§ Order for Consideration read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now considered."
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. G. HARDIE
I want to ask whether any change has been made in a Clause in the Order which restricts the freedom of a certain section of the community. It relates to the right of any individual to use the pavement in order to advertise a meeting. While I in no way desire to support anything that would mean disfiguring streets or buildings, I want to maintain a right to cer- 1470 tain things for that class of people who cannot afford to put up electric signs or to publish announcements in the ordinary way open to people with money, and who are restricted to the only method that is left to them of chalking advertisements of meetings on the pavement. There is no doubt that if this Clause is instituted, it will become a general restriction. If the corporation had been anxious to meet the citizens within its borders, it could have satisfied what was to be permitted, but if this Clause is passed it will not be laid down definitely in the Bill but will be left to the chance opinion of whatever may be the appropriate committee at the time. The question of whether the right should remain will be left to the opinion of the committee, whereas it should rest with the community. Arguments have been advanced that the chalking of announcements on pavements and roads might frighten horses. To-day, however, we have a worse thing than a chalk line; we have metal reflecting blocks which are put down to show a certain line of demarcation, and they throw up a greater glint than chalk because chalk absorbs light. The whole argument shows that the corporation want to obtain loose powers which will be used against the right that individuals should have in the city of Perth.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE: (Mr. T. M. Cooper)
This is not a Government Measure, nor is it even an opposed Provisional Order. Under the procedure prescribed by the Private Legislation Act, 1899, if an Order of this kind is not opposed by petition in the usual way, it falls to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make the Order and then to submit it for confirmation by Parliament. When it comes before Parliament for confirmation, the decision rests with the House. Accordingly, while my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mr. G. Hardie) addressed me as the Minister in charge of the Bill, I should like to make it clear that I rise for the limited purpose of answering the question he has put and giving the House such explanation as I think necessary for the consideration of the question, and, at the same time, since the Order was made by my right hon. Friend, expressing the views on the merits of the Bill which he 1471 and I hold. When I say the merits of the Bill, I mean the merits of the isolated topic to which the hon. Member has referred. The House will, of course, appreciate that the Bill deals with a large variety of topics unconnected with the special question to which the hon. Member has referred. In Clause 84, to which objection is taken, the Corporation of Perth asks power to make by-lawsfor regulating or controlling the marking of carriageways and footpath, by writing, painting or chalking thereon or fixing or exhibiting any placard or notice thereon.The hon. Member for Springburn stressed what he called the right of the individual subject, by which I understood him to assert a claim on the part of the individual citizen to utilise the public streets or pavements of a Scottish burgh for the purpose of disseminating information—and I care not what the information is. The position is rather the opposite of what the hon. Member indicated, because the principle is well established and of great. antiquity that the public streets of a Scottish burgh—I do not know what the position is in England, and for this purpose it does not matter—are held in trust for the community for the purposes of passage, and any use to which any person may attempt to put the public streets which encroaches or threatens to encroach in any way upon that paramount purpose of passage, is an infringement of the public right of the community.
It follows that the magistrates—the Town Council of Perth in this case—are trustees of this public right and have a duty, independently altogether of statutory regulations, at common law to vindicate the right of the public in the public streets for this paramount purpose of passage. Any person who asserts a right to utilise the public streets for any purpose which might infringe or encroach upon the paramount right of passage is under—to put it no higher—a very heavy onus to show why the assertion of that right should not be subjected to regulation and control. The angle of approach to this question is in principle rather opposite to that which the hon. Member suggested. The position is that the paramount right of public passage must take precedence over all other rights in so far as the other uses of the streets are consistent with and do not interfere with the paramount right of passage.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
It may be so, for this reason. A chalk mark on the pavement may create obstruction by attracting persons and children on to the carriageways to the interference of the traffic and the injury of the children. Considerations of that kind obviously suggest the necessity for control and regulation of this interference or threatened interference with the paramount interests of the community. In principle, the community in a Scottish burgh, acting through the town council and the magistrates, is entitled to exercise this control by the method of bylaw and penalty, which is the modern counterpart of many old remedies which are no longer in use or suitable, and the right claimed by the Corporation of Perth is entirely in line with and in harmony with the principles of Scots law upon which this whole question hangs.
Independently of that, I should also stress the consideration that powers either identical with or not materially distinguishable from those which the Corporation of Perth are claiming have already been confided to a number of Scottish burghs and a number of English cities and Metropolitan boroughs. For example, the city of Edinburgh has enjoyed similar powers since 1879, and during the last 20 years, until August of last year, some six other Scottish burghs have been given the power to control by regulation an operation of this kind. In August of last year this question arose in connection with an inquiry before a Parliamentary Commission under the Act of 1899 in relation to orders promoted by the burghs of Ayr, Troon and Kilmarnock. The commission was presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean). It is, I think, material for the House to know that a Committee of this House, acting after inquiry and investigation, examined this matter in relation to these burghs less than nine months ago, and that the three confirming Bills with the orders dependent passed into law with provisions substantially, although not exactly, identical with those which are now questioned. I should also add that, passing from Scotland to England, the model by-laws issued by the Home Office for the guidance of English local authorities desirous of enacting 1473 Bills under the English Local Government Act, include a by-law, again very similar, if not identical, to that for which power is being sought in this Bill.
One other point in reference to what the hon. Member for Springburn said. He rather indicated an apprehension that the method of operating this power would depend upon the chance opinion of a chance committee. All that is asked by this Clause is power to make by-laws subject to the conditions and provisions as to by-laws made by town councils under the Burgh Police (Scotland) Acts, 1892 to 1911. The effect of that reference is to incorporate various statutory provisions the short effect of which is that the by-law when made has, first, to run the gauntlet of the sheriff, before whom any interested party is entitled to appear and to be heard, and even if it surmounts that obstacle, it must further run the gauntlet of the Secretary of State for Scotland, to whom once again representations in the usual way can be made; so that I think my hon. Friend may accept my assurance that there is no risk of anything in the nature of arbitrary or capricious regulation or control involved.
In these circumstances the question raised by the hon. Member, as it seems to me, is this—and this, I know, is the way in which it was looked at when this Order was in the course of preparation—Are there any circumstances associated with the city of Perth which require that a measure of municipal regulation already in the hands of many other local authorities should not be extended to that burgh? So far as I am aware, there are no such circumstances. On the contrary, from all the information which we have been able to obtain, the situation in Perth rather reinforces the claim for this power. In that situation, while this is in no sense a Government Measure or one in which any sort or kind of pressure is sought to be exerted on Members, I would submit that considerations of principle and regard for Parliamentary precedent amply justify the inclusion in this Provisional Order of the Clause to which objection is taken, and I would advise hon. Members to support it.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The learned Lord Advocate states the case very moderately on behalf of this Measure. It is the case that is invariably put forward when the average municipal council comes to this 1474 House for extended authority. It amounts to this: The Town Council of Perth have asked for an extension of their powers to regulate the lives of their citizens, and therefore this House ought to grant it. There is a whole lot to be said for that principle, but I would remind the learned Lord Advocate that it is not so very many months ago that the great city of Glasgow came here asking for extended powers to regulate their public activities. That Bill had been carefully prepared by the City Council of Glasgow and their legal advisers. It contained a large number of provisions which the Glasgow Council, a properly and democratically elected council, deemed necessary for the good conduct of the affairs of their city. On that occasion there was no speech from the Government Front Bench nor from the Government side of the House enunciating the principles enunciated here to-night. What is the difference? The city of Glasgow is at the moment under the control of a political majority different from hon. and right hon. Members who sit on that side of the House, and these principles that are now to operate with reference to Perth were out of action on the occasion when the Labour Corporation of Glasgow wanted extended powers which they believed necessary for the good conduct of their city.
The opposition put up by responsible Members on that side of the House, including the Government, was 100 per cent. opposition. That Bill was rejected by the overwhelming vote of this House, not because there was anything in it that was wrong or that was in conflict with the general law of this land, but simply because it was presented by people with whose general political theories the majority of this House were out of sympathy. Therefore, I put the Lord Advocate's speech on one side, because that type of speech has no weight or influence whatever unless it is made on every occasion, whatever the composition of the council that asks for powers may be. If my hon. Friends and I were so chock full of political prejudice as hon. Members opposite, we would take a similar attitude to this Bill as the majority in this House took on the question of the Glasgow Bill, but we try to do our work here in the proper spirit of Parliament, and we are prepared to say that, so far as the great proportion of this Measure is concerned, the people of Perth are per- 1475 fectly entitled to have the additional powers for which they ask.
We take exception to one thing only, and that is not a thing that is local to Perth, but is a matter of general national importance, or I will limit it to the point of saying that it is of general Scottish importance, but it is also of English importance, namely, the right of the citizens to congregate freely, to voice views which they desire to ventilate, and to do that without let or hindrance except in so far as there exists a great body of Statute law in this land which places very stringent limitations on what a speaker at a public meeting shall say. He is tied down by blasphemy laws, by sedition laws, by incitement to disaffection laws. At every turn he is "cabin'd, cribb'd, confined" by the existing law as to the limits of what he shall say. He is limited in the matter of what he can say about individuals by all the laws relating to libel, slander, and so on. Any number of limitations are on the right of public meeting and public speech, but in general the principle has been preserved in Scotland for long periods of historic time that anyone who desired to hold a meeting had the right to hold it in some convenient public place that did not cause obstruction to the general traffic of the city, and, secondly, he had the free right to summon that meeting by giving public intimation in the simplest way available to him, namely, by writing on the roadway or on the pavement.
