§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Simon)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a Bill the introduction of which was promised in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and the Government invite the House to co-operate in passing it into law without delay, after, of course, the usual opportunities for detailed discussion in the Committee stage. There have been for some time past representations made from several quarters that legislation was required in order to deal more effectively with persons and organisations who provoke or cause disturbance of the public peace. The Government have given careful consideration to the information which has been brought before them, to the reports of responsible chief officers of police and the representations made by deputations, and they bring forward this Bill as the result of their consideration.
The topic of this Bill is a difficult topic to deal with, especially difficult for the draftsman. It is a very important topic, for it touches our essential liberties, not only the rights of those who wish to demonstrate but the rights of the general public who may suffer from serious disturbances. It is an urgent matter. While large areas are quite untouched by these disturbances, at the same time in those districts where the evils which the Bill seeks to correct are most in evidence, the situation in recent months has tended to deteriorate. Information to that effect comes to me from many quarters. At the Home Office we have had deputations from London and the Provinces, and our conclusion, which I hope the House will be prepared to adopt, is that we should be wise to deal with this matter now.
If hon. Members will take a broad view of the events of the last few years it will be agreed that since the War developments in Europe have tended to let loose extremist doctrines—whether doctrines of the Right or the Left does not matter—which in their application have this special quality, that they are essentially 1350 intolerant and determined to browbeat and overthrow contrary doctrines. The adherents of these doctrines deny the right of others to hold different opinions. If they succeeded they would do their utmost to stop the expression of different opinions. In the meantime they are ready, if not to use, at least to display force to spread their own views. In contrast with this the grand characteristic of British political life is its tolerance. All the things which we prize—freedom of opinion, freedom of speech and freedom of meeting—are all based on our conception of political and civic toleration.
I do not mean that politics is a quiet trade. Nobody can read the story of the Eatanswill election in "Pickwick Papers," or an account of the famous Westminster election of 1784, without realising that there often was, as there still is, plenty of noise and roughness in our political methods, but this roughness and this noise have been on the whole tolerant and good humoured. If these foreign doctrines get a footing in this country—I am not inviting the House to legislate against anybody's creed; it is the methods, not the creed—then Parliament must secure that the methods which are employed in support are consistent with our tolerant traditions, and with a preservation of the rights of the general public. When we speak about British freedom which it is right to preserve for those who wish to be demonstrative and emphatic it is well to remember that the mass of the British people have to be considered too, and methods must not be allowed to develop to a point where the interests of the general public are overlooked. The House will observe that in making these observations I am not trying to draw a distinction between one extreme creed and another. I am not discussing whether it is Communists who make Fascists or Fascists who make Communists. That is not the point. The point is that we should do our best to act evenhandedly in the matter and base ourselves on general principles.
There is abundant evidence that in many areas there is a serious public nuisance to be dealt with in the growth of groups, trained groups, sometimes in uniform and sometimes carrying weapons, who by their overbearing and insulting behaviour, and by their organised rowdyism, are threatening to undermine essential British liberties. We are asking 1351 the House to deal with the situation now before it develops into something more serious and more difficult to deal with. Let us deal with it now, and in what is the proper characteristic British way, not by giving power to the Administration to proceed by Orders in Council, but by laying down in statutory form, as the result of the co-operative work of the House of Commons, the rules which ought to apply, and by leaving breaches of the law to be dealt with by the Courts.
That is the general conception which I present to the House of the framework in which we invite their co-operation in settling the form of the Bill. I do not want to weary the House, but no doubt hon. Members would wish me to indicate briefly the scheme in the principal Clauses of the Bill, and while avoiding discussing matters which are appropriate for Committee stage, offer them a few observations which, I hope, will help to elucidate any points of difficulty.
I will take the Clauses of the Bill as they come. Clause 1 is the operative Clause about uniforms, and it provides, subject to certain limitations, that it shall be an offence to wear political uniforms in public. Let me say a word as to the necessity for legislation on this subject. It is the unanimous view of the chief officers of police in the areas principally affected that the wearing of political uniforms is a source of special provocation, and testimony to the same effect has been offered to me at the Home Office by a number of deputations. It is the view which has been adopted in a good many countries in Europe—Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland and Holland. In all these countries the law has been recently changed for the same purpose, and I hope the House will take the view, whatever there may be to criticise in detail, that the principle of Clause 1, that we should prohibit the wearing in public of political uniforms, is right. This does not apply merely to the Fascists. There has been so much advertisement on that side that some people may think that nobody else is trying to wear a political uniform. That is not so. Apart altogether from the Greenshirts, information is coming in of efforts being made by people largely of the anti-Fascist persuasion by way of reprisals, who are attempting and are 1352 actually adopting the wearing of uniforms of their own. We do not want this situation to develop.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any figures as to the number of persons who are doing this?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I would rather not give figures at the moment, but when we consider Clause 1 in Committee I can give more information about the matter. There is no doubt about the facts. We do not want to get the situation which existed in this country in the 15th century. At the time of the Wars of the Roses there were maintained, each with an appropriate costume and uniform, armies of retainers who were to promote the interests of this and that group in the community, and a series of Statutes was passed to prohibit the wearing of "liveries."
Let me point out the limitations, the necessary limitations, of Clause 1. It is directed only to the wearing in public of what I have called political uniforms. The House will observe the words:Uniform signifying association with any political organisation or with the promotion of any political object.The words have been carefully chosen, and I think they can be fairly summarised by the expression "political uniforms." That, of course, excludes at once from the ambit of the Bill the wearing of certain kinds of uniform in public, with which nobody would wish to interfere, such as the uniform of the Salvation Army, cases of some industrial organisations and benefit clubs, Boy Scouts, the Church Lads' Brigade, or—to take an even more unprovocative instance—hospital nurses or the Corps of Commissionaires. Nobody wishes to include that sort of case within the Bill. It is political uniforms with which we are dealing.
I will come in a moment to the provision which limits the matter a little further, but first let me take up and justify a point about the first Clause which has been widely observed. We do not seek in this Bill to draw a definition Clause to apply to the word "uniform." I would only observe that, if there is any ingenious Member of the House who, sincerely desiring the first Clause to pass, at the same time wishes a definition to appear, he had better try his hand at it. There is no statutory definition because we are satisfied that it is better 1353 to take what is, after all, a perfectly well-known English word and and use it in the connotation here appearing, in order that a reasonable interpretation may be put upon it by the tribunals that will decide these things, that is to say, the courts of law. In most cases, it will be a stipendiary magistrate, as occasions for the operation of this Clause are most likely to arise in districts where there is a stipendiary. I shall not, therefore, yield to the temptation of describing to the House my own idea of what a uniform is, although I have several phrases at the back of my mind. I am quite certain that the attempt to incorporate such phrases in a definition Clause would not serve the effective purposes of the Bill.
Another provision in the first Clause which has been the subject of some comment outside, and which no doubt will also attract the attention of hon. Members, is the provision that a prosecution under the Clause can only take place with the authority of the Attorney-General. I do not know whether hon. Members always realise the very sharp distinction there is in this class of matter between the law of England and the law of Scotland. I do not say which is the better, but I can imagine there being on the side of some of the Scots Members of the House a strong belief that their system is to be preferred. At any rate, in Scotland, as I understand it, nobody can be exposed to a prosecution for a breach of the criminal law except by the public authority, directed, if need be, by the Lord Advocate. In other words, in Scotland there is no such thing as a private prosecution. If you were to allow this first Clause to go into the Bill without a provision to the effect that the Attorney-General must authorise a prosecution, not only would there be a sharp difference between English and Scots law, but there would be nothing whatever to guard against a private prosecution, perhaps of the most fantastic or unreasonable kind, actuated it may be by not the purest of public motives; whereas by putting in this provision, which has occurred in many other Statutes, we secure both that the law should be reasonably applied and that there should be a uniformity in its application.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Could the right hon. Gentleman at some point 1354 explain why he takes so different a line in Sub-section (4) of Clause 6, where the police are specially prohibited from taking proceedings?
§ Sir J. SIMON
The right hon. Gentleman may be sure that I will come to that point, and I am aware that what I have just said may make it the more necessary for me to explain why that is the case. I am sure the House will agree that for the moment it is best for me to deal with Clause 1.
Another matter in connection with Clause 1 to which I would draw the attention of the House is the proviso which follows the main part of the Clause and begins in line 11. The proviso is to the effect that, while political uniforms may not be worn in public, it may be possible, in a case where the risk of public disorder does not arise, on a ceremonial, anniversary or other occasion, for the chief officer of police to permit the wearing of a political uniform on that occasion, but he can only do so with the permission of a Secretary of State, which in England would mean the Home Secretary and in Scotland the Secretary of State for Scotland. We have thought it right to insert that proviso in qualification of the absolute words of the Bill for the following reasons.
It is not, of course, that the Clause deals with anything but political uniforms from first to last; therefore, the proviso is not put in for the purpose of protecting the Salvation Army, Boy Scouts or anything of that kind, because they do not come in at all. It is a proviso which might conceivably on occasion operate in reference to an undoubtedly political uniform; that is to say, a case may arise where some well-established anniversary or ceremonial occasion has been traditionally celebrated in the town with the wearing of a uniform which does indicate some political organisation, and where there is no real ground, from the point of view of the risk of public disturbance, for preventing what is a special and a ceremonial use of the uniform. I can imagine such a case, but I am not going to name a case lest it should be thought that I am prejudicing the judgment of the Secretary of State whose consent is needed before this exception is granted. One of the greatest difficulties in all legislation is to be sure, when you legislate in very general terms—which is what you ought to do—that your survey of the situation 1355 has been sufficiently exact, that you have provided for the future as well as the present, and that you have not quite unintentionally inflicted a perfectly unnecessary restriction upon people who are not in fact within the spirit and purposes of the Clause at all. I think such cases might occur to many hon. Members. At the same time it is an exception to the general rule of the Clause, and we have therefore thought it right to say that such an exception can only be made with the consent of a Secretary of State, because it seemed to the Government that, if such an exception was to be warranted, it ought to be possible in the House of Commons for the exception to be challenged and for the Home Secretary to be called to book if it was thought to be unreasonably conceded. That, stated shortly and as clearly as I can, is the general effect of the first Clause.
Let me now pass to the second Clause. I repeat my observation that this class of legislation is very difficult to draft and I will not delay the House at this stage with a lengthy justification of every part of this necessarily long Clause. That will be for the Committee stage; but it is most important that the House should apprehend the main purpose of the Clause, assent to it and give it a Second Reading. I will take first of all paragraph (a) of Sub-section (1). It is a provision which is drawn so as to prohibit and bring to an end organisations which areorganised or trained or equipped for the purpose of enabling them to be employed in usurping the functions of the police or of the armed forces of the Crown.I do not think it extravagant to say that there is a danger against which we have to provide ourselves now, a danger which might develop in the future—the danger of Parliamentary liberties being invaded by the creation of bodies organised for that purpose. I am perfectly willing to accept the view that as yet the danger is not very great, but it behoves us in this home of liberty to lay down in good time the principles by which we mean to stand. It may well be that this enactment will be more important because it is enacted on the Statute Book than because of any positive enforcement of its Clauses. There has been passed by the House of Commons in the course of its history a great deal of legislation which has laid down the principles by which 1356 we mean to stand and has been a very real barrier against the dangers which otherwise might have overwhelmed us. The foundation of all ordered government in this Island is that the only instruments of force should be those of the properly constituted authorities. I do not mean by that that there are not occasions when the private citizen ought to help the authorities.
§ Sir J. SIMON
He ought to and he is bound to; but he has no right to organise himself under the pretence that that is what he desires to do. Let me read a single sentence of a well-known authority. It will illustrate the proposition:A man may gather together his friends and servants to defend his own house against persons threatening to enter it unlawfully, but it is unlawful for him to assemble his friends for the defence of his person against those who threaten to beat him outside his house … for then it is his duty to appeal to the protection of the law.I emphasise the word "usurp" in this Sub-section. In performing the duty of a good citizen to arrest a felon is one thing, but to seek to usurp the function of the duly constituted authorities of the country is quite another thing. It is that usurpation which I suggest we should mark down now as being a breach of our traditions and Constitution, and that we should enact in this Statute in terms that that is an offence which we-are determined shall be dealt with.
Paragraph (b) of Sub-section (1) is on somewhat different lines. If hon. Members will look at it they will see the words "promoting any political object." That is a special case, a qualification which will not be found in paragraph (a) but is here in paragraph (b). We are dealing with a situation in which the essential feature is that the organisation and equipment relate to the promotion of some political object. Therefore the paragraph is confined to that class of case. Here some care must be exercised. We must not under this second alternative impose so strict a limit that it will interfere with the legitimate exercise of political rights. If you were to legislate simply against any body which existed for the purpose of being—employed for the use or display of physical force in promoting any political object, or in such manner as to arouse 1357 reasonable apprehension that they are organised … for that purpose,I think there would be a very real danger of bringing within the jurisdiction of this Act cases which we certainly do not intend to be in at all. The mere fact that an organisation is very large and very numerous and very enthusiastic in its demonstrations might produce a very great effect, an overbearing effect, which might be thought to bring it within the Clause if we used the same language as is used in pararaph (a). Therefore we suggest that, instead of paragraph (b) beginning as paragraph (a) begins, the view should be taken that organisation is not enough, and that it is only on proof being given to the court that there have been not only organisation but organisation and training, or organisation and equipment, that we should be justified in treating the second limb of this Clause as satisfied.
It is obvious that you cannot produce an effective Act of Parliament if you simply talk about the purpose of creating such a body, and you must consider the case in which its manifestations do produce apprehension, fear, reasonable terror in the minds of ordinary people that it is organised and trained or equipped for the purpose of using physical force or displaying physical force to carry into effect its political objects. The language needs to be closely studied. As I have said, the drafting of a Bill on this subject is not an easy thing to do, but I hope I have conveyed to the House the ideas which we have tried to put into the Clause and I trust that in Committee it will be found that the Clause is aptly framed for the purpose.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Will the Home Secretary dwell a little more upon, the words "arouse reasonable apprehension". For instance, would a person be liable to punishment under this Clause whether in fact the actions which aroused the reasonable apprehensions are guilty actions or not?
§ Sir J. SIMON
My right hon. Friend no doubt is very wise in asking for further elucidation on that point. There are many cases in which you could not deal with miscreants if you had to prove that the purpose behind people's minds is the wicked purpose that you charge them with, and in which you must judge them 1358 by having regard to what is the reasonable apprehension which they create in their public demonstrations. I can imagine cases in the East End of London where people who have been creating a great state of terror would none the less put their hands on their hearts and testify that this was not their purpose. But when we are dealing with public order and the rights of citizens of all sorts in public places it is not unreasonable to say that you really must judge people to some extent by the reaction they produce on innocent members of the public. That is the reason why the Clause is drawn in this form. With that explanation perhaps we may pass on.
I note that a number of persons have been concerned as to the language in Sub-section (4) of Clause 2. I think it will be found, when the matter is dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, that there is a good deal of misunderstanding about it. I only state this now quite briefly that hon. Members may have it in their minds. As hon. Members know, our law of evidence is so strict that there are cases in which, in order to secure a fair result, you have to some extent to depart from its classic lines. For example there is the well known proposition that everyone is to be regarded as innocent until proved to be guilty. There is hardly a better known proposition; yet if a man is accused in this country of receiving stolen goods, and if it can be shown that the goods are recently stolen, as soon as you have shown that he has got them, instantly, notwithstanding that principle of the law, it lies upon him, though he is an accused person in the dock, to show what is his explanation of what would otherwise be an inference of guilt against him.
In the same way here, if you proceed against a person involving an organisation, if you were to be strictly confined to the evidence of what was said or done in the presence of the principal person sued, it might be that you would shut out from consideration by the court matters which every common-sense man would regard as relevant, though of course they are matters about which it would be right for the accused to give his explanation. It is on that principle that this provision has been inserted. I ask the House not to allow general consideration of the Bill to be too much 1359 concentrated on Clauses of procedure. They must be considered in Committee, of course, but I have no doubt that my learned friend the Attorney-General will then be able to give many illustrations.
I pass now to Clause 3, on which I will give two or three general reflections. There have been authorities that have urged upon me, in the course of deputations, that power should be taken to prohibit processions on the ground that after all, at any rate in crowded places, they cause a vast amount of inconvenience, and that there are many other ways in which the views of the public can be expressed. I do not agree. I have not put into this Bill any such general prohibition. I think that demonstrations by way of procession are an old and well-established method of exhibiting a point of view. It may not always be very effective, but I do not know on what grounds one can complain. I remember how in the old Home Rule days the most respectable and authoritative persons joined in processions to demonstrate against the Home Rule Bill in various parts of the country. Whether it really added very much to the sum-total of argument is a matter of doubt. At any rate do not let us interfere with it any further than we need. Therefore I do not propose any such wide power as that.
In Sub-section (1) of Clause 3 we have set out in, I hope, plain English what, to a very large extent, is the present power to control the route that a procession takes. In substance this power of routeing processions exists already. Most people feel that there are cases where it is right to have that power. At present the power is to be found in some rather ancient Statutes. In the case of the Metropolis it is in an Act of 1839; in the Provinces it is in an Act of 1847. The Statutes are in somewhat archaic words. They were passed before the full establishment of modern police forces. They are applied with some little difficulty. It does seem to me that it is much better to put into this Bill a plain provision on the subject. So far as London is concerned the power has rested, since the Act of 1839, with the police. So far as the provincial towns and some other provincial areas in England are concerned, the power has been a, very curious one. In point of fact it has been a power of 1360 the local authorities, though in practice it has really been exercised by the police.
I submit that it would not be a goad thing if we were to allow the question of the regulation of processions which may sometimes arouse political or religious feeling to become a topic at local elections in every part of the country. It seems to me that it is a police subject. It has to do with the regulation and control of the streets and, that being so, I hope the House will agree that it is proper so to provide. I would call attention to the fact that a provision is expressly included in sub-section (1) as to the possibility of conditions being imposed. It does happen sometimes—it happened in Manchester the other day—that some conditions are imposed, one, I think, being that the people should not wear uniforms. Sometimes there are cases in which the requirement might be with reference, say, to provocative inscriptions on banners. There are cases in which, by a reasonable exercise of that power, it would be possible to arrange for a demonstration to take place without any harm being done.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that part of the subject, may I ask why the conditions which he has said should, reasonably, be applied to English provincial processions, should not also apply in the case of Scotland, namely, that the chief constable should have power to decide whether any such regulations should be made?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I should be very slow to involve myself in any controversy about the niceties of Scottish practice with my right hon. Friend. I understand—and I speak as a mere Sassenach—that in the northern part of this Kingdom a rather different system prevails, in some cases under private Acts such as that which has been passed in the case of Edinburgh and some other big towns, and also I believe under more general provisions. There is a provision, I believe, in Scotland by which notice has to be given, very often before the arrangement of a procession and the magistrate deals with the question as to whether or not the procession shall be agreed to and under what conditions. Consequently I have secured that there is a Clause which applies the Bill to Scotland with, as 1361 my right hon. Friend sees, some modification, and, what is more, I have provided myself with the Lord Advocate so that he may be here to explain these mysteries if desired.
§ Sir R. HORNE
May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the general principle to which he referred of not making these matters controversial within the councils of the magistrates should apply in the case of Scotland as in the case of England; and that the chief constable should be the person to decide upon the matter of the regulation of processions?
§ Sir J. SIMON
If that is a view which appeals to the House and is put forward by a majority of Scottish Members who have a special right to express their opinion upon the matter as regards Scotland, then, as far as I am concerned, it is a change in the Bill which I would not oppose. My object has been to secure that we do not introduce into the northern part of the Kingdom changes which may be resented by Scottish sentiment.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
May I ask whether a case can be given in which the question of demonstrations in Glasgow or any part of Scotland has entered into local elections; and is it correct to give a chief constable, for instance, the right to determine when the workers can express themselves politically?
§ Sir J. SIMON
That I think is a question which would have to be decided, possibly as the result of a consultation, between the two hon. Members who have just intervened.
Can my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that, in considering the control of processions, the question of the banners which are carried will be taken into account?
§ Sir J. SIMON
My hon. and gallant Friend, perhaps, did not catch my words just now when I gave as an illustration the sort of conditions which we have in mind, the very case which he has mentioned. On the Second Reading, naturally, we have to look at the general framework of the Bill, but I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for calling attention to that point because it is very important.
I now come to Clause 4 on which, I hope, there will not be much difference of 1362 opinion. As the law stands, no sort of wrong is done if the people in a procession, however much heat and excitement there may be, whatever may be the risk of a clash, are in the possession of weapons which, in certain circumstances, they might be tempted to use. I submit that it would be entirely reasonable to say that in any public procession no one must carry any offensive weapon. I would only add on this subject that, unfortunately, the evil which is contemplated is not an imaginary evil. In the records of Scotland Yard and of the Home Office there are ugly cases which explain the need for a provision of this sort. I think that if we are to preserve the general right of demonstration by procession, we must lay down firmly that it is a punishable offence to take part in a procession carrying an offensive weapon.
Clause 5 of the Bill does not make new law so much as it sets down in simple terms a rule which already applies in some districts and which, I think, ought to apply generally. The present situation is very curious. In the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, there is a Section which deals with this subject and the language of that Section is the language of Clause 5 with the very smallest variation. The Act of 1839, which deals only with London, speaks of any one who in any public placeuses any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace may be occasioned.It appeared to us that the words "is likely to be occasioned" would be better. There is not really much difference in the language of the Clause, but it is more in accordance with the modern use of English. We are not seeking to enact anything startlingly new. What we are seeking to do is to provide by Act of Parliament that this shall be the law not only in London but outside. At present, in provincial towns the same result is secured by the more cumbrous procedure of by-laws which involve in different places different penalties and sometimes different procedure. I cannot think that it is a reasonable state of affairs that we should have to rely on a Statute of nearly 100 years ago for the Metropolitan Police District, and rely upon a whole series of by-laws, which have been passed probably without much public notice, for 1363 the rest of the country. It seemed to be sensible that all should be put together in one single plain Clause on which there can be no misunderstanding. Under this provision there may be cases such as some which have taken place within the memory of hon. Members—some which have recently been dealt with by Metropolitan police magistrates—in which the most violently abusive language has been used, say, in a Jewish quarter for the purpose of arousing racial feeling. The general proposition in the Act seems to be perfectly fair, but while we all agree that a great deal of liberty should be allowed when political demonstrations or arguments are going on, and while it seems to me that the working of the law has been satisfactory in London, I would invite the House to lay this down as a plain and sensible proposition.
The only thing that remains is that at present even though the language may be used deliberately for the purpose of insulting a section of the population or a religious view which is prevalent in the district where it is used, however serious the case may be and however serious the consequences, the maximum penalty under the Act of 1839 is 40s. In the case of a man who perhaps has a great organisation behind him a fine of 40s. is not enough. We want to increase the penalty, but it will be at the discretion of the magistrates. They can deal with small cases as they did formerly, but it will be possible in an extreme case to give three months' imprisonment or impose a fine of £50.
Now I come to Clause 6 to which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) called attention. I think that my right hon. Friend is nearly the only Member of the House besides myself who can recall the origin of the Public Meeting Act of 1908. There is also, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and there are one or two others—a select company. The story of that Measure is very curious. It was passed in the Parliament of 1908, and that happened to be the first Parliament in which I had the honour to serve. There was introduced by a distinguished private Member—now Lord Cecil—a Bill which ultimately became the Public Meeting Act. It was received with general 1364 approval in all parts of the House and there was not much discussion about it until it came back from the Lords when there was a great deal of discussion upon it, but its purpose received general approval. At the end of the discussion, Mr. Asquith congratulated the noble Lord who was responsible for the Bill and said that the passage of the Bill into law proved how easy it was for a private Member to make a useful exercise of his rights on private Members' days, always provided that he chose a short Bill with which everybody agreed.
