HC Deb 07 December 1936 vol 318 cc1664-93

4.16 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 38, after the first "and," to insert "in accordance with rules of court."

This Amendment and that which follows it upon the Paper—in line 39, to leave out from "and" to "orders," in line 41, and to insert make such further "—go together. They are put down to fulfil the promise made to the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) with regard to Sub-section (3), which empowers the High Court to direct an inquiry in regard to the affairs of an association. The hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out that, as the Clause was drafted, there was express reference to liabilities incurred before the application for an inquiry, and that it might be thought that the House of Commons intended that the parties should not be heard before the court had directed the inquiry. We all agree that that is not the result which we intend. The Amend- ment now leaves the whole matter to be dealt with by the Rules of Court. There is no doubt that the general line of those Rules will be the same as those dealing with similar matters, namely, that there will be power to get an interim order to stop ale disposal of the property before any further step is taken. We may be sure that all interested parties who can satisfy the court that they ought to be heard will be heard.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 39, leave out from "and" to "orders," in line 41, and insert "make such further."—[The Attorney-General.]

4.19 p.m.

The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. T. M. Cooper)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 9, to leave out "of," and to insert: incurred in connection with any such inquiry and report as aforesaid or in. This is in the nature of a drafting Amendment, which purports, incidentally, to make it plain that the court has power to order that the costs of the inquiry shall be paid out of the funds of the association, in addition to any other costs which may be incurred.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 9, after "and," insert "may order that."—[The Attorney-General.]

4.20 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 15, after "by," to insert: any person taking part in the control or management of an association or in organising, training or equipping. This Amendment arises out of a discussion in Committee on paragraph 2 of Sub-section (4) of the Clause, dealing with the question of evidence. It was said that although it might be necessary to have the word "adherents" in certain parts of the Bill, or words which have a similar rather vague connotation, it would be wrong to have such a word as applying to those whose statement should be admissible as evidence under the provisions of the Sub-section. After careful consideration of the best way to secure that object, my right hon. Friend has decided to put forward the Amendment which, as the Committee will see, defines the class of person. Perhaps these words go rather further than the suggestion which was made on the Committee stage, that the only admissible evidence should be the evidence of those who could be proved to be responsible members of the association.

4.23 p.m.


I am a little troubled and puzzled about the attitude of the Government on this point. Compared with the form in which the Clause was originally framed, there has been a very strange change of view. Changes of view do not worry me in the least, if we can see what is best. If I may give short labels to the various people involved, and call those who organise, train, equip, control or manage, the "officers," the members, the "rank and file" and the adherents the "hangers-on," the original Clause said that what should be given in evidence to wind up an organisation was anything said by the officers, the rank and file, the hangers-on or people, who, though not even hangers-on, looked as though they were. Everybody agreed that that was too mild. In the Committee, the Government took a view which purists on the back benches on both sides of the Committee thought was still going a little far, and proposed officers—which implied, of course, members—rank and file and hangers-on; but that might still be a little too wide

What are the Government doing now I am only seeking to arrive at a proceeding which, on the one hand, will not inflict an injustice and, on the other, will do what is reasonable, to get evidence to procure a conviction. The Amendment now moved practically says "officers only," because the words "members" or "adherents" become the mere object, as the grammarians say, to the persons controlling, organising, training or equipping. I think the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary will agree that if you were to cut the Subsection wholly out, the question of the admissability, of evidence in any particular case would probably be almost the same as though it were in, in the form now proposed. I agree that it would still have a certain advantage. Speaking objectively, I feel that what is now proposed to be done by the Government is much too narrow, and deprives the Sub-section of any force. My own peculiar mentality leads me to welcome it, because I have an old-fashioned affection for not proving things against people unless they are really responsible for them. The great bulk of the people for whom I have the honour to speak feel that this Amendment will make the machinery not work at all. I do not want to divide the House about it, and I should be very happy if the Government could find words, between now and the Bill going to the other place, which were something between "officer" and "rank and file."

4.27 p.m.


Should not some such word as "knowingly" be inserted? If the black, red or green shirts or blouses be regarded as the uniform of any particular association, and if I were to go to Bourne and Hollingsworth and order two dozen red silk blouses, the unfortunate head of the department would not know whether I wanted them for my personal use, to distribute as Christmas presents or to organise a fierce Amazon brigade to deal firmly with the Home Secretary because of some action of his of which I disapproved. In that case, who would be responsible A large order might be given for one particular-coloured scarf; have the firm who receive the order to satisfy themselves that they are not equipping an illegal political organisation? I know very little about the law, but I know there are weird people wandering around called common informers. If there were a case which was exciting public opinion and there were a good deal of feeling about it, and someone raised the question of who had provided the uniforms, would the wholesale or retail draper who had supplied them in all innocence be taken as having equippel an organisation? The word "knowingly" might meet the case, and protect the innocent retailer.

4.30 p.m.


On these benches we took strong objection to this Sub-section when it was being considered in Committee, and I think our objection was supported by many Members in all quarters of the House. I do not think that any portion of the Bill has been subjected to so much criticism in this House and so much comment in the Press. The Amendment now proposed by the Government will remove the objections that we feel, and, although the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) might be right in saying that it will perhaps cause Subsection (4) not to operate at all, we are not going to shed any tears about that; the particular injustice involved by the alteration of the ordinary rules of court will now be removed, and we desire to thank the Government for having accepted the principle.

4.31 p.m.


I should like to ask the Attorney-General a question on a point of drafting. The Amendment refers to any person taking part in the control or management of an association. It then goes on to refer to organising, training or equipping. But it does not say what is being organised, trained or equipped, and apparently it would cover anybody who organises anything.


