HC Deb 02 August 1962 vol 664 cc795-804

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

59. Sir R. CARY

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that experience of the disorders following recent meetings and processions of certain organisations in London and Manchester shows that there is a danger of a breakdown of law and order on a wide scale if such incidents are repeated; and what action he is taking in the matter.

65. Mr. G. BROWN

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, consequent on the representations made to him by right hon. Members within the last week, he will make a statement about Her Majesty's Government's intentions with regard to an amendment of the Public Order Act in order to make the preaching of, or incitement to, racial discrimination an offence.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)

I will, with permission, now answer Questions Nos. 59 and 65 together.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will deplore the disorders which have recently occurred in London, Manchester and Dudley. The full reports which I have received and studied make it clear that, at any rate in the case of the meetings arranged by the Union Movement, the disorder did not result from any words uttered at the meetings by those who organised them, but from the determination of others to prevent the meetings from being held.

The extent and nature of the violence which has occurred, both at these meetings and in a different context in Dudley, is deeply disturbing. However much we abhor and despise certain views which, fortunately, commend themselves to only a tiny minority in this country, the use of physical violence as a means of preventing them from being expressed is not a reaction that can be tolerated.

Rightly, the police have taken firm and effective action to deal with the violence which has been occurring. They will continue to do so in any future situation, whoever the offenders may be, and in this I trust and believe that they will have the support of the House and of public opinion.

So much for enforcing the law. As to the adequacy of the law as it stands, I intend to give the most thorough consideration to the representations that have been made to me about the Public Order Act and other matters, as well as to the content of the Bill which yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) obtained leave to introduce, and to any other representations which may reach me from any responsible quarter. I intend also to study carefully the outcome, which may well be pertinent to this, of a case now pending in the courts.

The problem is, as I think the House will agree, how to preserve the right of free expression of opinion while effectively discouraging wanton incitement to racial hatred.

Sir R. Cary

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his courtesy in going out of his way to answer these important Questions today, may I ask whether he will agree with me that the paramount consideration in this matter is the maintenance of public order? These people, for the purpose of holding meetings, go to the point of assembly led by a band and drums—a Hitler technique in itself —one in Manchester on Sunday last went in close proximity to one of the greatest Jewish populations in this country and a settled coloured community of no fewer than 12,000 persons. That is taking a grave risk with public order.

In these circumstances, I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will send a strongly worded advice, within his prerogative as Home Secretary, to every chief constable and every watch committee, begging them to disallow such meetings in the concentrated areas of our cities? My right hon. Friend has the strongest possible motive for so doing, sometimes beyond the law itself: he has the united support of public opinion.

Mr. Brooke

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for what he has said. I think that my original Answer made perfectly clear my attitude towards the organisers of these meetings, but when my hon. Friend says that the primary object must be the maintenance of public order we must bear in mind that freedom of speech also has to be preserved, and the Government—any Government in power—must seek the proper means to achieve the right balance. I intend to do all I can to do both.

My hon. Friend suggested that I should send a circular to chief constables urging them to prohibit such meetings from being held. There is, in fact, no power in the law to prohibit in advance meetings from being held, though the police have power to bring a meeting to a close as soon as it has started if it seems likely to promote a breach of the peace.

Mr. G. Brown

May I beg the Home Secretary not to repeat now the sort of things which were being said by the Government of the day before 1936? May I ask him to consult his right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. G. Lloyd)—I think it is—who, I believe, was then Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister, and whose report on the Olympia meeting was one of the factors which changed the situation in 1936 and led the Government to do what up to then they had been saying they could not do?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in addition to protecting Her Majesty's citizens who, because of their race or their colour, are being subjected to gross and offensive provocation, first of all we have a duty to the police? May I dissociate myself from a speech made in the House last night about the police? May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that all of us believe that the police, certainly in London, where I know what has been on, and, I suspect outside, have dealt with a patience and tolerance and a tact—

Mr. Ellis Smith

If my right hon. Friend had seen for himself he would not have said that.

Mr. Brown

—far more than I could possibly summon up, with a situation where, had they lost patience or tolerance, they would have been entitled to our protection? We ought to protect them from being put in that situation by allowing these things to happen.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in addition to the decent people who are being provoked, there is a hoodlum element involving itself in this, that they ought to be severely dealt with when they go before the courts, and that there is some reason to doubt whether they are?

On the question of the Public Order Act, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has at this moment under the 1936 Act all the powers he needs to ban anything in the nature of a procession— as I understand it, what Sir Oswald Mosley is now doing, proceeding, no doubt by advice—

Sir K. Pickthorn

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since we are all presumed on this occasion to be largely, if not mainly, concerned with the preservation of order, is there not a duty upon all of us to endeavour to preserve the rules of order of the House?

