HC Deb 26 January 1960 vol 616 cc50-60

4.11 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal a statute made in the Parliament holden at Westminster, the Sunday next before the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, in the thirty-fourth year of King Edward the Third, commonly called the Justices of the Peace Act, 1361. On 19th September, 1356, after years of war and two countries had been laid waste by the devastations of the Plague, the army of the Black Prince, much the smaller force, met the forces of King John of France near Poitiers and inflicted on the French an overwhelming defeat. King John was taken prisoner and was handed over to the custody of King Edward III, and remained for a time at Calais, where a truce was arranged. It was thought that another war to end wars had ended and another permanent peace was about to start its fitful life.

But hon. Members will not be surprised to know that the French Chamber of Deputies refused to ratify the truce. Edward III then reinvaded France, laid waste the Marne, and the French force was defeated at Rheims. Peace terms were finally signed in October, 1859—[Interruption.]—I mean 1659—[Interruption.]—no, 1359, and those peace terms specifically provided that Edward III undertook to introduce measures into this House to provide for dealing with pillers and robbers from beyond the seas, meaning thereby discharged soldiers who could not be found employment as cinema commissionaires.

The House was summoned to meet on the Sunday next before the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul which, as every hon. Member knows, would be about the third week in January of the same year, 1360, because the year then ended in March. [Laughter.] History is not funny. They had many grave problems to deal with, and they were all only too anxious to get back to a long rest the moment they got their men back to work.

Unfortunately, there was a wastage and loss of life, which had reduced the population, and men were demanding higher wages, so one Section provided a maximum wage of 4d. a day for master builders. There was talk of trade unions, under the name of Covines, which is presumably the Norman French for "Cousins". One Section repressed any such association. There had been difficulties with hawks and gerfalcons and a Section imposed two years' imprisonment on anyone who failed to hand over to the sheriff a hawk which he had found.

Another Section, which was hard on the inhabitants of Rutland, prevented people from leaving one county for another, and the faithful Commons complained that the Queen had been much kinder to the Burghers of Calais than to those of the Poultry in the City, because she was not paying for her chickens. His Majesty was good enough to consent to a special Section providing that the Royal purchases should be paid for in future with promptitude. That was a very useful decision which, unhappily, was repealed before the accession of His Gracious Majesty King George IV.

But I am mainly concerned with the extraordinary omnibus Section dealing with pillers and robbers from beyond the seas—discharged soldiers and workers at large who were not working —and with people who might be found guilty of an offence by indictment or by suspicion. Those words still stand unrepealed. We can convict on suspicion. Finally, there was the extraordinary Section dealing with men not of good faith. The word "not" is in doubt, but it was never in doubt for the first 500 years of life of the Bill. Every copy of the Bill contains the word "not" except the final and essential copy of the Parliamentary Bill itself.

When Sir Edward Coke wrote of this Act in the edition of the Statutes published in 1644 he specifically quotes it as referring to men not of good faith and gives specific reasons why it should be there. He quotes the decision of the court at Bridgwater, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, as showing a much more liberal mind, in its interpretation of this Clause, than is shown in the reign of the second Elizabeth.

Many of these matters are now academic, because the courts have decided that the words are "de bone fame." The word "not" does not appear on the Parliament rolls although it appears on every other contemporary copy of the Act; and as it does not appear on the rolls only people of good faith can be convicted. It will be said that they are not convicted, and that is true—but they go to prison. This Section, first used against George Lansbury, Thomas Mann and trade union leaders, has never been used against anti-Semites or against Sir Oswald Mosley. Under this Section only Christian Socialists have ever been dealt with, besides a few minor offenders of a rather different type.

The Section cannot affect me, because I can establish the fact that I have a bad character. I can prove it affirmatively, and quite a lot of people could prove it for me. The result is that if people want to put me in "jug" they have to arrest me on suspicion.

I understand that this Motion is to be opposed. The Guardian, dealing with this matter in a very thoughtful and reasonable way, expressed some doubt whether I was removing a protection against anti-Semitism. My answer is, first, that the Bill was never used against anti-Semitism and secondly, that if we repeal it the situation may remain very much the same, because the courts have always assumed power, under the common law, to bind over people appearing before them.

