With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the disorder at Wapping on Saturday evening.
I understand from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that the disorder followed a march from central London marking the anniversary of the News International dispute. The police estimate that 12,500 people took part. When the march reached Wapping at 7.15 pm disorder broke out almost immediately. Cordons of police officers in ordinary uniform came under attack with missiles. At about 7.40 pm, a lorry being used by the demonstrators was overturned, and an attempt was made to set it on fire. Disorder then continued for some hours. Missiles were thrown at the police, including rocks, bottles, ball bearings, darts, railings, scaffolding poles and pieces of paving stone. The police used mounted officers, and foot officers in protective equipment, to restore order. I understand that calm was restored by about midnight.
In all, 162 police officers were injured. The injuries included a broken bone in the hand, injuries to the face and legs and concussion. Two officers were detained in hospital overnight. I am glad to say that they have now both been discharged. The police know of 40 members of the public who were injured; there will have been others whose injuries did not come to police attention. I understand that 67 people were arrested, of whom 65 have now been charged with public order and other offences. Fifteen of those 67 people arrested are print workers.
This is the latest in a series of disturbances connected with demonstrations at Wapping. Over the past year, including last Saturday, 572 police officers have been injured, 1,462 people have been arrested, and over 1·2 million police man-hours have been spent. The total additional policing cost up to the end of 1986 is estimated at £5·3 million.
It is clear that some of those attending Saturday's demonstration armed themselves with ferocious weapons intent on violent attacks against the police. No serious attempt was made to stop the lorries leaving the plant, and they were able to do so without significant difficulty.
It also seems clear that the organisers of these demonstrations are unable to prevent violence or to control the activities of all their supporters. They must now, in my view, find some other way of making their point without providing occasions for violence and disorder.
I have conveyed to the Commissioner my full support for the action taken by the Metropolitan police to deal with this disgraceful incident, and my sympathy for the police officers who have been injured. The vicious attack on Saturday evening had nothing to do with peaceful protest or the peaceful furtherance of a dispute within the law. I trust that it will be condemned unreservedly by both sides of the House.
The House will want to voice its strongest possible condemnation of all the gratuitious violence at Wapping on Saturday night. The House will also wish to send its sympathy to all those who were injured during the ugly events at Wapping, to members of the Metropolitan police, local residents and all those who went to Wapping to avail themselves of their lawful and legitimate right — [Interruption.] — their lawful and legitimate right of peaceful demonstration. That peaceful non-violent demonstration was the objective of the overwhelming majority of those who were present at Wapping is shown by the fact that a highly active police presence found it necessary to arrest 67 people—only one half of 1 per cent. of the 12,500 people who took part.
Is the Home Secretary aware that the events at Wapping highlight three extremely serious problems?[Interruption.] The first is the problem for trade unionists pursuing a just and important grievance when outside elements not involved in the dispute batten on and exploit that grievance for their own sectarian purposes. It is no coincidence that most of those people who were arrested at Wapping on Saturday were neither print workers nor local residents. Brenda Dean of SOGAT '82 and Tony Dubbins of the National Graphical Association have today reiterated to me their absolute dissociation from those outside and alien to the democratic trade union Labour movement who fix themselves like leeches to a cause which they do not assist but actively discredit.
Secondly, there is the problem for the police, who have still not found it possible to work out tactics to deal with potential or actual disorder which protects both the police and innocent demonstrators and bystanders from danger and injury. In view of the seriousness of the situation and conflicting reports of exactly what took place at Wapping, it is essential that there be an urgent and independent public inquiry—
That was the party of order.
—that there should be an urgent and independent public inquiry into Saturday's events and the events leading up to Saturday, for which there should be made available all the video and sound recordings made at Wapping by the broadcasting authorities and other organisations, including the police.
Thirdly, we once again see clearly what happens under a Government who have a vested interest — [Hon. Members: "Oh."]—a vested interest in disorder. Any other Government, Conservative as well as Labour, would by now have tried to step in to assist in producing a solution to a dispute which has dragged on for so long.[Interruption.]
The present Government's policies actively foster confrontation. Any other Government would show concern at the serious and damaging way in which the massive and continuing police presence at Wapping is distracting the Metropolitan force from dealing with the 750,000 crimes which are being committed in London, a dilemma to which the Commissioner himself drew attention last Friday. The Prime Minister is perfectly content to mouth catchphrases about law and order—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."]. No doubt this will be broadcast and people will hear how Conservative Members behave in what is supposed to be a free Parliament.
