§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In this country, except for a short period last year, we have recently had very little trouble in connection with public order from extremists of any kind, whether Fascists or Communists. For some years, the small Fascist groups have been holding meetings. There are three of these groups at the moment, because they tend to quarrel internally from time to time and then split. Practically nobody went to these meetings and contempt is much the best treatment for their intolerant, malignant and rejected doctrines.
When Fascist candidates stand at elections they never get more than a handful of votes. They do even worse than the Communists, which is saying a lot. They totally misjudge the British people. One of the three little groups, Colin Jordan's group, came out in their paper the other day with a picture of Hitler and an appeal to celebrate his 74th birthday.
The British people loathe Hitler and if they thought fit to celebrate anything about him—which they do not—it would be the day of his destruction. Our people would turn false to their dead before turning Fascist, and there is no risk of their doing either.
There were some happenings a year ago, however, which brought these small Fascist groups into the news for a time. They have gone out of it again since, which is a good thing because, as they cannot hope to gain support, all they can hope is that someone will present them with publicity.
Last year's happenings led the Government to examine anew whether the law governing these matters was severe enough and effective enough. The law is fully effective. Events have now proved that. But it is not severe enough in its penalties. Hence this Bill, because, 1055 as the Minister responsible for public order, I intend to see that public order is maintained and that the courts are adequately armed to ensure that those who disturb it do not get off lightly. If anything should ever show that present legislation was not effective the Government would certainly take further steps, but there is no evidence of that up to the present, and I am sure that Parliament ought not to legislate to restrict free speech unless it is proved up to the hilt to be necessary.
As I have said, up to July last year there was no trouble worth mentioning. The Mosleyites were holding meetings, but hardly anybody went to them and there were no complaints against anything said at them. Mosley avowedly had abjured anti-Semitism. I am told that he was bending his advocacy to supporting European unity and the Common Market.
But Jordan, who thought that Mosley had become pusillanimous, announced a meeting of his breakaway group in Trafalgar Square for 1st July last year, a meeting that was to be openly anti-Semitic. Quite a lot of people went, including a group of Communists, nuclear disarmers and others who were determined that there should be no peaceful co-existence.
The speeches lived up to the advance advertising, disorder broke out and a number of people were arrested. It was followed in the few following months by disturbances at several other meetings held by one or other of these small Fascist groups, and the police had to close some of them to stop disorder, even though nothing of an offensive nature was said from the platform. The police advised me that they had no doubt of their ability to stop disorder and that they did not know of any shortcoming or loophole in the law which hampered them in their job of maintaining order and restoring the peace.
Jordan and some of his associates were arrested and charged under the Public Order Act, 1936. They were charged on two separate counts. They were charged under Section 2 with running a quasi-military organisation. Jordan and his assistant, Tyndall, were convicted and sent to prison. They 1056 applied to the Court of Criminal Appeal for leave to appeal against conviction and sentence, and that was refused. So they have been serving their sentences of imprisonment.
Quite separately from that, Jordan and Tyndall were charged at Bow Street on 20th August with using, in Trafalgar Square on 1st July, insulting words whereby a breach of the peace was likely to be occasioned, contrary to Section 5 of the Act. Both were convicted and both appealed to London Sessions, when Jordan's appeal was allowed. It was this decision on appeal, more than anything, which raised acutely for all of us the question whether the terms of Section 5 were effective to stop the sort of anti-Semitic diatribe in which Jordan had indulged on 1st July.
If this appeal decision was a correct interpretation of the law then it looked as if the law needed altering, but the decision was overturned. The Chairman of London Sessions was asked to state a case for consideration by the Divisional Court, which on 19th March of this year decided that the appeal should not have been allowed and that Jordan had been rightly convicted.
The Lord Chief Justice said, in the course of his judgment, thata man was entitled to express his views as strongly as he liked…but he must not threaten, abuse or insult by hitting with words".So the effect of the law is now established, for Jordan's application in this case, too, to appeal to the House of Lords was refused. Jordan was sentenced to one month's imprisonment under Section 5, over and above the sentence of nine months which he received under Section 2. The effectiveness of the law was vindicated.
There have been no complaints since last year of anything said at any public meeting—no material complaints, I mean. Jordan's group has not held any meetings, and the public have wisely ignored most of the meetings held by the other two groups. The meetings have gone on, but at any rate until the day before yesterday nothing has been heard of them. There has been no disorder, and the Press has denied them the publicity they fervently desire. I am told that the maximum attendance at 1057 any of these recent meetings has been 200, the average about 50, and the minimum 2. Very different from last year, and no doubt the decisions of the courts have had something to do with it. There was a meeting in Hackney last Sunday evening which attracted a larger crowd. Mostly it was quiet, but it ended with a few scuffles and arrests. The reports that I have received on it indicate that there was no incitement to racial hatred in any of the speeches.
