Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £5,906,759, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Salaries of the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, and of the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District; Supplement to Metropolitan Police Magistrates; the Contribution towards the Expenses of the Metropolitan Police; the Salaries and Expenses of the Inspectors of Constabulary; the cost of special Services and other Grants in respect of Police Expenditure, including a Grant in Aid of the Police Federation, and a Contribution towards the expenses of the International Criminal Police Commission."—[Note: £5,906,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 11.8 a.m.
§ Mr. PRITT
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
Among the wide range of matters which might and, no doubt, will be discussed on the Police Vote, there are two that I desire to put before the Committee. The first is that police action in recent times has been steadily crushing the ordinary freedom of expression of political views, and the second is that the conduct of the police in dealing with the activities of the various bodies which come under the generic name of Fascists, has been such as to cause a great deal of disturbance and anxiety and to give grave reasons to suspect that somewhere there is some influence working on the police to make them favourable to the Fascists. I am quite aware that, in some of the matters that I am going to bring before the Committee, I shall Lave the expressed, and, I think, largely the real sympathy of the Opposition and of the Government itself, and in others I shall not. It seems to me that these two matters are not only extremely important but are much more closely connected than might be imagined.
1548 They are both historically significant and sinister. In countries which have, or have had, the tradition of freedom of expression, the slow crushing of that freedom is shown by history to be not only an accompaniment of decay but a precursor of revolution, and I hope we shall hear from the Government a clear expression of their determination that neither of these things shall go on any longer. There does, of course, accompany any repression of expression of opinion a similar repression of expression in print. That could be dragged into the discussion, but it does not fairly and properly arise on the question of the activities of the police, and I do not propose to attempt to bring it in. I will deal with the two topics that I have mentioned as shortly as the prolixity of my nature and training permits.
On the first point, the question that the police are slowly crushing the free expression of political opinion, I find that this is one of the two or three things on which the middle classes suffer from complete, dense illusions. There are some things on which the working class and the middle class think alike, there are a few things which even strike them in the same way and in the same degree, but it is upon matters of police and the administration of the law that the most tremendous differences occur. In general the middle classes say. and I think believe, that police administration is well nigh perfect. In general, and almost without exception, working class opinion about the police is completely unprintable. The truth, no doubt, lies somewhere between the two and, as far as I can tell—I have had to study it a good deal—a great deal nearer the working class than the middle class point of view. I do not want to make any general attack on the police to-day. I want to bring certain specific charges and implement them as best I can by illustrations. Here I have to apologise to the Committee for introducing an elementary lecture on law, because I have come to the conclusion that it is idle to attempt to discuss the question whether the police are or are not crushing the expression of public opinion unless one knows the legal position, and the legal position, like the legal position of almost everything in this country, is extremely complicated. If I express it as impartially as I can, it is probable that not even then the 1549 Home Secretary. will be in agreement with me, although, I expect, to find that he is in general agreement with me.
I will try to state the legal position as to the right of public meeting. There is no right to public meeting. I am not speaking now as a politician but as a lawyer speaking of the law as it has stood for many years. The boasted right of public meeting, the right which has been celebrated all over the world and has been honoured in some countries by the word "meeting" being transcribed into their langauge in order to show that they are copying us—it is perfectly correct to say that there is no right of public meeting in this country. It is also correct to say that there is no wrong in holding public meetings. In other words, our system of law has allowed the practice of free public meeting to grow up out of the more general rights of the citizen and without any sort or kind of formal declaration. I am going on to call it the right of public meeting. Everyone will understand what I mean. It is built up on this that, if one, or 1,000, or 10,000 people can find a place in which they can get up and talk to each other, they are not committing a criminal offence by doing so and, if they are committing a civil wrong by trespassing on someone's land, that does not matter unless the someone objects. So in that way public meetings have gone on in this country for a great many years.
The ordinary person who wants to express unpopular views—and when we talk of toleration it is no use talking about tolerating any but those who express extreme views; I, myself, am a person of very violent views, but I have not the faintest difficulty in tolerating views with which I agree—persons who want to express unpopular views as a general rule cannot hire buildings. In the first place, they have not the money, and in the second place they would probably be refused buildings; there would be some plausible excuse, as in the case of the Albert Hall, and it would be found that they could not get a building. So they seek to hire the open air. You cannot get a field in London or in any large town, and the natural tendency is to use the highway. The most important venue of the modern public meeting, especially in industrial districts, is the highway or some open space which, in effect, forms 1550 part of the highway. As a matter of civil law you have no right to use the highway, and the owner of it could, in fact, tell you to go away, and if you did not go away, could get an injunction from the county court. That may be ruled out as not important, but I only use it to show how the thing goes.
In practice the police, if they want to stop you from using the highway, must discover some major or minor criminal offence that you are committing. Sometimes it is made, perfectly bona fide, an obstruction of traffic, so that every time a noble lord turns out two more cars from his factory and places them on the road, it makes it more difficult to hold a public meeting, though that would not be his primary object. It may be obstruction of traffic, or the fear that you are committing or may commit a breach of the peace, and what may happen in some cases is that, however innocent you may be, the look of your face or the words you utter may lead someone else to a breach of the peace. If any of these things is discovered by the police, they call, in effect, bring your meeting to an end. I think that probably the Committee will agree that, if that is the position of the law, it will work very well indeed as long as there is good will, and that it can be a most potent instrument of oppression as long as there is no good will. That is the much-praised right of public meeting in England. With good will on both sides, it will be possible almost anywhere to hold a public meeting without causing any real bother, as long as you do not compel people to listen. We have not got to that stage yet. But given police authorities who do not want particular views to be expressed, either because they do not like them or because some inspiration from higher up does not like them, it will be discovered that any street in which you want to hold a public meeting is freely used by traffic, or that some police constable can suddenly entertain most plausible fears of possible disturbance which will be welcomed by some lay magistrate who may have spent the best years of his life in teaching negroes in Kenya to behave in the way he wanted them to behave. He may be a colonel in the Territorials, or he may hold the same political views as the people charged, though that does not 1551 often happen. That combination will not merely bring many meetings to an end, but it will bring them to an end before they have really started.
Middle class sympathy can always be enlisted. They generally think that the police are right. They only too often have the feeling that the people who express unpopular views should not really be allowed to express them at all. You can always lend an air of plausibility to the enterprise of stopping the meeting by offering, as was offered in one case, an alternative site 175 yards away. It sounds so plausible, but if you cannot get an audience 175 yards away you might as well be 175 miles away. If I were now compelled to be 175 yards away, the views of hon. Members opposite might differ as to the benefit they would derive, but they would not, in fact, hear my speech. The very difficulty and complexity of this law means that in every case where a point has to be decided, it is not merely decided by the magistrate who might be swayed by sympathy, but it is decided by litigation, in which the police stand on one side, with the whole machinery and the whole money of the law—the money voted in this Vote—and the poor man stands on the other side, often without the money with which to hire the services of a solicitor. I hope that I shall be forgiven for trying to explain the law. I do not think that this Debate can very well be carried on unless we try to understand the law. That is the law, and that is my first complaint. I have no doubt that many hon. Members opposite believe profoundly that there is not a word of truth in the complaint. Therefore, I want to give a few, but not too many, illustrations of the way in which it has been worked.
Hon. Members may remember that there is a thing called the Trenchard ban. I think that I can tell the Committee what the Trenchard ban means, but it is so wrapped in obscurity and secrecy that it is almost as difficult to discover what it is, as it is to discover what are the decrees of the Nazi Government. Put broadly, the Trenchard ban forbids any public meeting to be held in the vicinity of an employment exchange. Lord Trenchard had no more right to do that than I had. He had no right at all, and no sort or kind of justification. The first thing that people affected by this ban did 1552 was to try to discover how he had purported to do it. There was no announcement or reference to any Statute, no publication and no information, and I think it was in the end by a breach of confidence that it was discovered what, so far as we know, Lord Trenchard had purported to do. He had purported to give directions to constables under the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, directing them to prevent such meetings under provisions designed for the protection and order of the streets in the times of Royal and other processions, around palaces, and in various other places of public resort. When the occasion really arose in which it might be challenged and the meeting was actually held near an employment exchange, the parties who desired to test this matter were promptly summoned not in any way connected with the employment exchange, but on a charge of obstruction of the police in the exercise of their duty.
I will tell the Committee later how their duty is alleged to arise. That secret and mysterious order has been used in practice certainly all ever the Metropolis, and, I think, in many other parts of the country, whenever anybody has attempted to hold a meeting near an employment exchange in order to shut them out and send them away. Of course, the middle class would say, "Why do they want to hold a meeting near an employment exchange?" They want to express their political views, and it is part of our whole governmental theory that they should be allowed to do so until they either get into the realm of sedition, or they become so intolerably boring that everybody walks away. Why do they want to hold meetings outside employment exchanges? Because under the happy arrangement of our prosperity today, of which we hear so much from the benches opposite, the place where you can find most members of the working class are at the employment exchanges. They try to hold a meeting near the employment exchange in the same way that advertisers put up their placards not at the bottom of a canal but in Piccadilly Circus, where there are lots of people. That is one illustration, that is the Trenchard ban, and it is much more important to a great many people than hon. Members might imagine.
There are a very large number of other matters to which I would refer. It has 1553 become a regular practice of the police in many districts to announce in advance that certain meetings will be prohibited. Indeed they seem to have set up a regular system of deciding what meetings shall be permitted and what meetings shall not be permitted, and one even finds active Left Wing political leaders talking about this meeting being prohibited and that meeting being permitted, exactly as if we were living in the Prussia of the seventies of the last century. Except in certain towns where they have bye-laws and in certain special areas such as are governed by the Statute which protects this House from anybody holding a meeting, say, in the vicinity of this House, as a general rule it is true to say that the police have no more right to prohibit or permit a meeting than I have. Yet it has already practically become part of the machinery. It has an air of great plausability, because everybody will be anxious to agree that in regard to holding meetings in busy towns nothing seems, prima facie, more reasonable than that the parties who are to hold the meetings should accommodate themselves as far as possible to the traffic conditions. But this has become quite definitely a scheme for preventing the holding of public meetings. There was one case in which a chief constable was good enough to try to bargain. He said that he would allow them to hold a meeting if they would allow their opponents to hold a meeting at another time.
I must point out that on this Vote the only responsibility of the Home Office is for the police of the Metropolitan police area. Beyond that the responsibility is not on the Home Office but either on the standing joint committee or on the local watch committee, and the Home Secretary has no power.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
On a point of Order. As this point has been raised so often, I should like your guidance and ruling in order to help us for the future in our debates on this issue. The Vote that we are now discussing provides an Estimate for 1936 of £11,000,000 odd, being grants towards police forces inside and outside the Metropolitan police area. Can you tell us how it comes about that on this Vote we are not entitled to raise any question at all about the 1554 administration of the police in the Provinces? May I illustrate my argument?
I have been on a local authority, and whenever a point of police administration has arisen under a provincial local authority the town clerk has invariably referred us to the Home Office. When we come here to debate this Vote we are told that we must go to the watch committee or the standing joint committee. It would be well if you could clarify the position for the purposes of the future.
I will do my best to respond to the hon. Member's invitation, The position as I understand at is this: under Statute, the Metropolitan police are the direct responsibility of the Home Secretary. It is his responsibility. He can give orders to the Metropolitan police, and they are bound to obey them. He has responsibility for that. In the case of the provincial police he cannot give orders. The orders to them are given by the statutory authority, which is the standing joint committee in the case of a county and in the case of a borough, if it has an independent police force, it is the watch committee. They have absolute control over the provincial police, and the Home Secretary cannot give orders to them. The most that he can do is to circularise the local authorities and give them advice. In so far as that matter can be discussed it does not arise on this Vote, but on the Home Office Vote in regard to administration. The only responsibility of the Home Secretary in respect of the provincial police is that he can inspect them and see that they are efficient. If his inspectors find that they are not efficient he can withhold part of the money to be granted, but he cannot withhold a grant because they stop meetings or because they do not stop meetings. That is outside his jurisdiction. He can withhold the grant only if they do not come up to certain standards of efficiency. That is why I and my predecessors have held that the provincial police cannot be discussed except on the Vote for Home Office administration.
§ Mr. DAVIES
While thanking you for your ruling, I am still in a difficulty, because you said that on the salary of the Home Secretary we can discuss the administration of the provincial police.
What I meant to say was that the Home Secretary, as Home Secretary, can make certain suggestions in respect of the provincial police, but he is not responsible as to whether or not anybody follows those suggestions. He can make suggestions as Home Secretary but that does not come on this Vote but on the other Home Office Vote.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I hope that you and the Committee will forgive me if I pursue this matter a little further. I have been a Member of this House for many years and have heard this point raised on many occasions, and I should like to have it clarified. How comes it about that the police administration, in regard to which Parliament makes grants, falls under a different category from the grants made by other Departments of State to local authorities? For instance, in connection with public health and education, the administration can be discussed and criticised on the Floor of the House. I know that the police do fall in a different category as to certain departmental functions on behalf of the State, but I have never been able to understand why the provincial police fall in a different category for the purpose of criticism than teachers, sanitary inspectors and the rest employed by municipalities and in respect of whom Parliament makes grants. I should like to know what is the difference in the treatment of the police as against the rest.
The difference is this. I am not at the moment prepared to go into the ramifications of the Ministry of Health, which are many and which come under a very large number of Statutes. I should be very sorry to carry them all in my head. In regard to education, the Minister has far more direct power not only by withholding grants but by being enabled to insist in certain cases on certain things being done. For instance, in the case of a teacher there is an appeal to the Minister. The point in regard to the provincial police is that the Home Secretary cannot give orders. He has no responsibility there. He can no more give orders to the Manchester Watch Committee what they are to do than I can. Therefore, he could not be held responsible for any action taken by the Manchester police. 1556 The fact that we grant money under this Vote—we provide money under many Statutes—and that we can withdraw it, does not open up for discussion the administration of the provincial police under this particular Vote.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am not a legal person, but as we are moving a reduction, are we not entitled to argue that we do not want to vote this money because we are dissatisfied with the manner in which the authorities to whom the money is going are carrying out their duties? Surely, whatever responsibility the Home Secretary has, we also have a responsibility and a right to say to whom we will vote money. I should have thought that as we do not vote money until grievances have been discussed and redressed, we have a right to withhold the money and to give reasons why we should withhold it.
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is quite correct. The effect of withholding this money from the rest of England would merely be to impose a charge on the rates. It would have no other effect whatever.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Surely that is the responsibility of the local authority. The Minister of Health used to make grants to Poor Law authorities and he could withhold them, in which case the charge went on the rates. In this case it is obvious that it would go on the rates unless the authority reversed its procedure. What power has the House of Commons over the money we are going to vote to-day to see that it shall be spent in an efficient manner from our point of view? We have a right to hold an opinion.
Unfortunately this matter is governed by Statute. That is the difficulty in this case. By Statute the responsibility is definitely placed on the local authority, and we can only discuss here those matters which the Department can remedy. In this case the Government Department has no power whatever. That is the problem.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Does that mean that if a local authority misuses money granted by Statute, this House has no right to call it into question? If it has not, we might just as well not bother, but let the money go without any discussion at all, I am not questioning that there is a 1557 statutory obligation to vote this money under normal conditions, but if an authority is using the money in a wrong way, surely we have a right to stop it.
In a case like that it could not arise in Committee of Supply. Undoubtedly the question depends on what the right hon. Gentleman means by "misusing" If it is not carrying out the terms of the Statute, yes, but as long as it has complete statutory authority, and is acting within its statutory authority, we can only discuss it on a substantive Motion.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
If an authority to whom the money has been granted under Statute has in the opinion of this House not administered that money in a proper manner surely we have a right to discuss it and to say that we will not continue the grant?
No, I am afraid that all we can do is to discuss it within the limits which under Statute we have left to ourselves. Under Statute all we can interfere with, so far as the Provinces are concerned, is when the police force is not being kept up to an efficient standard; that is the statutory power which governs this matter. By our own action we have taken away our powers of criticism and, therefore we must abide by it.
§ Mr. DALTON
When you gave your ruling you used the phrase "standards of efficiency." Under this Vote there is a grant-in-aid to local authorities for local police forces and the duty of the Home Secretary is to satisfy himself that proper standards of efficiency are being maintained in the police forces. Is it not in order for us to bring forward evidence that in many important respects standards of efficiency are not being maintained by some police forces, and would it not be in order for hon. Members to cite cases of gross inefficiency in the conduct of the police in certain provincial areas, and thereby put themselves in order under your ruling?
§ Earl WINTERTON
May I remind the Committee of a case which occurred before the War—the Newton Abbot police force. Hon. Members opposite thought that the police had shown partiality towards the supporters of the Conservative party in an election, and endeavoured to 1558 put questions to the Government which Mr. Speaker Lowther ruled were out of order. They also tried to raise the same questions on the Adjournment, but were informed that they were out of order.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I want to thank you, Captain Bourne, for your ruling which, of course, follows precedent. Some of us are so dissatisfied that we intend to make inquiries to see whether the House of Commons can remove the barrier against our discussing these problems.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
I rather gathered from your ruling that it is not possible to discuss the action of the provincial police on any occasion in this House. I submit that while it may not be possible to discuss the action of the provincial police on Supply, it is open, to us to do so on a Vote on Account. I have a distinct recollection that earlier this year I was able to raise the action of the provincial police of Cambridgeshire, and I want to put this to you, that there are occasions in this House, perhaps not on a Supply Day, when it is possible to raise matters connected with the provincial police.