Mr. Speaker

That is a permanent duty on all right hon. and hon. Gentlemen which we are variously successful in performing.

Mr. Brown

If every time I rise the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pick-thorn) does that, it will not get my vote for him as your successor, Mr. Speaker.

I was on my third point. May I ask the Home Secretary whether he is aware that he has the power under the 1936 Act to ban anything in the nature of a procession? As the present form seems to be to drive up in a motor car to within 50 yards of the platform and walk the rest of the way, if this does not constitute a procession and thus enable the Home Secretary to ban it in advance, as he has the power to do, will he now accept our repeated representations that he should amend the Public Order Act so that meetings of that kind will fall into the same category as processions of that kind already do?

Mr. Brooke

I certainly can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in all my consideration of this extremely important matter I will keep in mind the position of the police. I am grateful to him for the tribute which he paid them, a tribute which I have had endorsed from many quarters.

Secondly, I am very well aware that there is a hoodlum element which attaches itself to troubles of this sort. It was very much in evidence in Dudley. I will consider, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the imperative necessity of restraining people of that kind who are simply out for trouble wherever it may be picked up.

Thirdly, I have undertaken that I will very thoroughly consider the terms of the Public Order Act. In fact, the Act as it stands, as I read it, does not empower the Home Secretary to ban processions on his own initiative. The initiative must be taken by the chief officer of police. But, as I say—I want both sides of the House to accept this from me—I am extremely anxious to use the next three months in examining the terms of the Act in relation to the situation of today, because that is the important thing.

Mr. Grimond

When the Home Secretary is examining the matter further, will he bear in mind the distinction between a genuine meeting designed to disseminate opinions, however unpopular or repulsive they may be, which must be protected from violence directed against it, and another form of meeting which is not really a meeting at all but a demonstration held in a particular area at a particular time and with particular methods, which is primarily designed not to spread opinions at all but to stir up race hatred and is simply an act of violence in itself?

Mr. Brooke

Yes, Sir; I will certainly bear that in mind. I think that it would be a grave act to put into the hands of the Executive the power to prohibit any meeting in advance regardless of what might take place at it. But I accept the conception that there are meetings obviously intended as meetings and that there are other things called meetings which are intended as demonstrations

Mr. Iremonger

May I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind, when he is considering whether he can amend the Public Order Act, that, although it may well be that the Act as it now stands covers incitement to racial hatred, it is not necessarily seen to do so by the people who are most anxious about it. and that if they have not confidence on this point they are, therefore, more disposed to be violent at public meetings than they would be if they knew that the police could intervene if their feelings were affronted?

Mr. Brooke

I will certainly take that point into account. I believe there is a widespread lack of apprehension of what the Public Order Act actually says.

Mr. W. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from a Manchester Member on this side of the House that the views expressed by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withangton (Six R. Cary) are widely shared in the City of Manchester? Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account during the next three months—which seems a very long time in view of the programme announced by the National Socialist Movement and Sir Oswald Mosley himself—that one of the things that are the sheerest provocation is the marching by people who support a racial doctrine through areas where, as the hon. Member for Withington said, there is a settled Jewish or coloured population? If that is something about which the Government are not at the moment permitted to take action, the law ought to be amended as soon as possible.

Mr. Brooke

The law enables action to be taken to prohibit all public processions or particular classes of public procession for a period of three months, but the initiative lies with the chief officer of police, who must recommend it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Butler.

Mr, H. Butler

I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me.

The right hon. Gentleman has now expressed some solicitude towards the people who have been worried about this matter. I recall when these troubles arose previously, going back to 1936 and 1937, when I was the mayor of a Metropolitan borough. Arising from this experience, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that, in addition to his being able to ban such processions and make sure that they are stopped, it is also possible for him to say that no public meetings shall be held in areas like Ridley Road, the centre of a coloured and Jewish population?

This is the point which we want to deal with so that during the three months when we shall be in recess—it is a time when a number of such open-air demonstrations normally take place— some protection shall be accorded to the citizens, who are not politicians on either side, and so that traders in the area shall not be menaced by the thugs who go there to do damage at every opportunity. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the question of banning processions and banning meetings in certain areas.

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman can be quite sure that I shall look at all these matters. I was deeply concerned about what happened in Hackney the other day. But I think that it is important for the House and the public to recognise what the law as it stands authorises and does not authorise. The law as it stands does not authorise anybody to prohibit a meeting from taking place, but it gives certain powers, on the initiative of a chief officer of police, for the banning of processions for a period of up to three months in a certain area. I emphasise that there is no power to prohibit meetings as such in advance.

