§ Order for second reading read.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir W. Robson)
In moving "That this Bill be now read a second time," I may state at the outset that the circumstances which gave rise to the measure are only too fresh in the memory of this House, and that I do not desire to take up any time in their recapitulation. Undoubtedly it was brought pretty clearly home to our minds that there was necessity for something being done with respect to the powers now possessed by the House for dealing with the misconduct of strangers who have obtained permission to enter the House on the understanding that they will conform to our rules, and that they will not 1384 proceed deliberately and grossly to disturb our proceedings. If it were at all likely that the conduct of those persons who have offended in the past would not be repeated in the future, I am quite sure that the House would not care to entertain this Bill. Nor would the Government desire to introduce it; but unfortunately it cannot be said that it is unlikely that the conduct of the disturbers will not be repeated. On the contrary, it is more than likely—indeed it is reasonably certain—that that conduct will be repeated, and it is reasonably certain that it will be repeated unless and until the House of Commons is invested with some swift, sufficient, and appropriate remedy. It cannot be said that we have got sufficient or appropriate procedure under existing circumstances. It cannot be regarded as an appropriate course that this Assembly should embark upon lengthy and perhaps acrimonious debates as to how disorderly strangers should be dealt with, or Whether they should be dealt with at all, and then summon each of those strangers to the Bar of the House for examination, thereby giving them facilities for the making of speeches which they desire to make, and which could not easily be restricted. The next step might be perhaps to refer the matter for inquiry to a Committee, which would be really equivalent to a public trial before a tribunal not the best in the world for trying such cases. That would be followed by a report to the House, and the further debate which that report would involve. I say that to take all these steps or any of them is to encourage the very mischief that we desire to prevent. So far from being a deterrent to wrong-doers, such procedure plays their game, if I may use that expression. It gives them the maximum of advertisement with the minimum of risk in the way of punishment. One can imagine individual cases where the chance of punishment after an appearance at the Bar would be infinitely small, but there would always be in all cases what, from the point of view of the wrong-doer, would be an incomparably good advertisement for the cause in which that person might be concerned.
Nowadays, for good or for bad, every section of the political public, great or small, is naturally enough indebted to advertisement. It is an essential aid of propaganda; in fact it is in many cases an effective substitute for propaganda. It would almost appear as though those who have some sort of notoriety in view most largely prefer that form of notoriety which takes the form of nuisance, because from their 1385 point of view it best serves their purpose. In the matter of political propaganda the temptation to resort to such methods is naturally very strong, and in some cases one may regard it as absolutely irresistible. As soon as it became clear that from the circumstances which had arisen that the conduct of certain strangers formed part of a systematic campaign it was necessary for us to devise some means of self-defence, unless our proceedings were to be reduced to ridicule. I think it also became apparent alike to the authorities of the House on the two Front Benches and to hon. Members in all parts of the House that our existing procedure is inadequate. I certainly do not propose to interfere with any single power which the House now possesses. Nobody has suggested in connection with the recent disturbances that the offenders should be called to the Bar of the House, and that they should be examined and cross-examined. For the very reasons which I have indicated, so far from that being a punishment or preventive that would be just exactly what the wrong-doers desire. All we were able to do in practice was to turn the offenders out, and that was neither a penalty nor a remedy. If by some means which is usually regarded as dishonourable they chose to defy the officials of the House and to betray the hon. Member who trusted them, there was no means of preventing a recurrence of this evil. Therefore, the galleries were closed, and it is really in order to enable the galleries to be opened again, and opened with some sense of security and some feeling that our proceedings will not be absolutely and deliberately disturbed, that this Bill is brought in. Hon. Members will have noticed that the Bill in no way interferes with any of the obligations, usages, or privileges of the House. Whatever they are, they ought to be jealously guarded, for I think they are of great use. Whatever they are, they will be preserved. All that the Bill does is only to a very slight extent to give increased powers to the House. All it does, in fact, is to provide the House with an alternative and efficient remedy in circumstances where it may be considered suitable to act upon the alternative. Perhaps it might be useful if I were to indicate to the House the character of the powers we now possess.
The House of Commons is a Court, and it possesses the powers which the superior Courts possess of committing for contempt of Court. The class of offence with which we have had to deal lately is really in the 1386 nature of contempt, and the punishment is very much as for ordinary contempt of Court. The House is able by its officers to arrest any person at any time, no matter where he may be, who is guilty of any such offence, and by its warrant is entitled to call on all the civil officers and magistrates, and indeed upon all subjects of the King, to effect the arrest and bring the offender before the House. When the offender is brought before the House he is entitled to explanation, and is subject to examination and cross-examination, and in cases especially where the penalty of detention may be enforced, he is entitled to all the formalities of a trial. The powers of punishment, however, are not quite as certain or as satisfactory as they might be. The House of Commons is not what is technically known as a Court of Record, like the House of Lords; and the powers of committal for contempt possessed by the House of Lords are rather more satisfactory and of wider range than those possessed by the House of Commons. This House can only commit for the Session. I dare say it is open to argument like any other question of constitutional law dependent upon usage, but I think the general opinion would be that at the end of the Session if the House has in its custody any subject by way of detention, the probability is that upon application to the King's Bench for a habeas corpus the detained person would of necessity be released; so that there is no very substantial risk of heavy punishment to anyone who disturbs the proceedings of the House in any Session.
There is another point upon which the power of the House is not quite certain or satisfactory, and that is the power of imposing a fine as an alternative to imprisonment. That power is undoubtedly possessed by the House of Lords, because it possesses all the powers of committal for contempt incidental to a Court of Record. But the House of Commons has not exercised the power of fine for over 200 years; and where the law depends on usage the lapse of 200 or of 250 years would undoubtedly cause an element of uncertainty. The power of imposing a fine is one which in some cases would be very appropriate and proper. The House would not desire to inflict the heavier penalty where a minor penalty would suffice, and the general opinion, I think, would be that if the House desired to take power to impose a fine it would probably be wise that it should do so by legislation rather than 1387 rely on an old usage which has had such a very long period of intermission. Alt these powers are founded upon custom. These powers cannot be increased by resolution. They can only be increased as a matter of readjustment by legislation. But I merely draw attention to the powers which we already possess in order to assure hon. Members that we are not by this Bill assuming any new kind of powers. The House is already able to arrest, and that for a period which may be even longer than that which is named in the Bill. So we are not introducing any constitutional novelty in that respect. Of course I need not deal with those cases in which persons who are disorderly in this House are punishable by common law—in cases of offence for instance like that of assault. Where there is an offence of that character the courts of Jaw can take cognisance of it, upon the application or prosecution of officers of this House. So we have not got to deal with those offences. We have only got to deal with offences against the dignity and security and convenience of our proceedings.
This brings me to the Bill itself which is already in the hands of hon. Members. I do not think it is of a very technical character or abounding in complications. The first sub-section provides that any person who, not being a Member of either House of Parliament, while present during the sitting of either House, is guilty of disorderly conduct or acts in contravention of any rule or order of either House with respect to the admission and conduct of strangers, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to a fine not exceeding £100. Since the Bill was printed I believe that from all quarters of the House some representation has been made that, having regard to the fact that the offence, if a serious one, can be dealt with by the ordinary courts of law, the maximum period of imprisonment mentioned in the Bill is somewhat in excess of the necessities of the case. I am quite prepared, and the Government is quite prepared to adopt that view. I am disposed to think that in more serious cases we have still our old powers. Remember that under this Bill the House need not prosecute unless it likes, and there can be no prosecution without the leave of the Speaker, and therefore the. House will take its absolute power 1388 through the Speaker. Where you get an offence of such a character as to warrant six months' imprisonment, or even a longer term, then it seems, on the whole, notwithstanding the inconvenience of our procedure, to be permissible and perhaps advisable that the House should retain the power itself of dealing with it, and should only remit to the magistrate those cases which it thinks suitable to be dealt with by him. Of course it may well be that we want to impose a higher penalty. In that case we can do it; or if it be that this minor penalty of three months is not adequate to prevent a repetition of the mischief then it may be that we shall have to legislate further, and in some stronger degree. But I do not think that the House would be unwilling to proceed somewhat cautiously at present. I am quite sure that if the House found it necessary to go somewhat farther it would not stop at legislation of this character. But I believe that hon. Members and the country generally will appreciate the motive with which the House of Commons proceeds in not adopting the stronger measures in the beginning. That is the first sub-section. The next is very important, though somewhat technical in character. This Bill would bring these offenders, if the House so desires in any particular case, under the Summary Jurisdiction Act. Any person who arrests a person alleged to be guilty of a misdemeanour is bound to account to the Court of Summary Jurisdiction within 24 hours for the person so arrested. It is much more convenient, if an arrest is made on the floor of the House by an officer of the House, that he should be at liberty to hand the offender over to a police constable, and that the police constable should make his appearance on the following day before the Court of Summary Jurisdiction, rather than that as a matter of necessity the officer of the House should attend. Although a private person cannot hand over anyone whom he arrests to another private person or a police constable without the authority of a magistrate, a police constable can. A police constable can hand over any person he arrests to another police constable, and all that sub-section (2) does is to give that power to the officers of this House, enabling them as if they were police constables themselves to arrest a person and hand him over to a constable. Sub-section (3) says: "No proceeding shall be instituted under this Act without the sanction of the Lord Chancellor or Mr. 1389 Speaker." That is a very important subsection and keeps the whole working of this Act completely within the hands of the House.
§ Sir W. ROBSON
I think the question of arrest is dealt with in the preceding sub-section, which says:—Any person who commits an offence under this Act may, unless the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker otherwise order—So that, with regard to both the initial arrest and the subsequent proceedings the matter is kept well within the jurisdiction and competence of the House. In fact, the procedure the Bill establishes is really analogous to a delegation of the power of the House to a magistrate for a particular purpose and in regard to a particular kind of offence. Then comes sub-section (4), which provides that the privileges of the House are not to be affected by the Bill. I observe there is a Motion on the Paper that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. As I may not speak again, I can only speculate as to the grounds upon which that Motion will be supported. But it may be suggested—and I apprehend that this will probably be the reason put forward—that the House ought not under any circumstances to permit an external tribunal to deal with offences committed within our precincts. That, I confess, is a plausible and perhaps attractive contention, because it is founded upon a feeling of what is due to the dignity of the House. But those who adopt that contention I think omit to take note of the clause which I have read showing how completely the House retains its control over the proceedings. The House, acting through Mr. Speaker, may prevent arrests, and Mr. Speaker may prevent a prosecution. The House can take action, and the magistrate only acts by leave of the House.
