery.
I think we should have some means, too, of informing those people that they are not simply joining a Strangers' Gal- 356 lery queue, that there is a quick and easy means of coming in in the normal way and chancing their arm, with all the difficulties of thousands of people lobbying if they send in green cards for their Member. They may have some prearrangement, and this is the difficulty.
All in all, I welcome these proposals, but I think that, quite apart from the communications, the question of looking after our constituents not in the lobby who also have democratic rights is one where we should have a look at making better use of the accommodation in the other place. Perhaps we could use some of the huge rooms which are not used at all and which will accommodate many people, even if one only puts in a few chairs for those who want to address them. These rooms stand idle while other accommodation is under pressure, and this should not be tolerated. The Palace of Westminster is the correct title, and we should make the fullest possible use of it.
I thank the Leader of the House for his assistance. He, along with many of my colleagues and other Whips, performed manfully. I thank him for his courtesy in attending the debate. I wanted to strike while the iron was hot. As sure as God made little apples, more people will be lobbying us—it is almost a growth industry—so we should learn these lessons and hope to get more people in to see us more quickly and in greater comfort.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham. North)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) on his initiative in raising this very important subject with regard not only to the miners' lobby but to the general principle. Perhaps I might enlarge the subject to include the fact that the general public. including the miners, who pay our salaries. including that of the Minister, should be able to lobby us at any time they choose. It may be inconvenient. but they should have the opportunity.
I too pay tribute to the Leader of the House, a great House of Commons man and the best Leader of the House that I have known in my 27 years here. We have had some good Labour Leaders of the House, under various titles, but the present Leader of the House has 357 consistently done what he can to help hon. Members. This is his duty, but he does it also because he sincerely believes that he should go out of his way to do all he can to help hon. Members, and thus their constituents.
The officials of the Establishment sometimes fail to understand that hon. Members claim privilege not on their own behalf but on behalf of their constituents. I have no connection with the miners as such, but there are miners in areas other than my constituency who might, rightly or wrongly, want to consult me rather than the hon. Members who represent mining constituencies—on this side of the House, of course; one would not expect to find an hon. Member representing a mining constituency on the Government side. Miners might feel that it would be as well to come and see the hon. Member for West Ham. North rather than their own hon. Member. They should have that right. They are taxpayers. They are entitled to come and to lobby any Member of Parliament, and I resent the fact that on occasions members of the public, the taxpayers who pay our wages and salaries, are prevented from meeting their Members of Parliament.
We recently had the lobbying by the unemployed workers, representing a very large force, over a million and a half and—who knows—probably approaching 2 million. They recently marched on this House, and I marched with them from Tower Hill to the Embankment. It was a bitterly cold day. They had marched with good humour and sense and there had been no difficulty with the police or other authorities. There was some laughing and joking and a happy spirit with the police.
When we got to the Embankment I explained to some of my constituents and friends that I would not be able to stay with them for the rest of the march because I had to get to the House for Questions. I wanted to raise with Mr. Speaker the fact that marchers were marching on the House of Commons and the weather was so bitterly cold that if they were kept waiting outside and were not allowed to come in to see their Members of Parliament there might well be trouble. I gave notice to Mr. Speaker that at the end of Question Time I would 358 raise the question of admitting those people to the House.
Mr. Speaker, as is customary, was very kind and courteous and he gave me the opportunity of explaining that there were some 1,100 rooms ill the Palace of Westminster most of which were at various times unoccupied. I felt that those rooms should be opened to allow the taxpayers who pay our wages the opportunity to discuss their problems with their Members of Parliament. I also said that Westminster Hall should be opened to allow those people to come in and be shielded from the inclement weather, thus making them feel more contented and giving the police a better chance of controlling them.
