Incidents, Whitehall (Police Action)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd November 1956.

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Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North 12:00 am, 22nd November 1956

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has made a special inquiry into the effective work of police on foot in Whitehall on 4th November; and what conclusions he has drawn.

Photo of Mr Gwilym Lloyd George Mr Gwilym Lloyd George , Newcastle upon Tyne North

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.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

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?

Photo of Mr Gwilym Lloyd George Mr Gwilym Lloyd George , Newcastle upon Tyne North

I have gone into the matter carefully over a period and, curiously enough, I have come to exactly the opposite conclusion.

Photo of Sir Richard Pilkington Sir Richard Pilkington , Poole

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that certain men in the crowd were seen to burn the horses with lighted cigarettes?

Photo of Mr Gwilym Lloyd George Mr Gwilym Lloyd George , Newcastle upon Tyne North

I do know that thunder-flashes and fireworks were thrown at the horses, two of which were injured.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why the officer on the dapple-grey horse on duty in Whitehall on 4th November was unable to withdraw elsewhere after the incident in which a woman was knocked down in the sight of a large crowd.

Photo of Mr Gwilym Lloyd George Mr Gwilym Lloyd George , Newcastle upon Tyne North

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.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

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.

Photo of Mr Gwilym Lloyd George Mr Gwilym Lloyd George , Newcastle upon Tyne North

I find it extremely difficult to believe that any member of a crowd could recognise next day one dapple-grey horse out of seven.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why the decision was taken to drive the demonstration of 4th November back up Whitehall instead of keeping it moving for wards.

Photo of Mr Gwilym Lloyd George Mr Gwilym Lloyd George , Newcastle upon Tyne North

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.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

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?

Photo of Mr Gwilym Lloyd George Mr Gwilym Lloyd George , Newcastle upon Tyne North

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.