I remember the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) raising a matter connected with the provincial police, but not on a Vote on Account. As to what circumstances may arise in the House with Mr. Speaker in the Chair, it is not for me to say. I can assure the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) that if lie can find some method of preventing the Chair always having to stop hon. Members in these particular debates nobody will be more pleased than myself.
§ Mr. ALAN HERBERT
I would like to ask your guidance on one point. I have put down an Amendment to reduce Vote 10 by £100, and I should like to know whether that Vote is before the Committee now or whether it is to come on later. I want to discuss the conduct of Fascist meetings in the Provinces and to suggest that the Public Prosecutor is not doing his duty in failing to stop them. Will there be an opportunity of raising that point?
Matters arising under Vote 10 can only be raised if the Vote is reached to-day, and the 1559 question raised by the hon. Member is not a matter for which the Home Office is responsible. Whether the Vote will be reached to-day is completely outside my power, but, if it is, then the question of the hon. Member will have to be dealt with on its merits.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. PRITT
The only matter into which I wanted to go, so far as the provincial police are concerned, is a matter of efficiency, if they are to stand by while bodily harm is inflicted and then fail to make the necessary inquiries for a prosecution. I was going to mention that one of the methods used by the police to stop meetings is to apprehend that there may be a breach of the peace either by the people attending or supporting the meeting, or by other persons who are thought to be hostile to the meeting. That point brings one, or will bring one at some stage, to a very interesting question. The English courts have in the past gone a very long way towards seeing that people who are going about their lawful avocations, even holding meetings, demonstrations or processions, ought to be protected, even if other people feel so strongly hostile to them that those other people are likely to bring about a breach of the peace; in other words, that, except in circumstances of emergency, people must be allowed to do what they like, if it be lawful, even if in doing it they are likely to lead other people to cause a breach of the peace.
One of the most singular illustrations of the length to which police action has gone recently, and which would have been quite unthinkable 30 years ago, is a case which arose last year, or the year before, connected with a lady named Mrs. Duncan. She went to a piece of street in the Metropolis which was a cul de sac, where admittedly she could not cause any obstruction to the traffic, with the object of holding a meeting of the ordinary sort which hon. Members on this side of the House have been addressing for many years. Nobody suggested she was committing any breach of the peace or intended to commit any breach of the peace, but the police told her she must not hold the meeting, and when she insisted they arrested her, before the meet- 1560 ing even began, and charged her with obstructing the police in the execution of their duty. It was duly held that it was their duty to prevent the holding of the meeting on the following mealy-mouthed and extraordinary grounds. It was said: "Oh yes, Mrs. Duncan was not going to commit any breach of the peace and nobody said she was going to do so, but our hearts are filled with anxiety because of the following singular facts: 14 or 15 months ago Mrs. Duncan addressed a meeting in this same place and some hours later on the same day, in an unemployed workers' centre on the other side of a big brick wall, there was a minor disturbance, not amounting to a breach of the peace, and the gentleman in control of the centre sent for the police in order that there should be no breach of the peace."
§ The SECRETARY OF STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Simon)
I am very sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman and I have not the slightest desire to interfere with the course he wishes to take, but it is rather important that we should understand the relation which you think it right to maintain between the decisions of the courts and criticisms of them in this House. The hon. and learned Gentleman says he is referring to a case decided by the courts which it is unthinkable should have been so decided.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The hon. and learned Gentleman said the case was decided in the courts last year and concerned somebody named Duncan. There was a case decided in the courts last year, that of Duncan and Jones, in which Mr. Pritt, K.C., and Mr. Dingle Foot, appeared for the appellant, and in which the Lord Chief Justice of England and two other High Court Judges decided that the argu- 1561 ment put forward for the appellant was not well-founded, and one of them said he thought it was a plain case. The hon. and learned Gentleman, I apprehend, is perfectly within his rights in urging that the law should be changed, but as I suppose I may have to answer on this subject, I want to know whether, when the time comes, I have to champion the view of the Lord Chief Justice against the view of the hon. and learned Gentleman.
The reply to the right lion. Gentleman is a very simple one. What is laid down by a competent court of law we must regard at the moment as being the law of the country. On, Supply we must not discuss matters involving legislation. A change of the law would necessitate legislation, and therefore it is out of Order on this occasion.
§ Mr. PRITT
I have been in controversy with the right hon. Gentleman for something like 25 years. I have known him, both when it was convenient and when it was inconvenient to misunderstand a point; but, while it may be the fault of my obscure language, I have never known him to misunderstand a point quite so fully as be has to-day. I was not intending to make any sort of reflection on the courts. I was criticising the conduct of the police and saying that their conduct would have been quite unthinkable 30 years ago. I was saying, in fairness and en passant, that their conduct had in fact been approved by the court. I had no intention whatever of discussing the coma; my whole point is that the law is in such a difficult state that it is extremely easy for the police to take repressive measures and find that often they are approved of by the courts as acting in accordance with the law. I am criticising the police alone.
The argument they put forward, and which, as I said before, met with the approval of the courts, was that 14 months ago, following Mrs. Duncan's speech, there had been a disturbance, not even a breach of the peace, which was attributed by the gentleman. in charge of the centre to Mrs. Duncan's speech—although he did not know what Mrs. Duncan had said and had no evidence whatever that Mrs. Duncan had said a single thing which was unlawful—and to 1562 that the police added their own expression of fear that if Mrs. Duncan were allowed to make another speech there might be another disturbance later in the day in the same unemployment centre. I think it is fair to add that they feared that that disturbance might amount to a breach of the peace. There was no suggestion whatever that the presence of one constable in the centre for half an hour in the afternoon would not have completely removed any danger there might have been. There was no thought for a moment for the idea that it is the duty of the police in this country to restrain breaches of the peace and not to restrain other people from pursuing perfectly lawful activities because, if they do, somebody else might commit a breach of the peace in another place at another time.
My submission to the Committee is that that is something which would have been unthinkable 30 years ago, but a thing which is so commonplace to-day that the moment I begin to attack the police the right hon. Gentleman, having one of the acutest minds in England, thinks naturally and inevitably that I must be attacking the courts instead. That excessive anxiety to avoid taking half an hour of the time of one police constable in the afternoon, and instead of that taking the time of half a. dozen police officials in one form or another to prosecute Mrs. Duncan—this is the interesting contrast—is the action of the very Metropolitan Police who, not many months afterwards, were going to spend thousands of pounds in ensuring—and in many ways rightly ensuring from the point of view of English constitutional law—that nothing should stop Sir Oswald Mosley saying anything he wanted to say however many breaches of the peace might follow.
I will give one other illustration of the conduct of the Metropolitan Police. I do not want to be thought ungracious in doing this, because I know that the Home Office and the right hon. Gentleman himself, the moment the matter was drawn to their attention, said that the police behaved very badly and that the matter would be put right. The instance to which I am referring is one which occurred recently at Walthamstow. A Communist meeting was being lawfully held, without obstruction, in the place where it was usually held. An inspector 1563 —it may have been a sergeant—of the police came along leading a. little body of Fascists who preferred to hold a meeting there. He took the Communist speakers and threw them out bodily by force, put the Fascists in their place and let their meeting go on. Everybody agreed that it was quite indefensible and the right hon. Gentleman very frankly said so on the Floor of the House, if I remember rightly. What we want to know is where did the sergeant get the idea that it is part of the functions of the police to turn the Communists out and to put the Fascists in? How high up in the long hierarchy from the sergeant to the inspector from the inspector to Lord Trenchard or Sir Phillip Game or from Sir Phillip Game to even higher authorities, did this idea arise? From where did this strange illusion come to the poor sergeant? He did not get it out of his own head.
The Metropolitan Police a few years ago arrested a man in a building where there were documents which they wanted to examine. They waited until the man was in the building before they arrested him and then they swept the whole building of documents. They took away, I understand, about a hundredweight of documents to Scotland Yard, searched through those documents at their leisure and sent most of them back. When they were sued in the High Court for trespass and a sum of money by way of damages was awarded against Lord Trenchard personally, the attitude of the police was significant. In effect, they said "Unlawful—of course, it was unlawful "—and they very nearly added" What do we care about that." It is all part of the regrettable feeling which is growing up that if the people with whom the police want to deal have left wing tendencies, it does not matter what is done with them. There was another instance two or three years ago when the hunger marchers were about to reach London. It appeared to occur to the authorities then, that it would be a great convenience that two well known left-wing leaders—called, I think, Mann and Pollitt—should not be present at the time of the arrival and the Director of Public Prosecutions caused them to be arrested 48 hours before the arrival of the marchers and charged with seditious speeches. Having started the proceedings, the 1564 authorities had to carry them on, and the prisoners were brought before the Assizes. The words which had led to their arrest were words which, if they had been uttered by the late Joseph Chamberlain in the prime of his life, would have been regarded by his enthusiastic revolutionary supporters as so jejune that they would have thought that the great man was losing his grip. What is more to the point is how these words—the word alleged to have been used—were regarded by the learned judge at the Assizes.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman is now criticising the Public Prosecutor, I must point out to him that that question would arise on Vote 10.
§ Mr. PRITT
I am criticising the police who, presumably, carried through the proceedings under the direction of the Public Prosecutor. The words in fact were so thin and feeble that the learned judge had grave doubts as to whether he ought to allow to go to the jury the question of whether they had been used or not.
§ Mr. PRITT
I accept your Ruling, Captain Bourne, and would only add that perhaps I was not unjustified in mentioning the case as showing that this tendency on the part of the police in regard to the treatment of speakers of the left is of several years growth. I commend to the right hon. Gentleman a comparison between the way in which these people are treated if they use the mildest possible language, and the way in which Lord Birkenhead, Lord Carson and Lord Brent-ford were treated in 1913.
I must point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman that in Committee of Supply we 1565 can deal only with the current year, and we must not go back to previous years.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
With all respect, Captain Bourne, I submit that that is a somewhat narrow Ruling. When we discuss the Colonial Office Vote, for instance, we are surely entitled to refer to what has happened in the history of the Colonies. Last night we discussed Kenya. In dealing with circumstances in that Colony to-day, are we not entitled to refer to what has happened in previous years and to quote instances showing a stream of tendency in administration leading up to events of the present day? Without asking that the Home Secretary should make himself responsible for what happened three years ago, I submit that we are entitled to give examples showing the growth of a tendency. Surely, it will unduly cut down our debates if we are to make no comparison with and no reference to past events.
I rather thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman was making a criticism of what had happened in the past. He is entitled to quote examples, but he must not criticise cases which do not come within this Vote.
§ Mr. PRITT
I was mentioning that as a case in point and praising it, comparing the way in which the authorities behaved then with the way in which they behave now. I attended recently a political meeting in an industrial area where feeling runs high and I heard a speaker declare, with regard to his attitude on the next war, that, in his view, shooting, like charity, began at home. Afterwards I took him by the arm and said, "My lad, that will not do" and he replied "Oh yes it will. Lord Carson said that in 1913." And the right hon. Gentleman who is now Home Secretary and who, I think, then was Attorney-General advised that it was not a matter for prosecution. That shows perfectly that since 1913 the right to express unpopular views in this country has gone back a century and a half. They do not need the Six Acts now; they use the Metropolitan Police.
I am afraid I have taken a long time, even if I do not count against myself the interruptions of the referee's whistle, 1566 but I want to contrast with the cases I have given the way in which Fascists are treated and the way in which they are allowed to behave. The Metropolitan Police make elaborate and costly arrangements to protect the holding of Fascist meetings and I, for one, though I daresay I shall be very unpopular with a good many people for doing so, admit that within limits that is right. The limits are, of course, that as soon as, it becomes evident and established by precedent that the Fascists are using these meetings to cause breaches of the peace and to utter insulting language, the protection must cease. I am not going to criticise that protection. I only propose to remind the Committee of it by way of contrast with what happens when left wing elements want to address meetings.
A far more serious charge is that there are frequent cases in London and the country of inefficiency in the sense that the police stand cheerfully by while Fascists "beat up"—and I use the words advisedly—bystanders or listeners or hecklers—and there is nothing unlawful in heckling—and also stand by while Fascists use words of a most inciting character. Again, I shall be making myself unpopular with some people when I say that I agree that all possible latitude should be given to Fascists and to everybody else to use language of some vigour, but there is a definite point where language of vigour is one thing and incitement to violence is another. I want to give a few illustrations—and I really am coming towards the end now—of conduct of that kind. The first of them comes from the City of Oxford. That is a case, I submit, of the gravest inefficiency on the part of some members, and some highly placed members, of the police force in the City of Oxford. There was a meeting held there on 25th May of this year, and the previous precedent had made it quite plain that if Sir Oswald Mosley held another meeting there, there would be reason to expect a breach of the peace. The police thereupon attended that meeting and stood in the background, some distance behind a double row of uniformed, imported Fascists, some of whom—
The hon. and learned Member is now criticising the efficiency of the police of Oxford, and 1567 that is the very thing which I have ruled he cannot do under this Vote.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I intend to abide by the rules of the House and to put a point of order if I wish to do so. I would ask you Captain Bourne, with all respect, whether it will be in order to reply to what the hon. and learned Gentleman has just said. He has criticised what he describes as the inefficiency of the police in their conduct of a meeting. I submit that the Home Secretary has no power in this matter and that therefore we cannot discuss it on this Vote. The Home Secretary's power, I submit, merely extends to the size of a police force and whether it is kept in an orderly state of discipline.
I must point out to the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) that it does not come within my ruling as to efficiency. The question which he has raised is not a question of efficiency within the meaning of my ruling.
§ Mr. PRITT
I am obliged to the noble Lord opposite for elucidating the 'matter. I though I was following with the closest care your ruling, Captain Bourne. As I understand it, I am entitled to submit to this House that the £11,000,000 which is paid to the provincial police forces should be reduced by a nominal sum because their administration is inefficient. If I had gone another sentence or two, I believe that the noble Lord, although I do not suppose we see eye to eye on many things, would agree that I was criticising the inefficiency of the Oxford police. My charge is that they attended that meeting and watched at a moment when—
That is exactly what is not meant by the word "efficiency" in this connection. The only 1568 thing that covers efficiency is whether the men are properly drilled, properly trained, and properly clothed.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
On a point of Order. Is it not part of the efficient training of a policeman that, first of all, the police should be selected of sufficient intelligence to know, or to be trained to know, when a breach of the peace is being perpetrated, and therefore, if a provincial police force is kept in such a state that they can stand by and see breaches of the peace committed and take no action, surely that is a matter in which we are entitled to complain of the training of that police force and that they are not efficient?
No; that goes far beyond any ruling, which has been given over and over again in this House, as to the responsibility of the Home Office towards provincial police forces. There have been many rulings, going back over many years, that we cannot discuss in this House, the conduct of the provincial police.
§ Mr. PRITT
I bow to your ruling, but as this is a somewhat long incident, and many parts of it may come under different heads, I would like your ruling on this point: Is it part of the efficiency of the Oxford City police force which we are allowed to criticise here that a police officer refuses to apprehend identifiable persons alleged to be guilty of causing grievous bodily harm?
§ Mr. GALLACHER
On a point of Order. May I have an explanation on this point? How is it possible to know whether the police are efficient or not unless by watching how they carry out their duties? Surely you cannot consider efficiency apart from the expression of efficiency in the carrying out of duty?
As I have already ruled, the carrying out of their duty is a matter for the watch committee, and not for this House.
§ Mr. PRITT
I bow to your ruling fully, Captain Bourne, and as a lawyer I can well understand that there may be grave differences between the application of the word "efficiency" by lawyers and its application by common men. I can 1569 understand, as a lawyer, that it is not any part of the efficiency of the police to stand by while people get concussion of the brain or to apprehend people who cause concussion of the brain.