Of course, the House could, if it chose, simplify its existing procedure. It would be within its power to say that Mr. Speaker should exercise all his powers in a somewhat easier and more expeditious form than that which now exists. But I would ask hon. Members to recollect that offences of this character in the future, as in the past, will probably be connected with some organised political movement, and it will be a novel and, the authorities of the House will probably agree, a somewhat doubtful proceeding to throw upon the Chair the sole responsibility of trying and imprisoning persons 1390 who claim that they have been actuated in their conduct by political motives. That is a step which I do not think the House would be anxious to take or the authorities of the House anxious to adopt. The duty of holding a trial—because each of these persons would be entitled to a trial—is rather an important one, and one which would be accompanied by many invidious circumstances from which we would gladly be preserved. It may also be suggested that it is not desired to put such a serious responsibility upon Mr. Speaker, and that the responsibility might be divided or shared by the House in the form of some inquiry by a Select Committee. A Select Committee is a part of our existing procedure, and it is open to the objection I have already urged. I believe that all hon. Members, notwithstanding the respect we entertain for a Select Committee of the House, would agree that it is not the best tribunal for trying offences partly of a political and partly of a criminal character. Therefore, on the whole, it has seemed to the Government that the better plan was to give the House this additional and optional power—it is that and nothing more-—in cases which it thinks suitable for the purpose of remitting to an ordinary court of law, where they would be dealt with as they deserve to be dealt with, not as matters of great State importance, but as ordinary matters of police jurisdiction. Really it is absurd for this House, with its many duties and obligations, to be obliged to sit as a tribunal of 500 or 600 judges in order to try an offence which is not worth any further notice than an ordinary police magistrate could give it. In saying that I am not belittling the character of the offence. There is no offence more serious or more inimical to good government than any attempt to interfere with the proceedings of the House. But so far as the offender is concerned, he is only worthy of that degree of public notice which this Bill proposes to give him. I venture, therefore, to commend the Bill to the House as one that will save its time and safeguard its dignity, both of which objects are vital to its usefulness and authority. I beg to move.
§ Motion made and question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a second time."—[Sir Wm. Robson.]
§ Lord BALCARRES
The House is indebted to the hon. and learned Member for the survey which he has given of the somewhat difficult points which underlie 1391 the procedure of this House in dealing with disorder. But there are one or two questions I should like to ask. Clause 1 provides that "any person, not being a Member of either House of Parliament," shall for certain offences be liable to certain penalties. Everybody knows that the origin of this Bill is to be found in certain disorderly conduct which occurred in both galleries last Session; and I understand that the Bill was introduced only in order to safeguard the House itself as a deliberative assembly from such disorder. But the Attorney-General is extending it a great deal further. It is now "any person" within the Palace of Westminster; that is to say, any artisan working in Victoria Gardens half a mile away, any cabman in New Palace Yard, or any domestic servant in any part of this huge pile of buildings comes under the Bill. The measure is not limited to the two galleries of the House of Commons; it is "during the sitting of either House"; and it is not limited to disorder during the proceedings of this House, but applies to any disorderly conduct. In the first place the Bill applies to anybody within these precincts of ten or a dozen acres. Whether that conduct be of a character to interfere with our proceedings or not, that makes the Bill a very wide Bill. Then the second point is as to what is the Palace of Westminster. The Palace of Westminster is a very big thing. It extends from St. Stephen's Club right under the road to the far end of Victoria Gardens. I see the First Commissioner of Works present, and I think he will bear me out when I say that the Palace of Westminster is not confined to these buildings, but extends to the statue outside which is within the Palace, that is, within the curtilage wall. The Palace of Westminster to-day is coterminous with the old Palace of Westminster as it existed in 1834, and consequently the Palace of Westminster extends almost half-way from St. Stephen's Hall, Henry the Seventh's Chapel, to what is now a cab-stand, and where a good deal of disorder has occurred during the last few months. So that it is not only the people who interfere here who will be affected, not even the people who are disorderly within our own building. My impression is it may extend a good deal further. As to section 2, I want to ask a question. The section reads: "Any person who commits an offence under this Act may, unless the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker otherwise orders, be arrested 1392 without warrant within the Palace of Westminster, and for the purpose of such arrest any officer of either House shall have all the powers and privileges of a constable."
I remember last year or the year before, speaking of the Children Bill, I got myself into trouble by talking about the powers of a constable. I will not talk about the powers of a constable at the present moment, but I will ask who are the officers of the House of Commons and the officers of the House of Lords? It is clear that the Sergeant-at-Arms and his Deputy and the Assistant-Sergeant-at-Arms are officers of the House of Commons, but are there more? Are the doorkeepers and messengers in uniform officers of the House of Commons? I should think they are, and in all deference to those who certainly are officers of the House of Commons—the Sergeant-at-Arms and his Deputies—I confess I think the duty of summary arrest without warrant on the analogy of a policeman's powers would more suitably be vested in those messengers and doorkeepers and policemen than in the Sergeant-at-Arms and his Deputies. We want to know who those people are.
It seems there can only be three officers of the House of Commons who should be invested with the powers of those policemen, and when all is said and done, and recollecting that the geographical range of this Bill is so wide, it is no good limiting the powers of officers to the Sergeant-at-Arms and his Deputies, because the disturbance may happen so far distant from their post of duty as to make it necessary to call in the ordinary policemen, as we have done hitherto under unfortunate circumstances. The third question I want to ask is as to the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker, who are to have veto of proceedings. Sub-section 3 provides:—No proceedings shall be instituted under this Act without the sanction of the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker.I suppose it is an oversight, but as this sub-section 3 is drafted, if the Speaker were to veto proceedings it would be within the province of the Lord Chancellor to assent to proceedings continuing. The authority of you, Sir, is not confined to the House of Commons, nor is the authority of the Lord Chancellor confined to the House of Lords. It is, however, only necessary to get the permission of one prior to instituting proceedings. I do not think this difficulty is likely to arise, but, as the hon. 1393 and learned Member pointed out very clearly, we are dealing with a particular class of persons who engage in a sort of idea of political insubordination—I am speaking of one particular aspect—and those people would take advantage of any single loophole they would find in a measure which would be directed to limit their energies. I think we would do well if, in drafting this Bill, we avoid difficulties of this character. Sub-section 4 is, I think, the most important sub-section of all. It states:—Nothing in this Act shall affect the privileges of either House of Parliament, or any power of either such House to proceed in accordance with ancient usages.I am obliged to the Attorney-General for having gone clearly into that question, and in pointing out the rights and privileges in dealing with disorder which this House already possesses, but I confess he did not quite convince, he did not convince me that in passing the sub-sections of this clause we shall not be in effect materially reducing the efficacy and even the existence of those ancient privileges which are vested in the Speaker of the House of Commons and necessarily in the House itself. The Attorney-General laid down clearly, unanswerably, that the House of Commons is a court. The Speaker, under those conditions—the analogy is not farfetched—would be a judge of the court, and the Members of this House would be an extended jury of that court.
We are giving to our officials in this House and the other the right of summary arrest. We already possess the right of summary arrest, but we are only extending it in order that the House of Commons which now possesses this privilege may be absolved from the unpleasant duty of enforcing this ancient privilege. I do not believe for a minute that if we divest ourselves of this responsibility and share it with the police magistrate sitting in Westminster, that we do so without diminishing the prerogative and privilege which belongs to each Member collectively and individually. We are modifying our rights, although expressly in terms we are preserving them to ourselves. We state in the last lines of the Bill that we reserve all the privileges and powers of ancient usages, but in the first fifteen lines we are materially reducing them. Whatever we say at the end we do not diminish the effect of what we do at the beginning. We are asking the magistrate to take upon his shoulders the responsibility of inflicting punishment. Now what does 1394 that involve? If somebody makes a row in the Gallery of a most objectionable character that person is arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms under the powers with which he is invested under this Bill; that person is handed over to a policeman and taken to Westminster Court, and there charged by the policeman, I understand, and not by the officials of the House. I think that point must be made clear. I gathered from the Attorney-General that it would be inadvisable that the charge should be made by officers of the House, and that the person to be charged would be handed over to the inspector of police.
§ Sir W. ROBSON
I said that it was thought better not to make it necessary that the charge should be made by officers of the House, but that it would be open to them to do so.
§ Lord BALCARRES
Yes. If events took place on the Thursday evening it might not be very convenient for officers of the House to be in attendance at the court at twelve o'clock on the Friday morning. I understand that to be the point. But we have to consider what line the magistrate would take. Here is a person brought before him charged with an offence the penalty for which is three months' imprisonment or a £100 fine. That is a very big thing and there is no magistrate on the London Bench who would sentence a person to three months' imprisonment or a fine of £100 if the delinquent says that he is being deprived of his elementary right in a court of law to cross-examine the witnesses. What does that mean? It means that Mr. Speaker, when one of these rows takes place in the Gallery, may be called upon. It may be that the five, ten, or twenty people involved may, acting in their corporate capacity, be entitled to say that they want the evidence of Mr. Speaker. Ever since the middle of the seventeenth century it has been not our claim, not our boast, but our absolutely respected and inalienable right to withdraw our proceedings in this Chamber from the cross-examination of any outside person or outside body. Mr. Speaker, the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Clerks at the Table, or anybody who happened to be in the Chamber at the time will be liable to be called by these persons as witnesses and cross-examined and "bullyragged" in the manner which we have known up to now, because unless the magistrate himself is satisfied that an adequate number of witnesses has been called he will refuse 1395 to convict. There was the case only the other day, a most monstrous case, in which two or three members of the Cabinet holding offices which call for their daily and hourly work, were called as witnesses simply because they happened to be walking in Palace Yard at the time when there was a vow. I thought it was time that it should be the duty of the magistrate or the Judge of the High Court—I forget which it was—to say that they were witnesses who could not properly be called in view of the fact that there were forty or fifty other witnesses equally available. As the Attorney-General said, their being called was clearly for the purposes of advertisement. But under this Bill we are acting in a different state of things. It will have to be confined to a limited number of persons who may be called. I was here the other day when there was an unhappy scene upstairs. There were not more than four or five Members in the House besides two on the Treasury Bench. In conditions of that kind it would be inevitable that the officers would be summoned, or it might be that they would call Members of the House to be cross-examined about our views and votes and all the rest of it. Perhaps we could stand the racket, but I think that it would be a most deplorable thing if a body of organised politicians could call upon the Speaker of the House of Commons, also the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Clerks at the Table, not to mention any Members who might have been here at the time of the disturbance, or members of the Press Gallery, to give evidence next morning for no other reason except for the purpose of calling attention to the police-court proceedings, or for no other reason except to make sensational paragraphs in the evening papers. It may sound a small thing in one way, but it cuts at the root of the dignity of the proceedings of the House of Commons, and would do more to interfere with that dignity than any mere wrangling in the Gallery, where the people concerned would be simply removed by the police. That is a point to which I would most earnestly call the attention of the Solicitor-General. I cannot see how it is possible to say that the Speaker would not be cross-examined. The Speaker is the quintessence of the collective wisdom of the House of Commons, and he it is who, after due deliberation, is to order proceedings to be instituted, and I think that he should be protected from the very obvious 1396 disadvantages which would inevitably arise, where, for purposes of advertisement or political propaganda, or in order to draw attention to a cause from which this novelty of violence has been withdrawn, it is solely sought to revive a controversy which is now in a moribund situation, I commend that point of view to the learned Attorney-General. I cannot see that Mr. Speaker and the officers of the House may not be cross-examined, and I think that at any rate before the Committee stage comes round we might have some process by which would be removed from the Bill a danger which I for my part believe to be of a most fundamental character.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I join most heartily in the objection taken by the Noble Lord to that part of the Bill which proposes to give powers now possessed by the House to the ordinary police court magistrate of the metropolis. It is conceivable that Mr. Speaker, or responsible officers of the House, might be summoned in connection with police court proceedings. I am speaking for myself on this matter, but I hope that the House will not pass this piece of panic legislation in the form in which it is now drafted. I listened, as I always do, with the greatest attention and respect to the Attorney-General, but even with his great ability he failed to make the meaning of the Bill clear. The person charged, "not being a Member of either House of Parliament," is to be liable to the penalties provided. The words are "he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour." I do not pose at all as a lawyer, but I ask the Attorney-General whether a court of law in construing the clause would not first of all read into it that it is only to apply to persons eligible to become Members of Parliament, and that the use of the pronoun "he" confirms that view. And then let it be observed that not only are people guilty of disorderly conduct liable to be arrested, but also any person who acts in contravention of any rule or order of either House with respect to the admission or conduct of strangers. This is a phrase so wide, so vague, and so far-reaching that it may easily cover any kind of offence of the most innocent kind, and as such it requires modification. Then observe the sub-sections, which provide in effect that any person guilty either of disorder or a contravention of any rule is to be arrested either by a constable, or officer of the House, unless the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker otherwise orders. That is to say, that every case occurring within 1397 the precincts of this House is to be brought to Mr. Speaker for his decision as to whether or not the person is to be arrested. On the face of it, the drafting of the Bill is ludicrous, and is not the kind which the House of Commons, with any sense of respect to itself, or of any sense of the dignity of the office of Speaker, can afford to pass in the form in which it now is. I am not supposed to have any great respect for the formalities or dignities of the House of Commons, but I must say that from my first reading of the Bill I have felt that its authors are tending to reduce the proceedings of Parliament, in connection with disturbances, to the level of a pothouse. Surely some form of procedure can be devised for safeguarding the proceedings of Parliament without the necessity of dragging the House itself, or its Members, or officers and affairs, before the police court from time to time during each Session! If it was thought that the punishments specified in this Bill—if it becomes law—are going to deter the persons who use the Galleries of the House for the purposes of political advertisement—then I am afraid the knowledge possessed by the Attorney-General of these persons is not so full as their recent proceedings should justify. It is proposed to imprison offenders for three or six months. This, instead of being a deterrent, would be an incitement for these people to continue the disturbances which have led to this Bill, and to its proposals. I respectfully submit, therefore, that not only in the interests and the dignity of the House itself, but also in the interests of the maintenance of order in the Galleries, the Government would be well advised either to drop the Bill or to so amend its provisions as to set up some tribunal within the House itself for dealing with these offences, and thus save us from what the Bill proposes to inflict upon us in connection with the law courts. I do not feel at this stage that a lengthy discussion of this Bill, so far as I am concerned, is at all necessary, but I wanted to make one or two complaints to show that from the first I object to the provisions of this Bill for reasons stated. The more I have considered it, the more I have come to the conclusion that it was drafted without due consideration as to what it means or as to the consequences likely to follow; and that unless there be some drastic amendments in the Committee stage, the House of Commons will be well advised to reject the measure when it comes before it again for its third reading.
