HC Deb 07 December 1936 vol 318 cc1753-4

9.29 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 6, line 17, at the end, to insert: (2) Any person who commits an offence under section five of this Act shall be liable on sumary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months or to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to both such imprisonment arid fine. Perhaps I may be allowed to speak on this Amendment and the next one which stands in my name—in page 6, line 20, to leave out "three," and to insert "four" together. The traditional way of protecting the subject in cases where there is a risk of his being charged with an offence that can hardly be defined has been his right to claim trial by jury. It has been particularly true where the offence was a verbal one, where were words alleged, blasphemous, seditious or defamatory. It is in such cases, where the offence cannot be exactly defined, that it is the more to be desired not only that justice should be done but that it should seem to be done, and that the common man should feel that he has the protection of the common mind, and will not be found guilty except by the verdict of 12 other common men. This principle has been followed in recent cases. In the Incitement to Disaffection Act, for instance, the penalty clause was altered to give the right to refuse summary jurisdicHon and demand trial by jury: and in the Air Navigation Act. It seems to me that this Amendment is particularly desirable in connection with Clause 5, where the matter is a matter of words. It is already there in Clause 2. I think it on the whole desirable for Clauses 1 and 4.


I beg to second the Amendment.

9.32 p.m.


While appreciating what my hon. Friend has said, we would ask the House not to accept this Amendment. The object of Clause 5 is to provide an expeditious method of dealing with threatening, abusive or insulting words with intent to provoke a breach of the peace. If there were imported into that Clause some element such as that which it is necessary to prove in the case of seditious libel, the position would be different. But Clause 5 follows a Clause already enforced by magistrates in the Metropolitan districts, and is similar to other Clauses which exist in other parts of the country. There may be offences under the Clause of a minor character, or offences which would justify the imposition of the maximum penalty. In our view it would be wrong for every person charged with that offence to have the right to claim trial by jury. The Bill as it stands imposes a heavier penalty and gives the right to trial by jury under Clause 2, because that is clearly a much more serious offence. In respect of other offences that can be committed under this Bill, and to which my hon. Friend's Amendments refer, in our view it would not be wise to increase the penalty so as to give the right to trial by jury in every case. There is a right of appeal from the petty sessions to quarter sessions, and we feel that we have so framed these offences as to make them appropriate for being dealt with in that way. The House will do well not to accept the Amendment, and I suggest that my hon. Friend might reconsider the matter, and. not press it.


In view of what the learned Attorney-General has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.