HC Deb 07 December 1936 vol 318 cc1750-3

9.20 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 5, line 32, after "may," to insert: if requested so to do by the chairman of the meeting. I think it is the experience of all of us that occasions arise when those who are on the platform and are either conducting the meeting or speaking do not desire that some critic in the audience should then and there be removed. Everyone must recall occasions when he has been tempted to say "Do leave him alone; I want to deal with him." I am sure that the police will do their best, but, after all, the "policeman's lot is not a happy one," and if it should happen that he was proceeding to take steps which were really contrary to the wishes of the platform, I submit that that would scarcely be a proper way of applying the Public Meeting Act. 1 think there can be no doubt that we ought to put in the words "if requested so to do by the chairman." It may be asked, What is to happen if the meeting. has no chairman? I think the answer to that is that if it is desired that the police should take the action we contemplate the meeting ought to have a chairman, because he is the person who is responsible for conduct and order, and in certain circumstances he would be entitled to the assistance of the officers. If I have read correctly reports in the Press of what happens at the meetings of the hon. Gentleman sitting below the Gangway, I think that he would wish that officers should take their part in seeing that order is kept.

Amendment agreed to.

9.22 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 6, line 1, to leave out from the beginning to the end of line 9.

We wish to omit what I will not describe as Sub-section (4), because it was pointed out by the Chair in Committee that it is not Sub-section (4) of Clause 6, but it is lines 1 to 9 on that page, beginning with "(4)". Hon. Members who were present during the Debate in Committee will remember that this was the one point in the Bill where it certainly did appear that the view which the Government had been led to form was open to, and did receive, A pretty vigorous challenge from all quarters of the House. I do not say there was no one who agreed with the Government's view, but any supporters were utterly silent, and it is certainly the case that quite a number of hon. Members opposite, as well as hon. Members on this side, thought that the argument which I put before the Committee for retaining these words did not justify their retention. I pointed out that a good deal of anxiety was entertained by those responsible at the idea that in certain circumstances it should be the duty of the police not only to render aid in the way provided for but themselves to initiate a prosecution. If these words are omitted, as we think they should be, and as I believe is the prevailing view of the House, that does not mean—not at all—that the police, as I see it, will undertake these prosecutions right and left in every case. I think it will have to be a plain case, and a severe case, to justify such action. I am wholly opposed to introducing the direct action of the police in cases which I do not think really call for that form of official prosecution.

The Amendment we have just made inserting the words "if requested so to do by the chairman of the meeting" may, perhaps, have a bearing on this point. Just as I think there should be no initial action by the constable unless the chairman of the meeting asks for it, so I think that the fact that he has asked for it and the constable, on consideration, thinks he should so far comply as to ask for a name and address, ought to mean this: If the case is a flagrant, outrageous case, which the police can properly regard as raising a public matter, no doubt they will prosecute; but if, on the other hand, it is a case which the police, after investigation and consideration, think to be a minor matter, I wish to give the plainest possible notice here that my conception of the wording of this Bill is that it will be for the promoters of the meeting to take their proper responsibility. Dealing with it in that way we have probably met the general sense of the community, and I hope it will get the approval of the House. I most sincerely hope that these Clauses will have a great effect, and I believe they will, in discouraging the sort of hooligan, gangster behaviour which everybody detests, and will be far more useful for the warnings which they give than for the consequences that will follow if they have to be put into force.

9.26 p.m.


I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has decided on this course, which was supported in all parties on the last occasion when it came before us in Committee. I am prepared to agree that the matter needed careful thought. My hon. Friends here have given it careful attention, and we have come to the same conclusion as the right hon. Gentleman. I am glad also that he told us he does not think it will be necessary for the police to prosecute on every occasion when they might be able to do so. We have no wish for a large number of prosecutions to take place under this Clause; the fewer there are the better. The main point is that order should be preserved, and that the onus should not necessarily be placed on the promoters of a meeting to prosecute.

9.27 p.m.


All I would like to say is this: If the judges and magistrates came to their decisions on the speeches delivered in this House and not on the language in the Bill, everything in the garden would be "all Sir Garnett," but, unfortunately, they have more regard for the language in the Bill than for the speeches in the House.

Amendment agreed to.