Whatever happens, I am not going to stand for any recrudescence of last year's troubles. The public want peace in the streets and in the squares, and I mean to see that they get it. They are sick and tired of the antics of Fascists, Communists, the Committee of 100 and all other extremists who are out against democratic ways and the right of people to go about in peace and quiet on their lawful occasions. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Building and Works has refused permission for several of these extremist bodies to hold meetings in Trafalgar Square.
Last weekend the Commissioner of Police told me that he apprehended disorder if the Mosley group carried out its declared intention of marching in procession through the East End of London. He wanted to use his powers to make an order banning all political processions for 48 hours, and I had no hesitation in giving my consent.
All concerned had better take notice that the Government have no intention whatever of tolerating the abuse of free speech by extremist characters leading to breaches of the peace, nor their processions, nor their banners, nor their distribution of leaflets, nor any of their other devices when they are simply incitements to order. The police have their powers and, in consultation with me where necessary, they will use them. The powers are there in the law all right, but though there is no limit to the penalties on conviction of sedition—and one day a prosecution for sedition may well be brought—the penalties under the Public Order Act and the Public Meetings Act are too small. Hence this Bill.
Section 5 of the Public Order Act, 1936, reads:Any person who in any public place or at any public meeting uses threatening, abusive 1058 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 shall be guilty of an offence.The present maximum penalty under that Act is a fine of £50 or three months' imprisonment, or both. The Bill will make the new maximum penalties on summary conviction a fine of £100 or three months' imprisonment, or both, and on conviction on indictment a fine of £500, or 12 months'imprisonment, or both. That is to say, the maximum term of imprisonment will be four times as long and the maximum fine ten times as much. This goes far beyond adjusting the 1936 penalties to the change in the value of money. It reflects the determination of the Government that this sort of behaviour is not going to be tolerated.
I strongly hold the view that one way to stop disorder in the streets, whether in Hackney, or Notting Hill, or the Midlands, or anywhere else, is for a court to be able to impose exemplary sentences and then the deterrent does its work. Section 1 of the Public Meetings Act, 1908, also to be affected by the Bill, provides thatAny person who at a lawful public meeting acts in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business for which the meeting was called together shall be guilty of an offence.The maximum penalty for that, laid down 55 years ago, is a fine of £5, or one month's imprisonment. The Bill raises these to the same maximum as in the other case: on indictment a fine of £500, or 12 months' imprisonment, or both; and that is right because Section 5 of the 1936 Act deals with the speaker of provocative words while Section 1 of the 1908 Act deals with the wilful breaker-up of meetings.
We have to stop both. We must preserve public order, free speech, and free assembly, against infringement and destruction by thugs, fools and fanatics. And let me repeat the undertaking that I gave to the House on 30th May:…if further legislative action be found necessary we shall not hesitate to take it, for we are determined that the law shall be fully adequate to deal with any persons or groups whose words or actions give rise to breaches of the peace."—[Official Report, 30th May, 1963; Vol. 678, c. 1547–8]I respect the integrity of my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, North 1059 (Mr. Iremonger) and Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet), who have tabled an Amendment and who sincerely believe that we ought now at once to go further. I ask them and others on both sides of the House who may think like that what their evidence is. Let us have that evidence out in public so that it can be examined.
I have studied the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford? North—the Public Order Act, 1936 (Amendment) Bill—and I find it hard to see what it would have achieved. My hon. Friend wants to make it a specific offence to use words inciting hatred of any racial group of Her Majesty's subjects, conducive to a breach of the peace. I must ask what words likely to be used at a public meeting could incite hatred and yet not be threatening, abusive, or insulting; and if they are threatening, abusive or insulting they are punishable under the law as it stands.
With respect to my hon. Friends, I do not believe in complicating the criminal law with extra words which add nothing to it, just as a kind of gesture. Of course words could be inserted which would widen the scope of the offence, but then we would be biting into freedom of speech, and why do that when, now that we have the Lord Chief Justice's judgment, we know that the present words are effective for the purpose? The extra words which my hon. Friend would like written into the law would not have turned anything that Mosley had said during the last few years into a breach of the law.
There is another objection to my hon. Friend's ideas for amending Section 5 of the 1936 Act. His Bill would introduce into our law the concept of race, a concept which is quite alien to the law as it stands, and, I would say, long may it remain so. The law now is equal in its application to all men. It knows no distinction of race between one citizen and another. I have no desire to be the Home Secretary who first introduces into our law the concept that some of my fellow citizens are to be singled out for special protection or distinction from others because of the race to which they belong.
I ask my hon. Friends in the Jewish community and elsewhere to think out carefully whether a sort of racial division 1060 within society is what they really desire. And perhaps I might remind the House that I represent an area of London with a large Jewish population whom I greatly respect, so that in my constituency I am not remote from the kind of issues which we are discussing today.
