HC Deb 17 November 1969 vol 791 cc850-7
Mr. Hugh Jenkins

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has received a report from an Inspector of Constabulary on the disturbances and casualties at the Springboks' match at Swansea last Saturday, and whether he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

I have received a preliminary report. Disturbances took place at Swansea both outside and inside the ground. A number of people were injured, including 11 police officers. Charges have been brought against 63 people, who will appear in court on 19th November. Complaints have been made about a number of police officers and these are to be investigated under Section 49 of the Police Act, 1964 by an Assistant Chief Constable of the Northumberland force.

The leaders of the demonstration had previously agreed with the Chief Constable of the South Wales Constabulary that a meeting should be held outside the Civic Hall, and they had also agreed a line of route that should be followed by a procession from the Civic Hall past the ground to the foreshore where they were to hold a further meeting.

The meeting outside the Civic Hall passed off peaceably and the procession itself was peaceable until the ground was reached, when the head of the procession halted, and it was at this stage that disturbances began. Inside the ground, a number of demonstrators broke on to the pitch just after half-time. Stewards had been engaged by the Swansea Rugby Football Club to remove demonstrators from the pitch. The task of the police in such circumstances is extremely difficult. They have a duty to assist the stewards where physical force is necessary to remove intruders. At the same time, they have a duty to preserve the peace.

These developments are placing a very heavy responsibility on the police service. I have, therefore, decided to call a conference of chief constables in those areas where games are still to be played in order to discuss the best way in which the responsibilities of the police can be carried out. Among the questions that I shall ask to be examined is the extent to which stewards are helpful. At two previous games, there was little or no complaint of the activities of stewards, but it is clear that their behaviour at Swansea caused a great deal of public disquiet.

In the meantime, outbreaks of disturbances can be limited inside the grounds if matches are by admission by ticket holders only.

As regards the game to be held at Ebbw Vale, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary is consulting the Chief Constable of Gwent.

Mr. Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members will be grateful for his statement? Will he take into consideration the degree of the violence which was exerted at Swansea and the number of casualties, some of whom are still in hospital? Will he, in his consultations with the police officers concerned, take into consideration the possibility that it might be in the public interest if the rest of this tour were to be cancelled?

Mr. Callaghan

There is a joint responsibility here upon the clubs and upon the protesters. If the newspaper is correct, I observe that one of the chairmen of the "Stop the '70 tour" has said: The match at Ebbw Vale could make Swansea seem like a tea party. It is for the demonstrators themselves to consider how far that attitude is likely to advance the cause of anti-apartheid to which they are, I have no doubt, sincerely devoted.

The question of concellation of the rest of the tour gets us on to very difficult ground. If the police or the Government were to be called in to stop events that people did not like for various reasons, this would be the first step on what could be a dangerous and slippery slope.

I ask the House to appreciate the very difficult circumstances in which those who are trying to prevent a breach of the peace are being placed at the present time. It is unwelcome, no one will want it, and it is also inevitable that there will be occasional examples of roughness. If people break on to a ground, certainly a Rugby ground, the prospects in such circumstances of trying to prevent a breach of the peace are extremely slim and I must ask support for the police who, I believe, could carry out this task. That is what I want to discuss with the chief constables.

Mr. Monro

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement that rugby footballers who wish to see a game have every right to do so. Does not he agree with rugby footballers who sincerely and genuinely believe that it is far better to keep contact with South Africa than to indulge in riots which will only harden opinion there? [HON. MEMBERS: "It is a class sport."]

Mr. Callaghan

I do not think that it is a particularly class ridden sport. At any rate, in parts of South Wales we regard it as a working-class game.

I must say that those who do not enjoy a game against the South Africans are free to stay away. If I may express my own personal view, I shall not go to see them, because I object to their sending a totally white team to this country. But, having expressed that personal view, I do not think that it would be right for the Government to step into this matter and to try to ensure that the tour was not played. It is for those who organise the tour to judge what the public reaction is and how far they go towards helping the cause to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Michael Foot

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he has said of his personal view of the undesirability of these people coming here in the form they have come. I recognise, as I am sure my right hon. Friend will, that the main purpose of the demonstrators, too, is to demonstrate their views. However, will he also accept that the serious reports in newspapers such as The Times, serious allegations, not so much against the police, although partly against the police, but more against the vigilantes, call for an entirely independent investigation of what happened at Swansea? Will he not also see that no such vigilantes will be operating at Ebbw Vale on Wednesday?

Mr. Callaghan

I have already said that one of the inspectors of constabulary at the Home Office is consulting the Chief Constable of Gwent to see what arrangements should be made. I have not had much time since these Private Notice Questions were put forward, but I have considered whether a public inquiry would help and my preliminary view is that it would not. I doubt whether there are many impartial people in this connection. I am sure that there are many thousands who saw what happened, and they will draw their own conclusions. If there are complaints against the police, as there are, those who have made the complaints will have them followed up under Section 49 of the 1964 Act.

It is not the job of a steward to assault people; he should escort them from the ground, if such a thing is possible, and, if physical force is required, it is his duty to call upon the police for that purpose. If any demonstrator feels that he has been assaulted by a steward, he has a remedy in the courts and it is for him to apply. I doubt whether any general inquiry would produce anything new that we do not already know.

Mr. Hogg

Is it not plain that, whatever may be one's attitude to the desirability or otherwise of these games, people who desire to take part in football matches, or to watch them, have a perfectly valid legal right to do so, and that if this right is to be interdicted by those who do not happen to share their views there will be neither freedom nor law in Britain?

