HC Deb 23 November 1936 vol 318 cc147-93

9.45 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 33, to leave out "is of opinion," and to insert "reasonably apprehends."

The first Sub-section of this Clause gives the immediate powers which the chief officer of police exercises entirely on his own discretion, while Sub-sections (2) and (3) give the long-term policy, where measures are taken which restrict the right of procession much more radically and for a more extended period. There is a necessary supplementary Amendment on line 37, to leave out "there is ground for apprehending that." This may seem a very small matter because all that we are trying to do is to take out the words" ground for apprehending "in one part of the Clause and putting them in in another, but there is a very great deal of difference, because if you start with the words If the chief officer of police is of opinion, that is entirely a matter which, in whatever form it is tested, can only be settled by one piece of evidence, and that is the word of the chief officer himself. If he says he is of opinion, no one on earth can give evidence to show that he is not of that opinion. If he says there is ground for apprehending, there is nothing more to be said about it, but if you take the words "reasonable apprehension" and put them in the first line, and if he reasonably apprehends, having regard to all the circumstances, that the procession may occasion serious public disorder, you have a proposition which can be tested and which does not depend on the mere ipse dixit of the chief officer of police himself. It can be tested whether there is or is not reasonable ground for apprehension.

Although I appreciate that we are dealing with emergency powers—and I think a chief officer of police will always endeavour to act reasonably—we must take care that in passing in a moment of stress legislation like this, we do not give powers which can and might be abused. We are in these matters always looking for the exceptional case. We, as the House of Commons, and as the guardians of the liberty of the subject and of the ordinary methods of expressing political opinions, have to see now that we do not give powers which can and may be abused. Whereas in the two following Sub-sections there are various fences which the order has to get over in this one there is none at all. In the other Sub-sections we have the chief officer of police making an application to the council and the council passing a resolution and getting the consent of the Secretary of State. There are all sorts of safeguards. Even in London, where we do not seem to consider so many safeguards necessary, there are both the Commissioner of the City of London Police and the Home Secretary who have to give their consent. Because a power is being given to an executive officer without any further test or obstacle we suggest that this form of words might be substituted in order that there may be some means, not often exercised I dare-say, not often needing to be exercised, of testing for the arbitrary use of the necessary powers which the Sub-section gives.

9.50 p.m.


I think the point raised by my hon. Friend is a perfectly fair one. He made an observation to this effect on the Second Reading and the Government have been considering his comment in the interval. It is one with which in principle I sympathise, and I agree with him that the words might be usefully modified, though I am not quite sure that the actual form of the Amendment is the best. If my hon. Friend moves to leave out the words "is of opinion" and then omits "that there is ground for apprehending "and substitutes" has reasonable ground for apprehending," I shall be prepared to accept that.


Will not the proposal to delete Sub-section (1) come up for discussion at all?

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)

It is obvious that a discussion on the Amendment to leave out Sub-section (1) will not come on. The Question that the Clause, whether amended or not, stand part of the Bill, I am bound to put at the end of the discussion.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


On a point of Order. It is at this point that I suggest striking out those three words so that the Clause runs: If the chief officer of police, having regard to the time or place at which and the circumstances in which any procession is taking place or is intended to take place and to the route taken or proposed to be taken by the procession has reasonable ground for apprehending.


I quite appreciate that but the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten that the Amendment was moved in the form I have put. I assumed that the Committee would negative the words "is of opinion" and again negative the words "reasonably apprehends."

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.

Amendment made, In page 3, line 37, leave out the words "that there is," and insert "has reasonable."—[Sir J. Simon.]

9.54 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 4, line 2, at the end, to insert: and conditions prohibiting the display of banners or emblems likely to provoke a breach of the peace. It will not be necessary to trouble the House long with the Amendment on the Paper. I am glad to say that the Government have agreed to an Amendment in practically identical terms. The only difference, I understand, is the addition, after the word "prohibiting," of "restricting," and the addition of the word "flags" to "banners and emblems." I should like to emphasise the fact that this is not a Uniforms Bill but a Public Order Bill, nor is it a Bill aimed at any special political organisation. Many Members, especially those on the Socialist benches, appear to assume that it is aimed at one particular organisation. It is very valuable that the Government have agreed to the Amendment which deals with public processions, and that the matters to which I have alluded are to be taken into consideration. It would be very unfortunate if the public thought that the Bill was aimed at a particular organisation. The object of the Bill is to prevent public disorder of whatever kind. If in one part of the country public disorder may be occasioned because it is considered that some kind of military clothing will cause provocation or a breach of the peace, so it should equally be provided, as it will be by this Amendment, that in other parts of the country where provocative emblems or banners are likely to cause a breach of the peace, the matter should be dealt with by the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

9.57 p.m.


We would be lacking in our duty on this side of the Committee unless we made some observations with regard to this Amendment being accepted by the Government. We have been told that the main object of the Bill is to safeguard our democratic rights in this country. These democratic rights have been won by the people at great sacrifice. In the district in which I was born the right to vote was won by a great sacrifice. On that occasion 11 people were killed and 600 were wounded in the demonstration which took place in Manchester demanding the right to vote for the common people of this country. If the Government accept this Amendment it will be the beginning of the undermining of our democratic rights. If our own Front Bench will give attention to the serious question we are discussing, I was saying that the democratic rights were won in this great country by great sacrifice. It is no mere talking that has brought us to our present position. It has been the right of the people to demonstrate in this country and to demand that their legitimate grievances should be reflected in this House and in other assemblies.

I have in mind one particular grievance which we have, and that is the operation of the means test among the people whom we represent in this House. A large number of hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite believe that the operation of the means test is justifiable. We believe that it is the most reactionary thing that has been done in this country within recent time. Therefore it is most important that we should maintain our democratic rights to go to the country with banner flying containing the words "Abolish the means test," and "Demonstrate against the means test," and we are of the opinion that to display a banner of that character is not provocative but maintains the democratic right which we have won in this country. The same sort of thing may apply to war and to the question of need for a 40-hour week. In France by constitutional methods they have been able to bring about a 40-hour week and we in this country are holding meetings and using our democratic rights and constitutional machinery in demanding a 40-hour week. If the Government accept the proposed Amendment it will enable certain police authorities where they may interpret the 40-hour week as provocative to prevent us from demonstrating. Therefore I hope that we on this side of the Committee and also hon. Members on the other side will join in saying that a dangerous proposal of this kind should not be inserted in the Bill and that we should have the right to demonstrate in the way we have done in the past.

10.1 p.m.


It would assist the Committee if the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would inform the Committee whether he agrees with the language used by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), the Mover of the Amendment. I understood him to say that he was anxious to withdraw the Amendment on the ground that the right hon. Gentleman has promised to insert a form of words which will give a wider interpretation of the powers conferred upon the police in this matter. Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the Committee what is in his mind in regard to this matter?

10.3 p.m.


The Committee will perhaps be glad to know just how this matter appears to the Government to stand. What the hon. Gentleman opposite has asked is entirely reasonable. Earlier in the discussion to-day it was pointed out that the language in Clause 3 of the Bill—line 41, on page 3—was such as undoubtedly conferred upon the authorities the right in case of need to formulate conditions relating to the carrying of banners and the like; that is to say, the words: such conditions as appear to him necessary for the preservation of public order. Obviously, these are words which might, in a necessary case, include that matter. I am not for one moment contending that they would in any case that one supposes, and as the hon. Gentleman opposite has asked me whether I approve of every word which came out of the mouth of my hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), I would only say here that I am concerned with the language of the Bill. But the Committee resisted a suggestion that we should bring into Clause 1, which is the uniforms Clause, some general prohibition of the use of banners. I resisted it because it did not seem to be that that was the proper way to do it. It would in my way of thinking be putting much too severe a restriction on the methods of demonstration. I was disposed to resist it in Clause 1. When we came to Clause 3, I pointed out that as far as the provisions were concerned there was no doubt that the language of Clause 3 would. in a proper case, really include the right to include this condition in reference to banners.

I was asked whether or not, when we came to Clause 3, we would be prepared to put in words to make it quite plain. I do not see any reason to object. What I contemplated—and this is the answer to the hon. Gentleman—was that it was not to include words in the form of those of my hon. Friend. I ask him to withdraw the Amendment so that I can move my Amendment. I propose that the Clause should read: He may give directions imposing upon the persons organising or taking part in the procession such conditions as appear to him necessary for the preservation of public order, including conditions prescribing the route to be taken by the procession and conditions prohibiting the procession from entering any street or public place specified in the directions and conditions prohibiting or restricting the display of flags, banners and emblems. That is simply to make it quite plain that in a case where the police authority have reasonable ground for thinking that it is not necessary to take severe action but that in the circumstances, owing to local conditions or the streets through which the procession would pass, it might be necessary to restrict the display of banners and emblems. I am not differing from the views expressed by the hon. Member opposite about democratic rights and the importance of preserving them, but one can well imagine cases where such conditions as I have described may exist. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) will agree that there may be highly exhilarating banners which might tend to cause a disturbance of the peace. That is not to say that this restriction will necessarily be imposed. My view of the matter is that in most cases there will be no justification for imposing it. My suggested Amendment would be to give power to impose conditions for prohibiting or restricting the display of flags, banners and emblems. The hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) wanted prohibition. That would be much too strict. I want to be sure that nothing more shall be done than on reasonable grounds is found to be necessary.