The people were not admitted initially, but subsequently they were admitted into several Committee rooms where they were able to discuss their problems with their Members of Parliament. That is a much better way of organising lobbies. It is much better to ensure that as many members of the public as possible come into the Palace of Westminster, whether into Westminster Hall, St. Stephen's Hall, the Central Lobby or the Committee rooms. It is far better that they should be able, for example, to meet the hon. Member for West Ham. North—myself—and have a go at me, let off steam, indulge in any feelings of antagonism they may have and, say what a terrible, wicked man I am, rather than that they should stay outside in a long queue thinking what they would like to say in denigration of the hon. Member for West Ham. North.
I see no logical reason why miners, the unemployed, the sick, the disabled or anyone else should not be allowed into the Palace of Westminster.
I am glad that you are in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have known one another for very many years and I have the greatest respect and admiration for you, personally and as the occupant of the Chair. I have a great love, admiration and respect for this House of Commons. I feel that we have the greatest parliamentary assembly in the world and that we in this country do things better than any other country in the world.
One of my hon. Friends may laugh at that but I know he does not mean it in a derogatory sense. He will agree with 359 me that the ordinary taxpayer feels that it is a great achievement to have entered the House of Commons, to have got into the holy of holies, as my Cockney friends say, actually to have got into the House of Commons, to have been able to get into a Committee room and tell my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Greville Janner) what a terrible chap he thinks he is. He is wrong, of course. Nevertheless, when a taxpayer has an opportunity of saying it in no less a place than the Palace of Westminster, at least it takes away some of his original feeling of antagonism. My point in supporting my hon. Friend on this matter is that we should give every possible encouragement, on every possible occasion, in every possible way, to these people to come into the Palace of Westminster.
I want now to raise a particular point regarding the unemployment lobby which I have mentioned. On that occasion I raised with Mr. Speaker the possibility of admitting those people. Initially they were not admitted. I went out and found hundreds, possibly thousands, of them queueing and trying to get into the House. I went into the approach to St. Stephen's Hall, parallel to Westminster Hall, and saw a young chap who, I must admit, was being a bit obstreperous and difficult and was struggling. But I must also say that the police were not treating him too kindly; they were twisting his arm, forcing it up his back, manhandling him and forcing him down to Westminster Hall towards the police office. A journalist, whom I cannot name because I did not recognise him, said—wrongly. incidentally—"Mr. Lewis, he is one of your constituents; he wants to speak to you". I was not aware whether he was a constituent of mine. It will be agreed that it makes no difference whether he was or was not. He was a taxpayer, and it is the long-established and cherished tradition of this Place that any member of the public may at any normal and reasonable time lobby any Member of Parliament on any matter for which he or she may think that the Member of Parliament is responsible.
That young chap was being awkward. He was a young university type, what is loosely called a hippie type. The journalist said that he was one of my constituents. I went to the policeman in 360 a normal, decent way and said "Excuse me. officer, I should like to talk to this man." I expected a policeman immediately to say "Yes, sir, you may speak to him." But that never happened. Further police came and manhandled that man and forcibly dragged him away by his coat tails and by the throat.
The point I am making is that I am concerned not so much with whether the man involved was well-behaved or was a constituent of mine or anything else, but that I, as a Member of Parliament, knowing as I do the history of the battles between King and Commons and the Commons against the Executive, wanted to exercise my right to meet that man and to discuss with him what was on his mind. However, the police did not allow me to have that opportunity. What happened was that an inspector came along and said "You cannot speak to him. He was arrested outside." I said "He was within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster and I, as the Member of Parliament for West Ham, North want to speak to this man. Please let him go and allow me to speak to him." I was not concerned with what the police did afterwards but they never let go of the man.
What happened was that the Inspector Sims who is the resident inspector—and who, with respect, should have known otherwise—told me that the man had been arrested. I said that I was not concerned with that, but that since we were in the Palace of Westminster I, as a Member of Parliament wanted to talk to the man. There was once a noble peer of this House, whose name escapes me, who rightly or wrongly was accused of having committed murder but who was not arrested within the precincts of this House because that would have been regarded as interferring with parliamentary privilege.