Is the Home Secretary aware that the Prime Minister is perfectly content to mouth catchphrases about law and order while London suffers from its worst ever crime wave and its lowest ever crime clear-up rate? That is the harsh reality that spotlights the difference between this Government's hypocritical slogans and the crime and disorder over which they complacently preside.
I can tell from that that the right hon. Gentleman finds himself in some difficulty. He is right to the extent that several hundred people detached themselves from the much larger procession and were responsible for the violence, but the organisers of the event know perfectly well that violence and violent people would attach themselves to it. There is nothing new about that—t happened in May—so it was deeply unwise to hold and organise a demonstration at that place at that time.
As regards the right hon. Gentleman's request for an inquiry, I would simply say that the background to such events is well known. Some of the events of Saturday night will be investigated by the courts as a result of the charges that have been made. Parliament has laid down the procedures for investigating complaints against the police, including supervision by the independent Police Complaints Authority.
Contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I have often pointed out in the House over the past year the dangers and damage done to the policing of London because of the diversion of policemen to the Wapping dispute. I would expect that, after a year of ambiguity, the right hon. Gentleman would make it clear whether, in his view, the police are right to be present at Wapping upholding the freedom of those who work there or whether he believes, as do some of his hon. Friends, that they should withdraw and leave the field clear for the thugs whom we saw in action on Saturday night.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House will await with interest the answer by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to his challenge? Meanwhile, can my right hon. Friend confirm the press reports that some Opposition Members were present and spoke at that disgraceful riot, including the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—[Interruption.]
Can my right hon. Friend also confirm that, if those reports were correct, the words that were attributed to those speakers were more likely to inflame the mob than to restrain it?
I believe I am correct in saying that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was present and that he addressed the meeting. I have no account of what he said or whether he attempted to restrain the violence of those attacking the police.
Although condemnation of the violence should be total and unequivocal, the question has to be posed of what will be done. For a year now, we have seen not peaceful demonstrations in the defence of trade union rights, but a squalid public nuisance. Does the Home Secretary think that political demonstrations should continue to take place in Wapping highway, disrupting the residents' lives for over a year and putting them at risk? Indeed, a young boy recently lost his life on the highway because of this whole affair.
Is it not time that it was clearly stated that that is not in defence of reasonable trade unionism and that such demonstrations should take place in Trafalgar square?
The right hon. Gentleman is elaborating a point that I made. It is not for me to get involved in the merits of the dispute; it is not for the police to get involved in the merits of the dispute. But it is perfectly reasonable that the Home Secretary should, as I have done often over the past months, say that it is wrong and unwise for those organising the dispute to conduct it in such a way that the consequences described by the right hon. Gentleman almost inevitably flow from it.
Since the stated purpose of some of those who went to that demonstration —not the print workers—was specifically to embroil the police in violence and so damage their standing with the public, will my right hon. Friend study some of the literature that is circulated by those people? Is he aware that one leaflet shows how to make a petrol bomb, under the legend: "Pigs today and bacon tomorrow," and that another piece of that literature says:
We confront, we maim and we kill the police because we hate them. They are the class enemy.
Will not my right hon. Friend beseech Opposition Members who are doing their best to rid the Labour party of that sort of person—
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) will make available to the authorities any literature that he thinks ought to be investigated, in case it falls foul of the law, but he is right in saying that it is high time for those on the Opposition Benches who are seriously interested in the policing of London to bring to an end the ambiguity to which I have drawn attention.
Since it is quite evident that, on this occasion and on previous occasions, the actions that have led to the violence have come not from just one quarter — [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Evidence to that account has been presented to the Home Secretary on numerous occasions. Therefore, if the Home Secretary thinks that his case is so good, why is he so afraid of an independent inquiry, which is what the trade union leaders are asking for?
Partly because, if one has an independent inquiry, one immediately cuts across the ordinary processes of law. I am anxious that those charged with offences on Saturday night or before should face those charges in the courts. I am anxious that any complaints against the police should be handled through the procedures that Parliament has laid down. Both those lines of action, which seem to me right and normal, would be to some extent complicated and frustrated if there was an inquiry—[HON. MEMBERS: "Scarman."] The Scarman inquiry dealt with the whole background. On this occasion it is very well known, though controversial.
The crucial point, which the right hon. Gentleman brought up, is that the conduct of the dispute on the trade union side has attracted around it a cluster of violent people. There is no dispute about that. I urge that those responsible for continuing the dispute find some way of doing so, if they feel that they must, while getting rid of the violent fringe that is causing all the trouble.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the Labour party cannot have it both ways—that if it pretends to have an interest in crime prevention and good policing in London, it must use its influence to get its people off the streets and into the negotiating room so that our police may go back to policing the streets of London?
