HC Deb 28 June 1962 vol 661 cc1358-60
31. Mr. C. Royle

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will so amend the Public Order Act, 1936, as to make it applicable to racial and religious prejudice.

32. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to amend the Public Order Act, 1936, with a view to making incitement to colour prejudice an offence.

The Minister of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

No, Sir. However much we may deplore appeals to racial and religious prejudice, my right hon. Friend is not convinced that there are sufficient grounds for proposing any amendment of the Public Order Act. It is already an offence under the Act to use, in any public place or at any public meeting, 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.

Mr. Royle

Has the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman been called to a debate in another place on 14th May when his noble Friend the Lord Chancellor agreed to consult the Home Secretary to see whether this proposal could be adopted? Can he say whether consultations have taken place? May I ask, further, whether, in Section 5 of the Public Order Act it would be possible to insert words such as, "speeches calculated to incite racial or religious prejudices"? In view of one or two things which we have heard this afternoon, and also in view of what may well take place in Trafalgar Square, does not the hon. and learned Gentleman think that there is a real danger which might be averted if such words were inserted in that Act?

Mr. Renton

I am aware of the debate in another place; indeed I have read it. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has consulted the Lord Chancellor about the suggestion that the Public Order Act should be amended. It is felt that the mere expression of insulting words which do not and are not likely to cause any breach of the peace does not come within the scope of the Public Order Act and that we should be making the rather heavy machinery of this Act an instrument for punishing what, in effect, is merely slander or an expression of prejudice. We feel that that would be going too far in interfering with freedom of speech.

Mr. Thomson

Is the Minister aware that there are regrettable signs of an increase in colour prejudice propaganda of a vicious and demagogic sort? Is he aware that, as the centre of a multiracial Commonwealth, it is of tremendous importance that this country do everything possible to make clear that this kind of propaganda is regretted by and is repugnant to the majority of the inhabitants?

Mr. Renton

I am sure that the whole House deplores propaganda and expressions of prejudice of that kind. The question which arises here is whether we should use the Public Order Act machinery to try to stop it. Having considered the matter carefully, we think that it would not be a wise thing to do.

Sir C. Osborne

Can my hon. and learned Friend explain why it is that hon. Members opposite regard as an incitement to violence and as a crime any statement made from this side of the House in defence of Englishmen in their homes?

Mr. Speaker

That must be out of order. The Minister cannot be responsible for explaining the views of hon. Members opposite.

Mr. S. Silverman

If the Government consider that the Public Order Act is not the right weapon to use in this matter, which he says everybody deplores, will he advise the House what is the proper method? Will he bear in mind that the free expression of this kind of insult tends to prejudice the climate of opinion, which in other countries has led to the most abominable crimes in all human history, and which in this country has already led to scenes of public disorder and violence which everyone deplores? Is it right, in that situation, that the Government should adopt a purely negative attitude? If the use of the Public Order Act is not the right way, will he consider what is the right way and recommend it to the House?

Mr. Renton

The Questions on the Order Paper which I have endeavoured to answer deal with the Public Order Act. The supplementary question of the hon. Gentleman raises a very much wider question. It so happens that under the provisions of our law it is possible to deal with many of the types of incident which arise, and I would refer, as an example only, to the offence of using insulting words and behaviour under the Metropolitan Police Act.

Mr. J. T. Price

The Minister's statement referred to the discussion that had taken place between his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor on this matter. Does his reply mean that the Home Secretary, who is not a lawyer, has told the Lord Chancellor, who is a most distinguished lawyer, that he does not know what he is talking about?

Mr. Renton

Indeed, no, Sir.