HC Deb 23 November 1936 vol 318 cc39-99

Considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

3.57 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, to leave out "in any public place or."

The House showed last Monday that it was in agreement with the Government's plan to make the wearing of a uniform illegal. My object in moving the Amendment is to confine the prohibition to where political uniforms would be dangerous. If the Amendment be accepted, public meetings will be free of political uniforms while, by Clause 3, processions can be made free from them by banning. It is going too far to say that the wearing of a political uniform in any public place should be an offence. I told the House last Monday that we may, at the moment, wear anything, as long as it is not indecent or female, and, before we widen the scope of what is illegal, we must be very careful. It is dangerous to make an opinion something that can be followed by criminal proceedings.

The Socialist party are very keen to ban all uniforms, but they are among the first to object to any law to create that class of political offender in our prisons which this Clause will do a great deal to create, if passed unamended. What does it matter what you wear? We all come in here in drab, rather uniform, clothes, expressing our own drab and rather uniform points of view. If someone goes a little further and wears a tie or a shirt of a different sort and puts forward a different point of view, is he to be dubbed a criminal? That is the question which the Committee have to decide here and now. I know there is a great deal of feeling against Sir Oswald Mosley's group—little group—of Fascists, but I would remind the Committee that they are not the only group of people who are likely to be affected by the Clause.

There are, for instance, the Greenshirts. I have no sympathy with, and I am afraid very little knowledge of, the Greenshirts. They seem to me to be a law-abiding lot of people, who march about in green shirts. I can conceive that they might cause fear and anxiety when they march in a procession or are at a public meeting, but why, when they walk out of their houses into the street, wearing green shirts, should they be in fear of the learned Attorney-General, who might come round a corner and institute proceedings against them? I do not think there is any justification at the moment for putting in the words "in any public place." I know that last Monday the Attorney-General poured scorn on me by saying that I had not the intimate knowledge of the Fascist movement that he and the Government had; but I have taken the trouble to see what is happening in the East End and to watch the antics of Sir Oswald Mosley throughout the country, and I do feel that in this Clause the Government are striking at a lot of people who are quite inoffensive and whom it is quite unnecessary to brand as criminals.

I ask the Home Secretary what he is going to do to all those ladies who wear black blouses to show that they have a certain amount of affection for Sir Oswald Mosley. Is that wearing of black blouses to be an offence? The blouses are part of the Fascist uniform. The men wear their more military garb, but the ladies turn out in black blouses. I feel that we must walk very warily and that the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General have given us no reason for condemning the wearing of these political uniforms "in any public place," whatever he may mean by that. I am ready to admit that the right hon. Gentleman proved his case in regard to any public meeting, and I for one, and others with me, will support any method he wishes to adopt to suppress the wearing of uniforms in processions.

4.2 p.m.


I wish to support the Amendment. I see that later on there is an Amendment on the Paper to leave out, on page 1, lines 11–18 of this Clause. I want to put a case which I hope the Home Secretary will take seriously, and that is that the Scottish people are getting a bit tired of the way in which the advanced part of Scotland is being dragged by the Tory stupidity of England. These Scotsmen are hoping to go in for a great campaign for Scottish Home Rule, which will necessarily involve the wearing of the Scottish national costume at public meetings. I can well see the Lord President attending one of those meetings, with that great amount of patriotism of which he is capable, and possibly being apprehended as going beyond the limits.


Is not the question of the kilt fully safeguarded by legislation passed at the end of the eighteenth century?


No. This Clause refers to a uniform signifying association with any political organisation. If there is anything a Scotsman likes to do south of the Tweed it is to wear a kilt.


That has no connection with Home Rule for Scotland.


If there is any seriousness behind this proposal it will mean that innocent individuals will be included here and be deemed guilty of a criminal act. But surely that is not the intention. We know the intention behind the Bill.

4.6 p.m.


My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) was good enough to say he was satisfied that the provisions of this Clause were justified so far as any public meeting was concerned. I do not think we shall have any difficulty in showing that, if we accept the provision that political uniforms should be prohibited from being worn at any public meeting, we prohibit them in any public place, for how exactly the gentleman in question is going to get to the public meeting without going to a public place I do not know. Apart from that, the view which has been put forward by those who really have looked into this matter is a very definite one, that the injury we are seeking to prevent is an injury which is inflicted in a public place apart altogether from any person actually being present at a public meeting. That is the view of those who speak with special knowledge of the East End of London. It is the view of the Manchester Corporation, representatives of which came specially to see me at the Home Office, that the wearing of political uniforms has a definitely provocative effect in certain areas, apart from the question of whether the individual at the moment is at a public meeting.

I am sure that my hon. Friend with his usual candour will consider whether the concession which he proposes to make is not, perhaps, one which would be carried further. He is conscious of the fact that he could hardly stop at his suggestion, because he argued that the wearing of a political uniform in a procession, which is obviously one of the plain instances of provocative wearing of a political uniform, is to be dealt with under another Clause. I ask the Committee to say that in the case of public processions no less than in the case of public meetings the principle that we are applying should prevail. I think it will be found that much the most effective way of doing this is to provide that political uniforms shall not be worn in any public place. In reply to the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) I shall continue to the end to declare that it is impossible to regard a national costume as signifying merely association with a political object.


On behalf of the Opposition I beg to say that we agree with the Home Secretary and the reasons he has given for opposing the Amendment.

4.9 p.m.


I wish to support the Amendment, which I think would help to cure the ineffectiveness of the Clause. I listened very attentively last Monday when the Home Secretary spoke about uniforms and when he rather gave us to understand that he had the best brains in his Department attempting to define what was a political uniform. That being so, and now that we know that it seems impossible for his Department to define what this thing is, here we are wasting our time discussing a Clause that is to contain something that cannot be defined. I can see the effect of this 12 months from now. The responsibility for deciding in the first instance what is a political uniform will devolve on the police. We shall have the rather curious instance of a police officer bringing into court some poor wretch wearing perhaps a pink shirt, and then being asked by the magistrate, "What is a political uniform" We have had instances of High Court judges asking such questions as, "What is a jumper?" Before we can seriously consider this Clause at all we should know at least what the Home Secretary himself thinks that a political uniform is. Otherwise I shall be driven to the conclusion that was put forward last Monday by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), that the real reason for this Clause is to suppress the Fascists, although the Clause merely refers to political uniforms.


On a point of Order. Is not the hon. and learned Member now going far beyond the Amendment and discussing the Clause?


I was about to suggest to the hon. and learned Member that if he looked at the Order Paper he would see an Amendment further down, upon which it would be more suitable to discuss the point that he wishes to raise.


I was taking this, the first opportunity, of raising my point, as we are discussing the Clause in which the words "political uniform" come in.


No, we are not discussing the Clause, but are discussing a specific Amendment.


I thought the Amendment referred to the Clause and not merely to the line in which it occurs. I shall, however, reserve my remarks to a later stage.


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

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.13 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, after "wears" to insert "military or quasi-military".

This is a far more important Amendment. I am trying to find out what the courts will interpret as the meaning of the word "uniform." I am certain that those of us who are trying to deal with this Clause have an idea of a political uniform that would be killed by my words "military or quasi-military." A few minutes ago the Home Secretary said that he was not striking at a national dress. Although I do not know whether a kilt will be regarded as military or quasi-military uniform, I do feel that it is desirable to limit the words here regarding political uniforms. The dictionaries give "uniform" a very wide meaning. They make it "The dress of a particular style or fashion worn by persons of the same service, order or the like, by means of which they have a distinctive appearance." That goes very far. Remember that in this Bill we are framing a new law, a very strange law, a complete innovation, and it does not rest with us to say that the courts will find a way of getting out of the difficulty. We must show what precision we can. I suggest that we ought to define uniformity of dress as something which is either military or quasi-military in appearance. I use the word "quasi" for which I apologise. I do not like it, but I have noticed that hon. Members on both sides last Monday were apt to slip into that expression. As it was used by them they can hardly object to it to-day. For these reasons I ask that there should be some limitation of the word "uniform."

If the Home Secretary replies that, although he agrees with my main argument, he does not agree with the particular phrase I have suggested, I will withdraw my words and insert any words having the same intention that the legal advisers of the Government can devise. I do not think that the words "political uniform" are sufficient. They would merely apply to all people who dress alike, without distinction as to whether the dress itself is of a provocative nature or not. I would remind the Committee that other countries have taken the trouble to deal with this question. Sweden has gone a long way—far further than we are trying to go to-day. According to my information about what has happened in Sweden, they have not met with any startling success. They have gone further than uniforms, by including armlets or badges of a political nature, and I think it would be unwise for us to try to follow them at the moment. What we want to do is to prohibit people from having private armies, as is done in Clause 2 of the Bill, or dressing in such a way as to provoke enmity, which must be of a military character. For these reasons I ask the Committee to consider the insertion of these words.

4.17 p.m.


My hon. Friend asks us to define, with what precision we can, the word "uniform." He has apologised for the phrase "quasi-military," and, indeed, whatever my hon. Friend's object may be, the word "quasi" would destroy any chance of his Amendment achieving that object; it would make confusion worse confounded. I would ask my hon. Friend to consider for a moment what the word "quasi" means as applied to a military uniform. If we are to have an Amendment to define what is meant by a uniform, let us have it in such a form as to do so with precision.

4.18 p.m.