The nature of the Act is to he gathered from the words of Clause 6: it provides that any person who at a lawful public meeting acts in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business of the meeting shall be guilty of an offence. I do not think that opinion will differ to-day any more than it did in 1908 on the proposition that that was a very sensible protection of the right of public meeting and for the prevention of mere hooliganism and "gangsterism" in the conduct of these affairs. Unfortunately, the application of the admirable Act, approved by such great authorities, has been seriously restricted through want of machinery. It is a standing example of how legislators may legislate for desires without providing the means to fulfil them. There is nothing in the Act which enables anybody in any circumstances to be arrested. There is nothing in it to enable anybody to insist upon a man giving his name and address.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I am sorry to spoil the right hon. Gentleman's story, but as one of the backers of the Bill, may I say that the Government of the day refused to allow the Bill to be taken as an agreed Bill, if certain provisions were put into it which we wanted to put into it?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am greatly obliged to my noble Friend, and I would only point out that at that time I was not a Member of the Government and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
Is it not the case that the chairman of a public meeting has the right to call in the police and to give anyone at that meeting in charge under this particular Act?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I do not think that is quite the case. It has been found in practice that the Act does not have the full effect which Parliament itself intended, through want of machinery, and one of the reasons is more particularly because if the interrupters come from somewhere else, if they are imported interrupters—this applies all round—it is extremely difficult to identify who they are. I do not think it would be possible to provide by law that the chairman of a meeting should demand a person's name. The chairman of a meeting is otherwise occupied as a rule, and it is difficult to say that it is a criminal offence to refuse to give your name to another private person. The proper authority to whom the name should be given is the police. I do not think there can be any doubt about that. It used to be supposed that the police had no right to enter a public meeting unless they were invited, but that is no longer the accepted view. It is now clearly laid down that it is not so, and it is not so on this very simple principle, that a policeman, even though he is a policeman in uniform, is after all a citizen, just as a soldier is, and that if anybody takes a hall and invites the public to come in, he has no right whatever to object to the presence of somebody just because be is a policeman or a soldier if he likes to come in.
Though it is quite impossible that the police should go into every public meeting, and not the least necessary or desirable, as a matter of fact the modern practice, certainly in London, is for the police in a proper case to be present inside a meeting, not because they have been sent for or because there is a riot, but because the authorities think that on that occasion it might be convenient to have a policeman there. In those circumstances what we want to provide is, first of all, by a new Sub-section, that if a policeman in such A case asks for a man's name and address because he considers that he is engaged in persistent interruptions for the purpose of smashing up the meeting, then the name and address must be given. If the man refuses to give his name and address, or if he is manifestly giving some foolish or false name and address, the policeman must have the power, and we propose to give him the power, if necessary, to arrest him. If he refuses his name and address or gives a false name and address, he commits an 1366 offence, which can be dealt with in the ordinary way.
Now comes the difficult point mentioned by my right hon. Friend just now. It is quite certain, I think, that in 1908 nobody expected the police to prosecute in respect of persons who interrupted a public political meeting. The sort of case that one thinks of as the normal case is where a hall has been engaged, liabilities have been incurred, a rent has been paid, and there have been printing and all the rest of it, and it may be that some prominent speaker has been secured for the evening. It is an enterprise on the part of those who are promoting the meeting, and it would naturally be for them, if on reflection they wished to do so, to take proceedings. That is the way in which this Act has hitherto been applied. I must say that, for my part, I think it would be undesirable for the police in every part of the country to have placed upon them the business of bringing charges under the Public Meeting Act after they had secured, as I think they ought to secure, the necessary material.
I will give two reasons for that view. First of all, there are other cases in which exactly the same arrangement is made in the criminal law. I take the case of common assault. Common assault, of course, is an offence against the criminal law and punishable by fine or imprisonment, but the police do not prosecute for common assault. According to the law of this country, they could not prosecute for common assault, but what they do is to secure any necessary information in order that the person who is really injured and has really the right to complain may have his remedy in the criminal courts if he desires it. I think the same thing is likely to happen here. We all know the indignation with which we regard the breaking up and unnecessary interruption of a meeting in which we hoped to have more peaceful proceedings, but when it is over a good many people, particularly at election time, may think that on the whole they do not want to carry their complaint further, and to say that the police, the machinery of the law, should willy-nilly insist upon getting the evidence of the people who arranged the meeting, when they do not want to give it, in order to convict somebody who has helped to disturb the meeting, seems to be a very doubtful proposition. When we come to the Committee stage the 1367 Committee will no doubt wish to consider the point more fully. I only say now that I think the considerations behind this will, on reflection, appeal to a good many Members of the House, and perhaps to party politicians outside.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
Do I understand that if this gentleman gives his name and address, he is to be allowed to continue interrupting the meeting?
§ Sir J. SIMON
The idea is not that he should first announce his name and address, and then interrupt the meeting—
§ Sir J. SIMON
What is assumed here is that the situation has become one in which his name and address have to be taken, and, of course, there is no reason at all why in those circumstances he should not be removed.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Let it be clearly understood that the Bill has been very carefully examined from this point of view and that there is nothing in the Bill which interferes with the proper and regular use of stewards. It is plainly the right of people who hire a hall and arrange a meeting to provide themselves with stewards in a way which is not uncommon, and the principle that you may use force, so long as you only use such force as is reasonable and necessary, will apply after this Bill becomes law just as it applies now.
It is not very easy to explain on Second Reading a series of Clauses which do, I quite recognise, raise points of detail, but I hope the House will take the view that the principle of this Bill is one which they wish to affirm. I do not present the Bill to the House as a major task of the Session—not at all—but I do present it to the House as a very necessary Measure, a Measure which I hope we shall agree ought to be disposed of fairly promptly, a Measure which, after due consideration in Committee, we ought to pass in defence of our democratic liberties. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has more than once observed that in some ways democracy is not the easiest of systems 1368 to work. But it is our system, and it is the system by which we all mean to hold. The preservation and the exercise of our liberties depend, I think, largely on our willingness to accept necessary restraints for the purpose of safeguarding the essentials of freedom and this Bill is brought before the House as a Measure which will, we hope, help to preserve the rights of citizens as a whole, without interfering with the rights of assembly or of public meeting, by laying down the necessary conditions of public order.
§ Mr. HARDIE
On a point of Order. Since Scottish law differs from English law in so many ways, and since we have listened very patiently to all that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said with regard to England, would it not be logical now, and give a real sequence to the Debate, if the Lord Advocate gave us his views of the Bill as it affects Scotland, so that the Debate will be complete in itself?
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. CLYNES
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary correctly closed his speech by saying that he has not had an easy task, but with his customary Parliamentary skill he made it appear to us to be quite easy, and I would like to begin by thanking the right hon. Gentleman for taking up so much of the time of his speech in giving to the House explanations and information rather than, at this stage, entering into lengthy arguments in defence of the Bill itself. I rise to offer to this Bill and to the speech which we have just heard a general welcome, but that must not be taken as meaning that I am offering unqualified support to all its details. The office of the right hon. Gentleman is one of daily surprises, and I do not think that a few months ago he could have believed that he would stand at that Box to submit a Bill of this kind to the House. He has done so because of experience, and that is the most solid ground upon which any Bill could be based. He has done so because the need for this Bill has grown out of necessity, as we have seen in the past few months. We differ profoundly about many subjects and about many interests in this House of Commons, but I hope we are agreed, and I believe we are agreed, in a care for our liberties and 1369 in a care for public order, for one very largely depends upon the other. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman can be assured that in the future, detailed handling of this Bill there will be no wrecking Amendment or needless obstruction, but that there will be on our part an honest endeavour to make good better and to delete from several parts of the Bill portions of it and phrases in it which we think may be harmful and certainly are unnecessary.
The Bill deals, first of all, with the subject of uniforms. Without this Bill, in our view, uniforms in political assemblies and demonstrations would probably be acquired by an increasing number of political groups, and, therefore, a very serious situation might well arise. We may turn and look at the fate of other countries and see there, however remotely, certain possibilities in relation to our own. We have no objection to the continued use of that innocent regalia associated with so many groups in this country. A ribbon, a sash, or some distinctive piece of pageantry has usually been used without complaint or even notice, and has been accepted as a gesture to some treasured memory or to some historical or worthy purpose. Shirts, jackets and jerseys are in themselves unimportant. The real point is what they signify and what they are intended to denote. A garb answering to a uniform and worn in what really is a military march and in a military manner and spirit brings into our political activities alien elements making for conflict and disorder. We agree, therefore, that the Bill rightly deals in its opening part with the use of uniforms in the manner I have described. It has become the duty of Parliament, in our view, to act upon this question, but also not to overact. Therefore again, in the later stages, we shall have something to say upon this point. Strange, indeed, it is to us that these new political forces and factors should have turned so readily to alien practices. They have acquired foreign symbols, foreign salutes, foreign names and foreign dress, and to do that is to head for trouble and the development. of private armies, which I am certain all Members will not approve. The second part of the Bill deals with the question of freedom of speech:Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience.1370 Freedom of speech has been observed and has been prized in this country, perhaps, more than in any other land. We must preserve that freedom. I suggest that the law has interfered less often with the exercise of the freedom of speech than have interrupters of speech and sometimes organised interrupters at various public gatherings. There are too many people who are good speakers but bad listeners, and we must encourage people to leave freedom of utterance to those who may specially prepare for the satisfaction of others. Free speech can continue only if we observe the decencies of controversy and refrain from describing other people in outrageous terms. It is the right of the law to prevent the use of threatening abusive and insulting words likely to cause a breach of the peace. All of us engaged in public affairs have very much to endure sometimes from each other and sometimes from strangers. If we are individually injured by abuse, libel or slander, we have redress in the courts of law. In other respects we are completely without defence. Racial abuse is perhaps the most provoking and improper of all. It arouses passions deeper than class or party criticism can, no matter how sharp that criticism may be. I hope that we shall unitedly resent these beastly and un-English attacks upon a race long resident in this country. We have a case here comparable in some respect to that found in Othello:Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;But he that filches from me my good name,Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.If I may take my own case to illustrate it further, I would remain unmoved, and I think I usually do, if I am denounced for being a Socialist, but if I were denounced for being an Irishman, I would regard that as an attack upon my parentage and not upon my politics. I would face the one with complete indifference, but the other, I can assure hon. Members, would enrage even me. When liberty of speech stretches to the length of insulting the dead and denouncing a race, it is time to curtail it. Our rights, therefore, must have relation to the rights of others. I say this with all the more feeling because I can recall the time when, as a working lad 55 years ago, and a little later, I had 1371 to go from place to place in search of work, and was met with the statement that no Irishman need apply. Feeling in many quarters of Lancashire in those days ran very high, but, happily, all that has disappeared, and I doubt whether there is now the slightest distinction as between Irishmen and others in that or other counties. We have had in this land a group of law-abiding and serviceable British subjects who are Jews, who have suffered in past years a great deal of insult, abuse and censure. There are some in every group and class in the country who are blameworthy and imperfect. Many Jews have fought for this country. Some of them have worked peacefully for its advantage, and some of them have in the highest spheres of artistic, commercial and scientific service conferred great benefits upon our people. As a race and as a class they ought to be protected against the malicious attacks which certain political organisations have recently directed against them. It is a contemptible thing that any political group should exploit racial prejudice for political ends.
I do not want further to take up the time of the House on the general principles of the Bill. Let me deal with a few of the outstanding details. A few Clauses of the Bill in our view contain some harmful and even alarming provisions. We should avoid bringing the police into closer or regular contact with political movements and meetings. The service of the police is desirable to maintain order, but not for intrusions which arouse individual tempers and tend to create technical offences rather than prevent them. There are Clauses in the Bill which raise important questions of definition. In so far as one might attempt to define a uniform, I accept the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman as to the unwisdom of attempting to do that in the terms of the Bill itself. That is a matter which can with reasonable safety be left to the view and the decision of the magistrate who will have most information upon the point. There are questions of objects and methods of procedure which require the greatest care and examination. For instance, we can locate a member of an association, but who can define an adherent of a particular form of political association. There is in that some risk 1372 of arrest and detention even without warrant, and that must be a matter for the closest examination.
Another point in the Bill which is objectionable is that the police may in certain cases be placed above the law instead of being its servant. In Clause 2 (3) there is a dangerous provision, although it may be necessary to have something of the sort to deal with existing abuses. It will require to be more carefully drawn so as to prevent the practices which have recently been growing and which have caused much of the apprehension that no doubt has prompted this Clause. We must avoid, however, unfair interference with the legitimate rights exercised, as they have been so far, without any public or individual risk. I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about processions, but very much of Clause 3 must be resisted. Far-reaching powers already exist at common law and by other provisions. The routes of processions can be determined by the police, and the police may be challenged in the courts if they abuse their powers. This Clause will remove the authority of the courts and give to the police in certain instances dictatorial powers.
There is one matter of the greatest importance which is not touched upon in the Bill, except for purposes of penalties. I refer to the incoming and the use of foreign money. The Home Secretary gave information on this point only a few days ago. There should be no distinction between one organisation or society and another. Any condition imposed by law upon one group or association must be accepted by all. I should like to get, in the course of the Debates on this Bill, some information as to how the money conies and where it comes from. If we only had that knowledge we could reach a safe conclusion as to why it came at all. Later, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman will he free to reveal more. We are entitled to ask for this provision because, as representing some millions of trade unionists, we labour under the greatest restraints as to where we can get our money for political purposes. We cannot get a farthing from abroad. We must get our money through the process of a ballot, and even if the ballot is in favour of raising money, each individual has to be a voluntary 1373 contributor. If these extreme restrictions are imposed upon trade unions in the conduct of their political activities, it surely cannot be right that foreign money should find its way to this country to go into the pockets of political organisations. Not a penny can be spent by trade unions unless it has been voluntarily collected for a definite purpose, and its expenditure must be publicly revealed. The method of collecting and even the manner of spending the money are subject to the closest watchfulness of a highly-placed and powerful public servant, the Registrar of Friendly Societies. So we object to a position in which others are compelled to disclose nothing while we are obliged by law to reveal all.
I hope that all parties will agree that we have a common interest in the pursuit of sound constitutional practice, and I denounce as disgraceful the vulgar insults which have been levelled against the group to which I have referred particularly. Those insults are a reproach to all of us, and tend to enfeeble our Parliamentary system. If that system is to live, two things must be observed: first_ we must have clean controversy, truthfulness, and the avoidance of abuse; and we must seek to serve that constitutional system through democratic practices and democratic decisions. If this Bill attempts too much, as I think it does, I invite the House to join with the right hon. Gentleman in a united effort to curtail and thereby improve it during its Committee stage.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
I join with the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) both in the spirit of his speech and in his attitude towards this Bill, and T should also like to congratulate the Home Secretary on his masterly exposition of its terms. Whatever one may think of his opinions on other problems. I think the whole House and country recognise his greatness as a lawyer, and I doubt whether any other man in this House—I would almost go so far as to say in the country—could have shown such skill in drafting what is though it is a short Bill, a complex and technical Bill. I have felt some diffidence about taking part in this discussion, because a Bill of this character is largely a matter for lawyers—[Hon. MEMBERS: "No!"]—as it involves highly technical 1374 points of law. But my hon. Friends felt that I had been so long associated with an area which is supposed to be a storm centre, one of the districts which helped to inspire immediate action, that my silence might be misinterpreted. Actually, Bethnal Green would be misdescribed if designated as a storm centre. There is no quieter or more peaceful corner of the country than that borough. I have represented it in various capacities for the last 30 years, and I do not think the House will describe me as a militant or aggressive Member. At any rate, I have managed to be associated with that district without any detriment to myself, and I can assure the House that though that neighbourhood may be poor, and though, since the War, particularly, it has had to face very difficult times, suffering from unemployment on a very large scale, under-employment, high rents and many causes of irritation, the people there have been law abiding, orderly and quiet.
It is true that, as in most parts of the country, political feelings there run high at election times. Our meetings have not the character of a Sunday school, but, on the whole, they are tolerant and good tempered. As is generally known, we have there the difficult problem of a mixed race, some 75 per cent. of the people being British and 25 per cent. Jewish, but in all those long years—and I have fought no fewer than 14 elections there: almost a record—there has been an absence of racial bitterness. Sometimes suspicion and sometimes irritation have been aroused but, on the whole, toleration and good sense have prevailed. Some six months ago there marched into our neighbourhood, in military formation, wearing military uniforms and having all the style and appearance of an army, the members of an organisation which set to work to stir up trouble with, as some people think, the direct purpose of discrediting democracy. In what followed I do not say that the faults were all on one side, because people are only human, and when what many people felt was a challenge was made to the populace in this way it was inevitable that trouble should be stirred up.
When in the last Parliament we had a discussion on a Bill which was introduced by a private Member I did take the line 1375 —and I am sure the Government are right in the course they are taking—that the simplest and best way would be to deal with the whole question of political uniforms. I do not believe that Fascism has made any real progress in the East End of London. As far as I can see, Fascists are still few and far between in my borough. I think it was wise of the right hon. Gentleman to take the line that one could not justify an Act of Parliament to deal merely with one political movement, that the Act must be based on sound general principles if it is to be placed on the Statute Book. We have only to ask ourselves: Is it in the public interest for political parties to wear uniforms? It is appalling to contemplate what would happen in our political life if various political parties, Liberal, Conservative and Labour, started to clothe their special supporters in various forms of uniform. Already the coloured shirts are multiplying. The black shirts are creating the green shirts and the red shirts, and undoubtedly we shall soon see the white shirts, too. Red armies have always produced white armies in retaliation. It is true that in Italy and Germany they do permit the wearing of political uniforms, but it is significant to note that the right is confined to one particular party, and that the party which supports the Government of the day. It is also significant to notice that all the countries which still adhere to Parliamentary forms of Government are making political uniforms illegal. It is so in Sweden—and it is news to me in Finland too—in Switzerland, in Denmark, and in France, and also in the sister State of Ireland. They have found it expedient to and have successfully achieved their purpose, to make uniforms illegal.
No one can say that in the action we are taking here we are showing undue haste. We have been slow to take action and have only done so when the necessity was proved. It may be said that a particular form of clothes is only part of the make-up of a political party. But they will still be free to preach their doctrines. If they are able to persuade the majority of electors, by legal means, to agree with them that it is desirable to have only one party in the State, and that to that party should be given the privilege of 1376 wearing political uniforms, they are perfectly entitled to do so, but in the meantime and under our democratic and Parliamentary system it is obviously undesirable to have uniforms. If they do succeed—which God forbid—it is reasonable to assume, if precedent counts for anything, that they will not permit their political opponents either any particular form of uniform or any freedom of opinion. It is clear from what is happening in the totalitarian States that toleration of either political clothes or political opinions is not part of their ideology.
Coming to the terms of the Bill, I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that he does not attach exceptional importance to every particular word in every particular Clause, and we shall make our contribution towards the endeavour to make the Bill more workable and to remove certain of what we regard as possible infringements of personal liberty. I think he has been wise not to attempt to define a uniform. Some attempts have already been made by private organisations, but the results do not suggest that they have been very successful. It is Clause 2 which it will be necessary to examine very carefully in Committee. It is quite right to stop private armies which attempt to usurp the functions of the police or the armed forces of the Crown, but Sub-section (4) of that Clause, as the right hon. Gentleman has already recognised, will raise some very controversial points. It is a new principle in our law, as the right hon. Gentleman more or less recognised, although he did make one or two exceptions, to lay the onus of proof on the defence in any proceedings. Any Clause attempting to do that ought to be scrutinised most carefully. Perhaps by our united efforts we may be able to find words which will achieve the purpose of the right hon. Gentleman without putting that had precedent into an Act of Parliament.
I was glad that the right hon. Member for Platting took note, with some care, of the proposals relating to processions in Clause 3. There was some correspondence in the Press a few weeks ago, following troubles in the East End of London, in which it was suggested that the Home Secretary should have taken action on his own account to stop the procession. I supported the attitude of the Home Secretary then because it was right and 1377 sound, and obviously according to law, but it would be most unfortunate that on account of the action of one particular party the law should be so altered or changed—if you like, strengthened—to make political processions more difficult and to put them more than they are at present in the hands of the police. One of the most valuable rights of Democracy is that of protesting, in a proper and peaceable way, against what are considered to be unjust Acts of Parliament or the social conditions of a particular area. I hope, therefore, that the House, when it goes into Committee, will scrutinise this Clause very carefully with a view to amending it in the direction of seeing that not too much power is put into the hands of the chief officers of police in any district.
I suggest that we might throw into the pool seine of the experience of Scotland. I rather gather from remarks which have been made that the Scots very much desire more power to be given to the police, but my friends and I would like to preserve the rights of the private citizen to test in the courts the legality of police decisions. It seems important not to vest too much power in the police. Our commissioners of police, especially at Scotland Yard, and the chief officers throughout the country, have done their difficult task generally fairly and with impartiality, but it is not wise, on the whole, to put too much uncontrolled power into their hands. I recognise that happenings last September or October in the East End of London seemed to require some strengthening of the law; on the other hand, the police intervened at the right time and managed the difficult situation with skill and judgment and to the general approval of the whole of London, apart from the inevitable few critics who are always inclined to find fault.
I will take this opportunity to make some remarks about the police. It is most unfortunate that much of the criticism on the police should have been made. The police are, after all, a regrettable evil; we have not come to that state of perfection in which we could do without them. When we consider that our police are a civilian force and in the discharge of their duties are far superior, certainly to those in any European country, and, !I go so far as to say, to the police force of that other great Democracy, the United States of 1378 America, it is a pity for attacks to be made upon them. On the other hand, it is equally unwise to glorify the police and give them too much power, and to allow them to have too great authority.
I was very much interested in the right hon. Gentleman's explanation of Clause 5. I was surprised that it was thought necessary to put a Clause of this character into the Bill. I thought the law already strong enough to deal with provocative language, as it is already dealt with in the Metropolitan area. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that the law in other parts of the country is behind that of London, that the Clause brings the general standard of the country up to that of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, and that the Clause is merely to clarify the purpose and the intentions of that Act while making it more effective by increasing the penalties.
So far as I am aware we are in almost general agreement upon Clause 6. The right of free speech and frank discussion is essential for the smooth working of Parliamentary government but I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that there is no suggestion that the smashing-up of meetings is a practice confined to any one political party. I have had one meeting smashed up. It happened many years ago when I was a candidate in a Southern constituency. I have had stormy meetings, with interruptions from all quarters of the hall, but it has been very difficult to identify the political opinions of the interrupters, except that I knew that they were not my supporters. The right hon. Gentleman will probably admit that he has not yet achieved the right way of bringing about our purpose. It is attempting a good deal to ask the chairman to be responsible. It is not easy to be the chairman at a meeting because it is not a very pleasant job, and if the Government invest the chairman with this very invidious duty of taking action to prosecute, they will make the task of political parties in finding men to take the chair at meetings much more difficult than it is. We should try, by our united efforts, to improve this Clause.
I am not very keen upon the idea of responsibility being put upon the police. Anybody who has long practical experience, as I have, of various kinds of meetings in different parts of the country, would agree that, if you wish to spoil 1379 a meeting, have the police there. We ought to make this purpose effective somehow, and sooner or later we shall devise a better way. The success of free discussion requires that there be no suggestion of intimidation in respect of what is very essential for any kind of political propaganda, the right to interrupt in an orderly way and to do what is called in Scotland "heckle"—a word which has been accepted in England. We must see whether we can do a little better than this Clause to preserve something which is vital to Democracy, the right of free discussion and of public meeting, carried on in an orderly way.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the recent speech of the Prime Minister in which he said that Democracy was on its trial and was necessarily slower than dictatorships and other forms of government. I do not believe that that is so. If the Government are prepared to lead, they can always be sure of a rapid response. The Bill can be an example of that rapid response. The Government are giving a lead; we shall co-operate in making the law efficient without, I hope, making it unjust. The Bill may be an example of Parliament at its best as a Council of State in which we all recognise that we are responsible for improving and amending the law. I hope the Bill will be kept upon the Floor of the House so that every Member may take a share in making it a good Act of Parliament, so that it may achieve its purpose in protecting Democracy from attack by foreign methods and at the same time preserve freedom and personal liberty in every form of public meeting.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. PICKTHORN
I agree with what the hon. Baronet has said about the police as a necessary evil, and, indeed, in regarding all exercises of Government as necessary evils, particularly all exercise of legislation, and most of all that which is forced upon us by disorder or the threat of it. Therefore I think it reasonable to approach the Bill without any very great enthusiasm. Nor am I much comforted by the extent to which it is an agreed Measure. It is not necessary to be a Marxist, or even a very complete Hegelian, to think that, in this place at least, the proper method of progress is 1380 by thesis, antithesis and synthesis. I am more comforted by the variety of criticism of the Measure than I am by the variety of support. I am more comforted by the fact that it is denounced as contrary to British principles by that "Fuehrer" or "Duce" who has been most notorious for importing foreign methods and by the fact that it has been denounced as excessively increasing the power of the executive by some Members of the party opposite, whose whole philosophy is that the power of the executive should be increased until it is complete and covers everything.