Now I come to another matter. I mentioned the police standing by while Fascists beat people up, and I will mention a few illustrations, drawn from London, of how the police stand by while Fascists utter statements that are obviously criminal in their incitement. I have here a letter from a member of the Bar. I cannot perhaps claim to call him my friend, because I hardly know him well enough, but I have great respect for him. He holds a minor but important Government position, and, so far as I know, he is no politician at all. On Sunday morning last he attended an open air meeting at Hampstead Heath and heard a Fascist speaker say:Whatever has been done to the Jews in Germany is nothing to what we are going to do to them here when we get into power.Then he turned to one of the people who were listening to him and said:And that is meant for you in particular.My colleague at the Bar writes:A couple of policemen, grinning fatuously, stood by.If it is not cut of order, I would mention that I have heard repeated stories of what goes on at these regular open-air meetings on Hampstead Heath on Sunday, and I have advised people to get shorthand notes taken. They have told me, rightly or wrongly, that if they have a shorthand writer to take notes, the shorthand writer will be very glad if there are several hospitals quite near by. That is merely one illustration, and I know that other hon. Members have innumerable illustrations. I had another one brought to my notice recently, which, so far as I can ascertain, on examination, is pretty reliable. I have this from Stepney, that in the presence of the police—indeed, a speaker threatened the hecklers that he would have them removed by the police if they objected to what he was saying, and what he was saying was:Rats and vermin from the gutters of Whitechapel. Jews are the biggest owners of prostitutes in the West-end.And think of this, to people in a poor and crowded neighbourhood: 1570Jews stole your jobs and houses while you were fighting in the war.He referred to "dirty Jews," and, as I say, threatened one interrupter that he would have him removed by the police. The police were there in large numbers, mounted and unmounted. It is a classic symptom of capitalism in decay that people are working up this old and tragic persecution of the Jews as scapegoats for the evils from which everybody is suffering. If you want a dreadful result of how the laxity of the police has led the Fascists on in this respect, let me refer to a publication called "The Fascist" of July, 1936, in which I read these words:It is well established, in spite of many shameless denials, that Jews practise the ritual murder on Christians in order to obtain fresh blood to mix in their ceremonial Passover bread.That old, that brutal, that cruel accusation preceded every pogrom in Russia, every pogrom in Poland, and if the Government do not act it will precede pogroms in this country. It is the Metropolitan Police laxity that encourages these publications to put in stuff like that. I am not going to quote more of these things. I know that the Government want to stop them. But I do not believe that the resources of the Metropolitan Police have been used with sufficient courage and sufficient activity to bring a stop to things of that sort. On the other point I have mentioned I expect nothing but controversy from the other side, although I am not therefore any less confident that I am right, but on this point about the recent behaviour of the Fascists I know that I have a great deal of sympathy on both sides of the House, and I press upon the Government to use all the courage, all the power, and all the organisation they have to put a stop to that sort of thing. England will lose still more of her reputation as a country of free speech; she will lose still more of her reputation as a country in which violence rarely occurs, and we shall read of more and more racial and class antagonism, we shall have ever more and more bloodshed, if the police do not use their powers more resolutely.
§ 12.19 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I would like briefly to reinforce the appeal of the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) that the Metropolitan 1571 Police should make every effort to prevent any incitement to violence such[...]s he has just mentioned. I have no case to bring forward of actual incitement to violence, but unquestionably incitements to great prejudice against the Jews are being made not by a Fascist organisation but by another organisation, the National Workers' party. The propaganda put out by this body may very well reinforce the direct incitement to violence that the hon. and learned Member has mentioned, or create an attitude of mind in the community generally in which acts of violence would be condoned. I have here a leaflet of the National Workers' party in which I find this:It is the Jews who have so misused the money system in their own interests with the avowed object of securing world power, that they have deliberately produced war, civil commotion, crime and disease.The leader of the party, Colonel Seton Hutchison, in a. "personal statement" makes a more specific declaration:He will use all his influence and power to prevent British men from again being sent to the shambles in the interests of Jewish finance and the arrogant ambition of Jews to order and control the world.The importance of that statement is in the word "again," because it, of course, conveys that British men have already been sent to a war promoted by Jews. In yet another leaflet this accusation is made clear. It says:We will not permit the cream of the youth of our country and of the Empire to be sent again to the shambles to line the purses of Jews and their puppets.That seems to me a most terrible suggestion to make. This is a doctrine which is being preached to gatherings of ex-service men. A meeting of the Workers' Party was held in Bradford in January, arranged by the Bradford Branch of the British Legion. It seems to me a terrible thing that propaganda of that kind should be put before ex-service men. It must necessarily increase the bitterness of those who have been disabled by war, and certainly it will not help to fill up the gaps in our Defence Forces.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I have perhaps strayed from the point which is this: Such statements are likely to create great prejudice and to add force to the direct incitements to violence which are being made before other audiences. This very leaflet is headed, "Don't send your son to the shambles of a Jew-made war." If statements of that kind are being made in areas where there are many Jew shops or Jews are employed, they may very well lead to violence. That, therefore, seems to me to reinforce the plea for the utmost vigilance and efficiency on the part of the Metropolitan Police. As the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith said, direct mention is being made of the persecution of the Jews in Germany. That statement was made by a member of the Fascist party. There appears evidence that the Workers' Party is more closely associated with the Nazi party in Germany. As recently as January the title of the party was the National Socialist Workers' Party.
I still cannot see any connection between the speech of the noble lady and the Vote before the House. She has not so far suggested either that the police ought to stop this or take any action about it. We are not discussing the merits of the question, but what action the police ought to take.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Propaganda of this kind is widespread and it may very well lead to actual violence against the Jews unless the police are vigilant in the exercise of their duty. I am glad, therefore, to have had an opportunity of reinforcing what the hon. and learned Member has said on the subject.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
We owe a debt to the Noble Lady, though she was not strictly within the rules of Order, for having called the attention of the Committee to the kind of propaganda that is going on in an attempt to stir up violence. I think this discussion is according to the best traditions of the House of Commons. We are particularly the guardians of the civil liberties of the citizens, who have a right to look to the House of Commons to ventilate grievances, and expect us to show that we are conscious of what is the most elementary right of the citizen, namely, protection 1573 from force on the one hand and the stirring up of bad feeling and bringing about of riots on the other. I am not going to say anything against the police as a body. We, in London, are proud, and have been for a hundred years, ever since the force was started, of the London police. After all, the police are a necessary evil. We would like to do without them, but we must have them. The good traditions of the London police show the kind of force we ought to have. Our policemen have a reputation for good humour and absence of militarism and for the fact that they are able to go about carrying nothing, but the homely baton. The London police have been the envy of the whole world. The foreigner coming to London is surprised to see the absence of militarism and the apparent ease with which the police handle the crowds at great public gatherings. That, of course, is to the credit not only of the police, but to the citizens of London.
In the past there has always been cooperation between the police and the public, because it was known that the members of the force came from the people. Their tradition has been due to the fact that in the past they have been regarded as not too efficient. I see that the Home Secretary laughs, but I want him to remember that. It is well to remember the old "Robert," the old "Bobby" who has been the butt of "Punch" and other papers for generations; and the very fact that he has been regarded as a good-humoured and not too efficient person has been in his favour. During the War there arose serious lawlessness in this country, but, compared with that in New York and Continental cities, it was comparatively mild. The result was that there was an outcry in the Press to make the Metropolitan Police more efficient. There were cases in the papers of smash-and-grab, motor car stealing, cat burglaries, and so on, and the cry was "Bring our police up-to-date." The result was that we had a series of very efficient chiefs of police starting with General Horwood, followed by Lord Byng and Lord Trenchard, and now we have another distinguished officer. These heads of police have all been able men, most competent and efficient, good organisers and men of the highest character. They undoubtedly aimed at improving the organisation and administration of the police service. They aimed 1574 at purifying its administration. There were suggestions of corruption, which I think were vastly exaggerated, but there were suggestions of that character, and no doubt there has been a clean up.
There is, however, a real danger in aiming at efficiency of removing the traditional character of our force and of making them too efficient and more military, and less like the police of our old English tradition. I admit that at the present time they have extraordinarily difficult problems to deal with. I represent an East End district. In the 30 years' experience that I have had of it we have been extremely free—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) will bear me out—from riots, especially race riots. Men of alien origin have been able to live alongside their British friends without friction and bad blood. Since the War we have had the phenomena of the Fascists, a body of alien origin making very little appeal to the ordinary English elector. I remember an excellent debate we had in the last Parliament when it was decided, on the whole, to ignore the Fascists, to take no drastic proceedings, and to give them no unnecessary advertisement. My view is that they have made very little progress in popular favour since they have been established.
Unfortunately, they are resorting now to methods that are irritating, annoying and stirring up bad feelings. I have been present at at least one of their meetings. They commence by annoying the populace by marching in military formation and wearing uniforms of semi-military character, headed by a band and taking a very aggressive attitude. The one thing the East End does not like is the military. When there is any trouble at the docks, everybody knows that the one thing to do is to keep away the soldiers. There is something in our free traditions in Great Britain that dislikes military organisation. The very fact that the members of this body wear uniforms and march in military formation is provocative in itself to the public at large. One of their meeting places is Victoria Park Square. A large van looking like a police van, which in itself is irritating, arrives on the scene with a spot light, and in due course there marches on the scene the military organisation of the Blackshirts. The next thing that happens 1575 is that a body of police arrives. If the police do not arrive there is a fear of riot, but if they do arrive the general impression is that they are there to give special protection to these organised semi-military bands.
I have been speaking in the open air for more years than I remember, and I have never had any trouble with the police, and have never asked for police protection. I have always had, and I hope I shall still have, a good deal of interruption, and there has generally been good humour, but if I have not been able to be clever enough to deal with the interruptions, or if my voice has not been loud enough to shout down the interrupters, the fault has been my own. In the case of the Fascists, however, the speakers make the most provocative statements. They start their speeches with a lot of platitudes, more or less harmless, which make no impression on the public and then proceed—it is quite right what the hon. and learned Gentleman said—to indulge in abuse of the Jews, trying to stir up bad blood and bad feeling. They have been singularly unsuccessful up to the present, they have made very little impression on the public, but the fact remains that if any member of the audience, whether Jew or Gentile, interrupts, the police—I do not say this in criticism of them, it may be they act because they are afraid of trouble—immediately elbow the interrupter out of the crowd, and sometimes, I have been assured by the mayor of the borough, the interrupter is even taken to the police station.
There is a feeling going right through the East End that somehow or other the police are acting in collusion with the Fascists. Frankly, I do not believe there is a word of truth in that suggestion; but I do say that this new form of holding public meetings in organised military fashion is most undesirable and may lead to serious repercussions. Already, as a result of this kind of organisation, other bands are appearing on the scene. We have had the Greenshirts, with very different aims; I believe their motives are very different, but it is an imitation. There is also reason to believe—I think there is every probability of it—that in due course we shall have the Redshirts, I suggest that it is a matter for serious consideration whether something should 1576 not be done to prevent the wearing of unforms of semi-military character by organisations with political aims.
But surely that would require legislation, and, if so, it would be out of Order to discuss it on this Vote.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
I am not sure about that. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will put me right about it. I am not sure whether it is illegal to wear uniforms of a semi-military character, except on the part of the armed forces of the Crown. We have tolerated the wearing of uniforms in the case of the Salvation Army, because that is an organisation of a religious character, but I am very doubtful whether it is strictly legal for any organisation in the country to wear uniforms with Sam Browne belts and to march in organised military fashion. I agree that if it requires legislation to stop it, it is a matter beyond the purview of this Committee.
Now I wish to turn to something of a less general and of a more particular character. I have said in my opening remarks that there is a danger of the police becoming too efficient. My many years' experience in the East End of London has shown me that the relations of the ordinary citizen with the police have been of a friendly character, but with the new speeding-up of the police I think I can show that the organisation has become such that it leads to trouble and friction. The other day I was approached by a constituent of mine, a man called Renshaw, who came to see me on the advice of his doctor. It had occurred to him that his Member of Parliament was the right person to approach to get a grievance redressed. It seemed that on the 16th June he was sitting at home when two plain clothes detectives broke into his house and stated their desire to search his premises. He very naturally and properly asked for the warrant. That warrant was not forthcoming, was not produced. When he resisted the search he and his wife were subjected to physical violence. I do not want to exaggerate the physical violence used. The actual blows, so far as I can learn, were not of a very serious character, but the fact remains that, without a warrant, first, entry was violently made and, secondly, a search 1577 was proceeded with against the wishes and against the resistance of the occupiers of the house, Renshaw and his wife.
It seems the explanation is that there was a third plain clothes police ran, an inspector, who had the necessary warrant, and the suggestion is that this inspector was tripped up—whatever that means, I suppose he was interfered with—by some roughs or "bookies." That was outside the house, it did not occur inside. He arrived five or ten minutes after the arrival of the other two officers. I understand that is not disputed. I suggest that it is carrying the new spirit in the police force too far—after all it was not a very serious case, not a case of murder or burglary; at most it was a case of a breach of the Betting Act—for two plain clothes policemen, before the arrival of the warrant, to force their way into the house and begin to search it, and it is something about which the people concerned have a right to call for an explanation. Incidentally, they do not ask for damages, they do not even ask for payment of their doctor's bill; all they ask for is an apology. I asked a question about it in the House last Monday week and I was told that the case was sub judice.
I allowed another week to elapse, and put another question on Monday, and then I was told that the real explanation was that there was a young man who was wanted by the police for an offence under the Betting Act and that he disappeared. That was three weeks after the original breaking into the house by these two detectives. I approached my right hon. Friend as an old colleague and he told me that his whole difficulty was that this man could not be found by the police. I made very careful inquiries—I have not the organisation of the police but I have friends down there—and I was assured that this man had signed on regularly at the employment exchange—he was on transitional benefit—and that he had slept every night except one night at home, and that if the police would take the trouble they would find him without difficulty. What happened? Immediately I gave that information to the right hon. gentleman five of his plain clothes detectives turned up at the house. I do not know whether 11 o'clock at night was the hour, but 1578 it was just as the old people were going to bed.
One can understand the effect that kind of action has on the neighbourhood—that for an offence under the Betting Act, a high-powered car with five detectives should arrive late at night is not likely to cause good feeling between the police and the neighbours. It is not surprising that the police were not made welcome. I understand the language was abusive, that the adjectives were not such as you, Captain Bourne, would permit me to use in Committee. But is it surprising that the son-in-law of the people in question let the police have it hot. Despite this marvellous organisation of the police, despite the speeding up under the new military system, they could not find the gentleman in question but I was able to produce him without difficulty, because next day I made an appointment for the police at his house and in due course this young man was identified—that is all they were after—as the young man they wanted for this particular offence.
I suggest that the authorities should have sent an ordinary policemen in blue, who could have found out everything that was required. It has been explained that this is a very dangerous neighbourhood, but again a police car, containing five plain clothes inspectors appeared in this quiet back street in the East End. Although it is said to be a very dangerous neighbourhood, I have been walking about that neighbourhood for the last 30 years, and if I have been in that street once I have been in it 100 times. I have canvassed it backwards and forwards. All the people in the place know me, and I know most of them. If it is safe for an elderly gentleman like myself to walk about that street, why should it take five inspectors to identify a man charged not with murder, but with some comparatively minor offence?
I do not want to exaggerate, and I know that the people themselves do not want to exaggerate, the importance of this case. I understand that the occupiers of the house, Mr. and Mrs. Renshaw, are not charged with anything, but they have been subjected to gross indignity, and there is a large amount of indignation in the neighbourhood. They have been subjected to, at any rate, sonic physical violence. I do not think it 1579 would be ungracious or against the spirit of the London police for an apology to be made to them. That is all that I ask, and I hope that it will be forthcoming. These people do not pretend to be saints, and I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary will be able to show that they are not a model of deportment. They are, on the whole, quiet, respectable people. They have lived in their house for 25 years. I hope that this new spirit will not be introduced into the organisation of the police. I am afraid that I have brought the discussion from the general to the particular, but, when it comes to police administration, the right of the individual to non-interference is paramount. It is the right of every citizen of London.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Captain MACNAMARA
While I shall not attempt to answer the arguments of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) in reference to this case in the East End of London, it will be only fair to point out that because it is safe for the hon. Member who represents the street to walk down it, it does not necessarily follow that it is safe for a policeman to do so. I was slightly amused at his remarks about the efficiency of the London Police Force and the speeding up of that efficiency. He criticised that speeding up, but may I ask what would have happened under the non-speeded-up efficiency of the London Police Force? Surely we had had sufficient evidence that modern crime is being speeded up, and therefore the police force should be modernised so as to be in advance of the crook. I know the hon. Gentleman's arguments, and I see his point. It is a comfortable doctrine, that of English efficiency. Perhaps it is a doctrine which satisfies his party and has brought his party where it is to-day.
The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), who moved the reduction, has the cause of civil liberty at heart. All of us would hate to see the rights of the citizen encroached upon, or his liberties reduced; at the same time, behind the hon. and learned Gentleman's friendly attitude, he has levelled charges—and, I think, grave charges—against the administration of the police in this country. He said that the police are slowly crushing the expression 1580 of public opinion, and that the working class opinion of the police is unprintable. That is his theory. I have an exactly contrary theory, which is that the working class of this country look up to the police. It is not only hon. Members on that side who represent the working class; we represent them, just as much as do hon. Members on that side, and I am sure that the working class, as law-abiding citizens, are content with the attitude of the police force.
The hon. and learned Member also complained that left-wing elements in this country have not had an opportunity of hiring public halls or of freedom of speech in public places such as is accorded to other schools of thought. It may be true—I do not know the circumstances—about the Albert Hall, but in my experience I have seen a great number of left-wing meetings held in public and in private, apart from the Albert Hall. I am certain that the Communists, who are, I think, one of the most left-wing movements in this country, have been given ample opportunities of holding meetings in public. He also protested against the elaborate and costly arrangements made to protect Fascists meetings. What would you have otherwise? Would you call the police force off and allow the Fascists to hold their meetings without costly and elaborate arrangements? If you allow Fascists to hold meetings at all, surely it is the duty of the police to see that the meetings are peaceful. It is not for the police to say whether the meetings are to be held or not, but if they are held the police are justified in making costly and elaborate arrangements to keep the peace. If you called them off you would let hooliganism loose.