The serious matter is not only that people are in prison at present because of this provision but that the one thing in what we call the British way of life is our rule, embodied in Magna Carta and set out in the 29th Article of the confirming Act of Magna Carta, that people will not be convicted on suspicion. If there is anything in this rule it is that people shall not be put in prison for suspicion, or because they are of good character.

If there is anything more contemptible than to say to a man of good character, brought before a court, "We ask you to abjure your faith. If you will you can go free", I should like to know what it is. If hon. Members contemplate voting against the Motion, let them remember that they condemned what happened to people like Cardinal Mindzenty and Archbishop Stepinac, who were confronted by the Communists with the same choice of adjuring their faith or remaining in prison. It happened, too, in the most famous trial of all time. In the 19th Chapter according to St. John, Pontius Pilate put the same question: Why speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? It was the same question, the same evil dilemna.

I object even more strongly to the remaining words, that a man may be convicted on suspicion, as part of the law of this land. Way back in the reign of Edward III, eight years after this Bill was passed, an Act was passed to say that anything which conflicted with Magna Carta should be void, and yet this Section still remains.

Finally, in one of the golden pages in the library of liberty, Camille Desmoulins penned in the third number of "Le Vieux Cordelier" his famous indictment of condemnation on suspicion, his famous thesis on suspicion in times of emergency, which could attach to anyone, to the rich who could bribe, to the poor who might be bought, to the serious because they might be dissatisfied and to the frivolous because they were not content. He knew that he was writing his own death warrant. A few weeks later, he went to the scaffold and atoned for that great defence of his which he had written to atone for some of his own errors in the past.

There may have been a few tears in the tumbril, but as he mounted the scaffold he saw further than he had ever seen before and as the setting April sun lit up his head it conferred on the head that fell into the basket an imperishable halo of liberty.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is an unrivalled master of anecdote and ridicule, despite the fact that he got some of his centuries mixed up. So appealing was he that it is difficult to realise that some of the Aunt Sallies which he put up have been laying in the dust for some 600 years, but he proceeded to put them back on the perches from which the House, by past legislation, has knocked them.

Translated into ordinary terms, the Bill which the hon. Member seeks to introduce, dressed up like a radical bird of paradise, is nothing less than a modest charter for peeping Toms and eavesdroppers. I am sure that the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and those people who think like him would not approve of any form of eavesdropping, telephonic or otherwise. It is also a charter for other strange people who pester law-abiding citizens and persons of that kind.

There has been powerful judicial authority to the effect that even if the hon. Member's proposed Bill were accepted it would not affect what is the common law or the Commission of the Peace which preceded the Bill of 1361, and all the hon. Member would have thus achieved would be to cause grave uncertainty in the law and that would only provide for the comfort and enrichment of lawyers. I feel that there are few hon. Members who would be encouraged by that particular aspect.

The modern use of the Bill is mainly to prevent the ordinary citizen from being pestered by those unbalanced eccentrics who, with an imagined grudge, patrol the outskirts of houses, terrifying families by constant use of the telephone, or by those people who are unbalanced and usually malevolent but who do not break the law by means of assault or trespass. Therefore, there is no weapon which the law-abiding citizen has against them except the use of these powers which may be the only effective one which rests in the hands of such citizens.

There is a second use, to which the hon. Member referred, and which is in respect of people being bound over when they incite others to break the law. It has been used cautiously and should be used cautiously. Quarrelsome words or "scandalising the Government" are not sufficient. Power of appeal, moreover, was given under the 1956 legislation. It can be used only against those who deliberately encourage others to break the law. Of course, there will always be groups with fierce and determined views about certain pieces of legislation. There may be some with grave dislike of the Road Traffic Acts, or trade unions, or company directors, but if persons are to get up and incite others to break the law, surely society has the right to say, "No; you must not do this".

An advocate who deliberately goes about encouraging other persons to break the law is now bound over to refrain, under this 1361 legislation. "Preventive justice" it may be called, as the hon. Member called it, but it is based on a principle that should appeal to him, a principle 600 years old, that individual liberty should, on occasions, be sacrificed and abridged for the public good.