This practice has been in operation in Scotland for hundreds of years. Meetings of Covenanters were called in this way; and now there is an attempt to make an inroad on this liberty. The learned Lord Advocate tells us of the number of places which have already got this power as an argument for extending it still further. I would very much like to know the genesis of this desire to suppress public meetings, because it is new, it is in recent times, in the last few years that public corporations in Scotland, wanting to promote private legislation for widely varying things, some to extend their boundaries,. some to do something to their local waterworks or gasworks—whatever the main purpose for promoting the Bill was, it seems suddenly to have dawned upon them in the last 10 years that this other thing must be slipped in, and nowadays 1476 there is never a private Bill coming from any burgh in Scotland but they must shove in this thing limiting the right of free speech and public meeting, never dreamed of before. Just in these last few years the town councils of Scotland seem spontaneously to have come to this view, now, in the 20th century, after years of public education, with a more literate, a more intelligent, and a more enlightened population than ever existed in Scotland in any past time, just at this stage, when the general standard of public knowledge, education, and conduct is higher than ever it was before.
I know the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), with his very great oratorical skill, will contend that this Bill does not prevent it at all. I know the Liberal way of looking at these things, and I know what he will say. He will explain to me, word by word, that this Clause does not prevent a public meeting, and I will agree with him at once that it does not prevent a public meeting if the Corporation of the City of Perth are graciously pleased to permit that public meeting to take place. I put it to the hon. Gentleman: Would he entrust a decision as to whether he was to have a public meeting, and advertise it, in the hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern)? Would he allow the hon. Member for Shettleston to decide whether he was to be allowed to speak in Shettleston? He has different ideas of liberty from those which I hold. I think it is entirely wrong to allow any body to lay down rules, regulations, and by-laws under which I am to deliver public speeches. That is what is being done here.
In Glasgow there has been for many years regulation, by by-law, of indoor meetings on Sundays. Before anybody hold a meeting inside a public can licensed hall on Sunday he must, days in advance, give the magistrates all details—who is to be the speaker, what the subject is to be. Imagine the hon. Member for East Fife giving his subject a fortnight in advance. Usually in this House he does not know what his subject is to be until he has started speaking. They are similar regulations which are wanted by the City of Perth, limiting, restricting and confining the possibilities of holding public meetings in Perth freely and openly and giving the citizens a full opportunity of being present. The Perth 1477 people would admit at once that it is a limitation. The regulation would be no use to them if it were not a limitation. Why should this desire have grown up spontaneously among all the burghs in the last dozen years, when, through all the past, the general law of the land, combined with the general good sense of the citizens, was sufficient to deal with the matter? Perth cannot produce any evidence of abuses. Perth does not claim that unless the magistrates and the police have additional powers they will not be able to maintain the peace and good conduct of the city. Like the Lord Advocate, I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Neil Maclean) is not able to be present. The Lord Advocate suggested by his statement about the Committee which considered the Kilmarnock Bill that the hon. Member was an enthusiastic supporter of this Clause.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
Oh, no, I merely said that I regretted the absence of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean), who was Chairman of the Committee which investigated the matter so recently as last August, and whose investigations had issued in an Order which contained provisions practically identical with those in this Clause. I can only infer from that that such provisions had his approval.
Mr. J. J. DAVIDSON
Is it not a fact that when the hon. Member for Govan was on that Committee the choice before him was only the choice of regulation or of abolition?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I should have thought the Committee had the choice of rejecting the Clause altogether as well as varying its terms.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Those proceedings are matters for the members who sat on the Select Committee, but I am strongly of the opinion that the hon. Member for Govan was in a minority on this issue on a Committee of which he happened to be Chairman, and the Lord Advocate knows that it is not regarded as proper for the Chairman of such a Committee to announce in public that he dissents from the decision of the Committee. I wish the hon. Member for Govan bad been here to-night. He might have felt free to express his own view. I am not try- 1478 ing to make him carry my views on the subject, and the Lord Advocate is as little entitled to ask him to carry his views. A minority report does not come from a Select Committee. It may be that the hon. Member for Govan was prepared to consider some form of regulation. Even my own colleagues do not all take the extreme view on this matter that I take. My opposition is complete. Some of them take the view that some regulation is legitimate, provided that it appears in the body of the Bill, so that we may know in advance what it is. It is all very well for the Lord Advocate to say that any by-laws produced by the City of Perth will be the subject of public advertisement and open to local objection. I want to say this to those hon. Members who will speak for Perth. The Lord Advocate said that no opposition was put up to this Measure. Friends of mine in Perth put up opposition, and I was in communication with the Scottish Office on the way their representations had been treated.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I meant no opposition of the formal kind which converts an Order into an opposed Order.
§ Mr. MAXTON
My friends in Perth, working men and women, intended theirs to be a formal objection, but the Perth City Council took advantage of a loophole by saying their objection was not in the exact wording necessary, and presented the Bill as if it were an unopposed Measure. They knew perfectly well that there were interests in Perth in direct opposition to it, but they cut them out on a technicality. Now the Lord Advocate tells us the right of objecting to the by-laws will be open to them, that the by-laws will be reviewed by the sheriff and further reviewed by the Secretary of State. I see present my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I wonder how his friends in Perth, if any, will regard their chances of justice in the matter of free speech from the City Council of Perth, or from the sheriff, or from the Secretary of State.
I am asked, as a Member of this House, to let this Bill go through and farm out my responsibilities for the protection of the people of Scotland, to hand them over to the City Corporation of Perth, to the sheriff and the Secretary of State. I do not take that light view of my respon- 1479 sibilities here. I have got power in this House of Commons. It may be one-man power, but it is power that I can use and will use. When the matter is in the hands of the Corporation of Perth, or the sheriff, or the Secretary of State, my power has ceased. They may function with perfect correctness and a perfect regard for freedom and justice towards the poorer sections of the citizens of Perth. They may; but it has not been characteristic of them in the past, and I have no right to believe that any great change of heart has taken place in those quarters since the Perth Provisional Order Bill was introduced. I was going to read one paragraph from the document which has been presented on behalf of the corporation to show what their attitude is. It states that petitions were lodged against the Order but that they were all arranged, so that the Order became unopposed. The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) knows that the objection lodged by my friends in Perth was not withdrawn. It was not a formal objection, because the corporation got out of that on a technicality. Here is the Corporation of Perth telling me what my duties are as a Member of Parliament:The promoters respectfully submit that in the circumstances, as the parties did not oppose the Order when they had the opportunity of doing so, it would he unfair to the promoters that they should be allowed to do so now when the promoters have no opportunity of leading evidence.I wish the hon. Member for Perth would tell the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) and other friends from the City of Glasgow about these ideas as to the duty of the House of Commons. Does the hon. Member mean to suggest that my right of opposing in the House of Commons should be taken away because someone in Perth did not oppose?
§ Mr. HUNTER
No, but I say they did not give us the opportunity of proving the necessity for the Clause.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The hon. Member is wrong. There is no "us" in this House. There is "him" and there is "me", and I have a right to make the case against the Order in this House. I am told that the hon. Member means by "us" the Perth Corporation.
§ Mr. HUNTER
I want the hon. Member to get a full opportunity to state the case, and I hope may be able to reply.
§ Mr. MAXTON
But you did not want to give me the full right to state the case. You have said in this document that we have no right to oppose this Order.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I think the hon. Member had better address me. I made no comments.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am sorry if I slipped into the wrong mode of address. Although I was looking at the hon. Member for Perth I was certainly addressing you, Sir.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I would remind the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that the word "you" means the Chair.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I used "me" and "him"—perhaps not quite so grammatical, but more orderly. The hon. Members says that I have no right to speak here on this Measure, and I deny it absolutely. The Perth Corporation have no right to say that to me. This is my opportunity. I have had no previous opportunity, except the opportunity I have taken of objecting to this Measure at every stage. I hope the Perth Corporation, which shows such a tremendous regard, or promises to show such a tremendous regard, for free speech in Perth, will not try to extend their powers to denying it in the House of Commons. The promoters have the same right here as I have, if they have a friend in the House. They have the right of stating a case. This stage of a Measure is as important as stages that have gone before. The examination and leading of evidence by a Select Committee and by a local committee is the stage at which the details of the Bill are examined, and is an important stage for the local people. Now is the stage when the House of Commons decides whether the Measure, which the Perth municipality believe to be desirable from their point of view, is equally desirable having regard to the general interests of the country.
I say that it is undesirable, and an evil practice, that political majorities in con- 1481 trol of cities or burghs in Scotland should endeavour to secure for themselves power to silence their political opponents and to silence voices which are uttering words which are objectionable to those who are in political control of a town at a given moment. Along that road you go direct to the complete denial of every freedom. To try to silence the voice of your political opponent is quite in keeping with the general political trend throughout the world to-day. Do it with a bludgeon in Germany, or with a by-law in Perth; the objective is the same. I suggest that the final results are also the same, and are a terrible deterioration in the public life of our nation. We never tire here of saying how much better off we are in this land than are the people in many other lands. We have liberty, but day after day we see liberty being filched away, and eaten into. It is very interesting to know that this particular by-law is developing in the burghs simultaneously with the development of Fascist suppressions on the Continent of Europe. It is exactly the same idea, that the mob cannot be trusted in their own streets, and that you are dealing with a body of inferior creatures who must be dragooned in every aspect of their lives because they cannot be trusted to live the life of intelligent citizens.
