§ The Secretary off State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I shall, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement about demonstrations today in connection with the dispute at Grunwick Processing Laboratories. The House 30 will appreciate that I did not want to make the task of the Commissioner of Police and his senior officers, who have operational responsibility for policing arrangements, more difficult by calling for elaborate reports while the operation was taking place. I have, however, kept in touch with the Metropolitan Police, met the Commissioner and thought the House would wish to have the following information.
The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis informs me that up to 10,000 people were outside the premises early this morning. There was some disorder, though considerably less than on some days in recent weeks. Eighteen police officers were injured. The police know of 12 injuries to civilians. Some 69 arrests were made.
The numbers at the premises diminished substantially as people moved off to join the march from Dartmouth Road to Roundwood Park. Over 18,000 people took part in the march, which took place peacefully.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Does the Home Secretary appreciate that I am grateful to him for acceding at short notice to my request for this statement? Does he agree that it is totally unacceptable for these vile incidents to take place when a case concerning the dispute is before the High Court and while an inquiry set up by the Government is examining all the issues?
Can he say that the disorder was less than recently when 69 arrests were made and 18 police officers injured? Surely these are very serious figures. In the circumstances, will he dissociate himself and the Government from such acts of violence, which have nothing at all to do with peaceful picketing? Will he reaffirm his full support for the police in upholding the law of the land?
§ Mr. Rees
The march was not organised by the Government. If people want to march in large numbers in this society, there is no way of stopping them. The information that I gave was collated by Scotland Yard.
As always, we dissociate ourselves from violence. The House should not believe that all those outside Grunwick were supporters of the Labour Party. They were not. We dissociate ourselves from all acts of violence, from wherever they come.
§ Mr. Pavitt
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have been there all the morning and that it has been one of the most peaceful and marvellous demonstrations in which I have taken part? There were problems outside the factory this morning, but is my right hon. Friend aware that I deplore that a small minority are able to focus attention on themselves out of 18,000 people and to commit the kind of violence that attracts the media? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that I wish that the media would report the peaceful scenes as well as the violence?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend has taken a responsible attitude to this matter from the beginning. It was a peaceful march. Those who wish to march peacefully to show their strong views have every right to do so. Attention is concentrated on the small minority at the gates and the wrong impression is given. Although the number involved in the violence was few, it is unacceptable. Those who indulge in this are not those who support democratic government.
§ Mr. Hooson
Is it not totally unacceptable to have even one policeman injured at this stage? Is not violence inevitable in these narrow streets when 10,000 people gather at the gates? Is it not the case that many are there with no purpose other than that of intimidation? Is it not time to change the law to prevent this kind of situation?
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. and learned Member has said much with which I can agree, and again he has mentioned the violence of a small number. Who should be allowed there is not my decision, and I should not attempt to influence decisions about who should be allowed there. That is a matter for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. When I am asked to support the police, I support the Commissioner in taking his decisions. This is something which we all learned in Northern Ireland when politicians were taking these decisions. I fully support the Commissioner.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
If the Home Secretary says that there is no way of preventing people marching in procession in large numbers, would he be good enough to study the provisions of the Public Order Act 1936 and the Public Order Act 1963? In view of the disgrace- 32 ful outcome of today's proceedings and the unacceptable burden that is put upon the police, is it not clear that any repetition of such a procession would give rise to serious public disorder? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore convey forthwith to the Commissioner his willingness to consent to an order under the Public Order Act prohibiting processions in that area for a specified statutory maximum period of three months?
§ Mr. Rees
As one might expect, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has his law right about who bears the responsibility and about who approaches whom. The march that was organised by the TUC and APEX, according to the latest information, was perfectly peaceful, and I hope that no one would want to stop that. What we are concerned about are the numbers who were actually around the gate, and that is a different matter.
§ Mr. Molloy
Is my right hon. Friend aware that probably everyone in the House agrees with the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw)? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will seize this opportunity—he has not done so yet—of making his peaceful contribution by asking Grunwick to accept the old British principle of arbitration and negotiation, which is preferable, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman agrees, to confrontation. As the police have a federation, and as there are some police officers who are concerned about these developments, what guidance can my right hon. Friend give them as to how they can make complaints about the whole tragic situation?
§ Mr. Rees
I note my hon. Friend's remarks about the root causes of this dispute, which are now being investigated, and I agree with him. With regard to the federation, the proper thing for it to do is to approach the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. He is the man to talk to on this matter.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Is the Home Secretary aware that police from all over London are getting fed up with having to go to Grunwick to keep public order outside the gates of the factory? Is he also aware that they and many others are concerned that the Government seem to step 33 in when there is violence at a football ground, when the same number of policemen, or fewer, are injured, yet the Government do not seem willing to take action in this case but seem willing to tolerate the level of violence and injury to the police that is now taking place?