In view of the announcement of the Home Secretary that he would like to move an Amendment in a different form it might be desirable for the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) to withdraw his Amendment, and then we can have a Debate on the new words.

10.8 p.m.


On a point of Order. I am wondering whether the course that you propose would be suitable, and whether we should not have a certain amount of debate on the hon. Member's Amendment, because it seems to me, having heard the Home Secretary's words, that what the right hon. Gentleman is proposing is worse from our point of view than was proposed by the hon. Member. The only banners that would be prevented, according to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member, are those likely to provoke a breach of the peace, but what has been suggested by the Home Secretary would mean that on the reasonable apprehension of the chief of police that there might be a breach of the peace, banners altogether might be prohibited.

10.9 p.m.


If the hon. Member will look at page 3, line 42, he will see that the condition could never be made unless they are conditions which on reasonable grounds are thought to be necessary for. the preservation of public order. Not only that, but the police authority has to apprehend that the procession might lead to serious disorder. Far from my suggested Amendment being more severe, I think that it is a milder provision than that contained in the Amendment of my hon. Friend.


Will the right hon. Gentleman consider this point of view, that once the chief constable has grounds for apprehending, he might give any direction he likes, reasonable or unreasonable?


In view of the statement by the Home Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.



10.10 p.m.


I am of opinion that if the language used by the Home Secretary is inserted it will give rise to serious public disorder.


The Committee will be in some dilemma if it has to discuss the suggested Amendment of the Home Secretary and the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) at the same time.


I think it will be possible to have a discussion on the general principle of prohibiting flags and emblems, or limiting flags and emblems in processions. Perhaps it would meet the convenience of the Committee if we had a discussion in general terms. If not, then I suppose we have to discuss the language of the Amendment that has been moved, although I do not think that we have any objection to that Amendment being withdrawn.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in page 4, line 2, at the end, to insert: and conditions prohibiting or restricting the display of flags, banners and emblems.


It will be admitted that in the last few weeks there have been very large demonstrations in London about which very considerable feeling has existed, but those demonstrations took place without the slightest untoward incident. If the police have the powers that the Home Secretary's Amendment proposes to confer on them very grave disturbances of the peace are likely to arise. Imagine people assembling on a Sunday morning in Hyde Park and marching through certain districts. The hon. Member whose Amendment has not been pressed lives in a part of London through which the procession might pass. Some people in his constituency would have their feelings inflamed by, say, the display of a banner asking that they should make larger contributions towards the maintenance of the unemployed. They have a right to be angry under the British law, but if they carry their anger to the point of what in the opinion of the chief of police would amount to a breach of the peace, then the poor people who are carrying their flags will have them taken away, because the hon. Member's constituents would be angry about the flags. All that the police have to apprehend is that there would be some citizens who would be made angry by these flags or emblems and who might carry their anger to extremes against the procession. In that case the flags would be taken away.

I would ask the Home Secretary to try to visualise the circumstances. Here are a number of people assembling in Bethnal Green or Shepherd's Bush and marching to Hyde Park carrying banners, slogans and emblems; sometimes the police are quite touchy on these occasions, and if they see a man in the procession carrying a banner they may say, "We do not like that flag; we have not seen it before." If that is to be the procedure, then demonstrations are going to be utterly impossible. People will have to rehearse the demonstration before the police. The assumption is that the interference of the police takes place at the point and at the time when the greatest feeling is going to be aroused. The right hon. Gentleman should realise what is likely to happen. A request was made to the hunger marchers that they should not enter the precincts of the City carrying sticks and staves which might be used as weapons—a very reasonable request. If the police had gone up to those taking part in that hunger march and had seized these staves, there would have been a rumpus at once. It was arranged that the sticks and staves should be taken from the men by the leaders of the demonstration, and no trouble arose.

I would like hon. Members to realise what a painful duty they are imposing on the police in asking them to intervene at the beginning of a demonstration, to quarrel with a number of men who may be carrying what the police consider to be banners with objectionable slogans, surrounded by hundreds and thousands of people anxious to start out; people who at the moment are in a peaceful mood, but who may be roused to a point of fury by any unreasonable interference by the police. In imposing these wide obligations on the police you are liable to create a very unfortunate atmosphere out of what would have been a peaceful demonstration. I am not suggesting that the police would not succeed in carrying out their duties, but they would carry them out at the expense of wounding the feelings of those taking part in the procession and who might be very liable to take offence at any incident during the march and, instead of being a band of ordinary citizens, anxious to present their case in an orderly manner, you would have a huge band of disgruntled citizens in a mood to make a row if anything should happen.

The right hon. Gentleman has made a concession to his supporters which is very unnecessary and which will have the effect, not of preventing public disorder, but perhaps of giving rise to public disorder. There has been nothing in political demonstrations organised by hon. Members on this side which have made it necessary to impose these powers on the police. The hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) made it clear what was in his mind, that this was not aimed at the organisation which has given rise to this legislation, but was aimed at all kinds of political demonstrations. Everybody knows that the slogans carried by Fascist bands in the East End were slogans that were definitely provocative, but the slogans which are ordinarily used in demonstrations organised by hon. Members on this side of the House may be declamatory, but they are never devised to be deliberately provocative. [Laughter.] The hon. and gallant Member laughs, which means that he believes they have been provocative. In other words, there have only to be a number of citizens standing in the streets in the same condition as the hon. and gallant Member and we shall be prevented from carrying slogans which might inflame their easily inflammable minds.


That is the whole object of the Bill.


That is an unreasonable proposition.


I would like to be clear about the word "provocative." Surely a banner which has on it "Down with the means test" is provocative; otherwise it is meaningless.


The hon. Member says that it would be provocative. Now we can see that the hon. Member would like to prohibit it.


I do not propose to prohibit it. I only wanted to know what the hon. Member means by the word "provocative."

Captain RAMSAY

I think we are at cross purposes, and I would like to be clear on this point, since I put down an Amendment to include the word "provocative." My purpose was not to regard the slogan "Down with the means test" as being provocative. I did not mean that sort of slogan. When I put down an Amendment to include the word "provocative," it was to be taken in the strict context of the Bill, that is to say, with reference to societies which are out to down democractic government in this country. I should be glad to see a definition in the Bill saying that any slogan devised by an official political party in this country, especially His Majesty's Opposition, was not in the nature of provocation, and that the word was aimed essentially at organisations out to smash democratic government.


Hon. Members are' perfectly entitled to hold the view that the slogan "Down with the means test" is a provocative one, and the hon. Member opposite said that it was meant to be provocative. Hon. Members on this side consider it is a short way of giving expression to the grievance that gives rise to the demonstration. The demonstration is against the means test; the means test is a political act and they say, "Down with the means test." If the hon. Member regards that as provocative and if the police shared his point of view, I assure hon. Members in all parts of the House that demonstrations which are now moderately peaceful would go off in a sanguinary fashion if the police were armed with powers and exercised them in the manner in which the hon. Member expects they would. It seems to me that the Committee, if it allows the Home Secretary to include these words, will impose upon the police an operation of delicacy from which the police ought to be protected. It is not fair of hon. Members to entrust to the police powers and to impose upon them duties which would, by being exercised, cause the disorder which the Bill is devised to prevent.

There is all the difference in the world between a slogan "Down with the Yids" and one "Down with the means test." No one has any doubt as to what is the meaning of the slogan "Down with the Yids"—it is devised to be provocative and to stir up feeling; but people do not identify themselves with the same ardour with the means test as they identify themselves with anti-Semitism. It is, therefore, foolish to say that Down with the means test "would arouse the same sort of feeling. With all deference to the Home Secretary, I suggest that, having made peaceful progress with this Measure up to now, he ought not to put into the Bill language which may promote disorder in the Committee, and that he should be satisfied with the wording in the first part of Clause 3 which speaks about the police having power to impose conditions upon a demonstration. I an; not intervening in order to carry on the Debate unnecessarily, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will realise that by this Amendment he is seeking to put into the Bill something which will have an effect opposite to that which he has in mind.

10.26 p.m.


I must say that I find myself in some sympathy with what the hon. Member has just said, and it is not often that I find myself in that position. But I think he is under a misapprehension. With regard to the interjection which came from my hon. and gallant Friend below the Gangway, I suggest that he ought to be very careful in this connection, because the propagation of either Communism or Fascism is not illegal in this country. It is just as well that that fact should be realised by all sides. It is only the behaviour of those who propagate it, or the manner in which it is propagated, that can be illegal. Do not let us say that we here are legislating against either Communism or Fascism, because if we do that we shall only encourage the growth of both. As an old Member, I may venture to suggest to the Committee that we are not in fact legislating against either.