I have great sympathy with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, although I do not agree with him. I have no sympathy with those, unlike him, who would make incitement to race hatred a punishable offence in all circumstances, regardless of the question whether a breach of the peace was likely to follow. It would be quite wrong to make the police, with their powers of arrest, act as arbiters of the limits of free speech in circumstances when there was no threat at all to public order. The police are keepers of order, and not censors of speech. I trust that Parliament will hesitate long before penalising words spoken in public in the course of controversy on matters of religion, colour or race, when there is no risk at all to public order. That way danger lies. We should not control opinions: what we should do is to maintain the Queen's peace. If at any time there is a threat to public order, the present legislation comes into play.
These are momentous issues, charged with deep emotion when the mind turns to the rise of Nazianti-Semitism which led to the murder of 6 million Jews; yet they are issues also going into the heart of British history, with its historic tradition of tolerance and its fights for the rights of free speech. Because we who are Christians should be sure that we see all this through Jewish eyes, I ask leave to read to the House a leading article in the Jewish Chronicle of 7th June—a month ago. It is quite short.
I want to read it not because I agree with it all, as the House will see, but because it breathes a spirit of fairness which makes it a near-perfect introduction to today's debate. It says:The Home Secretary's proposal to increase penalties under the Public Order Act shows that the Government intends to tackle the question of racialist incitement seriously. But the question is bound to be raised whether these proposals go far enough. Why, it is reasonable to ask, should not the Public Order Act itself be stretched to include incitement to hatred, irrespective of whether it can be shown to provoke breaches of the peace? And should the laws at present in 1061 operation against oral incitement not be extended to the written word, too? There are arguments for and against. Some favour reliance on the British legal tradition of applying and adapting existing law, while others insist that this is a qualitatively new problem. There are reasonable men on both sides and the answer, in this case, will probably lie with practice. If the new provisions prove satisfactory the pressure for further legislation will doubtless diminish. If, on the other hand, experience shows the present proposals are still no effective bar to racial incitement, then the case of the maxima lists will be strengthened beyond rebuttal. Meanwhile, the dialogue is bound to continue, and provided that it remains within the bounds of good faith and tolerance on the part of both schools it will all be to the good.It is a very natural instinct to feel that the spreading of these odious pagan doctrines of race hatred, extending even to the adulation of Hitler, should be prohibited by law. It looks safe. It looks strong. But is it? Freedom of thought and freedom of speech are liberties that we fought the last war to guard. The more that I study all that has happened the more I am convinced that we are right in linking the law on all this to the preservation of public order. We can rely upon utter detestation by public opinion to keep Fascism in its place.
What we are not going to tolerate here is disorder in public places or racial clashes. The police need no extra powers in the law for dealing with them, except the deterrent power of these new penalties in the Bill. If, at any future time, there should be clear evidence of need for further powers, the Government would not hesitate to come to Parliament for them. But at present there is no such evidence at all. That being so, instead of compromising free speech we should vigorously enforce the law as it stands. The Bill will make the penalties formidable and deter the extremists on either side from imagining that they can flout the law.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
I am sure that it would be the view of everybody who heard him that the Home Secretary has just made a very impressive and sincere speech—one well in tune with the mood not only of the House at this time, but with that of many people outside who are very worried about the situation. I hope that in what I have to say I shall be regarded as at least as moderate and sincere—because, frankly, I disagree 1062 with the conclusion to which the right hon. Gentleman has come on the major issue.
On the Bill itself I have one reservation only, relating to the penalties, which I shall come to later. Nobody will dispute that, quite apart from anything else that we may wish to discuss, bringing these penalties into line not only with present-day conditions but to a point where they really will be a deterrent is a tremendously important thing to do. Therefore, so far as the Bill goes, and subject to the one reservation which I have mentioned, there is nothing that I would wish to do to obstruct its passage.
I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon on the question of the approach that lies behind this question. I do not agree that it is only a matter of public order. I cannot accept that we should tie this simply to the question of public order. Unless the police have some clear guide lines on which to proceed, what is almost certain to happen when they begin exercising their powers to preserve public order? We have all had experience of this—all those of us who have grown up in the hurly-burly of public argument and disputation. What tends to happen is that those on the platform who are uttering the words which, in the end, lead to an abuse of public order are the ones who are protected, while those who react to what is said on the platform are inevitably the ones against whom the police, in the end, have to move.
This fact leads to a tremendous degree of irritation, bad temper and abuse of the police, together with a total distortion of the whole question. On occasions in the 1930s I became extremely angry with the police when I felt that I was being pushed around by them and when I was sure that I was only expressing a decent man's reaction to some very indecent things said by people on the platform. It is not sufficient merely to deal with that end of the question.
I now turn to something in which I may be expressing a more fundamental disagreement. I do not think that at this stage in the development of our society we can simply say that we have no interest in the use to which freedom of speech is put; that we have no interest in what people say, but are concerned solely—as the Home Secretary 1063 said, in some very tough language—to ensure that there shall be peace in our streets and that people can move about freely on their way of business.