As the Member of Parliament for the area that includes Wapping, may I convey to the Home Secretary my profound and unreserved condemnation of the attacks that were made on the police on Saturday night? But may I equally convey to him my profound concern about the attacks that were made by the police on a number of my constituents who were peacefully demonstrating in the area? I entirely agree with the Home Secretary that individual cases and those who were arrested should be brought to trial, and complaints against the police properly heard, but surely the scale of the events and the important issues that are involved—including the maintenance of law and order in Britain in the 1980s — deserve a full, independent public inquiry and I urge that on the right hon. Gentleman.
What occurred on this occasion—as on previous occasions—is that a peaceful demonstration was transformed by attacks on the police from a minority of those present. Having endured that for some time, the police took action to restore order. Once that action has begun, all kinds of things happen and all kinds of people take all kinds of action. That is what I and the right hon. Gentleman mean when we say individual cases.
I cannot see any purpose in having a general inquiry, because the essence of the matter is not in dispute. The essence of the matter is that an industrial dispute, which has dragged on for month after month, with great harm to the policing of London, is complicated by the presence of violent people. The answer lies in the hands of those who are organising the dispute to conduct the dispute if they have to do so, in a way that disposes of that fringe.
Will my right hon. Friend ask the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to spell out how people can go on peaceful demonstrations when they are armed with stones, bricks and spears? Will he further say that the organisers of the demonstration, instead of weeping tears on television, should take their share of responsibility because they organised it? Can we have an investigation into what was being said behind the picket lines by people who, I believe, were inciting violence?
If there is evidence of incitement, it has to be examined, but my hon. Friend's main point is entirely right. Several hundred people, a minority of the 12,500 people taking part—this has happened before—were responsible for what happened on Saturday night, and the onus falls on those responsible for these events to make sure they do not organise their affairs so that this happens again and again.
Although the Home Secretary is the one-man police authority for London, does he realise that he knows less about what happened on Saturday night than most people, because he was not there, and that he should listen to the constituency Members of Parliament who live in east London and who were there?
Will he accept it from me that the police behaved with excessive, unlawful, indiscriminate and quite sickening brutality and violence? Does he realise that if he allows the riot squad to continue in that way, they will soon kill somebody? Does he realise that those workers who are involved in an industrial dispute in this country have a perfect and proper right to demonstrate, and will continue to do so until there is a proper negotiated settlement? Finally, does he realise that, as his statement carried no credibility, the only thing that will satisfy the country is a proper independent inquiry to get at the truth?
I have always listened with care to the hon. Gentleman because of his local knowledge, and to the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and other Members with constituency interests in this matter. However, nothing that he has now said will distract the House from the basic facts of what happened on this occasion. [HON. MEMBERS: "You don't know."] There is no direct connection with the industrial dispute, because no attempt was made to intervene with the lorries that were coming out of the plant. It was a demonstration with speeches—that is legitimate, though on this occasion unwise—and it was also an attempt by several hundred people, equipped with ferocious weapons, to attack the police. Justice should take its course against such people, and I hope that that will be as strongly endorsed by the House as I believe it will be by the country.
I read an account of something similar being said by an hon. Member. I could not really believe that an hon. Member of this House, representing parliamentary democracy, would allow himself to make such a deeply undemocratic and anti-democratic remark.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the many tens of thousands of men, women and children from all over the country who have been to Wapping over the past year will understand perfectly why the Home Secretary does not wish there to be an inquiry? It is because an inquiry would reveal what I and others who have been there could confirm from our own eyes—occasions when there have been savage and brutal baton charges by the police against those who were present, as last Saturday when the legal observer, John Bowden, had his face smashed in by a police baton, when a photographer of a national newspaper was trampled on by a horse, when one of the television units there had its lights smashed deliberately by the police and when the police broke the windows of the bus which has been used as a first-aid station since 3 May. Is the Home Secretary aware that those who were there understand perfectly that the Government need Rupert Murdoch and are giving him free police for the purpose of denying work to those who used to work for him?
I repeat that neither the Home Secretary nor the police have, or should have, any part in deciding whether Mr. Murdoch is right or wrong, or whether SOGAT is right or wrong. That is not the business of the police. The right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), have failed either to endorse or repudiate the concept that the police should withdraw from Wapping and allow the thugs to trample on those who are exercising their right to work there.
