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Trafalgar Square (Demonstrations)

Volume 648: debated on Thursday 9 November 1961

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8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department under what order the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis extended the ban on public processions in the Trafalgar Square/Parliament Square area for a further 24 hours from midnight on 17th September.

Under powers conferred on him by Section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis directed that no organised procession should be allowed to pass along the streets adjoining or leading to Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square for 24 hours as from midnight on 17th September.

As the Public Order Act was introduced precisely because the Metropolitan Police Act does not give the police power to ban processions, how can the Home Secretary say that the police loudspeaker ban on processions after midnight on 17th September, without an Order confirmed by himself, was legal, when it clearly was not?

I cannot accept the first part of the hon. Lady's supplementary question. I do not think that she is correct in her comparison of the Public Order Act and the Metropolitan Police Act. Whether the ban was legal or not is primarly a matter for the courts. As far as I can see, it was perfectly legal, but if it needs to be tested, that is the way to test it.

Will not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the Minister of State, in correspondence with my hon. Friend and myself, has already admitted that he made an error in our debate on 17th October, and that a renewal of the Order sanctioned by the Home Secretary and banning processions for a period of 24 hours was not in fact authorised or confirmed by him, although the police announcement in the streets gave the impression, contrary to the fact, that the renewal had been authorised by the Home Secretary? Will he not recognise that this has created a serious situation and led to a great deal of hardship for the people in Trafalgar Square at the time?

The facts are that the Order issued by the Commissioner did not require the agreement of the Secretary of State. I do not think that the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) is accurate in what he says about the loudspeaker and what it said, because it was never said in the loudspeaker announcement that I had given previous approval to the Metropolitan Police for this action.

Will not the right hon. Gentleman look at this matter again, not so much from the point of view of its legality as from that of his responsibility for the conduct of the Metropolitan Police? Is it not the case that the original Order was made, with his express approval, under the Public Order Act, and that the announcement made on the spot was said to be an extension of that Order? Is it not clear either that the Commissioner never made an Order which he was authorised to make, or, if he did make it, notice of it to the public was never given?

The Order under the Public Order Act, 1936, was approved by me at the request of the Commissioner. I did not try to extend it, nor did I intend that it should be extended. If there was any misunderstanding on that, that is a further matter for inquiry. It is not a matter of which I approve.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will hold a public inquiry into the actions of the police in Trafalgar Square on 17th and 18th September.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now order a public inquiry into police action in Trafalgar Square on 17th-18th September.

Specific complaints against police officers arising from the demonstration in Trafalgar Square are being investigated in accordance with the statutory procedure, and on the information before me I am not satisfied that any further inquiry is called for.

Is the Home Secretary aware that irrefutable evidence is now available showing that men and women were dragged the length of the Square by their feet with their heads banging on the pavement? Is it not obvious that the present police inquiry, conducted by the Commissioner, who was himself in charge of the operation on that night, is bound to be suspect as a whitewashing affair?

No, Sir. There is a statutory procedure, which is recognised to be fair. I am satisfied that there were individual cases, and perhaps some of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member, but the right thing to do is to have them considered. We have had great difficulty in obtaining the information necessary for a consideration of some of these cases, but I believe that the police have now got most of the evidence they require, and we are proceeding as fast as we can.

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make a full report to the House when he receives the Commissioner's report, and then consider again the possibility of a public inquiry in the light of the contents of the report and the comments that have been made in the House?

There is a later Question on the Order Paper, in answer to which I shall report the latest stage of investigations, but I am not persuaded that a general inquiry is necessary.

Has not some of the evidence in this inquiry been submitted to the Willink Commission? Is it not within the terms of reference of that Commission, since it is a matter of relations between the police and the public? Cannot the Commission consider such evidence? Further, did not some of my right hon. Friends see the right hon. Gentleman the other day and ask him if he would see that the Willink Commision had this evidence before it, and make an interim report if possible?

I saw the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and the Chief Whip on the Opposition side yesterday in connection with this matter, and I think a statement was issued to the effect that I was prepared to see that the experience of handling these cases was put before the Foyal Commission. I think that it would fall within the Commission's terms of reference.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the investigation by the Commissioner of Police into allegations of ill-treatment of the sit-down demonstrators against nuclear weapons in Trafalgar Square after midnight on 17th September, 1961.

I am informed by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that, so far, 56 specific complaints arising out of the demonstration in Trafalgar Square on 17th-18th September have been received. These include 23 complaints of which particulars have recently been given by the National Council for Civil Liberties. Inquiries into these are in progress.

Inquiries have been completed in 29 of the remaining 33 cases. In nine of these the complaints made are considered to have been unfounded and in 19 insufficient evidence has been provided to substantiate the allegations. In the remaining case—not involving any allegation of the use of violence—-no further action can be taken as the officer concerned cannot be identified.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those who saw those demonstrations, from both sides of the House, have publicly stated that between half-past four and midnight the police acted with commendable restraint, except in a few instances? Is he aware that at midnight action was taken to remove observers, to remove photographers, to remove television apparatus, to remove the Pressmen—

—yes, and to remove me? I am thankful to the hon. Member for strengthening my case. Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that there is evidence, for example, that one woman was twice thrown into the fountain, then taken to the police station and left in wet clothes all night? Will he see that when evidence goes to the Willink Commission from the police authorities the evidence from those who were the victims on this occasion is submitted as well?

I think that this question illustrates the importance of investigating each of these cases. Those who feel themselves aggrieved always have the power to pursue a policeman in the courts or they have the power of taking the policeman's number and identifying him. I am very keen that individual cases should be thoroughly prosecuted and examined, including the ones referred to in relation to the fountain. Unfortunately, all the accounts do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's claim. All I can say is that individual cases should be examined.