HL Deb 19 October 1961 vol 234 cc627-54

6.45 p.m.

LORD KILBRACKEN rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that in the opinion of many observers the Metropoltan Police seriously exceeded their powers on the night of 17th-18th September last; whether they have any statement to make on the matter; and what steps they will take to prevent a recurrence. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Unstarred Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. Because this Question has to do with the demonstration at Trafalgar Square, I want to make it clear at the outset that I have no personal sympathy whatever with the tactics or with the convictions of the organising Committee of 100, nor do I wish it to be thought that my strictures are directed against that monumental figure, the ordinary London "bobby".

I was in Trafalgar Square or its vicinity from about 3 p.m. on the Sunday until 12.45 a.m. on the Monday morning, and I want to make it clear that in my opinion the conduct, bearing and behaviour of the great majority of the police in public until midnight were exemplary and that they were dealing with great tact and good humour with an extremely trying and difficult situation. Of course, there were exceptions. On many occasions before midnight I saw unnecessary violence. Peaceful, seated demonstrators would be violently and repeatedly kicked or picked up and thrown headlong against a wall or into the serried ranks of seated demonstrators. But I suppose that behaviour of this kind nowadays must be considered acceptable, particularly when so many constables were operating in such very difficult circumstances. And it is certainly true that, if I had left the Square before midnight, as I very nearly did, I would have made no public protest whatever—at any rate, not on the question of police violence.

The first of the four specific matters which I want to raise, of which I have given advance notice, is not connected with violence at all. Round about a quarter past ten, the police made a loudspeaker announcement which, as I heard it, implied that the order banning processions, which had been made by the Commissioner with the required consent of the Home Secretary under the Public Order Act, 1936, had been extended by the Commissioner for a further 24 hours. It has been admitted by the Home Secretary, in a letter to Mrs. Joyce Butler, M.P., that his approval had not been given for any such extension. In his letter to Mrs. Butler, the Home Secretary has stated that this referred not to the Public Order Act but to directions given to constables under Section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839.

I wish respectfully to submit that that explanation cannot be upheld. The announcement made was reported as follows in The Times next morning, on a report from the Press Association: The Commissioner of Police has decided to extend the order banning processions and assemblies until midnight on the 18th. The ban will cover the same area as today's Later in the evening, Scotland Yard made an official announcement of what had been put out by the loudspeakers. It was as follows: As it is understood that a march is being planned for after midnight to Parliament Square, the Commissioner of Police has extended his order of September 17 to 12 midnight, September 18, in the same area and under the same conditions. The points I want to make are that both the report in The Times and the official report issued by Scotland Yard referred to the extension of an order. No order was made, or can be made, under the Metropolitan Police Act, nor can there be any extension, because the Metropolitan Police Act is always in force. No time limit is mentioned in the case of directions given to constables under the 1839 Act. They are made, as may be necessary or as occasion shall require". Furthermore, in any case, it is clear that the Metropolitan Police Act cannot be used to ban processions, as was implied in this announcement, because if it could why was it necessary to invoke the Public Order Act at all? It therefore seems to me that the Commissioner himself exceeded his powers, in the words of my Question, in purporting to extend that Order without the approval of the Home Secretary.

When the Committee of 100 realised, or believed, that they would be unable to wait until midnight and march down Whitehall to Parliament Square, they held a council of war as to what they should do instead, and it was decided that they would remain seated in the Square until five minutes past midnight. The Committee themselves intended to remain through the night until ten o'clock in the morning when Lord Russell was due to be released, and they invited any supporters to spend the night there in the Square with them. But those who could not stay were asked to get up at five-past twelve and to leave the Square in an orderly and dignified manner. Perhaps I should mention here that when this matter was raised in another place the Minister said that this announcement about getting up and leaving at midnight was made by the Mayor of Woolwich. I have made inquiries in Woolwich and find that the Mayor was at that time in bed.


He is a very good Mayor.


He was wise enough on this occasion to be in bed. I have checked also on the Mayor of Greenwich—it has been suggested that it was she who was being referred to—and I am informed that at no time that evening was she inside the Square itself.

This brings me to the second specific matter I wish to raise—namely, that in the course of the next fifteen or twenty minutes the police either arrested, or threatened with arrest unless they left the area, all, or virtually all, representatives of Parliament, Press and television in Trafalgar Square itself or in its close vicinity. I realise that this is a serious charge and that it has already been denied in another place, but I am prepared to substantiate it—and as a Pressman I am very much concerned to do so. At this time already entrance to Trafalgar Square had been barred since ten o'clock, so that any reporters who had gone out to telephone their copy, or for any other purpose, could not get back into the Square, and there were few left in the area. Of the six Members of Parliament there as observers, five had already gone home. The sixth, Mr. Fenner Brockway was arrested at 12.15 a.m., just before the assault on the demonstrators started. As we all know, the case against Mr. Fenner Brockway was dismissed.