Is the Home Secretary aware that I was one of those Members there on Saturday and I was able to observe police officers spraying members of the crowd with red paint in order to identify them for later arrest, that the police were using agents provocateurs in the crowd and that at 9.10 during the evening, when there was complete quiet throughout the crowd, a completely unprovoked dragoon-like charge was mounted by the police straight into that crowd, seriously injuring a number of people? Does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that he should go and witness the scale and ferocity of police violence against innocent, peaceful people protesting against the theft of their jobs by the Murdoch empire?
I understand that a tin of red paint was thrown by a demonstrator.
I have looked carefully into the particular point about the use of mounted police. I do not think that there is any dispute that the trouble started when some of the demonstrators overturned a lorry which they had brought along and tried to set it on fire. That set off the first round of violence. As I understand it, and as I have been informed and believe, despite attempts to clear the area by officers on foot with shields, the police were continuing—this is just after 9 pm—to sustain a high level of injuries. That means that missiles of the kind that I have described were constantly being tossed at them. The efforts by foot police to deal with that, although they continued, were not successful. That is why the decision to use the mounted police was taken. Attempts were made to give a warning of that operation in advance. A loud hailer was used to that effect, but there was so much noise about that that warning did not have full effect. That is the background of continuing missile attacks on the police which led to the decision, which I believe was justifiable, to use the mounted police.
Since this is not the first time—as my right hon. Friend has said—that violent and brutish outside elements have exploited the troubles at Wapping, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the organisers of the march consulted the Commissioner about the routing or the wisdom of the march? In the light of what has happened, will consideration be given to the use of the Public Order Act 1986 to ensure that such opportunities for anarchic violence are not given at Wapping in future?
The police were consulted about the nature of the original procession and the arrangements that should be made. They were consulted by the organisers. The police had no power once the demonstration became static to impose conditions.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is urging me to use the powers that he so strongly opposed in the Public Order Act 1986. He will be glad to hear that preparations for introducing those powers are well advanced and I hope that they will be introduced within the next few weeks.
On behalf of many of my constituents who were at Wapping on Saturday night—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because they have lost their jobs. On behalf of my constituents, may I say that they unreservedly condemn the political activists on the fringe of the demonstration who caused untold and unjustified trouble? However, will the Home Secretary accept that there is a severe crisis of confidence in London over the police tactics? Will he tell the public, who want the police to have the right priorities in catching and dealing with criminals, that massive deployment of personnel at Wapping week after week prevents much of the work that the police would rather be doing—
—and that the only way to ensure that that concern is met is through a public inquiry for which many hon. Members have asked. That would ensure that the facts are objectively known.
I heard but found it hard to believe that the demonstration was intended in some way to be a family occasion. It is absolutely amazing that people brought their children on a cold January night to a scene where there had been violence in the past and where there was clearly a risk of violence on this occasion.
Of course the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is right: there were approximately 1,000 police officers at Wapping on Saturday night and about 12,500 demonstrators of whom only several hundred were involved in violence. If the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that the police should produce at Wapping either nobody or inadequate numbers of police officers so that they are swamped, I cannot see—
Well, that is the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks and the implication of what the right hon. Member for Gorton has consistently said. That is entirely wrong. The Commissioner has to decide, in the light of the information available to him, how many men he should deploy at Wapping on each occasion. That is his operational decision. That is irrelevant to the question of an inquiry.
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate and give credit where credit is due to the Leader of the Opposition for denouncing the violence on the picket lines and for denouncing the words of his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)? Will he tell the Leader of the Opposition in no uncertain terms that, if he was a real leader, he would kick out the scum of his party who are turning the Labour party into a party of mob rule and not law and order?
I certainly think it is time that the Opposition responded to the prompting from this side of the House to renounce and be rid of from their midst the anti-police borough leaders in London, because there is undoubtedly a connection between all these anti-police activities.
Is the Home Secretary aware that all of us agree with him that the events that we saw on Saturday night and Sunday at Wapping were shameful? Will he also accept that I disagree with him that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) should not have the right to go down to Wapping and speak—[Interruption.] He has the right to go down there and speak in favour of those who disagree with the actions taken by the newspaper proprietors.