There is an Amendment later dealing with that point.


I understood that the words which follow were to be deleted, and I am much obliged to the Home Secretary for his interjection.

4.32 p.m.


I should like to ask what, if anything, will be left of Sub-section (4) if this Amendment is carried. I thought that the object of Sub-section (4), as the Bill was originally drafted, was to enable the court to provide, as evidence against the promoters of an organisation, the testimony of people whom they had organised or equipped. It seems to me that, if these words are inserted, the field from which evidence can be selected will be exceedingly narrow, and, that being so, I very much hope the Government will reconsider the insertion of these words, which to many of us seem to nullify the object of the Sub-section.


Perhaps, with the leave of the House, I may reply to the points which have been raised. Dealing first with the point put by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), in my view it is not at all true to say that this Amendment will prevent the Clause from having the main effect for which it was originally intended. The instance I gave in Committee in justification of the Clause was that of a leader—


When the Attorney-General says "the Clause," I presume he means the Sub-section?


Yes, I mean the Sub-section. I gave the instance of the leader who is being prosecuted as someone who, the prosecution seek to show, was taking part in the control or management of the association—who was the brains of the concern. The case intended to be covered by the Sub-clause is the case where you can show that somewhere a group of members of the association was being drilled, where commands were being given, people were told to form fours, march about, and so on, the commander being the person who is being prosecuted. If there were a small body of members giving orders of this kind which would bring, or might bring, the association within the Clause, and if you sought to give evidence of what the lieutenant said, the orders he gave, and the things done, the objection might be raised that you were seeking to give in evidence things which did not happen in the presence of the accused person. That is the kind of case which we have in mind, and quite clearly it is still governed by the words which it is proposed to insert. I quite agree, of course, that with these words inserted the scope of the Clause is not as wide as it was before, but in a matter of this kind it is impossible to please everyone, and one has to weigh the arguments put forward from those benches with the general intention, possibly not on those benches, but in all other parts of the House. We think that this Sub-clause is not an unreasonable one if properly safeguarded, having regard to the kind of subject-matter with which we are dealing.

With regard to the point made by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson)—what I may call the Bourne and Hollingsworth point—I do not know that Messrs. Bourne and Hollingsworth are in any danger, because, although technically under this Clause it might be that evidence could be called that Messrs. Bourne and Hollingsworth had supplied shirts, or whatever it might be, it would, of course, be quite irrelevant and useless to call that evidence. Messrs. Bourne and Hollingsworth would ex hypothesi not be in the dock; the only people who would be in the dock would be people coming under Sub-section (1) who had taken part in the control or management of the association, and nobody would suggest that people who supplied jerseys and so on were taking part in the control or management of the association. It is necessary to have the word "equipping" because you want to be able to cover anything in the nature of equipping by responsible members of the association, and, if responsible members of the association had dealt out shirts and so on, that is the kind of thing which would be covered by the Clause.


If a local cooperative society—I give the case of a co-operative society because there seems to be a misguided idea among some hon. Members on the opposite benches that a co-operative society is also a political organisation—had an order to supply to a Communist or Labour organisation shirts that were held to be illegal, would there be any danger of that society being involved in a prosecution?


None whatever.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 20, to leave out from the beginning, to the end of line 23.

This is a consequential Amendment.

4.41 p.m.


The Attorney-General says that this Amendment is consequential, and that is true in the sense that, the one Amendment having been moved, the other must also be moved, but I would ask the Government to consider leaving these words in. A number of people have felt anxiety about the word "adherent," because, if it is put in, you might have some organisation which people might be said to adhere to although they hate the sight of it, while on the other hand, if the word "adherent" is not put in, someone might organise a body which had no members but which had a lot of adherents. The word occurs in Subsection (1), but it has become necessary in Sub-section (4) in particular. I think a, great many people would feel happier if there were a definition of the word "adherent" as meaning a person who adheres to an association more or less with its assent and not against its will. While it might be said that the definition ought to be moved from one place to another, I appeal to the Government to retain these words for the purpose of Sub-section (1) because they are a very good definition.

4.43 p.m.


It seemed to me that the Amendment was consequential, or I would have expounded it a little more when it was called. I appreciated the argument that was put forward at an earlier stage that the application of these words was mainly to this Sub-section, and that was why the Committee inserted the definition here. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman admits that for the purposes of the other part of the Bill it is necessary to have some word other than "members," because otherwise it might be possible for an association to dodge the Bill by saying, "None of these people are members; we only have 20 members; the rest are associates or something other than members." For the purposes of Sub-section (4) we have now completely met the point raised in Committee by putting in the words inserted in a previous Amendment. How far it is in order to pursue the question whether evil results might arise from the use of this word in other parts of the Clause, I do not know, but I may perhaps be permitted to say that, so far as we are concerned, we think that no such evil can arise.

Amendment agreed to.