When this matter came up in another place the Minister was asked whether any television operators or Pressmen had been arrested in the Square. He replied that he could not without notice say, but he had to confess that, although he had been through a great many reports on the matter, he did not recall a report of that happening. I should like to bring these cases to his attention. Mr. Ronald Norris of the Daily Sketch was arrested while taking notes in the Square. The case against him was dismissed. Mr. William Baglin, a cameraman, and Mr. James Taylor, his assistant, of B.B.C. television, were arrested in the Square. Their case is sub judice; the B.B.C. are defending it. Mr. David Mason, a cameraman of Granada T.V. network, was arrested under the 1839 Act. His case is sub judice; the Granada Television Company are defending it.


My Lords, may I ask what these gentlemen of the Press and television were charged with?


I think in all cases they were charged under the 1839 Act for refusing to conform with the Inspector's direction: in other words, they were asked to leave the area. Those are the only ones actually arrested, but I have some other examples which I think I should quote. Norman Luck of the Daily Herald was telephoning his copy from Charing Cross station. He was in a telephone box there. He was approached by an inspector, who pulled him out of the telephone box, informed him that he had been in there for more than three minutes and he therefore had to leave the station and depart from the area and not come back. Mr. Brian Groves of the Daily Mail showed his Press card to a constable and requested readmission to the Square. The constable punched him in his stomach and told him to leave the area. Mr. Stanley Williams of the Daily Herald was threatened with arrest unless he left the area of the Square.

Finally, as the police advanced on the demonstrators, I myself saw a television crew who attempted to shoot the sequence. Immediately a constable approached and, in my hearing, said that they had already been warned, and if they attempted to shoot a foot of film they would be arrested. This was a crew from Independent Television. I have spoken to Mr. Geoffrey Cox, the Editor in Chief, who has confirmed this. He said that they had full co-operation until 12.25, but then were told by the police that they could use no lights, and although they complied with these instructions they were escorted off the Square by police officers.

I have to describe the event the reporting of which I submit the Commissioner wished to inhibit. I was there myself and I am speaking from personal experience. A large force of constables—which the Minister has put at 300, but which I myself think was greatly in excess of that figure—closed in and took up menacing positions around the remaining demonstrators. This brings me to the third minor point that I wish to raise. I want to ask why it suddenly became an offence to sit down in Trafalgar Square at 12.25 a.m., unless it was because by then everyone else had gone. It seems to me that these demonstrators were doing no more—in fact, they were doing considerably less—than several thousand demonstrators had been doing for more than seven hours, and these had been completely unmolested, except in special cases. Moreover—and I think this is an important matter—a report was published in the first editions of both the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, which were on sale in Trafalgar Square before midnight, quoting a senior police officer as saying that the demonstrators could stay there all night if they wished.

This large force of constables fell upon the few hundred remaining demonstrators. They acted in a collective, organised way, and therefore obviously I think with orders from above, which makes it that much more serious. I observed that there was no warning of any kind, and no word was spoken; indeed, there was no intention of arresting any of these demonstrators if they could possibly help it. What happened was that police lorries and vans were drawn up on the south side of the square, that is to say, at the top of Whitehall. Constables would grab hold of demonstrators by an arm or a leg or by the scruff of the neck and drag them at the double the full length of the Square in the opposite direction to where the police vans and trucks were waiting for them; that is to say, they would drag them the whole length of the Square to the wall underneath the National Gallery and then very often throw them up against this wall and leave them lying there. Whatever one thinks about the demonstrators, it is not an edifying spectacle to see a married woman, let us say of middle age, of 40 or 45, being dragged by one leg, face downwards at the double, the entire length of the Square, and then left lying in water after being thrown against the wall at that end of the Square. There was no attempt whatsoever to arrest her. But that sight was commonplace; that was going on all over the Square during the whole of this period.

The final sight that I saw—I then left the Square—was when two ladies and one man were brought by the constables at the double, unresisting and passive, to one of the fountains and thrown into the deep water round one of the fountains. One of these ladies was Miss Oonagh Lahr of London, N.10. She is 31, and her report of the events shows her sense of humour as well as her spirit of forbearance and forgiveness. In reporting it, she says as follows: I would like to thank the three constables who took me out of the fountain, and in particular the one who was very concerned for me in my soaking wet condition, and who did his very best to get me as quickly as possible into a police coach. … I would like to thank the police matron at Stoke-Newington Court who gave me a blanket and a hot drink fourteen hours after I was thrown into the fountain. I have interviewed this lady, and I am convinced that she is a witness of truth. It was fourteen hours, half-past-two the next afternoon, before she got so much as a cup of tea. She was still in her wet clothes—she had no facilities for drying herself. She was given nothing to eat and nothing to drink, and it was not until the Tuesday morning, when she was due to come up before the Governor of Holloway, that she got any dry clothes at all. So it was very nearly 48 hours before this lady, a respectable woman of 31 and a sincere woman, was given any dry clothes to wear.

The National Council of Civil Liberties have published the report that I have in my hand which gives, among other things, the particulars of 31 cases of alleged serious violence in Trafalgar Square and in the courts. Copies of it are available in the Printed Paper Office if any noble Lord wishes to consult it. These have been chosen from a far larger number and individually selected as being the most important. I want to mention here that neither the Council solicited complaints nor did I, although I have received a similar number from people who knew that I was interested in this matter. The worst cases in this report have already been quoted in another place, and I will not repeat them here. They include the case of Adam Roberts, who is an undergraduate of Magdalen College, Oxford, whose account was printed in the New Statesman and may have been read by some of your Lordships. He was very seriously beaten up, kicked, and has a doctor's certificate which says that he was bleeding internally three days after the event. It is one of those ironic twists that this gentleman is a first cousin of the Home Secretary.