Even though I am not a lawyer, I venture to think that some of the criticism from hon. Members opposite, is not, even in technical law, altogether tenable. Hon. Members seem to assume that there is some kind of common law right to hold processions on a highway, apparently by analogy with the holding of meetings on a common. I believe that to be entirely a mistake. A highway is a piece of land over which the public possesses the right of way, but possesses no other right. It is a highway because it is implicitly or explicitly dedicated to the purpose of passing and repassing, and any person who uses it for any other purpose becomes, I believe, in a true view of the common law, a trespasser. It is very difficult to think that marching in formation in threes or sixes is ordinary use of the right of passage on the highway; nor is it easy to think that landowners, who, in the view of the law, own the roots (so to speak) of the roads, welcome processions of that sort.
It seems to be assumed in many criticisms that the police may prevent a procession only if that is the only way to prevent a breach of the peace. I suggest that the police have much wider powers than that, and can always stop a procession because it interferes with the ordinary use of the highway. I think that that really is the correct view of that matter. As regards the objection about our traditions, we have already been reminded that this is not by any means the first time that this House has dealt with the use of liveries for political purposes; and in our traditions, as far as I have been able to study them, when new applications of public law are necessary to meet fears about the peace, and especially fears arising from new applications of more or less organised man- 1381 power—when that has happened in the past there have been three traditional methods of dealing with it. One was by the use of special tribunals like the Star Chamber, for instance; another was by the development of the law—by construction of law; and the third was by legislation. I cannot believe that any of the critics of the Bill really suppose that either the first or the second of these methods would be superior to the method of legislation. Star Chambers are clearly out of date—
§ Mr. PICKTHORN
I think a great deal could be said to improve the understanding of that matter from many points of view, if I had sufficient time to expound t to the House, but I am afraid the Chair would not allow me to do so. If that method is not followed, I take it that no one from the Left would recommend the method of construction. The law of unlawful assembly is almost all modern, consisting of very difficult case-law which is extremely confused: modern, for the obvious reason that, as long as Government is happy if it can avoid continual treason, it does not bother much about riot, and as long as Government is almost every day faced with the necessity of dealing with riot, it does not bother much about unlawful assembly. The law of unlawful assembly has been a matter of recent development of the law by cases which are extremely confusing, and I take it that no one really thinks that further development along that line at this moment to deal with this admitted emergency is necessary. Therefore, there is nothing left to us but legislation and some Bill of this sort appears to be more or less the best way.
If we are to have some Bill of this sort, the crucial question seems to be: is it to be based upon definition or indefinition? There are many reasons why one's natural prejudice should be in favour of the maximum of definition, but the more one looks at it the more doubtful it becomes. The lawyer who has most bitterly criticised this Bill, as far as I know, says of the two words in Clause 1, "political" and "uniform," that neither of these words is defined, "nor can be." Once you admit that the words cannot be defined, there is a very strong argument for proceeding by some other method than definition. 1382 Although, no doubt, all our discussions would gain if all terms capable of definition were defined, yet I think they would suffer very much if we used no terms not capable of definition. A great poet and critic said recently that he was unable to define poetry. A terrier could not define a rat, but a terrier knows a rat when it sees one; "and I," he said, "think I know poetry when I see it." That is a perfectly relevant and fair argument for some dispensing with definition.
But clearly not all the advantage is on the side of indefinition and clearly, the more indefinition there is, the more want of definition, the more must there be of interpretation. That brings me to what I believe to be the two tender points in this Bill, which ought to be most carefully considered. One is the suspicion of the invasion of the ordinary safeguards of the individual, and the other is the risk there may be of over-emphasising the distinction between the police and the public. To the question who is to interpret, the natural answer is, the courts It is a very difficult question to decide from reading the Bill. One competent, or at least distinguished and learned, lawyer complained of it that it left the duty of interpretation to the police. I believe that to be largely a misunderstanding; but, if it be a misunderstanding which can be fallen into by a professed lawyer, it clearly shows the need of clarification: and, even if interpretation is to be by the courts, I think we ought to inquire a little more into the manner in which the courts are going to perform it.
The nearest analogy I can find is that of sedition. We all know that sedition cannot really be defined; the things which in the books are called definitions are really only very loose descriptions. Phrases like this are used: "To raise discontent"; "to promote ill-will between different sections of the community." Obviously, if these were taken as binding definitions, there could be no political discussion at all. The safeguard has been that they will be interpreted by the courts, and in particular it has been said that you will not go to prison for sedition unless 12 very ordinary men think you ought to go there. We ought to understand much more clearly than we do how far that safeguard is going to apply to the, I think properly, undefined words in this Bill. In that connection I 1383 should like to refer, as probably every speaker must, to Sub-section (4) of Clause 2, where there seems to me to remain, in spite of what was said by the Home Secretary in introducing the Bill, a great deal that leans towards putting the weight of proof on the unusual side, that interferes with, at any rate, the normal rules of evidence, and that brings, if I understand these things sufficiently, a rule which is generally applicable only in civil cases—the rule of things speaking for themselves—excessively into criminal cases. That Subsection, I suggest, is not a Committee point, but it is of the essence of the Bill that we should all keep it clearly in view. It might be desirable, for example, under that Sub-section, that the person doing the act should be proved in court to be a member of the association; and, rather similarly, in one or two places in the Bill I think it might be made clearer that malice is explicitly required to be proved on the part of the accused, or that reason is explicitly required to be proved in regard to the action of the Ministerial officer.
The second general respect in which the Bill seems to me to require careful scrutiny is that it may perhaps tend to an excessive dividing between people and police—I do not mean setting them at hostility with each other, but making them too wholly distinguishable from each other. To make unlawful an association for the purpose of usurping the functions of the police seems to me to be quite right if all possible weight is placed on the word "association," And especially on the word "usurp"; but the word "usurp," although its primary dictionary meaning is something of this sort, "to take unlawfully," is usually employed where the usurpation means that the other person cannot remain in the enjoyment of the thing usurped. If anyone usurps another's crown, or another's seat, or what not, the other man cannot have it. But I suggest that, if the word "usurp" be used in the Clause without further definition and without clearness of mind, in that sort of connotation it becomes a dangerous word.
It has always been the law of this country that every man was not merely entitled, but bound, for instance, to dis- 1384 perse an unlawful assembly. There is the classic direction to the jury in the case of the Bristol riots, which I would read if I did not fear it would weary the House. An habitual readiness to follow that principle seems to me to be the real foundation of all our liberties. I think it was a governess, a butcher's boy and a curate who got in the way of the gunman who killed Sir Henry Wilson until the police came along; and there was Mr. Fisk, the Battersea bricklayer who seized a gunman making away with money from a till, and who, although threatened with a pistol, held on to him, though he was shot almost to pieces; he survived very much maimed. These are the real defenders of our liberty, and I think that any risk of appearing to make too wide a distinction between what a policeman may or should do and what Mr. Fisk or you or I may or should do, should be avoided. If the words in the. Bill do already avoid it, I hope we shall have that authoritatively expounded to us, and that, if not, we may find it possible to make the words clearer in Committee.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. CHATER
I want to join with other Members who have thanked the Home Secretary for the very clear manner in which he introduced the Bill; and I want to go a little further and thank him for the exceedingly prompt manner in which the Government have brought forward the Bill. The dangers which we see in the East End of London, a constituency of which I have the honour to represent and which happens to be the headquarters where these conditions have grown up, have made this Bill a necessity; and one of the great necessities of the situation is that it shall be dealt with promptly and as a matter of urgency. I have had the misfortune to be compelled to watch these conditions come into existence and to note their growth. It may be that hon. Members who represent constituencies in other parts of the country can scarcely appreciate, so keenly as those of us who represent these constituencies do, how urgent it is that these matters should be dealt with.
I think one can say with truth that in the East End of London within the last year the conditions have entirely changed. We have watched the irruption into that 1385 area of a new political force. That force —I am not one who desires to mince words—is, of course, the Fascist movement which is being introduced into this country. We have witnessed men marching along our streets, and, indeed, I myself, at the last General Election, had the experience of seeing 200 Fascists in uniform marching for the express purpose of attending a meeting which I was to address. I suggest to hon. Members in all parts of the House that, if men march in a semi-military uniform and in military formation, and if they are going to a political meeting in that manner, one is justified in assuming that they do not go there for a very peaceful or orderly purpose.
In addition to that, there is the deliberate slanderous propaganda that has been hurled against the Jewish race for something like 12 or 18 months. I myself have seen groups of Fascists standing outside Jewish shops shouting at customers who were likely to go in, in order to prevent them from dealing at those shops; I have listened to groups of Fascists hurling insulting remarks at Jews; and only quite recently, travelling on the top of an omnibus, I had to listen to a group of 15 Fascists, accompanied by a Fascist officer in uniform, singing a most obscene song about Jews. I submit that this is not the only part of the activities of these people to which we have reason to take objection. There is scarcely any night in Bethnal Green without some meeting or other taking place. Very large numbers of police have to be drafted into the division night after night to make sure that public peace is preserved, and when a condition of affairs has arisen where the taxpayers have to bear the expense of large forces of police, there is something wrong with a political propaganda that entails such a cost. We are not used to it in this country and we do not desire it to become a feature of our political life.
Whatever criticism we may eventually level against some details of the Measure —perhaps not so much criticism as a desire to improve it with the object of guarding against overdoing it in the sense of restricting liberties—it is very necessary that the Bill should be made thoroughly effective and that there should be no delay in passing it into law, because although at present it may be 1386 said with a certain degree of truth that passions are more or less in a state of suspended animation, probably because of the knowledge that the Bill was coming before the House, yet those passions are by no means assuaged. If a certain political organisation is to be permitted to train itself in a semi-military fashion, to march in the streets of our borough in military formation, to wear military uniform, and to conduct its meetings in a manner calculated to put fear into our hearts with the idea that we shall not dare to oppose Fascist propaganda, unless some action is taken to prevent that kind of thing there is only one alternative to the democratic movement in the East End, and that is for us to take the necessary steps to organise ourselves efficiently and effectively as an opposition force to the Fascists.
In the final analysis, when racial hatred has been stirred up to the point that people have become practically vicious in their feelings towards the Jewish race, that can only lead to one thing, that we shall have two organised camps which sooner or later must meet in violent physical force and lead to a great deal of public disorder, and possibly bloodshed. On the other hand, I am convinced that this constant preaching night after night, this implanting of the idea in the minds of the people that practically all their troubles are due to the Jews who reside there, must sooner or later lead to an outbreak of disorder directed especially to the pillage and destruction of Jewish property.
I have watched the whole growth of this kind of propaganda in the East End and I am not afraid to state that, observing it as carefully as one can, it coincides in every particular with the methods, the manner of the propaganda and the psychology which was created in other lands and which led to the establishment of dictatorships there. No one can read the Fascist journals, no one can attend their meetings, no one can watch the somewhat clever and subtle manner in which the whole of the propaganda is directed to make it centre round one individual without perceiving that the idea behind it all is that this House of Parliament is useless for the purpose of democracy and that the only alternative is to vest the whole power of the nation 1387 in one individual. That is the intention of this propaganda. I regret as much as any democrat can to have to stand in the British House of Commons and give support to a Measure which, after all, means a certain restriction of our liberties. On the other hand, I am happy in the knowledge that democracy is sufficiently wise to recognise that, if it desires to preserve its own liberties, it must be wise and generous enough to submit to some measure of discipline itself in order that those liberties may be preserved.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
We have listened to a remarkably interesting speech. The hon. Member has given us a picture of life in the East End as a background to some extent of this Bill. The remarkable unanimity that we have had in all parts of the House is an impressive witness to the world of the determination of Great Britain to maintain its democratic institutions. In normal times I, like the hon. Member, would approach this Bill with considerable repugnance and distrust for, after all, it gives the police new powers and creates new offences. But these are not normal times. We have in country after country witnessed democracy collapse under the hammer blows of force. Only in the relatively brief period of the Parliamentary Recess we have seen no fewer than three popular Governments either perish or become so enfeebled that they are already ripe for the sickle. I refer to Greece, Rumania and Spain. The downfall of every democracy since the War, I believe, can be traced to one root cause, failure of democratic government to realise the danger in time and to take resolute and courageous action. Democracy has been struck again and again, and it has not had the courage to strike back. I admit that in many countries the democratic Governments were in a very difficult position. Many of these popular Governments had to meet the full blast of Soviet propaganda in the flood tide of the Russian triumph. They dealt weakly with it and, in consequence, they were faced with a new and formidable propaganda of a similar kind from the right. Faced with this double menace, popular Governments were like frightened rabbits, unable to flicker an eyelid or move a muscle, with a ferret at one hole 1388 and a snare net at the other. You saw the position of the Social Democrats in Germany. They went on obstinately playing the democratic game when shots were being fired at the referee and when a powerful section of the spectators were determined that no game should be played at all.
You cannot conduct a fair match when one side is playing with a ball and the other with bombs and, if democracy is to survive, it must be conducted according to definite and recognised rule. One of them is that no political party should resort to any weapon other than reason and argument. The introduction of private armies, as I see it, strikes at the root of democracy. I know it is contended that the Blackshirts are not armed and, therefore, are not an army, but I do not think that argument can be upheld. Few would dispute that the labour corps in Germany is a quasi-military organisation, although I understand it slopes arms only with spades. Uniformed men in military formation suggest, and are meant to suggest, the idea of force. It is no argument to reply that at this or that demonstration no force is intended. It is an inescapable fact that a uniform in politics symbolises force, to be used either now or in the future. As I see it, it is inimical to the safety of the State that there should be bands of uniformed and disciplined men owning allegiance primarily not to the King but to the leader of a political party. There is always the danger in the modern State that these men may be used in time of revolutionary ferment to occupy key positions—the Bank of England, the Battersea Power Station, Broadcasting House—and from there they might well be in a position, although a minority of the country, to capture the machinery of government. I think that a very remote risk but it is one which any popular Government worthy of the name must guard against.
I see this Bill not primarily directed against the Fascist armies but against all political armies. It is a protection of democracy. I cannot see that there is any justification in Sir Oswald Mosley's contention that this is discriminatory legislation. After all, all of us can be unseated at an election even if we distribute trumpery favours to our own youthful supporters, and why should Sir Oswald Mosley imagine that he can 1389 acquire a whole army with all the wardrobe of military accoutrements? They have their uniform. Why should not their opponents have them too? The triumph of the Nazis in Germany is an awful warning of the conditions that may be created when the battle is set not between rival parties but between rival uniforms. I remember arriving in Germany early in 1932 and being met at the railway station and asked if I would prefer to go to a theatre that night or go to see a. Communist-Fascist riot in a working-class district. I said, of course, "A Communist-Fascist riot every time." The growth of political armies even at that period had reached such an extent, and disorder was so widespread, that whatever meeting I attended, whether Social Democrat or Nazi, or Communist, there were as many troops outside the meeting guarding it from enemy attack as there were men and women inside listening to the speeches, such a pass had democracy reached.
There is this further danger signal from that party as I see it. The Central Government allowed these armies to grow unchecked, and it was not until they had reached a formidable size that they then stepped in and tried to ban them. It was too late. The order was not obeyed. The situation had passed beyond the grip of the executive. I fully admit that the parallel of Germany can be carried too far, but I do not think that it is one that ought to be ignored. If we are going to ban uniforms, let it be now when they are numbered in thousands, and not wait until they are numbered in hundreds of thousands. There are some parts of this Bill which, I am sure, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would admit, need very careful attention in Committee. I was a little alarmed at some reference he made to provocative banners. I do not know what a banner is unless it is provocative. I think that it is highly dangerous that we should give to the police the power of saying that a banner, "Down with the Means Test," "Down with the House of Lords," "Down with the Socialists," or even, "Down with the National Government," was provocative. We ought to guard that Clause most carefully.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
The law of the land is sufficient at present to deal with the matter, and I am reluctant to see it extended.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
We shall discuss these questions exhaustively in Committee, but I welcome the fact that the intention in this Bill to ban political uniforms and private armies is firm and final. I am less certain when I come to the Clauses which deal with one of the ostensible causes, at any rate, which brought these black shirts into existence—the existence of widespread disorder up and down the country at political meetings. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said this afternoon that he did not like the association of the police with public meetings. Nor do I. But I wonder whether Members of the Labour party really sufficiently realise what it is that Liberal and Conservative speakers have to endure at an election. If they did, they would really be horrified and would be as anxious as we are to preserve the rights of free speech. I am not referring to ordinary heckling—"Down with the Means Test and so on"—which it is good for any candidate to have to face. I am referring to the shouting down of a candidate and the prevention of unpopular views being heard at all.
I know that every party has a bad record in this matter. The Liberals shouted down the Boer War and I believe that the Conservatives had a very bad time on the question of Chinese labour, and that there were Labour pacifists at the election of 1918, when people were chased over back gardens, and altogether had a very unpleasant time. But there is a difference between that and the present disorder at public meetings. In the old days it was due to some great mass emotion which swept judgment aside, but we now have shouting down that is organised, systematic and cold-blooded. It does not matter what a speaker says and how anxious he is not to be provocative, he nevertheless is shouted down, and that is something which really cannot be tolerated. In some parts of this country it is impossible to get a hearing at all from the beginning of an election to the end of it. That is 1391 a situation which cannot be tolerated in a free country.
I wonder whether Clause 6 is sufficiently strong to deal with this problem? Why should the onus of the prosecution of these wreckers rest upon the organiser of the meeting who, in fact, would probably be the candidate? I listened very attentively to the powerful arguments that were put forward by the Home Secretary on the subject, and I cannot say that I am altogether convinced. He says that he wants, as it were, to put teeth into the Bill, but I think that it is still, with this Clause, pretty toothless. I believe that, with the elaborate process of taking the name and the address, and then reporting the case to the organiser of the meeting who will have to consult with his executive as to whether a prosecution shall be taken, the Clause may well be a dead letter. I do not think that many candidates will be willing, in the midst of a hotly contested election, to risk the possible repercussion of an unsuccessful prosecution or even a successful one. If the breaking up of a public meeting is a crime—and it is scheduled as such in the Bill—and the police are present when a serious offence is committed, ought it not to be the police who should make themselves responsible, not merely for apprehending the offender, but for bringing him to justice?
I can well understand the reluctance of the police to undertake this task, but I do not think that in the maintenance of public order, which, after all, is the foundation of political liberty, they have any right to wash their hands completely of responsibility. The Home Secretary seemed to think that we who support such an amendment visualise a whole series of police prosecutions. I do not at all. I think that the good sense of our people will see that such a power is not abused. All that is required is a deterrent to organised rowdyism, and I believe that it would be sufficient, as this is a law-abiding people with a wholesome fear of the police, if it were known that organised rowdyism would be put down with the utmost rigour of the law for it to be effectively checked. I have to admit in this connection that, with regard to possible prosecutions under such a clause, though I was a most vehement 1392 opponent of the Incitement to Disaffectation Bill, that there has not been a single prosecution under it. This is a point which will be discussed in Committee, and it may be that I shall be convinced by the Home Secretary upon it.
The vital fact contained in the Bill is that the existence of a private army is a menace to our liberty. What disturbed me most in the Communist-Fascist riots in the East End was the way in which they were exploited by Sir Oswald Mosley in an effort to prove that the Executive Government were too weak to keep order. That seems to me to be highly dangerous. You have only to read the Fascist propaganda to see that that is the line of attack. This is what he said:This is the first occasion—that Sunday afternoon—on which the British Government has openly surrendered to the Red Terror.Here are some of the comments in "Action," the Fascist organ:The Home Office has been thrust into the mud of humiliation.The combined resources of Jewish finance and Muscovite subversion have been mobilised to show the people of Britain that they can no longer claim the right to walk their own streets.The Government has thus proved its impotence to maintain order.As I read those words my mind went back to the Germany that I knew in the last days of German democracy. The parallel is almost exact. The British Fascists are adopting exactly the same tactics as the Nazis in Germany. The Nazis went out like the British Fascists with their banners and their uniforms and their route marches deliberately to provoke the Communists to riot, and, like the British Fascists, when they had succeeded in doing it and turned the streets into a shambles, they mocked the Central Government because they were unable to maintain peace, and in the end they were able to pose as the only party that could restore the order that they themselves had destroyed.
§ Mr. FLEMING
Will the hon. Gentleman complete the picture by telling the House what party was in power at that time in Germany?
§ Mr. BERNAYS
There were several parties in power; the Social Democrats 1393 at one time, and the Central party. I do not think that it alters my point at all. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had listened to my speech he would have realised that I was blaming the Central Government for being too weak, and I was rejoicing that this Bill showed that the Government here were not prepared to allow the same thing to happen in England. This melancholy history must not be allowed to repeat itself in this country, and this Bill, as I see it, represents the determination of the Government that it shall not so repeat itself. Sir Oswald Mosley and any other would-be dictator will find to his cost that the Central Government in England still has a long and a strong arm and that this derided House of Commons, which has fought and beaten in its time barons, monarchs and oligarchies, and vested interests, and even the Trades Union Congress itself, has not lost its nerve and its strength.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I do not intend to follow the argument of the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays), but I noticed in the Press that it was said that all the parties in this House were in agreement with regard to this Measure. That statement is not true, because the party which I represent certainly is not prepared to accept any responsibility whatever with regard to the Bill. We have carefully examined its provisions, and while there are parts of the Bill with which we agree, at the same time we regard it as a Measure which in the future may be used to the very great disadvantage of the working-class movement in the working-class struggle for power in this country. We recognise the special circumstances which have been responsible for the introduction of the Measure. In view of the terror in the East End, for which the British Union of Fascists have been responsible, we realise that the Government are faced with the question of taking some sort of action to deal with what has been going on and with the possibility of private armies coming into existence in Britain. My party certainly consider that if the Fascists were to be allowed to usurp the power of the police and the Army in this country in the way that they are doing, it would be necessary for the working-class move- 1394 ment also to have its militia to deal with the Fascists in this country. Although that necessity arose for legislation, I believe that much is being done in this Bill that may afterwards be used in a wrong way against the legitimate struggle of the working classes under the ordinary democratic constitution of this country.
I have listened to the whole of the Debate and I recognise that the Home Secretary made a very excellent speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. He was as plausible as usual, but on many points he did not convince me. In the discussion hon. Members have referred to the intolerable interference with free speech. The hon. Member for North Bristol wondered whether Members of the Labour party realised the intolerable position that some of their opponents had to endure during the General Election, when their candidates could scarcely be heard. In spite of these things happening, I do not think there was any general desire in the House that legislation should be brought forward to deal with incidents of that kind, although they are a bad sign. It has also been recognised that we have all had to suffer in turn in that respect. During the last General Election the supporters of hon. Members opposite made a most unprovoked attack upon my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and his wife. It was such a violent and ferocious attack that their lives were in danger in Bridgeton. My hon. Friend increased his majority because the vast majority of intelligent people in that constituency are not supporters of hon. Members opposite. My hon. Friend did not come here and demand legislation to deal with that kind of incident.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Hon. Members opposite may have had similar experiences, but they did not come here pressing urgently for legislation to deal with them. The occasion for the Bill has been what happened in the East End of London. The British Union of Fascists in this country started on the Italian model but met with no success. They did not indulge in anti-Semitic propaganda to any very large extent. Their 1395 divinely inspired leader, whether or not because of the fact that his own children might be regarded as Jews in consequence of their Leiter ancestry, did not encourage it; but the Hitler model was adopted, and the East End of London is practically the only part of the country where they have been able to make any headway with the lowest and most vile propaganda that could be indulged in. That has created such a situation that members of all parties agree that something has to be done to stop the development of such events as have happened in the East End, otherwise they would have the result that every party would have to create its own private army to deal with the situation. While there is a certain amount of agreement in regard to that phase of the situation, my colleagues and I have a good deal of apprehension in regard to some of the Clauses of the Bill.
Our experience has been that although it is regarded as a well recognised principle that all are equal before the law, in practice it does not work out that way. We talk about democratic institutions, but we know that there is just as intolerable a tyranny against free speech in those districts under the power of squirearchy as would be the case under a Mosley regime. An individual in many of our villages would not dare at a meeting to give indication of support for any case that I might put forward. Therefore, we feel that that part of the Bill which seeks to strengthen the Public Meetings Act and to enable the local policeman to ask for the name and address of an individual in a meeting would make it impossible for that individual to find employment afterwards in a large area. We have to face up to these things. Moreover, I do not feel that confidence in our law courts which is felt by other hon. Members. I am a lawyer, and I would say this about our law courts, that where the issue to be determined is an issue that has no class interest, the decisions may be regarded as wonderful models of ability and fairness, but when the class interest is there I do not trust many of our law courts.