In the light of what has happened since the early 1930s this seems to be an untenable position. We have an obligation to see that free speech is not abused. Indeed, we already do this. The Home Secretary spoke as though freedom of speech was an absolute, but it is not. He spoke about the undesirability of the police, with their powers of arrest, acting as censors or arbiters on the question of what free speech should be used to say, but to some extent the police are already censors.
Obscenity and blasphemy are offences, and the police can already move against them. I do not know to what extent they move simply because they think that such utterances may lead to a breach of the peace, but they are entitled to move against them per se, just because people are saying obscene and blasphemous things. That part of the Home Secretary's case was erected on a weak foundation.
What we have to look at is whether uttering words of race hatred of one race or one group or another should be put in the same category as obscenity and blasphemy—as things which we ought not to do. I was a little amused at another part of the Home Secretary's speech in which he suggested that all had settled down a good deal since last year. He suggested that people were holding meetings which had an attendance from a minimum of two to a maximum of 200 and that all is well. As far as I can see, the only way in which it differs from the Conservative Party in recent by-election meetings is that the Conservatives have had a minimum of two, without, as far as I know, having the maximum of 200. It did not seem to me, therefore, that we could accept that analogy.
More seriously, it does not seem to me that to say that the meetings are within such limits is in itself a great reason for complacency. Of course, there are arguments on both sides. I well appreciate the passage which the Home Secretary read from the Jewish Chronicle, but the arguments, it seemed to me, are much stronger in favour of amending the 1064 law now than the Home Secretary suggested. I am sure that all hon. Members in the House agree that organisations which exist to exercise freedom of speech and the right of free association to destroy it do not deserve a great deal of consideration from us.
After all, freedom of speech is not something of which we should merely be proud, not something simply to honour in respect of hundreds of years of tradition. It is something which we must fight to preserve for those who come after us. If, to preserve effective freedom of speech and effective right of free assembly, one has to impose some limitation, it does not seem to me that one should run away from that. I feel that as things stand we are in danger of allowing a steady growth of the activity of those who would destroy this valuable freedom unless we move against them.
The Home Secretary asked,"What sort of words would constitute an offence?" I do not propose to give them publicity, but I have here a document, issued by one of the organisations, which for sheer, unbelievable bestial reference to various groups in this community is very hard to beat. I have no doubt that if these things are written, they are said by the same people. There is no holding back here. The reference is not merely to Jews, or Asians, or Africans, but to every minority group.
The degree to which they are prepared to say in headlines that Hitler showed the way, the extent to which they are willing to laud what he did as a great upsurge of vitality—these are evil words and evil thoughts in themselves. These are words which do tremendous harm. Recently, in Deptford, during the by-election, I saw consequences which some of these words can have and the extent to which they can bite into all kinds of decent people's propaganda. Things were said and done and written at Deptford by people who would say that they totally abhor anything of this kind; but they were said, written and done under just such an influence as this.
Appeals were made about housing for white people which, however subconsciously, are the product of the insidious influence of such words. The words exist. They can be examined. I suggest that the Attorney-General, if he is 1065 to reply to the debate, owes us rather more examination of them and more reason why we should not make these words an offence.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I wonder whether the words which the hon. Member has in mind are not in themselves abusive. It seemed to me that the type of word he had in that document would be abusive.
§ Mr. Brown
I must refer to my own experience, and that suggests that what the hon. Member said is not sufficient answer.
The Home Secretary carefully explained to us that the police do not take action because words are abusive. He emphasised again and again that the police are moving because there is a threat to public order. If there is no threat to public order, he said, then the police should not intervene. If it were said, therefore, that these words were caught under the provisions of the law, and under the general reference to"abusive or offensive", the fact is that as the law operates, and will operate, the police do not move on those grounds. Nor do I think that they will move unless we make it clear that we are getting at this kind of language, hitting at this kind of approach and aiming at this kind of speech.
I repeat that many examples make me think that we ought to adopt this view. The argument is that it is too dangerous to do it, that it means yet another encroachment on free speech, and that it makes a very fine distinction. I can only say that I simply am not persuaded about that. Even if it were true, I repeat—the bastions may have to be moved in order more effectively to protect the real body of our rights of free speech.
The Home Secretary said that he did not want to be the Home Secretary who introduced into our law the concept of race, and he appealed to his Jewish friends, in particular, when he said that he did not want to single them out as being specially in need of protection. When he said that, two emotions hit me. This is the sort of phrase—I know that the right hon. Gentleman did not use it in this way, but it has been so used—which one can use if one does not want to protect those groups. It has been 1066 used by people who were suffering from an anti-Semitic or anti-special group feeling.