I do not know what view the majority of this House will take, but I am not prepared to give up one inch of the way from what remains of liberty of public meeting, or to concede one scrap as to the regulation of public meeting. Some time ago, the right hon. Gentleman who was then Secretary of State for Home Affairs made certain proposals, which he discussed tentatively with representatives of various parties, as to the regulation of public meeting arising out of the scenes that took place at Olympia. The scenes at Olympia and the methods of the people who organised that meeting were obnoxious and repulsive to me. The view that was promulgated by the Fascists at that meeting was absolutely in conflict with every idea and principle that I hold. The men and women who were battered at that Olympia meeting were my personal friends and associates, but when the then Home Secretary asked my views as to whether extended powers should be granted to the police to interfere with the right of public meeting, the point of view which I expressed was: 1482 "No. One is aware of the temptation to limit the rights of political opponents, but it has been proved that the maximum of liberty for everybody is the best safeguard of public order in these matters." You cannot go very far in the attempt to put into the hands of the State the rights to direct the political activities of the citizens, without endangering the whole fabric of Democracy.
Perth may say what the stutterer said when the man asked him the road to London: "Why pick on me, when there are 8,000,000 others who could have answered very easily?" Perth may say: "Why pick on Perth to hammer on about questions of free speech in public meeting?" I pick on Perth because Perth is the one that happens to be on to-night. I pick on Perth because, after hundreds of years of local government power in that city, which, one is prepared to admit, has played a picturesque part in the history of Scotland in some of the stormiest times of Scottish history—Perth could go through all those times, hold up its head and survive as a city without placing restrictions of this description on the political rights of its citizens—in 1936, the city comes forward and says: "Perth has existed for—" how long?
§ Mr. MAXTON
Maybe about 1,900 years. It has existed all those years. It has been centuries with local government and a corporate life. Its affairs have been directed by all sorts of men in the past, who managed to keep Perth going and to preserve a reasonable amount of public order. Now they come and tell me, in the House of Commons in 1936, that the job is getting too big for them and that the citizens are out of hand, and that unless they get the right to prevent their citizens from chalking the pavement the civic life of Perth will come tumbling to the ground. As a Member of the British House of Commons with some slight knowledge of the history of Scotland and of the city of Perth, I do not believe that Perth, which has wauchled through—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. MAXTON
"Wauchlo" is the word I used. It is a Scottish word, not known in Fife. Perth has wauchled through the 1483 past without this by-law, and can face the future with considerable confidence. I regret very much to be at cross purposes with the amiable gentleman who represents Perth, but if I have one person to support me I will go into the Lobby to vote against this Measure.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. HUNTER
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) in his political address, because what he has said has nothing to do with the question before us. He seems to base his opposition to the proposals in the corporation's Bill on the ground of what happened in Glasgow. I am a native of Glasgow, greatly improved by residence in Perth, and I regret that the right hon. Member for Bridgeton is a native of a county which has deteriorated since he went to Glasgow. He has been like the man who set up a whole lot of skittles and then proceeded to amuse himself by knocking them down. It was not I who raised the skittles; it was he himself who raised the skittles, and he then proceded to bowl them over. He has told us a, great deal about freedom of speech, the proper spirit of the past, and so on, and he did Perth the justice of practically acknowledging, although he did not say so, that Perth is the ancient capital of Scotland.
§ Mr. HUNTER
Scottish kings and queens were crowned in Scone, but they ruled in Perth. Perth was the centre of civilisation in Scotland—
§ Mr. HUNTER
—before any place in the West of Scotland, and particularly Glasgow, was even known. After all, Glasgow is only a mushroom city; little more than 100 years ago it consisted merely of a few houses. But now we have those who represent Glasgow telling the corporation and the citizens of Perth, which has lived through centuries of history—
§ Mr. HUNTER
And with by-laws. To-day they have great traditions to maintain. Where were the battles for the freedom of Scotland most fought? Hon. Members opposite now find themselves 1484 reduced to fighting in chalk. There is not the slightest grain of foundation for the statement that the Corporation of Perth propose to interfere with public meetings or with free speech. I challenge the right hon. Member to tell me of any other city in Scotland where the corporation is more willing and ready to give the people freedom of speech, and freedom to hold their meetings where they please, without interference from anyone. Mention has been made of politics. One of the things of which I have always been very proud, as an ex-Lord Provost of the City, is that politics are never allowed to interfere with local administration. There are no political parties in the Town Council of Perth, and no municipal election there has been fought on politics. We are all trying to do our very best, no matter what our political views are, to see that our city is maintained in the forefront of the world, with its great historic reputation, giving an example to other places, among them Glasgow. The right hon. Member for Bridgeton says that we are interfering with free speech. I believe he has arranged to come to Perth with his political party at some time in the summer, and I can tell him now, and can tell the House, that he will be allowed to say everything that he pleases; but I hope that, as a result of the passing of this Bill, he will not be allowed to write what he indicated to me privately he would like to write on the streets.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not think the hon. Member should make that reference without giving the quotation.
§ Mr. HUNTER
If I did, I might seriously offend the feelings of the House. This Order was promoted in accordance with the law of the land. It was advertised in every way; the citizens were invited to make representations as to improvements in the Bill, or to oppose it if they so desired. No opposition came from the party for whom the right hon. Gentleman has just spoken, either officially or, so far as I can recall, even unofficially—
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Scottish Members of this House have received a, communication from the Labour group in the Perth Town Council protesting against this Clause?
§ Mr. HUNTER
I agree with what the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) says; it is correct; but it did not come until after the matter was closed and after we thought the Bill would be formally passed through Parliament. It did not come before the Corporation or within our knowledge until after the proceedings for the passing of the Bill were, so far as we knew, complete.
May I call the attention of the House to the Order itself it deals with various questions of importance to the public of Perth. For instance, it contains proposals for the extension and adjustment of the borough boundaries, and these have been carried through with the full approval of the county council. We are asking for power to issue corporation stock, and also to establish a burgh fund and other financial matters. Power is sought to make certain street improvements, which, when carried out, will promote employment within the city of Perth for many in the building trades. The Order asks for power to protect our water supply in service reservoirs, and also to make variations in the charges for water. It also provides that, if any casual vacancy should occur in the Town Council, that vacancy shall be filled by popular election rather than by co-option, as has been the case in the past. That is a provision which those whom the right hon. Member for Bridgeton represents very much desire.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Will the hon. Member allow me to intervene on a very minor point? He persists in calling me "right honourable," but His Majesty has not so far seen fit to confer upon me that distinction.
§ Mr. HUNTER
Perhaps I was speaking in advance of events. The Order also asks that we should have power to remove wrecks in the River Tay, and deals with various other minor questions. One Clause, to which some objection has been taken, is, as has already been pointed out, Clause 84, in which the Corporation ask for power to make by-lawsfor regulating or controlling the marking of carriage-ways and foot-paths by writing, painting, or chalking thereon, or affixing or exhibiting any placard or notice thereon.1486 In this connection I would like to satisfy the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie), who suggested that there was an attempt on the part of the Corporation to prohibit writings of all descriptions. I am authorised by the Corporation to say that that is not their intention, nor is it the effect of the Order. They have no objection to the streets being legitimately used for legitimate purposes—
§ Mr. HARDIE
We met privately and the matter was fully debated and it was understood, as the hon. Member says, that the corporation would give some guarantee. I want to see that guarantee embodied in the Order. I want to see the language. The town council changes from time to time, but we have a right to get language in the Order which no one can change.
§ Mr. HUNTER
I am advised that the proper place to put that is in the bylaws, so that those who are opposed to this suggestion can have an opportunity of having the by-law so framed as to satisfy them, if that is possible. [Interruption.] As the Lord Advocate has pointed out, the by-law cannot be passed without the opponents having a full opportunity of stating their case and, if they are dissatisfied, they have the right of representation to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Scottish Office is very strict and careful as to the way in which by-laws and Orders are framed.
Perth is known far and wide throughout the world as "the Fair City." The corporation have always taken a pride in having well constructed and clean streets. That is often a matter of comment by visitors to the city. In their desire to make it worthy of its reputation the corporation have practically constructed all streets in asphalt. The hon. Member for Bridgeton said they did this hundreds of years ago. He knows that that is incorrect because not so many years ago, within his lifetime as well as my own, the streets were cobbled and there were no pavements as we know them to-day. [Interruption.] Hon. Members who live in Glasgow and have only a partial knowledge of Perth seem to know better than the corporation. [Interruption.] I should like not to be interrupted by experienced Parliamentarians. I ask for sympathy in my position as a new Member appearing before the House. Had the very small 1487 minority of citizens who are opposing this always been content merely to use the streets for advertising meetings of their party, I doubt very much whether the corporation would have given any attention to the matter but, unless we get powers of control and regulation, the streets may be used by anyone for any purpose whatever and disgrace might be brought upon us in consequence. This has aroused very much public indignation. It is suggested that I, as an ex-Provost of the city, was responsible for this in some way. This had been before the corporation for many years before I ever hoped to be in the honourable position of Lord Provost of the city. I was continually approached and asked why I did not take steps to have this abuse stopped, but we had no power to regulate it or to do anything at all. On one occasion, in the presence of His Majesty's Inspector of Scottish Constabulary, the town clerk and several magistrates, a person began writing in front of us on the street, and we could take no exception because he was not causing obstruction although it was a main thoroughfare. It was writing which certainly offended those who represented the city at that time.