4.44 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 44, at the end, to insert: (6) Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting the organisation of a reasonable number of persons to be employed as stewards to assist in the preservation of order at any public meeting held upon private premises, or the instruction of those persons in their lawful duties as such stewards, or their equipment with badges or other distinguishing signs. This Amendment is to be read in conjunction with a later Amendment to Clause 9 which I have on the Paper—in page 7, line 23, at the end, to insert: Private premises ' means premises to which the public have access (whether on payment or otherwise) only by permission of the owner, occupier, or lessee of the premises. The main point arises on the Amendment which I am now moving. The House will recall that in Committee the question was raised by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) as to whether or not there was any possibility of the words of Section 2, which we had just passed, applying to prevent the use of stewards in the ordinary and normal way at a public meeting. His argument was a very ingenious one. He said that stewards, he feared, might be regarded as persons organised and trained for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force in promoting a political object, namely, the return of the candidate on whose behalf, it might be, the meeting was being held. I ventured to observe during the Committee stage that it appeared to me that this was rather a fine-drawn interpretation of language, and that it might well be held that, if the stewards had any objection to someone addressing the meeting and asked him to leave, they were not really doing it for the purpose of promoting any political object, but only for the purpose of seeing that reasonable order was kept, which I suppose would be the object of all persons, or at any rate of all candidates. But on reflection I was disposed to think that there was more in the point than there appeared to be, and I said that, if we could find a proper form of words to protect what hon. Members in all parts of the Committee agreed must be protected, it would be right to insert such words. The words I am moving are not words which make an exception, but words which in effect amount to a clarification of the meaning of what we are doing.

The Amendment has been very carefully drawn to give no encouragement whatever to a possible form of arrangement which we all, wherever we sit, or whatever our convictions may be, must unite to discourage in every possible way. To put a lot of people in a hall for the purpose of bullying those who are merely attending and making a reasonable use of their right to attend without disturbing at all is not legitimate stewarding. It is a monstrous attempt to bully and dragoon people who have their rights as free citizens when they attend a public meeting. We have, therefore, inserted the limitation, first of all, that the number of stewards must be reasonable. That is intended to make it plain that the organisation of a large standing army is quite outside anything that the House of Commons will permit. Of course, it is necessary to say that the public meeting is held on private premises because there can be no question of ejecting interrupters at a meeting held in a public place to which police have access, or in a street. In the third place we have been very careful to put in the word "lawful" before the word "duties." The House may consider a very familiar proposition to all who have had any legal training, and it is a very necessary proposition for all citizens to remember that, even though you have your rights, whatever they may be, you are not entitled to use your force or that of your friends to secure those rights beyond a point that is reasonably necessary.

About 100 years ago there was a gentleman called Captain Moir who found a boy up an apple tree in his orchard stealing the apples, and I daresay eating them in the branches of the tree. There is no doubt that Captain Moir had a perfect right to say that no one ought to take the apples off that tree, but the proposition that you may use any amount of force that is necessary to stop this wrong being done is a mistaken proposition. You are only entitled to use that amount of force which is reasonable having regard to the wrong that is being done. Unfortunately, Captain Moir did not understand that and, as he could not climb the tree, and the boy would not stop taking the apples, he let off his gun, the boy fell, and ultimately died and Captain Moir was hanged. Yet he was only engaged in using that amount of force which was necessary in order to protect his rights. It is a great mistake to suppose that everyone can use that amount of force which is necessary to protect his rights. He is only entitled to use that amount of force which is reasonable having regard to the circumstances. I hope all stewards will be instructed according to that view.

Lastly, stewards will very likely wish to be equipped, if that is the word—I do not know from what emporium—with badges and rosettes—no one can complain because of that—but they certainly must not be equipped with any instrument of force. What we have tried to do is to state on the face of the Bill what everyone will agree is the position that ought to be protected. We are not trying to alter the ordinary practice of a well-conducted ordinary political meeting. The words have been very carefully drafted, and I hape they will commend themselves to the House.

4.53 p.m.


The language that it is sought to import into the Bill alarms me by its width. We have been constrained to accept the provisions of the Bill because it was represented to us that it would prevent the organisation of private armies. I conceive that under this proposal it will still be possible to maintain quite a considerable force in existence. There can be a permanent organisation. It does not mean that you merely have an ad hoc organisation for a single meeting. We have accepted a considerable number of things which in our judgment went beyond the need for prohibiting the existence of a private force. We are now re-importing into the Bill the possibility of an organised, disciplined and semi-military force. The organisation must have a headquarters, so we may conceivably have a barracks. Furthermore, not only can you have a permanent organisation, not only can you have a headquarters where they may be instructed, but you may also instruct them, or drill them, in their duty as stewards. The first excuse advanced by the Fascists in this country for establishing their semi-military organisation was the alleged need for maintaining order at their meetings. Now it seems to me that we are admitting in these words that it is necessary to Maintain such an organisation and necessary to instruct them in their duties. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that he has safeguarded himself by putting in the word "lawful" before "duties." I have had no legal training whatever, but it, seems to me that the importation of the word "lawful" does nothing at all to strengthen the language, because no steward could in the discharge of his duties do an unlawful thing.


Obviously, if people were engaged in instructing stewards in unlawful methods, this is the way to hit the nail on the head.


I understand that it would be a violation of the existing law if any body of persons should be assembled for the purpose of committing unlawful acts. It would be a violation to organise them to break the law. The importation of the word "lawful" is a mere euphemism. It does nothing to strengthen the Clause. It is a piece of corn that is put down in the hope that we will pick it up and swallow the whole of the language. The Amendment refers to "their equipment, with badges and other distinguishing signs." It might have stopped at badges, because a badge is quite enough to distinguish a steward. Do the rest of the words really import the blouse or the shirt? That is a distinguishing sign; so long as it can be shown that, whatever the equipment might be, it is an equipment for the purpose of distinguishing the stewards as stewards, and in order to distinguish them they must all wear the same thing. Thus you have re-imported into the Bill all the features that you are trying to avoid. I am sure that, if the Home Secretary was still practising at the Bar, if I employed him he could assist me in keeping a. considerable organisation under these words. In the ordinary practice, in holding public meetings, we have a certain number of people to act as stewards. They vary usually from meeting to meeting. We have not a number of people who are permanently employed in the capacity of steward. Those who act as stewards are an ad hoc collection of people who serve for that particular meeting.