1398 May I just, as a final word, say that the Bill is only necessary because of the failure of the Members of the Government, and of Members of the House, to redeem their election pledges in regard to women's suffrage. [Cries of "Oh, Oh!"] Hon. Members may say "Oh, Oh," but the Attorney-General's speech is a justification for the statement I am now making. Disturbances in the Gallery are politically the means of protesting against the shelving of the question upon which nearly every Member on the opposite side is pledged—[Cries of "No, no"]—nearly every Member. Four hundred and twenty Members of the House of Commons declared before the. election that they were favourableto—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has used it as an illustration out of many to show the causes of the disturbances.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
It is because the women mainly responsible for these disturbances feel and believe that they can no longer appeal to the honour of the House of Commons in regard to this particular question that they are taking these extreme measures. That apart, my objection to the Bill is more deep-seated than that, and because I believe that it will not merely not stop disorder in the Gallery, but tend to lower the dignity and standing of the House of Commons in the minds of the people of the country, that I shall oppose the Bill in its subsequent stages.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I think the whole House will agree in regretting the disorders of last season, but I have very grave doubts as to whether this Bill will afford a satisfactory remedy. It seems tome that the remedy might be worse than the disease. It has always been the rule of this House, I believe, that this House has the exclusive right of jurisdiction within its own walls over all matters relating to the conduct of persons. For the first time this Bill proposes to make a change in that. The Attorney-General has told us that all the rights and privileges of this House are preserved, but I venture to think that this, which is to be regarded as an alternative course, is a very important new departure, because it breaks away from well-established principle, and brings in an external tribunal to deal with matters which have taken place within the walls of this House. I 1399 quite agree that this does not bring in that tribunal of necessity. In order that it may come in it is necessary that you, Mr. Speaker, or the Lord Chancellor, should give authority, but even with those conditions it seems a very serious matter that this House should in any way delegate its power of procedure, of punishment, and of remitting punishment. To take the very simplest case, a case of procedure. Suppose, for instance, there was a disturbance in the Strangers' Gallery of a marked kind, and that the offenders were to be arrested by an officer of the House, and that Mr. Speaker were to direct that a prosecution should take place. I would like to ask the Attorney-General whether in these circumstances when a prosecution is instituted the offender would be entitled to subpoena persons here. If so, Mr. Speaker would be at once subpoenaed. Most of the Members present would be subpoenaed; many of the officers of the House would be subpoenaed, and then there would certainly be a scene in the metropolitan police-courts which I am inclined to think would not add to the dignity of this House, however it would add to the gaiety of nations. It seems to me after we had once had Mr. Speaker and many Members over in the metropolitan police-courts to stand cross-examination as to what took place within the walls of this House—once that occurred I venture to think no other prosecution would be ordered. There is another matter to which some attention might be directed, and that is the question of sentence. The magistrate might not look on the affair as an affair of State. I wonder would he be inclined to regard this House as a "public" or a "private" place, and if it were to be regarded as a "private" place I think it very likely, and the Attorney-General will admit it, that nothing like what he described would be the maximum, and the magistrate would be likely in the first instance to dismiss the action or to inflict a small fine. I venture to think the House should very seriously consider whether punishments in a matter of this kind ought not to be in its own hands. It is not merely a question of sentence or punishment. There is also the question of the remission of the sentence. It is always the privilege of this House that when any steps were taken in the House the House should have the right to remit any penalty it imposes. If the imposition of the penalty is in the hands of the magistrates, then the House, for all practical purposes, has no 1400 right to remit that penalty, and that, it seems to me, is a most serious matter. I have dealt with matters occurring within the walls of the Chamber. I will take another instance. Suppose in the lobby or in the corridors there was a fracas of some sort, and that you, Sir, were to order some step to be taken. Suppose some Member of this House, in the interests of order and in the endeavour to try and restore order, had to interfere. I suppose in that case the person prosecuted would be entitled to take out a cross-summons against him, and the result would be that a Member of this House might be called upon to answer for something done in the Palace of Westminster. It may be argued that a cross-summons might not be allowed. It seems to me that a cross-summons would stand in the same category as a subpoena, and I think that it would not appeal to the British sense of fair play if a visitor could be summoned and dealt with, and a Member could not. If we once take this departure of bringing in the police-courts to deal with disorder which takes place within this House we will bring the whole legal fabric into play with far-reaching results. I do not think any of us would contend that the present state of things is satisfactory. I would like to see some extension of the present powers of the House. Take the case of a disturbance in the High Courts of Justice. A judge can deal with it in a summary manner, and I fail to see why it is if disturbance is created here it could not be dealt with in the same summary manner. I quite agree we have great precedents, and we may want to develop our practice, but it seems to me that matters which take place within the House ought to be dealt with by the House itself instead of adopting this entirely novel procedure. It would probably be far better if we were to bring our jurisdiction into line with modern requirements. I put these matters before the House, and in doing so I speak with great diffidence, and after very careful study of the Bill I have come to the conclusion that it would be a most dangerous departure, and it might very likely create a good many more abuses than it would settle. I venture to hope we may have some further information from the Attorney-General on the question of subpoena and cross-summonses and other matters which might arise before very long. In dealing with these things we are dealing with nothing new, because of course it will be in the recollection of the House that only 1401 recently the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary were subpoenaed to give evidence in the court, and that the Prime Minister would have been also subpoenaed, and would have to go a very long distance for the same purpose were it not that an application was made to the High Courts. Those people who created those disturbances are prepared to do anything to serve their purpose, and I think it would be a very great pity for this House to pass a measure which I believe would enable them to act with even more effect in the future than they have in the past.
§ Mr. JOHN MOONEY
I have listened with great attention to the speech of the Attorney-General, in which he moved this Bill, and as far as I can gather his speech was to the effect that something ought to be done, but I think that speech which he made was the strongest condemnation of the Bill which he brought in, because, if the hon. and learned Gentleman proved anything, he proved conclusively that this House has at the present time in itself full power to deal with any disorder that may arise within the House. As far as I could understand, the only thing in which the power of the House was weak was that if disturbance was started at the end of the Session the disturber might get off with temporary punishment of a few hours, owing to the fact that the House would not keep a person in confinement after it had adjourned. He seemed to think that the House still had the power of inflicting a fine, but he said that that power was not exercised for over 200 years. It is rather a new thing for us, at any rate on the Irish Benches, to hear a Law officer of the Liberal Government saying that he does not wish to exercise powers because they have been in abeyance for 200 years. We in Ireland know a good deal about Edward III. But you have power to imprison and to fine, and the reason you bring in this Bill is because a person if imprisoned at the end of the Session might get off very lightly. The Attorney-General said one of the reasons for the Bill was to do away with the advertisement that is given to certain propaganda. I must say when I read this Bill I wondered where it was drafted, and I came to the conclusion that it must have been drafted about Clements Inn, because, instead of taking away advertisements, I think it is likely to give the very best advertisement. Mr. Speaker is to become a public prosecutor. Then, if a person is arrested, he comes before a Court of summary jurisdiction. Quite true, in 1402 recent prosecutions an effort was made to subpoena several members of the Cabinet. Quite true the Prime Minister escaped, because the judges held he was an unwilling witness. But take the case here. If a disturbance takes place in this Chamber surely the best witness is the person presiding over the proceedings. He would be likely to see more of the disturbance than anyone else, and I think no Metropolitan, police magistrate would hold the theory that a subpoena should not be granted, and the result would be that he would provide a most attractive scare for the London evening papers. I am not supposed to be concerned much with the dignity of this House; but will the dignity of the House be added to by the fact that Mr. Speaker may have to attend the police-courts on subpoena and be subject to cross-examination on various irrelevant subjects as to what took place? I am of the opinion that that would not be a method of procedure calculated to enhance the dignity of the chair or of this House. I cannot understand why the House should give up the power it has at present to deal with these matters for what is in this Bill. The Bill is a Bill to punish strangers who have abused the privileges of this House. The Palace of Westminster is a very wide definition. What is the Palace of Westminster? If disorder takes place outside the House it would still be within the precincts. It may take place upstairs or in a Committee Room, and it would be laid upon Mr. Speaker to decide whether a warrant should be issued for the arrest of the offender or not. I always understood it that the position of the occupant of the chair is a very arduous one, and if there is to be added to that the duty of deciding whether or not a warrant shall be issued, whether or not a certain disturbance comes within the meaning of this Act, then a great deal of additional duty will be thrown upon the Speaker. The drafting of this Act is rather curious. If you take the strict interpretation some very curious things might occur. If any person in the company of a Member is guilty of disorderly conduct or acts in contravention of any of the rules of order he shall, according to the Bill, be guilty of a misdemeanour. That is so if any person breaks any rule with regard to the admission of strangers. He is then guilty of an offence and liable to conviction. The average visitor coming to this House may even with the very best intentions commit a breach of the rules. Are you going to order his arrest? Within the last few 1403 months I saw a distinguished visitor in this House break one of its most fundamental rules, and I am quite sure that every Member of this House would be very sorry to see him prosecuted. I refer to the occasion when one who was a late occupant of the chair came into the Strangers' Gallery and put on his hat. That is breaking the rules and committing an offence, and it would be for Mr. Speaker to decide whether or not the offender should be arrested. That, of course, may not be what you want to do, but it is what you do by this Bill. The House can, within its own limits and under its own powers, at the present moment provide a court which will administer its own jurisdiction while keeping in its own hands the powers necessary to deal with persons who have offended in any way.