Captain RAMSAY

I entirely accept what my Noble Friend says, but I would like to add that whatever else this Committee is legislating against, it is, as I understand it, legislating first against the organisation of force, and, secondly, against the provocative actions of individuals. If provocative action expresses itself in banners and inscriptions, I am opposed to it.


That makes the matter clear. I of course accept my hon. and gallant Friend's statement, and I think we are all in agreement with what he has just said. The hon. Member opposite gave the example of the inscription, "Down with the means test." I cannot conceive that any chief constable or any Commissioner of Police could be so foolish as to suppose that a banner bearing that inscription would be of such a provocative nature that it could not be carried without risk of disorder. I am certain that in the case of the provinces the members of the watch committees and in the case of the Metropolitan Police, many hon. Members on both sides would very strongly object to such a decision. But when it comes to distinguishing between violent mottoes carried by different individuals, that is another matter. Let me say in parenthesis that I have seen a fair number of trade union processions and I have never seen any banner carried in them which could, I imagine, possibly come under the Amendment proposed by the Home Secretary. There are banners and inscriptions which are perfectly legitimate forms of political expression, and I share with hon. Members opposite the feeling that it would be a gross piece of reaction to attempt to prevent the carrying of such banners.

When the hon. Member opposite quotes the slogan of the Fascists, "We must get rid of the Yids" and says that that is provocative, I entirely agree, and it is partly to prevent the use of such inscriptions that I support the Home Secretary. It is only fair to point out that such inscriptions as "Death to the capitalists," or "Death to the baby starvers" are equally provocative. [Interruption.] Hon. Members must be fair in this matter, and must make up their minds what they want to do. If they want, as I imagine most people want, to stop provocative banners being carried in Fascist processions, and if they want to stop provocative conduct on the part of Fascists, they have got to agree to have similarly provocative conduct on the part of other parties, even their own party, stopped as well. The real difficulty in which the Committee is placed is that the growth of extremism of a certain kind in this country has made it necessary to take steps to prevent the growth of extremism of another kind, and the Committee would be wrong to attempt to weight the disc one way or the other. The hon. Member opposite put the case very moderately, but I think he is under a misapprehension when he says that any police would prevent the kind of slogan which he had in mind.

10.31 p.m.


I do not think there is any real disagreement in the Committee with the idea of keeping the liberty to organise processions. The right to march in procession is just as important to democracy as is the right to hold public meetings, and processions without emblems or banners are almost like public meetings without speakers.


All the better for that !


The hon. Member may adopt the practice of throwing out speakers at his meetings. I think we all want to preserve the right to carry banners in procession, but I think that the words now proposed, if they are not qualified, may go too far. Of course, if the banners are to be effective, they must hold a provocative political slogan. It is no use having a procession if the banners which express its purpose do not have a provocative slogan, but I do not think it is beyond the wit and skill of the right hon. Gentleman to devise appropriate words. I would like to see a new Amendment containing some such words as "likely to lead to a breach of the peace." That is his purpose. The hon. Member above the Gangway here referred to what is largely the cause of this particular Clause. A phrase like "Down with the means test," or, if I might remind the right hon. Gentleman of a movement with which he was associated many years ago, a banner bearing the words "The big loaf," which was a very inspiring cry some 20 years ago, would be provocative, but it would not be likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

The kind of thing that we want to stop is a procession deliberately organised to stir up racial prejudice and to lead to commotion. A few weeks ago an organised body deliberately went through a Jewish quarter in London, Whitechapel, where the vast majority of people are Jews, with banners and with slogans with the words already quoted, "Down with the Yids." That is more than provocative, and it is not a political slogan. Done in that particular way and on that particular route, it undoubtedly, if it had been permitted by the Commissioner of Police, would have brought about a breach of the peace. I think that if we can agree to some words of the character I have mentioned, we can let these words go through.

10.34 p.m.


One appreciates fully the difficulty in which the Home Secretary is, and perhaps this is not the most satisfactory way of proceeding, though we can understand that it quite naturally arose in these conditions, that an hon. Member moved a printed Amendment, and the Home Secretary, during the discussion, thought there were some other words that would be better, and put them before the Committee. He and the Government and all of us are in the position that we are dealing with a manuscript Amendment on a matter of some difficulty. I agree with the Noble Lord and I thank him for his speech; one of the most provocative slogans we have seen is "Down with the Yids." It is true that our people have had slogans "Down with this" and "Down with that" and "Down with" people holding particular opinions, though there was no great harm in them. There are slogans of a more affirmative character saying "Up with this" or "Up with" somebody or other; and even "Up and up and up," and "On and on and on." "Down with the means test" is not provocative, although people may violently disagree with the sentiment. I would not say that even "Down with the baby starvers" is not provocative to certain people. We have all seen slogans and banners with which we disagree. I have seen a banner "Socialism means ruin." I think that that is a provocative perversion of the truth, but it is highly probable that the people who put up the slogan earnestly believed in it. One must be charitable to people like the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) who believes things that no reasonable person would believe. I am not sure that the words which the Home Secretary has suggested are not more difficult of operation than the words suggested by the hon. Member for South Kensington. At the end of the Subsection conditions prohibiting the procession from entering any street or public place specified in the directions, the Home Secretary proposes to add and conditions prohibiting or restricting the display of flags, banners and emblems. As far as I can tell after consultation with my hon. Friends, it does not even appear to be required that these flags, banners, or emblems have to be provocative or likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

May I put a point to the Home Secretary that may not have occurred to him? Imagine the administrative difficulties of the police in doing their job. They would, for example, have to find out from the promoters of a demonstration what kind of flags, banners and emblems they were going to exhibit. They might want to have the wording on them—if there is any wording, because the wording is not required under the Amendment—and they would have them put up in a row on exhibition at Scotland Yard or at the police station in the provinces. They would then have gravely to decide what is provocative and what is not. Imagine the difficulty of the police in deciding what is provocative in the political sense, because the police, as far as I know, are not experienced politicians, and what is provocative in politics is a highly disputable matter. Therefore, the police would be put in the greatest difficulty. It is an onus that ought not to be put on the police authorities. Moreover, the Clause as it stands really gives the police the powers that they want. Take the case of an organisation which has a demonstration with a slogan which is provocative without question and, in fact, provokes disorder. The police under the conditions which already exist in the Clause can say to the promoters next time they come for a permit: "The last time you had one you put these words up and they caused a row, and if you are going to have this procession you must give an undertaking that you will not have anything of the kind again." That would be all right, but if the police have to ask for all these emblems, banners and flags to be exhibited and then exercise a censorship, I suggest they would be put in an impossible position.

May I make this suggestion to the Home Secretary? We all recognise the difficulty of the position, and we should like to get through our difficulties without a Division, because it would be a nice thing if we could make this a real House of Commons Measure. I know that he has troubles on his side, as well as having to meet the criticisms from this side, and I suggest that to-night is not the proper occasion on which this point should be settled. I suggest that the Home Secretary should, with the leave of the Committee, withdraw his Amendment and consider the matter further, and I hope he will then be able to come to the conclusion that no Amendment is necessary on the point, or, if he does think that some Amendment is required, that he will be able to frame it in a way which will remove the perfectly reasonable apprehensions of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) on the point. If the Home Secretary will be good enough to leave it in that way I think we might make more rapid progress with this Clause.

10.41 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman has made a suggestion to me, and I should like to tell the Committee how I regard it. I must make it quite plain to the Committee that the intention to put in here some reference to banners was not a hasty afterthought. Quite early in our discussion this afternoon I pointed it out as being really involved in this Clause, but I do think there is force in what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman and some other Members that my Amendment did not appear on the paper—it is the only occasion which I have sinned in this respect—and that it is very difficult to follow these things, which are very important, merely from verbal description or even after hastily taking a note of an Amendment for oneself. I feel that is a fair criticism. The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) thought everything could be put right by inserting the words "likely to lead to a breach of the peace," and that is a suggestion which I should like to look at, though, in fact, the Clause as printed speaks of conditions necessary for the "preservation of public order." Of course we have to be very careful to see that we do not repeat ourselves in an Act of Parliament, or the language of the judges will then be even worse than has been suggested.