But this is an organisation of stewards existing in between meetings because they have to be instructed in complicated, lawful duties. You have an organisation to instruct them, and you have badges and uniforms. If you carry on a number of different meetings at one and the same time, if you have a large number of meetings going on in London and the provinces simultaneously, you want a very considerable number of stewards, so you can have quite a considerable force in existence. All that the leader or lieutenant has to do is to say, "I have 50 or 60 meetings going on simultaneously in London and elsewhere. How many stewards shall I want for each meeting?" It may be 30, 50 or 100. There is no definition. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman, or my hon. Friends, have considered the significance of the language but it seems to me that everything to which we take exception can now be re-imported into the Bill.

4.59 p.m.


If I thought the hon. Member's argument was correct I should certainly join with him in his opposition to this form of words, but it seems to me that his argument is not well founded. I think the insertion of the word "lawful" does something to avoid the precise evils which he has in mind, because if you have a group of stewards organised, not to use undue force, such as some of us think has been used in meetings in the last year or two; that would not come within the word "lawful."


I understand that the amount of force that you are entitled by law to use in removing an interrupter depends entirely on the resistance that the interrupter puts up, and you do not know beforehand to what extent he is going to resist. Therefore, it is difficult to define what are lawful or unlawful instructions.


Suppose you were to organise a group of stewards with knuckle-dusters, I should say that that would go far beyond the use of any lawful force. It is precisely that sort of point which I have in mind, and by using the word "lawful" here, we are drawing a distinction between the legitimate use of stewards for removing an interrupter who refuses to be silent and in fact holds up the meeting, and stewards who use very different methods and quite unnecessary force. The hon. Gentleman was rather troubled lest this Clause might reintroduce the political uniform. When I first read the form of words, I admit that I rather wondered whether the words "other distinguishing signs" might not be held to cover uniform. I suggest that it is covered by the words at the beginning of the Sub-section, "Nothing in this Section." It would be held to make unlawful the use of badges or distinguishing signs by stewards, but I submit to the hon. and learned Gentleman behind me and other hon. Members in different parts of the House who speak with greater authority than I, that this does not in any way interfere with Clause 1, which absolutely prohibits political uniforms except on ceremonial or other special occasions. The reason why I was glad to see this form of words added is that in Clause 6 we strengthen the provisions of the Public Meeting Act. I do not object to that, but some of us do not want to see the police called in very often at public meetings. It is something that we want to see only in the last resort, and, speaking as one who at the last two general elections suffered as much as anyone in the country from political rowdyism, even to the extent that it was sometimes impossible to speak, in all these circumstances, I do not want the police called in except where there is no other way of dealing with the matter.

I see on the Order Paper certain further Amendments to Clause 6, and the provision by which a prosecution cannot be initiated by the police has to go. As I. understand it, the police will, on their own responsibility, be able to initiate the prosecution under the Public Meeting Act. It extends the powers which were contemplated when first the Bill was introduced. If it was felt that there was some ground for thinking that something in the Clause as it originally stood might hit at the organisation of stewards, that it would mean there would be no means of preserving order at public meetings short of calling in the police. If I may suggest to hon. Members above the Gangway, that is the situation which I want to avoid. I want to take measures to expel persons who try to prevent speaking and attempt to break up a public meeting without calling in the police, as I believe that that is something you should do only in the last resort, and for that reason my hon. Friends and I propose to support the Amendment.

5.5 p.m.


I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for introducing this Subsection. I moved an Amendment dealing with this subject on the Committee stage on behalf of certain hon. Members, and my right hon. Friend then promised to look into the matter if we withdrew the Amendment. I, for my part, think that he has handsomely fulfilled his promise. As far as Members of the House generally are concerned, most of us would agree that anything within reason that can be done to prevent meetings from being broken up is in all our interests. There are very few persons who really think that it is any advantage to have the meetings of their opponents broken up. We felt that unless a provision of this kind were put into the Bill, there might be difficulty in organising stewards in the way we have all been accustomed, and it might lead to further rowdyism at meetings. I do not know what the experience of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has been. Perhaps he has been fortunate in his opponents in the years since he first stood for Parliament, but there are other hon. Members who have not been so fortunate and who know what it is to have organised bands of rowdies imported from other Divisions for the express purpose of breaking up their meetings. Anybody who has seen that kind of thing will agree it is most desirable that a reasonable number of stewards should be allowed, and that there should be no doubt about their being allowed. I listened very carefully to the objections put forward by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, and I cannot feel that there was great weight and substance in them. He seemed to be straining the language of the Clause beyond anything it could stand. We may rest assured that the only interpretation that can be nut upon these words is that which my right hon. Friend put upon them when he moved the Sub-section, and that it will allow us to provide a reasonable number of specialised stewards, and not to go beyond that provision.

5.8 p.m.