But the point is that the right hon. Gentleman is not asked to do that. There is no reason to bring the Jewish, or the Irish or the coloured people into this at all. What the right hon. Gentleman is asked to consider doing is to guarantee all Her Majesty's subjects, of whatever race, crced or colour, against this kind of attack. It may be that at some period the Jews suffer from it. I had an Irish ancestry, and I well remember that when I was very young it was the Irish who suffered from it in the part of London in which I lived. At some period the Roman Catholics have suffered from it, and in other places Protestants suffer from it.
In some places coloured people may be grossly abused and insulted, but, equally, especially as things have developed recently, in some places white people would be grossly abused and insulted. It seems to me that there is no reason to oppose this suggestion on the ground that it is specially designed for a particular group. It is specially designed to protect us all against this kind of abuse, insult and offensive attack. I therefore think that that part of the Home Secretary's argument did not stand up to examination.
It also seems to me that the case which some of us are making that this should be an offence in itself, simply because it is wrong, simply because it has been associated with tremendous evil in the world, has not been dealt with either by the Home Secretary today or by the Lord Chancellor in his speech in another place. The Lord Chancellor—the Home Secretary did not say this today, but it has been argued—asked, if we put some words like these into the law, would the law be enforceable? I believe that it would be enforceable.
Frankly, I think that the police are quite well able to understand this sort of thing when they hear it, as they understand other language which is an offence. But even if it were proved to me—as I do not believe it can be—that it is questionable whether we could enforce it in every case, nevertheless I believe that even the declaration enshrined in our law would in itself be a good thing.
1067 I do not accept the view that it is totally wrong to have declaratory passages in our law. Nobody has yet dealt with the question put to the Lord Chancellor in another place—why do we customarily write this kind of declaration into the constitutions which we write, or cause to be written, for the emergent territories of the Commonwealth if we believe that there is no virtue in such a declaration? We have no constitution into which it could be written outside the statement of our laws. What we are asking the Home Secretary to do is to write in the only appropriate place in British law the declaration which the Government have been busily engaged in writing into constitutions provided for the new sovereign States of the Commonwealth during the last few years.
I do not believe that that is answered by saying that such a statement would be merely declaratory; nor do I believe that it would be only declaratory. In many cases it would bite and, even if it were only declaratory, it would be worth while. The Home Secretary may say that such a statement would be a matter of definition and judgment, but everything of this kind is. Even if the police made an arrest, the decision would still lie with the courts. It does not follow that every time the police make an arrest they have to be 100 per cent. certain of the court's verdict. It is not the case now. The decision would still be made in the place where we like decisions in this country to be taken. The position at present is worse than that, because at the moment the decision does not get as far as the courts, unless there is a question of abuse of public order or peaceful passage of citizens.
The Home Secretary spoke in very tough and strong words. The Fascists, the Communists and the thugs come into those words. But if, because the law is not sufficiently selective and does not state the offence clearly enough, we are driven to shutting down all freedom of speech, we shall have reached a worse position. The Home Secretary says that to put this statement into the law would be an infringement of free speech, but it would not be half the infringement of free speech which would come if the Commissioner of Police declared all assemblies and all processions and all demonstrations out of order.
1068 When the right hon. Gentleman said that he would be really strong and would back the police to see that nothing occurred which could cause a breach of the peace, I was very worried. He said that there was one thing that he did not want to do as Home Secretary. As Home Secretary, I would not want to be the one who, to preserve the rights of peaceful passage, clamped down on all meetings and demonstrations and processions simply because the law was not sufficiently selective to bite and because I was concerned only about peace and order and not about the doctrine of free speech. Therefore, far from being better than the present situation, as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think, in some ways the new position would be worse.
A word or two about the police would not be out of order. I said just now how I used to feel. I remember many an occasion when I got into tremendous conflict, not always being the unemotional man I now like to think myself, with the police and how very angry I used to get. But, after all, the police have a most unpleasant job to do in this respect and there is no reason why we should so easily put them into this position if we can help them by giving them a better weapon.
As things now stand, because they do not want to shut down meetings if they can help it, the police wait until trouble shows up and passions are aroused. They then not only have to face a most unpleasant situation themselves, at the risk of a good deal of maltreatment to themselves, but, to deal with it quickly, they must themselves use a good deal of force. People who are out of sympathy with the police assume that they are naturally on the side of the Fascists or thugs or whoever it is who is the cause of the provocation. They are not. They are ordinary men and women like us, with the same differences of opinion and the same differences of approach and the same differences of temperament. But they are pushed into this position, which gives another reason for amending the law so as to avoid that state of affairs. I trust that I am not overstating the case. I do not believe that all the dangers and difficulties would be removed by this amendment of the law, but the situation would be eased.
1069 Before turning to the Bill itself—I want to leave plenty of time, because many of my hon. Friends have a tremendous title to be heard on this subject—I want to put a question to the Home Secretary. He spoke very fairly and I hope that I have responded in a similar vein. This is a matter about which there can be argument and different views which may be canvassed and discussed. However, as the Long Title of the Bill is now drafted, we shall not be able to deal with this matter at any subsequent stage of the Bill. We do not get amendments of the law of this kind all that often, and one does not want to go through a running sore with all kinds of devious means being used to raise an issue in a way not conducive to dignified or orderly debate.