It is quite true that if you bring a defendant to the Bar of this House and he is reprimanded by Mr. Speaker, it is an advertisement. That will take up the time of the House, and I do not know whether it is not a bigger advertisement than that which a defendant would get who is able to subpoena Mr. Speaker, the Clerks at the Table, the Sergeant-at-Arms, or anybody on the Front Benches when the disturbance takes place. I think an array of talent of that sort in the Westminster Police Court would be a far greater advertisement than bringing the defendant to the Bar of this House. I agree that the bringing of the defendant to the Bar of this House is not a desirable proceeding, and I would point out that the House has over and over again delegated to Committees power to deal with certain offences. Every day while this House sits Committees are given very large powers to deal with all sorts of matters, and we are now told that although this House can delegate powers to Committees dealing with large financial interests or political interests, it is not to be allowed to delegate to a Committee the power of punishing offences. I cannot seethe force of that argument, and if you were to bring in a Bill providing that a defendant committing an offence, although the House was going to rise, could be kept in detention during such period as the House might order, I think you would get over the difficulty. The question as to whether an individual should be brought to the Bar is not a difficult one, but it is a matter of arrangement, and it would be far better for the Government, instead of bringing in panic legislation of this sort, 1404 to provide that this House should quietly and soberly consider the necessity for rearranging or readjusting the powers which at present exist.
§ Mr. W. W. RUTHERFORD
I desire to move "That this Bill be read a second time upon this day six months." I will not make any lengthy observations, but I think we are entitled to ask what is the occasion of this Bill and what is the necessity for it. I think we all know the occasion. We all know that at one time when you, Mr. Speaker, were in the chair and a debate was proceeding, we had an unseemly incursion by an excited lady, who rushed up the floor of the House and interrupted our proceedings. On another occasion certain ladies chained themselves in the Ladies' Gallery and proceeded to make various observations. Upon a third occasion a man shouted from the Strangers' Gallery over the clock, and distributed a number of handbills. Those were the three principal occasions which have undoubtedly given rise to this Bill.
Now what is the necessity for this Bill? It appears to me, notwithstanding the arguments of the hon. and learned Gentleman in charge of this measure, that when this Bill was prepared, the great powers this House possesses already must have been entirely overlooked. Whether we agree or disagree with the aims and objects of those who have so unfortunately disturbed the proceedings of this House, I think we all agree that this kind of thing should be put an end to, and if it cannot be prevented in another way, it should be adequately punished. The Government have brought in this Bill in order to secure that such offenders shall be adequately punished. It is because I consider the method proposed to be adopted, and the nature and general form of the punishment proposed by the Bill are mistaken and illusory, that I propose that the Bill be rejected. If this Bill became law, it would prejudice and interfere with the privileges of Parliament, which, at the present time, are perfectly clear, and it would substitute for those privileges a procedure which would be cumbersome, undignified, and ineffectual. I cannot help thinking that the Bill itself in regard to its objects, and the way it is proposed to carry them out, has been framed very hurriedly without taking into account the powers which this House undoubtedly already possesses.
In the first clause there are two or three salient points which ought to be taken 1405 into serious consideration. In the first place the Bill is to apply to strangers only, and it is not to be applicable to Members of this House or the other House, whereas the powers this House possesses at present enable us to deal not merely with strangers but with hon. Members of this House, and even with Members of the other House if they commit anything in the nature of disorder. This Bill proposes to make the offence committed punishable only if it takes place during the sitting of the House. It is not applicable just before or just after or at any intermediate period, but the operation of the Bill is restricted to the actual sitting of the House. I shall be able to show that the remedies which the House at present possesses apply to any period of time, whether the House is sitting or not. There is another very important point, and it is that the offence proposed to be created and punished by this Bill can only occur when the House is sitting in the Palace of Westminster. Perhaps I may be allowed to state that this House can sit where it likes. Supposing a plague, a riot, a fire, or anything of that kind occurred—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or an invasion"]—this House could decide to sit at Oxford. I have no desire to treat this subject with any levity, but I think I am entitled to call attention to the fact that if the proceedings of Parliament are to be protected they ought to be protected wherever the House should happen to sit. Another important point is that the offence is described as "disorderly conduct." That is a question of fact. If an individual is charged with disorderly conduct it is a question of fact as to whether that individual has or has not been guilty of that disorderly conduct. If that person is prosecuted before a magistrate he is entitled to have any witnesses of the offence called before the court. Another point to which attention has not yet been called is that in addition to all the difficulties and annoyances that have been suggested in regard to Mr. Speaker, the clerks of the House and the Sergeant-at-Arms being liable to be subpoenaed before the magistrate, this Bill, by reason of inflicting a penalty of six months' imprisonment, or a fine of £100, gives the person charged an absolute right to be tried by jury, and there is not the slightest doubt that upon a prosecution of this kind taking place, and after all the various officials of this House have been summoned, and have given their evidence, if the idea of the individual committing the 1406 offence is to obtain publicity he would demand to be tried by a jury, and the whole thing would then have to be done over again, and all the witnesses would have to come forward a second time into court.
It is also proposed to give the attendants of the House the powers of constables. May I point out that they have those powers already, and they have the right to arrest whenever Mr. Speaker makes an order. The fourth sub-section of clause 1 provides that "Nothing in this Act shall affect the privileges of either House of Parliament." That is inconsistent, because there is no doubt if anybody was charged with disorder to-morrow under this Bill they might demand that they should be dealt with in accordance with the statute, and that would interfere most seriously with the privileges of Parliament. I hope I shall not be unduly taxing the patience of the House if I mention in two or three sentences what those privileges and powers are with regard to these matters. They are laid down in several important works by Coke, Blackstone, and Sir Erskine May. Sir Erskine May laid down that:—Both Houses of Parliament enjoy various privileges as constituent parts of the High Court, of Parliament.This is the highest court in the realm, and it can punish for contempt of court quite as effectually, in fact more effectually, than any other court. The Bill we have before us applies to both Houses of Parliament. The House of Lords, as we all know, is a court of appeal, and is the highest court in the kingdom, and the House of Commons is laid down in the Constitution of this country as being equal and entitled to the same respect and privileges as any High Court of Justice. In the eighth volume of Grey's Debates it is laid down by one of the highest authorities that:—Both House act upon precisely the same grounds in matters of privilege. They declare what cases by the law and custom of Parliament are breaches of privilege and punish the offenders by censure or commitment in the same manner as Courts of Justice punish for contempt.That is the power which this House has got to-day without any such Bill as this. Sir Erskine May, on page 62, says:—Each House, as a constituent part of Parliament, exercises its own privileges independent of the other. They are enjoyed by virtue of the law and custom of Parliament.I will quote just one sentence from Blackstone, and it is a quotation from Sir Edward Coke:—Whatever matters arise concerning either House of Parliament ought to be discussed and adjudged in that. House itself to which it relates, and not elsewhere.1407 This Bill proposes to adjudge elsewhere, and, therefore, I think I am entitled to quote very eminent authority on the subject. The power of commitment by the Commons is established upon the ground and evidence of immemorial usage. I find that there are over 900 cases in the 300 years between 1550 and 1850. They will be found in Wynn's Treatise, page 7, and the right of Parliament both to fine and imprison is admitted by statute of James I., cap. 13, sec. 3. This has been over and over again confirmed by the courts of law. The leading cases are those of Aylesbury, Murray, Crosby, Oliver, Hobhouse and that of the Sheriff of Middlesex. "Parliament is a High Court of Justice as well as a legislative body. It can redress its own wrongs, avenge all insults to its dignity, and vindicate its privileges. Like all courts, high or low, it has the power to summarily punish disobedience of its orders and mandates, including indignities offered to its proceedings, reflections upon the characters of its Members or interference with its officers in the discharge of their duties." I will give other quotations from a very great and learned authority. "The Sergeant-at-Arms can arrest, under the warrant of the Speaker, issued by order of the House, any person within the limits of the kingdom." "In the execution of the warrant he can call on the aid of civil power. He can, if he thinks necessary, requisition the assistance of the military, and break into a private residence between sunrise and sunset, if he has reason to suspect that the person he is in search of is inside." Therefore, he has the most ample powers that could possibly be vested in any court whatever, and it wants no such Bill as this to supplement those powers. May I give one illustration of the exercise of these powers. In February, 1751, a Scottish gentleman, named Alexander Murray—brother of the then Lord Elibank—possibly a progenitor of a respected member of this Government—who, in the course of a contested election at Westminster, but, of course, outside this House, spoke disrespectfully of this Assembly. He was brought to the Bar to receive the sentence which his audacity warranted. It is a matter of history that the Speaker called upon him to kneel, and that he refused to kneel, though the Speaker commanded him to do so. He was adjudged guilty of having aggravated his original offence by "high and dangerous contempt," and he was committed to New- 1408 gate. It has been pointed out by the Attorney-General that a commital to prison by either House lapses at the termination of the Session. In that case when Parliament is prorogued the doors of the prison of the offender, as in the case of Mr. Murray, have to be opened. The House of Commons, however, did not think that three or four months' incarceration adequately purged the Scotsman of his audacious offence. Next session, therefore, the Sergeant-at-Arms was sent to his residence with a warrant for his arrest. But he had fled, and though a reward of £500 was offered for his apprehension he was never again captured. That is what the House did in that particular case. Persons of all sorts and descriptions, as the Journals of the House show, have been brought to the Bar of the Commons by the Sergeant-at-Arms for disobedience of the Orders and Rules of the House; for indignities offered to its character or proceedings, for assaults or insults upon Members, reflections upon their character and conduce in Parliament or for interference with the officers of the House in the discharge of their duties, and have been committed to prison or in many cases censured by the Speaker. Then there is the Hyde case, which is very instructive. A gentleman named Hyde, who tried to obtain admission to Westminster Hall to witness the impeachment of Warren Hastings, was rudely jostled out into Palace Yard by a police constable. Hyde had the constable served with a summons for assault. But the constable complained to the House, and Hyde was arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms, brought to the Bar, and committed to prison for a breach of privilege in endeavouring to bring an officer of the House to answer a charge before the ordinary legal tribunals of the land. That is exactly what this Bill proposes to do. I do not know whether I may be allowed to give an amusing instance. It is one in which a newspaper reporter figured. A man named Dick Martin, a well-known and Irish Member of Parliament, about the year 1824 was greatly annoyed one morning to find that a newspaper published a speech of his in italics. He complained to this House of having been misrepresented. The offending reporter, who happened to be a countryman of Mr. Martin, was brought to the Bar for a breach of privilege. The journalist pleaded that the report was absolutely correct. "It may be," replied Mr. Martin, "but I defy the gentleman to prove that I spoke in italics."