I am very glad that something of this kind is being inserted in the Bill, but I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he does not think that perhaps the opening words of the Sub-section are a little unfortunate in their possible interpretation. The words are: Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting the organisation of a reasonable number of persons to be employed as stewards to assist in the preservation of order at any public meeting. That can clearly cover the organisation of a band of stewards who can go to any public meeting, and that, I am sure, is not what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. He has in mind the ad hoc employment of stewards at a public meeting. May I suggest that other words would more aptly cover what he has in mind, and would not lay him open to the possible danger of it being argued that some one could organise a standing band of stewards? I suggest that the words might be: Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting the employment as stewards to assist in the preservation of order at a public meeting, held upon private premises, of a reasonable number of persons, and so on. That would mean that you could employ at a specific public meeting a reasonable number of persons as stewards, but you could not have a standing army of stewards to go round from public meeting to public meeting. I feel that the danger is in these words. I appreciate that they are not intended to cover that, but it might ingeniously be argued that they were wide enough to cover a standing army of stewards, and that therefore they might manage to get in under this Sub-section that which it is aimed at prohibiting in the first Subsecton. I am sure that the words I have suggested, or similar words, would be quite as effective to achieve what all of us want to achieve, and would not lay the Clause open to the danger of being so widely construed as to let in something that none of us wants to let in.

5.10 p.m.


I hope that the Government will not adopt the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). We on this side of the House are very grateful to the Home Secretary and to the Attorney-General for putting in these words. We asked that they should be put in, and we had in mind exactly the kind of case which the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite apparently wishes to prevent. As I have said before, it has been my experience and custom at general and at by-elections to have a number of public persons who are willing to act as stewards at meetings, not at one meeting but at all meetings. What is the objection of the hon. and learned Gentleman to what he described as a standing army of stewards?


I do not know whether the Noble Lord was in the House when my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was putting the point,. The objection was that it was said in the early days that the Fascist organisation was necessary to preserve order at meetings, and that it was for that purpose that it was built up into a standing army. The point is that if you want to avoid militarisation and standing armies in association with politics, you do not want to give encouragement to this great standing army.


The Left wing organisations in this country have been allowed to indulge in this kind of thing during the last 10 years.[An HON. MEMBER: "What has that to do with it?"] In spite of that interruption I intend to state the truth. In this as in every other country the most inimical system of controlled organisations on the Right have been brought about by the factious actions of the Left. And then they cry out in horror and say, "They use violence against us and, say nasty things to us, and, of course, we never do it." I should not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman would take that attitude.


If the Noble Lord appeals to me, I do not take that attitude, because the only interruptions I have ever had at my meetings have been from Conservatives.


I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman would interrupt. The last people who will be interrupted by the extreme Left are those who are on it. To the best of my belief, no responsible Member of the Labour party in this House or the country has ever done anything in the slightest degree to encourage this sort of thing, but, on the contrary, has done everything to discourage it. But the reason that the Fascists have had this excuse, which I admit is slender, is exactly because of what I have described. Quite apart from the Fascists, it is in the interests of the general public that order should be maintained at public meetings, and it can only be maintained by stewards. The Subsection as it stands meets the desire, which, I understand, all sections of the House wish to see adopted, and for that reason I support it.

5.14 p.m.


I rise to support the appeal which has been made to the Government to modify the words in the proposed Sub-section, and I do so for a reason, which, I am sure, will be appreciated by the Lord Advocate, because as a fellow representative of the City of Edinburgh he will not forget easily the scenes which took place in that city a few months ago. It was on the occasion of a Fascist meeting in the Usher Hall. A body of something like 150 stewards, so-called, were imported into the city nominally for the purpose of preserving order in the Usher Hall, and most disgraceful scenes were witnessed.


What did they do?


I can only say that there was a very large number of accusations of violence on both sides, both inside the meeting and outside, and I am sure that the Lord Advocate will have all the facts fully in mind, because he went into the allegations. I was not on the spot, and only heard them from out side. I suggest to the Home Secretary that after full consultation with the Lord Advocate he will no doubt be 'acquainted with all that took place.

With all due respect to the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winter-ton) the House is very largely agreed on what we want to obtain. The only question is how far the words which the Government propose to insert will attain our general object, or whether they will allow the very thing which we are trying to prevent in this Bill. We are all agreed that we want to see order kept at public meetings. On a subsequent Clause we supported the Noble Lord in Committee, and I intend to support the proposal on the Report stage. We are all agreed as to the desirability of order being kept at meetings, and the right persons to keep order in the first instance should be the stewards. We agree that every public meeting should have stewards, whose primary business is to show people to their seats and to perform the normal avocation of stewards, and only if necessary to take the very regrettable step of ejecting a person or persons in case of persistent obstruction to the objects of the meeting.

What we do not want to see is the importation of stewards into a locality, stewards who have been organised and trained at some headquarters and who may not go to the meeting for the avowed purpose of displaying violence, but in fact it often works out in that result. The Government may say that they have covered that point by the word "lawfully" in this proviso, but I am very doubtful whether that does cover the point completely, for it will be possible, as was the case in Edinburgh, to bring 150 people to a meeting. Who is going precisely to question the instructions that have been given in the organisation of these stewards? What we do know is that these stewards do, on some occasions, go beyond what is lawful action. It is then open for the promoters of the meeting to say: "It is true that the stewards may have done things which were found to be unlawful, but that is not what we trained them to do." It should be made abundantly clear that stewards organised locally, and only occasionally by importations, should be available for use in the preservation of order. I am afraid that if the proviso is inserted in the proposed words it will open the door to one of the very things which some of us had hoped the Bill was intended to prevent.

5.19 p.m.

Captain RAMSAY

I hope the Lord Advocate will not listen to the blandishments of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). Surely, the hon. Member and his friends are arguing from the wrong end. The protests which he has made and which apply purely to Fascists, would seem to apply, presumably, to Unionists in the future.


Not at all.

Captain RAMSAY

I am glad if I misunderstood the hon. Member. As I understood him, he was referring to the recent behaviour of Fascists in Edinburgh and deducing from that the future behaviour of stewards of a political party.