I say frankly that I do not like this Clause as it is drafted from beginning to end, but I would like to support the Amendment. I do not think, however, if I may say so with all respect to my hon. Friend, that the words he suggests are quite satisfactory; I should prefer some such words as "military or of a military aspect." It is only comparatively recently—within the last 100 years or so—that uniforms, even those of the British Army, have become completely uniform. In the old days, when the Statutes against liveries were imposed, the Star Chamber was introduced for dealing with abuses, and I think it is only some body like a Star Chamber at the present time that would really be able to interpret the law which we are proposing to pass, and not only to interpret it, but to make sure that the people against whom I understand the law is aimed are really brought within it. It seems to me that the definition of the word "uniform" is so vague and wide that it would be easy to evade it. Presumably a uniform means something that is really uniform. Supposing that Sir Oswald Mosley or other people who wear black shirts chose to put frogs or facings on them, so that, although the general tendency was the same, they were not all alike, it seems to me that the courts might well hold that no offence was committed under the Act. Therefore, I would ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider this question, at any rate between now and Report, and see if he cannot introduce some fairly precise definition which will really only affect those people whom he is anxious should be affected by the Bill.

4.20 p.m.


I support the Amendment because it gives me an opportunity of speaking about the phrase "political uniform," and not because I think the addition suggested by my hon. Friend will clarify the meaning of the term. It may, however, be of some use, because the mere words "political uniform" would include almost any type of dress that is at present worn by members of societies having political objects in view. For instance, in the summer time in London one sees young men dressed in black shirts more of the style of "gym" sweaters, with grey flannel "slacks." Is that a political uniform? Undoubtedly it could be considered to be a political uniform, by some magistrates I know. On the other hand, I have seen these young men dressed in a style which I should call a quasi-military uniform, for, with all respect to the hon. Baronet the Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel), the phrase "quasi-military" does convey a great deal to my mind. To me it signifies an imitation of a military uniform, and I think, myself, that that quasi-military uniform irritates the public more than the quasi-gymnastic uniform which I have seen these young men wearing in the summer time.

I think it would be advisable if the Home Secretary, before Report, would give us some definition of what he understands by a political uniform, because otherwise we shall have difficulties throughout the country. You will have a magistrate in Manchester, when one of my Fascist friends is brought before him—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—Oh, yes, I have plenty of friends among the Fascists. Four years ago they were largely Conservatives; some were Labour men, some Communists. If any of these young men are brought before the Manchester magistrates, and it is left to them to define what is a political uniform, I can imagine some rather curious definitions coming from the bench. On the other hand if Fascists were brought up before the magistrates at, say, Bolton, I can see an entirely different definition being put forward from that bench. At present the Bill gives no guidance at all on the matter.

Last Monday the Attorney-General said glibly that it was much better for the court to be left to define this phrase. That may be so, and I would not mind if the court, and particularly the High Court judges, were the first people to handle the matter, but the first people to handle it will be the police. We shall have the police putting forward their construction of this term "political uniform," then the magistrates, then the High Court, then the Court of Appeal, and then the House of Lords. Why put these people to all this expense? If they are looked upon as deadly enemies, why not do as the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) has suggested, namely, bring in a Bill to crush them entirely as a political organisation, and not bother about the political uniform? It would be far fairer to do that, because I gather from what was said last Monday night, when I tried to get a word in but could not, that the real object of Clause 1, as far as some Members of the House thought, was to crush the Fascists.


I must again remind the hon. and learned Member that we are not yet discussing Clause 1.


I am obliged, Sir Dennis. I was trying to get at the intention behind Clause 1, and, of course, the Amendment, which I support, because, if the House does not really know what is the intention of Amendments and of the Clause, and if we do not know the meaning of the words "political uniform," I submit that we should be spending our time far better in discussing something that we do understand, such as unemployment. We none of us quibble about that term; we know what it means; but, according to the Home Secretary, no one on the Front Government Bench can give us a definition of what is meant by a political uniform. I support the Amendment because, although I do not think it will clarify the meaning to us—that is impossible, because we do not know what the Front Bench means by that phrase—at any rate it will give us a chance of getting at the intention of the Clause when we see whether the Government accept the Amendment or not.

4.27 p.m.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)

I always forget who it was who said that, although he was unable to define a certain object, he always knew one when he saw one. I think he was referring to an elephant. No doubt there are many objects which it would be difficult for most of us to define, but which on the whole we find easy to recognise when we see them. I would suggest at the outset, with all respect to the arguments which have been advanced in favour of this Amendment, that it will not help to get over any difficulty. I cannot really think that either the police or a court would find it any easier to say what was a quasi-military or a military aspect than it would be to say what was a political uniform. I am not sure that it applies to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), but I think it is perhaps not unfair to say that most of those who have spoken in favour of the Amendment dislike Clause 1 altogether. On the other hand, I think the Committee as a whole wants Clause 1, but of course we are all anxious to see that it is drafted in the fairest and most effective way that is possible. I suggest to the Committee that it would be unwise to accept this Amendment and restrict the scope of the Clause to military or quasi-military uniforms, whatever precisely those words may mean. The nature of the offence at which the Clause is directed is well known to every Member of the Committee, but to put in words like these would at once invite those who wish to defeat the intentions of Parliament, as expressed in this Clause, to adopt some form of dress which would have all the evils against which the Clause is directed, but which they might be able quite definitely to show that no one could suggest was a military or quasi-military uniform. Some of the forms of uniform which we have seen, and against which the Clause is directed, would not, I think, come within the words "military or quasi-military." I would suggest that my hon. Friend should reconsider the matter, and I would also suggest to the Committee that they would be unwise to accept the Amendment.

Vice-Admiral TAYLOR

Would the Attorney-General tell us, if a procession were passing through the streets every member wearing a red tie or blouse, whether that would constitute a political uniform?


I cannot conceive any court holding that a tie was a uniform. A person would not go and put on a tie and come back and say, "I have just put on my uniform." I can imagine a blouse consistently worn in connection with political associations, possibly with a belt and other apparatus, coming exactly within the Clause. Of course, it is impossible to lay down a hard-and-fast rule as to exactly where garments begin and end.

4.31 p.m.


I am little disquieted by the last remarks that fell from the Attorney-General. One of my reasons for disapproving the Amendment is that the essence of militarism is not in the cut or the colour of the cloth, it is in a uniform garment being used for purposes of manoeuvre. I should suggest that that is exactly what it is the business of the courts to decide. Suppose it was arranged that 5,000 persons should all be in Hyde Park, each of them with a button badge twice the size of a 5s. piece in his pocket and, as the clock struck three, he was to fasten it to his coat, and the persons so recognising each other were to form themselves into platoons and behave in a quasi-military manner, I should have thought that was using a uniform with the intention of exhibiting man power, if not with the intention of exercising at least of threatening force, which is the kind of thing we are trying to get at. Those were, surely, the reasons for not defining uniform.

4.33 p.m.


I should like to reinforce what my hon. Friend has said. I thought the word "uniform" signified uniform in its widest possible sense, that is to say, people dressed in a uniform way or with uniform characteristics. It does not matter whether it is a badge, a tie, a helmet, or a hat. It means that they are uniformly got up for the urging of a, particular kind of political policy. It would be very unfortunate if it were only people dressed in a military or quasi-military dress, which would hit only a very few of the persons the Bill is aimed at. The Clause should deal with people dressed in a uniform way which is easily distinguished for the purpose of putting forward a political policy.

4.35 p.m.


Surely in course of time we shall all know perfectly well whether any particular combination of dress or one article of dress, or something else, signifies an association for political purposes. No prosecution, surely, will be undertaken unless there is a general feeling in the country that it is a definite political organisation which is identifiable to its members and the public by reason of some article or articles of dress. It may be that if the only thing were a tiny badge, the Attorney-General might hesitate before prosecuting, but if in fact they were really identifiable in all places and on all occasions, by the manner in which they dress, I cannot conceive that there would be any doubt in practice as to whether or not they were wearing uniforms signifying a political organisation. We all know what a uniform is, from that of a commissionaire, which, after all, is military or quasi-military, down to that of boy scouts, which is almost the least military of any in appearance. There is no doubt in our own minds, after having seen members of this organisation constantly and regularly in public places, that it is a uniform signifying certain associations. I cannot believe that in practice anything is to be gained by trying further to define uniforms. Let us leave it to the common sense of our people and to the wisdom of our Attorney-General as to when it is desirable to take action against the organisation that we are intending to hit by this Clause.

4.37 p.m.


I oppose the Amendment because it will not carry out the Mover's intention. He seems to imagine that a military or naval uniform is something in bright colours with buttons and so forth attaching to it, but the engineer's overall is the military uniform of one great nation. I am not very fond of the Bill because of the dangers attaching to it, but the hon. Member's suggestion will not carry out the idea that he has in mind or make the language more clear.

4.38 p.m.


To my mind the defect of the Amendment is that it suffers from the same weakness as the original wording of the Clause, namely, that the term is too narrow. Whether the Amendment is carried or the Clause is left as it is, as there is no definition of uniform anywhere, the courts will have to take a common sense view of the meaning of the term, and I suggest that they will take the view that the term "uniform" means a more or less complete outfit. I cannot conceive that the courts will hold that a single garment by itself constitutes a uniform. May I suggest that between now and Report the Home Secretary should consider if it is not possible to add something that will get over the difficulty. I had an Amendment on the Paper, and my idea was that any single garment or uniform should bring a person within the operation of the Clause. The Clause says that it must be a uniform, I suggest that there is a danger there. Take the example of the Blackshirt movement. They wear a more or less complete outfit which can be fairly described as a uniform. If in future they merely wear a black shirt, and otherwise wear diverse clothes, some flannels, others corduroys and so on, it is most improbable that any court will hold that they are wearing a uniform. If I am right in that, the purpose that the Government, and I believe the House has will be defeated. I would ask the Home Secretary whether he will not undertake to give the matter further consideration.

4.41 p.m.