Mr. Bottomley

Is the Home Secretary aware that in the early part of last year the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations unanimously adopted a recommendation calling upon Government to introduce legislation or take other necessary measures to prevent the spread of racial hatred? In these circumstances, ought not the Government to take more positive action than they have done already to stop the spread of racial hatred?

Mr. Brooke

I will certainly do anything I can to stop the spread of racial hatred. I think that the House knows that I have a constituency in which there might be inflammable incidents. However, I think I have said all that the House can expect me to say after 17 days in office about possible amendment of the Act.

Mr. Paget

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it really does not matter What these people say? After 6 million people have died in gas chambers, the appearance at certain times and in certain areas of people proclaiming themselves Fascists or National Socialists is of itself a wanton affront to racial and religious minorities. It is that which must be dealt with. Is not the necessity here to enlarge the Public Order Act to cover meetings as well as processions and to authorise the responsible police officer—with an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman or to the local authority if necessary—to ban all meetings which, in the circumstances and in the area, are such that they will of themselves, regardless of what is said there, constitute a wanton affront to racial and religious minorities?

Mr. Brooke

I will certainly take into account what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. We hope to examine all these matters in relation to the conditions of the time. One of the significant facts here is that for the past two years the Union Movement and some of the other Fascist or psuedo-Fascist bodies have been holding meetings and there has been no disorder at all, and there have been recent meetings at which there has been very grave disorder.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

The intense interest taken in this matter is quite apparent to me, but we must get on.

Mr. Driberg

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, in an attempt to expedite the Motion for the Adjournment for the Recess, the Leader of the House gave an undertaking that the Home Secretary would deal with the specific point of the meetings already booked for Trafalgar Square during the next three months. He has not done so.

Mr. Speaker

I think that that is a legitimate observation. Mr. Driberg.

Mr. Driberg

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

The right hon. Gentleman has said repeatedly that there is no power to ban meetings in advance, but is he aware that this is not strictly correct, certainly of Trafalgar Square, where the Minister of Public Building and Works has power to allow or disallow a meeting? The Minister has already disallowed, for instance, a meeting of the Committee of 100, but he has given permission for a meeting by Mr. Colin Jordan's Nazis to be held there in September. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether these meetings are going to be allowed?

Mr. Brooke

I was very ready to answer this question about Trafalgar Square if the horn. Gentleman asked it. It is perfectly true that there is power to grant or withhold permission to hold a meeting in Trafalgar Square. In that respect Trafalgar Square is different from any other public place. It is not the case that the Minister of Public Building and Works has authorised Mr. Colin Jordan's organisation to hold a meeting in Trafalgar Square.

Mr. Driberg


Mr. Brooke

This is another organisation. I know that it is confusing, but there are three different organisations which are operating in this field. Mr. Colin Jordan's organisation has made an application. I think for 19th October, which I am sure will receive the careful consideration of my right boo. Friend. The responsibility is his. He is here in the House. He has heard everything that has been said and I shall certainly discuss the matter of all these meetings with him.

Mr. Fletcher

Can the right hon. Gentleman, really explain how it serves the cause of freedom of speech to allow a meeting to take place in a particular place, which is calculated by provocative and inflammable statements to lead to a breach of the peace, if it is broken up after three or four minutes? Would it not be far better to stop the meeting taking place if it is known in advance that it is almost certain to cause a breach of the peace?

Mr. Brooke

I am sure that the ban. Gentleman realises that there are dangers in this. We do not want to create a situation where meetings planned by anybody can be frustrated by a newspaper or periodical announcing in advance that if the meeting is held it will be broken up. We cannot have that sort of thing.

Sir B. Janner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We were told yesterday that one of the reasons for the speeches being curtailed in the debate on the Motion for the Summer Recess was that we would have an opportunity today of getting to the bottom of this matter, which is disturbing the people of this country. In the statements which have been made by the Minister, he has entirely excluded a very important matter. Not only does the law as it stands make it possible—and this has been so held by judges—(for him to stop these meetings, but, in addition, the common law gives no right at all to those who are perpetrating these outrages to continue.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is very naughty, if I may say so. I can understand the hon. Gentleman's eagerness about this, but he rose to a point of order after I had indicated, in the realm of my responsibility, that we really cannot go on debating this matter without a Question before the House. As it turns out to be not a point of order, perhaps I may emphasise that we ought to go on to the next matter.

Sir B. Janner

Further to that, Mr. Speaker. We have been told this afternoon that the responsibility for Trafalgar Square lies in the hands of the Minister for Public Building and Works. Can you tell us how and when we can raise this question, so that we may know from the Minister what he is going to do?

Mr. Speaker

I evoke the hon. Gentleman's help in this. I think that I understand him. All the arguments about the powers of the Home Secretary in this respect are no doubt very important, but they do not raise points of order.

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