The hon. and learned Member charges us with losing our reputation more and more as a country for free speech. I consider that that is an unfair and un-just criticism. If his arguments had been directed to other countries, or even to other parts of the Empire, they might have been more justified, but they are certainly not justified in England. In England we are allowed to speak freely, and our free speech is the envy of the world. I speak with a certain amount of experience and as one who has been in a good many countries and seen a good many riots—in India, in France, during the riots, in Germany during 1581 their riots, in German concentration camps, in Spain, Ulster and elsewhere. I could say that we dislike these movements coming from the East, an east wind which sets our teeth chattering; movements from Germany, Russia or elsewhere, which are causing difficulties for the police force of this country; but his charges are unfounded. His speech was more like a south-west wind in summer, warm and rather misty.
The rôle of the Government in this country is twofold—to use force if necessary, and to maintain order at all times; at the same time to use influence to educate people to speak and act in such a way as to make the use of that force unnecessary. It is to that second point that I wish to devote the second part of my speech. As far as possible, of course, a country becomes happier as the Government of that country becomes more unnecessary. What we are looking for is confidence in fair play, and we are looking for that, not only from the police, but from a great many sections of the public besides the police. We are suffering at the moment from the aftermath of a great war. The problems with which we are faced are not all new problems. There is a great deal of discontent, as has been experienced in history before. There is, as the result of the Great War and the upheaval caused by it, a groping towards new ideals in many countries. Some of those ideals may be favoured by one party and despised by another, and the methods used to achieve them may not always meet with one's respect. But this spirit of discontent and groping towards new ideals is loose in the world to-day, and the result is that people are treading on each other's corns.
The dictatorial methods abroad are having their repercussions in this country. We none of us, of course, want this country to be dictated to by any one person or any one faction, but in other countries one sees a sacrifice of the liberty of the subject freely given in certain respects, and the repercussions are undoubtedly affecting us in this country to-day. With that is coming a spirit of intolerance—intolerance, not only in one party, but in many parties and in many sections one of the other; and through that spirit of intolerance the police have to steer a central and wise course. Their difficulties are very great indeed, and I 1582 feel that what is needed is that we should give them a word of praise and encouragement during a very difficult period in the history of the world and of this country. We deprecate, perhaps, the political uniforms and the marchings, but these are not confined to one movement. It is not only the Fascists who march in political uniforms. On May Day I saw people with blue shirts and red ties—I think a Communist organisation—[HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] Who were they?
§ Captain MACNAMARA
If they are a democratic boy scout movement, why were they holding a political demonstration in Hyde Park on May Day?
§ Mr. SORENSEN
Boy scouts frequently go to Hyde Park and take part in demonstrations for other than political objects.
I do not gather that there is any suggestion that the police should do anything about that, so I hardly see how it arises on this Vote.
§ Captain MACNAMARA
I was wondering where the police came in, because I noticed that the police were marching beside this organisation in blue shirts and red ties in just as friendly a manner as the Opposition allege they have been doing with the Fascists.
I come now to the question of Jew-baiting. All Members on this side of the House deprecate the tendency to Jew-baiting just as much as do the Mover of the Amendment and all other hon. Members opposite. It is very unfortunate that this tendency has arisen in this country. It is ungentlemanly and very un-English, and I very much hope that we shall all be able to use our influence, and, if necessary, our force, to stop a very horrid evil that seems to be creeping in. The Fascists undoubtedly are offenders in this respect, but, because certain Fascists are going into this Jew-baiting, it may not necessarily be fair to level a charge of Jew-baiting at Fascists in general. I am not defending the Fascists, but I am defending the police in their conduct at Fascist meetings. When the police go to a Fascist meeting. they cannot stop a Fascist from speaking 1583 before he starts simply because certain Fascists in other parts of the country have gone into this Jew-baiting. They have to wait until the meeting develops and see how it progresses; and then, if insulting words or behaviour or incitement to violence comes out in the course of the meeting, the police, of course, would take action. One more word about the Fascists. I have heard in various parts of the country and in this House accusations against the Government and their supporters that they are pro-Fascist because—
§ Captain MACNAMARA
I am glad to have that confirmation—because they insist that the Fascists shall be given freedom of speech in this country, as is the case with any other political organisation. It is vary unfair to accuse them of being pro-Fascist because they merely insist upon fair play. I think that no one in this country, and certainly no one in any foreign country, would respect our Government if they did not allow the police to give freedom of speech to any political organisation in this country, provided that that organisation did not incite to violence or sedition. They have to be fair, and I suggest that the best way to secure that end is by educating our democracy in this country to a sense of responsibility. There are certain safeguards which give one courage. It is in our character to be fair. There is a great English characteristic of which a striking example was shown in the action of the boy, King Richard II. We have a tendency to see the point of view of the other man, and sometimes to take up the leadership of the other man. When the rebels came to London, and their leader rode forward and was struck down by the mace of the Lord Mayor of London, they shouted, "Who will be our leader?" and the boy King Richard II rode forward and, to the rebels who had risen against him, said, "I will be your leader." That may happen again in the politics of this country. I should not be at all surprised—I have noticed certain tendencies to it already—if we found that, the Socialists and Fascists having some ideas in common, the one went to the other and said, "I will be your leader." In that case we might find that between the two they 1584 would make Socialism respectable and Fascism rather dull.
As to the general charge that civil liberty does not exist in England, I deny it. The Government of this country allows opposition from all quarters. There are questions in this House which go on every day for an hour, and at that time every subject may be aired—a great safeguard of our civil liberties; and, as regards the particular department whose Vote we are discussing to-day, I must say that the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the Under Secretary always seem to me to be exceedingly reasonable and sympathetic in their answers to any questions, from whatever quarter they may come. We have courts that are independent, not controlled by the Government and not controlled by the executive, and the courts of this country never hesitate to censure the executive, including the police force, if they consider it to be necessary. That, again, is a great safeguard. One knows time and again of magistrates or judges who censure a policeman or a chief police constable for some action that he has taken. That shows, in my opinion, that liberty exists and that the subject, whoever he may be, is accorded equal rights. The police are checked if they err. Habeas Corpus is still alive. The police have the duty of maintaining order. Then we have the press, which is free and able to speak its mind.
Sometimes I feel that we might all insist upon more order at political meetings whatever may be our party. I fought an election in the East End of London where opposition was organised and free speech was denied, not by Fascists, who took no part in it, but by other parties who organised deliberate resistance and deliberate denial of free speech. The weapon once forged and invented, as has often happened in history, is turning to be used against the people who invented it. If we are to maintain our civil liberties we all want to continue educating our own supporters to a sense of responsibility and order at public meetings so that what is legitimately desired to be preached may have a fair hearing, and we may have a spirit of fair play.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
We shall all agree with the last part of the hon. and 1585 gallant Gentleman's speech. We all feel that the preservation of the right of free speech and of a free press is something which everyone, no matter what his Opinions, should stand for. I should like the Home Secretary to know that there is a strong feeling among large masses of the people that in this sort of case the balance that the authorities hold, or should hold, is always weighted against what is called the unpopular side and, without going into a lot of history, which is not very ancient, I trace the situation in which we now find ourselves to the days about 1885 or 1886 when the Irish question first came very much to the front and Trafalgar Square was for the first time closed against the people who previously had had access to it whenever they so desired, and regulations were made prohibiting meetings. It was closed because of fear of disturbance. A very few years later on the other side of the Irish Channel there arose a movement which usurped the power of the monarch to raise armies and, in defiance of law and order and the constitution, an army was raised and continued in being until the great War and forced the Government of the day to take such action about an Act of Parliament which had never been taken in history before.
Since that time, it seems to me that the authorities have deliberately held a different balance for the women's suffrage agitation and the labour movement generally. They have not merely tolerated what amounts to sedition in one part of the country—they were then responsible for what is now Northern Ireland—but members of the Conservative party in the Privy Council were the leaders of that, while in England, Wales and Scotland women in the suffrage movement and men in the Labour Movement have been treated with very little consideration. If you are to get obedience to the law, the law must be administered equally between all citizens. We must riot pick and choose as to when we will take action for the suppression of things that may be said or written or of actions which we may consider illegal. We must deal with them all alike. During the years immediately preceding the War the question that we are discussing was up on innumerable occasions. On one occasion I should have been suspended from the service of the House if I had not walked out to save being suspended. It was on 1586 a similar point to this. The then Home Secretary was a good Liberal, but he was not holding the scales fairly as between the absolute rebels in Northern Ireland and the handful of women who were doing things they were supposed not to do. [An Box. MEMBER "Who was he?"] Never mind who he was. There were two or three. Like the Foreign Secretaries that we have nowadays, we had a new one every other day.
I want to bring the Committee to this point. Out of all these difficulties there arose the practice of note-taking at public meetings, and there are a good many Members, myself included, who, because of that note-taking, have found themselves in the courts and been sentenced to terms of imprisonment. The defence of that principle of note-taking was that it was the duty of the police to hear what was said at a public meeting in order that, if it was illegal, and likely to lead either to sedition or to a, breach of the peace, action could be taken. At that Box the late Lord Brentford read out what purported to be a verbatim report of part of a speech that I made at Poplar. He was trying to prove that I was a very violent, seditious speechmaker. I am not sure whether I was or not, but the point that I want to bring out and want the Home Secretary to deal with is, Do you send competent note-takers to Fascist meetings, and have you the same record of what their speakers say that you used to have, and I believe now have, of what Communist speakers say That is a very important part of this business. I maintain that if note-takers were at the Fascist meetings, the statements that they make would immediately bring them to the notice of the Public Prosecutor. Everybody here knows how often members of the Communist party, suffragettes, and suffragette speakers and others have been taken to court for something they have said. I speak quite sincerely when I say that I do not remember any of us being charged with words that have any relation from the point of view of incitement to those which are used by Fascists to-day.
I am not making any charge against individual policemen. In my district we get on very well indeed with the police. They have to carry out the orders which are given to them, but the Home Office and the authorities generally ought by now to have a really big dossier of what 1587 these gentlemen say on their platforms, that is, if they are treating them in the same way that they treat the Communists. I cannot think that they do so, otherwise there would be prosecution. The Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl) quoted from leaflets and newspapers. How often has the "Daily Worker" been prosecuted for using less violent language against individuals than that which she read out to-day? It is no use saying to us that you cannot find sufficient police to attend all meetings. You found enough note-takers to attend every kind of meeting connected with the Labour party, the Communists and the Suffragettes. Not very long ago I raised the question in this House of the police going into a meeting—I do not know whether they do it now—and demanding from the chairman information as to who were to speak, who they were and where they came from, and so on. That was defended at that Box because it was said to be the duty of the police to know who spoke at those meetings and what they were saying. I ask the specific question: Is there a note taken of what is said at these meetings, and, if not, when are you to start doing so? It ought to be done at all these meetings.
There is, I believe, in nearly every East End district, east of Aldgate, real terror among the Jewish population. The Home Secretary and the Home Office generally ought before this to have been able to put a stop to what happens not once, but at regular intervals in certain parts of the East End. Reference has already been made about the bands and how these gentlemen arrive, but ordinary citizens in other parts of the country do not understand how the sellers of literature go into a market-place full of Jewish traders and use the most foul language to them. I have taken the trouble this morning to inquire from reputable people whether this sort of thing still continues, and I am assured that it goes on at regular weekly intervals. These men go down the street offering their paper and at the same time use most cruel language about the Jews, and occasionally the Jews retaliate. The average costermonger or street trader is a decent, jolly, good-humoured person, whether he is Jew or Gentile, but there are times when 1588 people are called big bastards, and other foul names, and they can stand it no longer. When it is as persistent as this the Home Office and the police ought to know about it, and be able to send plainclothes men into those localities for a week or a month to put an end to it.
I cannot help feeling that people in this country do not realise that the trouble in Northern Ireland and this sort of Fascist dictatorship in Germany and Italy grew up out of exactly this sort of propaganda. If it had come all at once, it could not possibly have succeeded, but there were months and years of steady persistent propaganda, putting everything on to the Jews—"The Jews bring shortage of food and goods," "The Jews are rich and you are poor," and "The Jews make war," and so on—and in the end as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) said, you get the pogroms. I was at home a week or two ago when I was implored to go to a certain district in East. London because the people were terrified lest there might be one of these outbursts. It is not merely that the Fascists are insulting the Jews—that is only part of the trouble—but they are inciting others to attack them, and to visit their horror and spleen upon these unfortunate people. I am a firm believer in free speech and a free press. There is one thing I value more than anything else, and that is the right to say what I believe, but that right—and the right of anybody—to speak must be circumscribed by the fact that I must not be allowed to blackguard those with whom I disagree in such a manner as to incite people to treat them as the Jews are being treated to-day, and to lead to a condition of affairs where Jews, as in Germany, Poland and elsewhere, are not allowed to live and are treated as people outside the pale. I beg any hon. Member who is going to take part in the debate and to defend the police to remember that unless this thing is put an end to—I have known East London all my life—there will one of these days be such an outburst as few of us would care to contemplate.
It is not far-fetched for me to say that I saw the anti-German riots in East London when the "Lusitania" went down. God knows that was bad enough. No one except those who saw 1589 those incidents can realise what temper and passion will do for men and women when it has been let loose. People who had lived for years peaceably, quietly, comfortably with their neighbours, suddenly found themselves made responsible for something for which they could not possibly have been responsible otherwise, just because they were born of their parents. Now the Jews, once more in their history, are persecuted and driven from Central Europe, driven hither and thither by these dictatorships, and here in this land, where we have been proud in the past to say that it was a place where people fleeing from injustice could come, people who were horn in this country and whose forbears had been here for centuries, find themselves gibbeted, as it were, and attacked in this foul manner. I do not want to stop the Fascists from preaching their theories, I do not want to prevent anybody from preaching their theories of Government, but I do want to stop this terrible incitement and intimidation which, if it is not put an end to, will I am confident, lead in East London to the most terrible reprisals.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Mr. H. STRAUSS
The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), with his characteristic eloquence, has said a great deal with which, I think, hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will agree. I was very glad that he did not associate himself, nor did the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir Percy Harris), who spoke for the Liberal party, associate himself, with the extraordinary statement made by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), who, I regret, is not in his place, that working class opinion of the police was unprintable. I shall be very much interested to hear in the course of the Debate whether any hon. or right hon. Member who sums up the case for the Socialist Opposition associates himself with that remark of the hon. and learned Member. While there was a great deal in the speech of the hon. and learned Member with which I profoundly disagree, he made one remark with which I emphatically agree. He pointed out, quite justly, that there was no particular merit and no particular difficulty in not interrupting a speech with which you agreed, but that toleration 1590 consisted in allowing free speech for those who were expressing views with which you disagreed.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I agree, and I am glad to hear those sentiments from hon. Members who belong to the Socialist party.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
No. If the hon. Member had been listening more closely he would have heard that I agreed with it. It will be a great comfort to the Conservatives in such a constituency as Sea-ham Harbour to know that members of the Labour party are emphatically in favour of free speech for their opponents. That will come as a surprise to some of them. It is very regrettable that in a great number of constituencies it has been virtually impossible for those putting forward Tory views to get a hearing at all, not on account of the un-willingness—
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Entwistle)
Will the hon. Member bear in mind that we are dealing with the administration of the Metropolitan Police, and that his remarks are going somewhat beyond the Vote?
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I was trying to follow the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith in what he said. I will deal with London. I am very anxious that the free expression of opinion by all political parties should be freely enjoyed. That is a necessity for the good working of democracy, and I know that that sentiment is shared by a great many members of all parties. I am a little surprised at what I might call, in the language of the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Labour party, the dualism in the attitude of the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith. He pleads for freedom of speech and says, quite rightly, that belief in that means toleration not merely of your friends but of your opponents, but he has never disguised his great admiration for the tyranny that exists in Russia, nor has be expressed the slightest disapproval of what is called the liquidation of the Kulaks. A great deal has been said about the Fascists, but it is quite as 1591 painful to be liquidated by the Socialists as to be knocked out by the Fascists.
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must bring his remarks into relation to the administration of the police. We cannot go into a wide discussion on this Vote.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
With one of the remarks of the hon. and learned Member in regard to freedom of speech I agree. He said that the difficulty that arose in London was largely due to lack of space for open-air meetings, and that there might not be means for meetings elsewhere. I agree with him about that, and I think it would be a deplorable thing if the amount of open space available for the purpose of meetings was further reduced. In town planning much more attention should be paid to that question. When the hon. and learned Member attacked the Metropolitan police for prohibiting meetings in streets, he was unfair and did not disclose some very material facts. He mentioned a case—I am only going to mention it in the same way as the hon. and learned Member was permitted to mention it—Duncan v. Jones, a case which be knows very well as he appeared in it, as did also the Junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). We cannot, of course, discuss the merits of the decision, but the hon. and learned Member relied on that case to prove that the police took a novel and unreasonable course. It is material to point out that the speaker in that case was offered an alternative place for the meeting, 175 yards distant. The suggestion was made by the hon. and learned Member, without giving any reasons at all, that it was a very unreal offer and of no substantial use. There is no evidence to bear out that suggestion. No doubt it would have been more convenient to go where the unemployed were already assembled, if the speech was mainly addressed to the unemployed—but it would not have been impossible for the unemployed to move 175 yards.