I am not particularly in favour of the Amendment, but the discussion has raised difficulties in my mind as to what the position will be. We are aiming at the prohibition of the organisation of bodies which seek to use force for their political ends. I should have thought that grey flannels and a black shirt might be held to be a uniform, but what is to hinder those gentlemen from wearing, instead of that dress, a small figure in their buttonhole in grey flannels and a black shirt. It will be themselves in miniature. The Clause reads uniform signifying association with any political organisation or with the promotion of any political object. Therefore, when we come to an election and I happen to wear a badge of my own colours, I shall be wearing the uniform of a political organisation and be liable to be proceeded against. It seems to me that the essence of the matter is the intention to use physical force.

4.43 p.m.


We know exactly what we want to get at, and we had better put it in the Clause. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) put his finger on the point when he said it is the intention of the wearer of a given uniform that should be taken into account, but that is not expressed in the Clause. The Attorney-General pointed out that a red tie would not be deemed to be a uniform, which raises another point, that a uniform not only has to be uniformly worn but has to have a certain capacity of covering, it may be two-fourths or three-fourths of the body. This is only an indication of the mess that we are getting into. I do not think the Amendment would meet the point, but after this discussion the duty of doing something to meet the wishes of the Committee rests with the Home Secretary. Look at the words again uniform signifying association with any political organisation. There is no reference to the intentions of the wearer. Suppose there were a number of gentlemen walking down the street wearing silk hats, white spats and monocles, and I said to some navvies, "Who do you think they are, and to what type of meeting do you think they are going?" what would they answer? We cannot disguise in this Amendment or in this Clause the intention of the wearers of uniform. Men uniformly dressed in this manner would come under this Clause. They would be associated with a particular political association, or the dress they wore would signify their political association. The wording of the Amendment does not meet the point. It must be clear to the Home Secretary and the promoters of the Bill that, while the majority of the Members of this House are anxious to do something to preserve constitutional methods at elections, it is essential that some other wording should be introduced by the Home Secretary to give a clear definition of what is meant. At present it is so wide that it might be possible to bring within the scope and operation of the Bill people who had no bad intention at all against the State. The right hon. Gentleman should really take the matter into account and see if some suitable wording cannot be embodied in the Clause.

4.47 p.m.


The issue raised in the Amendment, as the Committee realise, is whether the words "military or quasi-military" should be inserted. I really think, with all respect to my hon. Friend who raised the point by moving the Amendment, that the sense of the Committee is that these words should not be inserted. I fully appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) and other hon. Gentlemen and the various illustrations they have given, but it is by no means a new consideration for me or those acting with me. We have considered this matter from the beginning, and I would like the Committee to realise that this matter goes beyond the scope of Clause 1, Clause 2 is directed to the purpose which certain organisations are seeking to carry out. That is the question of purpose. Clause 1, I agree, does not raise the question of purpose, except very incidentally, but of costume. In itself and by itself that may not involve purpose, but as a practical matter we have suggested—and I think that it is the general view of the Committee—that Clause 1 ought not to contain any definition of uniform. When we come to a subsequent Amendment in which someone is proposing to insert emblem, election favour, or Primrose League badge, I shall have something to say. I do not think any such person would regard an emblem or Primrose League badge or trade union badge as uniform. Had we not better deal with that matter when it is definitely before us, because I think that on this question of whether we shall insert "military or quasi-military" we are practically unanimous.


In view of what the right hon. Member has said, may I ask you, Sir Dennis, whether the next Amendment dealing with emblems will be called?


I do not propose to call the next Amendment on the Order Paper—in page 1, line 8, after "uniform," to insert "or displayed emblems"—but to select the Amendment which follows. The question of emblems can be raised on the Question, "That the Clause stand part."

Amendment negatived.

4.50 p.m.

Captain RAMSAY

I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, after "uniform," to insert or carries a flag or banner bearing a provocative device or inscription. If these words were inserted in the Clause it would read: Subject as hereinafter provided, any person who in any public place or at any public meeting wears uniform or carries a flag or banner bearing a provocative device or inscription signifying association with any political organisation.' There are many of us who feel considerable regret that things in this country should have made it necessary for the Government to introduce this Bill. We recognise its necessity and are prepared to support the Government to the fullest extent. It would, in our opinion, do less than good however to pass a Bill which might perhaps deal with one or two provocative features of the situation and let others go unscathed. It is our contention that in the organisation of forces, whether military or civil, the carrying of a flag, both in history and in present day fact, has as much, if not greater, significance than the actual wearing of a uniform. From the earliest times the focus of emotion and of esprit de corps, the rallying of the co-ordinated human effort in a struggle has been a flag. If we are to allow bodies to march through the streets, even if they are not allowed to wear uniforms—we understand they may all wear the same tie—carrying flags, procreative of disorder, we shall have only achieved part of the objective of this Bill. The objects of the Bill, as I understand it, are, first, to prevent the organisation of force and the building up of civil communities which are formed for violence when the time comes. That is one object. The next object is to prevent open provocation. The wearing of uniforms makes it much easier to train a civil body as if it were a military force, but as far as provocation is concerned, the marching of such a body, either uniformed or un-uniformed with banners through the street is equally provocative in either case.

We have been careful in drawing up this Amendment. We might have put in the words "carrying a black flag or a red flag in the streets," but we have been careful to word the Amendment so as to be as restrained as possible. Although to some of us the Red Flag may have unpleasant associations, at least a certain air of respectability has been cast over it by the mantle of protection which our hon. Friends opposite extend to it. It is concerned in our minds here with such pleasant recollections as having heard two verses of the Red Flag song sung to us by the party opposite in such a manner as to suggest a meeting of the Salvation Army. All the same, the Red Flag is objectionable to many people who have heard the speeches made in the park, as I have heard them. I remember the last particular speech I heard. The speaker told the audience that he was a general in the Communist army and that neither Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Chamberlain nor any of the other people on the Front Bench liked him very much, and they were quite right, because he would cut their throats when his time came. In spite of that sort of thing, I and my hon. Friends have refrained from putting in the words "Red Flag"; we have put in "flag or banner bearing a provocative device or inscription." We have only to look around Europe to see the use which dictators of one side or the other have made of flags, and what chance the opposite side to these dictators would have of raising one of their flags or banners. We must realise that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. We have seen how it has been possible to arouse Germans, Italians and Russians to follow flags, and the danger is that you might arouse a few foolish Scotsmen and Englishmen to do the same.


And Welshmen.

Captain RAMSAY

I am sorry I forgot the Welsh. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned the subject of banners but only in a sort of backstairs way, when talking about Clause 3. I quote his words. He said: a provision is expressly included in Subsection (1) as to the possibility. of conditions being imposed…. Sometimes there are cases in which the requirement might be with reference, say, to provocative inscriptions on banners."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1936; col. 1360, Vol. 317.] This issue is fundamental to the whole subject. It is no place for the Home Secretary to tuck it away with a side reference to a Sub-section in a paragraph which does not even mention the word "banner," and shirk the responsibility by putting the interpretation of this fundamental Clause on to the police or magistrates who may have to deal with the situation. We all know the impulse which we receive from a procession marching through the street, whether it bears a banner of which we approve or whether it bears one of which we disapprove. We all know how provocative it is even when Harrovians hoist a dark blue flag in an Etonian stand at the Eton v. Harrow match, especially at a critical point in the game. Does anyone suppose that the police in India would allow a Mohammedan procession bearing Mohammedan banners to march through the Hindu quarter? Does anyone suppose that a procession of Orangemen marching through a Roman Catholic quarter would be likely to have a peaceful reception because it only carried flags? This is a point which we have to face. I am sorry that the Government have not put it actually in the wording of the Clause. We think that they have shirked the issue, and we hope that between now and the Report stage they will put in some words to cover a provocative inscription or device carried in a public procession through the streets.

4.59 p.m.


I am not in agreement with the Amendment because I do not think that it would be of any benefit. Apart from any discussion which may have occurred in this House, and whether it concerned Roman Catholics or Orangemen or anyone else, a disturbance of the public peace should be avoided. Every citizen has a duty to see that the public receive the fullest protection. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to Orangemen passing through a Catholic quarter carrying banners. As far as I know Liverpool, he would not say that it was only a procession passing through; there would be no banners left. If people had not the common sense to know that they were hurting the feelings of people in a particular neighbourhood by doing that, they would be taught a lesson and would not go again. There would be no need for an Act of Parliament to teach them.

We are dealing in this Clause with the question of uniforms and not banners. There are certain banners that may cause difficulty in certain quarters. On the other hand, there are some banners which may be of an exhilarating character. Who shall judge? Is it to be left to an old fogey sitting somewhere, who may rouse himself from sleep and form the idea that a certain banner would incite the public? Another man might take a different view. There are, of course, all types of banners. Who is to decide the question of what is hostile under this Amendment? There are certain banners and devices that we use during the election, such as: "Down with the Tory Government"; "Down with the National Government"; "We want bread, not stones." I suppose that if we carried banners of that description some respectable people under the terms of this Amendment would say that they were provocative. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] But in the mind of a magistrate we might be held to be inciting the people to riot.

If it is difficult to define uniforms, it will be equally if not more difficult to define what is a provocative banner. I am anxious not to reduce the Bill to a farce. There is, for instance, the hammer and sickle on the banner of the party of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I see no harm in that, but if the sickle was held in somebody's hand and it might be used, that would be another matter. I do not think that, without injustice to the parties concerned, we can attempt to lay down the principle involved in the Amendment. We might be denying to people at election time and at political meetings a great deal of fun and diversion if we leave them without a banner, without the attendant enthusiasm and without the little bit of drama that now and again can be introduced into public life. I am opposed to the Amendment.

5.4 p.m.