Finally, as an example, I wish to quote the case of a 16-year old girl—and I have given advance notice of this. I have given her name and address, although I have undertaken not to reveal it publicly or in your Lordships' House. This 16-year old girl I have also personally interviewed. I want to emphasise that she is not a precocious 16-year old—she is not a "beatnik." She is a modest and rather shy girl. I was impressed both by her sincerity and her integrity. When she was arrested she co-operated to the extent that she walked and did not have to be carried. She was arrested at 5.45 p.m. She was then taken to the West End Central Police Station, where she gave her name, her age and her college, but refused to give her address because she was instructed accordingly by the Committee of 100. She was then taken alone down a corridor, and she was to be alone for the next six hours. She was again asked her name, her address and her school. She was then asked if she was pregnant. She was asked if she knew that everyone had gone and she was the only one left, which, of course, was not true. She was then asked if she had ever been in a remand home, whether she had slept with men and whether she had slept rough. She does not know what that means, and nor do I. She was asked if she had any scars.

She now reports: I was getting frightened, but I did not cry until I got home She just sat still and said nothing. She was then asked to take her hair down. She did not know why, and I do not know why. She was then asked to take off her jacket—a child of 16, my Lords. She was wearing her brother's watch, a man's watch, and this was noticed by a clever police constable who accused her of stealing it, and also accused her of stealing the jacket which she was wearing. A matron then came in to search her—this 16-year old girl. She said: She lifted my jumper and brassiere and felt underneath and round my hips under my skirt. She told me to take off my shoes so that she could look inside them. This was when they began to tell me that I should be sent to a remand home with thieves and prostitutes. She was told that she would be kept there until Wednesday or Thursday. It was at this moment that she gave them her address, and she was finally charged at 11.15, which was some five hours after her arrival at the police station. She was never given any paper of any kind while she was there, but received the summons by registered post about ten days later, charging her under the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839. She was fined 15s. and 15s. costs. That was the extent of her offence.

We have to recognise that all these people in the Square were criminals. Their crime was so serious that they were fined anything from 15s. to two guineas. I believe that is less than for a parking offence. What they were doing was considered by the law to be less important than you and I leaving our car on the wrong side of the street. Whatever we think of them, they were sincere people acting in accordance with sincere principles, and willing to face the threat of three months' imprisonment, which had been publicly announced, under the Public Order Act. Although they were wrongdoers, I suggest that even wrongdoers have rights in this community—important rights. I suggest that the police action that night struck deep at the roots of democracy in this country.

I therefore wish to support the plea already made in another place that an independent tribunal be set up to investigate all the facts. I say that it cannot be satisfactory that the police conduct their own inquiry, especially because, in my submission, the principal fault lies with those in the highest places, and not with the subordinates who carried out their orders. In the words Herman Melville put into the mouth of Captain Ahab: Who's to doom when the judge himself is dragged before the Bar?

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, I have not been over 50 years in public life without recognising complete sincerity when I hear it. If I may pay a tribute to the noble Lord, with whose speech I entirely disagree, he showed that he was completely sincere in what he said, and that he really believes that these so-called outrages occurred.

I do not want to detain the House because we have had a hard week and the Lord Chancellor is going to speak, but I have a number of comments to make on the noble Lord's contentions and on some of the things he said. He said in the closing part of his speech that these people were fined only 15s. or £2. I understand that the maximum fine for an obstruction of this kind is £2. I am going to put a question to the Government later on—not of course on this occasion, as it does not arise—to ask them whether they would increase the penalty for wilfully obstructing the passage of the public, as these people have done, to £25 for the first offence, and £50 and three months' imprisonment for the second. Because, believe me! the public are getting very tired of the antics of these people and of the nuisance caused by them, and also of the immense strain placed upon the police.

The first point that I want to make—and I hope the noble Lord will interrupt me if there is anything he wishes to criticise in what I am saying—is this: that in almost any other country in the world, not merely behind the Iron Curtain, these people would have been treated to tear gas or hoses, or what is called in America, "Cops' night stick" charges (truncheon charges) or blows from the policemen's rolled capes. I do not think there is a single country in Western Europe where the police would have behaved with the tolerance which they do here for most of the time.

I would suggest to these so-called "civil disobedience" people that they go to Paris and take Lord Russell with them and see what happens to them if they lie down in the streets there. They will have very rough treatment; and I should think Lord Russell would probably be returned to England. The Sureté would ring up Scotland Yard and say, "Here is an old gentleman who says he is a famous scientist by name of 'Roossel'. He appears to be suffering from senile decay, and as we have got plenty of those people already in our own country we are sending him back on the next 'plane". This is the sort of treatment these people would get in Paris; and it would happen in New York, as well.

My second point is this. It is all very well to talk of the sincerity of these people and to say that they do it from a sense of duty. But I wonder whether they realise the ill-effect they have on public order generally. We have just had a most interesting debate concerning prisons, in which the question of crime arose. What sort of effect do they have on the criminal population, because it is an encouragement to them? Civil disobedience, as it is called, is really a breach of the law, and there is no other way in which it can be described. It is a breach of law which causes great inconvenience—and might have caused even greater inconvenience except for police action on two occasions—and which the law is perfectly right to punish.

