HC Deb 17 December 1908 vol 198 cc2168-70

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. EMMOTT (Oldham) in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

MR. RADFORD (Islington, E.)

conceived it to be possible, though unlikely, that disorderly conduct at public meetings might spring from women as well as men. He did not press the Amendment on the noble Lord if he thought it was unnecessary. He knew it might be said that under the Interpretation Act a person might be said to include a person of either sex. On the other hand the House of Lords had recently been employed in considering whether "persons" included women, and he suggested for greater clearness that it was desirable that those words should be there inserted.

Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 5, after the word 'person,' to insert the words 'of either sex.'"—(Mr. Radford.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)

trusted the Committee would not accept he words. It was perfectly clear that "persons" did include both men and women, and to put in these words, which he could not think would be found in any Act of Parliament would merely lead to confusion and possibly some miscarriage of justice which they could not at present foresee. These were the ordinary words in Statutes dealing with any criminal offence, and it would be a pity to depart from ordinary usage. Unquestionably the Bill was directed to both men and women, and would be so construed, he had no doubt.


said there were cases in which the word "person" had had to be construed in the Courts, but they were cases concerned with the exercise of public functions.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said the Bill was only introduced, he believed, on the 10th instant, and they had had it before them a week. Very little was known about it there or in the country, and as they were introducing an important change and creating new pains and penalties, some time should be given in order that His Majesty's subjects might become acquainted with the new law. Disorderly conduct at public meetings was practised in many parts of the country, and had been from immemorial times. It was a form of sport which was as well recognised as football. He was not prepared to say without a moment's notice that a man should be fined or imprisoned for doing that which they and their forefathers had done for generations. That being so, while he did not say a word in favour of disorderly conduct in public meetings, he thought it would be wise and discreet on the part of the noble Lord to accept this Amendment, so that persons concerned might know that a new offence for which they might be fined and imprisoned would come in force in twelve months time, and meanwhile that practice might go on.

Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 5, after the word 'meeting,' to insert the words 'held after the 31st day of December, 1909.'"—(Mr. Radford.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said he quite sympathised with what the hon. Member said, but he trusted he would not press the Amendment. If the House was of opinion, and he thought it was, that the practice was against the liberty of the subject, properly understood, that it was one of the rights of the subject to hold public meetings and an essential part of our constitutional practice, and that this Bill was intended to secure that right and not to infringe any real liberty, it was not desirable that the practice of breaking up public meetings, however long-established, should go on for another twelve mouths. The possible danger of hardship was really not very great. The penalty was only £5—after all, not a very severe penalty—or a month's imprisonment, and he did not think it was at all probable that any Summary Jurisdiction Court would be at all over severe in dealing with the matter. Where the prisoners said they were not aware of the Act, and were not evilly-disposed persons, and nothing was known against their character, the probability was that they would be let off with a caution the first time and very likely the second. He really thought they need not be afraid that the penalty would be unduly enforced. It was very desirable that the Bill should not be amended on this occasion. He trusted that the hon. Gentleman who had expressed himself as a well-wisher of the Bill would not insist on the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendments.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a third time."—(Lord Robert Cecil.)


congratulated the noble Lord upon his achievement in legislation. He pointed out how easy it was to pass a private Member's Bill when there was general concurrence in its object.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.

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