1409 But it is not alone against strangers who have offended against the dignity and majesty of the House of Commons that the House has its powers. It has equal powers with respect to its own Members. There is a specially constructed suite of rooms for the convenience of Members who may be adjudged guilty by the House of some serious breach of its privileges or some outrage on its decorum which merits imprisonment. A Member of Parliament arrested at the order of the Speaker was formally sent, like "strangers" guilty of breaches of privilege, to Newgate or to the Tower. In the present Palace of Westminster six rooms are specially provided in the Clock Tower for the accommodation of Members of Parliament committed to prison by the Speaker, whilst "strangers" sentenced to imprisonment by the House are lodged in Newgate. I am not going to labour this point any further, but I wish to say in conclusion that I invite the House to consider for a moment what would absolutely happen under this Bill in the case of a breach of privilege. What would happen supposing some excited female or some misguided male, taking advantage of the innocence or the credulity or of the indifference of some Member—and there have been cases of that kind—got admission to this House, and was guilty of disorder either here or in another place. What would happen? There is no question of a warrant in this Bill. You, Sir, would be called upon, as would the Lord Chancellor, to consent to the arrest of that person. That arrest, according to this Bill, could only take place in the House. That must necessarily take a few minutes before you could give your consent. But the person in the meantime might go out of the House. I take it, according to my reading of the Bill, that the arrest must actually take place in this House, but no doubt that is a point which can be altered in Committee. You, Sir, having given your consent to the arrest, there must be a prosecution, and the person is entitled absolutely, according to common law, to call evidence and eye-witnesses. It would be no use for the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or even you, Mr. Speaker, to ask to be excused from attending the trial, if called upon by the person in the interest of justice. All these people who saw the incident would be obliged to appear, if called upon, and I suppose this is a matter that has been overlooked in the hasty drafting of the Bill. That would make a double hearing of 1410 the case, for it would have to go before a judge and jury, and all the witnesses would be compelled to attend again. It seems to me that this House already possesses powers to safeguard its own dignity and proceedings; that those powers, if exercised, are already ample and complete, both with regard to its own Members or any member of the general public. I venture to say that they could have been exercised on a recent occasion if the incidents had not taken everybody by surprise. Those offenders are now known to the Attorney-General, and there is no reason why disorders in this House should not be put an end to by the powers which it already possesses. The alternative is proceedings in a police court, and the officials would have to attend. I do not attach so much importance to that, because they have salaries and are drawing them, but there are many Members in this House who are not drawing any salary. I venture to say that the balance of inconvenience against this Bill is overwhelming, and that there is no necessity for it. There is evidence that it has been hurriedly prepared. I think that the remedy in this Bill is a great deal worse than the disease, an dofr that reason I propose that it be read a second time this day six months.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
In seconding the Motion which has been moved by my hon. Friend in an extremely convincing speech, I do not propose to deal with the drafting of the Bill, because that has been so ably dealt with by him, and because it can be amended in the Committee; and I think it is evident that it will meet with considerable opposition in Committee. But I wish to ask the learned Attorney-General one question. I see that no prosecution can be instituted except with the consent of the Lord Chancellor, I presume, in another place—and with regard to disturbances arising in another place, I would like to ask the Attorney-General what would happen if the Lord Chancellor gave orders for the arrest of a person for creating a disturbance? I presume under the Bill the Lord Chancellor would have to investigate the circumstances that gave rise to the disturbance, and that he could not sanction a prosecution unless he investigated those circumstances. Supposing the Lord Chancellor, the head of the Law in this country, did authorise a prosecution, and supposing a stipendiary magistrate—the junior member of the law in this country-decided that the Lord Chancellor was altogether wrong and dismissed the defendant, 1411 what would happen then? That would surely create an extremely awkward position, not only for the Lord Chancellor but for the stipendiary magistrate. My hon. Friend has pointed out that we, as Members of the Palace of Westminster, have certain privileges which we have had from time immemorial. For instance, we are not liable to the intrusion of any medical officer of any borough council to see whether our drains are right and our water supply is fit and proper. Nor are we liable to the intrusion of any excise officer to see whether or not we have a license to sell spirits. We have many privileges which have obtained for many years, and I do not think that these privileges should be lightly parted with. It may be said that this Bill does not in any way part with these privileges, because there is a clause safeguarding the ancient privileges which we possess. But this Bill for the first time brings the common law into requisition in regard to something arising in the House of Commons, and I venture to say, with all humility, that that is a very dangerous precedent to create, and one which is absolutely needless. What we desire is to stop these disturbances which we all deplore. But is this the best way of doing it? The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, with whom I do not often agree, but with whom I agree on this occasion, said that in his opinion the only effect of this Bill would be to give such an advertisement to the person creating the disturbance that it would act as an encouragement, and not as a deterrent. I see the punishment is six months' imprisonment, or a fine of £100. We know that in the case of the Suffragettes a fine of £100 is a small thing, because they have an annual income of many thousands. The six months' imprisonment, which I understand is to be cut down to three months' does not, I presume, cover hard labour? [The ATTORNEY-GENERAL shook his head.] Some have already been sentenced to two or three months' imprisonment, and they do not seem to care anything about it—indeed, they seem to glory in it, and in preference to finding a surety to keep the peace they have chosen to go to prison. The real point is, How can we stop these disturbances? I venture to say that my hon. and learned Friend has shown that we have very great powers in our own hands. Which will be likely to cause the greatest advertisement—if this House exercises the power 1412 which it has in its own hands or if it passes this Bill and acts accordingly? I think if the House of Commons were to exercise the powers it has in the way it has generally exercised them it may possibly be held to be the greater advertisement of the two—that is, if an offender is brought to the Bar of the House of Commons; but it seems to me—and I put this suggestion in all seriousness—that that is not necessary. The hon. Member for Newry I think made an excellent suggestion, though I think it might be amended. It was to bring in a Bill. I do not think it necessary to bring in a Bill; but that there should be a new Standing Order which should constitute the Speaker and, say, four Members of this House, a panel of Chairmen, or a Committee or a tribunal which should deal with offences of this sort. The powers which the House possesses should be delegated to you, Mr. Speaker, or to that Committee, and you would proceed to deal with the offender in a private room, when there would be no reporters present, and therefore no advertisement, and the powers which we have got are absolutely sufficient to act as a deterrent in a case of that sort. It has been said that we have no powers to commit any person to any place for a long time. But my hon. Friend has shown that we can commit a person either to Newgate or to the Tower. I am wondering what would be done in a case of the abolition of Newgate and of there being no other building to take its place. But the Tower would do just as well. Even if it could not be available I think the First Commissioner of Works, who is fond of erecting buildings, would not find it beyond his ingenuity to erect a few dungeons near the House of Commons. It seems to me that that suggestion is worth consideration. We have had allusions made to legislation in a panic. I do not know that this is legislation in a panic. There is no doubt that this House has suffered from interruption from which it had previously been immuned, and it is necessary that something should be done. It is not always the case that the first conclusions are the wisest, and I think the House will be well advised if before they give a second reading to the Bill they would consider whether or not they could not utilise in a manner, as I have suggested, the powers that this House already possesses. I believe that could be done, and I believe it would deprive the offender of that advertisement which is the real object of the offence, and 1413 that it would have a better effect than if this Bill were passed into law.
§ Question put: "That the word 'now' stand part of the question."
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I think the House ought to remember that in dealing with this Bill the Government are not acting exactly on their own initiative, but on the part of the House of Commons as a whole irrespective of party. The Bill has been brought in in conformity with the recommendations of the Select Committee which the House appointed last Session to consider these irregularities, and I hope that the Government will leave themselves in the hands of the House in this matter. I think enough has been said on the Bill this afternoon to show that the Select Committee in its recommendations, and I think the Government also, have not interpreted the general sense of the House. There are some very severe criticisms directed against portions of their scheme. Now, the object which the House had in view was to prevent the recurrence of the very distressing scenes in the Gallery owing to the admission of strangers. It was not to find a remedy for any purposes of our own. We have a complete remedy against disturbances so far as Members are concerned. There has been no disturbance in the Gallery this Session, because the public have been excluded. Therefore from the point of view of the House of Commons, no Bill of this kind was necessary; we are complete masters of our procedure, and can keep perfect order so far as we are concerned. Any Bill brought in is to enable the public to observe and listen to our proceedings, and if we can manage that without our proceedings being interfered with and our time being wasted we are willing that the public should be admitted to the Galleries. But I think I speak for every Member of this House when I say that the admission of the public does not facilitate our business, and we could carry on the business of the nation quite as well with the Galleries empty. But I would submit to the House (and this I think really does raise the whole question of the Bill) that it is practically out of cur power to make the public behave themselves. If the public have not sufficient self-respect when admitted to this Assembly to keep order, then I consider the proper and appropriate remedy is that which you, Mr. Speaker, have already applied in keeping the public from the Galleries, and I am not at all sure that the Select Com- 1414 mittee were right in urging that a Bill should be brought in, and whether it would not have been better to say that each Session we will give the public a fair chance, and that if our courtesy and kindness is set at nought then for the remainder of the session the galleries will be closed as at the present time. I think that a very short display of firmness on the part of this House would lead the public to keep order in the Galleries. Anyway, I submit that neither our procedure—our methods of business—nor our powers are appropriate for enforcing upon the public good behaviour which the public do not choose to impose upon themselves. Therefore, though we may pass this Bill, I do not believe any penalty you may make will be sufficient to create a sense of order in the public unless they have it in themselves. It is not by penalties that you are going to secure order in the Galleries of the House of Commons. I do not want to go over the ground which has already been traversed, but I think the penalties would be ineffective. These people, very mistakenly, are using very foolish, and I would not say criminal but unwise methods, and they imagine themselves to be serving a political purpose; and if we, the House of Commons, lend ourselves to inflicting penalties upon them for the purpose of forwarding their political propaganda, they will say we are persecuting them for political reasons and imprisoning them because they are the advocates of a particular measure. They will say that we inflict punishments because they agitate against our not doing what they want us to do. Nothing will be more unforunate than anything of that kind. Therefore I am not hopeful that the passing of a Bill of this kind, containing penalties, even severe penalties, will help to achieve the purpose which the Government and the House of Commons have in view. I think our present powers are better for preserving our order and preserving our dignity than the method devised by this Bill.