It is not the desire of the corporation to prohibit it. We fought for centuries for freedom, and. we still stand for freedom of speech and freedom of behaviour. I do not know a single case in which an application for a site on which to hold a meeting has been refused. But surely the corporation ought to be given the power to say what is the most convenient place at which a meeting should be held so that traffic shall not be interfered with. This writing takes place mostly in the principal thoroughfares, and it is not merely a question of offence to those who pass by but a source of great danger, because people stop on the street to see what is being written and crowds collect. With motor traffic of to-day, this puts people, especially children, in great danger of being bowled over by some advancing car. The council wish to be in a position to say to these people, "We do not object to you making an announcement of your meeting, the name of the party, the character, the date, the hour, or the subject of the meeting," and I am authorised to say that any by-law that is passed will give the citizens that power within the 1488 authority of the town council to name the streets where it can be safely done. The minority that has taken objection to this is exceedingly small in number. I know two who have taken a prominent part in connection with this objection and they cannot by any means be taken to represent any large section of the community, because on several occasions and in several wards they have tried to get the confidence of the electorate and have regularly failed.
§ Mr. HUNTER
No, it is a recommendation of the common sense of the general body of citizens. It is realised that there are people who have not the funds with which to advertise through the usual channels or to get bills printed, and we do not want to handicap them, but we want their announcements to be made in such a way that there shall be no offence. We had a Royal visit last August and on the very morning of the visit we found the most offensive writings on the streets regarding the Royal Family. That gave very great offence to the vast majority of the people. No majority, far less a minority, should be allowed to give offence to anyone if it could be avoided. I hope that in anything I say, I am not giving offence to hon. Members opposite, because that is not my desire. I am pleading the case of the local authority, who are the appointed representatives of the people, who have a free vote, free speech and a right to meet where they like and to defend their principles, and that authority should say how the city is to be governed. If by any chance those representatives should govern the city wrongly, the people have the right to come forward and remove them. Therefore, instead of being opposed to what it was suggested the House did against Glasgow, I am speaking in support of the view that the local authority should be the voice of the people, whom they represent. I ask the House to approve of this Order because it is the wish of the popularly elected representatives of the people, who should have full control.
I do not ask the House to set up any precedent. We are asking for a much more moderate proposal than that which has already been passed by this House in the case of Aberdeen, where the corporation were granted power to prohibit any- 1489 one writing or defacing the streets or footpaths in any way whatever. Dundee had that same power granted by this House in 1925, and it was affirmed in 1932. The Edinburgh Corporation were also granted this power as late as 1933 by this House, and only last year Ayr Burghs, Kilmarnock and Troon were granted the same provisions for which the Corporation of Perth are now asking. I do not think that any hon. Member can say that in any of these cities or burghs anything has been done by the public representatives to prevent the people from having that freedom of speech and liberty which should be enjoyed by every private individual. All we ask is that there should be a certain kind of control. If there is to be no control in local affairs, you might just as well say that there should be no control in national affairs. If there was no democratic authority in charge of our cities and burghs, and of the State, would not the country get into a sad state of chaos and ruin? The people are the sole judges of right or wrong. Since this Order was promoted, there has been a municipal election in Perth, when no attempt was made on the part of anybody, including the friends of hon. Members opposite, to raise this question at a single ward meeting, or to indicate to the Corporation of Perth that there was strong objection to it.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Is it not the case that friends of mine went on a deputation to the city council on this matter?
§ Mr. HUNTER
The hon. Member for Bridgeton is correct, but it was only three weeks ago that a request was made by those whom the hon. Member represents for an interview with the corporation. The corporation met them in a very sympathetic mood, and it was then that they said, "We will give you an assurance that nothing will be done to prevent your publicly intimating meetings of your party by writing on the streets." They said, "We demand the right to do and to write whatever we like on the streets," and with the result that the corporation representatives said that they could not entirely withdraw the Clause. They demanded the complete withdrawal of the Clause. Within three or four weeks at the outside they re-discussed the question, and by a majority of 23 to 3 reaffirmed their desire that they should have power to control and regulate the marking, chalking and 1490 writing on the streets. The matter has been thorouhgly thrashed out among the citizens, and by the corporation, and not even the hon. Gentleman or anyone else in this House dare get up and say that he would prefer to over-rule the considered opinion and the desire of the corporation to preserve our city and all its pristine beauty. It is with the greatest confidence that I ask the House, if hon. Members are really democratic and against autocracy in any shape or form and against all forms of dictatorship, to stand by the elected representatives of the people and give the Corporation of Perth their Order.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
I have listened to two speeches of the most astounding character, and 1 can scarcely think that one who has been a Lord Provost of the fair city of Perth could treat us in such an incredible manner. As for the Lord Advocate, I can hardly believe that anyone who claims to have a knowledge of legality could get up and speak in this way—not representing the Government but a clique if he had any character at all, which is more important than representing the Government, for they have none.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Unless the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) gives way, the hon. Member is not entitled to interrupt.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
I was referring to the Lord Advocate. The hon. Gentleman has told us that in the Perth Council they have no parties. They seem to be a very happy family.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
They are a very happy clique, and they are taking all these precautions to try to remain so. The other party is a small party and does not represent very much. Has there ever been heard in this House anything so menacing as when he said that on one occasion, in the presence of the inspector of constabulary and two or three 1491 other important persons, a fellow started chalking, and he had no power to interfere. Oh! what he would have done to that fellow! Is it possible that the House of Commons will give power to people of this description to interfere with such a legitimate art as that because on the morning of the visit of some Royal personages there was chalking on the street.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
No, for you. When you have extreme wealth and extreme poverty, is there no offence in flouting that extreme wealth in face of extreme poverty? No greater offence can be committed. You go around with your pomp and display, and waste and extra, vagance, while women and children are starving, but there is to be no offence. If the women and children want to express their feelings let them go into a back street and do it. Do not let them do it before the nice people who are visiting the fair city of Perth. Is it not clear that it is an attempt to prevent natural expression? The Lord Advocate, being a legal man, feels that he is a bit out of his depth and he has to try and bring in some arguments in order to strengthen his case. Therefore, he says that if you have chalking in the streets there is a possibility of people gathering. The hon. Member for Perth quoted the Lord Advocate. Are there no such things as moving lights and changing lights in Perth, and people gathering? Why are the lights there? To make people gather. That is the object of the moving lights and the changing lights. Are there not shop windows in Perth lit up at night in the most brilliant manner? What is the object of that? To attract people and to cause them to gather. All the direction of advertisement on the part of shopkeepers and on the part of those who have money and those who are running meetings for the big crowds, not for the small crowds, is to spend money in order to gather crowds. They have money to spend but the other poor fellow has not.
1492 Now I come to the ancient Scottish law or an understanding of the ancient Scottish responsibility. What is it? The right of passage. I am not a barrister but I have been in court very often, and I have had to argue time and again on this very question. The Lord Advocate may remember that I had to argue on this particular question not many months ago in a court in Edinburgh. The magistrate on the bench had to hold over his decision in order to get legal advice on the question. I want to put it to you, my Lord Advocate—
§ Mr. GALLACHER
I want to put it to the Lord Advocate, through you, Sir, that the responsibility of the Perth Council is to guarantee the right of passage through the streets and all that is involved in the right of passage. I have as much legal right to interfere with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) chalking on the streets of Perth as the Perth Council have. It is entirely illegal to give the Perth Council an Order of this character. This question has been fought out over and over again. The Lord Advocate may remember the McAra case. It was laid down that the magistrates of the City of Edinburgh were acting with the utmost presumption in seeking to exercise powers to which neither magistrates nor local authorities have any right. Local authorities, so far as the streets are concerned, are governed—this has been discussed in the courts time and time again—by the right of passage. I do not know what applies in England and Wales, but I know that that applies in Scotland. Anyone obstructing the course of passage by any means can be dealt with by the laws that exist to guarantee the right of passage.
I challenge the Lord Advocate on this question. He is proposing to give to the Perth City Council, and it has been given to other city councils, powers which they have no right to have, and there must be a definite protest made against it. It is an attempt on the part of those who have to safeguard themselves, no matter how much they infringe upon the liberties of the poorest of the poor. I say to the Perth Council: "Please do not do it." Do not interfere with those who have no other means, of advertising but 1493 chalking, and no means of expressing themselves through a newspaper. They cannot start a newspaper in the fair City of Perth, because many of them are living in the most extreme poverty, and say things about the unemployed. In the local newspapers some of your nice people make insulting remarks about the unemployed, but, if the unemployed go out and chalk in the streets they are to be dealt with. I say to those who have any regard for democracy, the protection of minorities and the protection of the weak, do not give any support to this Order, but reject it.
§ 9.4 p.m.