Commander BOWER

I support the Amendment because I think there is some danger that this Bill, and particularly this Clause, may become particular legislation instead of general. I hold no brief for Sir Oswald Mosley or his Fascists. I dislike them almost as much as I dislike the party of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher).


But not quite.

Commander BOWER

Not quite. I cannot see why Sir Oswald Mosley and his friends should be specially selected for attention because they parade in the East End of London and do what the hon. Member and his friends are doing in the West End. We are told that it is provocative for Sir Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts to march through the East End. What happens? Owing to the fact that there are a large number of Oriental races who live in that area they find it necessary to provoke and assault the police. We in the West End do not find it necessary to assault the police when these processions march through, but it is a mistake to think that we are not just as much provoked. We are, however, law-abiding citizens.

A few weeks ago I was driving my car through the West End on a Sunday evening and was held up for about 10 minutes and prevented from crossing Piccadilly because of a Communist procession which was carrying banners with such devices as "Down with British Imperialism." We happen to be an Imperial race and doubtless some hon. Members opposite think that we are, and they are as responsible for its maintenance as we are. The kind of banner to which I have referred is as provocative as Mosley's Blackshirts in the East End to their opponents. I see no reason why Sir Oswald Mosley should be specially singled out, and many of us on this side hope that the Government will see to it that if the Fascists are to be attacked in this particular way that other nuisances of a like character will: also be attacked. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will carry the Amendment to a Division.

5.8 p.m.


I hope the Government will not accept the Amendment, because it seems to me that the general principle on which we ought to proceed is to do the very minimum which is necessary to accomplish the purpose which we have in mind. We are bringing in a Bill which imposes certain restrictions. Nobody likes to impose these restrictions for their own sake. We do it only because we have to meet a particular situation which has arisen in a few parts of the country. In doing that we ought to interfere as little as we possibly can with the ordinary traditional way of carrying on political propaganda in this country. The organising of processions and the carrying of banners and flags have happened in this country in political affairs for very many years. We can all imagine banners which indicate some association with a political or quasi-political organisation and which carry some emblem, or device, or some form of words. There is, for instance, a banner bearing the initials "N.U.W.M." and with the words "Down with the Means Test." That might be regarded as provocative, but do not let us get into a position in these debates in which we say that it is an offence to be provocative. We all of us, I hope, are provocative at election times. I try to be provocative to my political opponents, and I hope I succeed, and I hope that other hon. Members do so. If it is to be regarded as an offence simply to be provocative, that is something that we do in this House every day.

It seems to me that the Amendment would not meet the purpose that the hon. and gallant Member who moved it has in mind. The Amendment makes it an offence to carry a flag or banner bearing a provocative device or description signifying association with any political organisation. That would still leave it open to carry a red flag or a black flag. It seems to me that it is no more an offence to carry a flag with some emblem like the Swastika or the Hammer and Sickle than to carry a banner of a particular colour which has an association with a particular party. By passing the Amendment we should not be hitting particularly at one side or the other. If the Bill remains as it is it means that we simply deal with uniforms, which is all that the Bill set out to do, and we leave it open to the Fascists or the Communists or any other political party to carry such banners or emblems as they please. There is no question of drawing a distinction between one party and another.

5.12 p.m.


I should like to state briefly to the Committee the way in which the Government regard this question. It is a much more important question than the incidental matter that we were discussing before. If it were the case that this Bill as a whole made no provision which would enable the law, where necessary, to put down definite provocation in a neighbourhood, which might be reasonably expected from some grossly insulting device, then I should feel that the Amendment was justifiable, but we must look at the Bill as a whole, and the question is whether this Clause, which is a uniforms Clause, is the vehicle for subject-matter such as the Mover of the Amendment wishes to insert. I would ask the hon. and gallant Member to observe where this subject-matter might naturally come in.

I agree that it is a perfectly legitimate question to raise in connection with this Bill, and the last thing I want to do, or that any reasonably-minded person wants to do, is to make this a merely one-sided Bill. Let us look at Clause 3. I was struck with the fact that the hon. and gallant Member in moving the Amendment explained in simple phrases what he had in mind, and he referred to processions. He talked about people marching through the streets carrying provocative banners. He referred to processions in India and to Orange processions. It is in connection with processions that this question arises, whatever may be the right way of dealing with it. The Clause which deals with processions is not Clause 1 but Clause 3. Therefore it was not with any desire, as the hon. and gallant Member said, of putting the subject away—he even used the words "shirking responsibility"—that I referred to it in connection with Clause 3, because it is in Clause 3 that this question might arise. In Clause 3 we provide that for the preservation of public order on the occasion of processions the chief officer of police 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. Therefore, I think I was perfectly right when I said that Clause 3 was the place on which this question might conceivably arise. I cannot imagine that there is a better place than that.

Captain RAMSAY

The reason why we want this provision inserted in Clause 1 is that we want to preclude the holding of demonstrations with this sort of flag flying. We say that they are an incitement to people to rush at the flags and to pull them down.


The question of processions and flags and banners arises in Clause 5. It says: Any person who in any public place or at any public meeting uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned. That, I think, would cover such behaviour as the use of provocative banners. But I do not think we should take Clause 1, which is the uniforms Clause, and completely change its application and aspect. There is a great distinction, after all, in the use of uniforms in our political life and the use of banners. The use of uniforms is a new thing, and we want, if we can, to put a stop to it. That, I think, is the general sentiment of the Committee. It does not proceed from any objection to any political organisation from which we may differ, but from the feeling that our political activities are much better carried on in the character of civilians and not in anything like an army organisation. When we come to banners, I am not denying that there may be cases where banners may be so provocative as to produce outbreaks. I do not know. I have not often seen such a case. I believe the red flag is nothing but red, there is no writing on it. It would not drive me into a passion; nor would any other colour.

After all, banners are in a different category and are rather an old-established method in which British political enthusiasm has been exhibited. If you have a case where those responsible say that a procession through the streets with these banners and inscriptions would produce a breach of the peace, I am entirely in favour of giving the proper authority power to prevent that happening. But this matter is involved in Clause 3, and I would suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that when we come to that Clause we should consider whether it is not covered rather than introduce the question on Clause 1. I do not think we should try to deal with this matter on this Clause, the uniforms Clause, and I hope the hon and gallant Member will agree to consider it in connection with Clause 3.


May I point out that the Amendment as it has been drafted would apply only to the person who wears a uniform or carries a, flag or banner bearing a provocative device or inscription.


That is so. I did not want to confuse matters by taking a purely verbal point, but the Amendment as it is drafted, obviously, will not do, and I suggest that we should regard this matter as one which arises more naturally under Clause 3. It would be a mistake to try and make it part of the general provisions of the Bill.

5.21 p.m.


I want to make it clear in the first place that the Communist party is no military organisation; it does not train its members under any system of physical training, and in no circumstances does it tolerate any of its members carrying weapons. An hon. Member spoke about someone being a general of the Communist army. He was a general without an army, and if the hon. Member could bring me into contact with him I would not do with him as the hon. Member proposed to do—I would not cut his throat—I would just pass him on to the Home Secretary for medical treatment, inspection and observation—perhaps I should have said the Minister of Health. I am not much concerned about the attitude of hon. Members opposite and the intolerable absurdities they have presented to the Committee; but their presumption—that is a different thing. We want to make processions and demonstrations, for the purpose of provoking the people of this country, of arousing and provoking them to the terrible condition of the masses of the people. We have had hunger marches in the West End for political purposes. If the hon. and gallant Member is driving down in his car and a number of his friends are gathered there and they are provoked, they do not like it, and say so. How would they like the chief of police to come along and push them about and say that they have no right to dislike the procession?


I have been waiting for the hon. Member to come to the subject of the Amendment.


I am talking about the provocation of processions.


Provoking processions are not in the Amendment.


I am talking about processions carrying certain banners with certain writings on them which provoke hon. Members opposite. If they expressed their provocation and the police started knocking them about they would have something more about which to be provoked. In the East End of London there has been processions with emblems and banners directed as a deliberate provocation to racial feelings. That is something entirely different; and the police have been protecting these processions. An hon. Member talked about them being Orientals. They are British citizens, and as good British citizens as hon. Members opposite. There is no question of stopping banners and flags of a political character. That would bring us to a state which an hon. Member opposite desired. We do not in this country want to be treated in the same way as Indians have been treated. I want every liberty for the carrying of banners and provocative slogans, but anything which is deliberately offensive or insulting is entirely different. Already the police have power to deal with it, and their power could be strengthened if necessary. I have a proposal later on dealing with insulting and provocative language directed towards racial and religious sections of the community. The question of insulting and provocative language directed towards racial or religious bodies is something with which the police have power already to deal. In no circumstances should we limit our right to political provocation which has always been an essential feature of the life of this country.

5.27 p.m.


The Home Secretary's statement would carry more weight with many hon. Members if he had added that he was prepared to accept the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) and myself, or a similar Amendment, when we come to Clause 3. The Home Secretary said nothing of that kind, and in default of some assurance that this matter, on which many of us feel strongly, will be dealt with by the Government in connection with Clause 3, I hope my hon. Friends will press the Amendment. I would point out that this is not a. uniforms Bill. It is a Public Order Bill.


I said that Clause 1 was the uniforms Clause.


I am perfectly aware of that, but what I am pointing out is that this is not a uniforms Bill but a Public Order Bill and, therefore, it is desirable that the object of the Bill should be dealt with as soon as possible. The object of the Bill should not be interfered with by words which would make it refer only to provocative uniforms. That is one reason why I rather dislike the Bill. It seems to be aimed at one political organisation and does not deal with other political organisations which are equally likely to cause disorder. The words in this Clause allow the wearing of uniforms, provided it is clear that they will not be likely to involve the risk of public disorder. It is clear that the object aimed at is the risk of public disorder. I understand that when this matter originally arose in the East End of London it was not the Fascists who caused breaches of the peace or attacked anyone, but the fact that their uniform was distasteful to a number of persons there and that breaches of order were thereby occasioned. Very likely that was the case.