§ Mr. FLEMING
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member referring to the High Court or only to the magistrates?
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I am referring to them all. You may find it at the Old Bailey or in the ordinary police court. I will give the illustrations I have in mind, which will possibly clear up the matter.
§ Mr. FLEMING
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member entitled to criticise what happens at the Old Bailey?
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Perhaps I shall not need to go very far with the instances I was going to give, because the hon. and learned Member has already proved my point by his obvious unwillingness to have even on the Floor of this House an illustration given. As a member of the profession like myself, it is obvious that he has a guilty conscience. Bearing upon this Measure, we have information, for which London Members of our party are responsible, which shows that the trouble in London has been due to the fact that the police and the magistrates have been inclined to take sides, and that in some other districts one of the factors which aggravated the situation was the obvious partiality of the police. I want to be quite fair on this matter, and possibly some hon. Members may say that the police in their own district were probably partial to the other side.In one case a young lad asserted that a policeman tripped defendant while she was running, and another policeman hit her. The magistrate immediately informed him that if he made any more such statements he would seriously consider committing him for perjury.In another case when a witness had given evidence the magistrate stated that he thought thatMrs. Isaacs' statement was a complete fabrication, and this was due to the fact that she was Jewish and had thought fit to ally herself with the Communists.Here is a magistrate acting in that way and showing bias. It was the same magistrate in each case. Hon. Members of all parties must realise that if a magistrate can act in that biased way we need to be very careful in regard to a Measure like this.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
Can the hon. Member give the House the source of his information? It is very important. If it is true, it is a very serious allegation.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I am informed that it is in a report in the "Times." The man was convicted and sentenced to two months' imprisonment. He was charged with an assault on the police, and the witness to whom I have referred was giving evidence in favour of the defence. In both cases it was the same magistrate. In one case there was a sentence of two months' imprisonment and in the other case, where a Fascist was in a similar position, the sentence was held over. There is the partiality of magistrates. I want to point out, in connection with the penalties, that a penalty of £50 would be matter for a smile by Sir Oswald Mosley but a very serious matter for one like myself and for some members of our movement an absolute disaster. In connection with penalties no account is taken of the position as between rich and poor. These matters should have very serious consideration in Committee.
On Clause 1, Sub-section (2) the Home Secretary drew attention to the different procedure in Scotland, and suggested that it was necessary to have this provision in order to make things the same for both countries. I should like the Lord Advocate to tell us whether in his opinion it is going to work out as the Home Secretary suggested. Before any action can arise under Clause 1 the Attorney-General has to see the papers or be consulted on the matter. As things are in Scotland the papers might never be seen by the Lord Advocate. The superintendent of police or the local Fiscal might deal with the case. If it is the opinion that these matters are so serious as to justify the attention of the Attorney-General in England, I think they should have the personal attention of the Lord Advocate in Scotland.
I think the circumstances now are such that some provision on the wearing of uniforms is necessary. We are agreed on that. With regard to the question of definition, I was interested in what the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) said, but at the same time I think you will probably have to have some sort of definition and not 1398 simply leave it that we all know a uniform when we see it. I am rather doubtful sometimes in the evenings in this House and wonder whether I should be right in saying that hon. Members opposite were wearing uniforms. Clause 2, in my opinion, will require a great deal of attention because there is a danger that picketing in connection with a trade union dispute might be covered by it. In the circumstances of a great industrial dispute I would not trust the court of the hon. Members opposite. It might appear to hon. Members opposite and to some of our judges that possibly our whole system was in danger by the greatness of the dispute. Therefore, I enter a warning here that as far as this is concerned there will have to be a far clearer definition so that there can be no interference with legitimate picketing by members of trade unions in defence of trade union rights.
Clause 3, I think, is quite unnecessary. The present position has worked fairly satisfactorily. There have been magisterial decisions which we think were unfortunate. On one occasion the biggest demonstration which ever took place in Glasgow was prohibited, the May Day demonstration during the War, but, notwithstanding the fact that the magistrates banned it, the demonstration went on and was perhaps the most successful May Day demonstration which ever took place in the City of Glasgow. I am doubtful about the attempt in the Bill to give this statutory power in the way proposed by the Clause. Just as the Home Secretary pointed to the advantages of not making a definition of "uniform," but said we should leave the matter in a general way, so I think, with regard to demonstrations, that it is as well not to try and make it too definite if you do not want to have a lot of trouble in the future. I have no objection to Clause 4, but would make this proviso: I remember the occasion of a hunger march some years ago when the Home Secretary of that day told us that they were armed with deadly weapons; they had walking sticks filled with nails. As a matter of fact, the walking sticks which some of the ex-service men who have been crippled in the War were using were worn-out at the end, the ferrule at the end had worn out, and they had put in nails instead.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Yes, a few had razors. Some of them did shave on the march. Possibly hon. Members would like them to have grown beards by the time they reached London. But there were no razors except for the legitimate purpose of shaving. The Home Secretary of that day and the police got quite excited and tried to make out a case for themselves. Even with regard to sticks in processions I am not making any demand that the processionists should be allowed to carry walking sticks, but I think it is worth while drawing the attention of the House to the extraordinary exaggeration of the Home Secretary and the police of those days in regard to this particular hunger march. We have the greatest suspicion with regard to Clause 5. The Home Secretary has told us that it is an old law, 1839 in the case of the Metropolis, and 1847 so far as the rest of the country is concerned, and that this is an attempt to make it general to the whole country. The right hon. Gentleman also pointed out that additional penalties are to be imposed. Hon. Members will notice that the censor as to whether the words uttered are likely to cause a breach of the peace is the police constable. That is a great danger when additional penalties are about to be imposed.
We have had a lot of experience in connection with this matter. During the War one of our members was taken into court. The words complained of as being likely to cause a breach of the peace were "Mothers of England loathed in their hearts the thought of war." The police constable thought it was a dangerous statement. The man was charged, taken into court and fined There was another case which impressed itself upon my memory. One of our prominent Socialist agitators, one of the greatest men Scotland has produced, the late John MacLean, was charged in court, and the police constable in giving evidence referred to some of the words he had used. I remember well how astonished we were at ordinary words, used again and again by Socialist agitators, being used in court as if they were the most terrible crime. I am not content to leave the position as it will be under the Bill so far as this matter is concerned, when, I was going to say, an illiterate policeman, who scarcely knows the meaning of words, is going to have the opportunity of going 1400 into court on a case like this. When it comes to people who are higher up, they are wiser and will stop in some cases, although in others they may not. Every organisation seeks to defend the actions of its less intelligent members, even when they have committed a "bloomer."
If you are going to deal with this matter some precautions must be inserted in the Bill. In the Committee stage we shall certainly seek to have this Clause omitted or materially modified. I have stated our general attitude to the Bill. I am not at all sure in my own mind that the Government have not already sufficient powers to deal with all the events that have occurred. I believe that under this Bill they are taking powers which may be used against the working class in its struggle for power in this country. In the Committee stage we shall seek to modify the Bill materially in order to try to protect the interests of the working class.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Commander BOWER
In my remarks this evening I shall confine myself entirely to the latter part of the Bill, in other words, Clause 5 and particularly Clause 6. Like another hon. Member who has spoken from these benches, I am very gravely concerned about the organised hooliganism and complete denial of free speech which take place up and down the country, and particularly, in my own experience, in the Northern industrial constituencies. I wish to make it clear that when I speak of organised hooliganism, I do not mean the heckling which any candidate must expect; I do not even mean the exuberance of young boys and girls who come out for a lark—I mean fully-organised, deliberate hooliganism: rowdyism, intimidation, violence, obscene abuse, and in some cases personal violence inflicted upon members of my party. Various hon. Members have said that this is common to all parties. They are right, but I have yet to learn that members of the party opposite in general have to put up with what we have to suffer. I have often thought it is a great pity that more Members on our Front Bench—and not only on the Front Bench, but Members on the back benches who are fortunate enough to be able to purchase safe seats—cannot experience what some of us in the North 1401 have to experience in the front-line trenches. Perhaps the most regrettable aspect of the matter is that these attacks are not confined to the candidates, but are extended to their womenfolk, not only the loyal working class women who do such wonderful work for us in districts where they are in a minority, but the women of all classes who go to the meetings and have to suffer the utmost indignities.
I think this Bill does not go far enough in protecting us against such things. Shortly after the last General Election, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that this rowdyism was largely due to the provocative attitude taken up by what, I think, he called inexperienced young Tory candidates. I must say that that was rather a disingenuous statement, because I think the House will agree with me that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield is rather an artist in provocation himself—he hold belts and medals for it. But I think he has never had gangs going to his meetings in Wakefield and stamping, screaming, using obscene abuse and kicking the shins of the womenfolk until they are black and blue, which has happened to my wife and others. That does not happen in the case of hon. Members opposite, but it happens in our case all over the North and North-East. I am one of the few who is able to say that in this House, because unfortunately it happens mostly in constituencies which we do not represent here.
All platform speaking must be, in a sense, provocative to one's opponents. Are we to be confined, for fear of being provocative, to dreary platitudes? Are we to follow the example of those Labour candidates to whom Lord Snowden referred the other day? Are we to forgo the wonderful opportunities that are given to us by hon. Members opposite of criticising their programme, such as it is, their lack of unity, their lack of leadership, and their peculiarly inconsistent attitude on disarmament and foreign policy? Above all, are we not to use the wonderful ammunition which is put into our mouths by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who has just given us another wonderful speech to use.
§ Commander BOWER
I continually say that I approve of the means test, and when I say that, I always get more sympathy than otherwise from my audience. I am afraid I am being provocative, but the sort of violence—there is no other word for it—with which we have to put up is a very serious matter. I support this Bill because it goes a little way in the direction of protecting us and the thousands of loyal working-class supporters of our party. Those people are in a minority; they live in areas among people who cannot regard politics, shall I say in the way that we regard them in this House? They live among people who regard Tory working-class individuals as being traitors to their class and treat them accordingly. They have to suffer threats, intimidation, the most obscene abuse, and personal violence; they get their windows broken if they put up my photograph at election times.
I hope I may be forgiven if I speak closely to a brief on this question, but I would like to give a few examples, and I do not wish to say anything that I cannot fully substantiate. At the General Election in 1931, my meetings in the Teesside area of my constituency were consistently broken up. When I say they were broken up, I do not mean that I was merely heckled, because I am prepared to meet heckling at any time; but, to give an illustration, I was faced in the Co-operative Hall at South Bank-onTees—a hall which holds from 700 to 800 people—with a howling and screaming mob of about 200 who had placed themselves in the front seats. From the moment I went on to the platform, they were on their feet, shouting and screaming at the top of their voices, women I am sorry to say, using expressions towards my wife and myself with which after 20 years in the Navy I was hardly familiar. They let off Roman candles and crackers all over the floor. The hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) had come to speak for me, but neither he nor I got a word in edgewise. The most pathetic thing was that while that hooliganism was going on, I could see behind the ruffians the strained faces of people listening and trying to hear what the speaker had to say. I know the 1403 ruffians very well, because I know my constituency extremely well; I know the names and addresses of a great number of people who were responsible for the hooliganism. The game is led by a number of Dukes of Plaza Toro who keep themselves well in the background. When we left the meeting, we were followed to the Unionist club by a very hostile crowd who threw bottles through the windows.
The next day, when I asked the local co-operative people what was the damage, I had to pay for 17 chairs and a large number of windows that had been broken. I ought to add that on leaving the meeting, the section of the audience in front stormed the platform and the last view I had was of a drunken woman dancing on the Union Jack on the table. That is the sort of meeting I have had in my constituency at every General Election. Apart from one occasion, I have never had a hearing in that particular place. The breaking up of the meetings has been absolutely deliberate. Moreover, when we left the meetings gangs were assembled outside. I noticed that if I walked out in a determined way, being a rather large individual, they parted in front of me, and then closed in behind and indulged in the rather safer pastime of kicking the shins of the womenfolk who had been brave enough to come down with us. [Interruption.] It is true; every word is true. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to go on like that, but I can prove it. I admit that South Bank-on-Tees is a peculiar area. During the War we had a great influx of people from Clydeside.
At the 1935 General Election, exactly the same thing occurred. I reduced my meetings to a minimum in order to avoid provocation as far as possible, but we suffered the same violence. One night a loud-speaker lorry on which I was speaking was attacked by the crowd; they tore the tail and sideboards off the lorry and the lid off the loud-speaker unit; a man jumped up and made an attack on me—I do not think he will do it again—and my wife was bombarded with clods of earth by a crowd led by a well-known woman supporter of the party opposite. Subsequently, the Labour headquarters apparently gave orders that such things did more harm than good, and the violence stopped. My last meeting at the 1404 last General Election was the only comparatively peaceful meeting I have ever had, and even then I think a great many hon. Members would have considered it to be a very rowdy meeting.
It is only fair that for one moment I should refer to what happens at my opponent's meetings. It is difficult to get local supporters to ask questions because they fear persecution in those areas, so at the last election I employed a trained questioner to go round to my opponent's meetings with instructions to be very careful never to ask a question unless questions were invited by the chairman. The lady went to three meetings in one night. At the first meeting she asked her questions and received some sort of reply; at the second meeting my opponent complained bitterly that he was being persecuted; and at the third meeting she was quite illegally refused admission as it was a public meeting. Almost thou persuadest me to become a Socialist, because it must be extremely pleasant to be able to hold one's meetings in such peace, and to complain if you have the same person questioning you at successive meetings, when all the time your opponent's meetings are being deliberately smashed up by organised gangs. I have said that I am speaking on behalf of a great many people who are not in a position to speak here because they were not elected, but there is one hon. Member who suffered from the same sort of thing in the vicinity, and that is the hon. Member for Hartlepools (Mr. Gritten). He was so severely attacked one night that he had to retire to bed for four days. Perhaps he is not so young and vigorous as I am, and therefore less able to defend himself.
I have absolutely no wish to question the sincerity of hon. Members opposite when they say that they are equally with us in favour of free speech. I honestly believe they do not know that these things happen. The Labour party in my Division knew it, and I must say that I was not very much impressed by their efforts to stop it. This hooliganism has gone on far too long, and I am afraid there is nothing in this Bill which will put an end to it. I think that Clauses 5 and 6 would be effective if the interruptions or the disorganisation of the meeting was limited to continued interruption, but to us in the North continued interruption is nothing. We do not call 1405 a meeting where there is continued interruption a disorderly meeting. How on earth is a policeman who has power to take a man's name and address to operate on going into a meeting when he sees 200 people shouting, stamping, screaming, and letting off fireworks, with the man whose name and address he wants to take in the middle of a row? It simply cannot be done. Take the case of my own constituency. The chairman of my association happens to be chairman of the local bench. It is going to be very difficult to persuade him in the middle of an election to charge a man under this Bill and then he be faced with having the man brought up before him and a bench which may be composed more or less equally of Tories and Socialists. It means that we shall simply do as we do at present—grin and bear it—and hope that the electorate will realise that it is a foretaste of what they may expect if the party opposite get into office.
At the 1931 election I complained to an old friend of mine, a prominent member of the Labour party. He said, "Commander, the fact is folks are that infuriated at the callous attitude of this National Government that they cannot hold themselves back; but next week we are going to have the biggest swing over we have ever had. The Socialists will be in and you will be out by thousands." Three days later I was in by 10,500. I have spoken strongly, because I think it is a duty. These people have suffered so much, and the situation has markedly deteriorated in the last year or so. The situation in my constituency was worse at the 1935 election, which was the first time I had found it hard in the Teesside area to get my working-class supporters to come out and do active work. They said, "It is not worth it. We will vote for you, but if we take part in work our life will be Hell, and even our children will suffer." This partly arises out of the claim made by the party opposite that they represent the working classes as a whole. They represent a proportion —probably the greater proportion—but by no means all, and they would do well if they could persuade their supporters in the constituencies to realise that a great number of working-class people are genuine Tories and should be respected for holding those views.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
Does the hon. Member suggest that we on these benches 1406 do not act as he has suggested we should?
§ Commander BOWER
I have only one reply to make to that. If the Divisional Labour party in Cleveland were to make sincere and genuine efforts to stop this business they could do so. I know that if my supporters were to behave in that disgraceful manner I would withdraw from the election rather than let it go on. We have got to protect our people. This Bill is inadequate. I do not want it to be thought that I am handing the baby to the Communists, or even the supporters of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), because in my division the Communists are a shifting population, here to-day and gone to-morrow, and I have not had much trouble from them, and although we have had some trouble from the supporters of the hon. Member for Bridgeton, we understand each other. The people who break up my meetings are ordinary supporters of the party opposite. I hope my words to-night will receive wide publicity, and that hon. Members opposite will make some effort to see that the discipline which we hope exists in the Parliamentary party extends to the constituencies.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
I regard the whole of this legislation with very grave distaste, and I am reconciled to it only because I think that the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General regard it with distaste also. I believe that it is not the kind of legislation which they would go out to seek, but legislation which has been forced on them. It has been forced on them by an intolerable situation, and if anyone wants to appreciate the intolerable nature of that situation, they can get it from the defence of their position which has been put up by the black shirts themselves, because it is no good disguising the fact that it was recent events concerning the black shirts which were the occasion of this Bill. Sir Oswald Mosley put his case in this form: "I was doing perfectly legal things. It was not illegal for me to wear a uniform; it was not illegal for me to have a procession which was disciplined; it was not illegal for me to go to East London. Yet I was stopped by the police. Why? Not for anything that was going to do, but because of things 1407 which other people were doing to do to me—were indeed already doing." On these grounds, keeping to the strict letter of the law, no doubt Sir Oswald Mosley could make out a case of having been badly treated, though few people here would question the action of the police. The real moral is that the present state of the law is unsatisfactory. The black shirts were straining the existing letter of the law in the hope that other people would thereby be encouraged to break it and on them the blame would fall.
Although as a Liberal I hold the strongest opinion in favour of private enterprise, there is one thing which cannot be left to private enterprise, that is, law and order. So that the time had come for us to say what should be permitted and what should not be permitted, instead of leaving it to resentful individuals to try to prevent what was an intolerable situation. However, I regret the Bill. In its nature it is an increase of the power of the executive; in its nature it is a decrease of the liberty of the individual. The situation is very much what might arise, for instance, in any library here or in any other part of the country. As long as reasonable use were made of such a library people would be allowed to talk, a great deal of liberty would be permitted; but if a certain number of people abused that liberty and started to shout and sing, either the peaceful inhabitants would gather together to hurl the intruders out, which is probably very undesirable, or new rules would be made by the library committee. Those rules would be bound to operate to some extent against the innocent as well as the guilty. That is what I fear will happen here. I am very sorry at the moment for the poor old green shirts, if I may call them that; they are a perfectly law-abiding body of men, and have never done anyone any harm. They come to one's meetings and say, "What about social credit?" which is not an easy question to answer unless one is prepared to make the obvious reply, "Well, what about it?" I think they have A genuine grievance. Their activities will be curtailed by the operation of this Bill, which they did nothing to provoke.
I approve with reluctance the Section of the Bill dealing with uniforms. I have 1408 no prejudices against uniforms; I think they add to the gaiety of life. Much could be done with my colours, red, yellow and green, but undoubtedly the use of uniforms has become an abuse. I think that the Home Secretary was wise not to try to define uniforms. There was one definition which I saw reproduced in the "Times" which begins with the alarming words:Any person who in public wears any article of clothing…It goes on:or who in public wears or bears visibly in or on his clothing any distinctive mark, badge, symbol, or armband with intent to indicate membership of or association with a particular political organisation or movement within the meaning of this Act shall be guilty of an offence.It would be for the High Court to say whether this was a Bill for compulsory nudism or not. The definition added:Provided that the wearing in public of one badge only of a maximum diameter of one and a-half inches shall not be deemed to be an offence under this Act.That shows the kind of trap which the Home Secretary has so cleverly avoided. In doing so he has put a good deal of responsibility on the Attorney General, which I have no doubt the present occupant of the office is fully capable of discharging, but we must not believe that because the Attorney-General is going to act as a kind of filter to prevent obviously absurd accusations going through, all difficulty is at an end. The High Court will have difficult decisions to make.
It is about Clause 2 that I feel the greatest alarm. The attention of the Home Secretary has already been called to Sub-section (4). Although I appreciate the difficulties under which he labours, it seems to me intolerable that the burden of proof should be transferred in this matter. I do not see how people at the head of an organisation can know with regard to words not spoken in their presence whether the people who spoke them were members of their movement or not. People may pretend to be members of a movement. A tremendous opportunity to the agent provocateur is given in this way. One might have people singing offensive songs and trying to identify themselves with a movement by every means in their power, who were yet members of the opposition, and when in court the heads of the organisation are 1409 called on to prove that these people are not members of their organisation, how are they going to do it? They may not know who they are. It seems to me that that Sub-section must be revised. I have no objection to Sub-section (1, a), which deals with those who are organised, trained or equipped so as to usurp the functions of the police or of the armed forces. I see difficulties about Sub-section (1 b). The hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays), with his considerable experience of the way things have worked out in other countries, used eloquent words about the growth of private armies. As regards the immediate difficulty, the police may not, in some cases, be assisted by the operation of the Sub-section.
Let us imagine this case. Suppose, in present circumstances, a demonstration of black shirts converging on the House of Commons. The police have orders not to let them go further than a certain point. The demonstration is organised with a leader and other officers, and those taking part in it are marching in step, or, certainly are marching in military formation. Those people are probably easy to stop. One policeman may go up to the leader and say, "You cannot pass but you may go to Trafalgar Square." Very likely the leader will not want to embroil himself with the police and will give the order "About turn!" arid the black shirts move off somewhere else.
Imagine what would take place however if this Measure were in operation. The same body of people would come along but they would not longer be in fours or marching in any kind of formation, because in that case they would be "organised and trained" and would come within this Sub-section. They would still be making a display of physical force, but in a way which did not bring them within the scope of this Measure. They would then be much more difficult to stop because, although the people might stop those who were immediately in front, there would be no recognised person who could give orders to the rest and probably the crowd as in the case of many other crowds of which we have known—some belonging to the other end of the political scale—would simply surge past on its way. I am not saying that that is a final reason against this kind of legislation. I only want to point out that the immediate difficulty of the police in 1410 dealing with matters of this kind, may not be made lighter but may indeed for the time being be made more difficult. If only because I realise that, in the long run, these disciplined armies may become so strong as to feel that they can pit themselves against the regular military and police forces I recognise that whatever objections this Sub-section may be open to, something along these lines will have to be done.
When I come to consider the procession Clause I am, with the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, inclined to the opinion that he is taking rather more power than he need take, or rather that he is giving to the police powers which are too sweeping.If the chief officer of police is of opinionthe Clause begins: Complete discretion is given to the chief officer of police with regard to the conditions under which the procession may be held and its route. I am not satisfied to be toll that those powers, in most cases, already exist and that we are merely codifying them here. I should like the discretion to be less absolute and, although it may be a Committee point, it is one of some importance. If instead of saying,If the chief officer of police is of the opinionone were to sayIf the chief officer of police reasonably apprehendsthen, the question of whether there was reasonable apprehension or not would be capable of being tested by the courts and would not be absolutely within the disposition of the executive authority. I suggest that the Clause, as drafted, gives a measure of discretion which may never be required. I am not suggesting the chief officers are going to act unreasonably, but when we are dealing so sweepingly with the liberty of the subject as we are in this Bill we must legislate with the greatest care and leave open all possible safeguards.
I do not think anybody in the House will object to the Clause which deals with weapons, but I am not so happy about Clause 5 although, as the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to tell us, it is a re-enactment and collecting together of provisions which already exist in different places. There is a slight alteration in the wording from "may 1411 be" to "likely to be". I do not know what the legal effect of that will be. I think I am also right in saying that there are increased penalties. I am strongly against any general tightening up of the law with regard to abusive and insulting behaviour. I appreciate that attacks of which we had evidence recently, on particular racial and religious communities, require to be dealt with but that is a special thing and this is a very general Clause. The hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) interrupted an hon. Friend of mine on this side and intimated that this kind of provision was necessary because, he said, speeches were so provocative. I beg leave to say, most earnestly, that "provocative" is not nearly enough. You are not entitled to legislate against an expression of opinion just because it is provocative. A great many hon. Members on both sides would have very little chance if we did so.