Mr. J. J. DAVIDSON
I want to suggest that this question should be seriously considered not from the point of view of he minority of people in Perth but the. minority of the Labour movement in this country. The. hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) made many references in regard to his Glaswegian origin and his transference to Perth. He stated that he had improved since he had gone to Perth, but I suggest that the improvement has been in stature or inches but in no other way. He referred to the party to which the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) belongs as being reduced to working with chalk. I sincerely hope that he is not suggesting that the hon. Member for Bridgeton or his colleagues have now allied themselves with the Milk Board. We have had no guidance from the Perth Council with regard to this matter. I attended a meeting to hear the case from the representatives of the Perth Council, and I want to deal with one or two points in the speech of the hon. Member for Perth which were in direct contradiction to the statements by the Perth representatives. He stated that chalking of the description to which he referred was a danger to traffic. I asked the Lord Provost of Perth a direct question—whether he or any of his colleagues could give one specific instance of any mishap or accident, or gathering of traffic, caused by chalking in the streets, and he replied that they had no instance of any such occurrence.
We do not object to a majority council party being allowed to make regulations for its own local people, but we object to a Clause which gives them authority to use the power of regulation and control in any way they desire. If the coun- 1494 cil desire to make any promises or pledges with regard to this Clause they should have submitted them to the House from whom they are asking this concession. The hon. Member for Perth described it as a beautiful city. I would suggest that if he came to Glasgow during a local or General Election and saw the excellent style and types of chalking indulged in by Glasgow working-class men and women he would agree that such a style and type would enhance the beauty of Perth, not take away from it. He said that the Perth Council would in no way interfere with the legitimate use of chalk advertisements, but he added that in the two principal streets of Perth chalking was not desirable. I suggest that in these two principal streets no chalking would be permissible and that if advertisements in the two principal streets in Perth are not permissible you might just as well not allow advertisements in any part of the city at all. Those who desire to use this form of advertisement will have to go into the backways of Perth, and the hon. Member will agree with me that practically the entire population of Perth, on their regular walks, only use the two main streets to which he has referred.
While this subject may not seem very important to some hon. Members it is very important to a big section of the community. The two Labour Councillors on the Perth Council definitely object to this Clause and the railwaymen and other sections of the community representing a minority point of view, but a strong minority, have asked Members of this House not to agree to something which will create hardship for their movement. Reference has been made to the danger so far as traffic is concerned. The hon. Member for Perth did not refer to the posters which were placed in conspicuous parts of the city with a very lifelike picture of the Prime Minister. Surely if chalking in the streets can be construed as a menace to traffic, how much more can a picture of the Prime Minister be construed as a very definite menace to horse traffic and to other forms of traffic. The hon. Member for Perth referred to the history of the fair city. I appreciate very much the earnest way in which he put his case for the city to which he has been transferred, but we are asking that the Perth Council shall not have the right to say to the organised sections of the 1495 community that they shall only be allowed to state their views in certain areas of the city, thereby giving the council the power to take away all advertising power of these working-class organisations. Hon. Members opposite have the great mass of newspapers in this country on their side, and for every single car of a Labour Councillor or Parliamentary representative they can obtain 50. The minority case is never submitted to the public by newspapers and by posters because of the poverty of the working-class movement.
This Clause, perhaps not intentionally on the part of the Perth Council, is something which can be used still further to take away from working-class organisations the only methods they have of stating their policy and views. It will be agreed that scurrilous comments chalked in the streets are to be deprecated. We agree that these things should not take place, but they can be dealt with already by the local council. If the hon. Member and the City Council of Perth are not satisfied, then they should take the necessary action to gee-up the authorities without trying to victimise working-class organisations. The hon. Member stated that Glasgow is a mushroom city. I very much regret that he should refer to the industrial capital of Scotland in this way. But I agree. In my Army days we had a term for prison; we called prison the "mush" and, therefore, on the Army interpretation Glasgow can be termed a prison room for many of the working classes. I accept the definition, but, nevertheless, in Glasgow there have been no complaints and no objections to chalking on the streets because our opponents generally recognised that they had the best of the bargain by their wealth and their power in the Press.
As a new Member of the House, I do not agree that it is necessary for any council, which has perhaps received objections with regard to certain statements in the street, to come to the House of Commons in order to have the matter remedied by a Clause of this character. During my lifetime in the Socialist movement I have always recognised, as I do to-day, and as I have seen since I came into the House, that it is the purpose of hon. Members opposite to retain all the privileges which they have, and they have constantly brought forward legislation aimed at retaining those 1496 privileges. I look upon this Clause, despite the assurances of the hon. Member for Perth, as an attempt by the representatives of hon. Members opposite in the Perth Council, to retain the privileges which they have always had in the past.
The hon. Member for Perth referred to the question of Perth ruling for the majority of the people within its boundaries. But does the House not agree that, so far as this particular question is concerned, people of the working class who have no other means of stating their opinions ought at least to be allowed to retain this privilege which they have? I describe this Clause as an attempt to take away from them a privilege which they have used fairly and decently throughout the years which they have had it. There is no Member of the House who can describe the usage of this particular method of advertising by the working class as having been abused or misused in the past, generally speaking. There may have been exceptions, but there have also been exceptions where hon. Members not of the working class have used their power in pamphlets and in newspaper articles in much the same way.
I appeal—but I will not appeal, for I have recognised that on very many questions there is no sense and no use in appealing to hon. Members opposite—I ask every Member of the House who has retained a sense of fair play and who believes that the poorest section of the community should at least have an opportunity of expressing its point of view, to support us in objecting to this Clause which, in my opinion, is contemptible because it is being inserted by people who are not so much concerned with the morals of Perth as with the growing working-class vote in that city.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I am in agreement with at least one of the statements made by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson). I agree that this is a, most vital question, for it concerns the rights of local government as against the attempt on the part of this House to prohibit the local authorities from doing their own work within their own boundaries. I think I can claim to know at least something about local government in Scotland, and I am at, the 1497 moment associated with most of the local administrative bodies. I find that there is nothing which is creating greater fear and real misgivings in the minds of local administrators in Scotland at the present time than the repeated attempts on the part of this House to limit the powers of local government authorities and to take away from them their rights to deal with administrative problems within their own areas. One protest after another was lodged in this House in 1929, and protests have repeatedly been lodged since, because of the curtailment of the powers of many of our local administrative authorities in Scotland. It is for those reasons that I agree that this is a most vital question.
If I thought for a single moment that the proposal of the Perth Corporation infringed the sacred rights of democracy I would oppose it, and no one would do so more bitterly than I; but it is because I believe the proposal is democracy that I support it. I believe that the people of Perth, through their elected representatives, have the right to apply by-laws, and if those by-laws are wrong, it is up to the people of Perth to get rid of those who have applied them and to put into power representatives who will apply the right ones. I have always preached that it is better to have even a bad law that can be changed than to take unconstitutional measures to get the right law.
§ Mr. MAXTON
You have always insisted that there should be an opportunity for working-class agitation.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
And no freer opportunity was given to me to express views in that agitation than in the city of Perth. There was a time when the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and I were chased from pillar to post, and while I was prohibited even to speak at meetings in the constituency which I now represent, I could always express my views in the city of Perth.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
After all, it is a matter of opinion, and I did not interrupt the hon. Member for Maryhill. I always had the opportunity of freely expressing my opinion in the City of Perth, and if I thought this Clause would stop that, I would oppose it. The original proposal 1498 did represent a prohibition. I happened to be a member of the Convention of Royal Burghs, on which the City of Perth used to have two representatives, and I was in the position to discuss that proposal. I pointed out that the party to which I belong, a party which is poor in wealth but rich in intellect, would oppose that prohibition with all the powers at its disposal. The result was that there came into being the Clause which is now before the House. I understand that there is no objection to any other part of the Bill. If I thought this Clause represented a prohibition, I would oppose it. The town, on the Council of which I happen to sit at the present time, will in the near future bring forward a similar proposal, and I could not logically oppose the present proposal when I shall be supporting one of a similar character when it comes before the House.
Let us examine exactly what this Clause is. Let us get rid of rhetoric and get down to hard facts. Already local authorities have power to apply by-laws within their area, but before a single by-law can operate in Scotland it must receive the approval of the sheriff of the county. Also objections can be made to the proposals. There is nothing new here in that the House has given far greater powers at other times. I think that the City of Dundee got powers for a complete prohibition. In the case of Ayr, Kilmarnock and Troon the very power contained in this Clause was granted. Therefore it is nothing new that is being asked for to-night. The Clause says:for regulating or controlling the marking of carriageways or footpaths by writing, painting or chalking.Why should the citizens of any town in Scotland be inflicted with some of the paintings that I have seen on our streets? I am not arguing the merits of the advertisements but I think that it is wrong that our streets should be used for painting on. I have seen letters 18 inches to 2½ feet in length painted on our streets. That is not right. No one can justify that and I am not going to justify it. I have seen the most offensive statements.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I do not mind an artist, but I think that even the imaginative genius of the hon. Member for 1499 Bridgeton would not charge anyone who has done some of the paintings which I have seen with being an artist. I want the House to understand that it has responsibilities in connection with local administration. We are entitled to see that our streets are not used for the purpose to which I have referred. Again, they have been used for the most vile attacks on individuals. There are individuals who know what it is to be most vilely attacked by persons who have not used liberty but licence. I want to defend liberty from attack and to attack licence from wherever it comes. I submit that we are entitled in local administration to have the power to control, not the power to prohibit. No by-law under this Clause could possibly be approved by the sheriff which sought to prohibit the use of the streets. It is right that certain streets should not be used for the advertising of any meeting which I may be going to address in Perth or elsewhere. That is the responsibility of the local authority. I believe in local government, in trusting the people of Perth to deal with any of those who would seek to take an undue advantage of this particular Clause. We have the assurance of the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) and I can give an assurance on behalf of the Lord Provost of Perth and the town clerk that there will be no unfair use of this power. They are willing to give that pledge in writing. They have already given it to me—that there is no intention to prohibit or even regulate unfairly legitimate advertising of public meetings whether they are held by the Labour party, the Communist party or any other party.