The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is a reasonable one, and as long as it is understood that I am not in any way abandoning my view that we ought to make a suitable reference in the Clause to the topic of banners I should be quite prepared, if the Committee will allow it, to withdraw the manuscript Amendment which I have moved with a view to putting down, before the Report stage, and possibly after consultation with hon. Members, what I think would be a suitable way of expressing the point. I must say that I do not believe for a moment that any of the rather, as I think, extravagant anxieties which have been expressed are justified. I cannot conceive that any real trouble could arise. The police may have their faults, but they are not complete fools, and for my part I should draw the sharpest distinction between a banner stating a proposition with which I did not agree and a banner with expressions on it which indicated an endeavour to foment a riot. I do not know any better way of proceeding than that we should express our feelings in the Committee about it and then deliberately decide what is the best form of words, and I would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment following the suggestion which ha s 'been made.


Is it the pleasure of the Committee that the Amendment be withdrawn?


I should like—


If the right hon. Gentleman speaks, the Amendment cannot be withdrawn.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.45 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 4, line 3, to leave out Sub-section (2).

In Clause 1 we dealt with the powers of the police, but this Sub-section appears to us to give an even wider power to a local borough council or district council. It may mean that they can prohibit all kinds of processions, but we do not want that to happen. A borough council or district council which is, from our point of view, reactionary, may, in consultation with the chief of police, decide to prohibit a procession. In that kind of district unless a procession has the approval of the authorities, no procession can take place. There may be a desire to arouse public opinion to alter the political complexion of the council, but if the council has power, with the chief of police, to prohibit a procession, there is not much chance of that change being brought about. We have put the Amendment on the Paper with the object of securing an explanation of its meaning from the Home Secretary, and we now ask him what it means. It may be that we shall not oppose the Sub-section after we have heard his explanation.

10.47 p.m.


I beg to support the Amendment. I see many difficulties in the operation of the Clause because of the greatly increased penalties which are to be imposed. My own organisation has in the past taken collections on May Day and sold flowers, and the moderate Glasgow magistrates gave permission to the Independent Labour party to do so. As soon as the Labour majority came into office, the Labour magistrates gave permission only to the Labour party and denied it to the Independent Labour party which, for the last two years, has been prosecuted for disregarding that prohibition; but the present position is much better than the new proposals, with their greatly increased penalties. I hope the Home Secretary will see that the very heavy penalties now being introduced will cause trouble and difficulty in the future if a demonstration takes place and is followed by disturbance. If he still insists upon going on with Sub-section (2) I hope he will take into account the need to modify the penalties. The best thing he could do would be to cut out the new provisions altogether, and leave things as they are. If the modification is made with regard to insulting language in processions, or something like that, it is dealing with the one question really at issue. So far as our demonstrations are concerned otherwise, there should be no alteration.

10.51 p.m.


I support strongly the proposal to delete Sub-section (2). I should like to see the entire Clause disappear from the Bill. The Committee should realise the grave dangers of this type of legislation. Where you have one particular evil on which the eyes of the country are fixed there is always a liability that a breadth of legislation will be passed which will catch all manner of people and movements afterwards. At the time of the Mutiny at the Nor a number of Acts were passed to deal with the mutineers and sedition among them, but it was under those Acts that the Tolpuddle martyrs were sent for seven years to Australia, and I am certain that no one at the time thought that such use would be made of the Acts. Nor do I suppose that when provisions were being discussed in the 16th century as regards dealing with vagrant soldiers from abroad it was contemplated that Tom Mann would be put into gaol as a result of them. But both were sufficiently widely drawn to permit those things to happen. That is always the danger of legislation the words of which are wide enough to cover all sorts of eventualities that may subsequently occur.

This Bill is aimed at the introduction of militarisation into the political life of the country, from whatever quarter that militarisation may come. So long as the Bill is dealing with that it has my fullest support and sympathy. But Clause 3, and particularly this Sub-section, is going beyond that. However much we may say it is or is not intended to do so, it will interfere inevitably with that type of publicity for grievances which alone the poorer sections of the community have at their disposal. They cannot have pictures put on a cinematograph screen, they cannot hire talkies, they cannot control the Press. The only way they can deal with their grievances is in the manner adopted by the hunger marchers, that is, demonstrate with banners throughout the country or in the localities. It is essential that that right should be preserved in its absolute fullness if we are to avoid methods of violence. It is the safety valve for the people, when they are repressed, to be able to utilise these methods to bring their evils prominently before their fellow-countrymen.

That method has been utilised in this country for over a century. Up to the present time we have always been able, under our existing law, to deal with that type of demonstration. We have had the skeleton army, the Orangemen and the Catholics, and many cases in which feelings have been extremely high, but it has not been necessary to introduce legislation of this type in order to deal with them.

Now, because a somewhat similar thing is happening, the main evil of which is the military form which it has taken, we are going not only to strike at the military form, but also at the very right of demonstration. I believe we ought at least to see whether we shall not cure the evil, as I believe we shall, by what we have in Clauses 1 and 2, that is to say, by striking militarism out of politics. If it subsequently becomes apparent that the powers which the police now possess in regard to controlling demonstrations and processions are not sufficient, and that something further is required in order to preserve the public peace, then it will be time enough to jeopardise this great right of the people of Great Britain by introducing new legislation; but, until we have tried the effect of taking this military element out of politics, we have no right to do anything whatsoever to strike at this inherent right of the people to demonstrate. I do not know whether Members of the Committee realise exactly what Sub-section (2) is going to give people the power to do. It starts by saying: If at any time the chief officer of police is of opinion that by reason of particular circumstances existing in any borough… This is a matter which is purely for the chief officer of police to initiate. He can say, "I do not propose to use Subsection (1) at all; I propose to go straight to Sub-section (2), because in my opinion the particular circumstances in my borough are such that Sub-section (2) will be the better." He then goes presumably to the Watch Committee, and, with that authority which the chief of police has in advising the Watch Committee in a matter of this sort, he says: "In my opinion, as the man responsible for the guardianship of this area, I tell you you ought to prohibit processions." Both the police and the Watch Committee, naturally, do not like to take risks. It is much easier for them if there is a difficulty, a state of tension, in their area, to say, "Let us ban all processions; then we shall not have any trouble at all." But it is an extraordinarily dangerous thing to offer them the temptation of that easy way out of what, quite rightly, may be considered a difficult time. If we are not going to have any difficult times, we are not going to have democracy at all in this country, because, especially if you are going to allow the free play that is necessary for political demonstration and discussion in a democracy, you must sometimes have occasions when tempers and feelings run high in particular districts, and you must then have the liability of some public disorder taking place. We have often run that risk.

For many years now we have had occasional incidents, but on the whole we have managed to get on very well until someone introduced militarisation of politics, and this is going to offer to a certain type of mind, both in the local authorities and among chief police officers, a great temptation to say, "Because there is a feeling of tension in my district, I will suggest to the local authority that we ban all processions." Then the local authority have to get the consent of the Secretary of State. What is the position of the Secretary of State? He does not know intimately the circumstances in the area; he is bound to act very largely upon the advice arid recommendation of the local people—


I have to call the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman to the fact that there is a later Amendment which deals specifically with the point in regard to the Secretary of State, and I think that perhaps we had better leave that point until that Amendment is moved.


I understood that we were discussing the question of omitting Sub-section (2).


I am not referring to the whole Sub-section, but to certain Amendments, of which that is one.


It is very difficult to discuss the question of omitting a complete Sub-section if we cannot discuss the machinery which it is proposed to adopt if the Sub-section be passed. I ask that, in order to make a logical argument, I may be allowed to refer to the machinery which it is proposed to use.


I am in the hands of the Committee. Personally I agree that it would be better to take a discussion on all the points, reserving the right to move Amendments and take a decision, but I am in a. difficulty because of the Amendments of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). Obviously we cannot have a discussion now and have the same discussion on each Amendment.


My three Amendments all stand together and are designed to deal with one particular point, whether the activating of the local authorities should be carried out by the Secretary of State or by the Court of Quarter Sessions for the district. If it meets the convenience of the Committee, I am prepared to move them formally when the time comes.


If that is agreeable to the Committee, I have no objection.


The Secretary of State will have, of course, to act in this matter under advice, and the advice which he will seek, and in many cases take, will be the local advice of those intimately connected with the local circumstances. There would at least be many cases where, once the chief officer of the police initiates this matter, it will go through the whole of the stages, and in effect the whole activating power of the eventual order will be the opinion of the chief officer of police. He will, in fact, be the person who will initiate, and in the result it will be because he has formed this opinion that all demonstrations in the area will be stopped. I can understand people who say that Sub-section is necessary. In my opinion, for what it is worth, it is not necessary. There are quite sufficient powers already to deal with the matter. But assume Sub-section (1) to be necessary, when it comes to Sub-section (2) I cannot for the life of me see why it should be necessary in any circumstances to give this power of prohibiting all processions and demonstrations. There may be some perfectly harmless procession—the Salvation Army on a Sunday, which presumably would be prohibited if an Order were made prohibiting all processions and demonstrations, processions of Boy Scouts and Church Lads' Brigades, Girl Guides, and amongst them I would put a procession of a trade union. They are all perfectly harmless. Yet, under this clearly, once someone likes to come into the area and be provocative with a procession, they can stop everyone else coming along and having a procession in that area, if they once get the chief officer of police into the mind that on the whole it would be better for the district if they had no more processions at all.