Let me also invite attention to the findings of fact in that case. The court found that the appellant must have known of the probable consequences of her holding the meeting—namely a disturbance and possibly a breach of the peace—and was not unwilling that such consequences 1592 should ensue, and that the police authorities reasonably apprehended a breach of the peace. That finding must be accepted. There was no new law and no new practice. The court expressly distinguished the well-known case of Beatty v. Gillbanks, which was also mentioned by the hon. and learned Member, though not by name. The decision lends no support whatever to the contention that the police were taking some new and unjustified step to interfere with the right of public meeting in London. He also mentioned the case, again in an attack on the London police, of Elias v. Pasmore, and said, if I understood him correctly, that in that case the police took up the attitude that their action was illegal, but that the illegality did not matter. If hon. Members will examine that case they will find that there is no justification for saying that that was the attitude of the authorities. Rather that case is an example of the preservation of the rights of unpopular or minority representatives. Damages were given and were recovered against the authorities. It did not decide anything novel.
Hon. Members in all parts of the House who are most anxious that violence should not be introduced into our conduct of discussions and who wish to discourage the development and extension of Fascist opinion, will, I hope, follow the advice of the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley when he recommended patiently listening to, and not interfering with, expressions of opinion with which they disagree. I have attended a Fascist meeting once, and the remarks made did not strike me as being very amusing or intelligent. I do not think that many who go to such a meeting find much to tempt them to go to another. There is one thing alone which tends to secure for the Fascist movement sympathy from a large body of opinion which has never attended a Fascist meeting; and it is this: The Fascists have been able to represent with some plausibility that they are the first people who have been able to obtain an expression of non-socialist opinion in certain areas. I regard that as of very great importance.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I am not for the moment discussing what is in the mind of those who interrupt me, but I could mention many cases where it has been 1593 impossible, if it were in Order. My own political experience has been mainly outside London and I do not wish to say anything for which I cannot personally vouch. But I am saying something which is within the knowledge of everybody. [Interruption.]—Hon. Members, apparently, do not follow the point I am making. I am saying that the experience which many have had in certain areas where, say, a Conservative candidate has endeavoured to put his views forward, is that he has been prevented by organised opposition.
§ Mr. MATHERS
May I ask the hon. Member if he is making the allegation that opposition to prevent the expression of free speech has been organised by the Labour party?
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN
I do not think we can go into this matter. The Vote is concerned with the administration of the police and this is going very much beyond the terms of the Vote.
§ Mr. FOOT
If this sort of thing takes place within the Metropolitan Police District it is a matter for the police, or at any time may become a matter for the police under the terms of the Public Meetings Act, 1908.
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN
But it is not a matter for the police as to whether an opposition is organised officially by the Labour party or not.
§ Mr. TINKER
If an hon. Member charges another party with organising opposition, surely we are entitled to know where?
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member did not do that. He was asked a question, but the question was out of order. I do not think the subject should be pursued.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I am so Anxious not to be unfair to hon. Members opposite that if I had been allowed to reply my answer would have made it clear that I was not making a charge against the leaders of the Labour party. I am not suggesting that it is done by the Labour party, but I am suggesting, and I speak from experience, that it is done by organisations of people who consider themselves supporters of hon. Members opposite. I am suggesting in all serious- 1594 ness that if they are sincere, as I believe them to be, in their opposition to Fascism, there is nothing they ought to be more anxious to preserve than an absolutely fair hearing for their political opponents. I believe that if that free expression of opinion were generally conceded by all, the very difficult task of the police would be very much facilitated. The task of the police at these Fascist meetings is extraordinarily difficult. The necessity of preserving free speech entitles those meetings to be held. The breach of the peace, if no police were present, might be very serious. If they are present in great numbers, undoubtedly it may give rise to the erroneous opinion that they are going out of their way to protect people, who, in the view of some people, do not deserve protection. I join in the plea made by the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me that shorthand notes should be made at all meetings where it is reasonably apprehended that a speech may be made which should be the subject of criminal proceedings. I have no reason to think that that is not being done already by the Home Office, but if it is not, I agree that it ought to be done.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I think the hon. Member's remark ought to be addressed to my right hon. Friend who will reply for the Home Office. Speaking for myself, I think the important thing is that the shorthand writer should be competent and one whose evidence is likely to be accepted in a court of law. I would say that, on the question of civil liberties, I think there is in this country, among all parties, a much larger measure of general agreement than is sometimes supposed. I think the preservation of those civil liberties is of extraordinary and increasing importance, and I suggest in all sincerity to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that there is no way in which they can better promote the cause which they say they have most at heart than by ensuring for their opponents a free expression of their opinions any-where in the country.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Mr. FOOT
Whatever views hon Members may hold I think it will be agreed that we have had an extraordinary interesting discussion this morning, particularly as nearly every speaker has spent a large part of his time in struggling with the rules of Order. All the hon. Members who have spoken have referred to one aspect or another of civil liberty, but it has been made clear several times from the Chair that it is not in order to raise the question of the rights and liberties of the subject and how far they are being infringed. If I were in order, I would have liked to refer to the growing encroachment of the Executive both in the sphere of this House and in the sphere of the law courts, which is, I think, even more important. I regard that as much the greatest threat in this country to-day to the rights and liberties of the citizens, but it is a subject that I cannot pursue on a Vote for one particular Department. I think hon. Members above the Gangway have performed a valuable service in bringing up this question to-day and showing, whether the charges brought forward be well-founded or ill-founded, that at any rate this House is always jealous of anything which seems to infringe the rights of free speech. I am bound to say that I do not think there has been any very serious infringement as yet. I think the greatest threat we have had to free speech in this country came a year or two ago when we had the Incitement to Disaffection Bill, as it was originally drafted. Fortunately, although it reached the Statute Book, a great many of its most objectionable features had been removed before then.
It seems to me that there are two ways in which the rights of free speech and free expression of opinion in this country may be endangered in the near future. First, there is the question which was raised by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) of the prevention of open air meetings, particularly in the streets. I do not entirely associate myself with everything the hon. and learned Gentleman said, but it seems to me that there is a certain danger in this matter, and that it is a matter which should be very closely watched by the Home Secretary. We had a dissertation on the law from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North 1596 Hammersmith, but I believe it is correct to say that what it comes to is that the police can practically always prevent a meeting on a public highway if they choose to do so. They can always say, generally with truth, that the meeting does constitute an obstruction, if it be only a technical one, and in nearly every case they will be upheld. Consequently, in practice, whatever, the niceties of the law may be, they really have complete discretion as to meetings which are held in the streets.
All I ask is that that discretion should be judiciously exercised and that nothing should be done which would give the appearance of the police leaning to one faction as against another. This is not a question simply of allowing one or two people to address meetings at street corners, but it is a very dangerous thing if people believe, even without foundation, that there is some kind of favouritism as between one side and another on the part of the police. The principle which we ought to observe in this matter was laid down very clearly in 1928 in a Debate in which the House was concerned with the conduct of the Metropolitan Police on a certain occasion. A speech was made by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Home Secretary. He was dealing with the Savidge case, and he said:The matter is not merely one of whether the Metropolitan Police are deserving of the confidence of the public; what is very nearly as important is that public opinion should be reaffirmed in the view that it can safely give it to them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1928; col. 1320; Vol. 217.]I do not think the principle which I am trying to emphasise this morning could be more clearly stated than it was in those words. It would be very unfortunate if it were supposed that the Metropolitan Police—I do not think the situation has arisen outside the Metropolis—were more ready to prevent one party from holding street meetings than they were to prevent another party. I think that is one way in which there might be at any rate some infringement of the rights of free speech.
Secondly—and here I am bound to say that I agree with my hon. and learned Friend opposite and an hon. Member who spoke earlier in the Debate—although I do not propose to follow the subject in, view of your ruling—I agree that one 1597 way in which the rights of free speech in this country may be threatened is by the deliberate refusal of a tearing at public meetings. I do not say that it is particularly the fault of hon. Members below the Gangway, and I have heard them condemn that form of tactics. But it has been the experience of many of us—and it takes place in the Metropolis as well as outside and particularly I think in the East End of London—that when you go to hold a public meeting you are met with an elaborately organised oposition. It is not a question of mere interruption—nobody minds that—or occasional shouting. It is a question of gangs, sometimes 100 or 200 strong, who come to meetings determined that the speaker shall not be heard if they can prevent it.
§ Mr. SORENSEN
Will the hon. Member explain precisely what he means by organised interruption. In those cases should it not be his business to notify the police of what is, after all, an illegal act?
§ Mr. FOOT
The police in many cases are perfectly well aware of it, and it is not necessarily an illegal act in itself. What I am saying is, that it is perfect nonsense for hon. Members above the Gangway to deny that this constitutes a threat to free speech. I have not attempted to put the blame on them. The hon. Member asked me what I mean by organised opposition. I say that when you are fighting an election, and when you find that you are followed from one meeting to another by the same gang of people, sometimes in considerable numbers, and when those people occupy stragetic points at each meeting and endeavour by deliberate shouting and singing to prevent the speaker getting a hearing, that is just as great a threat to free speech as anything that may be done by the police authorities or anybody else. I am not saying, necessarily, that hon. Members above the Gangway would excuse tactics of that kind, but I say that that sort of thing is carried on by people who purport to be associated with the Communist party.
§ Mr. FOOT
I suggest to the party above the Gangway that tactics of that sort disgust the average elector in this 1598 country, and that it would be unfortunate for them in future, as I think it was in some constituencies at the last Election, if they were tarred with the brush of those who indulge in such tactics.
We have had some reference in this Debate to the question of the police and Fascist meetings in London, arid in dealing with that question I feel sure that I am in order, because the problem is confined to the Metropolitan Police district. The first point which I would put to the Home Secretary in this connection is about the future action of the police in dealing with indoor meetings. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that after the famous meeting held by Sir Oswald Mosley at Olympia a year or two ago, the question was raised in the House of Commons of why the police had not entered the meeting in order to quell disturbance. The view was taken by the Home Secretary of that day that the police were not entitled to enter an indoor meeting unless they had good reason to believe that a breach of the peace was actually being committed at the time.
That was the view which the Home Office then took of the law, but things have changed since then. The question of the right of the police to enter an indoor meeting has been raised in the courts in the case of Thomas v. Sawkins, and other cases with which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is familiar. It has been held that the police have the right to enter an indoor meeting without becoming trespassers and even against the wish of those holding the meeting, if they have reason to believe that a breach of the peace is imminent at that meeting. A few months ago I went to the meeting held by Sir Oswald Mosley in the Albert Hall. Nothing of great interest took place in the part of the hall where I was seated, but I could see that from other parts of the hall people were being forcibly ejected. I am not going to pass judgment as between those who ejected interrupters and those who were ejected, but it followed from that meeting that various accusations were made of unnecessary force having been used in throwing out interrupters.
Hon. Members who are familiar with the geography of the Albert Hall know that there is an arcade or gallery run- 1599 ning right round the hall outside the actual auditorium. I saw a number of police there, and I think throughout the meeting a considerable number of Metropolitan police were in that part of the building. That is to say, they were within the building, but not within the auditorium. From time to time there were loud and violent interruptions of the speeches. Would it not have been better if the police, basing their action on the decision to which I have just referred, had gone into the hall and had seen for themselves exactly what was taking place. I do not think that anybody standing just outside the hall could have had any doubt that in certain parts of the hall breaches of the peace were taking place which would have justified entry by the police. If the police had been within the hall seeing what happened, from the moment any person interrupted to the moment of that person's ejection, we would have been able to decide rather more clearly as to whether unnecessary force was used or not, and indeed it is possible that the very presence of the police would have prevented the use of unnecessary force. I would like to hear the Home Secretary's view on the question of the police entering public meetings, following on the decision which I have mentioned.
Hon. Members especially those representing constituencies in the East End of London have referred to the provocative language used by Fascist and Black-shirt speakers. I do not think there are two opinions about that in this Committee. I think if we were called upon to take a decision upon that question, such language would be condemned by every hon. Member. But some hon. Members in referring to the subject have mentioned incitement to violence, and I gather that what they have in mind is this—that when Fascist speakers ascribe to the Jews all the ills that flesh is heir to, they are inciting people to be violent against the Jews. I think I am right in saying that incitement to violence is an offence in this country and that the authorities have full power to deal with provocation to violence, which is not quite the same thing. You may use incitement to somebody to commit violence, or you may provoke your opponents to violence against you.
1600 The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will be perfectly familiar with the decision in which this matter was dealt with. In fact. I think he referred to it, though not by name, in a debate in this House a few months ago. That was the decision in Wise and Dunning, a case in which a Protestant lecturer had held meetings in public places in Liverpool, causing large crowds to assemble and obstruct the thoroughfare. In addressing those meetings he used gestures and language which were highly insulting to the religion of the Roman Catholic inhabitants, of whom there is a large body in Liverpool. I will not read the whole case, but at the end, when dealing with what the court held, it reads:Semble justices have jurisdiction to bind over to be of good behaviour a person who, in addressing meetings in public places, although he does not directly incite to commission of breaches of the peace, uses language the natural consequence of which is that breaches of the peace will be committed by others, and who intends to hold similar meetings and use similar language in the future.I should have thought that the sort of thing of which we have been hearing in the East End of London was very similar to the circumstances in that case. In the one case you had a Protestant lecturer going into a Roman Catholic district, and in this case you have these anti-Jewish speakers, whose aim it is to stir up anti-Semitic passion, going to a part of London which is very largely inhabited by members of the Jewish community. May I express the hope that the authorities will not overlook the possibility of dealing wth this kind of provocation under the powers which it is clear they possess?
Finally, I would like to make one other observation, arising out of something that was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith. He referred to the subject of what is called the Trenchard ban, a direction given by the Commissioner of Police, I think in the year 1931, that public meetings should not in future be held outside labour exchanges. The Commissioner was acting under powers given him in the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, the relevant Section of which empowers him to give directions to his constables in order to avoid crowds gathering or congestion, on occasions such as Royal processions or anything of that kind, when 1601 crowds might be expected to gather and to cause obstruction. The point that I want to make is this, that those directions are never published. They do not even attain the dignity of statutory rules and orders, which are published, though sometimes they are difficult to get at, and if anybody in the ordinary way wanted to find out what directions the Commissioner of Police had given to his constables, I do not think there is any way in which he would be able to do it. We here might be able to find out by putting a question in this House, but I do not think there is any way in which an ordinary man could find out.
I want to suggest that when a direction of that sort is given, when the powers given to the Commissioner under the Act of 1839 are used in this way, it is going rather too far. This is not a case simply of a direction given to the police in order to meet some temporary difficulty, in order to keep the streets clear on some particular occasion; this is something which has been in force now for five years and which is just as important as many of the orders and regulations which are issued by Government Departments. It is said on many occasions that every man should be presumed to know the law, but how can anyone be presumed to know the law when the law takes the form of a direction issued to constables and never published? When the Act of 1839 was passed, in order to get round this difficulty it was provided, in a, later Section of the Act, that. it should be the duty of a policeman when a direction of this sort had been made to inform anybody who asked of the nature of the direction, but recently, when that point has been raised in the courts, they have taken the view—at any rate, London magistrates have—that that is no longer necessary.
I will not go into the legal reasons for that, but perhaps the Committee will take it from me that that is the line which has been taken. So we have this situation, that here is something which has caused a certain amount of friction, something which does affect—I do not say whether it is right or wrong—the liberty to hold public meetings in the streets, and that, except by accident or by questions put in this House, nobody is able to know the law on the subject. I would like to make this suggestion to the Home 1602 Secretary and to those under him, that when a direction of this importance and universality is going to be issued under the Metropolitan Police Act or any similar Act, it should at any rate be published and made known to the public, so that people who are concerned, or who may be concerned, should know exactly where they stand.
I do not raise these matters in order to make any general attack on the police. I have not had the experience of some of my hon. and learned Friends, hut anyone who, from time to time, goes into the criminal courts of the country cannot have formed anything but a very high opinion of the police, both in the Metropolis and elsewhere. I am not making any sort of attack or casting any aspersions on the police, but I think it is well that these matters should from time to time be raised in this House and that they should be cleared up by those responsible, and I think Debates of this sort tend to preserve confidence in the law and in those who administer the law.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. WATKINS
This discussion was opened by one eminent lawyer, and, I take it, it Will be closed by another eminent lawyer, and the participants in between have largely dealt with the subject of the Home Office and the police from a legal point of view, but I desire to address my remarks, through you, Sir, to the Home Secretary with reference to a matter which I have raised with him on more than one occasion, both personally and at Question time in this House, about the wretched treatment which is being accorded to the Jews in Hackney and East London as well. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) said that there is alarm in the minds of the Jewish population to-day at what is happening. I had a very striking illustration of that yesterday afternoon. I had been invited to attend a prize distribution to some Hebrew religious classes. That could not be considered a right and appropriate occasion on which to introduce this question of Jew baiting, but so present in the minds of the Jewish people to-day is this fact that their people are being beaten up and bullied and ill-treated so frequently, that even on that inappropriate occasion the Rabbi who was present and other notable Jews 1603 all drew attention to the fact and hoped that some relief would be given, some strengthening of the police would be provided, to make this kind of occurrence less frequent and non-existent in future.