I never intended by any implication to bring in the Unionist party. What I said was that the object of the Bill is understood to be to prevent the Fascists doing what they are doing at the present time, and that if the proviso were inserted in this form it would leave the door open, not for Members of the Unionist party, but for the Fascists to do what we are seeking to prevent.

Captain RAMSAY

I am glad to have that further explanation, but I still think that it is stretching the point too far, to assume that, if stewards are brought to a district from a place some miles away, ipso facto there is a danger of their behaving improperly and breaking the law. I should think that the opposite would be the fact, and that if stewards were brought from a distance by a central organisation and they behaved in an improper manner a charge might much more easily be brought against the central organisation. Moreover, it is possible that local persons might not be so well trained and might lose their heads. I am very happy in the fact that I have not needed stewards at my meetings, although I remember the election before last when a number of people followed me about in charabancs for the purpose of interrupting my meetings. [Interruption.] I have no doubt that some of these things come near home to some of the hon. Members opposite, but the more noise they make the more they will get. In some places where disturbances are likely to occur it is very often difficult to get stewards, and it is not desirable that people who live next door to one another should be called upon to put each other out of a meeting. The reason why the Fascist organisations have grown is because no action has been taken by the Unionist party or the Liberal party in the past to protect their public rights in this regard. The action which the Government propose to take by retaining these words in the Bill will do as much to keep the Fascist movement in check as anything else in the Bill, and I hope the Lord Advocate will in no sense listen to the importunities of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh.

5.23 p.m.


This is a very simple problem and one which can be discussed without heat. Therefore, it is one which I perhaps ought not to attempt to discuss. The first problem is to see that this provision does not prevent normal people from having their normal meetings normally stewarded. The second point, and it is a difficult problem, is to make sure that anything we do now does not give the Fascists a loophole. If I were advising the Fascist organisation under this Clause I should say to them, "Organise two parties. Call one the society of stewards and the other the stewards' association. Call one the S.S. and the other the S.A." That is the sort of thing that I am afraid of. The Noble Lord referred to public-spirited persons who stewarded meetings, but I would point out that those same public-spirited persons acting at any meeting are not in any danger from this Clause as proposed to be amended. The people we are aiming at are not public-spirited people but people who get spirited in the public house.

I appeal to the Government to do one of two things. In the first place, to consider whether they cannot omit this Subsection, or else to adopt the words of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). The only demerit about that suggestion is that I attempted to draft an Amendment and, without any communication to the hon. and learned Member, even telepathically, I produced almost exactly the same words. If the promoters of meetings are allowed to employ a reasonable number of stewards one could always get the public-spirited people of whom the Noble Lord spoke, locally or from a distance. Your local people may not in all cases be physically strong, as a result of the operation of the means test, and, therefore, there is nothing unreasonable in fetching people from elsewhere. If it is said that it is not really practicable to have to employ a number of persons each time—according to a Latin phrase used by one who is no longer with us—by an ad hoc arrangement, then I suggest that the position is sufficiently covered by the fact that you are expressly authorised by the Subsection to exercise the right to instruct stewards. That gives sufficient right to make arrangement to give instruction and even a little ephemeral, slight drilling to make sure that the stewards can operate successfully. If the proviso were altered as suggested by the, hon. and learned Member for East Bristol it would achieve everything that it should and nothing that it should not.

5.27 p.m.


I think the weakness of the proposition is in the authorisation of the right of the stewards to equipment with badges or other distinguishing signs. I fear that if such a power is to be conferred it will mean the perpetuation of a situation similar to what prevails at the present time. A meeting was held in Newcastle at which Sir Oswald Mosley spoke. He was preceded by the entry into the hall of, according to the chief constable's estimate, 150 stewards, for the purpose of preserving order. These men were in uniform. Under this Bill the same number might go to a meeting wearing badges, or they might be without their coats, or they might have some other distinguishing mark, which would show that they had been specially trained and equipped for doing what they term as preserving order.

I had an illustration of the preservation of order at that meeting. Immediately in front of me was a harmless individual connected with the local Labour party, who had known Sir Oswald Mosley when he was at Newcastle on a previous occasion. Sir Oswald had been denouncing the local Conservative party and the Conservative party generally and then he proceeded roundly to denounce the Labour party. Thereupon the individual in question called out: "You were once a member." Immediately two stewards rushed to the man placed their hands on his shoulders and told him that if he interrupted again they would throw him out. If we permit the organisation of a body of men in his way they can and they will overawe and brow-beat audiences, as is commonly done by Fascists at the present time. I feel that to legalise the organisation of stewards is in excess of the necessities of the times. Stewards are always available in the audience. I have not seen any lack of stewards, and to organise stewards with special distinguishing marks, people who are determined to interfere with free speech by threats, can be carried out under the proposed Sub-section.

5.31 p.m.


There is clearly a large measure of agreement in the House on this matter. I should like to remind hon. Members of the origin of this Amendment. In the Committee stage the question was discussed as to whether the words might be construed as covering stewards, and I advanced the view that they probably could not be so construed, although I am bound to say that that view did not commend itself to any quarter of the Committee. I appreciate the feeling which has been expressed as to the undesirability of calling in the police to meetings and the desirability of order being maintained in ordinary cases by stewards. The Committee felt, as the House now feels, that it would not be right to put in the Statute words which might be construed as making it an offence to organise a body of stewards but, on the other hand, no one wants to see a private army organised under the cloak of stewards. Stewards could be organised under the Bill as unamended, and there was the possibility of the danger, if the Bill was left unamended, of people misusing a legal right for an illegal purpose. That is a danger which to some extent is present in a great many cases. If people can dress up an illegal activity and make it look legal they do so, and it is for the prosecution to prove and expose such actions.