§ Mr. Rees
There were 3,700 officers from all over London there this morning. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has his sources telling him about their being fed up. I have very close contact with policemen on a day-to-day basis. There is no comparison at all with football matches. The march went peaceably. I was asked about the situation outside the plant. There are those who want to cause trouble, and those are the people with whom the police are concerned.
§ Mr. Prentice
May I ask the Home Secretary to reconsider his attitude to demonstrations in the sense that whereas most of us would accept the absolute right of people to take part in peaceful demonstrations, he will agree, will he not, that, given this situation, these demonstrations are totally superfluous at a time when the court of inquiry is sitting, and, secondly, if they take place with this frequency and on this scale, inevitably there will be some violence on the fringe of the demonstration and therefore some people, including policemen, will be hurt?
§ Mr. Rees
The organisation of this march, between the TUC, APEX and the Commissioner, has taken place over a number of days. The Commissioner, the TUC and the union concerned have co-operated closely together and never once has the Commissioner even hinted to me that he wanted the march stopped. It is his decision that matters on that, under the Public Order Act, as the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said.
§ Mr. Baker
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that everyone in the House is against violence, but will he not also accept that many people in this country will be staggered at the irresponsibility of those who organised the mass picketing this morning which led to the violence about which he has talked? Quite apart from praising the police and condemning violence, does he not think that he has a responsibility, together with other senior 34 Ministers, to condemn those who organised this massive picketing?
§ Mr. Rees
I think that the hon. Gentleman has got the matter wrong. What the TUC organised was a march. That is what was organised. It did not organise the mass picketing. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members say "No". They should go there and see the situation. The TUC did not organise that. Concerning the picketing, I am told that an APEX organiser was going round there asking people to play it cool. It is not the wish of APEX that it should go in this direction, nor of those concerned with arbitration and normal trade union matters. It is a feature of modern life that this happens, and it is a matter for the police to deal with.
§ Mr. Bryan Davies
Will my right hon. Friend accept that very large numbers of people participated this morning in what the TUC organised, which was a peaceful demonstration, and does he recognise that when the Opposition concentrate on criticising and condemning violence—as all of us condemn it on both sides of the House—perhaps there is another kind of violence to which they ought to address their minds, which is the violence to the basic rights of workers on occasions by a small minority of politically motivated employers?
§ Mr. Rees
I have said what I have to say about the peaceful demonstration. It seems to me that what is happening in this dispute is that a small number of extremists on both sides are taking the stage. They are the people who get the media's attention. In my view, the vast majority of people there behaved perfectly properly. It is the small number who get attention.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Will the Home Secretary appreciate that, like the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), I wish to dissociate entirely the question of the march from the question of mass picketing outside the factory? They are surely two entirely different things. The Home Secretary continues to concentrate on the march. What I think many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself wish to concentrate on is the supposedly peaceful picketing outside the factory. That is what we wish to concentrate on.
35 I fully support the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy). Of course everyone wants to see a peaceful attitude. However, if there is a court of inquiry, set up by the right hon. Gentleman's own Government, looking into all the issues of the dispute, such remarks as those made just now by the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) are totally beside the point. If indeed there is, as well as the court of inquiry, an action before the High Court, would it not be sensible for the Government to appeal to all concerned to call off the picketing and all the action outside the factory while the court action and the court of inquiry go forward? Is not that the responsible and commonsense thing to do?
§ Mr. Rees
The right hon. Gentleman has seen the point that the march and the picket are separate things, but that distinction was not made in many of the questions that I have been asked. With regard to peaceful picketing, yes, I shall make an appeal. However, if the right hon. Gentleman were to go there and get the abuse that I have had from the people there and from others, he would find that they are not the sort of people who would listen to me or to him, and certainly not to the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph).
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
Mr. Ted Fletcher
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the best contribution that could be made to cooling the situation would be to get an assurance from Mr. Ward of Grunwick that he was prepared to accept the findings of the court of inquiry?
§ Sir K. Joseph
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) asked the Home Secretary whether he would appeal to the APEX leaders to withdraw and call off all the 36 picketing, which is the occasion for the violence, during the court of inquiry and the hearing of the High Court case. The Home Secretary was not being asked to appeal to those who, as he rightly says, probably would not listen to him or to my right hon. Friend, or to me. However, will not the Home Secretary and the authorities of APEX, who surely cannot approve of this violence, call off the picketing which is the occasion for the violence during the inquiry?