The noble Lord has quoted a number of cases of alleged assault on members of the public. I do not remember reading anywhere a single case of any person being taken to hospital as a result of being assaulted by police. It is true that the noble Lord quoted one case of an Oxford don whose doctor alleges that, as a result of his treatment, he suffered from internal bleeding; but whether there are any cases of people being taken to hospital perhaps the noble Lord would answer me.


So far as I know, there was none taken to hospital. There was one broken nose, and the Oxford man—an undergraduate, not a don—had to have medical treatment, but he was not detained in hospital. I think that one of the nice points about maltreating by police is how to cause just enough physical discomfort without necessitating medical treatment.


That, if I may say so, was not the case made by the noble Lord at all, or by Members of another place. The allegations—which were very serious, and which all of us who have a great regard for the police resent unless they are true—were that the police behaved with great roughness. If there were only two cases of anybody being injured and requiring medical treatment, it does not make any sort of sense.

Now I come to other points about what happened in the Square. The police at that time, after midnight, had had a very hard day. Many of them were probably very tired, and it may have been that they used greater force than is usual in this country. But, my Lords, is force against people who break the law a very bad thing? Surely the police are entitled to use force if people will not go away? All these people had to do was go away; and there is no reason why the B.B.C. or Independent Television or a reporter should have any more rights than anybody else. If told to move on, they should move on. Is it suggested that whenever there is trouble reporters and television people and flashlight photographers have a right to remain there when the police, in their judgment, consider that a place should be cleared? That does not seem to me to make any sense at all. Such people have no more rights than any other people.

If somebody accuses me of being reactionary because I think there are occasions when force has to be used, let me quote to him a somewhat similar situation in Middlesbrough, when there were serious riots. The police on the second night got tired of them, and the Chief Constable was very alarmed. There was a slight colour tincture, so to speak: it was alleged that the riot had something to do with the number of coloured men in Middlesbrough. What happened? Thirty police made a baton charge. I do not know what the noble Lord opposite would have said if he had seen a baton charge in Trafalgar Square. A good many people got a crack on the head—not very serious; one or two were knocked out. But there was no more trouble in Middlesbrough after that. That charge completely stopped it. I believe that the idea that the police must never, in any circumstances, use force, even though of a rough character, against people who break the law is an entirely wrong one.

The criterion to judge on is surely the state of the casualties, and the noble Lord has admitted, I understand, that, except for two people, nobody required any hospital treatment. I find it hard to believe—I must, of course, accept what he told us—that the police actually threw anybody into one of the fountains. Maybe they did; but I find it very difficult to believe.


I did myself witness this event, and testify to it from personal experience. May I also say that I personally would far rather be thrown into a fountain than dragged 50 yards on my face across the Square, which I saw on at least 50 separate occasions.


I must ask the noble Lord a question. I am sorry to have this controversy, because, as I have already said, I admit his sincerity. How can a person be dragged across the Square on his face and not require hospital treatment? Will he answer that question?


My Lords, may I help my noble friend for a moment, and my other noble friend here who belongs to the medical profession? The noble Earl has asked a question, and the answer can be given quite easily. You can certainly be dragged a long way without receiving any serious injury—laceration, yes; injury, yes; but not serious. The noble Earl is trying to force the matter of serious injury, but he is not getting anywhere. Everybody who has heard my noble friend's speech knows that not only is he sincere but he was personally present, which the noble Earl was not. If the noble Earl is prepared to say that my noble friend is making up the whole story, let him get up and say so.


I never said anything of the sort, and the noble Lord, who always intervenes in matters which do not concern him, has no reason for saying that. I paid a tribute to his noble friend's sincerity, but I should prefer him to answer my question, not the noble Lord who has just interrupted. I say that you cannot drag a person across a square for 100 yards on his face, without doing him some injury. It is quite obvious that you cannot, and that such injury would require hospital treatment.


My Lords, may I interrupt? I am afraid that you can drag a person on his front and his face for quite a long way without doing an injury which needs treatment at hospital. Possibly, the noble Earl could come outside and let me experiment on him.


We do not want to get into a frivolous state.


No; but it would be better if the noble Earl confined his remarks to things which he does know something about.


I rather resent that remark. I am an ex-Serviceman, and I have seen a great many wounded people. I have never seen anybody dragged 50 yards on his face without requiring hospital treatment. It may be that the noble Lord knows, but I should have thought it was very unlikely that it would happen.

I should like to ask the noble Lord another question. If he saw, as I am sure he did (because he would not have told us that he had unless he had seen it), three constables, I think he said, dragging a lady into the fountain, why did he not take their numbers.


I shall be very glad to answer that question. It so happened that at this time a chief inspector was standing within three yards of me, and when I saw this I approached the chief inspector. I informed him that I was a Member of your Lordships' House, and that I should be raising the matter at the earliest opportunity, as I now am, and the chief inspector turned on his heels and walked away. Further, my Lords, may I add this: that I had to be very careful that night. I do not quite know how I myself avoided being arrested, although I did manage to march through Red Square disguised as a Communist demonstrator, in order to get a story, without being arrested, and this was rather easier than that. But one had to be very careful how one behaved if one was going to avoid being arrested. I had to keep moving, and it was very noticeable that a number of people, who were seen writing down numbers of constables, were immediately arrested for that reason. I did not want that to happen, and that is why I did not succeed.