I raised this matter with Mr. Speaker at the time as a matter of privilege. Mr. Speaker ruled against me and I pass no comment on that aspect. I still claim it as a sorry state of affairs if I or any other Member of Parliament am forcibly prevented from speaking to a taxpayer, a constituent or a member of the public if he or she wishes to discuss something with a Member of Parliament. Indeed, every opportunity should be given to a Member of Parliament to meet such an 361 individual rather than that obstacles should be placed in his way. Therefore, I am very concerned about this matter since it affects the rights of Members of Parliament.
The first business in the House of Commons is the passing of the Sessional Order. The Sessional Order is an instruction to the police to afford unimpeded progress to Members of the House of Commons to enable them to carry on their business. I would ask the Leader of the House to ask the police, the Commissioner or Inspector Sims, whoever it may be, to point out to the police, especially new police, that they have a duty to perform in the interest of Members of Parliament. I want no privilege, I want no special treatment, I want no help or assistance, but I want the general public, the taxpayer, to have certain rights. I want the Commissioner or Inspector Sims to explain to the police what this means.
At 2.25 today I was coming to the House of Commons, and as I came down Savoy Hill the road was blocked for turning right along the Embankment towards the House of Commons. As I approached a constable held me up and told me that I could not turn right and that I must turn left. He was rather aggressive about it. I told him that I wanted to get to the House of Commons. His response was "Is it urgent?" I told him it was but that it did not matter whether it was urgent or not, I was a Member of Parliament and I wanted to get to the House of Commons. Oh, well", he said, "if it is urgent I suppose it is all right." He then told his fellow constable to hold up the traffic and let me go through. I make no complaint about what he was doing. I do not think there was any traffic congestion, but that does not matter. The point is that he did not know that a Member of Parliament has the right—I want to stress the word "right" and underline it three times—to unimpeded progress to the House of Commons. With great respect to Her Majesty, no person from the Queen of England downwards is entitled to impede the progress of Members of Parliament in carrying out their duties.
The constable did not know that. I am sure he had never even heard of the Sessional Order. He did not know the first thing about it. Had he known, he 362 would have said "Yes, sir, O.K. Whether it is urgent or not is not my business. You are a Member of Parliament." He might have asked politely for proof, and that I obviously would have given him. He would have been entitled to do that, and then he would have helped me and not impeded me in my progress to the House of Commons.
That is not an isolated instance. The Leader of the House is present, and I can tell him—and I am sure hon. Members can endorse this—that when going in and out of the House of Commons I have seen instances where the police have held up Members of Parliament, including myself, on leaving the House to allow traffic outside to go by. Equally this has happened with hon. Members coming in. It is not because the police are being difficult, obstinate or obdurate in any way. It is because I do not believe they have had explained to them the essential point of the Sessional Order and that Members of Parliament are entitled to carry out their duties to their constituents and the taxpayers. Because the police do not have this knowledge, they very often do not do what they should.
I conclude on a more charitable note. I pay tribute to the officials of the House and the staff generally for the help they give to Members. The Serjeant at Arms and all his assistants, for example, go out of their way to assist. I do not believe that anyone knowingly deliberately tries to obstruct or cause difficulty. The staff of the House know the position well enough. However, I do not think that the police, especially newer police officers, know what this great tradition of the rights of Members of Parliament means. They have some kind of inhibition. They feel a little resentful. They think it is a bit much that Members of Parliament should have special privileges compared with members of the general public. It should be explained to them that this is not a special privilege. It does not give Members of Parliament rights over ordinary people. On the contrary, it is giving ordinary people a right to raise with the Executive, the authority or the Establishment their points of view and opinions.
I believe that miners are right to complain that they were not given the full freedom of expression to which they feel they were justly entitled when they sought 363 to lobby Members. Certainly the unemployed marchers were not given this opportunity, and changes must be made in the future. I am afraid that I have to be a little party political at this point, because the present Government do not seem to be considering the best method of tackling unemployment. Certainly they are not making much progress. They are not getting much success. It is to be hoped that the situation does not get any worse, but if the unemployment problem increases we are due for another march on London of the unemployed in the middle of March. If it comes, the marchers must be encouraged to come into the House of Commons.