Is it not a fact that at a meeting of the Perth Council representatives they retained the right to decide where chalking should be allowed?
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
That is exactly what I stated just now, and they have the right to do it. Coming from Kirkcaldy I have not the right to tell the Perth people what they are to do. It will be in the hands of the Perth people. Because I believe in democracy, because I believe in local government, because I do not want this House to impinge still further on the rights of local government I for one am going to support this Bill.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I must say that I agree with the voice of the Back Bench 1500 of the Labour party rather than with the voice of the Front Bench, and I would like to point this out at the outset. While there has been all this eloquence from the Front Bench as to the rights of local government and the rights of democracy in connection with local government, that is only if it is a case of making regulations, not in the case of prohibition. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) said that if the council, this elected council, this democratic body, were going to take power to prohibit then he would oppose it. He from Kirkcaldy would say to the people in Perth that he would oppose them, but when it comes about that Perth is asking only for power to make regulations then, lo and behold, according to the wisdom of the hon. Member, it is the voice of democracy. That is simply to play with the whole question, and is to show a complete disregard of one of the methods by which hon. Members are sitting on that bench to-night. I am just wondering about some of these pavement artists who so offended the aesthetic feelings of the hon. Member. I have chalked myself and I know that it is not a very easy job to do, and possibly those Members of the Labour party who have chalked the hon. Member here are now sorry that they helped so much to put him here. Maybe, however, he will try to atone by getting a special course of instruction from the Minister of Labour to train these poor despised artists of the Labour party who have chalked so badly in his interest.
Everyone who knows anything about the growth of the Labour movement knows how important a part the chalking of roads has played in the development of that movement and the growth of the Labour party. Not only Members on this side, but Members on the other side must realise from experience in their own constituencies how large a part this method of advertising and of conveying agitational points has had in the development of the working class movement. They will also be able to realise that some of us on this side feel great bitterness when we hear a member of the Labour party talking as the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk has talked to-night.
The arguments of the Lord Advocate seemed to me, in the main, to be correct. He said that there was already power to 1501 deal with anything which impeded free passage through the streets. He said he could conceive of an advertisement or chalking on the pavement causing obstruction, but, he said, the law was already there to deal with it. Then, having made the case that the law is already sufficient, he went on for some strange reason to express the hope that the House would give the Perth Town Council this additional power. Why should they want such an additional power if power is already there? Why is there this disposition for one burgh after another to come to this House asking for these powers, if power is there already in the hands of the authorities to deal with any grievance. What is the necessity for new regulations and what are those new regulations going to do?
The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) seeking to defend the town council referred to the fact that somebody had chalked the streets on one occasion in the presence of himself and a high officer of the constabulary and on another occasion when a royal personage was visiting the city. When the royal personage visited the city, I have no doubt that there was bunting in the streets and much to attract crowds and that those crowds created obstruction and prevented free passage through the streets. There is nothing in the Bill to deal with obstruction of that kind. Today we often see aeroplanes advertising various articles in the sky. A wreath of smoke from the aeroplane forms certain words and crowds frequently gather to watch with the result that motorists and pedestrians find it difficult to get through the streets. If Perth is such an advanced city, as well as being the ancient capital of Scotland, there may have been displays of this kind in the sky over the fair city. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent that kind of obstruction.
I have not the slightest doubt that the whole force of this new power is to be applied in order to crib and cabin the work of those who are on the left wing in the political struggle in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir S. Chapman) seems to think that that is not the reason for this proposal. Then what reason is there? So far, in the Debate, no real reason has been given. Remembering the premise of the Lord Advocate's speech, that power is already 1502 there to deal with any difficulty of the kind sugested, why should there be this tremendous urge for new powers? With regard to the particular circumstances of this Bill I would remind hon. Members that it came before the House shortly after the new Parliament assembled. Objection was taken to it and before the New Year the hon. Member for Perth came to some of us who objected to it and was told that the Bill could have free passage if this Clause was omitted. He told us that he could not do anything in that respect. The Bill has been on the Paper ever since and it has been objected to ever since. The representatives of Perth never thought it worth while to send anybody here with authority to put proper safeguards into the Bill to secure full liberty in this respect to members of the working class, though they tell us that they are prepared to give that liberty. About a fortnight ago representatives of the Perth Corporation were here. They knew of the opposition to the Bill but they did not think it worth while to consult the opponents of the Measure. It is true that when they came here this week, when the Bill was down for discussion to-night an indication was given that they would be graciously pleased at the last minute to confer with us.
I suggest that if this liberty is to be given it ought to be given statutorily. There is no real safeguard in being told that the by-law will be framed in a suitable way. An attempt was made previously to deal with this matter in a bylaw and similar assurances were given in the case of one of the Lanarkshire towns. The town council in that case promised to be fair and reasonable just as the town council of Perth is promising in this case, but their regulations were such that the sheriff turned them down when they came before him. I may be told that the regulations made by the town council of the Fair City will go to the sheriff and that the sheriff can be trusted to see that they are reasonable. There are sheriffs and sheriffs, and they very often give conflicting decisions. In a matter of such vital importance to the growth of the working-class movement as the expression of opinion, it should be laid down by Statute as a right enjoyed by the people. I would remind the House of a great pamphlet that was written by one of the great masters of prose and 1503 poetry of this country, John Milton. I believe that it is one of the favourite pamphlets of the Prime Minister. I refer to Milton's "Aeropagitica." The Prime Minister once quoted a passage from it about God's Englishman and the great place that he was destined to have in the working of the world, but I would venture to remind the House that everything that has been said by the representative of Perth and everything that was said by the hon. Member on the Front Bench on this side was said also as a reason why there should not be liberty of printing. That voice for liberty, Milton, asked as the basis of liberty, "Give me the right to say and to utter." We are asking for that tonight. If it is to be done by regulations, a right will be impaired. Liberty is not something on which you can put shackles and still call it liberty. It is not something upon which you can put strings, even silken strings, and still call it liberty. I know that a distinction may be made between liberty and licence—
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The distinction was made in that pamphlet, and it is clear that the practice enjoyed at the present time comes fully within Milton's definition. There is nothing of what Milton called licence in the present practice which gives liberty to people to advertise and express their opinions on the streets. Anyone who makes the distinction between liberty and licence has to show that there has been licence in this matter. There seems to be a feeling that there has been an abuse of liberty, but the only evidence we have are the two incidents referred to by the hon. Member for Perth. If there had been any real abuse of liberty transforming it into licence, there would have been the necessity for national legislation by the Government.
I would ask the House to insist that this Clause should be taken out of the Bill, or, if it is to remain, to insist that before the Order is finally operated there should be a proviso that there should be the liberty without regulation to intimate, at least, the time and place of a meeting and the name and subject of the speaker. There can be nothing of licence about that. It is an ordinary liberty that everyone ought to enjoy. I 1504 agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that the Clause would be better out altogether, but if the promoters insist that they must have some machinery of this kind to prevent what they consider to be the possibility of licence, let them meet the representatives of the people in the House of Commons, who have a right to protect the liberties of the people in order to see that the general liberty enjoyed under the common law is not interfered with. I hope that before the Division takes place the promoters will give some indication that they will take a more reasonable attitude than they have done, or on the other hand, that by a majority the House will refuse to consent to this Order until the promoters are prepared to give liberty to their fellow-citizens.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
I understand that it is the usual custom on a Bill of this sort to leave the question to the free vote of the House. I would not have joined in the discussion but for the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood), who looks on this matter rather from the point of view of a town councillor than from that of a representative for a Parliamentary division. I cannot agree with the line that he has taken because he argued that the town council should have powers superior to those of Parliament. We have always held the right in this House to override any proposal from a local authority which we believed to be contrary to the common law or to be infringing the rights of the individual. As I understand the promoters of the Bill, their intention is to give considerable liberty to the holding of meetings. They seem to think that one or two particular parts of Perth should be excluded from the area that might be used for chalking announcements and holding meetings. I have a high opinion of the city of Perth from the point of view of its beauty, but I cannot say I have a high opinion of its representatives in the town council. People in Perth do not seem to be as democratic as some Members in the House try to make us believe they are. If they were, there would be more than two Labour representatives in the council.