Therefore, the position seems to be that if one wants to remove the power, then, first, the Bill does not do it and will only leave the law in a state of gravest uncertainty. If one does not want to remove this power, then at least we retain these essential powers so that we do not encourage roughs and malevolent people and also that we retain the safeguards for ordinary, decent citizens.

The direct result of the hon. Member's proposed Bill may be merely to make beneficiaries of those ugly gentlemen—

and they are not so uncommon—whose practice it is to find a place from which they can watch a maiden lady disrobe. Therefore, although the hon. Member has presented his case and is presenting his Motion from the very highest motives, it will not achieve what he wants it to do and, as Parliamentarians, we should be very jealous of giving approval to anyone wanting to incite others to break the law. Law is made here and should be changed here, or at the polling stations.

I invite all those hon. Members who disapprove of people taking the law into their own hands, all those who disapprove of eavesdroppers and peeping Toms and, as added argument, all those who do not particularly want to see the enrichment of lawyers which the Bill would mean, to vote against the Motion. I ask the House to refuse leave to bring in the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 148, Noes 230.

Division No. 26.] AYES [4.24 p.m.
Ainsley, William Ginsburg, David Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Gooch, E. G. McKay, John (Wallsend)
Awbery, Stan Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Mackie, John
Bacon, Miss Alice Gourlay, Harry McLeavy, Frank
Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Grey, Charles Mahon, Simon
Beaney, Alan Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Bence, Cyril (Dunbartonshire, E.) Gunter, Ray Marsh, Richard
Blackburn, F. Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Mason, Roy
Blyton, William Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Mellish, R. J.
Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.) Hamilton, William (West Fife) Mendelson, J. J.
Boyden, James Hannan, William Millan, Bruce
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Hayman, F. H. Mitchison, G. R.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Healey, Denis Monslow, Walter
Callaghan, James Henderson,Rt.Hn.Arthur(RwlyRegis) Moody, A. S.
Carmichael, James Herbison, Miss Margaret Morris, John
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Hilton, A. V. Neal, Harold
Chetwynd, George Holt, Arthur Oliver, G. H.
Cliffe, Michael Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Oram, A. E.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Oswald, Thomas
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Hunter, A. E. Paget, R. T.
Darling, George Hynd, H. (Accrington) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Davies,Rt.Hn.Clement(Montgomery) Hynd, John (Attercliffe) Pavitt, Laurence
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Peart, Frederick
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Pentland, Norman
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Plummer, Sir Leslie
Deer, George Jager, George Popplewell, Ernest
Donnelly, Desmond Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Prentice, R. E.
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield) Probert, Arthur
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Kelley, Richard Rankin, John
Edwards, Walter (Stepney) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Redhead, E. C.
Evans, Albert Lawson, George Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Fell, Anthony Lee, Frederick (Newton) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Finch, Harold Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Ross, William
Fletcher, Eric Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Galtskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh Logan, David Short, Edward
Galpern, Sir Myer Loughlin, Charles Skeffington, Arthur
Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.) Swingler, Stephen White, Mrs. Eirene
Slider, Joseph (Sedgefield) Sylvester, George Whitlock, William
Small, William Symonds, J. B. Wigg, George
Snow, Julian Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Willey, Frederick
Spriggs, Leslie Taylor, John (West Lothian) Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.) Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Stonehouse, John Thornton, Ernest Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Stones, William Thorpe, Jeremy Woof, Robert
Strachey, Rt. Hon. John Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.) Wainwright, Edwin Zilliacus, K.
Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith Warbey, William
Swain, Thomas Wells, William (Walsall, N.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Fernyhough and Mr. Lipton
Agnew, Sir Peter Gardner, Edward Marshall, Douglas
Aitken, W. T. George, J. C. (Pollok) Marten, Neil
Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.) Gibson-Watt, David Mathew, Robert (Honiton)
Allason, James Glover, Sir Douglas Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)
Alport, C. J. M. Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham) Mawby, Ray
Arbuthnot, John Glyn, Col. Richard H. (Dorset, N.) Milligan. Rt. Hon. W. R.