I think that the words suggested by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and supported by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) would cut out a great deal of perfectly proper activity. No one wants to confine stewards to one meeting, as I understand the hon. and learned Member suggested. There is no objection to having a body of men who are prepared to go round and perform the proper duties of stewards. In regard to the case mentioned by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), there was clearly an abuse of the right of stewards, and my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate tells me that he prosecuted a number of people for what was done at that meeting. That to some extent can be dealt with and was dealt with under the existing law.


It might be argued that one or two of these stewards exceeded their instructions, and therefore I still suggest that the Subsection might give the promoters of the meeting a loophole to escape responsibility.


Clearly, quite apart from this new Sub-section, you might organise a reasonable number of stewards before the meeting starts, and nobody could say that any wrong had been done. What we want to avoid is using words which could really be a cloak for a private army or a body of persons designed as such. My right hon. Friend has that point very much in mind, and we thought that we had by these words stopped up a loophole. The words "a reasonable number of persons to be employed," are intended to be a reasonable number of persons at a particular meeting. It is very important to bear in mind that the law does not allow my right hon. Friend to claim the use of all necessary force; it only allows him a force which is reasonable, having regard to the offence which is being committed. Professor Dicey comments on the case of the unfortunate Captain Moir. I will just read two sentences: He was, it would seem, a well-meaning man, imbued with too rigid an idea of authority. He perished from ignorance of law. His fate is a warning to theorists who incline to the legal heresy that every right may lawfully be defended by the force necessary for its assertion. That must be borne in mind by all future stewards. While making it perfectly clear that we are going to see that these words are not cut down so that they do not cover a reasonable organisation, my right hon. Friend will have a look at them again and see whether by altering the Sub-section or by using the word "organising" instead of "organisation" we can stop up any further loophole which might be used by any private organisation in the country.

5.37 p.m.


I appreciate the tone and temper in which the Attorney-General has met our criticism. When we originally discussed this matter the Home Secretary warned the Committee and myself personally of the danger of a Subsection of this character. He was trying to be sweetly reasonable. Speaking with a good deal of knowledge of the machinery of Fascism I say that there is a great danger of providing a serious loophole for the drilling of semi-military organisations in the Sub-section as now drafted, and it seems to me that the simplest way is to omit the word "organisation." If that were done our difficulties would be met. I am satisfied that if the Sub-section is left in its present form the very thing which we want to prevent will go on in probably just as aggressive a form as at present, and the necessity for providing stewards to prevent interruption at meetings will be made the justification and excuse for drilling and organising their members in a martial way and still irritate the public. I hope the Attorney-General will be as sweetly reasonable on the Report stage as the Home Secretary was in the Committee stage, and will be careful that the purpose of the Clause is not defeated by his own Amendment.



I am sure that hon. Members will be grateful to the Attorney- General for the way in which he has met us on this matter, and I hope that the word "organisation" will not appear in the Clause in its final form. It seems to me that it will be possible for someone to organise a body of professional stewards with no definite political attachment and to announce that any party could have the benefit of this corps of well instructed and organised stewards. I had the experience of having a visit from Sir Oswald Mosley to my constituency during the General Election. He did not put up a candidate, but he chose the opportunity of coming down one Sunday evening to a meeting he had organised, and he brought a large number of stewards from places over 100 miles away in chars-a-bane. Quite obviously they were imported nominally for the purpose of being stewards but really for the purpose of creating terror and, if necessary, of behaving in quite an illegal way.

I hope some such words as have been suggested by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) will find favour with the Government. No one desires to prohibit the employment of a reasonable number of stewards at a meeting, but one does rather fear what may happen if we get on every side in politics an organised body of people who will be specially trained. It would be difficult to prevent the creation of a private army. The word "equipment" also is a tremendous word to apply to a small badge which might be worn in the buttonhole or as an armlet, and I suggest that it might be possible to find a word which does not represent something quite as big as the word "equipment" suggests.




My hon. and gallant Friend suggests the word "identification." The word "equipment" seems to me to include something which might be useful as a weapon of defence if not of offence. The word "identification" would remove the possibility of it being something formidable. I hope the Attorney-General will realise that we have endeavoured to be reasonable and that the Government will meet the legitimate points which have been raised.

5.45 p.m.


The charming little cautionary tale, told us both by the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, of the poor little boy in an apple tree does not seem to me to meet this case. It seems to me that the Attorney-General suggested that a steward may do almost anything to a heckler except kill him. In the tale of the little boy in the apple tree, the little boy was only eating the apple, and used no violence; but in the cases with which we are dealing there might be an argument put before the magistrate that the greater the violence the greater the justification for the violence used by the stewards. To take another illustration with which we are all familiar, after a baton charge, the police always invariably prosecute the men who are injured as an excuse for their own violence. I am afraid there might be a situation in which the stewards used excessive violence—as was the case at Olympia, for instance—and it might be argued afterwards that the violence was necessary and lawful because of the resistance offered. I do not think the words in this Sub-section meet the point we are trying to settle.

In my opinion, this particular Subsection, if it is allowed to stand, will give away all the underlying agreement that there has been on this Bill. The justification that Sir Oswald Mosley has always made for his armed bands and uniformed bullies is that they are necessary to keep order at public meetings. It is horrifying to find used in this Sub-section the words "to be employed as stewards," for the plain meaning of those words is that the stewards would be paid. If they can be paid, if the Attorney-General defends the use, not of ad hoc stewards --who would have no difficulty in getting into any meeting--but of stewards who, as the Attorney-General said, cannot and must not be prevented from going from place to place, and if they have a distinguishing mark, then there is nothing to prevent them from being moved about the country as a body, wearing some distinguishing mark, and being paid. What would distinguish them from a small, highly organised army?