After all, what is the nature of political liberty? How does it arise? If I choose to go out into Hyde Park on Sunday to deliver a lecture about the rings of the planet Saturn or the theory of relativity, nobody is going to stop me. Similarly, probably, nobody will come to listen to me. But that is not liberty; that is indifference. Liberty only arises when people are saying something which is very provocative. Think of the historic instances—the Tolpuddle martyrs, Martin Luther, Charles Bradlaugh, John Wilkes. These people proclaimed classic instances of liberty because they were saying something which provoked people intensely. In the religious cases they were attacking what people regarded as most dear, so that their hearers felt, not some temporary annoyance but that the foundations of the firmament had slipped. It is that kind of instance which supplies the test of liberty, and I think the only cases in which we are entitled to interfere are not the cases of people who are merely provocative, but the cases where their behaviour has reached such a point that a continuance of it will be a denial of liberty to other people. That is the only test.
I, therefore, hope that the passage of this Clause in this form and with these penalties will not be made the occasion 1412 for trying to expurgate our political life and tone it down into something timid and colourless. I do not think that would be for good. I want, and I think most of us here want, the freest possible expression of political opinion. We do not mind if it is expressed in vigorous language as long as each side allows that liberty which they claim for themselves. On that point I think the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower), my neighbour in the Tees district, was instructive and worthy of attention. I have not had in my constituency experiences such as the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland described. In the eight years during which I have been a Member for that constituency I remember only one meeting at which I was refused hearing. Therefore, I do not want it to be taken that the experiences of the hon. and gallant Member opposite are common on Teesside, because that would not be fair to the district. Yet we all know that there are constituencies in various parts of the country in which such things happen. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not without reason."] There may be reason for it, but there is some conduct which is not to be condoned. If it is to be declared that because there is suffering, because there are grievances, therefore political liberty is to be denied to one side or the other—I do not mind which—then I say that that is the surest way of getting to a Fascist State because when ordinary political liberties are denied, then people begin to look in other directions for the expression of their views.
This Bill, judging by its reception, will come on to the Floor of the House for consideration in Committee. I wish it well in its main provisions. I have indicated those things which I regard with anxiety, and I would only say, if I may presume so far, as a sort of warning to Members of all parties who will consider it in Committee. Do let us remember that liberty is not tested by the liberty which we claim for ourselves, but by the liberty which we are ready to give to others. I hope nobody in any part of the House will think that the correct way to deal with this Bill in Committee is to try to make it so that it will give the greatest possible licence to their own friends, and put the greatest possible hindrance in the way of their opponents. On those lines we shall get nowhere. But if we consider the broad conception 1413 of political liberty, I believe that we can on this Bill arrive at a large measure of agreement.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. T. M. Cooper)
I intervene at this stage in the Debate not to anticipate the reply which will be given later by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, but to take up one or two questions in reference to the Scottish aspect of this problem and the solution which is proposed in the Bill. I am glad to say that the graver manifestations of the mischief which this Bill is designed to cure have not taken place in Scotland. On the other hand, the history of the last five or six years in Scotland has disclosed sufficient examples of difficulties of the type with which the Bill is concerned to make it abundantly necessary that the hands of the authorities should be strengthened, more or less along the lines which the Bill proposes.
There are two outstanding particulars in regard to which special points arise in the application of this Measure to Scotland, and both have been the subject of questions by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) put a question with regard to what the Home Secretary described as one of the principal safeguards of the Bill as applied to England, the provision that prosecutions under certain of the Clauses of the Bill should only take place with the approval or at the instance of the Attorney-General. The purpose, as my right hon. Friend explained, was to ensure that prosecutions under those Clauseould not be at the instance of private persons, and therefore that there would be no risk of anything in the nature of frivolous or irresponsible attempts to apply the Statute. That provision does not apply to Scotland for the simple reason that it is unnecessary. When the hon. Member for Camlachie raises the further point "Does that go far enough?" I may add this. When a Statute says that no proceedings are to be taken under it in England otherwise than with the approval of the Attorney-General, then any such prosecutions must come to the personal notice of the Attorney-General or his immediate staff. When such a Measure applies to Scotland, even though a corre- 1414 sponding direction to the Lord Advocate is not contained in it, I am in a position to assure the House that, as a matter of administrative regulation, all proposed prosecutions under such a Statute are in fact referred to the Law Officers for their personal attention. Thus, from the point of view of the actual conduct of business, the position will be identical on both sides of the Border. If and when this Measure becomes law, it will be my duty to issue instructions as regards its application in Scotland. So much for the first special case.
The second special case to which I should like to address myself arose from an interjection by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), and it related to the question of Clause 3. Who is the proper authority in Scotland to operate the powers of Clause 3? The proposals of the Bill are that in Scottish burghs, instead of those powers being confided, as is proposed in England, to the chief officer of police, they should be confided to the magistrates of the burghs, and that for two reasons. The first reason is that, as the law stands to-day, both in a series of local Statutes of purely local application and also under the general Burgh Police Act, throughout the greater part of Scotland powers closely approximating to those contained in Clause 3 are already in operation and in the hands of the magistrates of the burghs. Hon. Members will see that if one were to follow slavishly the model of the English Clause 3 in this respect, it might be necessary, in order to obviate a very awkward duplication of control, to repeal and withdraw from some magistrates certain powers which they already possess.
That is the first practical reason for adopting this course. The second is that magistrates in Scottish burghs, to an extent which is not true of any English local authority, I think, have a long historical tradition as custodians of public law and order, going back in many cases for hundreds of years to the Royal Charters which they obtained long ago. It is accordingly entirely in consonance with Scottish tradition that a power of this kind should be confided to them, and it would be entirely in breach of Scottish municipal tradition that a power of this 1415 kind should be withdrawn from magistrates who already have it, and transferred to the chief officer of police. That is my justification for the course which is proposed in this matter.
For the sake of accuracy, and in case misapprehension may arise, I should like to say that in the case of the City of Edinburgh these powers are conferred by an Act of 1933, not upon the magistrates by name, but upon the corporation, but as a matter of fact the corporation have delegated their powers in this respect to the magistrates, so that my general proposition that the magistrates are the controlling power is substantially accurate. I pass from that matter to Clause 5.
§ Sir JOHN TRAIN
My right hon. and learned Friend referred us to Edinburgh and spoke of the powers of the corporation there being delegated to the magistrates. What about Glasgow? Is it the case that Glasgow has never operated the Scottish Burgh Police Act, 1892?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
Special powers exist in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Greenock, but Glasgow Corporation have never yet applied for or obtained special powers, and the general Burgh Police Act of 1892 does not apply to Glasgow. Glasgow is, therefore, an exception to the general position in Scotland in this respect. I understand that, independently altogether of this Bill, Glasgow Corporation have been considering the question of applying for Parliamentary powers to bring them into line with the other Scottish burghs in this matter, but, of course, that will probably no longer be an active question now that this Measure has been introduced. Glasgow is an exception in the sense that it does not possess the powers which are in the hands of the other Scottish burghs, with, I think I should add, the doubtful exception of Dundee, but certainly as regards all the other Scottish burghs.
§ Mr. G. HARDIE
Is it not a fact that Glasgow have always seen to it that if there is anything in connection with what is contained in this Bill, it goes before the whole corporation, that bodies seeking to have a procession have first to put in their application, and that that is dealt with by the whole corporation?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I am afraid I cannot speak with any accurate knowledge as to the domestic regulation of these matters in Glasgow, but the hon. Member will appreciate that it is an extraordinarily difficult thing—in fact, almost impossible—for anyone who is not the town clerk of a burgh to know exactly what the powers of that burgh are, and the information which I am giving to the House had to be collected with considerable effort without, obviously, applying to these burghs for information in relation to a topic which at that stage was confidential. To the best of my belief, however, Glasgow has no powers in relation to the proposed Measure comparable to those possessed by the other burghs. I may be wrong, and there may be powers tucked away in some corner, but I do not think there are.
As regards Clause 5, the hon. Member for Camlachie objected to it on the ground that it was, as I understood his argument, an undesirable and unnecessary intrusion so far as Scotland was concerned. He took objection to it for this reason, among others, that persons whom he described as illiterate police constables would be the authorities who would determine what language or what conduct did or did not satisfy the requirements of the Clause. I should like to deal with that objection in a word. In the first place, I must say, from some considerable and lengthening experience, that I desire entirely to dissociate myself from his criticism of the Scottish police constable; but, apart from that matter, it is not for the police constable to determine whether or not the requirements of the Clause have been satisfied. It will be for the sheriff; and he will do so on evidence which will be laid before him by the procurator-fiscal and which will probably be met by the defending counsel or agent.
Apart from that—and this is a point which apparently the hon. Member for Camlachie has overlooked—provisions almost literally identical, and often absolutely identical, with those in Clause 5 are to be found in operation in practically every part of Scotland to-day. They are in the Burgh Police Act, they are in the Glasgow Act, they are in the Edinburgh Act, I think they are also in the Aberdeen, Dundee, and Greenock Acts, if not in identical terms, in very similar terms. 1417 Accordingly, the only substantial effect of the inclusion of this Clause in the Bill, so far as Scotland is concerned, is to increase the penalties from the almost nominal penalties at present applicable in some burghs to the substantial figures which will in future represent the maximum penalty.
As regards what was said by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith), that he feared that a Clause of this kind would render criminal merely provocative language in a political controversy, I should like to point out, in the first instance, that this Clause or a corresponding Clause has been in existence in Scotland for 60 or 70 years, and, I think the Home Secretary said, in London for nearly 100 years, and I have heard no suggestion that it has ever been utilised for the purpose of emasculating political controversy. Further, independently of that consideration altogether, you would have to prove, in order to get a conviction under this Clause, a great deal more than provocative language. You would have to prove that the language was threatening, abusive, or insulting, and that it was either uttered with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or that you were satisfied that a breach of the peace was likely to be occasioned. The sort of thing that I have in view as appropriate under a Clause of this kind is the sort of thing of which there have been unfortunate examples in Scotland in recent times, associated not with political controversy, but with that much more acute kind of controversy, sectarian controversy; and hon. Members in all parts of the House, I am sure, will know that abusive and insulting words in relation to sectarian matters can and very often do create a very grave risk of breach of the peace. I welcome the additional powers which this Clause will put in the hands of the criminal authorities for dealing with these matters.
I think I have covered the main points Of the Scottish aspect of this matter, and I will only say, in conclusion, that various speakers have evinced in their arguments a reluctance to a Measure which, however necessary, might have the effect of curtailing the liberty and freedom of the subject. I would venture to suggest that when this Bill proceeds, as it is obvious it will proceed, to its further stages, the proper method of approach is not to regard it as a Bill 1418 for curtailing the liberties of the subject, but as a Measure for vindicating the liberties and privileges of the ordinary law-abiding citizen against those who are taking an unreasonable and improperly exaggerated view of their rights.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
Before dealing with the Bill, I should like to say a few words about the question of disturbances at public meetings and to remark that when I was in Calton Gaol, located in Edinburgh, in 1916, most of my fellow boarders were drawn from the Fleet, and I used to whisper to them, when I had the opportunity, "What are you in for?" Invariably the answer was, "For hitting an officer." After listening to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower), I think I can understand and appreciate those impulses of the British seaman.
The hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays) dealt with this question of disturbances at public meetings, and drew attention to the different character of those disturbances nowadays as compared with such disturbances in the old days. In the old days it was some great wave of public feeling that was responsible for the disturbances during the Boer War against the Little Englanders, during the Great War against pacifists, and so on. Yes, there is a different situation to-day, but the hon. Member does not seem to understand the character of that difference. The hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland said that his meetings were being broken up, but he had to admit that there were no Communists in his area. Yet there, according to his story, are the most violent reactions against the representatives of the National Government. Meetings were being broken up, but hon. Members forget that for years now it has not simply been a question of a sudden and temporary rousing of public excitement and feeling, but of homes being broken up. The hon. and gallant Member, I am certain, is more concerned about meetings being broken up than homes being broken up. When people have been driven desperate because for years they have had no work, little or no money, and little food, and they get arrogant braggadocio such as we have heard in the House to-night, is it any 1419 wonder that meetings are broken up? [Interruption.] Yes, arrogant braggadocio. The hon. and gallant Member told us that when he walked out they quickly cleared a path for him; someone attacked him on a lorry, but, he said, he would not attack him again. The man whom he claims attacked him probably had not had a decent meal for months.
I want to make one thing clear. I am one of the leaders of the Communist party, but not, as the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said, the fountain head. I have never known of what is described as organised interruptions in the sense that any of the official organs of the Communist party have deliberately arranged the breaking up of a particular meeting. I know that the Labour party have suffered much more than the Conservative party from criticisms and attacks from me and my comrades, and I know that often, if some of us went to some of their meetings and began to interrupt and heckle, it would stir up many of the people present and often lead to a complete interruption of the meeting. I have, however, never known anything in the nature of a deliberate preparation of any organ of the Communist party to go to a particular meeting and break it up. We do not do things that way. That is not how the movement is developed in connection with political agitation.
I consider this a very bad Bill. The Home Secretary, representing the Government, has used the cowardly slanders that have been directed against the Jews by Mosley, which have aroused so much feeling, not in order to stop the slanders, but to take new action against the working class. The Government had the power to stop the slanders and the libels against the Jews if they had been prepared to take action. I asked the other night what would happen if Mosley were to organise a demonstration and to say that the goal of the demonstration was the home of Baron Rothschild or of the Home Secretary. It is quite possible that there are people in the House who do not like the Home Secretary. Suppose they decided to organise a demonstration to his home and to shout all kinds of slanders round about it, and to chalk upon his walls all kinds of slanders against him. Would the police tolerate 1420 that at the home of the Home Secretary or of Baron Rothschild? It would never be allowed.
Time and again, however, the authorities have allowed a procession to be deliberately organised and specially directed towards the purpose of going down to the homes of a particular section of our people and to slander and libel them in the most evil and disgusting manner, and to chalk up slanders on the walls of their homes and the windows of their shops. How it is possible to associate this with free speech and the right of public meeting? Is this Bill going to stop it? I am in agreement with the banning of uniforms and the prohibition of military formations, which are obviously directed to attacking the working class. There is no other purpose for their existence. I object when anyone says that the Communists are responsible for the Fascists, or that the Fascists are responsible for the Communists. Let us have a little balance. Let us understand that the Communist party is a part of the working-class movement and could not possibly exist without the support of the working-class movement, and that that movement as a whole is concerned with putting an end to Capitalism and introducing Socialism. The Fascists are financed and could not exist without the support of the capitalists. The more the working class, whether they happen to be Communists or not, advance towards the achievement of Socialism, the more the Capitalist class are prepared to finance all kinds of ways and means for obstructing the working-class movement. In England Mosley will use his vile slander against the Jews, but in Scotland the Fascists were financed to make similar attacks against the Irish Catholics.
We oppose any attempt at discrimination against any religion or race. We declare that the Jews as citizens of this country have the same standing and rights as any other citizens, and that no one has a right or should be allowed to make special demonstrations or processions to the areas where the poor Jews live in order to insult and slander them in the way that Mosley has been doing. A Bill is not needed to prevent that. Instead of the Home Office and the chiefs of police trying to stop it, they encourage it. The stopping of military uniforms and 1421 formations will not put an end to it. The Home Secretary says, "It is the method we are against, not the creed." The creed of Mosley is to disrupt the working-class movement by the foulest lies about the Jews, and I declare to the House that if the Home Office and the chiefs of police are not prepared to take definite measures to stop Mosley uttering his insulting slanders of the Jews, the working class of London will stop it.
With regard to Clause 2 (4) 1 would ask to what are we being reduced? To what depths of degradation are we being drawn? What is this Clause for? The mass production of informers and provokers. New powers are not needed, for we have had too many examples in the past of what can happen. May I give one and ask whether it is the sort of thing the House wants. Let us take the case of the tragic family of Wheeldon in Derby. Mrs. Wheeldon, the mother of a family, was interested in politics and her son was during the War a conscientious objector who was in hiding from the military authorities. Her sympathies were with conscientious objectors, and she threw open her doors to those who were being pursued by the military. They came to her home, she gave them a room and food, arid helped them in every possible way. One night a man named Alex Gordon came to her house and, saying that he was a conscientious objector, she took him in and gave him food and shelter. With the family he sat round the fireside and talked night after night. She had a daughter who was married to a chemist. They talked round the fireside about the Minister of Munitions, who later became Prime Minister. They talked about one of his assistants, the late Arthur Henderson, and some melodramatic folly was talked about the chemist making poison darts. It was just foolish talk. Then Gordon left the house and the police entered. Mrs. Wheeldon, her daughter and son-in-law were taken away, and on the evidence of the informer that tragic woman got 10 years' penal servitude, and her daughter and daughter's husband five years each. This woman, who had lived a clean life, was at long last liberated, her soul worn out and her body broken, in order to die.
Then there is the provoker, who is someone who makes a statement as a 1422 consequence of which someone else is arrested. I have had some experience there, too. I was speaking in Birmingham in 1921. I was the advertised speaker and spoke for an hour. After I had finished, the chairman called an old friend of mine who was sitting in the audience to make a speech. He was very violent in his language. C.I. D. men were in the meeting taking notes, and he went for them for all he was worth. Two weeks later I was arrested and taken before Lord Ilkeston. Mr. Day, the prosecutor, told Lord Ilkeston that I had made a very, clever speech and said that there was nothing actually in the speech that could be taken objection to, but that the speech must be taken in conjunction with the speech that was made by, the man who followed me. I made an objection, but Lord Ilkeston overruled it, and I got three months for the speech made by my friend. When the police begin to put enemies into the party to make speeches in that way, what will be the position?
I had another experience during the War. The Minister of Munitions came to Glasgow, and in the Central Station Hotel he put his arms round my shoulders as though I were his cousin from the country. He took me up on to a high mountain and he showed me all the glories of the world, all the glitter and pomp of it. But it did not work and it never could work, because I am too proud of my class, the only class that makes things move, the only class that is of any value. A month or two later, I was arrested. Why was I arrested? Because a friend of mine had written an article. I had not written the article, I had not even read the article, but I was taken to the High Court in Edinburgh. And do you know how it was brought in Art and Part. And I got 12 months for that, for an article written by a friend. That is going to happen when we have an agent provocateur coming in and making speeches for us. There have been cases in London of the police sending people into the movement, cases of the police getting something against people who are in the movement and using that to blackmail them into giving them information. We had one man Johnson who was being blackmailed in that way, and it led him to commit suicide. Yes, drove him to suicide, because the police were forcing 1423 him to give them information. Johnson was giving lying information. Because he could not get anything else which would satisfy them, he had to make up stories.
Let us come to the question of demonstrations. In Glasgow we have run demonstrations 100,000 strong. We have gone through the streets and everything has been well organised with no trouble. Last Sunday week in London there was an enormous demonstration in Hyde Park. The police had their Sunday leave stopped, though there was no need for that, because there was no possibility of trouble, the demonstration was so well organised. On Sunday there was a great demonstration in Trafalgar Square; everything was well organised. In Glasgow, if we want a demonstration, the magistrates demand that we acquaint them of the fact and of the proposed route, and if they do not like the route they tell us we must come to an understanding with the chief constable, and that is what happens. In London the chief of the police decided on the route for the demonstration to Hyde Park. When the marchers were coming in to London, I marched a short part of the way with them. When we were approaching Luton an inspector from Luton came out to meet us. He told us it was not possible for the march to go through the main streets, because we should arrive between five and six o'clock, and the main street would be packed with people coming out of offices and works. So we arranged to go round by some other streets. Everything was well organised and there was no trouble.
There is no need to give any further powers to the police in connection with demonstrations. If the Government understood the deep movement which lies behind these demonstrations, instead of giving further power to the police to check them, they would encourage them. The demonstrations represent life, a desire to live, a desire to advance. All these millions of people who have been kept down and have suffered so long want life, more life; they want bigger and better homes, they want food, they want clothing, they want science, they want culture, they want everything that means advance, And why should we try to stop it? When the General Strike 1424 took place, instead of making the concession that this great and mighty movement demanded, the military were turned out. If a concession had been made at that time there might have been a very big difference in Europe to-day. Instead of making the concession, the Home Secretary said that the strike was not legal. Such a trivial attitude to take up towards such a movement. And the Prime Minister gets up and says, "It is the Communists." One night he says, "The Communists do not matter a snap of the fingers" and the next night everything is put down to the Communists—it is their demonstrations, their marches or their strikes. We seem to be a great organisation, according to the amount of work we are doing.
The Home Secretary, at the time of the General Strike, said it was illegal. The Government always have that feeling when demonstrations or marches are taking place, that there is something not right, something not legal about them. They do not see the deep feeling that is being expressed by these demonstrations and marches. There was a march once to Runnymede, and out of it came Magna Carta. We boast about it as one of the great inheritances of this country. But if the Home Secretary had been there, if the National Government had been there, they would have said, "It is not legal. We refuse to yield to force." Imagine the poor, puny, weak imitations of leaders who refuse to yield to force, instead of seeing that the movement represents a desire to live and to advance. Magna Carta came from a great demonstration. Cromwell marched into this House. It was illegal. But nobody got up and discussed with him whether what he was doing was legal or not. It represented life at that time, the life of the rising capitalist class who wanted to advance; but now we have the working class movement face to face with decaying capitalism, capitalism which destroys instead of advancing, destroys whole areas, gives us derelict areas, gives us factories destroyed, machinery destroyed, homes destroyed, men and women destroyed.
The working class represents all that is good, all that is valuable, all that makes for life and progress, and you cannot hold it back by your trumpery Bills and your power given to the police. Do not do it. It is madness. Encourage the 1425 workers to live, encourage the unemployed to live. Every movement they make is a movement for life, and it is life we want, and not decay and death. If this Bill, apart from the section of it which deals with military organisations, goes through in its present form it will seriously threaten the working-class movement and the trade union movement. Taken in conjunction with the Trade Disputes Act, it will be a real menace. It can become very dangerous to the movement if we pass it without taking out Sub-section (4) of Clause 2 and Clause 3 entirely. Unless we do that we shall raise serious obstacles to the advance of the working-class movement and to the life of the working class, and the working class will be forced to take serious measures to overcome these obstacles.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. TURTON
It has been a day largely of reasons put forward for and against the Bill with varying degrees of vehemence, but in all the speeches there has been a common dislike of Fascism. I feel that we are in a difficulty in that we have every party represented here except the Fascists, and I wish we had Sir Oswald Mosley present to give his opinion of the Bill. I remember that when I first came into the House, in 1929, Sir Oswald Mosley was a leader of the "Ginger Group" of the Socialist party opposite, and many of the Members who have since spoken strongly against Sir Oswald Mosley were then his devoted adherents and believed Sir Oswald could rescue them from the nit-wits who were then occupying the Front Bench here and now are occupying the Front Bench on the other side. I think the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) should beware. To-day he is a leader of the "Ginger Group" of the Socialist party, although he is a Communist.
§ Mr. TURTON
He is a leader of the "Ginger group," and perhaps in a few years time he will be in the same position as Sir Oswald Mosley. He talks about his Communist party as being a part of the working-class movement. I understand that the Socialist party regard themselves as the working-class movement, and I also seem to remember that at the 1426 Edinburgh Conference there was a resolution which said that the hon. Member for West Fife was not affiliated to the working-class movement, but was a foreign body. If that is so, I think we are probably right in our suggestion that we in this House, all three sections, Communists, Socialists and supporters of the National Government, are here representing some part of the working class, and all trying to contribute to the legislation of the country.
I take a different view of this Bill from that of many previous speakers. The general view of hon. Members opposite has been that they dislike the restrictions on processions but are quite glad to have a kick at the Fascists on the uniforms Clause, Clause 1. I am very much worried over Clause 1. I do not like the position in which we are to make it illegal to wear a uniform. To-day any man may go about in any public place in any attire, so long as it is decent and is not female attire. If we pass this Bill, we shall alter the position and say that he must be in decent attire but must not be in female attire, and, also, must not wear what we call a uniform—[HON. MEMBERS "A political uniform."] That would be all right if we knew a little more of what a political uniform is. The Home Secretary said that it was a very difficult thing to draft a definition of a political uniform, and for that reason the House would understand that he had not done so but had left its interpretation to the wise discretion of the Attorney-General and the stipendiary magistrates. If that is really the position of the Home Secretary and the Government it seems that we are shirking our plain duty in this respect. The Home Secretary referred to the Eatonswill election. No doubt he will be sufficiently well acquainted with the "Pickwick Papers" to remember the uniform of the Pickwick Club, which caused Mr. Winkle a little anxiety, and very nearly shortened his days. What was that uniform? It was only a coat; true, a very peculiar coat, but only a coat. I think the stipendiary magistrates of England are well enough educated in Dickens, when they have a political uniform before them, to look at the use of it in the "Pickwick Papers." Suppose they go further and turn to the dictionaries. When I practised at the Bar 1427 we used to quote definitions to the courts from these dictionaries. In Webster's Dictionary uniform is defined as:A dress of a particular style or fashion worn by persons in the same service, order or the like by means of which they have a distinctive appearance.That is a dictionary definition. Legally, we have no definition, and it is coining a new law declaring that a uniform for any political purpose or the promotion of any political object, or showing membership of any political association, is something terrible and quite illegal.