I would like also to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, it is not only uniforms that may cause public disorder. People going to attend a meeting and carrying flags or banners bearing devices or inscriptions may also be a cause of public disorder. The aim of this Bill is to prevent public disorder, and it is only in so far as uniforms are provocative and cause public disorder that there is any excuse for the Bill. Therefore, I think it is very desirable that something should be included as early as possible in the Bill to show that its object is not to prevent the wearing of uniforms, but to prevent any kind of costume, banner or emblem that is likely to cause public disorder, and if the Home Secretary will say that some suitable words will be inserted in Clause 3 to deal with processions, my objections would to that extent be met.

5.31 p.m.


In reply to my hon. Friend, in referring to Clause 3, line 41, which reads: such conditions as appear to him necessary for the preservation of public order I told the House on Second Reading that I thought this would include the making of conditions, if such conditions were necessary, to deal with banners. That is my view, and the view of the Attorney-General. I am willing to say now that I will have this examined, and if there is any doubt about it I will make it entirely plain. My hon. Friend will appreciate that this does not mean there will be such a condition, but that it will be within the power of the local police, if they come to the conclusion that such conditions are necessary for the preservation of order, to make those conditions. I could not possibly go further than that. It has always been my intention that that should be done, and I believe it would be in the power of the London police to-day. I think the proper way to deal with the matter would be under Clause 3.

5.32 p.m.

Captain RAMSAY

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.



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


On a point of Order. Is it not permissible, under the Rules, to continue the discussion on the Amendment, as no closure has been moved.


I am afraid the hon. Member is too late.


I rose in an endeavour to continue the discussion.


Perhaps the hon. Member will remember another time to be quicker still.

5.33 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, to leave out lines 11 to 18.

I move this Amendment on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Clayton (Mr. Jagger). The lines in question are the proviso which detracts from the prohibition to wear uniforms in any public place or at any public meeting, and it reads as follows: Provided that if the chief officer of police is satisfied that the wearing of any such uniform as aforesaid on any ceremonial, anniversary, or other occasion will not be likely to involve risk of public disorder, he may, with the consent of a Secretary of State, by order permit the wearing of such uniform on that occasion either absolutely or subject to such conditions as may be specified in the Order. The attitude which I, in common with the bulk of hon. Members beside me, take with reference to this proviso—with reference, in short, to this Clause—is that we agree with the anxieties that have been expressed by many hon. Members regarding any restriction of liberty, but we agree, as far as this part of the Bill is concerned, that at any rate some restriction of liberty is essential. After all, liberty consists in a sense of a series of minor restrictions on liberty. We recognise that the task of prohibiting uniforms has undesirable associations or undesirable results, we recognise that it is a difficult piece of work to do, and I think most hon. Members recognise that in the drafting of the main body of Subsection (1) that work has been done about as well as it could be done, but I Will give to the Committee our reasons for suggesting that the proviso would be much better omitted. Those reasons are small in themselves, but together, they amount, in our submission, to a substantial reason against the proviso.

First of all, one regrettable fact is that in this part of the Bill one knows one is dealing in the main, although not wholly, with one specific political organisation. Naturally, the Bill may be used in the case of any other similar organisation, but here we are dealing in the main with one organisation. We have seen the tendencies and habits of that organisation, and we may feel fairly certain that if this Bill becomes an Act, with this Sub-section and proviso in it, that organisation will, if I may so put it, ostentatiously keep its uniforms ready in the chest of drawers. It is not easy to do something negative ostentatiously, but obviously that is what that organisation will do. They will tell their followers to keep their uniforms nicely brushed because they may be wanted at any moment. The next thing they will do is to make insistent appeals from time to time and on occasion after occasion to the Secretary of State for permission to wear the uniforms. Those applications will be nicely graded, some of them being extremely reasonable and some of them border-line cases, so that the Secretary of State will have to draw a line somewhere. Wherever he may draw the line, they will select a most reasonable case that he has thought it right to refuse, and make a great deal of propaganda in the country against the restriction of liberty.

At some moment or other the Secretary of State will say that there is no reason to prohibit the uniform, and will allow it to be worn. Then there will be immense propaganda and publicity; they will all be shouting, "Our uniform is going to be used to-morrow; rally round in your thousands to see it," and the result will be to create a tremendous amount of publicity for an organisation which lives largely on the publicity and provocation that it can create. All those things are extremely undesirable. If the proviso is really necessary to prevent the unnecessary restriction of movement of some body which, in this complex and varied community of Great Britain and Northern Ireland we have overlooked, we may, of course, trust the Home Secretary to tell us. I, for one, would be very glad if the proviso enabled the Green-shirts to continue their peaceful, if not very interesting, existence, but I do not think the proviso would save the Green-shirts. If we are right in thinking that it does not really help what I might call innocent, neutral or non-provocative bodies, we suggest that the Clause would be better, and that it would avoid a certain number of evils, if the proviso were deleted.

5.40 p.m.


In my character as Secretary of State, I would like very much to accept the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Gentleman. The task involved by this proviso will riot be any fun to me, although I hope it will not be quite as bad as the hon. and learned Member suggested. Undoubtedly if there be a case which gains exemption for a ceremonial, anniversary or other occasion, under this proviso, it will only be because the Secretary of State consents. If he does consent, and there is not general approval, he may be certain that he will be challenged in the House; and if he does something of which some people approve and other people disapprove, he may be challenged just the same. Naturally, from my point of view, nothing would be more satisfactory and convenient than to accept the Amendment, but I will give the Committee the reason we included these words, and ask the Committee to consider it. As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, it is true that in framing this Clause and discussing it we are very largely preoccupied by thinking of a particular case, but it would be quite wrong, and contrary to the whole spirit of British law, if we were to legislate for the purpose of penalising a particular case.

We have to find the principle, to lay it down, and to see that we apply to all cases which fall within the principle the rules that are laid down regarding it. That is the reason we put the uniforms Clause in what is a very general shape, but the very fact that we drafted it in such general terms makes the Legislature and the Committee anxious lest, without having reflected upon all possible applications, we may not have laid down a rule which when the occasion arises, everybody will see is a rule we ought not to have applied to such an instance. We have tried to limit that possibility by putting in the reference to the political character of the uniform. That is a limitation. To some extent also, there is a limitation in the reference to the consent of the Attorney-General. Now, one of the two things which political uniforms will include will be costumes "signifying association with any political organisation." Let me take the case of a trade union, for example. I think I am right in saying that in the old days there was a practice by which trade union regalia were used on more or less ceremonial occasions. I am not for a moment saying whether trade union regalia are or are not uniforms, and I do not intend to say that; but I do say that none of us really intends to interfere with a demonstration of that nature, and I think it would be very unfortunate if such a case were to be found hereafter to be caught under the cast-iron provisions of this sub-section when nobody had ever intended to interfere in such a case.

Let me give the House another instance. Certainly, it is not the Home Secretary who decides the point, but I can conceive the question arising in connection with the demonstrations that take place on 12th July. Frankly it is not the purpose of the Government here and now that nobody shall ever demonstrate on 12th July. That is a, proper case for police regulations, for making conditions, prescribing routes and doing other things that are designed to protect public order. But when we have anniversary or ceremonial occasions which we have gone through without too much trouble in the past, I do not think it is a good thing for Parliament to set up as a sort of supreme legislative governess and impose cast-iron rules in regard to these matters. That is the reason why we have inserted this proviso. The Home Office officials would be delighted if the Committee threw it out. It would save them a good deal of anxious thought and the Home Secretary of the day would be happy to be relieved of this responsibility. The only reason why we put it in was because we thought that when we were laying down a new prohibition and saying to the British people, in a new connection, "Here is something which you shall not do," we ought to provide a certain latitude for those cases in which none of us, I am sure, really intend to apply a rigid rule.

I think the Amendment which stands later on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman)—in page 1, line 13, after "other" to insert "special"—is one which might be accepted by the Committee. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite would probably agree that that is already the effect of the proviso, but we might as well write it down, and that is the extent to which we think this proviso ought to be altered. If I have succeeded in conveying to the Committee the real reason why we put in this proviso, and if I have been so fortunate as to persuade them that there is ground for it, then I hope we shall be allowed to make further progress with the Bill.

5.47 p.m.


The explanation given by the Home Secretary suggests that it is going to be very comfortable and easy to operate this Clause. This proviso brings in the chief of police and I would point out that in many cases this will involve more than one chief of police. I saw in Lancashire yesterday a demonstration which passed through the areas of three police authorities. It passed through part of the area of the Lancashire County Constabulary, it passed through part of Salford—and I believe it had to be reorganised for its passage through Salford—and it then passed through part of Manchester. Are we then to have the spectacle of three chiefs of police being concerned in a matter of this kind and possibly differing between themselves as to whether or not they should approach the Home Secretary on the subject of the wearing of uniforms on a particular occasion? The people to whom I refer were wearing uniforms. They were celebrating the anniversary of somebody who committed an illegal act many years ago, and I wondered, as I saw them, what would happen in a case where the three chief constables concerned were not agreed on the action to be taken in regard to a particular demonstration.