It would be better if the Government amended the Long Title so that an appropriate Amendment could be moved in Committee and so that we could have a genuine and effective debate. The Government would give nothing away by doing that, but they would enable hon. Members to get at the issue and we could then see how people felt about it. We have a perfect right to press the Government to help us in this way.
With one reservation, I would not wish to hold up the Bill. The one reservation refers to something I mentioned earlier—the fact that the penalties for those provoked are being brought into line with the new and increased penalties for those who do the provoking. Correspondingly, that means a higher penalty for those provoked than for the provoker. That seems to be the oddest thing to do.
I have myself been the victim at a rather famous May Day meeting and I know quite well that people go out to break up a meeting without provocation. When people do that, there is no reason, especially when they are trying to brain me with a flagpole, why I should want to see them freed from very stiff penalties. But let us be clear; that is not the way it usually happens. What mostly happens is that there is an audience response, either to what is said, or to the advertisements put out in advance of the meeting about what is to be said.
I cannot believe that it is in accordance with our sense of justice or reality that people who react to provocation should 1070 be punished as heavily as those who do the provoking. If the Bill is not amended, such people will be punished, whereas the provokers will be escorted away by the police and no charge will lie against them. That seems to be wrong and I hope that the Home Secretary will open his mind to the idea of an Amendment—which could obviously be drafted in a number of ways—to make the penalty for provocation very much heavier than the penalty falling on those who, however foolishly, allow themselves to be provoked.
We shall try very hard to amend the Bill in that way, I trust with some support from hon. Members on the back benches opposite, and, I hope, from the Government Front Bench as well, as there cannot be an issue of principle on this. I was not persuaded on the principle by what the Home Secretary said, nor by what was said by the Government spokesman in another place. I hope that we shall be allowed by the Government to seek to amend the Bill in that way.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North) rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if, in calling the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), I make it quite clear that the Amendment in his name is not selected for debate.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and accept that and will frame my remarks in that light.
The House has listened to two closely and very moderately argued speeches. I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his sympathetic words, and I personally recognise the sincerity and integrity of his argument. It is a closely balanced argument, but I am bound to say, if my right hon. Friend will forgive me, that in this matter of opinion I thought the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) had the better part on the main question which, if I may say so without attempting to infringe the rules of order, is the aspect of the consideration of this Bill to which I tried to call attention in the Amendment which has not been called.
1071 I welcome this Bill, naturally, as far as it goes. I think its worst defect is the fact that it is so narrowly drawn in the Title that it is not possible to table Amendments to it in the way which I think most important. I regret that, because it will give the impression that the Government do not want this matter debated and taken to a Division. The Government may be right or wrong, but it seems a great pity that they should not have allowed the House to take the matter to an issue.
I shall not detain the House in expanding on the virtues of the Bill beyond remarking that I welcome the fact that insulting words such as"Hitler was right" have been punished by the courts and are now regarded by the Government as being such an infringement and abuse of freedom of speech as to merit a greater punishment in cash than in 1936 and even greater punishment in imprisonment. I regret, however, that the opportunity has been missed in presenting this Bill of clarifying Section 5 of the Public Order Act, 1936. I note the Government's willingness to legislate if they consider it necessary, but I think it a pity that they should have to take"two bites at the cherry".
I have explained my reasons for wanting this clarification and wanting it now. Hon. Members will remember that I explained this on 1st August last year, as reported at c. 638 of the Official Report for that day. I shall not detain the House by repeating now what I said then, but I stand by the argument I then used. I have had no reason since, except in the one detail I shall mention, to modify the strong view I had formed then. I still think the amendment I want to see made represents the highest common factor of reasonable public opinion on the matter. I still think such an amendment is the minimum expression of public feeling as reflected in the legislative Acts of this House that public decency demands.
In spite of the decision against Jordan in the High Court, I still think the wording of the Section should be clarified in the interests of precision and the maintenance of public order in future because a decided case is not so clear and firm a guide as words written into an Act of Parliament. The amendment I 1072 want, and which I regret this Bill does not make, is as follows. Section 5 reads:Any person who in any public place or at any public meeting uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour"—Then I want to insert:or words inciting hatred of any section of the public"—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.This differs from the Amendment I proposed last year in that I have substituted"any section of the public" for the words"any racial group of Her Majesty's subjects". I think this may be an improvement, but my mind is not closed on the point and the merits of the various alternatives cannot usefully be debated here and now.
It may be right or wrong to specify race or religion, but the point is that whatever words one plays with, or whatever words one puts in or leaves out, the word"hatred" and the act of incitement must be put on the Statute Book. If anyone defends the right of free men to indulge in incitement to hatred on the grounds of freedom of speech and on the grounds of liberty, he must defend the pathological murderer likewise on the grounds of liberty.