If that is to happen, we shall deprive certain groups of people of what is and must remain, if democracy is to remain, an essential and fundamental right, the right to demonstrate and to have a procession. Therefore, I ask the Committee not to allow this Sub-section to become part of the Bill, but rather to take the risk, if risk there be, in order to preserve untouched this great right of the people of England, that when we have done away with militarisation in politics there still may be some difficulties such as we have encountered and successfully dealt with before by the machinery already at our disposal.

11.6 p.m.


We have had a very interesting discussion on the Clauses which have been brought before the Committee. There has been no party bias shown, and it is very desirable that we should conclude these discussions at a reasonable hour. We could not discuss a more important question than that contained in this Bill. It is a question which affects everyone; it is the heritage of English public life. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has addressed a powerful argument to the Committee, but I think that his conclusions are wrong. I do not propose to argue why his conclusions are wrong, but will leave that for the Government to do. [Laughter.] I do not know why the hon. Member laughs. I presume that I should be quite as capable of doing it as he would. At this late hour it can be performed as well by the Government or better. What vitiates the conclusion reached by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite is the power we are now permitted to discuss of the Secretary of State. The action of the Secretary of State can be challenged in this House, but the action of the police generally cannot be challenged in this House. The action taken by the local authority which requires the fiat of the Secretary of State can be discussed by the House, and it would be open to any hon. Member to ask Mr. Speaker for the Adjournment of the House to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance. Therefore, I should think the rights of the public would be sufficiently safeguarded. It seems that there is a difference of opinion between the two sides of the Committee. I understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that it would be intolerable, if processions are prohibited, if you did not allow processions of the Salvation Army. I agree that it would be somewhat intolerable if the local authority said that they would not allow Fascists or Communists to hold processions but would allow the Liberals or Tories. I am not sure that under the Bill that might not happen. I am not satisfied, and hope that the Government will insert the necessary words to deal with the matter. It may be asked, What constitute a political procession? It might be held that one body of people were holding a political procession and that another body were not holding such a procession at all. We have to be extremely careful to see that this is not unfairly laid against any extremist, right or wrong.

I should like an assurance from the hon. and learned Gentleman that the words "any class of procession so specified" mean what they are purported to mean. That is to say, that no procession of a political or semi-political character would be permitted if all were prohibited. It is very important that we should not have any form of differentiation in that way. There is something very human in a Committee of the House of Commons solemnly having to discuss these matters because of the action of the Fascists in the East End of London, seeing that Sir Oswald Mosley has obtained a good advertisement because of these debates.

11.11 p.m.


The question is the omission of Sub-section (2). I have looked into the matter as fully as I could, and I do not think that I can advise the Committee to agree to the omission of the Sub-section. It provides for a perfectly exceptional case. That is plain because of the contrast between it and Sub-section (1). The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) says that he is against the whole Clause, and therefore against Sub-section (1). I am addressing myself to hon. Members who have been taking part in our proceedings and have approved of Subsection (1). The question is whether, given Sub-section (1) in the Bill which includes some control of processions, we can safely dispose of Sub-section (2). In the inquiries which it has been my duty to make I have received representations from many quarters, not only from one side of the House, from responsible persons, very democratically-minded persons, who have thought that it might be right to give the police, with proper safeguards, power to prohibit processions. That is not a view which the Government have taken. We thought that would be a too wide and unnecessary power. That was why in Sub-section (1) we only gave them power to route processions. This problem arises in certain corners of the country. It may be in some corner of the East End of London.

I should like the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) to say whether my illustration or suggestion does not represent a possible case. A case may arise in which the routing of a procession on these lines: "You must not go down street A, but down street B," would not meet the case. It may be a procession which is deliberately devised for the purpose of creating racial or religious trouble, and you do not necessarily get rid of your trouble by saying, "You must not go down this street, but you may go down the next one"; because you may have a limited area, a portion of the district, in which, having regard to the character of the population and the special circumstances, there is for the time being great feeling. Such a case may arise. It is, I agree, an exceptional case, but it is a perfectly conceivable case, and there are hon. Members who will agree that it is a case that we must not cut out. How are we to deal with it? We cannot deal with it by simply giving power to the police authority to do what they like. Therefore we have by Sub-section (2) provided that they must be prepared to bring their view before the local authority.

That seems a very reasonable provision. It is the method which is now followed in provincial towns of England. It may be different in Scotland. To that extent you are proceeding on democratic principles, as local authorities are elected on a democratic basis. It seemed to the Government, however, that that might not be enough, 'and that is the reason why the order of the local authority must be approved by the Secretary of State. As the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has pointed out, that is to ensure effective Parliamentary control. I hope that no occasion will arise for this power to be exercised. If so, the Home Secretary would have to defend it in this House. I do not see my way to agree to the omission of the Sub-section because it does not deal with a fanciful case, but with a case which might arise. The reason why we have provided for it is that Sub-section (1) is not drawn in such drastic terms


Would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to limit the Sub-section to cases of racial and religious ill-feeling? That would remove a great part of our objections.


I am interested to find that the hon. and learned Member does not object to the Sub-section altogether—


I do.


Not so much. I do not think the Committee would be wise in putting in words like "racial" or "religious," because there might conceivably be other cases. At any rate I do not want to have anything to do with putting on the Statute Book a proposition which seems to be addressed to either racial or religious matters. I sympathise with the view that it would never do to exercise power under the Sub-section which would be manifestly partisan as between one party and another. That is a good reason for securing that it comes before the House of Commons and can be challenged. That is the very reason for it. It is not the case, as the hon. and learned Member for Bristol East seemed to think, that the Sub-section would prohibit the Salvation Army or the Boy Scouts—


I said that if all processions were banned that would be necessary.


There is no justification for doing that, and it is the reason further for providing that the Secretary of State may give his consent to the proposals as they are put before him or— make an order either in terms of the application or with such modifications as may be approved by the Secretary of State. That is to ensure a juster application of the Sub-section. I hope I have shown that the Sub-section though less likely to be frequently used is nevertheless, in the opinion of the Government, a necessary precaution in the Bill. One word more in conclusion, and with great respect to the hon. and learned Member for Bristol East, who several times called in aid the great principle of democracy. I think it is just as well that the people of this country should remember that we have a free Parliament which does succeed in challenging the executive, and most of us, therefore, take the view that they are much better under this system than under some other systems which have been suggested.

11.20 p.m.


The object in moving this Amendment was to obtain information from the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary has given an explanation of this Sub-section which, I think, makes it reasonably clear. It is only fair that I should take the responsibility for referring to the difficulty that arises out of the October disturbances, when some of us were apprehensive as to what had happened or might happen in future. At the time my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) very strongly urged the Home Secretary to prescribe an appropriate route for the process—and I would point out incidentally that my right hon. Friend I gather, is not opposed to the general principle which underlies this Clause—but the difficulty about an area in which certain sections of the population live in many streets and over a considerable district is to get a route on a street basis without leaving the trouble to continue.

Those of us who are living somewhat near the spot and have the problem very closely in mind may perhaps pay more serious attention to it than do others—perhaps even more serious attention than we ought. Nevertheless, the problem, which must not be under-estimated, was that a certain organisation, not only in London, but in Leeds and to some extent in Manchester, deliberately marched in and about a certain quarter of the district for the deliberate and conscious purpose of provoking disorder and trouble, and I know they did it because they were consciously and deliberately following the technique of the Nazis in Germany. With very great respect to my bon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), I assure him that, if that goes on, and if there are not adequate powers to limit it, a terrible situation will develop in such districts. I cannot take the rather easy view that he takes on the matter, nor can I share the excessively alarmist view which is held by some others. The problem arises not only in the East End, but in Leeds, where people deliberately marched in and about the Jewish area in the city, and in Manchester. We have either to allow this to go on or we have to stop it. This Sub-section is linked up with Sub-section (1), and cannot operate except for the reasons indicated in subsection (1), namely, that there is ground for apprehending that the procession may occasion serious public disorder. That really is the case—not only public disorder, but grave worry and grave mental stress and menace to sections of the population who desire to live peaceful lives.

My second point is that, if it be conceded that there is a case for consideration in this class of trouble, surely the Sub-section, having regard to the explanation given by the Home Secretary, could not provide more checks and more democratic guarantees as to its reasonable use. First of all, the police must have an opinion on the matter; they must have ground for apprehension. Secondly, they must obtain the support of the district council or the borough council. In South Wales, for example, it would be the urban district council, non-county boroughs, or presumably the county borough. It is not a power which is conferred on the county police authority. There can be an effective veto on the police. There must be an affirmative consent by the district or borough council and, finally, the consent of the Secretary of State, which can be challenged in this House. I venture to think that, in the circumstances, it is not an unreasonable Sub-section. My hon. Friends at a certain meeting—to which all my hon. Friends could have come—decided to put down this Amendment for the purpose of getting an explanation, but they did not intend, unless there was grave reason to think that the situation was worse than they had supposed it to be under the Sub-section, to press it to a Division. In the circumstances I would advise my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment to seek the leave of the Committee to withdraw it.

