I have received a full report from the Commissioner of Police on the incidents in Whitehall on 4th November. I am satisfied that the action taken by the police—both foot and mounted—in pursuance of their duty to prevent obstruction in the streets and to preserve public order was both necessary and effective, and that in carrying out this duty they showed commendable restraint in the face of much provocation.
While regretting that the Home Secretary was not able to answer my Question, may I ask whether he is aware that I have already had an opportunity of expressing an eyewitness tribute to the efficiency of the foot police? Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman look into the matter again and see whether he can get an accurate comparison between the effectiveness of the two parts of the force, in which case he will almost certainly come to the conclusion, after estimating the number of people moved per man per minute, that the whole operation is much more efficiently carried out by the foot police than by the mounted police?
So far as the police are aware, only one woman was injured in Whitehall on 4th November, and no police officer saw how the injury occurred. Three of the seven officers riding dapple-grey horses saw the woman being treated by foot police, but they were unaware of any reason for withdrawing.
Is the Home Secretary not aware that this officer and this horse appeared to be the centre of nearly every Press photograph the following day? Is it not likely that after an incident of this kind, that officer will be a marked man and that some people in the crowd will tend—[Interruption.] I was very close to what happened. I have already had an opportunity of saying something about this. It is unfair to the officer, after an incident of that kind, not to give him an opportunity to withdraw elsewhere.
When the decision was taken to clear Whitehall the demonstrators had taken up positions on both sides of the entrance to Downing Street and there was little movement. The police, who were concentrated near Downing Street, first cleared a path across Whitehall. They then moved the people north of Downing Street towards Trafalgar Square and those south of Downing Street towards Parliament Square.
Does the Home Secretary not realise that it was a clumsy error in the first place not to keep the demonstration moving in the direction in which it was going, and that the decision to drive back people who could not move back because of the pressure behind them caused the disturbance? In view of the Home Secretary's own remark a few days before in this House that what he objected to was posters saying "Eden must go", may I ask whether he will bear in mind that if 20,000 people want to walk down Whitehall on a Sunday afternoon saying "Eden must go", they have a perfect right to do so, and it is not right that the Home Secretary's political views should be brought into it?
All I was saying, in answer to the hon. Gentleman's Question about keeping the crowd moving forward, was that by the time the police decided to divide the crowd into two sections, it was at a standstill outside Downing Street. The police did the only sensible thing, I should have thought, to move those to the north towards Trafalgar Square and those to the south towards Parliament Square. The fact is that in the experience of police officers of very long experience, this was one of the most provocative crowds they have ever had to deal with.