Hatred is a manifestation of a pathological condition personally, emotionally, socially and politically, and those who wish to defend it do so at their own risk. But to call the principles of liberty in aid is just sickening humbug. From letters I have received, I think that that particular humbug reveals some rather nasty urges and stresses deep in the minds of those who practise it.
I want to make clear that my amendment to Section 5 of the Public Order Act does not enlarge the ambit of that Section as some hon. Members might be tempted to think, and some might be tempted to desire. When I specify incitement to hatred as an offence, I am not taking it outside the sphere of provocation of a public disorder. It would be desirable certainly to eliminate hatred from the world altogether and to prevent even private incitement, but I doubt whether that is legislatively practicable. What I want to do amounts to 1073 no more than this. I want to clarify and define"abusive" and to make it certain that incitement to hatred is, and is known by all to be,"abuse" within the meaning of the Act. I am not as deeply opposed as my right hon. Friend is to what might be called declaratory legislation. On the contrary, I am sure that this declaration is one that it would be desirable to make.
I have heard it argued in objection to my proposal that"incitement to hatred" is something too difficult for the police to apprehend and recognise and that it should not therefore be specified. But is"incitement to hatred" more difficult to recognise than"abuse"? If"abuse" is acceptable in the Act, why should"incitement to hatred" be unacceptable as an amendment in clarification? This objection is a specious and a"dodgy" one. I reject it. Anyone who objects to my proposal on these grounds should come out into the open and promote a Bill to repeal Section 5 of the Public OrderAct, 1936, altogether and legislate to modify the common law misdemeanour of sedition. Those who object—I am again referring to letters I have received—ought frankly to say what is in their hearts," I hate Jews and niggers and good luck to all my fellow haters". Then at least we should all know where we stood. I say frankly that I stand against them, though I believe that the true solution to their problem of hatred is not a political one; it is a medical one, one of mental health and I wish that it could be solved.
I do not want to be unjust to or lacking in sympathy for the man who says,The stranger within my gate…I cannot feel his mind".There are deep and tragically difficult adjustments to be made especially in accommodating ourselves to coloured immigrants. I can sympathise with the idea:Let the corn be all one sheaf—And the grapes be all one vine,Ere our children's teeth are set on edgeBy bitter bread and wine.These are difficult adjustments. But they have to be made without hatred and without the pathological outbursts that wound human hearts and human minds. Our laws should make this clear even though that does mean declaratory acts of legislation.
1074 I think it is desirable to amend the Act simply in the interests of public order. I think it is very desirable in the interests of political integrity and decency, quite apart from the practical object. I am on the side of the traditions of tolerance and humanity in which our people have always taken pride. Equally, I am against—if one would like to look round for an example—Mr. Khrushchev, who is the prime persecutor of the Jews in the world at the present time. I am against the Klu Klux Klan; for example, and the wretched, doomed Afrikaaners. I am against the Black Muslims, who also preach race hatred, against the whites, in America. I think that all who are on the same side, and there are two sides in Armageddon, should now stand and be counted, because the world is watching, and watching this country as it always watches British Governments on issues of this kind. I hope that the Government will think again in the light of what I have said and at least give the House an opportunity to discuss the Amendment upon which many of us would like to make our allegiance clear.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
A few weeks ago the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and I had the rather tragic privilege of speaking at a vast meeting in London held to mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre in the Warsaw Ghetto. I think that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that his views and mine on this issue are broadly the same, although we may vary as to the exact method of achieving our objectives.
As one of the non-Jewish constituents of the Home Secretary, I wish to say that I fully appreciate the sensitiveness which the right hon. Gentleman has always shown upon matters of this kind. For some years he and I have been fellow vice-presidents of the Hampstead Council of Christians and Jews and we have appreciated the help which the right hon. Gentleman has given on a number of occasions. But there I am afraid the kissing has to stop.
I wish to express my regret that the Home Secretary has lost the opportunity of consolidating and codifying the law on this subject in a way which would have had the support of all the members of the Labour Party, the Liberal Party 1075 and many members or the Conservative Party as well. I think it worth reminding the House at this point that when towards the end of last year we presented in this House a Petition calling for legislation against racial discrimination signed by 500,000 citizens, it was sponsored jointly by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) on behalf of the Conservative Party and by myself as a Labour Member of Parliament.
I am sorry that the Home Secretary should, as it were, be fobbing us off with a Measure which I think would be much more appropriately called, the"Fines (Compensation for Inflation) Bill". I am disappointed on a number of counts. I am disappointed because I believe that there is a good deal of obscurity in the law as it stands. I entirely agree with the view put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). The history of the Jordan case itself shows the obscurity which prevails at the present time. The fact that it had to go from the magistrates to London Sessions and from there to the Court of Appeal shows that the law was very far from clear and the truth is that, as the law stands, the public does not know what is the law any more than Mr. Seaton does. It might be worth a little research on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to discover the number of judgments by Mr. Seaton which have been overturned by a higher court. There is this confusion and members of the public do not know what are their rights.