What is it exactly that the Jewish people are concerned about? There is certainly all the trouble that arises from the abuse, the vituperation, and the stream of evil sentiments that come from Fascist speakers at Fascist meetings. But in addition to that the propaganda is having its effect on the minds of people. I have received not one but many letters from Jewish people, young and old, who are being followed into the back streets and are being beaten up. I think it was H. G. Wells who referred to the Hitler tyranny as "government by the lout." We do not want government by the lout to occur in London. Here is a typical letter that I have received, and I think the Committee will agree that it is patently an honest letter:I wish to bring to your notice an instance of hooliganism that occurred to my young lady and myself on Friday last, July 3rd. I was seeing my young lady home when I was accosted by about eight or nine ruffians. One of them came up and said, Where are you going, are you a Jew?', and before I could say or do anything I was hit on the head and set upon with, I believe, bars of iron wrapped in paper. I immediately started calling for help, which must have scared them off, but not before they had punched my girl in the face and kicked her in the leg. It seemed that my shouts had not attracted attention, and we were just going away when a policeman came up with one of the fellows, whom I recognised straight away. The policeman had seen him running and had caught him. I told the constable what had happened, and he felt the two bumps on my head and noticed also the condition of my girl, who could hardly stand. He then told me to come down to the police station and have the man charged. However, my girl being of a very timid nature did not want me to go, thinking that if we made a case of it we would have plenty of trouble afterwards with the same gang, and I, like a fool, allowed myself to be influenced by what she said, and so the constable just took particulars and addresses and let the fellow go.That is one instance of many. A furniture manufacturer in Hackney went to his front door, where there was excited knocking. He opened the door to find his son with blood streaming down his face. The son had been followed into a quiet road in Hackney and that had 1604 happened. I raised this matter with the Home Secretary at Question time, and he was good enough to say that he did not treat the matter lightly and that he was trying to take steps to lessen these wretched happenings. Whatever steps the right hon. Gentleman has taken, the incidents are on the increase and not on the decrease, and I feel I am only doing my duty by asking him still further to strengthen the police force and to do what he can in every conceivable way to make the Jewish population as free from danger as the rest of the population.
All this anti-Jewish activity is inspired by one organisation. I cannot see why some action cannot be taken to stop the propaganda that goes on day by day in the East End of London. There is nothing too foul or bestial for a human tongue to speak that does not come from Fascist platforms when they are being used. All the old prejudices are being aroused, and my fear is that unless very strong action is taken rioting will occur in the East End. A friend of mine had a plan afoot to which I would direct the attention of the Home Secretary because we realise the danger of it. It was a plan to mobilise 200 or 300 Jewish ex-service men, to collect them wearing their medals, and at the first statement of an improper kind coming from a Fascist speaker these Jewish ex-service men were to be utilised to rush the platform and smash up the whole meeting. I persuaded my friends that that is not the right way to deal with the difficulty. I persuaded them with difficulty, however. I said that the obligation is on the police to prevent statements being made which will incite to disorder, and that we must leave the police to do their own job of keeping the peace.
But I am being met in the East End of London with the statement that the police are no longer impartial. I have fought against that idea; I do not want to believe it. I want to believe that the police will treat all classes and all political opinions with equal impartiality. When I attempt to put that point of view before Jews and workers who have suffered, before Gentiles as well as Jews, they ask me why it is that there is no prosecution of Fascist speakers who make these terrible utterances in public. I remember that there was an hon. Member of this House who was sent 1605 to prison for even obliquely suggesting that some of his political opponents might hang from lampposts, and I believe that Tom Mann was punished under the law for making a statement that was a genteel utterance in comparison with the Fascist statements that are made nightly in the East End of London.
I do not know whether I am in order in suggesting that a great deal of this trouble could be avoided if the wearing of uniforms for political purposes were made illegal. There may be difficulties in interpreting exactly where the political purpose ended, but I feel that the banning of uniforms would help a great deal. Failing that, would it be possible to prohibit the holding of such meetings in areas where there is a large Jewish population? I narrate these facts to the Home Secretary and I believe that he is extremely anxious that this Jew-baiting shall end. I trust that he will do everything that is possible in order that our Jewish population, many of them born in this country, may have the feeling of security which is now fast disappearing from them. For centuries Jews have looked hack upon their past and have seen how their fore-fathers have been subject to tyranny and opression and torture. I hope that that kind of experience will never come to them or their children in Britain.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. ALAN HERBERT
I am only a new Member, inexperienced and innocent, and I am more and more surprised every day as I sit in this House. I was not surprised by the terse and accurate Rulings of your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Entwistle, as to the extent to which we are not allowed to talk about this Oxford meeting, but what did surprise me was to find how little control this House has over police forces outside the Metropolitan area. I gathered that if it came to our notice that the police of Oxford, for example, were insufficiently clad, that they had bad teeth, or something of that kind, we should be able to raise the matter with the Home Secretary. But if, let us say, when there has been a meeting at which tutors of Oxford Colleges are brutally treated and they are asked afterwards to take some action and to take the names of the assailants, it is out of order to speak about it, I am bound to say that it is a state of things 1606 that surprises me. Although I did wish to raise the question of the Fascist meeting at Oxford, I have no desire to attack the police or to prefer charges against them. I approach this matter, as we all think we do, in a particularly judicial fashion.
Almost every speaker to-day has said he was entirely unprejudiced on every subject he mentioned, with the possible exception of the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) in his very able speech. Although agreeing with much that he said, I would like to make a comment on what he said about the absence of police protection from left-wing gatherings. On the occasion of the hunger march to Hyde Park, I marched beside those taking part and was told that I was performing some useful function in doing so. There were, quite properly, a great many policemen looking after them, and I remember that on that occasion the Fascists were, quite rightly, not permitted to be present. The only occasion on which I have sympathised with the Fascists was a few weeks later when they held a meeting at the Olympia and a great body of men from the East End of London marched with the avowed intention of breaking up the meeting. I did riot, however, sympathise with what the Fascists did at Olympia. I only mention that to show how judicial and impartial I am. I shall never be drawn by any political movement whose main idea seems to be to wear underclothes of a particular colour. As between the Black-shirts and the Redshirts, I am among those who cry, "A plague on both your blouses!" In the old days a political party took its name from its ideas and ideals. Now we have leaders who name themselves after their lingerie—black shirts or blue braces, pink pants or dirty drawers.
I ask the Home Secretary to consider specially some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). I am still bewildered as to what I can say to keep in order, but it seems to me that orders ought to be given to the police, so far as the Home Secretary has control over the police anywhere, on certain legal matters. I think that the Law Officers of the Crown ought to be asked by the Home Secretary to go into the same matters, which I will endeavour 1607 to develop, beyond even those so learnedly and eloquently mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith. It is common form, especially after big Fascist meetings where there has been a fracas—and let it be noted that there is always a fracas—for there to be a good deal of argument about who interrupted, how much they interrupted, and whether they interrupted in a concerted manner. Some hon. Members then say that people are not compelled to go to public meetings, and that if they go they must expect what comes to them. I have a certain sympathy with that view if the interruptions are organised. But suppose a quiet professor, whether of Oxford University or London University—perhaps we had better make it London University, seeing that we are confined in this debate to the Metropolitan area—perceives a junior member of the University being ejected, his only offence having been that he made an interjection, that interjection being one of the smaller parts of the general right of free speech.
Suppose that professor goes to the rescue of the undergraduate and is set upon by 14 or 15 men, and not merely ejected, but kicked about on the head and ribs and reduced to a condition of concussion, and is found afterwards with the marks of a human heel in the region of the kidneys. Even suppose he had interrupted throughout the meeting, that violence would not be justified by the law. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will be even more familiar than I am with the doctrine of reasonable force. Even a trespasser in my home has rights. I must, before I eject him, ask him to withdraw. I think that that applies, strictly, to a public meeting. If, after I have asked him to withdraw, he does not, I can eject him, but then I must eject him in a reasonable manner, as the lawyers say. I am not entitled to use brutal, cruel force and carry on that brutal force after he has left the building or after the disturbance has ceased. That, however, is common form at all the big meetings of this particular body of what I call the pantaloon politicians.
The question I wish to put to the Home Secretary is whether, if the police have 1608 control over public meetings of this kind, he will give directions that ejections shall not be carried out except by the police. It is clear from the experience of a number of these meetings that the stewards who are engaged by this particular party are not fit to discharge the duties of stewards in a civilised manner in a civilised country. That is the simple proposition to which I hope the Home Secretary will pay attention. I will go a little further if I am in order. The accusation is that individual stewards use illegal force and cause bodily harm to innocent persons. If that happened casually, by accident, in a single case, in the heat of the fray, no one perhaps would be very excited. If, however, it is concerted, if it is part of the drill, the training and the discipline of that particular body, and if these stewards go to meeting after meeting with that idea and intention in their heads, with orders in their minds, that people shall be ejected, not in the reasonable manner I have described, but in this brutal, cruel and damaging fashion, I suggest that we are very near to an illegal conspiracy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consult the Law Officers of the Crown upon that point. Beyond that I wonder whether some of these meetings which are accompanied by this almost religious ritual are not very near to being unlawful assemblies, a suggestion which, I think, was also made by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). Among so many legal authorities I hesitate to follow the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith with a legal lecture, but may I read one or two passages from the old authorities on the subject of unlawful assembly? This is from Baron Alderson, whoever he may be. It is a judgment delivered in 1839 in the case of Regina v. Vincent, with which no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is familiar:I take it to be the law of the land that any meeting assembled under such circumstances as, according to the opinion of rational and firm men, are likely to produce danger to the tranquillity and peace of the neighbourhood is an unlawful assembly. You will have to say whether, looking at all the circumstances, these defendants attended au unlawful assembly. For this purpose you will have to take into your consideration the way in which the meetings were held, the hour of the day at which the parties met, and the language used by the persons assembled, and by those who addressed them. Everyone has a right 1609 to act in such cases as he may judge right provided it be not injurious to another, but no man or number of men has a right to cause alarm to the body of persons who are called the public.I have one more passage to quote from the admirable Mr. Kenny's "Outlines of Criminal Law":In this offence, as in all others, the law regards persons as responsible for the natural consequences of their conduct. Consequently, if people have assembled together under such circumstances as are in fact likely to cause alarm"—and these are the words which I emphasise—to bystanders of ordinary courage, the assembly will be an unlawful one, even though the original purpose for which it came together involved neither violence nor any other illegality. You must look not only to the purpose for which they meet but also to the manner in which they come.What if they come in military formation?and to the means which they are using.What if they use knuckle-dusters and chains upon their wrists?For however innocent may be the object for which a meeting is convened—for example, to support some Parliamentary Measure by strictly constitutional means—it will nevertheless become an unlawful assembly if the persons who take part in it act in such a way as to give firm and rational men who have families or property to protect reasonable grounds for fearing that seine breach of the peace will be committed.I suggest that in their general model these Fascist meetings are perilously near to coming within the words I have quoted; and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not say that this is only another "misleading case," or that it might be made part of my message to a certain weekly organ, because I would remind him that I did take a First Class in the Honour School of Jurisprudence at Oxford. There are many other passages which I could quote referring to evidence of drilling and to bodies of men who had been previously "drilled in order to overawe, intimidate and menace." In all these old judgments the emphasis lies not upon the purpose of the meeting but upon this question of causing terror and alarm.
Let us take one of these typical meetings—I cannot say at Oxford, so I will say in London. The audience gathers outside; and, by the way, there is a charge of two shillings to attend these 1610 strange proceedings. While they are waiting, so I am told, a line of uniformed stewards of menacing demeanour and not very handsome faces stand at the side threatening—well, not threatening, but showing a hostile demeanour to the waiting audience. The Horst Wessel Song is sung, and if any protest is made—as I should think there would be if I remember the tune aright—it is sung again. Then the audience is admitted to the celebrations, and the leader, with the appropriate paraphernalia of private theatricals, enters. He starts his speech. On the particular occasion I have in mind he had no chairman, he was the only speaker; that is to say, there was no channel of order between him and the audience. He starts by uttering threats. He says that anybody present who dares to interrupt by so much as a syllable will be thrown out, and everybody present if he has had any experience of it before knows exactly in what manner he will be thrown out, especially in a city like—well, I must not refer to Oxford, where they have had previous experience. However, the meeting proceeds, and there is not only provocative language—which we all have to endure and which may not necessarily involve any legal consequences—but there is provocative language combined with these threats of violence, which come together to the mind of anybody who knows in what manner he will be thrown out it he so much as dares to utter a word of protest.
Along the sides of the hall are gathered these imposing uniformed men who are known to be drilled in this particular technique of intimidation and violence, and if anything occurs then, while the leader is outlining the future of the world in those well-known and convincing terms, up the gangway comes what has been described as a phalanx of uniformed men. At a signal, or without a signal, some wretched undergraduate or worker is seized upon by some 10 or 12 trained stalwarts, some, I am informed, armed with knuckle dusters and some with chains round their wrists, all well equipped to deal with one man. He is not ejected, as he might well be ejected if he is creating a nuisance or interrupting, but he is seized by the face and neck, and is hurled out, rabbit punched and kicked on the liver and 1611 kidneys, and any other organs of which those gentlemen happen to be aware. If any persons should endeavour to go to his assistance steel chairs are raised and they suffer the same treatment.
I do ask the right hon. Gentleman, who is a great lawyer, to put to himself and to the Law Officers of the Crown the question whether those are not very near indeed to the circumstances which make up the legal definition of unlawful assembly. I am perfectly sure that I shall be told that I am talking nonsense, but I am trying to assist him. It is very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to know what to do. He does not want to dignify the gentleman whose name is in all our minds with special legislation. I am told that in the case of the university meeting he is not able to order an inquiry, because that remote countryside is so far from the control of the Home Office. I am trying to help him to see whether there is not some way by which the existing law of the land can be applied, in proper and legitimate fashion, not to one of the subordinates of this leader, but to the leader himself, so that we may see whether, by training these young men to do these things, he has laid himself open to the charge of committing the indictable misdemeanour of causing an unlawful assembly or creating an illegal conspiracy.
The man would be foolish indeed who thought that by these crude and alien means we should be likely to capture the hearts and minds of the people of this country; but I think he would be equally foolish to treat the proceedings which I have described as if they were episodes which could be ignored and set aside as being part of the ordinary rough-and-tumble of political warfare. I do not know how many Members of this Committee have read the very interesting, and even exciting, book by Sinclair Lewis, the American author, called "It can't happen here," meaning that Fascism, with all its follies and dangers, could not happen in the United States of America. I commend that work to the Home Secretary. It shows very clearly in what strange and unlikely soil these things may happen. It might happen here. It is very infectious, very spreading. Given the right conditions, Heaven knows how far it might spread.
1612 Therefore, I hope that we shall not regard this business as the kind of thing which happens here, there and everywhere, but that we, need not bother ouselves about it and may stand aside in a dignified fashion, because at the moment it may excite more laughter and derision than indignation. This is not really a Debate about civil liberties; this is a Debate about the administration of justice and the proper enforcement of the law. I am neither attacking the police nor the right lion. Gentleman, with both of whom I sympathise, but I ask them to do all they can to avert what I think is likely to be a menace, because it leads to one breach after another of the King's peace and the tranquillity of the King's subjects.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) has done good service to the House of Commons and to the country by opening this Debate to-day upon a very interesting subject. I would like like to make one or two observations on the points that were raised earlier as to the scope of our discussion. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to enlighten us as to what can be done to remove the anomaly that has arisen. We are discussing the administration of the Metropolitan Police, and we are entitled to discuss nothing else. As representing a division in the Provinces I am perturbed that we can have a whole day's discussion upon the Metropolitan Police, and yet cannot say one word about the police in the districts which we represent. As I said earlier, when I raised a point of Order, some means will have to be found of removing this disability, which stultifies the House of Commons—which it has apparently brought about itself.
Let me come back to the point that we were discussing and put. some questions to the right hon. Gentleman. If hon. Members will look at the details of the Vote they will notice one increase which seems extraordinary. In 1935, the sum spent upon Special Services was £2,000. This year they are estimated to need £20,000. I do not know what "Special Services" means. I had the impression that the sum named might be required to carry out the promise of 1613 the right hon. Gentleman made some time ago, to deal more effectively with the Fascist menace against the Jews in London. Nothing which has happened in this House of Commons has made me more sad than the stories I have heard to-day. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough, not more than a few months ago, to promise that the grievances that we brought before him then in regard to attacks against the Jews would be dealt with. I do not dispute that he has done all he can in the matter, but I believe the position to be worse to-day than when he made the promise. I have recently been in Birmingham and Manchester, and I have seen this thing at work on the spot.
I hope I shall carry with me every Member of the Committee when I say that people do not know what freedom means until they have lost it. Freedom is like health; we know nothing about its value until it is gone. I would reply to what has been said to-day about our attitude towards free speech. I shall be surprised if I do not carry with me every Member and every supporter of the Labour Party when I say that we believe in freedom not only for ourselves; we believe in free speech, freedom of the press and freedom of worship for all sections of the community alike. I have probably addressed as many meetings as most public men, and I have had the rough and tumble of the public platform. I was a passive resister in the war and I suffered ignominy in my own country as a Socialist. I can say, after that experience, that the man who cannot listen to a speech which is antagonistic to his own point of view is an ignorant person. I am very sorry that there is a great deal of ignorance and intolerance at some of our public meetings these days.