I think the police ought to be kept out of this matter of the granting or withholding of approval for the wearing of uniforms. The Metropolitan police were referred to by the Home Secretary as possessing certain powers. I know there is one power which they think they possess. They think they are a Government Department, but I hope that one of these days it will be made clear that they are just as much a local body of police as other forces in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That, I hope, will be proved one of these days, although they appear to have made the impression on the minds of certain hon. Members that they are a Government Department and not a body of police. I would ask whether this proviso means that an organisation, such as a trade union for example, would have to seek permission for a demonstration at which certain uniforms were to be worn, and also what is to happen when such a demonstration passes through more than one police area? I hope that this Amendment will be pressed to a Division.

5.50 p.m.


I have heard the Home Secretary called many things in his time but I think this is the first occasion on which he has been accused of being a local authority, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will recover from it. Despite the views of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Belly) I think it is the ease that the right hon. Gentleman does control the Metropolitan Police. The difficulty about the proviso as it stands—and I hope the Home Secretary will consider amending it later on—is that any person who wishes to prevent sanction being given to a procession can do so. If I do not like certain people who propose to hold a procession, I have only to say that their procession will annoy me and that, as it passes by, I will heave half a brick at it. I may be told that in that case I should be arrested and bound over for having made a threat, but in those circumstances why were not the Communists in the East End of London arrested and bound over for having threatened to break up a procession of which they did not approve? The Home Secretary has told us that under the existing law if you threaten to break up a procession you can be arrested and bound over. Why were not some of the Communists and Socialists who object to other people making speeches arrested and bound over?


They do not object to other people making speeches, though one could understand it if they objected to the hon. Member making a speech.


Some of the hon. Member's sympathisers do occasionally object to me making speeches in my own constituency, but we have a simple method of dealing with them. We chuck them out. I do not know whether that is legal or whether I could be bound over for it. But how is the risk of public disorder to be established? Surely it is when threats are made against a procession. The Home Secretary has said that if you make threats you can be arrested. Therefore, you cannot legally make threats. How, then, is the chief officer of police or the Home Secretary to discover where there is a risk of public disorder? What degree of threat can be made, which will be legal but which will have the effect of preventing a procession? The object of the proposal is to deal with the case of public processions and threats against those processions. We now have the rather curious situation that most of the words in the proviso, according to the Home Secretary, are unnecessary because there is no means of establishing where there is a risk of public disorder—it being illegal to give any indication that there is such risk. As far as I can make out, the main purpose seems to be to enable trade unions to have processions. The Home Secretary mentioned the example of the 12th July demonstrations, but except for a certain part of Liverpool, with which I am familiar, these are confined in the main to Northern Ireland, to which the Bill does not apply.


What about Scotland?


The outstanding example given by the right hon. Gentleman was that of the 12th July processions, at which there is always risk of disorder. In future apparently these are to be sanctioned and also processions in which Communists and Socialists take part. I suppose it is all right but I do not understand it and I do not know whether anybody else understands it. In due course the magistrate will have to try to decide the question and I hope they will be luckier than I am.

5.55 p.m.


I welcome the attitude of the Home Secretary on this Amendment. I regard the Bill as a regrettable necessity, and we do not want to interfere with people wearing whatever kind of clothes they like, unless we are forced to do so. I think it desirable that the powers taken under this Clause should not be greater than are absolutely necessary. As an hon. Member opposite said, this is a Public Order Bill and not a Bill dealing primarily with the wearing of particular clothes by particular people. If it can be ascertained under the provisions in this proviso that on a particular and special occasion there is no risk of public disorder, I do not see why anybody should object to uniforms being worn on that occasion. The chief officer of police has to be satisfied that there is no risk of disorder, and the consent of the Secretary of State has to be given. I think that with those two safeguards, there is no danger of abuse of the permission which is here given and that the greatest possible amount of liberty which can be allowed ought to be allowed.


Having heard the explanation of the Home Secretary and having regard to his attitude towards the next Amendment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, after "other" to insert "special."

I move this Amendment on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), and I understand that the Home Secretary is prepared to accept it.

5.57 p.m.


I hope the Home Secretary will consider carefully the effect of this Amendment. By putting in the word "special" in addition to "ceremonial" and "anniversary" you are in danger of narrowing the proviso further. This proviso would satisfy all the right hon. Gentleman's supporters in the House, if we had no limiting words in it at all and if the chief officer of police were allowed to determine the occasions on which the wearing of uniforms was likely to cause disturbance. As it is, I am afraid that the proviso will not give that general satisfaction. For instance, if the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) wears his Communist regalia on Stalin's birthday he will get leave from the chief officer of police to do so, but if he proposes to wear it merely because be has been suspended from the service of the House of Commons or because he has won an election, leave will not be given. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to leave the word "other" as it is in the Bill, and I hope that when we come to the Report stage he will have reconsidered the position and will be willing to leave out the words "ceremonial" and "anniversary," and make the proviso apply to any occasion on which the chief officer of police is satisfied that there is no risk of disorder. This is a Public Order Bill and should provide that where the wearing of uniforms will not interfere with public order the police will permit them to be worn, but where they are likely to cause disorder, the police will prohibit them.


I do not think that the insertion of this word makes much difference. It is not for me to say how the courts will construe such words as "ceremonial, anniversary or other occasion," but I certainly do not think they will construe them as meaning any occasion you like. I should not have thought that this word would make so much difference as my hon. Friend appears to think.

Amendment agreed to.

5.59 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 15, to leave out "with the consent of a Secretary of State."

The Home Secretary has just said how much he would like to be relieved of this duty. As far as I can see, the proviso permits on certain occasions ceremonial displays in uniform, the only condition apparently being that there shall be no danger to public order. Presumably it is a matter which in any case would have to be decided by the police officer concerned, and presumably the Home Secretary would be guided entirely by his decision. The Amendment at any rate will give the Home Secretary an opportunity of saying why these words were put in.

6.0 p.m.


I think it is most essential to have these words in. The mere fact that the Secretary of State is to be responsible in this matter brings the whole of the control within the power of this House.

6.1 p.m.


There is another reason why these words should be left in. There is a large number of chief constables in the country, and if they are to be allowed to operate this Clause without having to refer to some common authority who would see that there is some common interpretation given to the Clause, we shall have chaos. This is a national Measure, to deal with this business on national lines, and I think it is very desirable that the consent of the Home Secretary should be obtained, because in that way it will be possible to see that the Act is uniformly applied throughout the country.

6.2 p.m.


I would like to add my hope that these words may remain in the Bill. There may be occasions when we may wish to challenge the Home Secretary's action, and if he is not responsible, we shall have no chance of voicing our views in this House. If the Home Secretary is responsible, as I hope he will be, at any time when the Act is not being carried out, as we think, properly, he will be the man at whom we can get. I hope the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) will see that point and not press his Amendment.

6.3 p.m.


My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment will see how this matter is regarded in the House, and I agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel). For most purposes the Home Secretary is not responsible for the local police, and it is important to appreciate that point. Under our system of local police forces, each area has its police authority, chief constable, and so on, and in the ordinary way the Home Secretary does not stand to be shot at for anything which they do, and it would be unfair if he did, but in this case, where we were contemplating what really are exceptions granted out of the general run of the law, there is a good deal to be said for securing that those exceptions should not be removed from all possibility of challenge in the House of Commons. Therefore, although very unwillingly, I agreed to this provision going in, and I am sorry to say to my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment that on this occasion I do not think I can let it go out.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.4 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 1, to leave out "Attorney-General," and to insert "Director of Public Prosecutions."

I tabled this Amendment in order to obtain slightly more reassurance and explanation than I was able, owing to this being a Committee point, to receive from the Attorney-General on the Second Reading. I feel that there are certain dangers in having the Attorney-General intervening in this matter, even in the way of sanctioning prosecutions. The Attorney-General rather pooh-poohed my fear that it would never be possible for anyone to hold the office who might be tempted to use his powers in a partisan spirit. I hope he is right, but I am not perhaps quite as sanguine about all office holders always as he appears to be. But even if he is right, it is very difficult for a man who, by the nature of his office, must be a party politician, to exercise a discretion in a matter of this sort, and to exercise it with that impartial judgment which is absolutely essential. Any prosecution which is ever made under Clause 1 must affect vitally party politics. It is a partisan decision, and for that reason it is very difficult, with the best will in the world, for any holder of the office to make an entirely unbiased decision.

More important still is it that it is very difficult for people who are being prosecuted to believe that the Attorney-General has made an unbiased decision. Whenever anybody is prosecuted under this Clause with the consent of the Attorney-General, it will always be said that he has done it for party purposes. I do not suppose that that matters very much to the Attorney-General, whoever he may be at the time, but I think it is an undesirable thing to lay him open to, and for that reason I have put down this Amendment. It is essential that these duties should at least appear to be done in a non-partisan way.

I may be told that I am not doing very much by removing it from the jurisdiction of the Attorney-General and putting it in the jurisdiction of the Director of Public Prosecutions, because the latter officer is under the Attorney-General, but the fact remains that the decision will be made by someone who is not, by the nature of his office, mixed up in party politics. There was one thing that the Attorney-General said on the Second Reading which I confess might remove my objection. I understood him to imply that such decisions would not in fact be important decisions of policy, but would be more or less automatic; that is to say, that if there was a prima facie case against a man, prosecution would automatically be ordered, and the only point in his decision would not be a question of policy but whether or not a prima facie case existed. I do not know whether I am correct in that, but if it is so, it goes a long way to removing the dangers that I foresee. It is true, I believe, that in Scotland all prosecutions are governed in this same way, but there is a very great difference between having a Clause like this to govern all prosecutions and having it only in/ a special case which is, in my view, rather less desirable than any other. I do not wish to press the point, but I want some reassurance on it.