May I ask the noble Lord one more question, before I give way to the Lord Chancellor to answer, in a much more authoritative way than I can? Have any of these people, who took down the constables' names or alleged that they were assaulted, brought actions against the police?


I think that three points arise here. The first is that it is a policy of these people not to prosecute or to make complaints against the police, because they want to keep on as friendly terms as possible with the police. Secondly, I think it is the case that they are mostly not extremely wealthy people, and for an undergraduate, or an arts student, to prosecute, in effect, the Commissioner of Police, is asking quite a bit too much of the student's financial resources. The third thing is that it is not very easy to take down the number of a police constable when you are being dragged by one limb the length of the Square.


My only comment on that is that I assume from what the noble Lord said—and of course I accept that—that all of those people who were arrested were members of this organisation, and not members of the public. I understood him earlier to say that some of them were members of the public.


To which organisation is the noble Earl referring?


I mean the Committee of 100.


No; by no means. A great minority of those arrested were members of the Committee.


Only a minority?


A great minority.


Then what does the noble Lord mean by saying that they could lake down the constables' names and were not prepared to prosecute them, because they were members of the Committee and did not want to give their names? I do not understand his point.


Although they were not actually members of the Committee of 100, they adhered to the beliefs of the Committee. They were not members of the Committee itself.


I see.

My Lords, I have nothing more to say on the Question. I would only end by saying this. I have the utmost admiration for the Metropolitan Police, and I agree with the article in the Daily Express today, that there has grown up in this country a tendency—and I am not accusing the noble Lord opposite of this—to ignore the fact that police have been stabbed, shot and blinded, and the Press say very little about it; but whenever there is any sort of demonstration someone immediately gets up—sometimes in another place—or writes in the Press, and accuses the police of rough conduct. All I can say is that in my opinion we have in this country—it is a trite remark, but it is true—both in the Metropolitan Police and in the provincial police, the finest police force in the world. And while, of course, the noble Lord is perfectly entitled to bring this point forward, I very much hope that we shall not get in the habit in your Lordships' House of attacking the police when they are merely carrying out what they believe to be their duty.

7.27 p.m.


My Lords, I gave notice to the Table earlier in the evening that I should like to intervene in this debate for a moment or two, before the Lord Chancellor replies to the Question asked by my noble friend. I am sorry that the noble Earl who has just resumed his seat considers that I am interfering in things that have nothing to do with me. I should have thought that any matter which is raised in your Lordships' House has to do with all the Members of your Lordships' House. I am surprised if he feels otherwise.


I am sorry if the noble Lord misunderstood me. I was trying to get an answer to a question which I put to the noble Lord, to whose sincerity I paid a tribute. The noble Lord then got up before the matter was completed by either of us.


I accept that. I did so, because I was trying to help another of my noble friends who is a member of the medical profession, who was trying to put a point forward, and the uproar was such that he had some difficulty in making himself heard.

My Lords, I rise only to say that I agree entirely with the noble Earl that we should support the police in their difficult task. We are all agreed about that. But I think that, having said that, we must take heed of what my noble friend Lord Kilbracken has said. He has gone to great lengths to produce a great deal of detailed evidence on this matter. He has painted a picture which is perhaps a little lurid, because he was there and it must have been very unpleasant; but he has gone to a great deal of trouble to produce facts and figures, of which he has given notice, and which will be answered in due course, I have no doubt, and I hope satisfactorily. But I defend his right to raise this matter in the way he has done, and I am sure that your Lordships feel the same way about that.

I would add that many of us who cannot come to this House as often as we should like to, very much resent the idea that if we do not quite follow in the usual stream of saying what everybody else is saying, we may get browbeaten by the older Members, on both sides of the House, who may feel that we ought not to be speaking like that. We try to put our points courteously and reasonably, but we do not propose to be browbeaten. We think—particularly speaking from the Benches of a very small Party, though I am glad to be able to inform you that it is growing—that we have a right to do that and to be treated like anybody else.

I am sorry to say that it is only twenty-four hours since in this Chamber the noble Earl who has just addressed us used the most extraordinary language in respect of a senior member of the United Nations Organisation, to whom he referred as the "worst type of filibustering braggart". That was reported on the "ticker" as the "worst type of silly, blustering blackguard". Which version is correct I am not sure; perhaps the noble Earl would like to tell us. In either case I think it was the most unhelpful use of language at the present tricky stage of our negotiations in the Congo. But that is irrelevant to what we are talking about now. I hope that we can come and say as shortly as possible what we want to say without the virtual certainty of being pulled up short by the noble Earl, who has many years' experience behind him, and that he will treat us from the great height of his experience as doing our best and being sincere.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? I think he could not have listened to my speech. I paid a great tribute to the sincerity of his colleague. I said I believed he was completely sincere in what he said. One is entitled in your Lordships' House, whatever one's position, to controvert something said by another Member. The noble Lord seems to think it wrong ever to contradict anyone.