As I understand -lie statement that has already been made, the Labour representatives on t1- e Town Council of 1505 Perth are against this Clause. To a very large extent I agree with the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson), who quite clearly and fairly put it that there was some justification for the claim that freedom to advertise meetings in the streets on the part of the ordinary working class was something that might well be given by this House because of the general knowledge which we all have of the poverty of certain of the organisations connected with the Labour movement. If we take away the little power which they have to make known to the general public that they exist and that they have a point of view to put, we are destroying liberty and real democracy. There is a minority as well as a majority among the democracy of this country, and the only means they have, largely owing to their poverty, is to advertise their meetings on the public streets or side streets. I agree that there is a distinction to be drawn between liberty and licence, and I have no hesitation whatever in expressing my view that the town council and every local authority should have some control in these matters. I would be prepared to meet them if it were only a question of granting control, but they should not have the right, without consultation with the local people affected, to say that in any particular parts of the town council area this kind of advertising of meetings should be debarred.
I am not prepared to cast a silent vote. There are lots of things that I do not agree with so far as the chalking of streets is concerned, and there are many things that have been done that are not very pleasant to read, but I do not think that the actions of a comparatively small number of thoughtless people should be taken as an excuse for depriving the general body of people in a locality such as the City of Perth of the right which at present they enjoy in this connection. No statement has been made by the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter), who has been Lord Provost of that city, that there have been any complaints or any police cases or accidents in consequence of any of these meetings being held, and in those circumstances I would ask the Members of this House, who have the right to consult their own opinions on this matter, not to make this a purely 1506 party question. If he had looked at it from a purely party point of view, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) would not have expressed himself as he did. He expressed himself as he did because he believes that this is a matter on which each individual should cast his vote in the way that he thinks fit.
I want to cast my vote against this Clause. I would be willing, if possible, to give as much power as could reasonably be expected to the local authority to have some sort of control that would not debar the organisations affected from seeing that their meetings are fairly advertised, by chalking the streets or otherwise. I think the Town Council of Hamilton would have as much of this kind of thing as anywhere in the West of Scotland, and I do not know of a single case of complaint being brought before the police there with regard to impeding the traffic or doing any damage. I hope hon. Members will exercise their right to express a purely individual opinion when the vote is taken, and that the majority of them will be against the passing of this Bill until the Perth Corporation are prepared to make perfectly plain the promise that has been made and to put it into the Bill. I do not believe in mere promises being given from either the front Bench or the back benches. I think we ought to have it in writing, and if they would put it in writing that they are prepared to give facilities and full opportunities for meetings to be organised, I think I would be prepared to give them the other powers for which they are asking.
§ Mr. HUNTER
The hon. Member asks that the promise might be given in writing. I will give him the assurance that it will be given in writing.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
But the hon. Member can only give the assurance on his own part, and even the council could give such an assurance, but I think the corporation should withdraw the Bill now and give an assurance that this promise that facilities will be provided will be put into the Bill itself.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Captain Bourne)
I intervene, not to deal with the merits of this question, on which it is not for me to 1507 express an opinion, but to put before the House the position as it stands in regard to procedure. The Motion before the House is, "That this Bill be now considered." It is a Motion that is only applicable to private business, and the effect of its being defeated would be, I understand, that the consideration could come forward another day. If that Motion is carried and the Bill is now considered, it will not prevent the right of any hon. Member to move any Amendment which, under the rules of this House, he would be entitled to move in the case of a public Bill. I have listened to much of this discussion, and I am putting the position forward in order that hon. Members may be quite certain how the procedure stands.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
Many of us are rather anxious about this Clause and do not like it. We think it is a mean Clause, and we want to get a further explanation about it before we allow the Bill to pass. Could there be a manuscript Amendment which could be accepted immediately?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS
It would be open to any hon. Member to move that the Clause should be deleted.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I would not have intervened had I not felt that this was not a Perth matter that we are discussing. If the matter had been confined to Perth or to Kirkcaldy, I would not have intervened very much, because I am not very much concerned with either of those two places, but this is neither a Kirkcaldy matter nor a Perth matter that we are discussing. It is a matter that affects the whole of Scotland. The argument to-night has been that this power has been given to five towns, and therefore we must give it to every other town. If this were to apply to no other town than Perth, we here might let it go, but tonight the House is discussing a matter which to-morrow may affect every town in Scotland. I happen to have been in this pavement-chalking business, on the Parliamentary side, for a good number of years, and I would recall, in fairness to the late Willie Adamson, that he refused a similar Clause to at least two towns, within my knowledge. He took the view that if such a Clause were to be intro- 1508 duced it ought to come as an alteration of the whole law of Scotland, and not be applied in piecemeal fashion. Greenock asked for the same powers as are asked in this case. An inquiry was held. The local people who opposed it found they could not brief counsel and the matter went by default, but Willie Adamson, by virtue of his power as Secretary of State for Scotland, decided not to give cognisance to the Clause, and it had to be dropped from the Greenock Bill. The same thing happened in another town. The present Secretary of State was the Member for Greenock then as he is now, and lie agreed with the dropping of the Clause from the Greenock Bill.
I would remind hon. Members of the facts in connection with this "chalking of meetings." In almost every town, even those of medium size like Kirkcaldy and Falkirk, there used to be the old hoardings on which bills could be displayed. Those hoardings have now almost disappeared, because on every side the town is gradually being built up and the sites of those old hoardings are now occupied by houses or garages or other buildings. I live in the Govan Hill part of Glasgow, where there used to be a whole host of open spaces, but to-day they are occupied either by mission halls, churches, garages or houses, and there is practically not a hoarding in the whole area. There is no method of advertising anything except through the Press. I would remind hon. Members that in Glasgow the Press is barred to trade unionists, with one exception. So there is no means of advertising our meetings unless we chalk the pavements. Poor religious bodies resort to the same practice. Even the Salvation Army, who are not, in my view, a mercenary people, and who have done good work at great self-sacrifice, "chalk" their meetings and their band performances. They do it in a, city far worse than Perth, in the Gorbals district. The Gorbals has less than a third of the acreage of Perth but a population far greater, and if chalking were dangerous where could it be more dangerous than in a place like that? Yet every public meeting we have has got to be "chalked."
Elections will in the future be fought more and more by people with little or no money. I think the day of big organisations and wealthy candidates is going. How can half of us on this side fight an 1509 election unless it be by the cheap and easy method of "chalking the meetings"? It is in the interests of hon. Members to make elections as cheap as they can, and if they interfere with the right of chalking they take away the cheapest and readiest means of advertising their meetings. It is said that somebody has written something offensive. The same argument might be applied to a good many things. When I take up the "Daily Herald" I see offensive things. How often must the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) when he reads the "Daily Herald," read terribly offensive things, such as Templegate's tips, which would be an offence to him with his views, far more offensive to him than many things chalked on the pavement. A deeply religious person must often have to read things which will offend him excessively, but nobody says that is a reason why we should stop newspapers, or why a local authority should get a power of veto over newspapers or printing works.
Another argument which was used by the Lord Advocate was that Kilmarnock, Dundee and other towns have got this power. There is always something in a local Order of which it can be said that it is an experiment which is being tried out. Dundee, which has this power, is not incomparable with Perth, though it is bigger town. In Dundee prosecutions have taken place for merely "chalking a meeting." In Dundee the powers have been used in the most cruel fashion, and it is because of my experience in Dundee that I say that these powers are unwarranted and are not asked for. The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) said there was no opposition forthcoming from Perth, but it has been proved that there is opposition, and it is not sufficient to say that they are only a small group. Small groups are not necessarily wrong, and the smaller the group the more necessary it is to see that its rights are preserved. If small groups be his argument, it defends, for instance, everything that Herr Hitler has done in Germany. The Jews are a minority, small and insignificant; why not crush them? His argument is that they are small, but why refuse the right to them? The smaller they are the more valuable it is that Parliament should safeguard their rights in this Clause.
I represent a division in which I have fought a Communist and every other sec- 1510 tion of this House, and chalking has been written about me. I am not in the least annoyed about the things which I have seen chalked about me on the streets. As a matter of fact, when I see them chalked I am as pleased that they are chalked as not. Everybody who knows elections understands that it is not the mere chalking which matters but the offensive tittle-tattle which you cannot challenge. You cannot stop people from saying or writing offensive things by preventing them from chalking. Most cities have a by-law against fly-bill posting, which is putting bills up on properties. What has happened? The Lord Advocate knows that although fly-bill posting is illegal, the fly-bill poster goes on, and in every street and every town you can see either the fly-bill poster at work or the evidences of his work.
What will happen under this Clause? Men will still chalk their meetings. Whatever you may say against the Labour party, against us or against the Communists, we three have it in common—it may be the only thing that we have in common—that our rank-and-file devote their time to the work without any sign of fear or sense of wrong-doing. These men will not be stopped by the Perth Town Council if they think that chalking is right. What the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) will do is to turn decent men into criminals, because out to chalk they will go, with their mission. Do you think you will keep them back Do you think it will stop their Socialist evidence of their love for the cause to say that they must not chalk their meetings? You could not do it with the old people who printed in defiance of you, and you cannot stop chalking with the by-law to-night. These men will go on, in defiance of the provost and the police. They will go out upon their mission and nothing will stop them because their belief in the cause is deep and sincere. It is their religious faith.