I listened to the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) speaking about heckling. The Noble Lord seems to be used to going round the country addressing meetings of the Primrose League, where they listen to every word he says in awed silence. There seems to be an idea the other side of the House that those of us on the Left are not heckled, but let hon. Members come to some of our meetings in the country and they will see. Those are the things on which we and our movement live. The tender and delicate Noble Lord from Horsham must not even be interrupted, and is so annoyed when he is interrupted —which we regard as the normal state of. affairs—that he thinks he must have a private army in order to protect himself. The Noble Lord needs a little political education in the rough-and-tumble of industrial seats, and not in the highly select and cloistered shades of Horsham.

In this Sub-section the whole thing is given away in an extremely underhand manner. There are some hon. Members who profoundly disagree with this Bill from beginning to end, except on the one thing that it prohibits a drilled and paid private army. This Sub-section allows a drilled and paid, though small but highly organised, private army of bullies to be brought in, and I accuse the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General of having given way on this matter to the extremists on their own side. If we allow this Sub-section to pass, the whole principle of the Bill will be violated.

5.50 p.m.


My obfect in rising is to see whether this particular Amendment does not go rather further than is needed. Most hon. Members are agreed that disorder of a provocative kind should. The words of the Sub-section are: the organization of a reasonable number of persons to be employed as stewards. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to my comparatively simple mind that those words might permit of the training of a body of stewards who would go round to meetings as the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) suggested. I should have thought that one could use the words "the employment of a reason able number of stewards," without having the words: the organization…of persons to be employed. Again, at the end of the Sub-section there are the words: or their equipment with badges. As a Member of the Tory party, I do not like the word "equipment" when used in connection with ordinary public meetings and ordinary life. I would prefer to have some simple words such as "the use of badges or distinguishing marks." The word "equipment" is the sort of word that the ardent militant supporters of the League of Nations are always using, and always trying to put into a Bill whenever and wherever they can; but a mere Tory, such as myself, would rather have some simple English words. I would like the Sub-section to be drafted in the simplest possible English that would make it plain that we do not mind the ordinary use of stewards at meetings, but that we will not have organised gangs of stewards taken round from place to place. If there is to be an organised body of people, let it be the police; but let the stewards be people who live in and close to the locality and who, in my experience, are the best people to keep order. On these questions it is wise that we should try to put the matter simply and plainly, and riot introduce into a Bill of this nature anything which may give it a provocative meaning or encourage the use of anything except the simplest form of stewards.

5.54 p.m


I welcome the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) that we should use as simple language as possible in this Sub-section. It seems to me that we have not yet arrived at a satisfactory form of words. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) suggested a form of words which was aimed in the right direction, but which went too far in his own way. He ruled out the use of the word "organisation" altogether. That would be very dangerous, since it might mean that one could not talk to the stewards beforehand—


I would remind the hon. Member that I left in the words or the instructions of those persons in their lawful duties as such stewards.


I think there would still be some danger in making it entirely impossible to have stewards who would be employed for a period and over a district, and who would know what were their duties. I think the form of words suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman goes further than he would desire. Our aim is to prohibit private armies, and as soon as we try to put into words what we will allow in the way of stewards, it becomes a matter of very delicate balancing of the words that are used. I cannot help feeling that neither the words proposed by the Home Secretary nor those suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol are exactly right. I hope the Government will very earnestly follow up the suggestion made by the Attorney-General and consider whether they cannot produce, in another place, some form of words which will prohibit private armies, but will not leave an opening for attacking the ordinary and legitimate use of stewards, which we have known in this country for a very long time and with which nobody disagrees.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accede to the requests that have been made in all parts of the House and promise to modify the Sub-section. It is obvious that hon. Members in all parts of the House would prefer not to divide on this matter, and I therefore hope the right hon. Gentleman can promise a modification in the direction suggested.

5.58 p.m.


I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I think the discussion has shown that the House as a whole wants a provision concerning stewards and recognises that we are trying to put it in the right form. I thought the observations made by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) contained a great deal of common sense. The hon. Member suggested that lawyers prefer long and difficult words to short and plain ones, but I would point out that the best lawyer is the man who states a proposition in the very simplest terms. It may be that in this case we have not achieved the purpose exactly. I must make it entirely plain that I think it is impossible for the Sub-section to provide that in arranging for stewards at meetings all over a constituency, there must not be the same stewards. That would be impossible and contrary to common sense. On the other hand, one cannot permit—to use the sort of phrase that has been employed in the Debate—imported private armies and all the rest of it. The whole question, therefore, is to find exactly the right phrasing. I am willing to admit at once that the Debate has shown that this object is not being exaggerated. I am glad that there is no danger of dividing on this matter, and if the House will agree to accept this Sub-section for the time being, I shall be ready to give an assurance that this matter will be looked at in the light of this discussion on both sides of the House, and that there shall he, to the very best of our ability, a trimming-up of this Sub-section which would seem to meet the general will of the House.

I would like to be allowed to make one other observation as a matter of correction, and I do so because of the kind reference made to me by the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson). The cautionary tale which I recounted from memory, and which was subsequently reproduced in a high authority by the Attorney-General, was not entirely accurate. I do not believe there was an apple tree—the trespassers were trespassing along the ground.

Amendment agreed to.