11.26 p.m.

Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT

Like many of my hon. Friends, I lean towards the views just expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. II. Morrison) as against those expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). I think the hon. and learned Gentleman was inclined to forget the genesis of the Bill. I do not think anybody contemplates that ordinary peaceful processions to express political or other views are going to be interfered with in the days to come. But we realise that an ugly situation arose, that streets were actually barricaded and that the police in trying to preserve order in a certain area were stoned. A recurrence of such a situation is obviously undesirable. Nobody wants to find fault with any procession of British citizens going quietly to Hyde Park, say, to express their views. Processions, not necessarily in uniform but under Swastika banners or Fascist emblems, or red Hags—something which is provocative and is alien to this country—are the processions which would be called in question. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we want to eliminate any idea of making racial distinctions. Nevertheless we have to face the fact that there are methods of expressing opinion which are foreign to our people, and the House of Commons is acting a worthy part in supporting, unanimously, legislation to eliminate once and for all those foreign institutions which stir up hatred, envy and malice in our midst. We want a reversion to that free right of expression and protest which has always been acknowledged in this country.

11.29 p.m.


I am sorry to break in on the delightful unanimity which now prevails between the Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) and the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). I listened with deep interest to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney echoing the sentiments of the Home Secretary and other occupants of the Government Front Bench, and having heard that on two or three occasions today, I merely say that I am thankful to belong to the only party in the House of Commons which is not afflicted with a Front Bench.

The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary defended this Sub-section on the ground that Sub-section (1) dealt only with the stopping up of particlar streets. He said that that was not sufficient power, because there might be occasions on which it might be necessary to prohibit a procession altogether. I quite appreciate the force of that argument, but it is no sufficient justification for Sub-section (2), which gives him power not only to prevent a procession in cases of emergency, but to impose a permanent ban on processions for any length of time which may seem good either to the chief officer of police or to the Secretary of State, and it goes very much further than any purposes which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned to the Committee. Your predecessor in the Chair, Sir Dennis, a few minutes ago ruled that I might, in the Debate on this Sub-section, deal with the three Amendments standing in my name, and I want to pass to the suggestion that I make in those Amendments. Sub-section (1), as I have said, deals with the question of an emergency ban, where there is some particular reason why a chief officer of police should decide that a procession should not adopt a certain route. Sub-section (2) deals with the ease of a permanent ban, and I want to direct attention to this question of a permanent ban or one lasting for a considerable period of time.

In the first place, the chief officer of police who takes the initiative obtains the approval of the council of the borough or district in which he works, and finally it is necessary to obtain the approval of the Secretary of State for the Home Department; in other words, throughout the proceedings this is a purely executive act. We have heard a great deal throughout the discussion of this Bill about the preservation of our civil liberties, but I am one of the few people in this House who take the view that the greatest danger of an attack on our civil liberties comes, not from any outside body or faction, but from the growing power of the Executive itself. What may happen under the machinery which is set up under this Clause? As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), in a great many parts of this country you have local councils who take somewhat reactionary views, and it sometimes happens that we have a Home Secretary who takes a rather reactionary view. Suppose you have a combination of the two at one and the same time, a large number of Tory councillors and also a Tory Home Secretary. It may quite easily happen under this Sub-section that you will have a great number of Orders made for the permanent banning of processions over a large part of the country, and you may very well have them confirmed by the Home Secretary of the day almost as a matter of course. But suppose you have a different political situation and a Socialist Home Secretary in office. Then you may have the position of a Home Secretary at loggerheads with a great number of local authorities.

The proposal that I have made, which apparently is thought peculiar by the Home Secretary, is that we should cut out altogether this reference to the Home Secretary and that we should instead allow a right of appeal to quarter sessions. I cannot help thinking that that would be a very much better safeguard. I know it may be said that it is not a judicial but an administrative task, to decide whether or not processions should be held, but may I remind the Committee that courts of quarter session do in fact discharge a considerable number of administrative duties at the present time and that there is a number of instances in our existing law where it is possible to appeal from a local authority to quarter sessions? And it is a very good thing that that is possible. If, for instance, to take a single example, you want to set up something in the nature of a knacker's yard in a district and you are refused permission by the district council, it is already possible under the existing law to appeal to quarter sessions. If you want to stop or divert a highway under the present law, you not only have to obtain the permission of the district council and the county council, but you have to get the further permission of the quarter sessions. It is a very necessary safeguard, and quarter sessions acts as a valuable control in preventing an excessive use of powers by district or county councils. It will be said that under my scheme it would not be possible to raise in this House the use of these powers by the Home Secretary. I know that that is true, and I do not under-rate the opportunity of raising these matters on the Floor of the House, but, after all, the opportunities are somewhat limited. If there were, as there might well be, a considerable crop of Orders made under Sub-section (2), it would be very difficult under our existing procedure to raise a large number of these questions and to go into them thoroughly on the Floor of the House. It would be much easier for the pros and cons to be examined before an impartial body such as the court of quarter sessions.

11.37 p.m.


May I state briefly why I shall invite the Committee to reject this suggestion? It is an ingenious suggestion, as many of my hon. Friend's suggestions are, but I do not think it would improve the Bill. In a sense it is a proposal made from the Opposition Liberal benches to take away from the House of Commons opportunities which this Subsection gives to it, in order to substitute as the court of appeal a tribunal which meets once a quarter. Considering that in many cases the matter must be decided very promptly, I cannot believe it will be regarded as a very good way of recasting the Clause, and I shall ask the Committee to reject it.

11.38 p.m.


I am bound to say, as a member of a quarter sessions, that I cannot conceive a more unsuitable body to decide this particular question. I heard earlier in the day the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) saying that many of these things would work out in practice, but I could not help wondering whose practice it would be. After all, this is the High Court of Parliament, and we have by our close acquaintance with professional advocates the power of putting a proper appreciation upon their way of stating the truth artistically to us; but I have never observed the same power exercised in the same degree by the court of quarter sessions. Therefore, I find myself in agreement, to my discomfort, with the Home Secretary. I am bound to say that I view this Sub-section with some misgivings because in its working out administratively it will give extreme powers to the chief constables in counties.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) discussed this in terms of watch committees, but the chief constable will go to the meetings of non-police boroughs and urban district councils, some of them quite small bodies, with all the prestige of a chief constable, and I very much doubt whether, in many cases, they will be able to withstand the weight of his authority. Until these recent instances has there really been any great abuse of the right of holding processions They are one of the great ways of conducting political controversy in this country. We are in the centenary year of "Pickwick," and surely the account of the Eatonswill election shows that the kind of things were occurring then of which people are to-day afraid. We know from the description by Dickens that the quite harmless banners which we see pourtrayed in the illustrations of "Pickwick" excited the most violent controversy, but in those days people apparently took it all in good part, and regarded it as part of the paraphernalia for ascertaining the views of the public.

I share the misgivings of a good many of my hon. Friends regarding all Clauses in the Bill after Clause 2. They feel that we are legislating in general terms and that the law will be used hereafter to destroy many of the privileges to, which lip-service is being paid to-day. I heard an hon. Member say that if it came to choosing between the Fascists and the Socialist party he would prefer the Fascists. I hear that statement cheered by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), and I can now understand why, when he "gives tongue" he thinks public meetings are best without speakers. In the light of that I ask hon. Members to realise that there are many provisions in this Bill which they think are to be applied to a more or less distinguished baronet who was once associated with us which will, in fact, be applied to us and never to him. In the past it has never been impossible to find some ancient Act of Parliament under which the activities of working class leaders could be brought to an end the moment they became too troublesome, and when I look down, I hope from above, in 200 or 300 years' time—if I am looking up from below, I shall then be more closely associated with my political opponents than I am to-day—I do not want to see the evil which the House is doing to-day living long afterwards.

11.44 p.m.


There is one point in the speech of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) which deserves attention, and I ask the Home Secretary whether he can give an answer to it. In the Sub-section with which we are dealing the bodies are the borough councils or the urban district councils. The county councils are the police authorities for most urban districts and also rural districts. Would it not be better in the later stages to put in the county council?

11.45 p.m.