Mr. Callaghan

It is extremely difficult for police officers to be obliged to judge the worthiness or motives of persons who are organising events, or those who attend them. I do not see how the House could ask the police to be put in that position. The preservation of the peace is particularly difficult when one section of the public may be in conflict with another. If demonstrators succeed in occupying a pitch, there will almost certainly be clashes between them and a number of spectators who want to see the match. The duty of the police, and this is what I am concerned with, is to try to prevent such clashes and to judge the action necessary to do so, and this is where the House must support them.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Is it not high time that the Rugby Union and the M.C.C. accepted the principle annunciated by the Olympic movement that States which apply apartheid should not take part in international sport, a principle which has been reasserted by the International Council of Sport and Physical Education of U.N.E.S.C.O., of which I have the honour to be chairman?

Mr. Callaghan

My right hon. Friend's services to this cause are well known, but, as he correctly put it at the beginning of his question, it is a matter for the Rugby Union or the M.C.C., not the Government, to decide.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Was it not obvious to anyone who watched the events on television on Saturday that considerable force was brought to bear by the demonstrators against the police and that police were severely injured? In these cases, is it not the duty of members of the public to come to the help of the police and, if necessary, to use force against the demonstrators? Is it not deplorable for these demonstrators to import violence into these affairs?

Mr. Callaghan

A statement of general principle can often lead to great difficulties. I myself would see a great difference between a member of the public going to the help of a policeman who was surrounded by a gang of hooligans outside a main line London station and a paid and recruited group of stewards helping the police in the middle of a rugby ground on an excitable afternoon in Wales, where we know how to play rugby.

My own view, and I want to put this to the chief constables, is that it is better for the police to tackle this job themselves rather than to have amateur assistants, no doubt of a very beefy character, but not necessarily designed to ensure that the peace is not breached.

Mr. Coleman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been complaints that some of those who were arrested were detained for periods of up to nine hours, refused permission to acquaint relatives and friends of their whereabouts and refused any tea or other refreshment? [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite are clearly not interested in the liberty of the people. Will my right hon. Friend refer these complaints to the inquiry, which I welcome, to see whether they can be substantiated?

Mr. Callaghan

Of course. Under Section 49, it will be for the complainants —and I think about 30 complaints have been received, mostly from students of Swansea University to establish their case and the facts can then be made clear to the Assistant Chief Constable of Northumberland who will conduct the inquiry.

Sir C. Taylor

May we assume that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Minister for Sport, nor any other Minister, will go to the Bolshoi Ballet or Henley to cheer the Russians next year? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there have been many peaceable games at Swansea between English and Welsh teams in the days when the English and Welsh were a little het up?

Mr. Callaghan

This is a personal matter. I shall continue in future to choose the events to which I go, as I have in the past. On the whole, I have not numbered Henley among my basic recreations, but I can promise the hon. Gentleman that I shall be at the next rugby international to see Wales beat England.

Mr. Judd

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the most despicable form of social conduct is the bullet-headed provocation of peaceful demonstrators and that it cannot be tolerated and must be dealt with in the firmest possible way by society?

Mr. Callaghan

It is for the inquiry to bring out what the rights and wrongs of this were, where the demonstration started and who started it.

Mr. David Steel

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is not the policy of the anti-apartheid movement either to organise or to get involved in disruptive or violent demonstrations? [HON. MEMBERS: "They did."] Will he equally accept that if there is a minority, whether inside or outside the movement, which decides to carry its views beyond that and to act in a disruptive way, it is far better for it to be dealt with under the law by the police, who are responsible to him and through him to Parliament, rather than by enthusiastic amateurs?

Mr. Callaghan

On this occasion the anti-apartheid demonstrators agreed the route and agreed both meeting places. However, as we all know from experience, although the leaders or the organisers may wish to carry out agreements, these demonstrations are sometimes taken over by other people, or at least they attach themselves to a demonstration. This is one of the difficulties of free assembly, but it is one that we have to live with and in which we must try to ensure, as the police did, what their obligations are in the matter—they will do their best to carry them out.

However, I am bound to say that anybody who rushes on to the middle of a rugby football pitch, even in a minor game in a Welsh valley, is likely to suffer a little trouble. It will be difficult if spectators allow themselves to give way to this, but I appeal to spectators not to give way. They will make the task of keeping order, and, if they want to see the game completed, the task of playing the game, much more difficult if they do not leave these matters to the police to handle.

Mr. Milne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is no longer a question of the Government intervening in sport, because the South African Government have already intervened in this matter by deliberately, in all sports, selecting the teams of other countries? Would he take a close look at the action taken recently in South Africa by persons in widely differing categories, such as Dr. Barnard and Gary Player, about golf, and tell us that it is time that some demonstration was given to South Africa about their attitude?

Mr. Callaghan

I have no doubt that the South African Government are fully aware of the attitude of a great many people in this country, who resented very bitterly the fact that they believe that d'Oliviera was excluded from a team when he would otherwise have been chosen to go to that country.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In view of the terms of the Home Secretary's reply to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), is consideration being given to the legal responsibilities of those who organise demonstrations inside football grounds, which they must know are certain to lead to a breach of the peace?

Mr. Callaghan

I will certainly consider that matter. It is one of the issues at which our conference could look. We could also ask for other opinion on it. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that as always on these issues we must not allow one or two serious incidents to destroy what are regarded as our basic and traditional rights, which have been built up over a period of years. They are founded on very good practice indeed and I am always slow to move to try to inhibit them in any way.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Godber. Private Notice Question.

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