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to answer the four questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will not suspect me of browbeating him or either of them. If I put the answers strongly, he will realise it is because I believe the case is strong, but I question neither the sincerity nor the accuracy of Lord Kilbracken, nor have I any intention of objecting to his raising the point. I only say this: that I ask noble Lords always to consider that we have in Parliament the licence of our privilege, the permission of our privilege to raise these points. That is something which every Member of Parliament must always consider: whether he is justified on the strength of his evidence in using that privilege to make charges against other people. That is something upon the responsibility of Members of Parliament which I think must be carefully considered.

I want to begin, before dealing with the detailed complaints, to put in perspective the action that was required to deal with this particular demonstration by the Committee of 100. I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Winterton, for making one or two important points, but I want to make this clear: the last thing the Government and the police wish to do is to interfere with the free expression of opinion or with the freedom of assembly so long as the law is not broken. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, takes a very light view of breaking the law. I would ask him to remember that democratic society, among other things, is built on respect for the law, and it is not a light thing deliberately to break the law.


My Lords, with great respect, I do not take a light view of it and I do not think it can be said that I gave that impression.


The impression, of course, is a subjective matter, but I must say that I construed the noble Lord's remarks about the extent of the fines as endeavouring to show that a light view should be taken of this offence. If I am wrong I am sorry.

But just let us go on. The police here had to deal with a deliberate attempt to break the law in order to draw attention to the views of the Committee of 100 about nuclear disarmament. The demonstrators who came to Trafalgar Square on September 17, did so knowing that the holding of the meeting arranged by the Committee of 100 in the Square on that day had been forbidden. The Committee made clear that their intention was to break the law. That is the first point.

The facts as to what took place up to midnight are not in dispute. There were thousands of people in and around the Square before five o'clock and it was not finally cleared until about two o'clock on the following morning. The complaints against the action of the police are almost entirely—I think this is putting fairly what the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, said—directed to the short period after midnight, between a few minutes after twelve and 12.45. I want your Lordships to look at the position then. The police report that at midnight there were still about 1,000 people left in the Square. About half of them dispersed but the remainder stayed on. It was at this stage that the Commissioner of Police decided to bring the proceedings to a conclusion; that is, after seven hours of vast crowds with virtually no complaint at all.

I know the Metropolitan Police too well to think that any of them would ask for sympathy in the job from the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, or the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, but I think that most people who were considering that position would have said that that seven hours constituted a good job of which ordinary, reasonable people would be proud. At midnight, as I said, there were still about 1,000 people left in the Square. About half of them dispersed but the remainder stayed on. It was at this stage that the Commissioner of the Police decided to bring the proceedings to a conclusion, and to clear the Square after allowing a reasonable interval in which those who wished to leave voluntarily could do so.

That is one of the main complaints of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken: that the Commissioner came to that conclusion. I submit to your Lordships that it is not an unreasonable conclusion to come to after midnight, when they had had seven hours in which to (if I may use a colloquial expression) "mill around". The police then on duty in and around the Square were about 300 in all. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, has said that there were 800 to 1,000. He said that in the television interview which he gave criticising the police. I am not suggesting that the noble Lord is not giving us his sincere view, but may I point out to him how easily he himself could be mistaken?

One of my noble friends referred me to an article which the noble Lord wrote for the Evening Standard on Wednesday, October 4, on quite a different subject, on matters connected with this House. I only want to show how easy it is for anyone to make a mistake about a subject which one would think they would know very well. The noble Lord said, describing an introduction into this House: Then, conducted by Black Rod, General Sir Brian Horrocks, with his Black Rod held the same way as a conductor conducts an orchestra, the three of them, …"— that is the new Peer about whom the noble Lord was writing and his two sponsors— … will go through the thrice repeated rigmarole, often most comical, of putting on their cocked hats, sitting down, standing up, and taking off their cocked hats and bowing to the Lord Chancellor. That is one of the things we have seen. We have all seen Garter conduct the Peer and his sponsors in that introduction, and yet the noble Lord, writing for an enormous public, attributes something he must have seen very often to the wrong officer. If the noble Lord can do that, how easy it is to make a mistake; and, without suggesting anything but complete sincerity, I suggest that he is entirely mistaken and that he has exaggerated by three times the number of police. That is how we start.

What happened was that the police, the three hundred, moved into the well of the Square and arrested those demonstrators who were not willing to leave. They were taken to the South-East side of the Square to await removal to places where they could be charged. The clearance of the Square was completed by about 12.45, but many of those who had been arrested had to stay for some time on the pavement waiting for transport. Demonstrators then started coming back into the Square, and by 1.25 in the morning of September 18 about 200 people were again sitting in the Square. It was then finally cleared. The general procedure was for an individual who was removed from the Square to be carried to the pavement by two officers who then left the individual to await transport. In other cases, removal had to be done by one police officer. Of course not all the demonstrators were passive or cooperative; a few of them resisted strenuously, and others did what they could, by stiffening themselves and so on, without resistance, to make their removal difficult.

In a moment I shall come to the inquiries that have been made. But whatever may emerge from the inquiries, I must make it quite clear that on the information before my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, there are no grounds whatsoever for any suggestion that those in charge of the operation either ordered or would have condoned the use of any unnecessary force. Senior officers were on duty throughout and kept a close control over the whole operation. They are satisfied that in general no unnecessary force was used.