To-night we are dealing with a Clause which would turn men into criminals. The police could be more usefully employed in looking after the real criminals than in prosecuting people for trivial offences. One of the things that anger me in reading a newspaper is to see that people are being prosecuted for stealing a bit of coal from a bing while, in the same paper, the police seem to be impotent in the face of severe crime. They should leave 1511 these men to go on chalking their views. Nothing you can do will stop them. You will only turn decent men of strong views, that they hold religiously and deeply, into a criminal population, and that would not be to the credit of Scotland or anyone else.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Sir Dennis Herbert)
Following upon what the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means said just now, may I make a suggestion which possibly may be for the convenience of Members who are interested in this matter? So far as I understand, the whole point turns upon one Clause. As the Deputy-Chairman said just now, there would be no particular point or use in defeating the Motion, "That the Bill be now considered." If that Motion were carried, it would, I understand, within your discretion, Mr. Speaker, be in order for hon. Members to move to leave out from line 1 to line 16 in page 38. That is the Clause which deals with this particular matter. Hon. Members would then bring the issue which interests them directly before the House and get a decision upon it. I make that suggestion only because it seems to me that we are, at the present moment, engaged in what, to a listener, is a very interesting Debate, but which does not seem calculated to lead to any definite conclusion.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
On a point of Order. Is the suggestion of the Chairman of Ways and Means that the question, "That the Bill be now considered" should be voted upon now, and that, if it be agreed to, an Amendment should be discussed?
§ The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS
As I understand the matter, if the Motion "That the Bill be now considered" be carried, then, on the consideration, the Amendment could be moved. I do not know whether I am right in that.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Motion before the House is "That the Bill be now considered." If we get that out of the way, we can consider the Bill, and then Amendments can be moved. In other words, we can do what we do on the Report stage of an ordinary Bill. If we go on discussing the Motion which is now 1512 before the House, we shall get no further forward.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
I am sure the House appreciates very much the guidance given by the Chairman of Ways and Means, but I think it was well understood by every Member who participated in the objection to this Clause that he would have later opportunities, the present purpose being to induce the promoters, by showing them that there was a strong body of opposition to the Clause, to undertake to hand in or support an Amendment to it, before we allow the Bill to proceed any further. The promoters and everyone supporting the Bill have been tumbling over themselves to assure the House that this Clause is not as bad as it looks, that it does not mean everything that it says, that it will be administered with certain reservations more favourable to those who object to it. What are those assurances worth? If that be the permanent and irrevocable intention of the Council, the Lord Provost, the Town Clerk, and everyone else, I feel sure they will have no objection to placing in the hands of the promoters an Amendment to give statutory effect to their assurances. I am in no way entitled to speak for other Members who have opposed the Bill, but I have hurriedly drafted a limited Amendment. I should not, of course, be entitled to move it, but it would give considerable guidance to the House if we could know that it would be accepted.
I object to the Bill because of the provisions of this Clause only, because it picks out this form of advertising—one of the only forms left to those who have no money to spend on other forms. In the newspapers in these towns, one has to pay as much as 12s. a single column-inch to get an advertisement of a public meeting at all, and I know of cases where the advertising rate for some political parties is considerably less than that for other political parties. Why pick on pavements? On all the hoardings advertise- 1513 ments of every kind, including the most offensive kinds, are rammed down one's throat whether one wants it or not. What is the objection to a chalk mark on a pavement? I believe there are only two members of the Perth Corporation who object to this Clause, but it may be that their views are well worth protecting.
I have just been reading the penalty which the Clause seeks to impose. It is a penalty, as I understand it, of £5. I think that that penalty is out of all proportion to the offence. The kind of people who are going to be convicted of this offence have not £5 in the world, and, if the penalty is attempted to be enforced, it will never be collected. If it were a penalty of 5s. it would be far more reasonable and fair in proportion to the offence and to the means of the people who are liable to be convicted of it.
I am going to read what I propose that the promoters should agree to. I will facilitate the passage of the Bill if it is accepted and may prevent its passage if it is not. I would propose at the end of line 10 to insert:Provided that nothing in this Section shall give power to the Corporation to regulate control or restrict chalking or other marking on carriageways or footpaths, stating only the time and place of a public meeting and the auspices under which it will be held.That leaves the promoters power to regulate and restrict every other form of advertisement of an offensive kind. I am not sure whether that will be accepted by everyone else who is objecting to the Bill but, if it were accepted, I should not continue to oppose the Clause. I shall be very pleased to give way to the hon. Member if he is in a position to say anything about it.
§ Mr. HUNTER
The hon. Member has made a practical proposal. Of course, as he will understand, I myself cannot give a definite assurance but, if the other parts of the Bill are agreeable to the House—and I think they are—I will undertake to place the proposed Amendment before the corporation.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
Surely there is someone in the House who is entitled to speak for the promoters? Does the hon. Member wish to make reference to those who are authorised to speak for them? If so, we shall be very glad to have their views. I have observed in recent years a tendency to make these Bills brought forward by public corporations of an omnibus kind. The promoters pass them into the bands of Parliamentary counsel and others and give them instructions to draw the most all-embracing provisions that they can. They remind me of a company's memorandum and articles of association in small print on the back of a prospectus. The company is formed for some particular object, and by the time you have finished reading the memorandum and articles of association there is no form of activity under the sun which they have not taken power to carry out. Clause 88 is of this type. It would be a very salutary step if we could secure some amendment to the Bill, and in particular to this Clause. I shall be very glad if the hon. Member has been able to get us the assurance that we want, or has he gone to the promoters and found that their assurances are worth nothing?
The Amendment that I propose gives us the very least. We were assured that we should help them if we allowed the Bill to pass. How did it come about that we have not been able to get this restriction, if the hon. Member has referred to the promoters? Were their assures sincere? If so, what is the objection to giving us this restriction? I can see no objection to it whatever. In fact, I consider the Clause as it stands to be a very unreasonable one, and as far as I am concerned, in the interval which will pass between the passing of the Motion that this Bill should now be considered and the time that Amendments come forward, I shall do all I can, and I believe that other hon. Members will do the same, to prevent the Bill being passed. It is certainly a very strange state of affairs. Here we have been told on behalf of the Lord Provost, the Town Clerk and the promoters, the hon. Member for Perth and one hon. Member after another have told us that if this was our only object it could be met. We draft a reasoned Amendment which makes claim to very little. The hon. Member for Perth says that he is 1515 prepared to accept it. He confers with the promoters under the gallery and fails to get authority to do so. We are entitled to some further explanation before we allow the Bill to proceed. What is the objection?
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) is under a complete misapprehension. I do not think that he could have heard the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) when he spoke, otherwise he would have known that he made no such offer as the hon. Member is now attributing to him. He said that the corporation were ready to give an assurance that the regulation asked for in the by-law would be used. reasonably, and that permission for marking on pavements would be given outside a certain character. In fact he asked only for powers precisely defined; not for prohibition, but a regulation, say, of size, and control, say, of place. That is different from what the hon. Member is now asking. I suggest that, having had a fair discussion of this matter, and in view of the guidance we have had from the Chairman of Ways and Means, we might now very well vote upon the general Measure and reserve the opportunity to discuss this particular Clause. I therefore should like to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
I gave way to the hon. Member, not that he should have moved the Closure, but to enable him to correct some point or make some offer. Surely, the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) can speak for himself.
§ The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS
Will the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) allow me, with the permission of the House, to intervene for a moment to make a further suggestion to try and facilitate business? From experience in the past I know it is not very easy to get definite instructions, nor is it easy for members of the corporation to give definite instructions on the spur of the moment in a matter of this kind in the course of the Debate. I suggest to the House that, if it would meet with the approval of both sides, I should move that the 1516 Debate be now adjourned, in which event I would put the Motion down again for 7.30 To-morrow night. It will give an opportunity for the suggested Amendment to be considered, so that if the promoters of the Bill were prepared to accept it, it might be formally brought before the House To-morrow night. I merely put forward as a suggestion likely to be approved of to-night, namely, that I should formally, move that the Debate be now adjourned.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
I very much appreciate the suggestion made by the Chairman of Ways and Means, and if there is some indication from hon. Members opposite that they agree to that course, I will resume my seat. Otherwise, it is my intention to proceed to explain my reasons for objecting to the Bill. May I take it that hon. Members opposite agree that the Debate should be adjourned?
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I have an assurance from the promoters of the Bill that if the suggestion made by the Chairman of Ways and Means is accepted and we adjourn the Debate, they are prepared to give the fullest consideration to the matter, so that they will be in a position to give a definite answer To-morrow night in regard to the Amendment suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones).
§ Mr. BARR
In agreeing to the suggestion, I should like to enter a caveat. My hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) has drafted in a very short time what he thinks will meet the case, but it seems to me to be somewhat narrow. We might wish certain power for chalking for other purposes than are contained in his suggested Amendment. Therefore, I should like a broader view to be taken, and perhaps broader consultations might take place.
§ Mr. HARDIE
In view of the general desire that we should some to an agreement, may I ask the Chairman of Ways and Means whether the parties interested could not meet at once and agree upon an Amendment, so that we could pass it now?
§ The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS
I know no reason why half a dozen, or a score, or a hundred people should not meet to discuss and subject of common interest. It is the obvious thing, after what has taken place, that those interested should endeavour to come to some agreement so that the proceedings to-morrow night should not be more than formal.
§ Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow, at half-past Seven of the Clock.