Ashton, Sir Hubert Goodhart, Philip Mills, Stratton
Atkins, Humphrey Grant, Rt. Hon. William (Woodside) Montgomery, Fergus
Barber, Anthony Green, Alan Morgan, William
Barlow, Sir John Gresham Cooke, R. Morrison, John
Barter, John Grimston, Sir Robert Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Batsford, Brian Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Nabarro, Gerald
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate) Hall, John (Wycombe) Nicholls, Harmar
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Nicholson, Sir Godfrey
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm) Hare, Rt. Hon. John Noble, Michael
Berkeley, Humphry Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Nugent, Sir Richard
Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald (Toxteth) Harris, Reader (Heston) Crmsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. D.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Bishop, F. P. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Page, Graham
Black, Sir Cyril Harvie Anderson, Miss Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Bossom, Clive Hay, John Peel, John
Bourne-Arton, A. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Percival, Ian
Box, Donald Henderson-Stewart, Sir James Peyton, John
Boyle, Sir Edward Hendry, A. Forbes Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Braine, Bernard Hicks Beach, Maj. W. Pilkington, Capt. Richard
Brewis, John Hiley, Joseph Pitman, I. J.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt. Col. W. H. Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Pott, Percival
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Hobson, John Prior, J. M. L.
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Hocking, Philip N. Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho
Bryan, Paul Holland, Philip Proudfoot, Wilfred
Bullard, Denys Hollingworth, John Ramsden, James
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Hopkins, Alan Rawlinson, Peter
Burden, F. A. Hornby, R. P. Redmayne Rt. Hon. Martin
Butler, Rt.Hn.R.A.(Saffron Walden) Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia Rees, Hugh
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) R Renton, David
Carr, Compton (Barons Court) Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives) Ridley, Hon. Nicholas
Channon, H. P. G. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John Ridsdale, Julian
Chataway, Christopher Hughes-Young, Michael Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) Jackson, John Robertson, Sir David
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) James, David Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Clarke, Brig Terence (Portsmith, W.) Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Roots, William
Cleaver, Leonard Jennings, J. C. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Cole, Norman Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)
Collard, Richard Kerans, Cdr. J. S. Russell, Ronald
Cooke, Robert Kerby, Capt. Henry Scott-Hopkins, James
Cordeaux, Lt.-col. J. K. Kerr, Sir Hamilton Seymour, Leslie
Corfield, F. V. Kirk, Peter Sharples, Richard
Costain, A. P. Langford-Holt, J. Shepherd, William
Courtney, Cdr. Anthony Leavey, J. A. Simon, Sir Jocelyn
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Leburn, Gilmour Skeet, T. H. H.
Critchley, Julian Legge-Bourke, Maj. H. Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Cunningham, Knox Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Smyth, Brig, Sir John (Norwood)
Curran, Charles Lawis, Kenneth (Rutland) Speir, Rupert
Digby, Simon Wingfield Lilley, F. J. P. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M. Linstead, Sir Hugh Stodart, J. A.
Drayson, G. B. Litchfield, Capt. John Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Duncan, Sir James Longbottom, Charles Storey, Sir Samuel
Duthie, Sir William Loveys, Walter H. Studholme, Sir Henry
Eden, John Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Sumner, Donald (Orpington)
Elliott, R. W. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Talbot, John E.
Emery, Peter McAdden, Stephen Tapsell, Peter
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn McLaren, Martin Telling, William
Farey-Jones. F. W. Maclay, Rt, Hon. John Temple, John M.
Farr, John MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Finlay, Graeme McMaster, Stanley Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Fisher, Nigel Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Maddan, Martin Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)
Freeth, Denzil Menningham, Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Markham, Major Sir Frank Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Gammans, Lady Marlowe, Anthony Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Turner, Colin Ward, Rt. Hon. George (Worcester) Woodnutt, Mark
van Straubenzee, W. R. Watts, James Woollam, John
Vane, W. M. F. Whitelaw, William Worsley, Marcus
Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John Williams, Dudley (Exeter) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Vickers, Miss Joan Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis Wise, Alfred TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.) Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard Sir G. Wills and Sir H. Butcher.
Wall, Patrick Woodhouse, C. M.