On the other hand, I feel a difficulty in voting against the Government proposal, because I recognise that it does carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee, and that the Government are trying to find a remedy for a very difficult state of affairs. I think the wisest course for us to pursue, I put it forward feeling that we all have one object, would be to allow the Bill to be read a second time and sent to a Grand Committee of this House. Then let us see whether in the 1415 Grand Committee the criticisms made today can be met, or whether we are absolutely unable to overcome them. One criticism which would be absolutely fatal to the Bill is, whether as the result of our passing it, you, Mr. Speaker, and the Officers and Members of this House, will be obliged to go down to police courts in order to give evidence under this measure. If that is so, I say the Bill is dead, and from the moment that that appears to be the case no Member of this House can vote for it. But if we can get round it and show that we can in some degree get order without such steps being necessary, then I think the House ought unanimously to pass the measure. As it stands this Bill has been riddled with criticisms to-day, and it is obvious in its present state that it cannot pass into law. But I do not know that it would be wise for the House to reject it on the second reading; perhaps it would be better to allow it to go to a Grand Committee and see if it can be put into proper shape.
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
I rise to express the hope that this Bill will receive a second reading, and that the proposed penalties will not, in Committee, be in any way diminished or abated. I had the honour of being a member of the Select Committee which considered this Bill, and though it may be said that our meetings were held while the offences were fresh in our recollection, in the weeks and months that have gone by, I am bound to say that nothing has happened that has caused me to alter my opinion in the least with regard to the main recommendations which we made. If I have any criticism to make on the present Bill, it seems to me to be criticism rather relating to the matters in which the Bill has departed from, or gone beyond, the recommendations of the Select Committee. For instance, I do not see why, when the Select Committee only proposed that this particular method of procedure should be adopted with regard to matters of serious disturbance in the Galleries, the Bill should go further and aim this new procedure against all controvertions of all kinds, of the Rules and Orders of the House, in respect to the admission and conduct of strangers—matters many of which are necessarily unfamiliar to many of the outside public. On the other hand, I do not quite see, if it be true—perhaps the hon. and learned Attorney-General will have another opportunity of speaking and will tell us—if it be true that the 1416 words of the Bill carry with them the right of trial by jury, why they should have gone beyond the recommendations, and certainly beyond the intentions, of a great many Members of the Select Committee. Our intention was that the proceedings should be as isolated, as little calculated to attract public attention as was possible under the circumstances. It is said, no doubt, that the House has full power to exact the remedies in its own hands. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool had no reason to cite Coke, whether covered by the venerable authority of Blackstone or not, to show that the trial should take place in this House or elsewhere. I know it is good law. It required neither Coke nor Blackstone to tell us that. Our experience shows that the law wants change, and that the law has broken down. The evidence of the unfitness of the present procedure of the law is, the emptiness of our Galleries and of the upper parts of this Chamber. This House could have made use of all the weapons that were in its hands, when the disturbances of last Session took place. It preferred to empty its Galleries. How long will it prefer to keep those Galleries empty? I am not prepared to go the length of the Roman virtue of the hon. Member for Westmoreland, who is prepared to visit upon the entire body of the outside public, the sins of the wretched minority of people who seek to intimidate this House. No, Sir, the recommendations of the Select Committee, so far as they are embodied in this Bill, are a protest against the constant attempts which are being made to rabble this House on the part of persons who are minorities, and who seem to want to make up for their want of numbers by their noise. It is not true that we are proposing to strip ourselves of our present powers. We recommended, and the Bill recommends that all our present powers should be preserved and safeguarded. All that is proposed is that it shall no longer be possible that whereas a person can be taken before a magistrate and dealt with ignobly and ignominiously as he should be if he misbehaves himself, he should escape and obtain a glorious fate for himself merely through the accident that his offence happened to take place within the walls of Parliament.
It has been urged that great inconvenience will be caused by the issuing of subpoenas to high officers, including even the occupant of the Chair in this House itself. It seems to me that we come dan- 1417 gerously near to that position as things are. We have Cabinet Ministers already subpoenaed and, though not taken out of London, escaping only narrowly from being subjected to that great annoyance and forced to attend and give evidence in provincial towns. That is an inconvenience that we have at present, and if Mr. Speaker himself happened while a disturbance was going on in the precincts of this House to be near, as the Home Secretary happened to be a spectator, nothing could have saved him under our present law by subpoena from being cited to appear. The remedy for that is to be found in some alteration of the law relating to the abuse of the process of subpoena. If you have a weak law and possibly a weak magistrate it seems to me that you are already exposed to the dangers, which it is said will be created by this Bill, and this Bill will not in any way increase them. It seems to me that a magistrate ought to be empowered, if he has any common sense, and if he is not already empowered, to draw the necessary distinction between an attempt to exploit the presence of a high officer of State, or the Speaker of this House, for the purpose of adding notoriety to the person who of all persons least deserves notoriety, and an attendance necessary to afford evidence. It is true that we do, for the first time in our history, and I should be the last to underrate the gravity of the occasion, make the great constitutional change of allowing outside tribunals to take cognisance of what takes place inside this House, contrary to the sanction of all the old constitutional principles; but there, again, it is proposed that no such proceedings shall take place without the consent of the Speaker or of the occupant of the Chair in the other House, and thereby this Bill makes this civil tribunal practicaly the agent or servant of this House, which is a very right and proper form for the proceeding to take. It has been objected that the Speaker may order a prosecution, and that his sanction of that prosecution may be practically reversed by the finding of a very junior magistrate. I can conceive that nothing of the kind could take place. If the sanction of the Speaker is given for the initiation of a prosecution it would not necessarily involve the smallest expression of opinion on his part on the merits of the case, but merely the expression of his own idea as an officer of this House that it is more convenient that the matters should be tried before the ordinary civil tribunal than be tried in any of the cumbrous and 1418 antiquated ways in which alone we could maintain order and dignity in our own proceedings. These ancient ways, much as we respect them and picturesque as they may be, have only to be described with the learning and industry which have been brought to the task by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool—they have only to be described to be condemned as practically of little use in the emergency in which we found ourselves during last Session.
§ Mr. RICHARD HAZLETON
The last two speakers referred to the fact that a Select Committee had sat last Session to consider the question of admission of strangers to this House. I am glad that they did so, because I think the House has some reason to complain of the manner in which this Bill has been presented this afternoon for second reading. The speech of the learned Attorney-General I make no complaint of at all, but to my mind it did not go far enough. I think the House, in discussing a question of this kind, is entitled to know what arrangement it is proposed to make, outside the penalties provided for under this Bill, in case the Galleries are again opened to the public. The Select Committee made certain recommendations upon that subject last Session, and I think we ought to be told by the Government whether it is proposed to put those recommendations of the Select Committee in force as they were made or to subject them to any alteration. We ought to know that, and I hope that the House will be given the information before the conclusion of this debate. For my part, I thoroughly endorse all the criticisms and all the objections that have been taken against this Bill throughout the course of this debate. Last Session, as we know, the Galleries were closed because of one or two or three cases at the most of disturbances—disturbances which there was no power to deal with except by the antiquated forms of this House or by ejecting the disturbers. My own view is that to close the Galleries because of these cases of disturbance was a mistake which amounted to an admission that Parliament allowed itself to be intimidated by the action of one or two strangers. In my judgment it would have been far better to take no notice whatever of these disturbances beyond swiftly and silently ejecting the disturbers, a course which would, in my opinion, have damped the ardour of any other intending disturbers who might at infrequent intervals have found their way into the Gallery.
1419 But what will be the position if this Bill is carried into law and the Galleries are again thrown open to the public? There is not a single extra precaution under this Bill, or under the recommendations of the Select Committee, to keep possible disturbers out of the Galleries when they are again thrown open to the public. You cannot under any workable system you may devise keep these people out if they want to get in. If they want to get in they will get in in spite of you.
All this Bill does is to provide special inducements, which at present under the existing laws do not exist, to people to come in and disturb the proceedings of this House. This Bill, to my mind, puts a premium upon disturbers. You may think you are providing under it a safeguard for order. In my opinion you are merely providing a provocation for disorder. You are setting up an Act of Parliament as an Aunt Sally for every suffragette to come along and have a shot at. Is that an extravagant prediction? What has been the experience of the authorities outside this House in seeking to preserve order around the precincts. So long as they adopted a policy of arresting those who sought to force their way into the Houses of Parliament for the purpose of interviewing an unwilling Prime Minister they found they had plenty of work to do and a great many people to arrest, but it was only when they changed that policy and when they stopped making arrests except under circumstances of great provocation that matters became quiet. In pressing this Bill the Government is flying in the face of that experience and going back to methods which proved a failure in the past, and which will prove a failure in the future. I could understand it if along with penalising the disturber this Bill proposed to make the Member who introduced the disturber responsible in some way, either by depriving him for the rest of the Session of the right to introduce any more strangers, or else by making him liable for any fines which might be imposed under this Bill on the disturber. But that is not the proposal. There is no provision of that sort in the Bill, and, therefore, I believe this Bill; s not only useless, but is calculated to defeat the objects which the Government and the House have in view. The whole difficulty has, of course, been created by the suffragettes. I do not wish in anything I may have said to be taken as objecting or opposed to the aims or the 1420 tactics of the suffragettes. I merely wish to point out that in my opinion the Bill will not do what the Government has in view. But before going into the details of the Bill at all it seems to me it would be desirable for the House to consider whether or not the Galleries ought to be open at all. I have no objection whatever to the Galleries being open to the public, but so far as I know the Galleries never were open, at least within recent years to the public. They were open to the friends or to the visitors—
§ Mr. HAZLETON
I think the Government ought to give us some information with regard to the conditions under which the Gallery is to be open if it is to be open at all.
§ Mr. HAZLETON
For the reasons I have given I hope the House will not agree to the second reading. I consider this is eminently a question upon which the Government ought to leave Members on all sides of the House free to vote as they please. I hope the Government Whips will not be put on, and that Members will be free to vote according to their own judgment.
§ Sir W. ROBSON
The hon. Member, I think, somewhat underrates the seriousness of the mischief with which this Bill is intended to cope. He says he thinks it would be impossible to prevent a repetition of the disturbance with which we have already become familiar.
§ Sir W. ROBSON
I should be very sorry indeed if the House adopted that view, and took up an attitude of such hopeless despair with regard to a matter so vital to its own position. Such disturbances must be prohibited, and in my view they can be prohibited.
§ Mr. HAZLETON
In the Report of the Select Committee, clause 3 says:—It is probably impossible to devise rules which an ingenious man or woman bent on disorder cannot succeed in evading?
