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House of Commons Hansard
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Home Secretary's Statement
04 August 1919
Volume 119
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(by Private Notice) asked the Home Secretary whether he can make a statement as to the present position arising out of the police strike; whether the strike has assumed more serious dimensions than those outlined by him last week; whether he is aware that the strike has been precipitated by the introduction and passage of the Police Bill so far as certain of its provisions are concerned; that the trouble has been aggravated by the decision that all constables who have abstained from duty are to be dismissed with forfeiture of pension; and whether he will consider the advisability of withdrawing this Order—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—pending an attempt to secure a settlement of the trouble by conciliatory methods. [HON. MEMBEBS: "No!"]

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The number of police who have refused duty has increased slightly, but not so as materially to alter the situation. The numbers are now 1,056 in the Metropolitan Police out of a force of 19,000, fifty-seven in the City of London Police out of a force of 1,170, 932 in Liverpool out of 2,100, 118 in Birmingham out of 1,256, 106 in Birkenhead, sixty-three in Bootle and one in Wallasey. No men in any other force have refused duty, and, on the contrary, in many forces meetings have been held at which the men have repudiated the policy of a strike.

As regards the suggestion that the strike has been precipitated by the introduction and passage of the Police Bill, this is true only to the extent that the officials of the union, knowing that the Bill would bring the union to an end, have used every endeavour by misstatements to persuade the police forces of the country to be false to their duty and their oath. I am informed, and believe, that the Bill is welcomed by a great majority of the police.

As regards the remainder of the question, I can only point out that this strike is not an industrial dispute to which ordinary methods of conciliation can be applied. It is, on the contrary, a definite act of mutiny on the part of those who have broken their oaths and who are setting aside their duty to their fellow citizens and attempting to defy the authority of Parliament. So long as the Government is responsible for the maintenance of law and the preservation of public order, it cannot entertain any question of compromise, nor can the question of reinstating those who have refused duty be considered.

I wish to take this opportunity of emphatically denying the statements that the Order dismissing all constables in the Metropolitan Police force who have refused duty will be rescinded. I also wish to repeat the assurance which I gave to this House on Friday last that the Bill is not intended to be, and is not in any way, an attack upon trades unions.

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:May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware of action being taken by men in other trades and industries who are ceasing work in support of the action of the police force, and whether the decision he has just now announced to take no step to arrive at any sort of compromise or conciliation is not a totally different step from that which the Government itself frequently enjoins upon employers and employed in private industry?

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:The difference that my right hon. Friend must appreciate is this: Conciliation in an industrial dispute is in regard to settling a difference and bringing the men back to work. In the police strike the question of the men going back to work does not and cannot possibly arise. I am well aware of what a few other people are doing—the railwaymen for instance—and I am aware that certain resolutions are reported to have been passed of which I have received notice. But I am not aware of anything that shows in any way whatever that the decision of the Government is not absolutely right.

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Is it not a fact that in dealing with the previous stoppage or threat of stoppage on the part of the police force, a representative of the Government met representatives of the Police Union; and in view of that fact, and in view of the present stoppage and threat of an even more extended stoppage, is it not the more advisable for the right hon. Gentleman to meet them again?

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No, Sir; that is not correct. No member of the Government ever met any representative of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers. They met in September last certain representatives of the policemen, but no representative of the union at all. So far as the rest of my right hon. Friend's supplementary question is concerned, we cannot depart from the position we have taken up.