HC Deb 01 August 1962 vol 664 cc638-43

5.58 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Public Order Act. 1936. The Bill seeks to add 12 words to Section 5 of the Act and I think that I can best explain it to the House by reading that Section, indicating the 12 words I wish to add and where they would be inserted. Section 5 reads: Any person who in any public place or at any public meeting uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour"— and I wish to add— or words inciting hatred of any racial group of Her Majesty's subjects"— and the Section continues— with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned, shall be guilty of an offence. That simply and comprehensively is the entire Bill My Motion gives rise to four questions which the House is bound to consider. First, the House must ask itself whether there should be a limit to free speech at all and the answer to that is obviously "Yes", otherwise the House would not have put on the Statute Book Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The second question is whether, if there should be a limit, a line can be drawn. Again, the answer is obviously "Yes", because a line is drawn in that Section and the criterion accepted is that the limit is reached when public disorder is likely to be provoked. Thirdly, one has to ask, if we are to draw a line, are we satisfied that the line drawn at the present point is rightly drawn? Is it the best of the only possible point?

It is my submission to the House that recent events oblige us to answer "No" to that question. Therefore, if we are not satisfied that the line is rightly drawn, we have to ask, fourthly, whether it is possible to give legislative effect to a line drawn at a different point. My answer to that, quite frankly and honestly, is that I am not quite sure whether it is possible to do so. But there is one thing that I am far more sure about and that is that the House ought to try to do so. This Motion asks no more of the House than that it should accept that duty and the Bill I am seeking to introduce is no more than a cockshy, which the House should consider.

What the Bill seeks to do is to specify incitement to racial hatred as being in a class by itself, distinguishable from other kinds of threatening, abusive or insulting words. May I explain what I mean? I should not seek to prevent, and I am sure that the House should not seek to prevent, anyone publicly advocating the abolition of the monarchy and the setting up of a republican form of government. I should not agree with him. I should regard it as a somewhat old-fashioned and ill-conceived notion. But I regard it as one of the burdens of being a free man, free to advocate my own follies if I choose, to have to listen to the follies of others when they advocate them.

On the other hand, I should seek to prevent, and this House and the common law do seek to prevent, anyone publicly preaching sedition or inciting people to march on Buckingham Palace and commit arson or violence against the person of the Sovereign. I should make a distinction, and this House does make a distinction. Likewise, I should not seek to prevent, and the House should not seek to prevent, anyone publicly proclaiming the merits—if any there be of anarchy or atheism or nihilism or National Socialism or Fascism or Com- munism or any other "ism" in so far as they might present themselves as political or moral philosophies. I should have to put up with it as others have to put up with my publicly proclaimed support for my right hon. Friends.

But there is something that I do want to prevent and I think that this House should try to prevent. I want to prevent the public expressions of opinions that are calculated of themselves to be unbearable to those who hear them and which such people should not be asked to endure or to tolerate. After all, we must have some regard to history and the record of what has happened and the things that we know about. We must recall how literally millions of people have died, and the way in which, God help them, millions have had to survive and go on living. These are the things we must take into account in making a legislative distinction.

If I may seek an analogy from further afield, I should want to prevent in Kenya, for example, an African nationalist saying to a crowd, "Let us take an oath to murder all the white men and their women and children". This is another racial minority group. Consequently, I should not want it to be allowed for an African nationalist to say, "Mau Mau was right", for that is exactly the same thing as saying, "Let us murder all the whites and their women and children".

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

Suppose he said, "Kenyatta was right"?

Mr. Iremonger

The hon. Member will no doubt deploy that very fine distinction when the Bill is introduced on Second Reading. I think that I am entitled to claim, as I do not want to detain the House, that it is conventional that ordinary exchanges across the Floor do not take place under the Ten Minutes Rule.

I do not think that I am normally ungenerous in giving way and I am not trying here to trade upon a special advantage. I should not like it to be said in Kenya, "Mau Mau was right", because I do not think that any Kenya settler should be asked to listen to that and keep the peace upon pain of arrest by the police. I want to prevent in the United Kingdom similar incitements to racial hatred.

I do not think that any Jew should be asked to hear—do not let us quibble about whether he would be better advised to stay away from the meeting— the words, "Hitler was night". I believe that to speak those words is a greater offence than to be violent on hearing them. I am asking leave to introduce the Bill so that the House may consider in what way we might best give legislative effect to that idea, and that is my purpose.

Perhaps what I say may be more acceptable to the House because I do not happen to be Jewish myself. I am a pure-bred English mongrel, and, as W. S. Gilbert would say, that is greatly to my credit, I am sure. I only mention it because I hope that it may be of some comfort to our own Jewish people in this country to know that we who are not Jewish have been as affronted by recent pathological outbursts, as anyone else could have been, and that Jewish people need not feel that they are the only ones who feel insulted by these things being said.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has the problem of amending the Public Order Act very closely in mind and under consideration because he told the House so, as reported in column 87 of HANSARD on 19th July, in answer to a Question that I put to him. I know that it will be exercising his mind and agonising his conscience during the Recess. I hope that the House will, by giving me leave to introduce the Bill, signify its very urgent desire that he should now succeed in evolving an amending Bill himself.

I am only too well aware of the very great practical difficulties and the very sincere objections in principle to legislation of this kind. Over six centuries of its life this House of Commons has been moved by panic and anger to put on the Statute Book many ill-conceived Measures. We should not be moved today by the disreputable tactics of young Trotskyist ruffians into censoring political views of which they disapprove, even if we disapprove of them ourselves, simply because those views can be equated speciously with intolerable incitement to racial hatred. I am aware of that danger. But I consider a greater danger to be that we should appear to give tacit acceptance to that incitement when incitement genuinely exists. All political decisions are to some extent a choice of evils, and I suggest that in this case the lesser evil is for this House to make at least an honest attempt to legislate.

Most hon. Members believed that the Nazi policy in Germany towards the Jews was so hateful that they were prepared, rather than allow it to prevail, to be killed themselves; and, far more painfully and significantly for most Englishmen, they were themselves prepared to kill, or be accessories in killing, other human beings whom, in normal circumstances, they would not have wanted to harm at all. I think that hon. Members who have had in their lifetime to make that decision should surely not be too squeamish just now in bringing their minds to bear on the issues raised in the Bill. It is in that spirit that I ask the House to give me leave to introduce the Bill.

6.10 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

I rise only to say that we ought not to make this amendment of the law, not in the least on the ground of liberal free speech but because it is fundamentally misconceived.

The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) said that we should remember history. Of course we remember history. When Oswald Mosley appears, that is of itself a racial insult. It does not matter now in the least whether at that meeting he insulted the Jews or the Jamaicans. His presence there was the insult. It is his presence that is resented. Before anybody hears which he has to say, it is inevitable that there will be a riot. Equally, if somebody appears under the slogan of the National Socialists, that of itself is a racial insult in the context of history as we know it.

Simply to say that these people may not say particular things, when one knows that the whole things they stand for are these very things, will not solve anything. There is one quite simple and permanent solution to the Mosley trouble —do not give him police protection next time. I do not know of any other solution.

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

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Iremonger, Mr. Skeet, Wing Commander Bullus, Lady Gammans, Mrs. Hill, Sir B. Janner, Mr. E. Johnson, Sir D. Kaberry Mr. Percival, Mr. Russell, Sir W. Wakefield, and Mr. Weitzman.


Bill to amend the Public Order Act, 1936, presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time Tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 141.]


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]