§ Sir W. ROBSON
I am by no means in very substantial disagreement with the remarks of the Select Committee. I do not for a moment suggest that any Bill 1421 would be effective in preventing attempts which may have more or less sporadic success in creating fresh disorder, but we have had to deal with a systematic campaign against the good order and the dignity and the efficiency of this House, and it is impossible that the House should sit down and surrender under such a campaign and admit that no measures, punitive or preventive, are effective in such a case. We have really only to consider what is best to be done, and I cannot help thinking that hon. Members who have criticised the measure have confined themselves somewhat too exclusively to criticism and have not considered what would be the effect of some of their own suggestions if a similarly vigilant criticism were turned upon them.
Let me deal with some minute criticisms which have been made against the Bill. First of all, the Noble Lord the Member for Chorley said the Bill applies to "any person," and it may, therefore, cover a workman who is engaged during the sitting of Parliament on the premises. What does he suppose the Speaker and the officers of the House are introduced for, if they choose to take action against some disorderly workman, perhaps for refusing to obey the order of his foreman? One has to assume that the officers in the House will exercise at least ordinary sense and to suppose that the great officials will under the strongest possible sense of responsibility give effect to this Act, and would actually use it for a purpose so absurd and trivial, as that is to do very little justice to those officers. Then, again, the Noble Lord forgot that the Bill applies to those who contravene the Rules with regard to the admission and conduct of strangers. I do not quite see how the hypothetical workman of the Noble Lord would be likely to come under words like that. Then he spoke of the area which was covered. The area is that of the Palace of Westminster, which is fairly well understood, especially for the purposes of a Bill like this. It includes Old Palace Yard and New Palace Yard. Old Palace Yard is that of the ancient Palace of Westminster; the New Yard is that which was made when the new Palace of William Rufus was built upon this site. It is no newer than that very ancient date, but both Palace Yards come within the precincts.
The Noble Lord undoubtedly mentioned one point which must always give anxiety to anyone who is framing new legal proceedings. He said the right of subpœna 1422 might be abused. Of course, it may be abused, but the right of subpoena is much less susceptible to abuse now than it was before the very recent decision in connection with disorders of this very character. On the first summons before the police magistrate I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary both appeared. I was of opinion that they appeared unnecessarily. Afterwards, when similar subpoenas were issued, I moved the Court of King's Bench to set aside the subpoenas on the ground that they were frivolous and vexatious, and they were according set aside upon grounds which, I think, would be sufficient in most cases to protect the officials here. But if it is desired to make the protection more genuine, there will not be the least difficulty in doing so, and in Committee that would be treated as a matter concerning which the most stringent and vigilant provisions would be made to prevent the officers of the House, and especially the great officers, from being made subject to the necessity for appearance in court. I do not think the House need concern itself with that objection, which is certainly the most substantial objection which has been put forward, and is the objection most likely to give hon. Members a sentiment somewhat adverse to allowing the magistrate to have jurisdiction. That, in fact, is the only objection of a serious character which seems to me to have been made either against the substance or the form of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil thought the Bill might apply only to men, as he discovered a personal pronoun of the masculine gender in the important clause, but under the Interpretation of Statutes Act the masculine imports the feminine, and "any person" would be construed as being applicable to both sexes in this connection, so I think the hon. Member has been under a somewhat unnecessary apprehension in that regard. Then the hon. Member for Newry again tried to push the wording of the Bill to the extreme of absurdity by saying it is "any breach of the rules" which will be made the subject of these proceedings. But what would he have the draughtsman do? Would he put upon him the obligation of scheduling the breaches of the rules which may be made the subject of proceedings of this character? That would be absurd. What is done in this case is what is done in every case where one is dealing with disorderly or criminal conduct, the precise form of which it is impossible to foresee. We are leaving it to the common-sense of the 1423 tribunal, in this case safeguarded by the action of the officials of this House. Therefore, there is not the slightest chance of a prosecution being instituted for some trivial breach of the rules or for some inadvertent act, such as a distinguished person forgetting to put his hat off in this House. Does the hon. Member suppose that Mr. Speaker would be likely to order the prosecution of such a person? One does not need to provide against such severity in the interpretation of the language in the Bill. Then we come to the criticism of the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool. Although he has given much valuable research to those ancient cases which he cited, he will forgive me if I say that I do not think he has given an equal amount of research and care to the wording of the Bill. He said that all our existing privileges would be affected by the Bill, because any person against whom it was proposed to proceed for disorder might demand to be tried not under this Act but under older procedure of the House, whether the House thought fit or not. No one can demand any trial under this Act. There can be no prosecution for disorder in this House unless Mr. Speaker sees fit to order proceedings to be taken. Therefore the objection of the hon. Member is one that vanishes altogether on an examination of the provisions of the Bill. Then with respect to what the hon. Gentleman said in regard to the power of arrest outside the walls of this House, I would point out that you have already the powers necessary to make an arrest within the walls. When within the precincts of the House disorder takes place, it is not desirable that delay should be incurred in obtaining a warrant for arrest. It was considered necessary that you should proceed with swiftness and without a warrant at all. That objection also is not one to be taken seriously. The bulk of the hon. Gentleman's speech was directed perfectly fairly to showing that the powers of the House are already, if not perfect, at all events very strong. There is no doubt about it. I think I made that perfectly clear in my opening remarks to the House, but it is not a question of the powers of the House, it is a question of the procedure of the House in giving effect to its powers. That is the point which is most important to be considered. What are you to do in order to give effect to the existing powers? When disorderly proceedings take place you have to consider first of all what shall 1424 be, or if anything, shall be done. We are dealing with a systematic campaign against the dignity of this House. When you proceed against one disorderly person, and when that person has been dealt with at the cost of the time of the House, those who are concerned in this campaign will put up another to create fresh disturbance, and, therefore, it becomes vital to consider how we shall make the procedure swift. It is not merely a question of making the power ample and perfect. In some respects it is ample already, but we desire above all things to take our procedure without delay, and without unduly occupying our time over matters which are beneath our notice so far as the persons concerned in the disturbances are concerned. Under our present powers we have first of all to summon the offender to the Bar of the House. Then we have to hear what the offender has to say in defence, for I think this House would be very loth in dealing with criminal acts to restrict, I shall not say the license, but the liberty to speak of persons whose liberty is at stake. If you bring them to the Bar of the House the matter may he referred to a Select Committee, and that I submit is a most inappropriate tribunal for dealing with such matters. I am quite sure that the House will not suppose that I am speaking disrespectfully of Select Committees when I say this. Everyone will admit that to appoint a Select Committee drawn from the different parties in this House—[An Hon. MEMBER: "There is a standing Committee"]. There is a Standing Committee on Privileges, but in the appointment of that Committee some regard is had to the representation of the different parties in the House. To send such a case to a Committee representing the different parties in the House, and to give that Committee the right to try and the right to imprison persons who may have been actuated by political motives would not be a convenient or a proper method of procedure. We would have all this great and unnecessary expenditure of time over an individual offender, and as soon as you have wasted your time over one offender you would have to take the same course in regard to the next offender. These are things we have to consider. We have considered them all, and, having done so, we have made the recommendations which are contained in the Bill. I think we have paid some regard to the recommendations of the Committee. An hon. Member said that what the Committee recommended was that serious dis- 1425 turbance ought to be brought within the cognisance of the ordinary criminal courts. Are the words "serious disturbance" words which a draftsman would like to adopt in such circumstances as these? The far simpler and better plan is to take words which are capable of easier application, such as "disorderly conduct," or "acting in contravention of the rules of the House." Where you are dealing with such matters it is much easier to proceed upon these words than it would be if you selected the words "serious disturbance." We do not propose to lessen the powers which we at present possess by a jot or tittle. The hon. Member for the West Derby Division spoke of stripping ourselves of the right to protect ourselves. I cannot imagine more inaccurate language than that which he has used in regard to the Bill. We do not strip ourselves of any power whatever. We do not affect or touch any power whatever which we at present possess. We are not aiming at the diminution of our rights or of any ancient usage which has come down to us.
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
May I ask whether it is correct to say that an offender has the right to claim trial by jury?
§ Sir W. ROBSON
The hon. Member put two things together which are not consistent. He said he was against the diminution of the penalties, and next that he was against giving the right of trial by jury. If you maintain the term of imprisonment at six months, there is undoubtedly the right to claim trial by jury. If you diminish the penalty then there is no right to trial by jury. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London spoke of the inconvenience of prosecutions being authorised by such distinguished officers as the Lord Chancellor and Mr. Speaker. All that Mr. Speaker or the Lord Chancellor does is to act upon information laid before him, and if he considers the matter is one for prosecution he will order a prosecution, but that is not a matter of adjudication. My duty, not always an agreeable one, is to advise in regard to prosecutions upon information which is laid before me. I do not adjudicate in the cases; I only say that there is a primâ facie case for a prosecution, and in doing so I do not regard myself as subject to any reflection if someone against whom a prosecution has been ordered is, after being prosecuted, acquitted of the charge made against him.
§ Sir. F. BANBURY
The officer who orders the prosecution in this case will probably have seen the disturbance. That is different from what occurs in the procedure instanced by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Sir W. ROBSON
Well, he will not always have seen the disturbance, and he will not be the only person who has seen it, and in such a case as that I think we may confidently rely upon sufficient evidence being forthcoming to secure a conviction. We must not forget that, after all, as one hon. Member said, something here must be done. You cannot go on for ever excluding the public from the Galleries. No one can deny that there is a very strong feeling in favour of that course, but I gather from the course of the debate this afternoon that there is not a great grievance felt on the part of hon. Members in regard to the Galleries not being open. This Bill has been introduced, as I said in my opening remarks, in order that the Galleries may be reopened, and we have to consider whether the course suggested by the Committee is the better course, or whether any other course should be adopted. The hon. Member spoke of the panels sitting as judicial Committees in order to try persons who are charged with causing disturbances. If the House thinks that the better course, they will have an opportunity of judging. I can assure the hon. Member that the Government have thought it their duty to give effect, so far as they could, to the recommendations of the Committee. After all, this is a question for the House itself to consider and decide. I cannot imagine any question less appropriate for what may be called party polemics. The Government in this matter undertake not to use party pressure or to put on the party Whips. It is a case where the judgment of the House, irrespective of party, ought to be trusted. So far as this measure is concerned, if hon. Members do not wish that the Galleries should be reopened, or if they prefer some alternative of the kind suggested—if they prefer that Committees should be invested with the power of considering charges against persons who have been actuated by political motives, of course the House will choose that alternative. The House will be left to vote freely according to their convictions. I may venture to submit, very respectfully, as one who had some share in the preparation of the Bill, some advice to the House. If after the second reading the Bill should be found capable of adjustment or amend- 1427 ment in Committee these Amendments can be considered at a later stage. If the House refuses to give the Bill a second reading, considering that this is not the most practical and successful way of dealing with the matter, of course they will vote against the second reading in the hope that some other alternative will be adopted, I would venture to ask the House to weigh well both alternatives before a second reading is refused to the Bill.