I should now like to say a word about the methods of dealing with the specific allegations which have been made. In accordance with statutory disciplinary arrangements, each complaint is thoroughly investigated by an officer who was not concerned with the incident in question. That is essential. I think I was Home Secretary at the time that the procedure was put into operation on the new basis. What has to happen if a complaint is made against the police is that it is investigated by an officer to decide whether there is the fundamental of a disciplinary charge. The noble Lord must remember that it has been the glory of our country that the police are also citizens and are ready to help citizens.

I do not for a moment want to put it too high, but he must really consider what is a fair method of dealing with a complaint against any disciplined force. It goes to an officer who investigates the complaint. These investigations necessarily depend very much on the precision of the information given. If the report made by the investigating officer indicates that there is a prima facie case for thinking that the disciplinary code may have been infringed, a charge is formulated and is heard under the disciplinary procedure laid down for the Metropolitan Police. The Commissioner, not the Home Secretary, is the disciplinary authority, but there is a right of appeal to the Home Secretary by an officer against whom any serious penalties are imposed.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is informed by the Commissioner that so far some thirty specific complaints in relation to the Trafalgar Square demonstration have been, or are being, investigated. In those cases where inquiries have been completed, insufficient evidence has been forthcoming to substantiate the allegation; but inquiries in about half the cases are still going on, and of course, quite apart from that, it is, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Winterton, open to anyone to bring an action against a constable or to take other proceedings. I hope your Lordships will agree that it would be quite wrong of me, in view of the arrangements I have described, to deal this afternoon with individual cases such as those listed. I should, however, like to urge anyone who has first hand information bearing on any complaints to give the police details of what they have seen.

So far as can be seen from the information given in the Council's report to which the noble Lord referred, only a minority of these cases have so far been made the subject of complaint to the Commissioner. The Commissioner is prepared in the case of all complaints to make a most detailed and thorough inquiry in order to establish the facts, and disciplinary action will be taken if it is found necessary. I am glad that some of those who feel there are grounds for complaint about certain individual officers have made it clear that they have no complaint against the behaviour of the vast majority of the very considerable force of police who were on duty, and I have no doubt from the report I have seen that the conduct of the police, operating as they did for such a considerable period under very difficult conditions, should be commended. Nothing that has been said so far convinces my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that there is any case for departing from the established procedure for investigating complaints or to set up any general inquiries. May I just put to the noble Lord one difficulty? I ask, even now, if he will not help to solve it. The noble Lord went on a T.V. programme on September 22 and made his attack on the police. I am not denying him his right to do that, but I do say this to him: when the noble Lord made his attack in the Press and on T.V., the Chief Commissioner sent a superintendent to get a statement from the noble Lord. The noble Lord, I think having this debate in mind—I do not want to say anything unfair—has refused to give a statement to the superintendent and to provide any further witnesses or information. I ask him, now that he has had the opportunity of stating this in the House, and I have explained that the question whether any further action is required must depend on the results of the inquiries that are being made, whether he will now be prepared to see a senior police officer and provide the information and so help on the inquiries.

My Lords, I want to deal shortly with the other three questions. I do not want the noble Lord to think that I am avoiding any of them. That is the last thing in my life that I want to do. The next point of the noble Lord was the arrest or threatened arrest soon after midnight of all, or nearly all, the representatives of Parliament—the noble Lord said it was only one apart from himself—the Press and television. Again, some of these cases are sub judice, as he has said, and it would be particularly unfortunate if I were to comment on a matter that is sub judice. But I want to make clear—I do not think this has any bearing on the individual cases—that there was no question of any special clearance of the Press and television observers from the Square to enable the operation to take place without being observed. Press and television representatives had no exemption from the Commissioner's direction, and if they refused to move when asked to do so at the time that the Square was being cleared, they would be liable to arrest because they were unwilling to go. That is really the point; and while I have the greatest respect for the Press, including the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, I do not think they are en- titled to claim exemption from general Orders that are made with regard to keeping order in the streets.

The next point was really a double one. The noble Lord said that there was an illegality because my right honourable friend's approval had not been given to an extension of the Order under the Public Order Act. I think the noble Lord appreciated (but, in case he did not, I want to make it clear) that there are two matters. There is the Order under Section 3 (3) of the Public Order Act, and there is also the direction given under Section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, and both were given in relation to Sunday, September 17. The direction—and I do not think the noble Lord appreciated this—in paragraph 4, was: No organised procession shall be allowed to pass along the streets joining to or leading to Trafalgar Square or Parliament Square". Then, No. 1 was: No person shall be permitted to obstruct Trafalgar Square", followed by a long series of streets.

The noble Lord had got near the point, but I do not think he had it quite accurately. There were the two; and the one I quoted secondly, the one under the Metropolitan Police Act, was the one that was also put into operation on Monday, September 18.

The noble Lord put to me the dilemma—and I quite see it: If you could do it under the Metropolitan Police Act, why bring in the Public Order Act at all? The reason for that is that the penalties under the Public Order Act are greater. The penalties for infringement under the Act are much more severe than the penalties for failure to comply with the direction; and it was thought that it was necessary to have a larger gun for the first day. That is the explanation. I have put it very shortly, and I hope that if I have not made it clear the noble Lord will let me know.