The Leader of the House is a great democrat. He is probably a greater upholder of parliamentary democracy than anyone else in the House. I know that he would be only too pleased to meet his constituents to discuss unemployment and to explain to them his Government's policy for reducing unemployment. I am sure he would be only too pleased to explain to marchers from his constituency how the Government were dealing with wages, prices, profits and the rest. However, if they are barred from entering the House, it is not much good him saying that he is willing to discuss these matters with his constituents from the Border. If they cannot put their problems to him, obviously he cannot deal with them. If the right hon. Gentleman is not able to meet his constituents because they are prevented from entering the House, it is he who suffers, not his constituents, since he has not been able to hear their opinions. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would regret that.
I hope that some arrangement will be made by the Leader of the House and/or the officials of the House and/or the Services Committee to see that every encouragement is given to those who wish to lobby their Members of Parliament to come into the House in order that they may do so.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. However, he is getting into a situation which he and I know from the past. He is tending to go back to arguments which he has raised in the past. I am sure he would not want to trespass too far upon the 364 indulgence of the House and no doubt would like to bring his remarks to a close fairly soon.
§ Mr. Lewis
I was just concluding, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to say that I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and I would be only too pleased to devise methods whereby every help and facility could be given in all possible ways to encourage lobbyists to come to the House to meet their own or any Members of Parliament and to put forward their views and expressions of opinion.
This is my last word on the matter. It is not only Members of Parliament who have constituency rights. We must not forget that every taxpayer is entitled to come here and lobby the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Lewis
That may be, but they are entitled to come along and ask to meet the Prime Minister to explain what they feel about his mishandling of the recent miners' dispute. The right hon. Gentleman may not like it; he may not wish to meet them. Nevertheless, whether he wishes to meet them or not—he has ways and means of overcoming that—ordinary people have an undoubted right to come here to lobby the Prime Minister; they have an undoubted right to send him their green cards.
I hope that every help and assistance will be given by the Leader of the House to ensure that these lobbyists, from wherever they may come and whatever subject they may wish to raise, will be given full and ample opportunity to raise questions with Members of Parliament. from the Prime Minister downwards or from the lowest Member upwards.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
I will not detain the House long. I wish to underscore some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). I witnessed the incident about which he spoke, 365 and we both hurried into the Chamber to inform Mr. Speaker about it. I verified what my hon. Friend had witnessed.
I want the Leader of the House fully to comprehend that the means by which the young man in question gained access to the Palace of Westminster was by getting himself arrested outside. It arose from the enormous frustration which must inevitably occur when people from every part of the United Kingdom come to lobby Members of Parliament only to find, particularly in inclement weather, that they are unable to get within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. Therefore, due care should be given to any suggestion for facilitating such movements.
I recall the ugliness of the unemployment demonstration. Many of my hon. Friends and myself took part in the marching on that day to show our enormous sympathy with the unemployed and, indeed, with those who were sympathising. Not all the people on the march were unemployed. Many students were among them showing their sympathy.
I should like to emphasise that one of the main characteristics of the British working class and the trade union movement is that, in staging campaigns and marches, they behave in a peaceful and democratic way consistent with our traditions. If we look back to the enormous industrial upheaval of the 1926 period, what historians marvel at is the relatively peaceful situation that existed. We have instances of strikers playing football with the police in some districts. That is certainly not the bitter antagonism that we may see in other countries. It is very important, therefore, to have this debate and to emphasise to the Leader of the House the necessity of always applying considerable painstaking care to see that the facility emerges.