I do not know about this Session, but certainly last Session, there was a club called the Top Hat Club in this House, formed, I believe, by Members of only one party, and certainly for the promotion of a political object. I am standing very near to the usual place of one or two very prominent members, and I believe of the president, of the Top Hat Club. If any member of that club goes out into Old Palace Yard he will be guilty of an offence, unless he can see the Attorney-General and arrange that he is not prosecuted. Seriously, this matter needs much closer definition, and if we cannot have a definition, Clause 1 must go. I do not think that the wearing of a uniform should in itself be an offence. Do not let us be blinded by our hatred of Fascism. We must remember that there are many people with views different from our own and whom, in England, we tolerate; not only Fascists, but wearers of all sorts of shirts. There are green shirts and shirts of other colours. For that reason we should be careful.
Let the Government remember what has happened in other countries in this respect. The Home Secretary talked of the law against uniforms in the countries of Scandinavia, but when he made that remark he did not tell us that that law is quite different from that which he was putting forward. In Sweden not only does the law barn uniforms by Order in Council—a method which I do not suggest to this Government because lately Governments here have been using it far too frequently—but the Swedish Government took power to ban part of a uniform, armlets and badges. The reason that they have prohibited those other forms of attire is that they have found it was easy to evade the law against uniforms. 1428 If you say that a political uniform is illegal, all that the wearers have to do is to put on a differently coloured greatcoat. Immediately they are not guilty of an offence. They go back from the uniform to the armlet, and they retire from the armlet to the badge. Neither this Government nor any other Government wants to prevent the wearing of an armlet or a badge. This provision should be taken out of the Bill.
The damage which has been done in the East End, as I see it—I lived for a certain time in the East End and know a little bit about it, though far less, I believe, than many Members who represent London constituencies—is done not so much by the wearing of a uniform as by incitement to hurl abuse at the young !men and chiefly the young women in the East End of London, by those who are not in uniform. The trouble in the side streets of Whitechapel is caused not by people dressed in uniform, but by the hooligans who are prompted by what the Fascists tell them to hurl abuse at young Jews. That is the offence to-day. The procession in the East End could have been banned, and was banned only a month ago. Under the Bill it is proposed to take additional powers. It is a mistake to add Clause 1 and ban all uniforms. By doing so you will be making martyrs out of the Fascist movement, making a clown into a martyr. When a clown becomes a martyr, in this country he increases his power immensely. For that reason I hope that the House will exclude Clause I at a later stage.
I want to express my agreement with the hon. Member for West Fife on one point, Sub-section (4) of Clause 2, which is foreign to every principle of English law that I ever learned in my training or my practice. It is a most mischievous Clause, and if enshrined in an Act of Parliament it will imperil the whole system of our justice. It would make the conduct of people who are merely adherents of a movement evidence against those who control the movement. It is not right for the House or the Home Secretary to say that in certain Statutes we have shifted the onus of proof. I was surprised at the Home Secretary when he said that if you are charged with receiving stolen goods the onus of proof was shifted. It is not. The Court Criminal Appeal decided in the well- 1429 known case of Abramovitch that it is not shifted, because the prosecution have first to prove certain essential details. To prove that the goods were recently stolen—that is the whole difficulty in such cases. Not till then is the onus shifted. The Home Secretary, on that very shaky argument, based his whole case for Clause 2 (4). I hope, if that buttress has fallen, that the Home Secretary will take out that Sub-section.
A good deal of the Bill is unobjectionable, but if hon. Members look into that part of it, they will find that it is the existing law. Clause 2 making the organising and equipping a political force an offence is very similar to the Unlawful Drilling Act, 1819, and to going about armed, which has been an offence since the second year of the Reign of Edward III, in 1328. What is enshrined in the Bill is, in that respect, old law. The Home Secretary seems to object to old laws because they are old. May I remind the Home Secretary also that the oldest law of all, the Ten Commandments, is still quite effective and quite good? The laws of 1836 and 1328 have been tested and tried, and people understand them. The Bill is a re-hash of most of those old laws. Why must we have it? Is it because of the Mosley march in the East End at the beginning of October? If so, were not the existing laws adequate then? I am surprised that no one to-day has asked that question. No one has asked the Home Secretary why he did not ban that march before the actual day. I know, from inhabitants of the East End, that he was repeatedly asked to do so, because they feared that there would be bloodshed, they feared that, as the march went through Aldgate to Gardiner's Corner, missiles and bedsteads would be thrown down at the Fascists, that would hit, not only the Fascists, but those who were watching the march. I understand that the Home Secretary refused to ban that march, although he had the same powers, although the police had the same powers, as are given in Clause 3 of the Bill. In the back streets of the constituency of the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), or, if not, in neighbouring streets, there are these insulting words and behaviour by hooligans against Jewish women and Jewish men; but these acts are illegal in London under the Metropolitan Police Act, and, if the police exercised their 1430 powers, they could stop them. Clause 5 is only a weaker edition of the Section which at present exists in regard to London, and insulting words and behaviour of that kind could be stopped at once. That trouble is the genesis of this Bill. I know a street in Whitechapel where there is a Jewish family who have not been out for three weeks, because the remainder of the street is inhabited by men who have lately left prison and who are now adherents of the Fascist party.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)
I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend, but he says that Clause 5 is a weaker edition of what already exists. Clause 5 reproduces the existing provisions of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, with the very material alteration that under Clause 5 a penalty of three months' imprisonment can be imposed, whereas under the existing law the penalty is only 14 days' imprisonment.
§ Mr. TURTON
I am much obliged to the Attorney-General. What I really meant was that the Home Secretary said that the wording was less stringent, and for that reason, as the Attorney-General will appreciate, the offence is harder to prove than under the present law. I agree that the penalty, quite properly, has been increased. I feel, however, that the conditions in the East End of London are very different from what they were. A racial hatred is being set up, but the existing law is sufficient to deal with it, and for that reason I am doubtful as to the effectiveness of a good deal of this Bill. At the same time, I think it is necessary that the rest of the Bill, with the exception of Clause 1, should be spread from London over the whole country, and for that reason I shall give my general support to the Bill. When I lived in the East End of London, Gentile and Jew lived together in perfect harmony, but when I go there now, and find how hatred has been stirred up and racial consciousness brought about, I feel that everything that we can do in this House to restore harmony between Gentile and Jew in that very interesting part of our great Empire will earn the gratitude of the people of England.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. KELLY
I am in agreement with the last speaker on one point, and that 1431 is the difficulty of deciding what is to be the interpretation of the word "uniform." I well remember many of these processions and gatherings and meetings where people have worn sashes that they prize as emblems of their membership of a trade union, and I am wondering whether these people are going to be classified as offenders against this Measure unless they secure the imprimatur of the police authorising them to wear a sash when attending, as members of their union, a political demonstration. Above all, I would like to know what is to be the interpretation in regard to the processions on the 12th July. I am sorry that none of the Members from Northern Ireland are present at this moment. In those processions, not only is uniform worn, but, I believe, very heavy swords are carried.
§ Mr. KELLY
I am only referring to Northern Ireland as the place where that particular organisation is. Those processions take place in Liverpool, they take place in Scotland, and in other parts of the country. This question of uniform is going to give much trouble, and I can see many of these people, who have no desire to resort to violence or to spoil anyone else's meeting, having to seek the permission of the police in order to attend a political demonstration wearing the uniform they have been accustomed to wear. I do not mind the getting rid of that ugly-looking uniform that we see in the streets of London at the present time, worn by the Fascists, but I hope that in doing that we are not going to commit ourselves to something that will give us even more trouble than we have had in the past. I hope that during the passage of this Measure we shall consider again, and consider seriously, whether, in endeavouring to deal with the Fascists, we are not going to hurt ourselves in other directions.
I confess that I feel very unhappy about the language that we find running through the Bill. I fear that it is going to be harmful to the freedom we have to-day, limited as that may be. Reference was made to foreign money, and I hope the Attorney-General, when he speaks to-night, will make known to us 1432 what is intended in this regard. I remember that, on a Bill presented to us not very long ago, which was intended to restrict the efforts of the trade unions, the Conservative Member who introduced it was very anxious that money coming from the United States, particularly, for the purpose of assistance during a strike or lock-out, should not reach the workers. Is it intended that this shall deal not only with the money sent to Fascist organisations but with that which is sent to trade unions, which have a political object as well as the determination to raise wages and the standard of life?
I hope that Clause 24 will be struck out of the Measure, because it will be a serious restriction upon those who have to engage in meetings. In the next Subsection what is meant by "reasonable grounds for suspicion"? Is it going to give an opportunity to those who desire to penalise or punish someone, to lay information and create the difficulties which we know have been created in the past? We had experience of it at the time of the dynamite agitation many years ago, when we know full well that many of the incidents for which men were prosecuted and sent to prison were provoked by people who were not members of the particular organisation. This Clause seems to give an opportunity for a repetition of that conduct. I hope the power that is suggested for the police is not to be given to them. They have sufficient power at present and, if they are given more, it will not be to the advantage of the movement in which we are engaged. It is suggested that, if they feel they have not sufficient power, they may go to the borough councils for permission to prohibit processions for lengthy periods of time. I hope that power will not be given. For these reasons I hope the Measure will not pass in the form in which it is presented to us. I ask the Government again to consider their position before they attempt to force it through. It may deal with a particular section of people, such as the Fascists, but it may greatly restrict freedom, and may prevent us from engaging upon the work that is so essential for the future of the country.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I should like to express my humble support of the Bill, and also the general support given by the 1433 group to which I belong. We are here working in a concatenation of circumstances created by Sir Oswald Mosley. I was at one time a follower of his, and signed his manifesto and joined his group. He and I were at that time both dissatisfied with the progress that was being made in providing employment. My own view is that he is a man of very great ability. I do not know him well, but I know him well enough to know that he is a man of remarkable and outstanding talents. I always thought his career would probably follow the lines of Mr. Disraeli or Lord Randolph Churchill, that he would sow his wild oats and then settle down to be a steady Conservative, but things have not followed on those lines and we are now here legislating for circumstances created by him. I take the view that it is the right of every candidate for Parliament to present his views without disturbance or annoyance to those he would wish to make his constituents. It is difficult enough to present a case to a large audience of people who wish him well, without being annoyed and hampered and prevented from expressing his views by opponents. People say it does you good; that the people who want to hear you are annoyed and they go away and vote for you. That may be partially true, but it is not wholly true. It does not make for a candidate's success to be prevented, as has happened in many constituencies in the last few years, from addressing a single word to his supporters.
A great statesman said that men grow old in general elections, and it is true. I wholly approve of the Bill as promoting that opportunity for candidates that one would wish to see. It is said that the Bill interferes with liberty and freedom. We are all most anxious at all times to promote liberty and freedom and we are rightly jealous of any attempt to lessen the freedom that we enjoy, but that will not happen under this Bill. It is introduced to promote freedom, and it will have that result. It will also kill the notoriety that attaches to the Fascist movement. The uniforms, the ceremonials, the bands and so forth, have undoubtedly helped it by creating notoriety. Above all, they have helped to get money. While I have been sitting here, with my mind wandering over the past, a striking instance has occurred to me of the crushing of political opinion by the 1434 abolition of dress. In 1745 Prince Charles Edward came to this country and raised the standard of rebellion. He was not successful and the movement was crushed. One of the ways of punishing the Highlanders and suppressing their political opinions and their movement in favour of the Stuarts was by forbidding the wearing of the kilt. For nearly a 100 years it was illegal to wear the kilt in Scotland. When the right was restored, people had ceased to wish for it and it fell into abeyance. That is the most successful case of the crushing of opinion by the abolition of a dress. I hope that the action that we take to-night may crush Sir Oswald Mosley's movement.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. THURTLE
Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lichfield (Mr. LovatFraser) I give whole-hearted support to the Bill. It is one of the virtues of democracy that we only intend to pass legislation for which there is a popular demand. Unlike the totalitarian States and dictatorships, we do not have our legislation imposed upon us from above, but it tends to come along as the result of popular demand. From my experience among all sorts of people, I am convinced that there is a very general demand from the majority of the citizens in favour of this Measure. I congratulate the Home Secretary both upon the Measure and the admirable speech with which he introduced it. I have had my regrets about the Home Secretary in the past. I think that in some respects he may have degenerated as a politician from his old Radical days, but I am inclined to think that he is still a good Radical libertarian as ever he was, and I am glad to be able to pay him that tribute.
None of us would say that this is a perfect Bill. I said that I would give it general and whole-hearted support, but I do not accept every item of the Bill as being satisfactory. I am not a lawyer. The Amendment of a somewhat intricate Bill such as this will, no doubt, be largely the work of lawyers in this House. I do not mind how much the lawyers attempt to amend the Bill as long as they do it in a constructive manner. I hope that they will not make the Bill, as they may well do, an occasion for legal hair-splitting. We have the assurance of the spokesman of our party—and I was very glad to hear it—that we are to give 1435 general support to the Measure, and, in addition, that we are not going to support Amendments of an obstructive character. We are under an obligation to behave in that way. We have asked for this Bill. [An HON. MEMBER.: "Worse luck!"] Never mind, we have done it. We want action taken against these disturbers of the public peace, and, having taken up that attitude, there is a very real obligation resting upon us to support this Measure. We are sometimes accused of willing the end without willing the means, and when that case can be established it is a very damaging case against us. We do not want to be put into the position, in this particular instance, of saying that we have desired that action should be taken against these disturbers of the peace, and then, when the proposed action is put before us, have taken up an attitude of factious opposition.
I find that the Bill is to take away some of my liberty, as it is going to take away some of the liberty of all of us. But we ought to look at the matter broadly. I am prepared, the situation in the world being what it is and the situation of democracy being what it is, here and there to sacrifice a certain amount of liberty I have hitherto enjoyed in order to see that democratic government is more firmly established in this country. I am of opinion that if we were to allow the state of things which has been going on in the East End of London and elsewhere to continue, it would in time become a real menace to our democratic system. As I have said that I do not want the lawyers to indulge in hair-splitting in connection with this Measure, it is necessary for me to say a word or two about a colleague of mine who is not at present in the House. I refer to the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt). He is a very able lawyer, and he is also, I think, the Chairman of the National Council for Civil Liberties. I read with great interest an article in "The New Statesman" of last week written by him, dealing with this Measure. I am bound to say that—and I am sorry my hon. and learned Friend is not present; perhaps I should have warned him—he was dealing with this Measure just in the way I have been fearing that the lawyers 1436 would deal with it. That does not apply merely to our own lawyers; it applies to lawyers all round. He says that the Bill lacks definition and certainty, but goes on to admit that the draftsman has done wonders. He considers the defects are due mainly to the inherent difficulties of the problem. Having said that, he proceeds to find fault with almost every Clause of the Bill, and suggests that the Bill in effect marks the birth of the police State. That is not the way, if we really want to be helpful and to deal with this problem—as I hope we do want to deal with it—that this Bill should be approached.
I am going to deal with one specific criticism which he makes with reference to Clause 3. He makes a great point of saying that police action in deviating processions or prohibiting demonstrations cannot be challenged in a court of law. I suggest to him and to the House that, if we are really democrats, we must have some faith in democracy. The lawyers may be all right; they may have great faith in the Courts, but having had some little experience of the Courts on one or two occasions, I have not so much faith in these institutions of our country. What are the facts of this particular point which he makes? I suggest that the police are always unlikely to act in a way which is deliberately contrary to public feeling. They would not cause a procession to go from the normal route unless they felt that in so doing they were acting more or less in consonance with prevalent public opinion, and I also think that they would not prohibit demonstrations in particular areas unless they also felt that they were acting in accordance with the prevalent public opinion. If they did so and seemed to Members of this House to cause processions to go out of their way when they should not have done, or to prohibit demonstrations, then, surely, the democratic remedy would be for us in this House to challenge the Executive on that occasion and cause the police to mend their ways. If it be in the provinces, there are elected authorities where the same corrective action could be applied. [An HON. MEMBER "They do not control the police."] The Watch Committees, on which there are public representatives, could certainly take action in regard to this matter. Suppose the police were acting in accordance with public feeling and that they had the great 1437 mass of the public behind them, what value would recourse to the courts be in this instance?
§ Mr. THURTLE
When there is a state of great public feeling normally their judgments are responsive to that state of public feeling. Let me give an illustration. Suppose we were to have another war—I hope that we never shall —hon. Members will understand the kind of intense mass feeling which that state arouses. If in those circumstances pacifists wanted to exercise their right to demonstrate or to march through certain areas and they were prohibited from doing so by the police, it is extremely unlikely that any recourse to the courts would help them, because the courts in that state of public feeling would almost invariably by their decisions reflect that feeling. Therefore, there is no case for making great play with the argument that we are taking away the right of recourse to the courts. In my judgment it is far-fetched nonsense to talk of this being the birth of a police State. I would sooner as a democrat appeal to Parliament and to the local authorities than have recourse to any courts.
§ Mr. THURTLE
If you rely on the courts to check the executive in that way you are relying on a very broken reed. I should like to refer to Clause 2 (4). I do not like that Sub-section, and we must make a very strong effort to get it altered. Some provision of this kind may be necessary. I do not know whether it is within the knowledge of the House that a technique has been developed by the Fascists for dealing with this very situation, or something similar. It has come out in the courts, in proceedings at Old Street, that when a person who appears to all intents and purposes to be a member of the Fascist organisation has been charged with a breach of the peace or with disorderly conduct of some sort, and he is charged with being a member of the Fascist party, he immediately produces from his pocket a typewritten letter showing that he has been expelled from the organisation. I understand that 1438 that is a general measure of protection which is taken by the Fascists. Before-hand they provide their members with a letter of that kind so that if the necessity arises they can use the letter to disavow any connection whatever with the organisation.
My only other point is in connection with Clause 6, which relates to the question of disturbances at public meetings. It is said that the power which is given under this Bill is not adequate. That is a matter for argument. I am inclined to think that if the police are given the power to take names, that in itself will have a very salutary effect upon the disturbers of the peace. My experience is that if I have had a disorderly meeting and a fierce amount of heckling, if one policeman comes in it seems to have an extraordinary effect upon the people who have been creating the disturbance. Just as in the Army if someone gave an order that the name of some offender must be taken, so I am inclined to think that if the police are given the right to take the names and addresses of disturbers, with the threat of prosecution which that action implies, it will have a very salutary effect upon those people.
That is all that I desire to say about the Bill in detail. Finally, I would say that in this House we do not like to make unnecessary laws, but I suggest that there is a regrettable and real necessity for this particular Measure. It has been brought about by deliberate disturbances and by indefensible interferences with the rights of a considerable body of our citizens. So far as we are concerned it does not interfere with any real right of carrying on propaganda. If it does cause us, as I have admitted earlier, to sacrifice in some minor degree some of the liberties we have hitherto enjoyed, I think the gain we shall get from the Bill will more than compensate us for those sacrifices. Therefore, I give the Bill whole-hearted support, and I hope that it will have a speedy passage to the Statute Book.
§ 9.0 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
Like the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) and the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) I give the Bill my general support. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) is not in his place. He seemed 1439 dissatisfied. Indeed he was only satisfied with that part of the Bill which is already the existing law. He seemed to imagine that it will not serve the admirable purpose which he so eloquently unfolded in his concluding remarks. I look forward with keen anticipation to my hon. Friend dividing the House with the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen)—if so we shall witness a very impressive triple alliance. My hon. Friend seemed specially displeased with the Home Secretary. Of all the things that the Home Secretary has accomplished this is a far, far better thing than he has ever done. But I should not wish to round off this valedictory quotation, still less would I wish the right hon. Gentleman to share the fate of Sidney Carton. On the contrary, I thank him for having done something which ought to have been done by his predecessor three years ago.
In February, 1934, in answer to a Question from me, the right hon. Member for the Pollock Division (Sir J. Gilmour) said that the matter of uniforms was engaging his serious consideration. He was watching the situation. What a prolonged vigil! Long-standing engagements are notoriously nerve-racking. Well, it has taken all this time for the present Government and its predecessor to recognise, to learn and to grasp the principle that liberty implies the paradox that there must be no licence to attack freedom. Instead of a Measure to protect the country against an extremely sinister alien movement which was extraordinarily active and disorderly during the life of the last Parliament, we were asked to pass a monstrous Measure called the Incitement to Disaffection Bill. Some of us assailed that Measure at its birth, and it has only survived in salutary and pitiable impotence. But the radiant child whose birth we celebrate to-day is going to eclipse that revolting offspring of the last Government.
The present Bill has its imperfections, and I hope that we shall prune away some of the novel and dangerous powers with which it 'is proposed to invest the police. The courts of law and the House of Commons ought to be the sovereign powers in our democracy, and I am very suspicious in a free State such as ours 1440 of raising any police authority. I think, however, that the main purpose of the Bill is excellent. It meets and will, I believe, destroy the seditious Fascist challenge. That, and nothing else, I interpret as the heart of this Bill. I foresee the Fascist movement's early death now that its specious patriotism can no longer radiate an appeal to adolescents by means of uniforms borrowed half from the German Nazis and half from the Italian Fascists. I have always felt that it is the most un-British weed that has ever pushed itself above British soil. It is notoriously fruitful of Communism, which would otherwise be a danger too ridiculous to contemplate. I can claim to know because I represent a City whose large population has had its share from time to time of hardship and distress.
Without Fascism, Communism in this country would be both negligible and impotent. Now we are going to take measures which will have the effect of destroying Fascism, and we shall incidentally and simultaneously damage the prospects of Communism at the same time. The anti-Semitic propaganda which the Fascist movement has recently been spreading throughout the country is also not without its danger, though I do not believe that in England generally anti-Semitism has reached dangerous proportions. We are witnessing the old device of the would-be dictator of raising unpopularity against a distinct minority within the State. The Jewish element in England is one of the most valuable of the countless ingredients in our national life, but some of our fellow-citizens, I think we should recognise, have a half articulate antipathy to the Jews. Decent people are ashamed of that emotion, but the danger becomes real when a careerist like Sir Oswald Mosley batters down protests against his anti-Semitism as he proclaims that a discreditable sentiment is in fact an excellent thing. It is then, I think, that the suppressed anti-Semitism among many people becomes a possible danger.
I want to say only one more thing in particular about Fascism, and it is this. It is a topic which it is delicate to mention in this House. I believe that Fascism carries with it the inevitable consequence of bringing the Crown into contempt. If you elevate a political leader into a national hero, the lustre of 1441 the Crown is inevitably tarnished. I have always felt that one of the greatest guarantees of our democratic freedom in this country and of our civic tranquillity is the continuous and sober influence wielded by the Monarch. If I may say this without presumption, I think it should be the anxious concern of all true democrats to preserve the prestige of the Crown unimpaired, when we see what is happening abroad, and to keep that great institution unspotted in the Realm.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I hope the House will extend a little toleration to me for a few moments, because I am afraid that I am not going to be altogether in harmony with the sentiments which have been so far expressed. I want to point to the significance of this Bill. There is a sense of unreality about the whole Debate. If ever a man ought to be pleased at getting cheap publicity it should be the gentleman whose name has been bandied about so much this evening. In my opinion he has been one of the greatest jokes of this century. When he was in the Labour party I warned my colleagues to look out, but to-day he can certainly say that he has got the whole field to himself. What is the cause of extreme sections in the community threatening the democratic institutions in the State? That is the question we have to consider. The Fascists and the Communists are not the cause; they are the effect. Why are they in the State now?