6.9 p.m


I think the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) is under a misapprehension as regards the position of the Director of Public Prosecutions. That officer takes his instructions from the Attorney-General, and the proposed alteration would make no difference whatsoever except that it might nominally relieve the the Attorney-General of the responsibility, and he could not then possibly be questioned in this House as to why he had or had not taken certain action. In effect, it would make no difference at all, and I should vastly prefer to see the real man, the Attorney-General, left in the Bill rather than an alibi being put in for which in fact the Attorney-General would still be responsible. I think it is important that in matters of this kind, though there might not be one case in a thousand where anyone desired to challenge, there should be the possibility of challenge in this House, and as long as it is the responsibility of the Attorney-General, he can be challenged on any of these matters, as we know in the past he was challenged on one very memorable occasion. I am sure that on that occasion the hon. Member who moved the Amendment and his friends would have been very sorry if they could not have challenged the Attorney-General, and I think it was quite right that they should have been able to challenge him. In any matters of this kind it is essential, if we are to keep control, that the Attorney-General should be the officer of the State who should have to give his authority.

6.11 p.m.

Sir A. M. SAMUEL: Ever since the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has been in the House, I think I have never agreed with him, but on this occasion I do. We are very jealous here not to infringe the liberty of the public. We wish to keep our freedom intact as far as possible, and for that reason I think we should not empower any single person to do anything in relation to this Bill about which there might be any doubt as to its infringement of the liberty of the subject. We should do nothing which would put us in a position of being unable at a moment's notice to challenge an officer of this House, an officer of the Government, such as the Attorney-General, if we think anything wrong has been done. The mere fact of the Attorney-General being a Member of this House would enable us, if anything occurred which we did not think right, to bring him to book in a moment. For that reason I think we ought to oppose this Amendment.

6.12 p.m.


I want to join the Popular Front on this occasion. I think it necessary, while the Bill is causing so much controversy, as has been outlined by all the speeches up to the present, as to what it may mean, to keep as much control as possible in the House, and, after all, we want to be quite sure who is the person whom we are trying to get at. We are very anxious that our point of view should be protected. There might be some attempt made to get at our side, and we should not like, in trying to quell what we claim ought to be quelled, that it should hit us too hard. We want to hold as much control as possible here, at least for a time, in order to see how the Bill works, and I am in hearty agreement with the hon. Gentleman opposite in asking the Attorney-General to resist the Amendment and to take the power unto himself to decide what prosecutions shall be instituted.

6.13 p.m.


I think there is some misconception about the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and its relation to the office of the Attorney-General. According to the Statute, the Director acts in all matters under the superintendence of the Attorney-General, and although, of course, a great deal of the business which passes through his hands is of so obvious a nature that there is no need for consultation with the holder of my office, in a matter of difficulty he does in the ordinary course consult with the Attorney-General and get his approval and advice as to what he does. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) suggested that there might be a possibility, unless these words were inserted, that it might take away the Attorney-General's responsibility. I rather doubt it, but it would certainly look as if it did, and it is not desirable that it should look as if it did if it does not.

My own recollection is that I have answered questions in this House, not on the occasion to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, but dealing with cases arising under the Statute. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment made reference to what I said on this subject in the Debate on Second Reading, but it is the case that a large number of quasi-judicial duties are imposed on the holder of my office, and it would be a bad day if he, in carrying out those functions, were swayed by partisan considerations. With a provision of this kind in the Bill the only question that will address itself to the mind of the Attorney-General for the time being is, "Is this a case within the Act, and is there prima facie evidence to justify proceedings?"


I am glad to inform the Attorney-General and others that I stand convinced on this matter. I do not know that all my objections have been removed, but the balance of benefit is on the side of the Government's proposal. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.17 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, at the end, to add: Provided that no person so charged shall thereafter be kept in custody for any period exceeding seven days unless the consent of the Attorney-General to take further proceedings in respect of such charge shall meantime have been given. Under this Clause it would be possible for a person to be remanded in custody indefinitely, and no time limit is placed upon the Attorney-General in which he must come to a decision. Some of us have had experience of the law when we have been involved in industrial disputes. As a result of the intervention of the police authorities we have been able to raise the question locally, and then we have been referred to the Home Office. After going to the Home Office, we have been referred back to the local authorities. One can visualise a similar set of circumstances operating in the administration of this Bill. We, therefore, consider an Amendment of this character necessary in order to put a time limit upon persons being remanded in custody, and on the Attorney-General in coming to a decision. He may be abroad or engaged in important national business and not have the time to give to a case of this character. The Amendment is suggested in order to safeguard a person against such circumstances.

6.19 p.m.


The object of this Amendment, as I understand it, is to expedite the Attorney-General and to see that circumstances shall not arise in which someone is kept in custody for longer than seven days. I think that that is unlikely to happen, because a man who is brought before the magistrates cannot be remanded for longer than eight days and is, an fact, remanded for only seven days. I do not think there would be a case in which a magistrate would remand for a second period, unless, of course, it was a case in which the man's identity was unknown or he had not given any address and had not been able to satisfy the police that he would not abscond. These are exactly the kind of matters that are expeditiously dealt with.

I have, however, some sysmpathy with the point that the hon. Member has in mind, but I think that it is very unlikely to arise in practice. I appreciate that if the condition of the Attorney-General's assent is not interposed it might be possible for someone to be kept in custody for longer than seven days, and then in the end the Attorney-General would not think it a proper case, and no further proceedings would be taken. There are difficulties about the form of words which the hon. Gentleman has proposed. It is important that the general control of the justices over bail and of what recognisances are proper should be preserved, but I will undertake to look into the point. I will not undertake to say at the moment that there is a satisfactory way of dealing with the matter which is not open to other objections, but I will try to find a satisfactory way of dealing with it.

6.21 p.m.


While the Attorney-General has met the matter fairly, he seems to take the view that if somebody were charged and remanded for seven days, pending the consent of the Attorney-General, and if the case came up again at the end of the first seven days and the consent had not been granted, the magistrates would be prone to discharge the prisoner or to let him out on bail. A large number of citizens, when magistrates grant bail, cannot find the bail, and they are kept in custody, I agree that we are dealing with something that may not happen very often, but I agree that we should not seem to do anything to destroy the liberty of the subject. I think that, in fact, it will not infrequently happen that at the end of the first seven days the magistrates will say, "We do not know very much about this man and we cannot give bail. We cannot release him when he has been charged with an offence and the charge has not been withdrawn. We cannot however proceed with the charge because, owing to the large number of these cases engaging his attention, the Attorney-General has not consented." There is a chance, therefore, that the man will be remanded for three or four sets of seven days. The Attorney-General says that he will try to find suitable words, and I ask him to succeed in doing so.


I thank the Attorney-General for the way in which he has dealt with my Amendment, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

6.25 p.m.


At an earlier stage of the proceedings, on an Amendment in my name, the Attorney-General said that he was certain all the people who supported my Amendment were against Clause 1, but he did not know my attitude. That denotes a lack of perspicacity on his part, for out of 615 Members of the House only I have a Motion on the Paper to leave out Clause 1. Let me try to define my attitude. If the Attorney-General were bringing in a Bill to prevent the wearing of uniforms by political private armies, I would be in agreement with him. If there are any uniforms likely to provoke a breach of the peace we should take immediate steps to promote legislation if there is not legislation already. The fact is, however, that we have had legislation for a long time against the wearing of military uniforms or going about armed. If the Government were to bring in a Bill to discriminate purely between obnoxious political organisations, I should again be in agreement with them. Either this Clause is excessively repressive and makes us become, in the words of the Home Secretary, a supreme legislative governess determining what people shall wear and what they shall not; or, on the other hand, it will be nothing but of such a muddled character that no court can possibly carry out its provisions. I think there is quite a chance that history will say that this Clause cannot be worked. It is too vague and no court will be able really to determine what Parliament meant lay it. Every court will have a different interpretation. I am more than inclined to take that point of view after listening to to-day's Debate. What is a uniform? The Attorney-General said "a tie is not a uniform." A little later my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) said that, in his view, a button could be a uniform.


I never committed myself to that. I said that there would be no doubt that if the Clause were allowed to operate we should all know quite well what distinguishing dress in fact indicated a political association.


Perhaps that is so. I put down the word "button" against my hon. and learned Friend's name, but perhaps it was some other hon. and learned Gentleman who said it. Then my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) said that a uniform could not be any one garment. It could not be a nightshirt or an overcoat. It must be a combination of two garments to be a uniform. Again, the Home Secretary said that, in his view, the Trades Union Congress regalia would be a. uniform.


I did not say that. I said it would be a pity if it were regarded as a uniform and automatically prohibited by the Bill.


I am only trying to show with what a. degree of caution the learned stipendiary magistrates, who are lawyers, will have to approach the question of what a uniform is. I want the Committee to remember that although in great part this Clause will be administered by stipendiary magistrates, that will not be entirely the case. The Clause will be the law all over the country, not only in the towns where stipendiary magistrates preside over the courts but also in those districts where the courts are composed of those who are sometimes called "The great unpaid" of whom I happen to be one. What will happen when the ordinary local justice tries to interpret this Clause? What will be his view of a uniform? I shall be very interested to see some of the appeals to quarter sessions, arising out of this Clause, regarding what is or is not a uniform seeing that even in this Committee there is such a difference of opinion as to the meaning of the word.

After all, what is there wrong, to quote my previous example, in a man walking about in a green shirt because he believes that Alberta is the best governed country in the world? He is not a criminal, but we shall we making him a criminal by this Clause. It may be said that he will not suffer for it unless the Attorney-General agrees to take action. I believe we are shirking our duty in saying that. By this Clause we are making the wearing of certain clothes illegal. I notice a statement in to-night's Press that the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) sometimes goes about in grey socks without any shoes. Supposing all the members of the Socialist party who believe in him were to take off their shoes and wear grey socks, the socks would be a political uniform, and all those people would be penalised under this Bill if the Attorney-General took action. This Clause is, I believe, unduly repressive of what England has always believed in in the past, and I ask the Committee to reject the Clause in its present form.


