William Whitelaw – 1972 Statement on Mass Lobby of Coal Miners

The statement made by William Whitelaw, the then Leader of the House of Commons, in the House on 15 February 1972.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is right that I should report to the House on the circumstances of the mass lobby taking place, which I have specifically been to see to ensure that everything was carried out in accordance with the recent proposals of the Services Committee, and, indeed, in the best interests of all concerned.

I assure the House that every effort is being made on behalf of all those concerned to ensure that this demonstration is properly and peacefully conducted. Every effort is being made to ensure that those in very large numbers who wish to come into this House and into Committee Rooms are able to do so. I specifically made arrangements myself when there for an extra 500 people to be admitted immediately, and that has been done.

I pay a considerable tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Opposition Chief Whip, who has taken a considerable part in ensuring that this demonstration is properly conducted and that everything is being done that should be done in accordance with the traditions of the House.
I also pay a considerable tribute to some of the stewards of the march with whom I have spoken, who are taking every precaution to make sure that their members are doing everything they can to pursue it on a peaceful basis. The large numbers create considerable problems for the police. I should also like to say how much I admire the work of the police and the authorities of the House in a very difficult situation. All concerned are conducting it in a way in which I would regard as the highest in British traditions.

Mr. Michael Foot

We appreciate the statement that the right hon. Gentleman has just made and the efforts that he has made, together with my right hon. Friend and others, to ensure that the dangerous situation that seemed to be arising half an hour ago outside the House should be properly dealt with. We are grateful to him for making the statement. Would he undertake to keep a very close watch on the situation to ensure that large numbers of miners are able to come into the House and that they are able to exercise their democratic rights to meet their Members of Parliament and others in the House, and if by any mischance there is any hold up in this procedure, will he make a further report to the House? I am sure that he would agree that we all wish to ensure that miners coming on this lobby should have full access to their Members of Parliament in this House to be able to put their view.

Mr. Whitelaw

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, within the limits of the accommodation of the House and what numbers can properly be admitted, those who can be admitted will certainly be so. How many are admitted of the large numbers inevitably ultimately depends upon how quickly those who come in then move through and go out again. This point is very much in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Opposition Chief Whip, and this will be done. This is very important because obviously the House cannot accommodate more than a certain number at any one time.

As for my interests in the matter, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He would accept that my determination both to go there to see to it and to return and to report to the House is evidence that I wish to see that, within the reasons proper to the House, every help is given. It cannot be possible, necessarily, to accommodate in this House everyone who might want to come in at any particular time, because that clearly is not within the capacity of the buildings or the arrangements that can be made here. But, within those premises, everything is being done that can reasonably be done.