I rise to direct attention to some of the consequences likely to ensue from the grant of these powers. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has already pointed out that these proceedings are giving the best advertisement that a certain gentleman and a certain party have ever had; I would remind the Committee of the kind of advertisement that would arise if ever these powers were called into use. The Home Secretary has said that Subsection (2) confers upon Parliament greater powers of checking the exercise of these forces in no unreasonable manner. If an Order is applied for by a local authority to prohibit demonstrations in their district, and agreed to by a Home Secretary, it can be challenged only upon the Floor of this House. The so-called lawless elements in the district, when they have misbehaved themselves in order to restrict the liberties of their fellow-citizens, are to enjoy a full advertisement in the House of Commons. There will be some most acrimonious Debates in this House, in which the defenders of the organisations will be able to state their case.

So far from this Bill preventing the growth of the kind of organisation to. which we take exception, it is a Bill to, confer the maximum publicity upon the most undesirable political elements. It puts into their hands the liberties of all the rest of the political community. All that has to happen is for a certain party to misbehave in such a manner as to-cause a breach of the peace arid reasonable apprehension, and the liberty of meeting and procession is forthwith removed from all other political parties in that borough. As the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham has pointed out, it would be intolerable if the Order proscribed Fascists and Socialists, or Fascists and Communists, and allowed Conservatives and others to hold demonstrations. If you have an Order, it must proscribe all forms of political demonstration. The Tories have, therefore, only to behave in an utterly unreasonable manner in certain boroughs in order to prevent the rest of us from holding demonstrations there. [An HON. MEMBER: "They never have demonstrations!"] That may be so, and may be the reason why they are not worrying very much about proscribing demonstrations. People who do not exercise any rights are not very anxious to defend them. I am anxious that the liberty, neither of Conservatives nor of Communists, should be taken away from them politically because of the behaviour of the Fascists, but that is what may well happen under the Bill. The Noble Lord has laid down quite reasonably that if you discriminate against one type of demonstration you must discriminate against all political demonstrations.


What I perhaps did not make clear is that this House, the Government, the Opposition, hon. Gentlemen on the other side, and the Press all demanded that this Bill should be brought in. On the whole I think they were right, but let them realise what the effect is.


Most of the objects that we intend to achieve under the Bill can be achieved under Clauses 1 and 2. We are now extending the powers under Clause 3 to cover a range of activities quite unnecessarily, in order to achieve the objects of Clauses 1 and 2. I understand my hon. Friends are not going to press this to a Division, but I hope my hon. Friends, in the light of this discussion, are going to reconsider their support of this Sub-section. After all, the Opposition has a very important duty and particularly an Opposition placed in the position which we are in. The defending party are supposed to be the custodians of democratic liberties; it is the minority which must defend democratic rights. Imagine the difficulty of trying to bring on to the Floor of the House the circumstances in any borough in order to override the executive, the Home Secretary and the police. You only have to visualise the circumstances to realise that this is no protection at all.

I very much hope my hon. Friends will reconsider this matter, because, although in the atmosphere of to-day, in the manner in which we demonstrate to-day, it may appear that these powers contain no danger, it is just at the time when the exercise of these liberties will be all the more desirable for us that the issue between this side and that will be the most closely joined, that political passions will be inflamed, and when demonstrations will be considered to endanger the peace. Just at that moment when we are about to harvest years of propaganda and struggle, a valuable piece of political liberty will be taken from us. I can quite see why the other side of the House has blackmailed this side into acceptance of these powers, because it has been a piece of political blackmail. All Members of the House are anxious to prevent a repetition of the incidents in the East End of London recently and to prevent barbarism in Great Britain, but we ought not to hand over the political liberties of the people to the most lawless persons in Britain. I hope that we shall reconsider our support.

11.53 p.m.


In addition to the other reasons that have been given, may I offer one or two observations on this Sub-section and say why the Home Secretary ought to withdraw it? I want to refer to the second line in this Sub-section: If at any time the chief officer of police is of opinion that by reason of particular circumstances existing in any borough or urban district… Are we right in saying that "particular circumstances" may refer to a strike? I take it that that meets with the Home Secretary's consent. Let me visualise such circumstances, with this clause in operation, and see what it means. We have heard warnings about the danger of the introduction of militarism in politics. On the Continent that has been accompanied by the creation of a political police. I want to warn the Committee that there may be powers in this Subsection which may result in the creation of political police. It is our business in legislation such as this to see how it is going to work out in practice. I urge the Home Secretary to consider such a circumstance—a strike in a certain urban district of Glamorganshire. The chief constable for the county of Glamorgan may, in the interests, to use the terms of the Clause, of the preservation of order, think it desirable to ban public processions because there is a strike; and let me warn hon. Members opposite that in Glamorgan that question will come before a council with a Labour majority. The chief constable makes his suggestion to the council, because there is a strike, because there is feeling, clue perhaps to men having been induced, as has happened in South Wales, or even bribed, to go to work where others are not working. He asks the council: "Will you agree with me to submit to the Home Secretary a request to ban processions while this strike lasts?"

Suppose that the council turns down the request. For the moment all we have been visualising is the reactionary urban district council, the Tory county council, that will agree, perhaps connive, with the chief constable. But assume the other kind of council. Let us assume that there are, as there may be, chief constables who have such definite prejudices as, very often, to be unable to hide them, as is not unknown in South Wales. The council may say to the chief constable: "We do not agree; we think that to ban public processions will not be to preserve public order in this district, but to provoke public disorder. We believe that it is essential, at a time of tension, at a time of strife, at a time of industrial disturbance, that we as a local authority should not give the slightest sign of any suggestion that we are siding with the employers against the workers who are on strike." Therefore, we have a conflict between the chief constable and the council—


Unless there is agreement between the police authority and the local authority, nothing comes up to the Home Secretary at all. If they did both agree, it would be for the Home Secretary to decide whether he approved of the proposal, or whether he thought it should be reviewed or modified.


I am much obliged. But in any case the other matter still remains. We do create the possibility of and the opportunity for industrial disputes to become matters of difference between the police and the local authorities, and I think that that perhaps is a consideration which has not been fully appreciated by hon. Members opposite. For these reasons I think that the Clause might give the impression, and, I believe, will give the impression, if there is any attempt to utilise it—and no one can guarantee that there will be no such attempt during a time of industrial crisis —of fanning the kind of feeling that we desire to avoid. I appreciate the situation that has given rise to the Bill; I appreciate the difficulties in the East End of London, and all the difficulties that arise from the fanning of racial and religious feeling. At the same time it seems to me that we are using a steamroller to crack a nut. I believe that we ought to make the most strenuous efforts in order to deal with a situation which I know has become critical in two or three centres. We are putting in jeopardy the liberties which our forefathers have won for us. Any attempt to use this at times of industrial crisis by banning demonstrations and preventing workers in constitutional ways expressing their sentiments will not lead to the preservation of order, but may be the means by which disorder is created.

12.1 a.m.


I am very strongly opposed to this Sub-section. I cannot understand the flippant way that some Members are prepared to accept it. The Noble Lord says this Bill arises out of the events of 7th October and is an advertisement of a certain political personality, and the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench said that Mosley and company were using Nazi methods. The whole methods of the Nazis and Mosley are directed towards disrupting and destroying the working-class organisation, and the importance of this part of the Bill is that it is doing the job that Mosley is concerned with doing. It is not a, question of advertising Mosley but of doing his job. From the beginning of the industrial era, and even before it, demonstrations and processions have been a particular feature of the progress and advance of the country, but here we propose to hand over to the police authorities, supported by the Home Secretary at a particular time, the right to ban all demonstrations and processions. This is directed against the working class.

Continual reference is made to the Communists and Fascists. There is no such thing as a. Communist demonstration in the sense that you have a demonstration composed of Communists. There is no Communist movement apart from the movement of the working class. It would be utterly absurd and impossible for Communists to make a demonstration. It is a demonstration of the working class on some particular issue that deeply affects the working class. That is what we are concerned with. Why should the police have power to decide when and under what conditions the democratic rights of the working class are to be exercised? When did it ever become the function of the House of Commons, which is supposed to be the depository of democratic rights, to make such an attack upon democratic rights as in this Clause? This Bill has arisen because you have an organisation which directs slanders and provocations against a section of the community. There has been talk of provocation. It is one thing to provoke feeling against an Act of Parliament and another to provoke feeling against a section of the community. Because there is an organisation that deliberately incites provocation against a section of the community, you put in a Clause to give the police power to stop the working class from provoking opposition to the Act of Parliament, or regulations that bear very heavily upon them.