Why is it that this country with its constitutionally-minded people and its constitution, the like of which no other country knows anything, a constitution of which we should be justly proud—why is it that we see this kind of thing in the State now? The fault does not lie with the Communists or the Fascists. The fault for this state of affairs lies in this House of Commons. We are to blame. Can you blame men for becoming impatient and wanting to see a change when they see this institution creaking under the weight of centuries of tradition. If we want to remove some of the archaic vested interests which are keeping the people back from a better condition of life, it must go to Committee upstairs, everyone must make a speech in opposition and when it comes back to 1442 the House Members must make speeches again because their constituents want to know that they are present. There must be a change in the machinery of this House which will help towards an expeditious expression of the will of the people. If we do not take that course, can you wonder that in a State such as ours gangsterdom should take this form and threaten the State? It is no good sitting here and being brave men at the sight of a poor ghost which does not exist. My colleague the hon. Member for Shore-ditch (Mr. Thurtle) uttered one of the most stupid fallacies I have ever heard. He said that he was willing to curtail some of his liberty to safeguard democracy. That is a fine piece of reasoning.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
That is to say that he is willing to kill democracy in order to save it. The Bill before the House is one of which the House should be ashamed. It is said that it is impossible to define what is a military uniform. Still the House feels that it should do something; at the same time is fearful that it is not satisfied with what it is doing. There is some apprehension. We have the highest admiration for the clarity of expression of the Lord Advocate, but even he made a slip. He seemed to think that we should accept the Bill not as a Bill to curtail the liberty of the subject, but rather as a Bill to express the defence of the liberty of the subject. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to be careful of accepting that maxim, because in the past the curtailment of liberty has been initiated by that very appeal.
The Bill will not change the circumstances which have given rise to Fascism and other gangsters. These extreme sections in the community are the outward expression of an inward bad condition of the State. Bands of men on the Thames Embankment down and out, and no one looks at them. Along come the black shirts and they become a unity in the State. They are given a uniform. Men who know nothing about economics are suddenly lifted into a mass movement, and are given some force and dignity in the State. That is how these things are growing. From the gutters and destitution of the State are found the recruits for these armies. This Bill will not change that. One cannot check outbursts 1443 of extreme expression in the State by Bills of this sort. Let me say that if the House took steps to make it compulsory for every political organisation in this country to state publicly the sources of its revenue, I would be glad to vote for such a Measure. Let that public statement be open for review by any citizen so that it might be known exactly where the money is coming from, and I can assure the House that, if the sources of some of these movements were made public it would cause their dissolution. Certainly there would be very few Scots Fascists left if the sources of revenue were made public. I would move heaven and earth to make every political movement, without exception, state publicly where its money is coming from. I believe that would have the effect which the House is trying to achieve by this Bill.
I cannot in the time I shall take develop that argument, but I will conclude by insisting upon the point from which I started. It is time that the House of Commons and statesmen—not merely in this country but in other countries which pretend to be democracies —took their attention away from the mere superficial appearance of things and got to the root causes that give rise to this rottenness in the State. That would be an effective thing to do. It is said that if we pass this Bill we shall be doing something about Fascism, and I heard an hon. Member opposite purporting to prove that if this Bill is passed we shall do something with the Communists. That is not so.
My final words are these. This tinkering Bill will not accomplish anything. If the House is determined to keep democracy and liberty flourishing in this country of ours—and it is the only country in the world to-day that is giving men hope that there may some day be a revival of democracy throughout the world—if the House cherishes this thing called democracy and liberty, I beg it not to make, by a device of this kind, perhaps the mistake which will put a strait-jacket on democracy, but rather to get back to the root problems that create the necessity for this superficial Bill. Make democracy clean, make it invincible, make it something worth boasting about by clearing out of society poverty, destitution, the maldistribution 1444 of wealth, the slowness of the machinery of government; make it a little more swift in giving expression to the popular will. If those things are done, there will be no excuses for the growth of a fungus such as this in this country of ours.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. M. BEAUMONT
I feel sure that to-morrow, when they read his speech, the citizens of Burslem will be glad to know that their Member was in the House to-night, and my only regret that he is here is that he has said—far better than I could—a great many of the things I wanted to say. I, like most other Members of this House, view this Bill with considerable misgiving, misgiving which is intensified by the speech of the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams). I think that speech was the most dangerous attack upon the Bill I have yet heard. Nothing could do more harm to this Bill, nothing could do more harm to the House and nothing could do more harm in the country than the idea that this is an anti-Fascist Bill. If it were, I, for one, would go into the Lobby against it. I do not want to see Fascism in this country, but if this House passes partisan Bills, which are accepted as such, it will be the biggest advertisement and the biggest boost for the British Union of Fascists that they have ever had.
I am not opposing this Bill—although there are features I dislike—because I do not believe that that is its attempt, and do not think that will be its effect; but I beg hon. Members on all sides of the House, whether or not they agree with the hon. Member for Burslem, not to imagine that it is possible to cure extremism by legislation of this kind. It cannot be done. It was tried in Germany when the brown shirts were banned. It was not because it was too late that it was a failure; it was because the Weimer Constitution was rotten and not giving the people a fair deal. It was tried in Russia, with the banning of Communism, Socialism and Liberalism before the War; it failed because the Imperial Tsarist régime was rotten at the core. I believe that in this country extremism has very little hold on the people and does not amount to very much; but that is only because on the whole the bulk of the people believe that they are getting a square deal out of the present Constitu- 1445 tion. While they believe that, extremism will make no progress; when they cease to believe it, neither legislation nor anything else will stop them, from whichever side it may come. I am afraid of this Bill for the reason of the speech of the hon. Member for West Leeds. I think thereis a serious danger that it will be regarded as a partisan Bill, and if it is, the movements which all Members of this House dislike, and the incidents which they wish to see checked, will grow like mushrooms in a dunghill.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I do not intend to do that. I shall not do so because, in the first place, I do not believe it is primarily a partisan anti-Fascist Bill, and secondly, I do not believe the provisions of the Bill will be effective. Although I do not regard it as a matter of any great seriousness, I frankly regret that the Government have seen their way to introduce Clause 1, which bans uniforms. If people like to run about in fancy dress, I do not believe any very great harm is done. I do not pay much attention to the argument that uniforms are provocative. Every speech and every movement that is worth listening to is provocative. Speeches in this House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the Leader of the Opposition are all provocative, and they rouse in my breast the wildest passions and fury. I do not mean all of them. The whole of the principle of free speech depends upon the ability to control oneself when the provocations are offered. This House, and the Press, and the public, when they are talking about the deplorable incidents that have occurred are apt to forget that it takes two to make a row, and that if one side offers provocation the other side has to take active measures to resent it before there is trouble.
If every anti-Fascist signed a self-denying ordinance for six months, and either did not attend or did not interrupt a Fascist meeting during that time, at the end of six months there would be no Fascist party in this country. The merits of abstention have been overlooked by certain sections. When I lived in Hyde Park Terrace, which is a grand name for 1446 the Bayswater Road, we used to have marchers coming down with banners on which were written, "Workers, the landlords are starving your babies" and "Down with the capitalist baby-starvers," and things of that kind. It was just as provocative as anything said about the Fascists, but we did not rush out and break up the meeting, nor did we come to the House and ask for protection, and the result was that it had no effect. A little restraint would be far better anti-Fascist propaganda than this Clause in the Bill. The Clause has this other disadvantage from the Government's point of view, that I cannot see how the Home Secretary is going to enforce it. I agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), who said that if you cannot define a thing that is a good reason for not putting in a definition. He used an analogy about a terrier and a rat. But a terrier does know a rat when it sees it, but does a magistrate know a uniform if he sees one?
You may stop some of the major ebullitions of military glory indulged in by Sir Oswald Mosley, but when you come down to the ordinary black shirt it will be difficult to resist the defence that a man wears it because he cannot afford to pay the laundry bill—and that is not a political offence. If we all came down to the House one day in blue socks, would that be a uniform? A red tie is a very well-known example of partisanship among the party opposite. Is that to be deemed a uniform? From time immemorial people have used badges, armlets and rosettes to show their political sympathy. You cannot ban the lot, and that is not the intention of the Bill. If the Fascist party are clever—thank heaven, I think they are stupid—they will be able to drive a coach and four through this Clause and achieve everything they want without breaking the law. I am sorry that the Government have taken a course which I believe will be misinterpreted, and which will be ineffective.
On Clause 2 the Home Secretary gave us an interesting dissertation, and I want to mention only one thing he said and to ask for a reassurance and an interpretation. It is the question of stewards at meetings. He said specifically, and I am certain he is right but I would like to know why, that nothing in the Bill would 1447 stop the organisers of meetings, responsible for the conduct of meetings, from organising stewards for the purpose of keeping order. I cannot as a layman, or as a magistrate who may have to interpret this, see how it is impossible to say that they are not people organised for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force. If you have meetings in a rowdy area you organise your stewards purely and simply as chuckers-out. I have no patience whatever with this talk about the right to heckle and interrupt. I have never tolerated it, and I am not going to. I do not believe it is necessary. A man has a perfect right if he hires a hall to make his speech without interruption, however offensive and unpleasant it may be. If people do not like it they can stay away. When the law puts on the organisers the onus of securing order, it must not do anything to prevent the organisers seeing that they do keep order.
I have been chucked out of a good many Socialist meetings in my time. I was interrupting. I used to think it fun to go to the East End and heckle at opposition meetings. I used to get chucked out and I used to get hurt. But I did not go whining to the police about Socialist brutality. I went down there asking for trouble, I got it, and everybody was satisfied. People who come to my meetings will find the same thing. The law expects organisers of meetings to keep order, and it must not hamper them in doing it. I would like a further word of assurance on this point from the Attorney-General when he replies.
I would also like to refer to the provision that all prosecutions have to be subject to the consent of the Attorney-General. I was not happy about what the Home Secretary said on that. The Attorney-General, after all, is a politician, and in these matters there is bound to be a certain partisan feeling. I will be as little provocative as I can by saying that there are people who might conceivably hold that office whom I should be sorry to see have that power, and they are not all on one side. However impartial an Attorney-General may be, the other side will say that he has been partial, and that, in prosecutions of this sort, must be a bad thing. We have not forgotten the Campbell case. Whichever side you take it was not an affair which added to the 1448 dignity or prestige of Parliament. I hope the Government will consider accepting an Amendment in Committee. It may be all very well in Scotland, where apparently it is the common practice that the equivalent officer should issue the writs, but in England additional importance will be given to the prosecution by the fact that the Attorney-General has seen fit to authorise prosecution in a particular case. I think that a risky and undesirable thing and I hope the Government will consider accepting an Amendment in Committee to substitute one who is not ipso facto an active politician.
On Clause 3, dealing with processions, I would only say this. Some hon. Members opposite have criticised the Bill on the ground that it is likely to interfere unduly with the liberty of those who wish to hold demonstrations. But the general public have liberties also, and processions are always inconvenient because they upset traffic. They are very expensive also in the matter of police and other charges on the rates. I do not believe that nowadays they are of great value. In the past, before communications were as good as they are now, the mass demonstration was a means of reaching the public, but I do not think that at the present time they count for very much. I do not believe that much harm would be done by the proposal in the Clause, while I think some general good to the promoters of demonstrations, as well as the general public, might well result.
I do not think that anyone will object to Clause 4 which deals with the carrying of weapons, nor do I think will any hon. Member seriously object to Clause 5, which deals with offensive conduct. None of us will defend that kind of conduct in so far as it is really offensive but one can be provocative without causing a breach of the peace—at least I hope so—and, if there is any breach of the peace, I maintain that the people who are provoked are as much to blame as the provoker. On Clause 6, I disagree profoundly with the Home Secretary—which I feel sure will worry him a lot—on the subject of the institution of prosecutions in respect of disorder at meetings. I believe that we have reached a stage of political development at which we ought to be able to hold peaceful political meetings and that the State should take, at least 1449 some responsibility, for preserving order at political meetings. An hon. Member said that it was impossible to expect the organisers of meetings during a contested election to incur the odium of instituting a prosecution. I think there is a great deal to be said for the view of the hon. Member for Shoreditch that the mere fact that the police had power to take names would be enough. I believe if that power were reinforced by the further power—which I think would be seldom used—to institute prosecutions in grave cases, the cure for this rowdyism, which we all wish to see abolished, would be complete.
I think that a great deal of this Bill is unnecessary, and I fear that some of it is unworkable. But in so far as it is a non-partisan attempt to secure order at public meetings and, what is more important still, to safeguard from annoyance that fortunate section of the population who have no political ties but who suffer from the noise and the turmoil caused by the ebullitions of those who take their politics too seriously—in so far as it is a non-partisan attempt to do that, and in so far as it is likely to achieve that purpose, the Bill will have my support. But I, like almost every other hon. Member who has spoken in this Debate, propose to watch the Bill carefully in Committee with the object of removing from it such provisions as seem to be partisan, useless or inept.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. SPENS
It is very satisfactory, from one point of view, to find that with the exception of a small section below the Gangway the House, as a whole, is in favour of the general proposal in this Bill. On the other hand, I do not believe I have ever listened to a Debate in which so many hon. Members have been tightrope dancers. That attitude on the part of such a number of Members is, to my mind, extremely dangerous and likely to bring about effects of the very kind which we all deprecate. Either there are occasions which require legislation of this kind or there are not. If we believe that it is necessary to legislate on these lines, then that legislation must be such as will enable the executive to deal with the situation we envisage. If we do not think that, then do not let us try to deal with the matter at all. To leave the executive 1450 with an ineffective weapon for the purpose of dealing with the kind of thing we have in mind, would be the most utter folly in which this House could possibly indulge.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays) and with the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Mr. Chater), as regards the first two Clauses of the Bill, that the time has come when it is necesary for the House to deal with the threatened attitude of those who desire to form and maintain private armies in this country. It is an accident that the occasion which has arisen happens to concern Sir Oswald Mosley and his black shirts. The hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green tells the House and the country quite frankly that if the House did not deal, by legislation, with the threat which we see in the case of the black shirts, he and his friends would in a short time feel counselled to do the same sort of thing. That is exactly what happened in Germany, according to the hon. Member for North Bristol, and the failure in Germany was that the constitutional Government of the time did not strike soon enough and did not strike strongly enough. Let us learn from that example and make up our minds that if we are going to strike at all we should strike at once, and strike with strength.
That is why I deprecate a great deal of the criticism which we have heard from hon. Members who, while they are behind the Bill, desire that the weapons with which it proposes to arm the executive should be modified in this, that or the other respect. I suggest that there is one great danger in that attitude. If we go into the Committee stage in that frame of mind, we shall so emasculate the Bill that in the end the executive will have been provided with weapons which will be ineffective to deal with the trouble. I venture to disagree with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont). I would point out that the first two Clauses of the Bill which are aimed at the threatened maintenance of private armies are subject to the fiat and action of the Attorney-General. I take the view that if we, in this country, ever have an Attorney-General who is prepared to prostitute his office by instituting prosecutions or civil actions against those of opposite political organisations, 1451 because they are of opposite political organisations, then this Measure will be mere waste paper because our political liberties will have gone.
Surely we must consider the proposals in the Bill on two bases, the first being that the Attorney-General will continue to exercise his office with the same high sense of responsibility as Attorneys-General have shown ever since they ceased to be placemen of the Crown some 150 years ago, and the second, that the magistrates and judges will exercise their office as responsible and impartial members of the Bench. Of course, if hon. Members take the view that the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) takes, that you cannot trust the police, the magistrates, or the judges, then one understands their opposition to this Bill, but if the rest of us believe in these particular safeguards, then I suggest that there is nothing very wrong with the first two Clauses of the Bill. I even go this length, lawyer as I am, and say that, having regard to facts which are known to me, as they are to the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), I believe that Sub-section (4) of Clause 2, or something like it, is very necessary if we are to deal with certain practical problems which will be before the Executive, or may be before the Executive, within a comparatively short time.
May I deal with one other matter, which I think has not yet been referred to in this Debate, but which was the subject of the article which was written by my hon. and learned Friend who I thought was going to be on the Front Bench now, in the "New Statesman" last week? He referred, with some heat and indignation, to the suggestion that there should be any power to deal with the property of these illegal associations, and he made it a great point that at any moment the Attorney-General might make an application under which he could stop any dealings with the properties of these associations, and wind them up, and the first thing they would know about it would be when someone arrived from the court to take possession of their property. I cannot but believe that my hon. and learned Friend knows quite well that such a picture is absolutely exaggerated. The Attorney-General, in the first place, if he made an ex parte application, would only be given very 1452 temporary powers to stop dealing with the property, and there would be no winding up except after proof that the association was an illegal association.
Let me come now to the next important part of the Bill, that dealing with processions. If there be a right of procession —and certainly something of that sort has grown up, although probably not legally recognised, of late years—what this Bill is aiming at is the abuse of that right when two known contending factions desire to process to the same place at the same time or to go so near to each other that there is a very good chance of a brawl on the public highway. That is an abuse of any alleged right of procession, and I would suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) that under those circumstances the only authorities that can deal with the matter are the police authorities. It is certain almost always to be an emergency, and the police must, in my view, have the right at once to direct that one procession shall go one way and one procession another way. I therefore, think that if that is a matter about which we have to legislate at all, we should envisage it as an emergency, and we must give the police authorities power to deal as they think right with that emergency, and trust our police authorities in that matter.
The only other matter on which I wish to say a word is with regard to Clause 6 and the right of public meetings. There, again, I would suggest that the House has to make up its mind what it is really going to deal with. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) spoke about this constant organised interruption and breaking-up of public meetings, but as I understand Clause 6 it does not really deal with that at all. It does not go that length. Very often you get a state of things far less extensive, but equally annoying and irritating to the speaker and his friends, when one particular person will go on making a nuisance of himself. At the present time, as I understand it, the police cannot take the name and address of that person, and nothing can be done to that particular nuisance. Clause 6 deals with that man who very often does follow you round. He certainly does in the country, although I do not know 1453 what happens in the towns, and it is constantly the same gentleman who gets up and generally reads, if not always the same question, a new edition of it each night. You see him at each of your seven, eight, or nine meetings in the country, and that is the sort of gentleman who makes a great nuisance of himself and against whom there is no proper power under the law at present. That man will undoubtedly be stopped, because he will give his name and address to the police, and he will be told that if he goes on doing it he will be prosecuted.
§ Mr. SPENS
No, and, if I may say so, the hon. Member could not have been following me. I was talking of an individual who made a perfect nuisance of himself and spoiled a meeting—an individual, not an organised gang formed to break up meetings. I was only suggesting that that matter, about which the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland spoke, is not envisaged in Clause 6. It may very well be that it is a matter about which this House ought to legislate, but, as I read the Clause, I do not believe that it has anything to do at present with the organised breaking-up of meetings night after night in the same district. If the matter is so serious that legislation is required, I suggest that it will not be an Amendment to Clause 6, but a completely new Clause, which will be needed to deal with that type of impediment to freedom of speech.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
Would this Clause apply to the professional questioner whom the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) was sending round to meetings of his opponents? Would she not be a nuisance?
§ Mr. SPENS
She might be, but she does not break up meetings any more than the professional questioner who always comes to me from the party opposite, and whose questions I often have to state for him, because he does not understand them himself. I am dealing with the person who is sufficient of a nuisance to make the carrying on of a meeting impossible. I would end as I began by saying that I feel very strongly that when every Clause in this 1454 Bill does, in popular language, infringe our liberties, we ought to be quite certain that legislation is necessary, but if we are going to legislate, we must legislate in such a way as to give the Executive a weapon which will be effective to deal with the evils against which we think that legislation is necessary.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
I suppose it would be true to say that there is not a Member of the House who would not wish that the occasion for this Bill had not arisen. It must have been a Bill of some considerable difficulty for the Secretary of State to frame. It is a Bill that puts various hon. Members of the House in some difficulty on some point or another, and we can all wish that our country was so free of the circumstances which give rise to a legislative proposal of this kind that it was not necessary for the House of Commons to consider a Bill which is bound to put some restrictions upon somebody's freedom to do exactly what they think they ought to do—perhaps I ought to say exactly as somebody else thinks they ought to do—in the field of politics and political activity. Every one of us would sooner do something else than have to spend time on this Bill. It is also true that nobody in the House—certainly on this side, and, I think, on the other side also—wishes in the slightest degree to interfere with the historic and hardly-won right of free speech in Great Britain.
We do not wish to pass legislation that inevitably must involve risks up to a point for all political parties and not only the political party which misbehaves itself. It is the kind of matter with which we do not want to interfere. It has, however, always been said that freedom of speech and of expression must take reasonable account of other people's freedom as well. A political organisation which has the purpose of destroying freedom of action and freedom of political organisation cannot itself very well plead the cause of freedom to do exactly as it likes. Consequently, if there be a political organisation in the State which is seeking by methods which have been successful in other countries to destroy the liberty of our people, to destroy the liberty of expression, to destroy the liberty of politi- 1455 cal organisation, of trade union organisation, and of co-operative organisation, and if that organisation is pursuing methods which are out of accord with free, liberty-loving political activity, then a State which desires to preserve liberty has a right to take action with a view to checking action which is calculated to destroy the liberty that we wish to preserve.
The hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) gave us a picture, which I am sure was a feeling picture in his mind, of another kind of difficulty in election and political meetings, namely, organised rowdyism or rowdyism of such a sort that it is impossible to conduct a meeting for the purpose for which it is held. He even gave pictures of physical violence and injury to people which, if it be true, will certainly find no support from anybody on this side of the House. We desire for our political opponents every freedom of expression in political meetings and otherwise. There are very few of us who during an election have not appealed for that freedom of expression for our opponents, and I rather object to the implication that the only people who interrupt meetings are supporters of the Labour party. It really is not true.
§ Commander BOWER
I was very careful to say that these interruptions were common to the meetings of all parties, but that we got a great deal more than hon. Members opposite. I am certain that that is true.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I do not know whether that be the case, but I myself have had my share of interruptions at meetings. I had some at Bow and Bromley the other Sunday at a meeting, with my right hon. Friend the Member for the Division (Mr. Lansbury), from the people who are the reason for this Bill. I have had interruptions and even threats of violence, amazing as it may seem, from good, independent, free Liberals in the county of Cornwall. I went down there on the assumption that Liberalism there was the champion of freedom, and I found that I had to mind my step and that, whatever has happened to Liberalism elsewhere, there was a dangerous vigour about it at that meeting in Cornwall. In other parts I have been, 1456 as my hon. Friends have been, shouted down and threatened with physical violence by Tories and reactionaries. The bulk of our supporters in the distinctly rural areas, unless they are economically independent, are not free to express their views. One is liable to interruption, disturbance and even violence in those parts. As for interruptions from the political friends of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), they are notorious. I have had a rough time with them on many occasions in London, South Wales, and elsewhere.
On the whole, one does not mind a reasonable measure of interruption, and even a first-class row, but it becomes annoying when the purpose of the interruption by organisation is to prevent the meeting functioning at all. I have put on my election address at South Hackney for three General Elections running a slogan, "Herbert Morrison asks for a fair hearing for his opponents." I tell my supporters to leave my opponents alone and that anybody who interferes with them is no friend of mine. This is not exceptional on my part; it is common among my friends. When there is a row I try to find out who causes it and whether he is a member of the Labour party or not; and I can never trace members of the Labour party in it. Who causes the rows I do not know. I imagine that they are free bold adventurers who have a row at a Tory meeting one night and at my meeting the next night, and equally enjoy themselves on both occasions. It is wrong, we deprecate it, and we condemn it. We say so here and we have said so elsewhere. At Bow and Bromley the other Sunday when the Fascists were trying to obstruct the meeting, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley was chairman. There were a few policemen present, and when an interrupter was persistent my right hon. Friend pointed him out to the police, who tapped him on the shoulder, and he went out as calm and gentle as a lamb.
There is a great deal to be said for that procedure in dealing with the kind of interruption which has the purpose of making a meeting impossible. On the other hand, we must not be too thin-skinned about interruptions. If I may I will respectfully give a word of advice to some hon. Members opposite, and ask them to be good enough to pass it on to some of their candidates who have not 1457 got to this House. There is an art in handling interrupters which they do not always possess. There is a way of getting over trouble reasonably well, and if they ask for trouble then, like the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), when he got thrown out of Socialist meetings in the East End, they must put up with the consequences. Some Conservative speakers do say things which are asking for the maximum of trouble at meetings. If they have an experience of that kind and they do not realise why they are putting their foot into it, I invite them to come to me or to some of my hon. Friends and ask, "Where did I blunder, what is the best way of making that point just as effective or even more effective without creating a storm?" and our services are at their disposal free, gratis and for nothing.