The Home Secretary has said that he will not have an inquiry. Is he aware that there are three points of concern? The first is the allegation from the Home Secretary's hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) that local authorities use ratepayers' money—that was the allegation—to instigate what happened the other night. That should be investigated. Secondly, allegations have been made that it was not the trade unionists who caused the trouble, except perhaps marginally, but people from other organisations. Who are these other organisations?[Interruption.] It is all very well for people to say who they think they are. The allegation has been made and the country should know who they are. Thirdly, an allegation has been made to me that at 9.30 pm something went wrong and a charge was made when it should not have been made. That ought to be investigated as well, and the Home Secretary could report to the House.
I have dealt with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds and I have nothing to add. As to outsiders, I will simply repeat the only point that I have made in that respect—that, of the 67 people arrested, 15 are print workers.
I have the professions of the others, and they vary widely. As for the rest, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield has not undermined the case that I have made for letting the ordinary processes of law obtain and continue in this case.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there was a public inquiry it would inevitably be a judicial inquiry and that that would have the grave disadvantage of involving the judiciary in politics and would also inhibit criminal proceedings? On the other hand, criminal proceedings will in the end by decided by juries which give no reasons and cannot become involved in the political debate.
I was at Wapping on Saturday and I am neither a liar nor blind. I can tell the Home Secretary that some stones were thrown at the police early on, and I condemn that. That is not only unlawful; it is very stupid when one is confronting thousands of police officers who are tooled up to the eyebrows. Did the Home Secretary see on television on Saturday night police officers indiscrimately beating with batons people whom they had already arrested? That is unlawful by any measure, and the Home Secretary must say what he will do about the undisciplined actions of those police officers.
Lastly, it is about time that the Government realised that they cannot continue washing their hands of this dispute. The dispute was caused by Rupert Murdoch, who sacked 5,000 workers. He is an American citizen. It is about time the Government intervened in the dispute.
The sequence on Saturday night was familiar. First, the police attempted to contain disorder with ordinary police officers on foot using ordinary equipment. When the attacks on the police continued despite that, police armed with protective gear arid with riot equipment were used.
Then, after 9 o'clock, in the circumstances that I described in answer to earlier questions, events continued to be out of control because of missile attacks on the police and the decision was made to use the mounted police.
On each occasion, I am satisfied that those decisions by the police were justified. If they had not been taken, those whom I have described as, and who the House will agree were, the thugs, would have prevailed. That would have been a bad day for the people of London.
The Home Secretary will have noticed, that, in her description of the crowd at Wapping, Miss Brenda Dean used the words, "ordinary, decent, normal families". Does he agree that a sad and regrettable gulf is opening between Miss Dean's definition of that term and the understanding of that term in 26 million homes across the length and breadth of the country? Does he agree that, in those 26 million homes, the contempt for the objectives is exceeded only by the contempt for the methods used at Wapping?
My criticism of the trade union leaders is not that they are continuing the dispute, because that is a matter for them, nor that they instigated or took part in the disorder, because they did not. My criticism of them is that, despite the overwhelming weight of advice that they have received, they continue to organise their part in the dispute in such a way as to produce these results. In doing that, they assume a heavy responsibility. I hope that they have now changed their minds and will pursue the dispute, if they must do so, in a way that will remove violence from the scene.
I am sponsored by SOGAT '82, a member of that union and extremely proud of it, and I was at Wapping. I condemn the violence, but I ask the Home Secretary to go to Wapping to see that obscene razor wire curtain that is an affront to all working people. Does he realise that with this whitewash he is seen to support Rupert Murdoch's brutal and violent strategy of confrontation?
The hon. Gentleman leaves out of account the fact that, to use his words, hundreds of decent working people work and wish to continue to work at Wapping. That puts the police in a wholly unenviable position. The right hon. Member for Gorton and his colleagues have not yet answered the point: do they expect the police to continue to protect the right to work of those who are engaged at Wapping or do they believe that those workers should be abandoned?
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to reflect later on the intervention during those exchanges by the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths)? After quoting leaflets which he alleged were calling for the death of police on the picket lines, he linked those leaflets to two sources. The first was those members of the Labour party who may or may not be under threat of expulsion—I have been named as part of that group more than once. The second source identified by him and his colleagues is Labour Members in this Chamber.
As the guardian of the rights of Back-Bench Members, Mr. Speaker, will you find out whether the hon. Gentleman should be required tomorrow to withdraw those statements or produce the evidence outside the Chamber?
I am not responsible for what is said. If the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) had named an individual Member, that would have been entirely different.
I have no intention of making a personal statement, Mr. Speaker, but I will say this to you: whether I am in Parliament or outside, I shall fight for the working class that sent me here, just as the Tories, including the Home Secretary, fight for their class day in and day out—including all those crooks in the City.