HC Deb 07 December 1936 vol 318 cc1746-50

9.3 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 5, line 17, after the second "or," to insert: as a member of a recognised corps or as a. This Amendment will fall to he read with a further Amendment, which stands on the Order Paper to Clause 9, in page 7, at the end of line 27, where a definition is given of "recognised corps," and I would ask, with your permission, Sir, that the House should look at that definition. The whole purpose of this Amendment is to meet a criticism which was suggested when this Clause 4 was formerly before the Committee. It is the Clause which prohibits the carrying of offensive weapons at public meetings and processions, and which make provision to prevent an offence being committed by certain persons. If this Amendment is accepted, the final words of Sub-section (2) of Clause 4 will read: …a person shall not be deemed to be acting in pursuance of lawful authority unless he is acting in his capacity as a servant of the Crown or of either House of Parliament or of any local authority or as a constable or as a member of a recognised corps or as a member of a fire brigade. Members of rifle clubs, miniature rifle clubs, cadet corps and similar organisations may and do carry firearms when proceeding to drill for target practice or for purposes of that kind. Such persons carrying arms of one kind or another occasionally take part in such processions and displays as the Lord Mayor's Show and corresponding functions that take place in provincial towns. Obviously, that sort of thing does not come within this Measure at all. It is for the purpose of linking up this innocent use of firearms with corresponding provisions of the Firearms Act that it is proposed that this Clause should exempt members of a recognised corps, which we propose subsequently to define as including a rifle club, miniature rifle club or cadet corps approved by a Secretary of State under the Firearms Acts, 1920–36. If the House gives effect to the Amendment the result will be to secure that the members of the various bodies which are recognised under the Firearms Act and are legitimately carrying firearms will be free from prosecution under this Bill.

9.7 p.m.


I have throughout these discussions believed that this Bill was not intended to go further than to deal with political processions and with those who wear uniforms in what is termed a militarised political organisation. The Lord Advocate mentioned the Lord Mayor's Show, but I had no idea that it was intended to take such organisations into account or to consider whether or not they should be prohibited.


The hon. Member has not quite gathered the purpose of the Amendment, which is not to deal with processions, but with the carrying of firearms.


I understand that. The Clause deals with the carrying of arms by people taking part in public processions, and the Amendment is intended to deal with recognised corps. I can see how it will be possible for those against whom the Measure is levelled to be made members of a recognised corps so that they will be able to escape the provisions of the Bill.

9.9 p.m.


I hope that the Lord Advocate will not insist on this Amendment in its full width because it is terrible to think that these heavily armed gentlemen may be present at public meetings. I can appreciate that we do not want to stop them parading in the Lord Mayor's Show, but that is a very different thing from giving them power to be present at public meetings. It puts a great temptation into the hands of some people to form a rifle corps—as they are being formed—under the control of a young and energetic Fascist in a business house. There are many to-day of that type, and this Amendment will allow these people, with all their rifles, to go to a political meeting which will be addressed by some Fuhrer or leader. It would be quite sufficient if members of recognised corps were allowed to take part in certain authorised processions, in the same way as under Clause 1 (1) persons are allowed to wear uniforms on ceremonial, anniversary or other special occasions which will not be likely to involve risk of public disorder.

It would be sufficient here to give similar rights to members of rifle corps and other organisations to carry their arms on such occasions as the Lord Mayor's Show and similar processions, but it would not give them the right to appear at public meetings as a body of persons armed with rifles. This Amendment specifically gives them power to do that. In fact, it will legalise something which would be of doubtful legal validity apart from this Clause. This is not cutting down, but extending the law. I beg the Lord Advocate to reconsider the width of these words before the Bill goes to another place and to see whether it would not be sufficient to apply some such power as that under Clause 1 (1) to rifles at public meetings. However little the danger may be, it is rather an appalling thought that in the passage of this Bill we should authorise the carry ing of rifles at public meetings. It is rather outside what most people would imagine was intended to be the scope of the Bill, and one day it might be an unfortunate thing that it had been done.


Surely we are to have some answer from the Lord Advocate? When I read the Clause and heard the hon. and learned Gentleman I thought that it was satisfactory, but I admit that I had not considered the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps).

9.12 p.m.


Of course, I am only too happy to give an answer if the House wishes me to do so. I will consider the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) in case it be the fact that the terms of the Amendment, which are designed to achieve one object, may open the door wide in other directions. The House will appreciate that when we are dealing with a Measure in which we are imposing restrictions on liberty in the interests of the community it is difficult to touch the balance without tilting it too far in another direction. All these apprehensions, from whichever quarter they come, are gratefully received and carefully examined. I cannot say more at the moment in relation to this particular criticism. With reference to the point made by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly), I would remind him that in Clause 4 we are in a different atmosphere from that of Clauses 1 and 2. Clause 4 is not concerned with political processions, meetings, or organisations, but with any public meeting or any public procession. Therefore, the reference to the Lord Mayor's Show, which I used as an example, was quite adequate to the point.

Sub-section (2) of Clause 4 was designed to prevent certain types of persons from getting into trouble because they, accidentally perhaps, attended a public meeting or stopped to watch a public procession while carrying certain accoutrements which they were authorised to carry. It is perfectly obvious that if one exercises a vivid enough imagination one can conjure up remarkable pictures of the possibility of a public meeting attended by all the members of a fire brigade, with their equipment—axes and all the rest of it.


The reference to a fire brigade rather misstates the position. Surely a rifle corps would be a much more apposite case, because Fascists could all join a rifle corps and then go along to a meeting with their rifles in their hands. They could not all join a fire brigade, because they would not be allowed to join.


Perhaps there are members of other political organisations which might want to join a fire brigade. I can assure the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol that his suggestions will be carefully examined.

9.17 p.m.


I did not hear the beginning of the Debate on this Amendment, but I see no reason why the Amendment should be pressed. I apologise to the House, but I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman who so sorrowfully shakes his head that on the Report stage we have had to fight against the importation into this Bill of many things which, in our opinion, do violation to the outstanding feature of it which led us not to vote against it on Second Reading. We are gravely disturbed at some of the suggestions made this evening, and I see no reason why at this stage we should be asked to include this Amendment. If on reflection it occurs to the Government that the Amendment is necessary there is another place in which it can be inserted, but I am quite sure from what my hon. Friends have told me —[An HON. MEMBER: "Nobody has told you anything."] As hon. Members know, it is sometimes not possible to sit right through the Debate, but I have been here for a great part of the evening. It is not necessary for some of us who do not suffer under the advantages of the hon. Member, to have to hear all of the Debate, and we do understand here that the Government are suggesting an Amendment which can be taken advantage of by the very elements which they are out to suppress or, rather, to restrict, and no case has been made out for the inclusion of the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.