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
I would be very slow indeed to offer opposition to a Bill which has been recommended to the House in its main features by the Committee which inquired into this question; but listening to the discussion to-day, I think what one has to consider is whether the disadvantages of the proposed new procedure that have been pointed out in the course of the debate do not entirely outweigh any possible advantages we could have. It is a very important and serious innovation to introduce the police court in any steps with reference to the order and dignity of this House. For my own part, I doubt very much whether this Bill will in the slightest degree improve the possibility of order when the Gallery reopens. I cannot but think that those persons who have created disorder—we all know the source from which this disorder emanated—would hail with delight the very punishment and the very procedure which are laid down by this Bill, and which would give them the opportunity of the advertisement that they so entirely desire. Why should we propose that people who outside the precincts of this House almost from day to day defy the police and defy the authorities, and thereby render themselves liable to be brought before the police courts, should take any different line of conduct when liable to the same penalties for causing disturbance inside the House?
The very first thing to consider is what is the probability of this Bill being effective in its object if we do go so far as to admit the police court into the regulation of disorder by strangers in this House? But when we go on and consider the matter a little further, as has been argued in the course of this debate, I cannot but express the opinion, and I do believe that it cannot be impossible for us out of our own Members to find a tribunal which would probably deal with these disorders in our own Assembly. The learned Attorney-General has said, and I quite agree 1428 with him, that we have the fullest power, but he says, and in this I also agree with him, that it is a cumbrous thing to call up these parties to the Bar of this House to have them examined and cross-examined or allowed to speak. I agree in all that. But is it really to be said in this House, which is able to deal, I think, well and, I think, in the very best possible manner with its own recalcitrant Members, throwing aside all politics and all bias when these questions arise, that we could not get a tribunal in the House itself that would deal with strangers who have created disorder in the course of the proceedings of the House? I do not believe that the House in any sense is so biassed politically that it is impossible for them to do justice to parties who have broken the rules of the House and abused their admission to the proceedings of this House.
We deal with a Member who creates disorder. Has anybody ever said that a Member who creates disorder was dealt with in any particular way because he belonged to a majority or a minority? We deal with many interests here apart from the question of politics. We elect a Member from one side of this House as a Speaker. We elect a Member from one side of this House as Chairman of Committees, and there never has been, certainly since I came into this House, a great many years ago, any suggestion or charge of bias in their administrations or in the settling of disputes on both sides of this House as against either of those high functionaries in the House. Therefore, I say if it is necessary at all, and I daresay it is, for any persons who desire the Gallery to be full—I certainly do not—is it to be laid down as impossible that we can get a panel of some kind in this House that would be able to deal fairly with those parties who have abused the privilege of being present as strangers? I cannot believe it. Certainly if we can do that, how very far superior that tribunal must be to making the police court an adjunct in keeping the order of this great assembly.
I do not at all think that the learned Attorney-General dealt adequately with what is likely to happen if we introduce the police court. I do not think my Noble Friend the Member for Chorley drew, in the slightest degree, an exaggerated picture of what would be likely to happen. How can you prevent the Speaker or any other Member of this House who has witnessed disorder being subpœned to give 1429 evidence? The learned Attorney-General said that in the Leeds case someone made an application to prevent the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister being brought down to Leeds on the ground that the matter was privileged. If I recollect aright the Prime Minister had no evidence to give on that occasion. He had seen nothing, and therefore it was privileged. But does the Attorney-General mean to say that he would deal in a similar way with a subpoena issued to Mr. Speaker in reference to a matter that he saw before his eyes in this House? The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot for a moment say that any court could refuse to administer the subpoena to any Member who saw the matter. Just look at what we would arrive at! Disorder occurs at the bar of this House or in the Gallery of the House, and Mr. Speaker directs a prosecution, and Mr. Speaker, being a witness and the director of the prosecution, is subpoenaed to come as a witness. Could anything be more ridiculous or anything bring this House into greater contempt than to have the police court administer a law of that kind? But the matter has even a further objection than that. Leaving Mr. Speaker out altogether, leaving the officers of this House out altogether, will hon. Members say that the sympathies of Members in relation to the particular incident will not lead them to go and volunteer evidence as to what happened with a view to mitigating the fines or the penalty that may arise in reference to a particular prosecution?
I can well see cases where the excitement would be so great that you would have to have a vast number of Members of this House examined on the one side or the other in relation to the particular matter and examined, having formed a perfectly bonâ fide view of what was the particular nature of the act that had arisen; and anything more lamentable than that a Session of this House should be removed from here to the police court at Westminster for the purpose of having a prosecution of that kind I could not: really conceive. But the Attorney-General says we can alter the law as to subpoenaing by this Bill. Is that really seriously going to be suggested—that in criminal prosecutions there should be a different law as to subpoenas in relation to the House of Commons from what there is as regards the most ordinary prosecutions of ordinary persons throughout the land? If you have to alter—and he now practically admits you will have to alter—the law as regards 1430 subpœnaing, I say that is enough to condemn this Bill, because you cannot lay down a code of evidence and procedure, in relation to prosecutions directed by this House, different from what you have in relation to any other ordinary prosecution directed by the right hon. Gentleman. That would be what would arise with reference to any prosecution. And a great many other inconveniences might also be suggested. The inconvenience of having your officers brought away when perhaps this House is sitting, the inconvenience of having them brought away from their business, probably urgent, important business that they would have to do in this House—all these are matters which we ought gravely to consider before we invite the police court into our proceedings.
But there are other matters which cannot be lightly passed over. I do not think it is a matter to be lightly passed over that the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker may upon investigation—because, of course, it would be upon investigation—direct a prosecution, and that then a magistrate outside may say there are no grounds for a prosecution. I think that would bring the proceedings into very great contempt—that the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker having said that there was a primâ facie case, the magistrate should say there was no case. And I do not think that that is a matter that the public will very well understand. There is no analogy, if I may say so, between this case and that of the Attorney-General directing prosecutions. The Attorney-General in the cases in which he directs prosecutions, merely has certain information put before him on which it is his duty to say whether there is a primâ facie case within the criminal law, and to direct prosecutions. That would not be the position of the Lord Chancellor and Mr. Speaker. They would very often be witnesses themselves to these matters, and the inconvenience of having these matters to try, and these prosecutions conducted after they had made up their minds, very often on their own view of what had occurred here, renders the case absolutely different from any other kind of trial that I can conceive. Then again, the turning of the officers of this House into constables seems to me to be a very serious matter. You were told it was only for the purpose of enabling them to hand over persons who have committed disorder so as to enable them to be brought at once before a magistrate and dealt with. I do not know how that is to be. The Bill is very 1431 obscure on that point. I want to know, when the officers of this High Court of Parliament arrest a man, and it is afterwards held, either by the Lord Chancellor or the Speaker, that he should not be prosecuted, will they be open to an action for malicious prosecution or arrest? How can you prevent that action? Do you imagine that the people who come in here and create disorder will not take advantage of every possible legal procedure with a view to annoying your officers and the parties who endeavour to bring them to justice? By introducing police court law you are opening up a number of questions which it is impossible now to foresee. I can imagine nothing more disastrous than that a man, having been arrested, the Speaker should say he ought not to have been arrested, or at all events that no prosecution should take place, and that in that case the man should bring an action against your officer. Look at the case that would come before the court. The man had been arrested for disturbance by the officer, and then the Speaker had overruled the officer, and the man had been discharged. It would be certainly a nice primâ facie case to argue before a jury as to whether damages should be given in such a case. As the Bill stands I think I can show in a moment that it is absolutely unworkable, and although it may be said that these are Committee points, they are points which go to the very root of the question of whether it is worth while making a change of this kind and whether it would not be better to have a tribunal of our own.
How is the Bill to work? The Bill applies to disturbance or disorder either inside or outside this Chamber, so long as it is within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. When a man creates a disturbance, as I understand the Bill, an officer of the House, whatever that may be—T have been looking in some of the books, and the term would seem to include even the printers—can apparently arrest that man, unless Mr. Speaker or the Lord Chancellor intervene. Suppose a disturbance occurs in the Lobby, how is the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker to intervene? Is a special messenger to be sent in to say to the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker, "There is a man creating a disturbance out here; will you please adjourn the House and come out and see whether he ought to be arrested "? The words of the -clause are: "Any person who commits an 1432 offence under this Act may, unless the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker otherwise order—" If that is not the construction, what is the officer to do? He is to summon a constable, and the man is taken to the lockup until he can be brought before 'i magistrate. Meantime, apparently, Mr. Speaker is to have the facts hurriedly brought before him, and is to consider—because no proceedings are to be instituted without the sanction of the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker—whether the man in the lockup is to be proceeded against before a magistrate or not. What is to happen if Mr. Speaker comes to the conclusion that the man is not to be proceeded against? Who is to let him out of the lockup? Then look at the injustice of what will have been done. A man will have been arrested, and Mr. Speaker, after hearing the facts, will have to come to the conclusion that he ought not to have been arrested; but meantime the man will have been in the lockup. Is that man to have no redress? If he has redress, are you going to allow actions to be brought against officers of your own House? I believe, as I said at the beginning, that the disadvantages far outweigh any advantages that are possible under this Bill. After all, I do not believe that it is a matter of Imperial consequence whether we reopen the Galleries or not. For my own part I think we can get on very well without an audience there. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for the Appleby Division that you will never by what I call your Coercion Bills, as regards these extremists, or faddists, or whatever you like to call them in relation to a particular question, be able for one moment to keep order, and if we are to have the same disorder in this House, and if this Bill will not prevent it, the only result will be that in addition to the disorder you will have all the inconveniences which I have tried to point out in relation to police court procedure.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
It is quite refreshing to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman denouncing coercion in any form. I can only regret that the able and elaborate argument which he has just addressed to the House was not addressed to the Committee upstairs upon whose recommendations this Bill is framed. The House will observe that this Bill, like most Government measures, is put forward by the Government simply in order to enable the House to pronounce an opinion on the recommendations of its own Committee. I have been looking at the names 1433 of the Members of that Committee, and I think that any hon. Member who looks at them will agree that a more representative body of men, or certainly a body of men entitled to greater respect for their long knowledge of the forms and procedure of this House, it would be impossible to select for any inquiry of this kind; and when they formally and unanimously come to the conclusions, as they did, which are now embodied in the clauses of this Bill, I do not think it would be possible to ignore their recommendations or to refuse to give due consideration to them. That is the only interest the Government have in the matter. I must say, from what I have heard of the debate, and particularly the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, who speaks with all the authority of the Front Bench, that it would clearly seem to me that the opinion of the House, if not adverse, is critical; and the last thing we desire is to press the House in a matter which is purely within its own cognisance to adopt any measure which is not in consonance with the general opinion. I will make a suggestion. I do not like, after all the pains and attention which this very responsible Committee gave to the matter, to withdraw the Bill from the consideration of the House; but I do think that there is so much weight in the criticisms which have been addressed to us, particularly as to the practicability of the procedure proposed, that before going any further with it we ought to have time for fuller consideration; and I think that if we now adjourned the debate so that the Government and all sections of the House might have independent and friendly conference on the subject, to see whether or not some form of procedure could be devised less open to objection, that would be most consonant with the dignity of the House. Therefore, if that view commends itself to the House, I will move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question "That the Debate be now adjourned" put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next (26th April).