Another thing that sticks in my mind is that when the miners came to lobby I felt quite lonely because no one seemed to want to see me. They came to see the miners' Members and other hon. Members. One Metropolitan Police chief said to me in the Central Lobby "You look quite lonely today, Mr. Bidwell". I said "Yes. Well, this is not a demonstration about Bangladesh. It is about the miners' cause ". I then went to the 366 Grand Committee Room off Westminster Hall and heard my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), who was chairing a meeting, appeal to the considerable numbers of miners who were then lobbying to move out peacefully from that meeting to make room for others who were shut outside, because, of necessity, there has to be an orderly procession of people proceeding through the Palace of Westminster, and that is well understood.
Additional facilities were given by the intervention of the Leader of the House or his right hon. Friend the Government Chief Whip. It is enormously important to arrange this facility because marshals and officials of such demonstrations are extremely anxious to keep them on a peaceful basis, since any intelligent campaigner knows that in a democratic society such as ours ugliness, viciousness or violence between demonstrators and the police does not do the demonstration the slightest good. Every intelligent person understands that. If people are sufficiently moved to want to come long disstances to lobby hon. Members, they are mindful of that—unless they have a streak of madness, and generally the vast majority bring those very few into line. It may seem to the officials and stewards, however, that unreasonable attitudes are being adopted or that they are being obstructed and prevented from entering the Palace of Westminster if the many unused facilities around the place are not made available to achieve orderly movement of people who have come long distances.
On both occasions, many of the visitors had come from far afield. When their return trains in the mid-evening period had long gone, they seemed to thin out. If it were understood that on such a national occasion they would be here during the middle of the afternoon, a great deal more could be done. I hope that the Leader of the House will recognise this. When he replies, I hope he will explain why Westminster Hall has not yet been used or why it could not be used. I think there was an occasion when it was hired by a United States organisation, so it cannot be said that it is never used for any purpose other than for a lying-in-State or as a white elephant for the tourists to inspect as the oldest and most revered place in the 367 Palace of Westminster, being 700 years old and so on.
I was curious to know why, instead of having the ugliness of the crowd milling around outside St. Stephen's entrance, almost half of those people could not have been brought in in an orderly way. This would have enabled hon. Members, instead of having to go outside along the fringe looking for and being anxious about constituents whom they expected and were keen to find in the melee, to have circulated among them and met them in an ordinary way.
The provision of facilities for peaceful persuasion of hon. Members and access to them is a matter of enormous importance. It is certainly no triviality, in the light of the events in the House today, that the matter should have been raised tonight. I hope the Leader of the House will respond to every point that has been put to him during this debate.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)
I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) for having the audacity and the alacrity to secure this debate on the Adjournment tonight.
It arose out of the events of 24th November last when there was an unemployment lobby of Parliament. Certain events emanated from that lobby which led to the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) discussing the matter and making fresh arrangements for future lobbies of this kind. It was estimated that 12,000 people took part in that lobby. But 9,000 took part in the miners' lobby, which was one of the most successful and certainly one of the most peaceful. I have it on the best authority that 6,000 of them gained admittance to the Palace of Westminster, and this was in no short measure due to the friendliness and the help of the Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip, the Serjeant at Arms and his staff who gave their good support and worked hard that day, my other colleagues in the Whip's Office and my other hon. Friends, some of whom are present tonight.
But we must try not to look at the problem of lobbying in any abstract way. We have to discover the feelings of the people who do the lobbying. Not much 368 is known yet about mass psychology. I tried to put myself in the position of one of the men who came to lobby Parliament on that day. Some of these men were very young. Possibly it was their first visit to London. Others had never been to Parliament before and they did not know what was going to happen. They travelled down on the special train early in the morning to London. They were faced with a three-mile walk from Tower Hill, and they probably expected to come to Westminster, see their M.Ps, be addressed by them and go home, all the happier for having stressed their point about the dispute to various hon. Members.
I wonder sometimes whether when men lobby Parliament like this they ought to lobby the Tory M.Ps, because they belong to the Government party. Four of the miners whom I knew personally asked me if I could find their M.P. who was a Tory. I found him, and he very readily gave up his time and saw the men for a long talk. I think that did both parties a lot of good.