London is different from any other part of the country. It is usually said that what Manchester thinks to-day the whole of England will think to-morrow.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Yes, but I must not annoy the Government Front Bench. London is, of course, a different problem from the Provinces. We have several times raised the question whether it is not possible for the. Government to devise means to prevent what we call the wearing of political uniforms but which the 1614 hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert), who has greater humour than I have, has called blouses. I understand that one or two of the Scandinavian countries have dealt with this problem by law. I think the right hon. Gentleman might be good enough to tell us whether he has information as to what success has attended the passing of measures to deal with this difficult problem.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not mind answering a simple question. I am not suggesting that we should pass a law here to do likewise but whether he has any information to show what success has attended the law in those countries, in respect of political uniforms.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Sir Dennis Herbert)
Can the hon. Gentleman say what would be the use of the information except for consideration of legislation in this House?
§ Mr. DAVIES
I might be able to write an article about it. I am sure that the hon. Member for Oxford University could write a good many more. Hon. Members have told us to-day of the practice of the police in London regarding political meetings. There is something anomalous about the attitude of the police towards political meetings that differs from town to town. While we are discussing the activities of the Metropolitan Police, let me say in passing and as an illustration that I was surprised to see in the newspapers yesterday morning that the Manchester police are now taking the names and addresses of chairmen and speakers at open-air meetings. I am not as critical of the police, as some people are, but I want to make it perfectly clear that we shall be very apprehensive if the police pursue that course throughout the country, and I should regard it as an offence to our intelligence, and as a serious blow at our liberties, if the police throughout the country took the names and addresses of everyone speaking at an open-air gathering, unless of course it were in a place where such gatherings were prohibited.
I have noticed on more than one occasion when we have been discussing the problem of the police, that somehow or other it is suggested that we must be 1615 very careful how we handle the problem, because the machinery is so delicate. I have never been able to understand that attitude of mind. Every other Department of State comes under the review of the House of Commons, and no one ever suggests that the subject is too delicate for consideration here. We are all justly proud and jealous of the reputation of our police, and I myself am very much more proud and jealous of their reputation after having seen what I have witnessed on the Continent of Europe. I am delighted beyond measure to see a police force without a revolver and a sabre, and I hope we shall in this country be able to continue to maintain our police force without either.
The Metropolitan Police are popular, and their reputation is good, because they are supported in the main by the mass of the people. Without the support of the mass of the people, no police force could maintain their reputation in that way. But they stand high in the estimation of the people because of something else—because they know, as a. police force, that if they commit any offence against public policy their action will be debated in this Chamber. Having suffered a great deal in my lifetime from tyranny of all sorts, let me say something else. Every Member on this side of the House is determined that the liberty which we now possess shall be maintained, and I, for one, if the liberty which we now possess within a Parliamentary system were challenged by any section of the community, would use the same weapons on behalf of political democracy to prevent its destruction as the other forces were using to try to destroy it. I am not sure that political democracy has not failed in some parts of the world because it has not adopted that attitude. This political democracy and freedom of speech has been regarded by some sections of the community as being too namby-pamby to defend itself, but I repeat that this thing called freedom is so valuable above all other institutions that I would stand for it, and would use the same weapons in its defence as those which are to be employed in its destruction.
I shall not detain the Committee very much longer, because I understand that the right hon. Gentleman wants to speak 1616 and that hon. Members desire a Division fairly early. I have no doubt that in London the Fascist problem is a very obvious one. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) raising the case of a demonstration in Finsbury Park. But there are some parts of the country where Fascists dare not hold a meeting, and some people rejoice at that. Some people rejoice in the fact that a Tory is prevented from speaking, and some Tories are delighted when they can stop people like me from speaking.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The right hon. Gentleman does not know enough about me, because they have actually prevented me from speaking on more than one occasion. The point that I want to make about the Metropolitan Police is this: They have a very difficult task, because there are new political elements creeping into society. There are new elements in the criminal sections of the community too, and I take it for granted that the right hon. Gentleman, after listening to this Debate, will take note of all that has been said. A great many quotations have been given this afternoon from some eminent legal gentlemen. I venture to quote, in conclusion, an authority on the perfect system of civil administration, and I hope that every Member of the Committee will agree with this declaration, which I believe hon. Members have seen in print:It is said that in a perfect system of civil administration the function of the police should be to curb the liberty of the individual only when it degenerates into licence; and any material variation from that standard is to be deprecated as being arbitrary and tyrannical.This Debate has done one thing above all. It has shown the tendencies that are creeping into the civil administration of London. I trust that, when the right hon. Gentleman replies. he will give us encouragement to believe that, so far as he is concerned, the scales between the two political elements in society which we have debated to-day will be held as evenly as it is humanly possible to hold them.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Sir J. SIMON
We have had an interesting Debate on a very important subject. The Opposition not only selected this particular Vote for discussion to-day, 1617 but, in selecting it, indicated that they wished in particular to raise the subject of civil liberty. In the Debate a number of subjects have been brought together from different points of view, and I would like to begin by saying that for my part I sincerely welcome a discussion of this sort, When it is inspired by the right spirit, as I think the discussion today has shown itself to be, it is a great help in administering the law. We are not divided at all as to the importance to be attached to civil liberty in itself. The question—and it is a very difficult question indeed—is how, in the circumstances we have been discussing more particularly, it is to be maintained and preserved with fairness to all. I must observe that, as was, indeed, said by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot), who, if I may say so, made a most admirable speech, when we talk about civil liberty for all, that means liberty, and equal liberty, for the expression and demonstration of opinions that we do not like. Nothing is easier than to protest from one point of view that the police should be more active and more precise, should take more notes and all the rest of it, in one kind of meeting; but we must remember that, when they have a duty of that sort to do, they must try to do it, in proper cases, in other kinds of meetings, too.
For example, I constantly get reproaches because it is thought that, when there has been a Communist meeting held, notes are being taken by the police. I hope they only do it in proper cases, and I believe they only do it quite fairly, but we must recognise that, if we are going to adopt that kind of method in respect of the advocacy of a series of propositions and ideas which most of us abominate, we must be prepared to accept it, and encourage one another to accept it, in the case of meetings where we may perhaps sympathise with what is being done. Whatever room there is for criticism, and while these debates and suggestions are most useful—and I will do my utmost to profit by them—from the closest and most intimate examination of this for over a year, I do not believe in the least that it, is true to say that the police of the Metropolis in this matter are acting with bias or prejudice. In the course of the last few days, I have seen a large number of important people interested in the 1618 matter, including those who speak with very great authority in respect of Jewish organisations in the East End of London, and they have told me that, while they are as anxious as many people are in regard to some of the aspects of this development, I might take it that as far as they were concerned they made no allegation against the police from the point of view of prejudice or bias.
That is not the explanation of the difficulty. The explanation is of a different character. In the first place the whole subject-matter is a very difficult subject-matter for anyone. I sympathise very much with the early part of the speech of the hon. Baronet below the Gangway who pointed out that in modern conditions the work of the ordinary policeman had become much more difficult than, it used to be. There was a rule in the old days, which was commonly observed, that policemen did not go inside meetings at all. I took the view, for what it might be worth, that there was nothing in the law that prevented a policeman as a citizen going inside a meeting to which citizens were invited. I do not see that a man is disentitled to go inside a meeting because he is in a policeman's uniform. Of course, if he is on duty he could only go if he were sent, but technically it cannot be said that a policeman is excluded. At the same time there are some people who say, "Why should not the police act as stewards in these meetings"? If you did that, you would have to have the police doing it at all sorts of meetings. I sympathise most deeply with the people who put forward the suggestion, because they feel that the present system at Fascist meetings is not producing good results, and it is not, but I do not think we could hope to meet the difficulty by seeking to change the regulations and saying in effect that the stewards at indoor meetings must be police. I am sure the first thing that would happen if anything of the kind were attempted would be a protest, which I should be very ready to join, by many who themselves want to promote civil liberty. We do not want to have our official organisation for keeping order used in that sort of way.
The old idea was that, if you hold a meeting and invite the public to come, they have the right, as ordinary citizens, to make a reasonable interruption and at the proper time to ask a proper ques- 1619 tion. At the same time, if they were to carry on such an amount of interruption as to prevent the lawful purpose of the meeting being carried out, they could be removed. Probably everyone of us on some occasion or other has seen that process carried out. That is a system, carried out in reasonably good temper and with a fair respect for one another's rights, which, in spite of some indignation, works very well. It is perfectly true what the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert) said, but that is not the way in which these Fascist meetings are conducted, and very great difficulties therefore arise.
I have devoted myself, as some of the hon. Members of this House know, with a great deal of diligence to considering how we could best, by the proper use of the machinery of the law, secure that fair rights were preserved in connection with these meetings. I am not in the least satisfied at present that that is always done. At the same time, let us face the difficulties. If we were regularly to put police inside meetings of one kind or another and a speaker began to use remarks which were resented, and, it might be, which were extremely unfair in themselves, that is to say, using the most extravagant language in the denunciation of Capitalism, Socialism or something else, a difference of opinion would very quickly arise, and the police would be in a very difficult position. If a policeman interfered too soon, or if he arrested a speaker, he exposed himself at once to criticism on the ground that it was a wanton interference with the right of free speech. That is an objection which would be raised instantly, of course, in a meeting of another character. I am not having any controversy with the hon. Gentleman opposite, but I arm certain that a Communist meeting would present an extreme case if a Communist speaker were interfered with in that way by the police.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
Is it not the case that you have police either in uniform or without at every Communist meeting?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I do not think at all meetings, but certainly at some, and not only that—and the hon. Gentleman will probably confirm me—they make notes of what a speaker says.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I begin to think that perhaps I am right at this moment in recalling a famous line in Gilbert and Sullivan which contains the refrain that in certain circumstances:A policeman's lot is not a happy one.That is the difficulty I feel, therefore, about the suggestion made in the entirely fair and reasonable speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). He asked why cannot you have people who regularly go and take down what these people say. As a matter of fact we do that in such cases as the Commissioner and his advisers consider necessary. We do not differentiate in this matter between one kind of violent speaker and another.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I did not suggest that you should do it. I said that if you did it in respect of the Communists, Socialists or the labour people, you ought to do it regularly in regard to the Fascists. Have you any reports from the shorthand writers as to what has been said at these meetings? If you have not, or if you have and the Public Prosecutor has not been called in, you have treated the Fascists differently from the Communists.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right in putting his point, but I can reassure him entirely that to my knowledge there is no discrimination drawn at all. In the records which have been examined, there Lave been cases in which prosecutions have been instituted. I have a list here which shows what prosecutions have been taken. I hope very much that everything will be done to call attention to the real gravity of the matter in connection with these prosecutions. I have given directions that if such a case arises it should be presented before the Court with all possible authority, not merely by an ordinary prosecution like a prosecution for a motoring offence, but that it should be presented to the magistrate on behalf of the police by a skilled and learned person, with the intimation to the court that the Executive regards this as a grave matter. It is not, of course, the duty of the Executive, God forbid, to have anything to do with suggesting what punishment should be inflicted, but it is the duty of 1621 the Executive when they bring a prosecution before the Court to let the Court be informed that, so far as the prosecution is concerned, they regard it as a grave case. To my knowledge that, under my instructions, has been done as far as possible in the course of recent months. I am bound to say that I could wish that the results upon the present situation were more obvious than they are, because I agree with what has been said by some hon. Members that there is a great deal about which we must feel deep concern.
Instructions have been given by me—I made a promise last March, and I took steps at once to see what could be done—that not merely uniformed policemen but plain clothes policemen should, in proper cases, be available at these meetings. The fact that there are plain clothes police told off for this duty may in itself have a very salutary effect upon those who may be tempted to use perfectly abominable language. My own reports, which are a general survey and are very carefully done, show that in some districts of London undoubtedly the gravity of these insulting remarks has been toned down. I appreciate the fact that different incidents can be quoted, and I am not pretending that it is all perfect. I am telling the Committee what is the situation as my information shows it to be.
It would be a very cheap thing to say to people who are being exposed to this abuse in the East End of London that they should show more courage. The best advice in many cases is to stay away. One can conceive a situation in which, if the Fascists held their meetings and they were not crowded, they would soon be disposed of by ridicule such as that expressed by the hon. Member for the University of Oxford; but their tactics tend to call together a very hostile crowd.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
How is it possible to stay away from the chalking of offensive remarks on the pavements and on the walls of houses, and the sticking of placards on the doors of houses, and from these people going into shops and intimidating the shopkeepers?
§ Sir. J. SIMON
The hon. Member knows as well as I do that the Communists in London quite deliberately organise anti-Fascist demonstrations at the time and near the place where a 1622 Fascist meeting is going to be held. As long as that happens it very greatly increases the difficulties of the police.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I think the Committee will appreciate the view of my hon. Friend. He does not dissent from the proposition that he and his friends do organise demonstrations on occasions when they know there is going to be a Fascist meeting. They have an anti-Fascist demonstration at the same time and possibly at the same place. His advice is not that that practice should be abandoned but that the police should be withdrawn. He further says that if that were done the Fascists would not go on with their meeting.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I should be very sorry if such a difficult problem as this was dealt with in that way. The truth is that the police have a terribly difficult task, in which, under the instruction and advice and counsel of those who are trying to organise it, all that can be done is being done fairly. But the problem itself is very difficult. I think we must ask those who can identify a man who has either used violently insulting words or has exhibited violence to have the strength of mind and courage to come forward and give the necessary evidence. They shall have all the protection which the House of Commons and the police can give. The hon. Member gave a most pathetic example. He read a letter from a young man who was seeing his lady home when they were attacked. There is not an hon. Member who was not horrified at the occurrence, and I sympathise with the young fellow to the full when he found that his young lady did not want to have the matter brought into the police court. But if he is not prepared to do that, what are we to do?
We must say to people who are being treated in this way, "Help us to fight your case. You will not find the police refusing to help you, and you must help them." It is no good saying in general terms that these things happen unless you are in a position to say, "I can identify that person as the person who did it and am prepared to come forward and prove it to any court of law." That has to be done. I am not saying this with 1623 any desire to shuffle off my responsibilities or to say that the London police are perfect, but I do say that it is absolutely necessary that the public should do everything they can to make a handling of this problem possible.
§ Mr. HERBERT
I cannot mention my particular case because it is out of order, but it is very difficult for anyone who is lying prone on the floor of a public hall, having been hit over the head, with one or two people assaulting him from either side and one or more stamping on his kidneys, to take the name and address of anyone. That is the general situation and that is why I suggested that there should be some way of bringing home the general question of responsibility to the prime mover of the organisation.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I did not suggest that the poor victim should do this. After all, presumably there are other people around, they are not all Fascists in the building, the mass of the audience generally is not in favour but opposed to the speaker, and I find it difficult to understand why it is not possible then and there to secure that the person you want to identify is identified. The hon. Member for Oxford University reminds me of a situation which arose in this House many years ago when the late Mr. Tim Healy wanted to speak in a particular debate on the subject of the grievances of Ireland and the Chair ruled that Ireland was out of order, but that it would be quite in order to discuss the grievances of the natives of Uganda. Thereupon Mr. Tim Healy made a most moving speech in very eloquent language about the wrongs of the natives in Uganda and the abominable way in which the landlords of Uganda were treating them. We had an equally moving substitution from my hon. Friend, and I think it was a very useful thing.
That is the sort of difficulty which, in fact, has arisen, and I can assure the Committee that, although as a matter of fact very great additional efforts have been made in recent months, the Commissioner of Police and the Police as a whole are increasing those efforts in every way they can. We intend using a further body of un-uniformed police for this purpose. It is certainly the case that there will be a note taken in cases where 1624 it seems proper. I think that if the public on its part will realise that it must assist in the practical way of helping to give evidence and identify offenders, an additional advantage will be secured.
I cannot within the bounds of Order discuss the question raised by the hon. Gentleman just now as to whether the fact that people are uniformed or march in procession could be a reason for special control. I believe there is one continental country which attempted to suppress this trouble by legislation prohibiting uniforms and black shirts, and it is said that the result was that the followers of those people ceased to wear uniform, but shaved their moustaches so as to make that male ornament very closely resemble that of the leader of the Nazi party in a different country on the Continent.
I would ask hon. Members to believe that every possible effort is being made to get this thing properly dealt with. I would ask them, in the second place, to do everything they can to dissuade those who do not know as much about the matter as we do from the view that the police are acting in a partisan or biased way. That is not true. I do not think anybody who really looked into the administration would believe it. The Fascists, in point of fact, are a terrible nuisance to the police. The other day, on a Sunday afternoon, there had to be over 500 policemen drafted into a park in the East End of London purely because there was a Fascist meeting on one side of the park and an anti-Fascist meeting on the other. Had it not been for that, over three-quarters of those policemen would have had their Sunday off. There is nobody more concerned to get this thing dealt with in a proper way than the police themselves. Is it fair, when the London policeman is doing his best, to deliver speeches which say that there is some influence at work on the police making them favourable to one side as against the other, or that the police are slowly crushing freedom of opinion out of this country? It does not in the least correspond to the facts and it does not correspond to what people know to be the facts. The police have a very difficult task. I answer for them in this House. If I find some case in which they have made a mistake, I do my best to say so; I did so the other day; but 1625 I cannot be expected, answering in this Debate, to accept suggestions against them which really do not in the least correspond to the facts as I know them.