It has been a tradition of British politics for a long time that our politics are civilian politics. We have carefully kept the armed forces of the Crown out of politics. We do not let our generals make political speeches any more than we can avoid. We discourage it, and, while one must keep an eye on them, broadly speaking the armed forces of the Crown are, and I hope they always will be, the instruments of the Government constitutionally in power and, whatever its political colour, must do what they are told. The Government in turn is dependent on the good will of the House of Commons. Our politics are the politics of citizens, our political parties are the political parties of citizens, they are the political parties of private persons, and the experience of every country in the world, is that if you allow the militarisation of politics, if you allow the armed forces to become the creatures of separate political parties, then, sooner or later, political liberty and constitutional freedom are at an end.
I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends who represent East London constituencies wish they represented as peaceful and quiet a place as the Aylesbury division. Then they would not be worried, even as the hon. Member for Aylesbury is not worried. If he represented Mile End, or Whitechapel and St. George's, or North-East or South-West Bethnal Green, he would take this business a little more seriously than he has taken it in the speech he made to-night. 1458 It was a very interesting speech. It seemed to me that he was an opponent of the Clauses which are calculated to be embarrassing to the British Union of Fascists, and that on the whole the Clauses he would like to stiffen up might be a source of embarrassment to hon. Members and their friends on this side of the House. I began to think that he did his job very well. If I had been a member of the British Union of Fascists and had wanted someone to make a useful speech in the House of Commons to help me I should have chosen the speech which the hon. Member has made. Taking that point of view, I should have thought he would have divided the House on Second Reading. I gather that he will not do se. It would be interesting to have a division on the Second Reading of this Bill, a division which we should, on the whole, welcome. But we are not going to call a division, because the House of Commons instinctively knows that this is not the Bill of a political party, is not a partisan Bill. We have faults to find with it and we will come to them in Committee. What the Home Secretary has done, quite properly, is to act promptly, and I compliment him on it, especially having regard to the fact that he got a hit over the head from me at Edinburgh and he gave me one back, and properly. In this matter the Home Secretary has acted promptly after certain incidents have occurred, not as a politician, not as a partisan Minister, but as a Minister of the Crown, responding not to the clamour of any political party, but responding to the demand of everything that is decent, everything that is good, everything that is fine in British public opinion, and having so acted he is entitled to the support of the House. The hon. Gentleman opposite scorned the possibility that legislation against uniforms could make any difference, and my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) took the same view. He said "It does not matter." I would only say that Scandinavian experience does not bear out that point of view, and that this movement, which has been growing in various countries, tended to collapse when the rule against uniforms was made.
What is the real inwardness of this uniform business, this military drill, this military parading and the military designations of the officials of the 1459 organisation itself? As a London politician and as a political officer in London I object to the officer of any political party being known as "Officer Commanding, London Command." I do not mind the general officer commanding the armed forces of the War Office in London being so known, I do not mind the officers of the Territorial Army, but I object to a mere political official calling himself "Officer Commanding, London Command." We have to take this matter in its total psychology, including the uniform, with its effect of authority in the British mind. The British citizen does pay respect to the uniform of the police and the uniforms of the Army, the Navy and so on, and it is proper that he should do so. He respects, too, even the uniform of the streets inspector in an open-air market in the East End of London. Instinctively the costermonger pays respect to that man, who may be earning only £4 a week, but who has come from the borough council. His uniform represents the Metropolitan borough council of the district. He respects that uniform but not because he is a slave of that fellow, because if that inspector were saucy the costermonger would be perfectly free and quick to be saucy in return, and he would promptly write to the Mayor about it and there would be a row. Nevertheless when authority comes, provided that it is constitutional authority, authority that is responsible to Parliament or to the local government, the decent British citizen respects it—at any rate for the time being, even if he is going to have a row about it afterwards.
The uniform in politics is an attempt to evolve a new authority, a rival authority to the authority of the State, the authority of the civilian police and the authority of local government. Secondly, it is a uniform that marches en masse, in military formation, with military precision, subject to military orders. The hon. Member for Burslem said, and was supported by the cheers of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the hon. Member for Aylesbury, that we are making too much fuss about this, that it will not make any difference, that it is merely a passing thing. My hon. Friend the Member for Burslem said, "It is no good worrying about this, it is 1460 the causes behind it that matter, the antiquated procedure of this House, the economic evils of the country and so on." There is a great deal of truth in what he says; the causes of nearly all the troubles in the world are economic. I am much too well informed in the doctrines of Marx to deny that.
That is all very well, but when a crowd of these uniformed people are marching with military precision through that East End of London shouting, "Down with the dirty Jews," every Jew down there knows that it is a source of danger to him. Every Jew instinctively feels the possibility of a pogrom. Every trade unionist knows that if this thing develops his trade union liberty and his trade union organisation are in danger. Every small shopkeeper may feel threatened; every Conservative and every Liberal who is intelligent, knows that Fascism would destroy their liberty pretty much as it destroyed liberty in Germany and other countries. Is it not reasonable and inevitable, seeing those quasi-military uniforms, with a military organisation and military drill and designations, that properly and naturally we should feel that this thing is threatening our liberty and that there is a danger of civilian order being down below and of a private army being on top? If the hon. Member for Aylesbury or the hon. Member for Burslem represented one of these East End constituencies, I wonder whether they would not be apprehensive.
I agree that Fascism is not a great danger in this country as a whole, as far as one can see at the moment. I believe that the British people are able to withstand it and have too much sense to swallow it. Nevertheless, I say deliberately, knowing what I am talking about —the hon. Member for Aylesbury does not know all about the East End merely because he was thrown out of a Socialist meeting some years ago—that in a few years, if you let this thing go on, a situation could easily be created in the East End of London of the utmost gravity and a disgrace to the fair name of Britain and to our people for their public administration in a democratic way. Before it goes any further, making the East End of London a shambles—and that is where it was getting to—you have to stop this thing. I think too much about the good name of my country and 1461 its reputation in the eyes of the world to stand idly by—and I am glad that the Home Secretary took the same view—while a situation develops there which could, in the course of months, if it had not been taken hold of, been out of hand.
I beg hon. Members not to be deceived by the relative quiet which now exists. It is part of the tactics. If this House does nothing, the trouble will break out again. After this private army of the Fascists, the private army of the Communists must come. It is not there yet, but there were the elements of it. I am not sure that even this respectable Labour party would not also have to think about a private army, or that the Conservatives might not have also to think of a private army. If hon. Members contemplate this process going on, they must contemplate a situation of the utmost gravity and difficulty. Therefore, uniforms do matter. The military parading matters. The military training matters. They are contrary to all that is best in British political traditions, and we ought to stop the thing while it is young and while it is new, and see to it that the civilian character of our politics is maintained. The duty of keeping order in the East End of London and elsewhere does not belong to a particular political party, but to the police and to the civil order of the community, and it is best that they should deal with it.
Nor can we ignore what has happened in this connection in foreign countries. It is significant to note that the technique which is being followed by this organisation more and more resembles the technique of the Nazis in Germany. If some of us are suspicious that the money which is necessary to buy that technique and its application in Great Britain may come from German sources, is that an unreasonable suspicion? I think it is probable that it does; at least, the Home Secretary has said that it comes in part from foreign sources. It is not unreasonable to suppose that subsidies are coming not only, it may be, from certain British industries—I would like to know who they are: when one is buying a motor-car one would like to know if one is providing Fascist funds—but from abroad. If money is coming from foreign countries, whether Germany or Italy, or both of them, or if money is coming to another political party from Soviet Russia, I do not care who they 1462 are or whence the money comes, and whether they are Fascist or Communist, that situation is unhealthy, and no British political party ought to be dependent upon it. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem in wishing that all the political parties were made to divulge where they get their money from—
§ Mr. MORRISON
This anti-Semitic business is relatively new. There are some people who think that the leader of the British Fascists is a strong man; the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. LovatFraser) I think even described him as a man of great ability. I will pay him this compliment, that I think he is one of the finest mob orators in Great Britain; but as for sustained political and administrative ability, I have never seen any evidence of it in him; it may exist; I do not know; but I have never seen it proved. A strong man, a man of power and determination—no. A man who joins the Conservative party, tries to shoot right up, does not succeed, gives it up and becomes an Independent—that is not a strong man; that is a man who cannot stay the course. He becomes an Independent, but that is no good; he does not stay there; he joins us. Again the effort to shoot right to the top; it does not happen, and away he goes. [An HON. MEMBER: "You made him a Minister."] That is not a strong man; that is a weak man. Let us recall what he himself has said about the anti-Semitic policy of the German Nazis; it is another indication that this is a man of straw, a weak man, of no substance, no staying power, no virility in being able to stick to his guns. As recently as September, 1933, he said, in an official statement from his headquarters:Anti-Semitism is no issue of Fascism. We never attack Jews because they are Jews.And in an interview with the "Jewish Chronicle"—how he came to be fraternising with the "Jewish Chronicle" I do not know—he said, on the 12th May, 1933:Anti-Semitism is no issue of Fascism. The trouble in Germany is entirely local. As I have already said in public, I think that the anti-Semitic policy of the German Nazis was a great mistake. It. certainly is not our policy.He went on to say that he hoped and believed that any attack on German Jews 1463 would very shortly cease. That was three years ago. There has been a clean switch-over. Why? Partly because the Fascist propaganda was fading, and he had to fall back on this anti-Semitism, the meanest and most cowardly policy of any; and, finally, he probably had to do what the paymasters of the organisation demanded that he should do, and it became anti-Semitic. A man has a right to change his opinions; a man in politics has some right to do something other than change his opinions as well; but if I am asked whether he is a man of strength, I say that he is one of the weakest individuals in British politics.
Take this case in the East End. It was deliberately calculated to stir up trouble in that part of the world. It was stimulating economic jealousies and economic friction, and if that continues, or if it resumes, you will have a situation of the greatest difficulty in that area. I beg the House to remember the consequences of a real continuance and a big stimulation of anti-Jewish feeling in that area. There is there a mixed population. There are Jews of various origins, on the whole, well-behaved citizens. If they break the law, I am all for having them prosecuted and going for them just as much as for anyone else. But on the whole they are a well-behaved, orderly body of people, paying their taxes, paying their rates, and observing the law.
There are Irish Catholics by the riverside, by Wapping, again people of strong religious convictions and turbulent political faith but, nevertheless, well-behaved, decent, respectable citizens. There is a great mixed Anglo-Saxon population there, some pure Cockney, some coming from various parts of the country, and the glory of that place, which is a credit to public order, is that the East End of London, with all its poverty, with all its political conviction, and sometimes turbulence of political conviction, with its occasional industrial strife, with its unreadiness to he sat on by anyone and its unreadiness to take tyranny from anyone; nevertheless is one of the most well-behaved and orderly parts to be found in the civilised world; underlying possible friction between races, underlying sub-conscious religious and racial antipathies, but on the whole living together in mutual tolerance, suffering the same poverty and the same diffi- 1464 culties, living together orderly, lawfully, and the whole jolly lot of them, despite their mixed origin and mixed religion, proud to be East-Enders, proud of their district, proud of their London, pleased to celebrate at the time of Jubilees and Coronations, proud of their country.
That is the sort of crowd they are, and they were living together peacefully and decently. Their educational life was one of the brightest things to be found in Great Britain. The schools in East London have an individuality of their own, they have a friendship of their own, and the teachers are doing a wonderful work. The evening institutes spread culture. They are doing splendid work. Voluntary institutions, like Toynbee Hall and so on, are spreading knowledge and comradeship and friendship among those people. Then along comes this beastliness, this ugliness which, consciously, deliberately, of malice aforethought, stirs up racial activity and public disturbance and has brought disgrace upon the good name of the East End of London, which the East End of London regrets no less than anyone else does. I cannot be as philosophic about it as the hon. Member for Aylesbury. I cannot be as philosophic about it as my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem. It is no good going to the East End at the time of these disturbances at the beginning of October, these nightly processions and potential threats, and saying, "Do not worry. Your windows may have been broken, you may be afraid of being assaulted, but this is all beside the fact that the procedure of the House of Commons is out of date". That is no comfort. It is the duty of the House to deal with it promptly, swiftly and in an effective fashion.
We, therefore, support the Second Reading. We shall have Amendments to bring forward in Committee, as will be done, I imagine, by Members in various parts of the House. We who have demanded that this difficulty shall be dealt with, not because we want to disadvantage one political party—that would be entirely a wrong motive from which to act—but because we positively wish to maintain the good name of our country for public order and democratic administration, must not run away when it is dealt with. We must recognise that, if it is to be dealt with, the Bill cannot be 1465 framed in terms for dealing with a particular political organisation. It must be in terms to deal with the prevention of public disorder and the maintenance of order. We shall examine the Clauses of the Bill to see whether, from the point of view of liberty and freedom, they require amendment. I hope we shall not examine them from the point of view of too much legal or philosophic narrowness because, if we amend it in ways which will remove apprehensions about ourselves but make it a Bill which it is impossible for the Government to administer and enforce, we shall regret it before we are very much older.
That, broadly, is the position we take up. We want the Bill to be examined not as partisans or party politicians, but as good citizens who are concerned with the good name of our country, which has had centuries of parliamentary government and a long experience of democratic local self-government. I hope that I am not too conceited about my country and that I am not Jingo in sentiment, but I still believe that, of all the great countries of the world, the British have demonstrated more capacity for self-government, public administration and more scruples about the cleanliness of public administration than any of the other great countries in the world. We have achieved that high position and we want to maintain it. We are all proud of that high position irrespective of party. I believe that the Bill will assist in the maintenance of the good name of the British people for self-government and the practice of the art of democracy. Therefore, it being aimed at that purpose and at protecting us against evils which have afflicted other countries, I hope that the House will unanimously give it a Second Reading and a passage through the Committee during which adequate consideration is given to the clauses; and that as a result we shall have a measure appropriate to the purpose at which it is aimed, namely, of securing the solution of this problem in the public interest at the earliest possible moment.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
From the first speech delivered this afternoon after that of my right hon. Friend, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), my right 1466 hon. Friend and the Government have every reason to be satisfied with the course that this Debate has taken. Probably one never had so many names opposite which he was able to write in his notes, "Welcomes the Bill." That is politically satisfying, but it does not perhaps give me much oratorical scope. I might begin by referring to one or two speeches which welcomed the Bill perhaps less warmly than others. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) started by washing his hands of the Bill. No doubt he was entitled to do that. He spoke of policemen in a sort of undemocratic spirit, but he concluded by saying that he had no objection to Clauses I and 2, or, at any rate, no deep objection, and I gathered that his objection might be limited to the Committee stage. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who also began by saying that he thought it was a bad Bill, also weakened rather, and agreed in substance with Clauses I and 2. I thought—and I had some sympathy with him—that he was not chiefly, but anyway largely concerned with repudiating the suggestion that recruits to his party were not due to the merits of his party and its programme, but to the activities of the Fascists.
The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) spoke in favour of the Bill, and we thank him for his speech. He disposed of certain arguments which had appeared in the Press from the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), who stated what the Debate shows the whole House agrees to be quite extravagant to suggest, that this Bill is the birth of a police State. There were also speeches from the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont). They were, as usual, Castor and Pollux, but shinning up the same mast. It was certainly interesting to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury in his praise of the virtues of self-restraint. Let me say a few words about the admirable speech which we have just heard from the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison). I should like to congratulate him on his escape from the militant Liberalism of Cornwall, and to thank him for his offer to produce hints for Conservative speakers. With all sincerity, I would thank him very much for the tribute 1467 which he paid to the spirit which has animated my right hon. Friend and the Government in introducing this Bill and commending it to the House.
Before I deal very briefly with certain specific points on Clauses which have been referred to by hon. Members, may I make a few observations expressing my agreement with certain general principles which have been voiced in the course of the Debate? My hon. Friend the Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays) stated, I think very truly, that democracies in other parts of the world have gone down because they had not the courage to deal at a sufficiently early stage with movements or with methods which were really subversive and contradictory of the fundamentals of democracy. That is a very true observation for us to have in mind. Those hon. Members who say, "There has been nothing very serious so far"—I am not sure that they are right—would do well to bear in mind the suggestion that was developed by my hon. Friend, that if there is something here which is radically antagonistic to what we believe are the right methods of constitutional and democratic government, then the sooner this House lays down what it believes to be the right principles and the right methods, the better.
If we are compelled to take certain measures to prohibit what has previously been lawful, we cannot avoid imposing restrictions on what has previously been a lawful liberty. I never feel any temptation to put on a political uniform. Therefore as far as that is concerned my life will continue unaffected and unhampered by that particular Clause of the Bill. No doubt there are certain Clauses in the Bill—I do not think there are many or that the occasion on which it is likely to happen are many which will impede or hamper certain activities in a way which they would not have been hampered but for the present situation with which we have to deal. The House has to make up its mind, and the speeches we have heard to-night show that it has made up its mind, that it is prepared to face any small sacrifice which may be involved in order to deal with the evils against which the Bill is aimed. One other general point. The hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) and the right hon. Member for South Hackney have referred 1468 to it, and it is this: that if we approve of the principle of the Bill, let us be careful to see that we do not legislate ineffectively and produce a Bill which, because of this and the other special case, is so weak as not to confer on the police and the court effective powers to deal with the evils with which the House desires to deal.
Let me now deal with certain points which have been made during the Debate. Let me take Clauses 1 and 2 together. Many speeches, in particular the speech of the right hon. Member for Platting and the speech of the right hon. Member for South Hackney, have pointed out that it cannot be sufficiently emphasised the evils which have, in fact, been created by the use of uniforms in various districts, and particularly in the East End of London. One uniform leads to another, and if the thing is not dealt with here and now it is bound to grow. That is a point which the House may well have in mind in deciding to affirm the general principle of Clause 1. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton) was worried about this Clause, but I doubt whether he has sufficiently informed himself of the evidence there is as to the evils which have already been created, and we all know how far and how vitally the spread of uniforms may affect the structure of society and lead to the overthrow of democratic institutions which in this country we are determined to maintain.
I thought hon. Members who have spoken this afternoon showed a very great and laudable self-control in refraining from peppering me with questions as to what exactly is a uniform. No doubt many difficult questions could have been put, but I was glad to have the support of the hon. though technically not learned, but actually the very learned Member for the Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), that in this matter we are right in not proceeding by way of exact definitions, but by leaving the matter to the interpretation of the courts. I am sometimes inclined to think that in recent years the House has sometimes been over-anxious to try to define. After all, if the provisions of an Act of Parliament are reasonably plain, it is very often much better to leave the word to be construed by such courts as have to construe it and give to 1469 it its ordinary meaning in the context in which this House places it in the Bill.
I was also asked questions with regard to the provisions of both Clause I and Clause 2, which deal with my consent, and it was suggested that I, or my successor, might be politically embarrassed, or might perhaps not act quite properly, in giving or refraining from giving consent under these Clauses. So far as my experience goes, it is all in the direction of reassuring the House on this matter. The consent of the Attorney-General, which is provided for in various other Bills on the Statute Book—the Corruption Act and two or three other Acts—is really to prevent frivolous prosecutions, in which somebody takes the letter of the Bill and perverts it, seeking to put somebody at the expense of having to defend himself, when obviously what has happened is outside the general intention of the Bill, although it may be actually within the letter of it. There is no difficulty in the matter. If in the papers as they come before me there is prima facie evidence that an offence has been committed, the prosecution goes forward in the ordinary way. The object of the provision is simply to interpose some bar against frivolous prosecutions, and I do not think I, or any successor of mine, would have any difficulty in deciding how we ought to exercise the duty imposed under these Clauses, or that there would be the slightest danger of our stopping prosecutions which ought to go forward because of our having no power of encouraging prosecutions unless the facts are put before us.
That disposes of the chief questions put to me with regard to Clause 1, and I will now pass to Clause 2. In the first place, reference was made to the provisions of Sub-section I (a), which deals with usurping the functions of the police. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University referred to cases of people who have either arrested felons or taken part in arresting them, and in some cases have been badly injured in carrying out their duties. There is no possible question of anybody engaging in that sort of activity usurping the functions of the police. Far from usurping the functions of the police, they are assisting and co-operating with the police in the general duty of seeing that felons are arrested in the preserva- 1470 tion of the peace. A further question was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury with regard to stewards. My view is that it could not be suggested for a moment that a steward who is placed in a meeting merely for the purpose of removing anybody, should there be anybody creating a disturbance, was promoting a political object. I think that is clear enough if one considers the case of a policeman who in similar circumstances removes from a meeting, or indeed from anywhere else, somebody who is committing a breach of the peace. That is what we believe the words of the Clause effect.
Several hon. Members have referred to Clause 2, Sub-section (4), and I would like to deal shortly with that Sub-section. It will be noticed that the offence under Clause 2 is the offence of controlling or managing an association. You have therefore to prove that someone controls or manages an association. You then have to prove that the members are organised, trained and equipped within paragraph (a) or paragraph (b), that is, whether the members of the association are organised or trained in a particular manner. You prove that, say, by evidence that they were drilled or that there were orders issued showing the quasi-military nature of the association. But for this Sub-section all that evidence would be inadmissible unless you could show that the drilling was done in the presence of the accused, or that the orders were issued in his presence. It is not right to say that this shifts the onus. You have to prove that the accused controlled or managed an association of this character; this is simply saying that such evidence which would otherwise be inadmissible is admissible, not to show the guilt of the accused, but to show the character of the association which he is alleged to be controlling or organising. It may be that we ought to find words to connect it more expressly than is done at present with the illegal activities of the person controlling or managing. It is a Sub-section which does require the careful scrutiny of this House before we pass it.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Suppose you omitted the word "adherent," it would be a simple matter for an organisation to say that it had few members— 1471 perhaps only those were members who contributed £5 or more—that the others carried on its activities, but were not members. If there is a more appropriate word we shall have time to consider it later. On Clause 3 it has been suggested that there is something revolutionary or submersive of our institutions in conferring these powers on the police. From the earliest times there have been individuals in this country to preserve peace and maintain law and order, from the Borsholders and the tithing men in Anglo-Saxon times, through Dogberry and Verges, down to the force established by Sir Robert Peel. It surely cannot be said to be contrary to our tradition to confer necessary powers on the police authorities where they are satisfied that there is ground for apprehending serious public disorder. If they use those powers unnecessarily their action can be challenged or criticised in the ordinary way, but if there is fear of public disorder it is important that necessary and adequate powers should be conferred on the police.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
If the police prohibit a demonstration and we consider that they have no right to prohibit it, can we then make a demonstration of protest against the police?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I should want notice of the particular circumstances before I gave an answer. May I say a word about some of the criticisms which have been offered? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) gave us a graphic description of intolerable disorder and violence which had occurred at certain of his meetings. I would point out that a good many of the incidents which he described were really physical assaults and were offences against the ordinary law and nothing which this House could do would make them any more offences than they are at present. But there is no doubt about the feeling which has been voiced on all sides of the House that the organised cold-blooded and persistent interruption of meetings is something to be reprehended. I think there is a difficulty about this part of the law, and the difficulty is that, although these things may occur at a meeting, yet afterwards when the meeting is over, we do not always 1472 want to prosecute. It is right, however, that the necessary powers should be available for those who desire to use them, and that they should be effective, and it might well be a good thing if more use were made of the existing powers as they will be amplified by this Bill against those who, without any justification, interrupt public meetings. The object of the Clause is to see that the necessary legal powers shall be available.
Some criticism has been levelled against the provision which prevents the police prosecuting in these cases, but I would ask hon. Members who have criticised it, to think of this consideration. How would they like if disturbances, coming within the Act of 1908, occurred at their own meetings and they did not desire, from humane, political or general reasons, that the people responsible for those disturbances should be placed in the dock—how would they like to find the power of controlling such proceedings taken out of their hands. How would they like the police to say, "We saw the offence committed and we must bring the interruptors before the court." There are arguments on both sides but I think there is a great deal to be said for keeping the control of proceedings of this class in the hands of those who have organised the meetings. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) referred to an article by a Fascist leader in this country criticising the Bill as being foreign to British law and tradition. It seemed a curious complaint from the leader of a party which has taken its name, its uniform and, as far as I understand, its policy from a non-British source. We believe that this Bill is in accordance with British law and tradition. Liberty can only exist in a society in which law and order prevail.
I am sure the House heard with interest the description which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney gave and the tribute he paid to the extent to which order prevails in the East of London. Law and order constitute the basis upon which society and particularly democratic society—the expression of free opinion and the power and the right of criticising the Government—rest and the methods against which this Bill is aimed are methods calculated to disturb the peace and 1473 striking at the foundation of true liberty.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Captain Margesson.]