When the march arrived at Westminster there was no milling around. Everyone was orderly, and the marchers began to be shepherded into the six Committee rooms which the Serjeant at Arms had put at their disposal. It was arranged for the speakers to be in the Committee rooms, and we attempted to get the miners in to listen and out again as quickly as possible, hearing as many of their representatives as they could.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) went outside and someone told him, "They are starting to get a bit restive." It was like the ranks of Tuscany, with those in front crying "Back" and those behind, who did not know what it was all about, crying "Forward", because they wanted to be admitted to the House. My right hon. Friend was given a little chair and a loud hailer. Imagine, in this day and age, a loud hailer to address 9,000 people, in competition with all the traffic noise! He was doing a splendid job, but then someone shouted, "I want the loud hailer up here." It was my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip, who was above St. Stephen's entrance, a much better place from which to address the crowd. So my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley tried to get in, but 369 he was too late. The door shut and the crowd converged.
The police did a remarkable job in linking arms and holding back the crowd. I was reminded of what we had to learn at school about how Horatius kept the bridge. My right hon. Friend had no river to dive into, and the only entrance was shut. I wonder how he escaped without serious injury. That might be said a little facetiously, but we must use our loaf over the lobbying of Parliament. Each lobby teaches Parliament new lessons, and the lesson from the miners' lobby is that we must make better arrangements for mass lobbies.
The Second Report of the Select Committe on House of Commons (Services) gives a number of suggestions, none of which fits the bill. We should have not loud hailers but sophisticated Tannoy equipment, so that someone sitting at his ease can talk not only to those at the front but to those at the back of the crowd, so that everyone knows what is going on. If those at the back and in the middle could have understood that, given time and patience, they too would be admitted to the Palace to see their M.P.s they would have been happy to remain comfortable and not surge forward.
Why not use Westminster Hall? I have not done so much running since I left school as I did that afternoon, running up and down stairs, bringing the miners in, getting them out again and doing all the organising. How much better it would be to erect barriers and perhaps form a permanent entrance to New Palace Yard where the lobbyists could come in, 1,000 at a time perhaps, fill Westminster Hall, be addressed properly by a number of Members, and allowed out the other way. In about an hour and a half we could deal with about 9,000 of the mass lobby, getting them through and away from the Palace.
If I have any criticism about what happened that afternoon it is that we had to be very belligerent to obtain one or two of the rooms, and they could be used for only about three people. They were what we call piddling little Committee rooms. I hope the patronage staff will take this in the right spirit, but I feel those rooms should have been put at our disposal in the first place.
370 It is good for Parliament to receive demonstrations, and my suggestion about the use of Westminster Hall could enable us to deal with them all. It is a good thing for Members to know that people want to meet them and discuss their problems with them. But we want peaceful demonstrations. Television is always there at the appropriate moment, and we do not want the kind of demonstrations we see on television, with policemen kicking someone, or someone kicking a policeman; a horse trampling over someone, or someone kicking a horse. That does no good to the demonstration and no good to the kind of society in which we want to live.
All this has been said in good spirit. The House must try to devise a scheme whereby we can have orderly and peaceful demonstrations. We can deal with the one or two militants that want to jump on the bandwagon once the body of lobbyists is peaceful. If we cannot devise such a scheme we are not fit to be here.
I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) about the House of Commons. All hon. Members love the House of Commons. It is the finest Legislature in the world and provides a beacon for all other countries. Long may this be so.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
Perhaps the best answer I can give to the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire), who properly wished to raise this matter, is that I regarded his request as so important that I took the wholly exceptional measure of answering this Adjournment debate myself. It is a rare occurrence for the Leader of the House to stay to answer an Adjournment debate but I regarded the subject as extremely important. That is why, despite all the other, perhaps I should say, exigencies of my job today I thought it right to do this.