An hon. Member opposite asked me a specific question which I might have dealt with at the beginning had I not thought it better to make those general observations first. He asked about the Special Services Fund. I will tell the House what it is. It is true that the amount in this year's Vote, instead of being £2,000 for Special Services as it was a year ago, is this year £20,000, and the hon. Gentleman asked me what is the meaning of that. This is the meaning. We ask the Committee to vote this money so as to render it possible to develop certain technical branches of police work which must be organised here in London to serve the purposes of a number of different forces in the country. Such common services are, at present, very inadequately developed. They include the development of scientific work, such as laboratory work, in connection with the investigation of crime; the development of wireless telegraphy and telephony, used as a means of detection and the organisation of detective training facilities on a regional basis. The truth is that our police system, so much derided by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University, is based partly on the view that the police service is a local service. When you say that the House of Commons cannot discuss the Oxford police in this Debate, that does not mean that the Oxford police can do what they like. It means that the Oxford police are subject to the ratepayers of Oxford and to the people who elect the city council, out of which the watch committee is formed.
§ Sir J. SIMON
In that case the standing joint committee is the governing body. The truth is that the division of the police forces in this island into a very large number of separate bodies or separate pockets has certain inconveniences and one of the inconveniences is that, as wireless and other scientific methods become more used, the areas become smaller than would be suitable to make use of the improvement in scientific activity. This £20,000 is asked for because in London we are attempting to develop 1626 those scientific activities which I have no doubt in course of time will have to be regionalised and made available to a larger area than the area of a single police force. I give the House a single example which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has just referred to me. This is something which happened yesterday in the Information Room at Scotland Yard. At 2.21 p.m. yesterday a message was received from Highbury Vale Police Station that two men, believed to be wanted by the police in connection with a crime, were telephoning from a kiosk at City Road junction at the Angel, Islington. That message was sent into the brain of Scotland Yard and a wireless message was from there transmitted to a touring police car. They had to turn up the names of the men, which occupied three minutes and at 2.34 the message had been given to the people in the touring car. That car was close to the kiosk. The police in the car went to the kiosk and found that the two men had just left. They got a description of the two men and followed them. The men seeing that they were being followed ran off. The police gave chase and the men were arrested in High Street, Islington, at 2.55 p.m. In the meantime the Information Room had consulted an index and ascertained exactly who the men were, and that information had already been transmitted by wireless to the car at 2.45 p.m. and the identification was complete.
That is the kind of new work which is going on. I do not say a single word about the individuals, because, of course, their case has yet to be heard, but it is for work of that kind that we want this money. We think such work can be developed, not only in London, but in the country and for this and other purposes we believe the money can be well used. I have no doubt that in a future year this expenditure will be properly divided among the police forces. I apologise for devoting so much time to that point, but the hon. Gentleman opposite asked for the information.
The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green to whose speech I have already referred, finished with a reference to the experience of some constituents of his. I will not spend time—I do not think it proper—in dealing with it now, but I do not think he mentioned one or two things which had particular 1627 reference to the story. One was that the entry which was made upon the premises was made under the authority of a magistrate's warrant.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
I made that quite clear. The fact was that the policemen who arrived did not produce the warrant when challenged and insisted on searching the house.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I would not be justified in occupying much further time over this case, but the other matter which the hon. Baronet did not mention was that when the entry was made, the person whom the police wanted was on the premises, and in the course of the scuffle that ensued he made his escape. Unfortunately the hon. Baronet did not mention that at all. It is perfectly right that we should take up the cases of our constituents, and nobody, if I may say so, does it more thoroughly than does the hon. Baronet.
Finally, I would wish the Committee to understand that it is not merely on a debate of this kind that we at the Home Office are considering the main problem which we are discussing to-day. It comes to us from all sorts of quarters, and it is a constant preoccupation. I am obliged to those hon. Members who call my attention to these cases. Many of them do it, in a very good way, privately, by coming to see me. They come from all quarters of the House, and it is not a case of its being raised from one quarter only. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Hackney (Captain A. Hudson), Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, who is interested in this matter, has more than once, in great detail, brought these matters to the attention of the Home Office, and there is a constant stream of communications going on with the Commissioner at Scotland Yard. I can assure the Committee that the Commissioner takes this matter as one of his most serious responsibilities. I do not think the present situation is satisfactory, and I am greatly obliged to the hon. Gentleman below the gangway for the suggestions that he has made—serious suggestions. I always knew that the author of the books which he had written must be a good lawyer; now I understand that he took a first class in the Jurisprudence 1628 School at Oxford, there is nothing more to say on the subject.
I cannot deal with all these necessarily difficult matters to-day. The really important thing is that the House of Commons as a whole, and we, all of us, in our constituencies, should do the utmost that we honestly can to persuade the members of the public that it is not true that there is some vile conspiracy going on at Scotland Yard which is seeking to exercise some sinister influence to make the police favourable to one particular party. It has no resemblance to the truth, and I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee and the hon. Baronet beside him make it very plain that that was not the spirit in which they intervened in this debate. Let us be fair to these people, who have a very difficult task to perform, and let us remember that the real reason why this sort of thing is said about the police, when you do not always hear it in debates on other Departments, is that they are exposed to risks to which for the most part in other Departments our civil servants are not exposed. Nobody criticises a clerk in a Government Department, or someone who represents a Department in a subordinate capacity, because he does not come into contact with these matters of high tension. But civil liberty, the right to live your life freely and at the same time to respect other people, is the most important thing in the world, and it is right that we should have more heat and interest shown in the efforts which we have to make to protect that than are shown in connection with other Departments of the State. Therefore I thank the Committee for the help which they have given. I assure them that the importance of this matter is very well understood by the Home Office and the Police. The further steps which we are taking we hope will meet with complete success.
I was looking at my notes for a peroration prepared for me by the extremely competent Department over which I preside. It is not mine, hut it is a passage which is worth quoting. It is a passage from Milton's Areopagitica on the point that this matter is one in which we cannot expect always to secure a complete result. This is the passage:For this is not the liberty which we can hope, that no grievance ever should arise in the Commonwealth—that let no 1629 man in this world expect; but when complaints are freely heard, deeply considered and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained that wise men look for.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Sir ARNOLD WILSON
I do not wish to detain the Committee long, but I am moved by the right hon. Gentleman's quotation from Milton to suggest to the House that as that passage suggests, it is quite wrong to suppose that Jew-baiting is due solely to Fascism. It has its origin in other than Fascist quarters. It has its basis in grievances long felt, and now becoming more serious in certain branches of administration of the law, such as hire purchase and housing rentals, and Milton was perfectly right in saying that a quick hearing and a speedy settlement of grievances is the best way to secure the freedom of the subject and to maintain peace. I have watched with alarm and anxiety the growth of anti-Semitism in the last three years, by no means connected always with Fascist teachings. The Government would do well to consider closely the economic and juridical bases of the growing feeling that certain classes of the community unquestionably have that they are the victims of one particular section of the community. I do not support that thesis, but it is sincerely and honestly held by decent men in regard to certain branches of the retail trade, and more particularly in regard to the ownership of some of the worst houses.
Certainly the basis of anti-Jewish feeling in some parts of England is primarily economic; the sooner we realise that the better. Fascism in some aspects is really an indictment of this House, due to a growing feeling that we are not competent to perform the duties which the country would have us perform. We should set our house in order, expedite legislation, and cease to say, at intervals of a week or so, that lack of parliamentary time prevents us from doing things we would and should do. That is the real cure for Fascism and for the bitter discontent of groups of people here and there. We should try to speed up our laws and bring the country to realise that we are not only desirous but willing and able to remedy the admitted grievances of great sections of the population.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. SORENSEN
There are certain aspects which have not been touched upon this afternoon, and I am sorry that the Home Secretary will not have an opportunity of answering one or two questions on points to which I want to refer. I am very exercised over the fact that for the last four years there has been an alarming increase in the charges of frequenting or loitering in public places with intent to commit a felony. In 1930 there were 2,398 persons proceeded against for this offence, of whom 623 had their charge withdrawn or were dismissed. By 1934 the number proceeded against had risen to 4,834, of whom 1,149 had their charges withdrawn or were dismissed. Although we make no general charge against the police force and appreciate the disinterested, efficient and humane service they render, nevertheless there are signs which we should consider gravely of the operation of the police force in a way that does not assist civil liberties. I am saying this with no sense' of prejudice, but I could quote, had I time, from numbers of eminent people, including magistrates, notes and words of censure which they have uttered against the super-zeal of the police force in certain cases. Perhaps I may be permitted to quote one as an instance out of many. The magistrate at Clerkenwell Police Court, on 26th March this year, said, in dismissing a police summons:How came this man to be prosecuted? You have a nice new legal department at Scotland Yard, have you not? There is no imaginable case against this man.He ordered the police to pay two guineas costs. I can assure the Home Secretary that that is not an isolated case. There must have been many such cases within the orbit of the figures I have quoted. This suggests that, although the individual policeman is trying to perform his service in the same way as his predecessors, there must have been some kind of incentive given to him to speed up prosecutions. That needs looking into carefully by the Home Secretary so that we might remove any suspicion that our police force is becoming militarised or is ceasing to be what it has been in the past—a real civil service, as the Home Secretary rightly called it. I submit that that is not entirely un- 1631 related to what is now an admitted fact that in many parts of the Metropolitan area there have been deplorable incidents taking place in the last few months. They have not led to the ejection of the interrupters, but they have indicated over zeal or unwise zeal on the part of the police. It sounds rather strange to hear of a perfectly courteous interjector at a meeting being taken out of the meeting by the police while the speaker himself was indulging in language which even the Home Secretary admits would be likely to cause a breach of the peace. If the Home Secretary were to disguise himself and go to one of these meetings and were to hear himself being denounced in violet language, he would be inclined to interject. I have here an instance of what I mean. At Brondesbury on 20th May this year, a Fascist meeting was taking place. My informant, who is a law student at London University, declared that he heard this statement made by the speaker—that the child of a Christian marriage was no better than an animal, quoting a supposed saying from the Talmud; that Jews were brought up to believe that all Christians were illegitimate, and that in the Jewish Kol Nidrei service it was stated that Jews had perfect freedom to swindle and rob Christians. Another person informed me that at a meeting he heard a speaker refer to "Jews, Communists and other scum," and mention by name a number of well-known Jewish persons, including possibly some who sit on the other side of the House, and say they were a lot of hook-nosed, yellow-skinned, dirty Jewish swine. I am sure the Home Secretary will agree that if a crowd gathers and listens to such statements they are almost entitled to interject. I am not now speaking of organised interruption, which I repudiate quite as strongly as the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot). If they do interject, surely if there be any exercise of power on the part of the police, it should be rather to pull up the speaker than to pull out the interrupter. In many cases ordinary decent citizens who have been attracted by some noise at a street corner, and whose ears have been offended by what is almost obscene language, have been taken away by the police or warned by the police merely 1632 because they objected to a fouling of the liberty-loving air of this country.
I was gratified to hear the words uttered by the Home Secretary a short time ago. We all appreciate that he is doing his best, and I want to say again very earnestly, both on my own part and on the part of my party, that we make no general charge against the police. I have had experience of the police on more than one occasion, and I daresay I shall have experience of them again in the future. Once was when at the end of the war I dared to put outside my church the notice "If thine enemy hunger feed him," which was accounted a seditious utterance, and once when I was charged in respect of a motor car number plate whose figures were just half an inch too short. On both occasions I was treated with nothing but the utmost courtesy and decency by the police force, and it is because we want to keep the police force a real civil force, because we want to justify the alleged first utterance of every film star from America, that our police are "just too 'cute," and because we believe our police force to be an example to the world, that we are anxious to see that they do hold the balance fairly, and that when anything occurs which is likely to be an incitement to violence they should check that incitement to violence in a perfectly civil and yet, I trust, effective fashion.
Most of our attention has been concentrated to-day, and rightly concentrated, on this deplorable outbreak in our midst, and we all join in condemning this shirted brutality which, strangely enough, is being applied by those who want to see Britain first, but who really want to see the Lion and the Unicorn withdrawn in favour of Mussolini and Hitler rampant. I hope, however, that attention will be applied to other aspects of this matter, and that it is not too late for the Home Secretary to give some explanation, however brief, of the strange rise in the number of cases in which persons have been arrested and in which it has been found afterwards there was nothing to justify the arrest. Figures show us that the number of those against whom charges have been withdrawn or dismissed has increased substantially, and I suggest that is a subject which should cause the Home Secretary to think and 1633 about which we should have some information.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
Since the Debate started there have been many allusions which require correction. Unfortunately I shall not be able to deal with all of them, but there is one with which I want to deal, relating to the organised breaking up of meetings. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) talked upon the subject and pointed his remarks directly at me. I would like hon. Members to understand that the practice referred to is as old as public meeting in this country. During the Budget Debates of 1910, I took part in the election campaign, in which meeting after meeting was broken up by fanatical Budgeteers. I was speaking at a meeting quite recently, and if it had not been for the fact that I have a very strong voice and a very forceful manner, my meeting would have been completely destroyed by indignant Liberals, who objected to my saying a, few words of criticism about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George).
I repudiate the suggestion which is continually circulated upon all sides of the House that for some reason we are particularly concerned with the organised breaking up of public meetings. I would remind hon. Members that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, away back in 1901 or 1902, had
§ to be escorted out of Birmingham Town Hall disguised as a policeman. Who invented the weapon of breaking up public meeting? The Home Secretary tells us that certain Fascists have been prosecuted; will he tell us also how many anti-Fascists have been prosecuted, and would he take note of the fact that it has been for far less than anything that has ever been said or done by the Fascists? Twelve Communists were arrested and put in gaol, Communist leaders, not for any particular offence committed by those individuals but because of the general work which they were doing. Would the right hon. Gentleman consider the general work that is being done by the Fascists? I have asked in this House before whether, if someone came along and removed Mr. Speaker and put in the place of Mr. Speaker gangs of hooligans ready to attack or batter any-opposition that expressed itself, we should have a right to demonstrate against them? That is what has happened in connection with the Fascists. They have removed the chairman from public meeting, and in place of the chairman have put an organised gang of hooligans specially trained for the purpose of brutally ill-treating people.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £5,906,659, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 76; Noes, 148.1635
|Division No. 283.]||AYES.||[4.0 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Potts, J.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V.(H'lsbr.)||Grenfell, D. R.||Ritson, J.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Rowson, G.|
|Barr, J.||Hardie, G. D.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Batey, J.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Shinwell, E.|
|Bellenger, F.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Simpson, F. B.|
|Bevan, A.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Broad, F. A,||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Holland, A.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Chater, D.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Heath)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Stephen, C.|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Daggar, G.||Kelly, W. T.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Dalton, H.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Thurtle, E.|
|Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Lathan, G.||Viant, S. P.|
|Day, H.||Lawson, J. J.||Walker, J.|
|Dobbie, W.||Leslie, J. R.||Whiteley, W.|
|Ede, J. C.||McGhee, H. G.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||MacLaren, A.||Wilson. C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Foot, D. M.||Maxton, J.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Gallacher, W.||Montague, F.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Paling, W.|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Parker, J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Groves and Mr. Mathers.|
|Albery, Sir I. J.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)||Ellis, Sir G.||Morrison, W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Assheton, R.||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Munro, P.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Findlay, Sir E.||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col, J.||Furness, S. N.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Fyfe, D.P. M.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Gluckstein, L. H.||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Peake, O.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Penny, Sir G.|
|Bennett, Capt. Sir E. N.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Petherick, M.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Grimston, R. V.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Drake)||Porritt, R. W.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hamilton, Sir G. C.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Hannah, I. C.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Bull, B. B.||Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)||Samuel, Sir A. M. (Farnham)|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Holdsworth, H.||Samuel, M. R. A.(Putney)|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Holmes, J. S.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Cary, R. A.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Sandys, E. D.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Hulbert, N. J.||Selley, H. R.|
|Channon, H.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Hunter, T.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Chorlton, A. E. L.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir G. P.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Latham, Sir P.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J,|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Leckie, J. A.||Spens, W. P.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Llewellin, Lieut.- Col. J. J.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'I'd)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Lloyd. G. W.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Crossley, A. C.||Locker-Lampoon, Comdr. O. S.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.||Loftus, P. C.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Dawson, Sir P.||M'Connell, Sir J.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|De Chair, S. S.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|De la Bère, R.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Denville, Alfred||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Magnay, T.||Waterhouse. Captain C.|
|Dixon, Capt. Rt. Hon. H.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Donner, P. W.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Dugdale, Major T. L.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Duggan, H. J.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane(Streatham)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R,|
|Eastwood, J. F.||Morgan, R. H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Captain Hope and Mr. Cross.|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Four of the Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.1636
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Eight Minutes after Four o'Clock, until Monday next, 13th July.