As has been said already, anybody making a demonstration, "Down with the Yids," can, under a reactionary Tory Government and Home Secretary, provide the police with an opportunity of preventing the poor and depressed from making a demonstration, "Down with the means test." Is that what you want? Are you going to stop the making of a demonstration, "Down with Imperialism," simply because somebody is making slanderous attacks upon people because of their race or religion? We consider Imperialism a bad thing and that we are entitled to demonstrate against it. It is not enough to tell us that we are not to be allowed to demonstrate against Imperialism simply because the Tories do not want to demonstrate against it. They want to demonstrate in favour of Imperialism. They want to advertise it in the schools. They have full power to advertise it in the cinemas, the Press and everywhere. We cannot, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) said, have a great Press or have special features in the cinemas, or organise, and bring thousands to, garden parties.—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about Russia?"] In view of the fact that Russia has been mentioned, I would draw attention to the fact that a previous speaker stated that we did not want these foreign importations. He made a reference to extremes of both sides, and said that we did not want foreign importations. Surely, despite the lack of intelligence that is so obvious on the other side, they know enough to know that Communism was known, discussed and advocated in the most open and public manner in this country before it was ever heard of in Russia. Do they not know that fact? Please remember that there were such people as William Ross and Robert Owen—


The hon. Member is no doubt correct, but it appears to me to be very remote from the Amendment.


I will come back to the Clause. When I listened to some of the speeches that were made on the Clause and heard how the police would have to go to this body or that body and get them to agree with them, and then get the sanction of the Home Secretary before the Clause could be operated in the sense that demonstrations were to be banned, it seemed that there was a particular kind of safeguard. I ask the Home Secretary and any Member who is prepared to give even the least consideration to this very anti-democratic Clause, whether, once the police in an area have banned demonstrations, it is going to be an easy thing to get back the right to demonstrate? The people of this country had to pay a very heavy price for the right to demonstrate. I know that in Dundee the police, supported by the magistrates, banned demonstrations of the unemployed for many months. The unemployed had to come out in spite of the ban, and many of them had to get seriously injured and many imprisoned before they could get the ban lifted. The same sort of thing has occurred in other areas.

I cannot understand the Home Secretary talking so much about democracy in connection with this Clause. The police have powers now; if they have not powers they take them, anyhow. There is no demonstration in any part of the country in regard to which the police cannot get in touch with the organisers and lay down conditions as to the route to be followed and a lot of other conditions. All that applies at the present time. Before I came here I heard much talk about democracy. I have heard much more talk about it since I came here, but I do not see much of democracy in the actions of hon. Members opposite. I certainly do not see much of it in the support they have given to this Clause. For instance, when you get an hon. Member expressing the vain hope and illusion that Franco will win—


I must ask the hon. Member to keep to the Amendment before the Committee.


There is nothing democratic about it. I want to emphasise to hon. Members that because an organisation makes these insulting, lying and slanderous provocations against a section of the community and tries to create violence against a particular group of individuals, that is no reason whatever for interfering in any way with the rights of the working classes to demonstrate on political issues. It is only as the working classes have the right to demonstrate and hold processions on political issues that the forces concerned with the support of these issues or with opposition to them have the opportunity of bringing out, as the result of coming into conflict, all that is best in connection with such issues. If you are going to deprive the working classes of this right, how are they to express themselves? Will you give us control of one of Lord Beaverbrook's papers? Will you give us control of the "Daily Mail"? We have one paper—the "Daily Worker"—and what a job it is to keep it going. It is a hard job to keep a paper for the working classes. We do not get big combines pouring out thousands of pounds for it. So the working classes are handicapped all along the line. We cannot buy up hoardings as the Tory party can, nor can we spend thousands of pounds on advertising. I ask hon. Members not to take these rights away front the working classes. Do not give to the police or to any reactionary local authority or reactionary Home Secretary the power at any time to take away from the workers and the unemployed that which the people of this country through generations have fought to obtain and protect, namely, the right to come out into the streets, to make processions and to demonstrate on issues that affect their very lives. I ask the Home Secretary to reconsider this matter and to withdraw the Clause. I ask everyone who believes in democracy to vote for its withdrawal.

12.15 a.m.


I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progess; and ask leave to sit again."

I do so in order to ask the Home Secretary or the Patronage Secretary how far they propose to go to-night? I do not think the Home Secretary will argue that the House has been unfair to them. We have gone a very long distance with the Bill—much better than they anticipated, I believe. There was an understanding—I do not say an agreement—that the House should rise round about 12 o'clock. We have worked very hard. There are a large number of hon. Members who, if they are detained here after half-past 12, might just as well be here for the whole night. That is a great disadvantage, as the right hon. Gentleman will recognise. We should be glad if he could break off the discussion as speedily as possible so that the House might adjourn.

12.17 a.m.


I think the best thing to do would be to finish the matter now before the Committee and then go home. The matter has been discussed at great length and some time ago we had a statement from the Front Bench opposite that they did not propose to vote against Sub-section (2). There is no question on Sub-section (3). There is a question on Sub-section (4), and I suggest we do not discuss that to-night, but that as soon as we have disposed of the present matter the next effective Amendment should be called. I should then be very glad to see the Committee rise.


I aim in some difficulty. I am anxious to meet the right hon. Gentleman and the wishes of the whole Committee. I would like to see the business disposed of very quickly. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out, to the word as,' in line 11, stand part of the Clause."

12.19 a.m.


As this matter concerns my district as much as that of any other hon. Member, I feel I am justified in putting forward my views. I am not concerned about whether it means that we have to be up late or not. This matter has to be discussed. The question whether this Sub-section is necessary must certainly concern the Members of the Committee. When we axe told, as we have been to-night by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) that we have to be careful, we must remember that we have asked for the Bill, and now we have to be very sure that the Bill we have asked for does not bring greater injustice than if we had left things as they were. I understand that our object is to make an effort, in this Bill, to deal with a specified body of people known as the Fascisti. There is no doubt about that. We are told, with regard to this Bill, that we have to be fair to all parties in the House. I would like now to put my point of view, and I would like the Home Secretary to note one or two things I am about to say.

In my particular neighbourhood we have had an incursion of a particular body, members of which wear military uniforms. There is no doubt that we could move this body at any time if we felt so inclined. It is an alien incursion into the Scotland division of Liverpool. What is to be my position? Am I not to be allowed in that division to advocate the Labour cause and to put forward the demands of the people—using, if the occasion arises, flags, banners and emblems—because of the incursion of that body into the East End of London?


The hon. Member is addressing himself to an Amendment which was discussed about two hours ago.


With all due respect, I am dealing with Sub-section (2) of Clause 3, which I believe is the matter before the House.


I would point out to the hon. Member that it deals solely with the power to prohibit processions, and has nothing to do with flags or banners.


I am fully aware that it deals with the question of processions, and the power that will be invested in the chief constable. Under Clause 1, the chief of police would ordinarily have power to regulate processions, but under this subsection special power is given to the chief constable—as I understand the Bill in the English in which it is drafted—to make representations to the council, and if he gets its sanction, to approach the Home Secretary with a view to obtaining sanction to prohibit the procession. It is because that is my understanding of the Sub-section that I have risen at this late hour to raise my objection to any such power being given, first to the chief constable, secondly to the local council and thirdly, to the Secretary of State to authorise such a prohibition to take place.

Briefly stated, my reason for objecting is this. We have an alien body which is likely to cause a disturbance and we have to tolerate it simply and solely because we do not wish to commit a breach of the peace. Suppose people from this alien body still protest and march as they are now doing in the Scotland division, placing themselves at street corners and speaking, and supposing we do not want them there, are we to be denied the right to have a procession ourselves because there will be a clash with a Fascist body? Are we to be told that the inalienable right which we have had for so many years is to be taken away from us because a Fascist body which cannot be controlled in the London area is now to be allowed in the provinces to have ramifications which are not allowed to it in London? Are we to be told that our rights are to be taken away, because the Government are not able to legislate to deal with a body, which I should imagine, could be dealt with as being seditious?

If I understand this Bill aright, our processions are to be limited, simply and solely because of that body. I ask the Home Secretary this question. Suppose that body comes into cur district and we do not move them out, can the chief constable object, if I then want to have a procession to denounce the Means Test and the Tory Government? Will such objection be valid? Is it to be said that because the Fascists are in our neighbourhood, there is likely to be a breach of the peace if we hold a procession and therefore the chief constable is to be given power under this Sub-section to approach the watch committee and object to our procession? We are a law abiding body of people. We have the control in that area. A n incursion of an alien body takes place. What are we to do? In ordinary circumstances we should throw them out neck and crop. If we do that, we shall he creating a breach of the peace; if we do not, we are apparently to lose our civil liberties. If this is to be persisted in, a breach of the peace will certainly be created. These people certainly will be thrown out neck and crop. In that case, there would be processions and there would be trouble. In this part of the city to which I refer we have never had any trouble with the police. The police have been kind to us and we have obeyed their instructions. If they gave us a line of route, we took it, and we would always abide by their decision. But the Home Secretary would be wise to reconsider this Sub-section and to see whether it is necessary in the Bill or whether the difficulties which I have raised in connection with it could not be met if it is considered necessary to have it at all.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, in page 4, line 35, to leave out Sub-section (4).

In view of what the Home Secretary has said, I propose to reserve what I have to say on this Amendment until the next sitting of the Committee.

Motion made, and Question,

"That the Chairman do report Progress; and ask leave to sit again."—[Captain Margesson.]

put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.