I entirely agree with much of what the hon. Member said about the miners' lobby. He was generous to me and I should like in turn to be generous to a large number of people. I determined that I should see what was happening and make sure that everything worked as efficiently as possible. I have nothing but 371 tributes to pay in all the circumstances to the police and the authorities of the House, and certainly to the Opposition Chief Whip and all Opposition Whips, who worked extremely hard to ensure that arrangements worked properly. I think it was as a result of their efforts that it was possible to accommodate more than 3,000 demonstrators and give them an opportunity to discuss issues with their Members of Parliament.
To see 3,000 people in a fairly short space of time was a considerable undertaking. I accept that there were more demonstrators who could not be satisfied. We must seek all the time to improve the facilities, but I suggest that there are limits to how much we can improve the facilities because of the nature of the accommodation. We may all wish that it were somewhat different. I agree with the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) and the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) that many people who come to demonstrations imagine that our accommodation is far more spacious. That is a problem we have to face.
The first lesson which I think we learned from previous demonstrations, the remedy for which was put into effect after the Services Committee report, was that it was important to have the queues outside as organised as possible at St. Stephen's entrance. There was a need for the barriers which have been proposed and for the new pavement along the front of Old Palace Yard, which was not in position that day but will be in position if it is agreed to by another place. That would be a valuable addition.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
Of course, the barriers were very useful and this was a good innovation, but that did not stop pressure down the centre of the crowd to the doors. But for the wonderful effort made by the police, a number of people would have been injured because of that pressure. There were many ladies among those in the demonstration, and luckily we were able to lift some of them over the barriers. Something should be done to stop the continuous pressure down the middle of the group of people which comes right up to the doors. We welcome the fact that because of the action of the police those people were not injured.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
That is right and this is something outside our own arrangements concerning the Commissioner of Police. We have our responsibility for barriers and that is a good point. I hope that we can improve outside arrangements.
The most important factor, dealing with arrangements inside, is to get as speedy a throughput of people as possible. The more swiftly we can get people coming up to see their Members and moving out again, the more people it will be possible for hon. Members to see. That is a statement of the obvious but it is worth saying. This explains why we were able to see so many people on the last occasion.
I confirm how good-humoured that demonstration was. The people were even good-humoured to me when they discovered who I was. That was the ultimate test of their good humour.
The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) spoke of previous demonstrations. We must do all we can to ensure that constituents who come to see us are able to do so but we can only achieve that within the limits of our accommodation. Certainly they are taxpayers and in part it is their taxes which provide us with the accommodation and enable us to be here. At the same time it is not possible to accord a permanent and absolute right to everyone because it is simply not within the capacity of the building.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
Would the right hon. Gentleman accept that at the moment this House occupies less than one-fifth of the space taken up by the Palace of Westminster? Might we not raise at some point the whole question of having a better percentage of what is available?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I have a shrewd suspicion of what the hon. Gentleman has in mind but he must not tempt me to transgress.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the reason why the Palace of Westminster is divided as it is, with the red line drawn along certain places, is because of the deal done by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) who described himself as the shop steward of the House of Commons? It 373 is on the basis of that deal which he negotiated that we now have our present territory.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
No doubt my hon. Friend is historically correct. His remarks underline my wisdom in not allowing myself to be tempted too far along that course. I am discussing how to deal with lobbies.
I turn to some of the proposals hon. Gentlemen have put forward. Those concerning communications are well-founded. We must seek to improve our communications both outwardly and from the area of the demonstration in St. Stephen's Hall to the various Committee rooms. We will look at this and if we can make improvements we will do so. Westminster Hall is a difficult matter, particularly because of the arrangements for its control, of which I think the House is well aware. But there is something rather wider than that about the Hall which we should consider. It must be remembered in dealing with all these matters that there is the question of security which we must inevitably have in mind.