I should imagine that if we got away from the House of Commons and went to some well known tailor in the City who was accustomed to building up uniforms, we should get a better idea of things. To call a button a uniform and to talk of hose as a uniform may be all right in the House of Commons, but anybody outside would simply reject that notion. Anybody in the tailoring trade would describe a uniform as being a special dress or attire allocated to or specified for particular bodies. To talk of buttons and hosiery and walking without shoes as pertaining to the wearing of a uniform is ridiculous.


The hon. Member probably knows a great deal more about this subject than I do, but I note that he says that wearing special attire is, in his view, wearing a uniform. If we all copied the right hon. Member for South Hackney and wore special grey socks and no socks—the point made in the evening papers—that would be a uniform. If the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) is in any doubt about it, let me remind him of the Pickwick Club, the uniform of which was a coat. It did not matter what the trousers were; the Pickwick Club uniform was merely a coat. Had Mr. Pickwick gone about in specially coloured socks it would equally have been a uniform.


Just as they say that an hon. Gentleman engaged in the law is learned, so those engaged in tailoring are learned in their trade. If you were to go into a fashionable tailor's shop for a uniform for a naval or military officer the term "uniform" would be well understood and it would not apply to socks or buttons.


I am glad to find that the hon. Member agrees with my Amendment which was negatived earlier, proposing that uniforms should be military uniforms. If he walks down Savile Row he will find shopkeepers announcing themselves as "makers of military and naval uniforms," and if he asks for a uniform he will be asking for a military or naval uniform—if he wishes to join up. But that is not what is in the Bill. We have not even the word "uniforms"; it is "uniform" by itself; which, just like the adjective "uniform", means the wearing of clothes of the same nature. What is exercising the ingenuity of my hon. and learned Friends in the House is what composes a uniform. Is it one garment or two, is it regalia, is it a button, or is it a sock? Those are questions which will have to be determined by stipendiary and lay justices, and that is far too heavy a burden to put upon them. If the hon. Member were to introduce a Bill prohibiting unauthorised military uniforms I should be quite willing to give it my support, but I cannot give my support to Clause 1 of this Bill.

6.38 p.m.


I cannot allow this Clause to pass, though I do not go the whole way with the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) in his desire to reject it, without some comment on the Clause, as I think it may work or may not work, or without some reference to the speech on Second Reading by the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), and particularly what he said of myself. He made an excellent speech, but I was a little disappointed to find there was no tribute to the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) and myself. He rarely speaks well unless he is attacking somebody, and as he could not attack the Bill he had to empty the vials of his wrath on our devoted heads. If in doing so he slightly misrepresented our attitude, that is neither here nor there. The right hon. Gentleman knows his East End of London very well indeed, and, speaking from that standpoint, he made a passionate defence of this Bill, and particularly of this Clause, but, like many other people who know a great deal, he never gives anyone else credit for knowing anything at all, though there are others who know just as well the evil things which go on in the East End of London and elsewhere and are just as anxious to prevent them. He painted a picture of the East End of London as a sort of glorious Garden of Eden, with everybody happy till the Fascist serpent came along and indicated, which the right hon. Gentleman did not, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Thereafter all those scenes occurred which he and I and everyone else in the House wish to abolish.

My objection to this Clause is that I do not think it will be effective. I do not think it is a bad and wicked Clause, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton. I do not think it is going to do anybody harm. I do not care in the least if people are stopped from wearing uniforms. I do not want them to go out in fancy dress, but I do not think the Clause will have the effect which the right hon. Gentleman, the Government, myself and all others in the House desire. If it has any effect at all, which I am inclined to doubt, it will merely be as an advertisement of and a stimulus to the British Union of Fascists. That is the opinion of a great many people who have studied the question very carefully on the spot. The right hon. Gentleman in the speech I have referred to said he thought that what I had said, and, I gathered, what the hon. Member for Burslem had said, was the kind of thing which, if he were directing Fascist propaganda, he would like to hear in the House. I do not read the Fascist publications but I am prepared to bet him that when the reports of the Debate appear in those papers it will not be our speeches which are quoted, but the speech of the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson), the speech of the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays), parts of the speeches of the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General and, perhaps, a few words from his own speech.

What I am afraid of is that the Clause will gain sympathy for those people while getting the country and the Government nowhere. I have not yet heard—and I hope I shall hear from my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench—a single statement from a supporter of this Clause showing how this Clause can be the faintest benefit to the country. The right hon. Member for South Hackney rather twitted the hon. Member for Burslem and myself the other day because we did not divide the House against the Bill, but why on earth should we have done so?


The hon. Member will allow me to say that he must not associate himself too closely with the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren). I did engage in a little mild chaff of my hon. Friend, but I was taking serious exception to the general tendency exhibited by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Beaumont) in dealing with a fundamental issue.


Far be it from me to leave the right hon. Gentleman vulnerable to the attacks of his hon. Friend. I am only too willing to receive all the blame, and if Castor wishes on this occasion to dissociate himself from Pollux I am again quite willing to accept his distinction. I was twitted for not dividing the House against the Bill—and the same thing might be said about this Clause—but why should I divide the House? I do not think the Clause will do any harm to anybody except the administration of the country, which is perfectly capable of looking after itself. The only harm which I think it may do will be to make the administration look ridiculous. But my objection to this Clause, and, incidentally, the next Clause is, that I do not believe they will work. I am willing to join with the Home Secretary or anybody else in putting down these beastly scenes which we all dislike, but it is my contention that this Clause will not do it. I am going to oppose the Clause for the reasons I have given, and if I am wrong no one will be better pleased than I am, but if I am right I shall have much pleasure in saying, "I told you so."

6.43 p.m.


I am one of those who have felt, and indeed expressed some anxiety as to whether this Clause provides the best possible way of achieving the object in view. I should like to make it clear that the object has my wholehearted support. I think there is a general determination in the Committee not to allow any person or persons to lay foundations on which they or others may at some subsequent date erect the superstructure of a private army. We have seen something of the evils which arise from it in other countries and are determined to do what we can to prevent it happening in this country. Clearly one of the essentials of a private army is a uniform, and the prevention of the use of a uniform is to that extent a protection against the creation of a private army or private armies. From that point of view I think most of us will consider the purpose behind the Clause as worthy of support. As to the anxieties we have felt about its wording, after all, there is, I suppose, no one in the House better qualified to draft a Clause of this kind than the right hon. Gentleman who is at present the Home Secretary, who has great legal experience, and we can only hope, in so far as we have criticised the wording of the Clause and thought it not likely to be effective, that we are wrong and he is right.

6.45 p.m.


I rise to support this Clause. "Uniform" is a very elastic term and I should like to use the word "uniformity" in conjunction with it, because this Clause is, I think, sufficiently elastic to prevent camouflage by the use of emblems, so that associations can be identified at once. We are all very zealous about liberty, and we are endeavouring to stop the abuse of liberty. Therefore this Clause can be properly used in a comprehensive manner with regard to uniforms, emblems, armlets or badges being in such a form that an assembly can take place and the Clause be evaded—not because black shirts or grey trousers cease to exist, but because they are identified by some equipment which shall create uniformity. That is why I am glad that no definition has been laid down as to what the uniform is. The magistrates can deal with uniformity if not with "uniform."

6.47 p.m.


The hon. Gentleman has just spoken of the absence of definition and of the consequent possibility that "uniform" may be anything. It is obvious that anybody can be brought into the scope of the Clause. The real danger, to my mind, is that under the criminal law a man must know what is the offence to which he has to plead guilty. When you put an accused man into the box he is asked, and must plead, whether he is guilty or not guilty, and in his silence he is assumed to be not guilty. How can a man know whether he has been guilty of a definite offence under the Clause when the offence is not defined? The Clause gives a chief of police the right to say when a man has or has not committed a crime, and that is very great infringement of liberty. We ought to know what we are doing.

This matter has been decided again and again. It was decided in the Scottish court, when a charge was made against a man for having more food in his house than was reasonable, during the War and under the law for the prevention of hoarding. The man asked "What is ' reasonable'?" Nobody knows what "reasonable" is. I may think that something is reasonable, but I am only judging with regard to myself. The Scottish court quashed the conviction. They said that a man must know definitely what crime he is said to have committed, and not what we think he has committed. If there is no definition or description of "uniform," whether it is a black shirt, a white shirt, or a piebald shirt, how is a man to know whether he is guilty or not? It is a complete inversion of one of the fundamental principles of our criminal law.

I am as much against the carrying on of private armies as any other hon. Member. In this peaceful country we do not want the citizens to get at loggerheads. When violence begins, you never know where it will end. One does not mind an individual row or so, but we do not want to have scrapping parties going about. The party against which this Clause is directed are the Black-shirts, but so far as I see recently they are holding only one or two meetings. They may be somewhat provocative, but not much harm may be done if people do not annoy them. The Clause attacks one of our fundamental rights. A subject ought to know of what offence he is said to be guilty. There is no definition of "uniform," except that it signifies an association. How are you to know that it signifies an association? A man might say: "I wear a black shirt for economy's sake. The laundry charges are so high that I find it an economical proposition to wear a black shirt." You have no right to charge him with an offence unless he definitely knows what the offence is.

  1. CLAUSE 1.—(Prohibition of uniforms inconnection with political objects.)
  2. cc99-147
  3. CLAUSE 2.—(Prohibition of quasi-military organisations.) 18,864 words
  4. cc147-93
  5. CLAUSE 3.—(Powers for the preservation of public order on the occasion, of processions.) 18,028 words