My Lords, will the noble and learned Viscount forgive me for intervening? In that case, why was it necessary to employ the machinery of the Public Order Act? If everything could have been done under the Metropolitan Police Act, why bring in the other one and complicate the situation? The second point is: If the Order under the Public Order Act was timed to expire at midnight, was it competent—I am not arguing one way or the other—for the Commissioner to extend that period beyond midnight, when he found that the people were not going home?


I am very sorry; I have not made myself clear. The reason why not only a direction was given under the Metropolitan Police Act, but an Order was made under the Public Order Act, was because the penalties under the Public Order Act are more severe. It was thought that in these circumstances, the bringing in of the Public Order Act, with its more severe penalties, would be a more effective deterrent. The second point is this: that no-one did extend, or, as I am told, purport to extend, the Order under the Public Order Act. On Monday, September 18, it was a direction of the Chief Commissioner under the Metropolitan Police Act. So at 12 o'clock on the Sunday night, as it turned into Monday, the Public Order Act moved out of the question and you were dealing with the direction. I hope that is clear to the noble Lord.


It is quite clear. It is a funny affair, but it is quite clear.


According to Scotland Yard's version of the loudspeaker announcements, the official version, it was that the Commissioner of Police had extended his order of September 17. I do not quite understand how that announcement—that he had extended an Order—can be taken as implying that it refers to his directions.


I think that if you put the emphasis on the word "his"—"he has extended his order"—it is the direction under the Act—which, of course, are in the words, "I hereby direct". It amounts to an order not to do the four things prohibited by the direction. That is why. But certainly, unless the person in question had a considerable but very inexact knowledge of the law, he would have known that what was said over the loudspeaker was telling him that he should not act on the next day.

My Lords, that, I think, deals with the third point. I have dealt with the general position and with the question of the Press. The noble Lord put it rather this way: Why was action taken against a few hundred that were left? I think I have dealt with that. It is a matter of opinion, but the Chief Commissioner thought—the noble Lord takes a different view—that, having let them have seven hours to go at it, the matter ought to be made subject to a clearing operation of the Square.

Now the noble Lord has asked me about two specific cases, of which he gave me notice. With regard to the girl, there is, of course, as generally occurs in these cases, a considerable conflict of evidence. According to the police reports that I have, the girl was dirty and unkempt when she was arrested, and was wearing a man's lumber jacket. She said that she was nineteen, and she told a story, afterwards found to be quite untrue, of having been sleeping out under rough conditions. Later, she admitted that her age was only sixteen, but she still refused to give her address. Having been given this account, the police were for some time doubtful about her background.

I put it to the noble Lord again—I do not want to be argumentative, or merely to make debating points—that it is extremely difficult, if you take someone in for disobeying a direction, or for anything else, and then, when you ask her for her name and address, she refuses it. Everything could have been settled much earlier—as soon as they realised that she was a younger girl—if she had given her address. The police could have telephoned. In fact, she gave it only at 8.50, according to my account. The police in her home area were then asked to verify her address, and that she was living at home. As soon as there was an officer available, a visit was paid to her house. It was then confirmed that she was living there and that her parents were aware that she was joining the demonstration; and arrangements were made to send her home in a police car. I have 11.10 as the time she was sent home, but the noble Lord said 11.15.

With regard to the other lady the noble Lord mentioned, the one who was said to have been thrown into the fountain—I say "was said", because the matter has not been decided in any way; and, in fact, I am trying not to reflect on anyone—the problem there, as the noble Lord knows, is that the lady herself has not been willing to pursue her complaint, although she has been seen by a senior police officer. Although there was some delay, she was one of 65 who arrived at roughly the same time at the station. Those prisoners had been received at various times, and dealt with without a break between 6.20 and 11.05, and if there was a delay in giving her a blanket or some tea, then I am very sorry. Again, it was not possible to send home for a change of clothes, because she would not give her name and address.

I have tried deliberately to shorten these matters, and I have tried, and I hope the noble Lord thinks I have been successful, to put this moderately, according to what has been said to me. But I would remind him of the point which the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, made: that so far as he knows, from all the research and all the information he has collected, nobody was detained in hospital; and I think, if my memory is right, only two people of whom he knows had to go to a doctor. Lord Windlesham made the point that that only rules out serious cases. I am not going to argue with him and prolong the debate, but he knows that if you get a bad scratch or a bad bruise or a bad sprain which is quite obvious, especially if skin is broken, you do go to hospital and have it dealt with. I think that is a remarkable fact. And I think the other remarkable fact is that, so far as I know, and so far as Lord Kilbracken knows, no one has commenced proceedings, either in the magistrates' court, or in the county court in a civil action.

Well, my Lords, that is the position. Except in the two cases about which the noble Lord asked me, I have not said anything about individual cases, because, as I say, I do not want to do anything to prejudice the matter. But I do feel that if you look at the whole question, then I think it would be wise to be very slow to make what will go out to the world as sweeping criticism, after the police behaved in that way in that very difficult situation.

House adjourned at four minutes past eight o'clock.