A large crowd of people, if uncontrolled and concentrated in Westminster Hall before moving elsewhere, could represent an extremely difficult security and crowd problem, because it is that much more difficult to deal with a crowd in a confined space. I would not rule out some of the proposals as far as Westminster Hall is concerned, but I would hope that the hon. Members who put them forward would appreciate some of the problems involved for those who control these matters for us if we were to move in that direction. I would like to be guided very much by them.
I would like to pay my tribute again to all our officials, the Serjeant at Arms and all those who work for him. We are doing our utmost to ensure that when we have demonstrations they are successfully and properly handled for this House. It is our duty to the House, and I am most anxious to do it. However, I would not like to take any course which we were advised would make it more difficult properly and effectively to control the crowds, or indeed would pose for us at certain times additional security risks. These are matters which 374 we have to account for and I would like to have the whole issue considered on that basis.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider the physical aspect of making arrests on incidental occasions outside and bringing the arrested person up the steps and then down the steps to the point where Charles I stood his trial, and the physical hazards involved if the arrested person should try to struggle, both to him and to the police officers concerned? Is it inevitable that this kind of thing may take place, or is it in the right hon. Member's mind and undesirable that such a route should be taken when there is such an incident?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
We must do everything we can to avoid such incidents at the source. That is the way to get over that particular problem.
I believe that the better organised the demonstration is outside the more likely we are to be able to avoid those instances. On some of the recent demonstrations, notably both the unemployment and the miners' demonstration, the official stewards were deserving of the highest praise for the way they handled their particular lobbies. The difficulty which they and all of us in this House recognise is that there are people who fasten on to demonstrations who are not necessarily part of them and who are, therefore, not under control of the stewards.
It is a problem, and the better our arrangements the more surely we should be able to avoid the sort of things to which the hon. Gentleman refers and which I am extremely anxious to avoid. Once one has a difficult crowd situation outside St. Stephen's, these instances inevitably occur. This is what one must seek to avoid. As so often in life, the best way to avoid them is to try to deal with the matter at source. Therefore, the better organised the demonstration, the more the people in charge of it are in control, the more certain one can be of avoiding those instances.
§ Mr. McGuire
The right hon. Gentleman has had as long a day as all of us, and a busier one than most, so I do not want to prolong this. But, when talking about large numbers of people outside, and the fact that one cannot get the 375 "through-put", the right hon. Gentleman seemed to skate cleverly over the question of using the facilities in the other place. Some rooms there could accommodate many hundreds of people, if not, between them, one thousand or more people, along with the rooms in the Commons. Simply not commenting on it now will not help in a big crowd situation in future. Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind this kind of "through-put" and enter into negotiations so that we can better use the full facilities of the Palace?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I have no intention of trying to skate cleverly around the subject. I had to state my responsibilities and the facts of the situation. I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman says. The numbers of people that he thinks might be accommodated in this way are a good deal higher than the true position. Nevertheless if it were possible to accommodate more people in that way, I would be prepared to discuss with another place whether, on specific occasions, some of its Committee rooms could be used in this way.
Naturally, this is a matter which we can discuss. The hon. Member will appreciate that it is not a responsibility of mine and cannot be so. Of course I am prepared to look into the possibility on future occasions, but I would not be 376 too optimistic as to the extra numbers which can be accommodated in this way.
I hope that I have dealt with an important subject, on which we have made some progress. I would claim that the Report of the Services Committee was a move in the right direction. We learned more from what I have already described as a very well-organised and good-humoured mass lobby by the miners. I am therefore prepared to look at these things from that point of view and to consider again what hon. Members have said tonight.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I am obliged to the right hon. Member for his usual courtesy, which we all appreciate. Without commitment on the outcome, will he ask the Commissioner to advise the police what the Sessional Order really means? This will help the position.
§ Mr. whitelaw
I will certainly do so. The hon. Gentleman must also appreciate that the whole question of the conduct of mass lobbies comes close to the heart of the Sessional Order and of maintaining access to the House. It raises some very difficult problems. It is some of these problems that one particularly wants to avoid in making our arrangements better for the future.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes to Ten o'clock.