I think it wrong to place such an onus on the police, and I particularly welcome the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper upon that score. The general attitude of the police in matters of this kind is quite unexceptionable, but unless constables are Jewish or coloured—and we know there is at any rate an unofficial ban on the employment of coloured men in the police force, although the Home Secretary disclaims any official ban—they would be less than human if they were not more provoked by those members of the public who are trying to break through a police cordon than by the men and women on the platform who are actually doing the provoking. There 1076 is no doubt, moreover, that the atmosphere of a demonstration, with all the excitement attached to it, is not conducive to detached, unemotional appraisal of a situation or of the niceties of the law.
I think it a great pity, too, that in such situations the decisions should often have to be made not by a judicial authority, not by the Home Secretary, but by the Minister of Public Building and Works who has had put upon him a duty which is quite remote from the proper duties attaching to that office. It is left to the Minister of Public Building and Works to decide whether a public meeting in Trafalgar Square should or should not take place. On at least two occasions I have been to see the Minister of Public Building and Works on this issue. On the last occasion we put to the right hon. Gentleman not only the demonstration that was banned last Sunday but also a proposal by the Movement for Colonial Freedom to hold a demonstration on 21st July in favour of the right to demonstrate. I understand that at any rate up to yesterday's date the Movement for Colonial Freedom had not received a reply. It would be much fairer to the public as a whole that they should know exactly what is the law on the subject and where they stand. The public should know its rights and it should not be left to the decision of the Minister of Public Building and Works to decide what is a proper demonstration.
I believe, too, that there are many gaps in the present law, and I hope that when he replies to the debate the learned Attorney-General will deal with one or two of the points I wish to put to him. From my reading of the law, I am not at all certain whether the Public Order Act applies at present only to spoken words or whether it applies also to written words. My memory, if correct, tells me that on the occasion of the Colin Jordan meeting there was a banner exhibited on the plinth, the theme of which was that we must free Great Britain from Jewish domination. I do not know whether that comes within the scope of the Public Order Act. As I understand it at present, it does not. But it seems to me just as objectionable that a banner should be displayed in large lettering on a public 1077 monument containing sentiments of that kind as to have an insignificant ruffian like Colin Jordan voicing the same sentiments.
There is another doubt in my mind. It is to what extent the law on sedition applies in matters of this kind. I listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Ilford, North had to say. Frankly, I hope that the law on sedition does not apply. I am hoping that the Government will not rely too heavily on the law on sedition because I understand that it is technically seditious for a person:to excite ill will between different classes of the Sovereign's subjects or to bring into hatred or contempt the Sovereign or the Government, the laws or constitution of the realm".That seems to go pretty wide and cover a lot of things which many of us have been saying about the Government during the last few months. It will certainly not inhibit me from expressing my condemnation of acts like the Street Offences Act, and I have no doubt at all that if an unscrupulous Government were to rely too heavily on the law on sedition it could be a very dangerous threat to civil liberty.
As to the law on sedition, I also understand that, if there is an attack on grounds of religion, the religion has to be religion by law established, which presumably precludes from the law against seditious attacks attacks upon Roman. Catholicism and the Jewish religion. I also understand that if the complaint is on racial grounds it can be prosecuted effectively only if it is directed against people who live in this country.
Therefore, there are inadequacies in the law and, even if the Government do not feel the same as I do about these inadequacies, I am sure that it would be right to make the law explicit in an Act of Parliament. That is why I agree so strongly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper and with the hon. Member for Ilford, North. It is done in other parts of the Commonwealth. It is done in other parts of the world. It is one of the basic laws of West Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. I believe that we should let the public know what the law is and we should relieve the police of a responsibility which should not properly be theirs.
I turn to the question of fines. I do not think that increasing fines in this way 1078 is either effective or equitable. In so far as the Bill amends the Public Meeting Act, 1908, the Government propose to increase the fine on summary conviction twenty times and the period of imprisonment on summary conviction twelve times. In the case of the Public Order Act, the Government propose to increase the fine only twofold and provide for the same period of imprisonment. Taking into account the fact that the value of the £is today only three-tenths of what is was in 1936, the Government are proposing to impose a smaller financial penalty for offences under the Public Order Act than was the case in 1936.
I am not sure whether the Government full understand the intensity and vicious-ness of racial propaganda. This afternoon we welcomed to the House my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), who is taking the place of a Member—Sir Leslie Plummer—who was much loved on both sides of the House and who was one of the pioneers of the move in the House to introduce legislation of the kind that we ask for today. For a long period Sir Leslie was the victim of sustained attacks by Fascists and members of the so-called National Socialist Movement. After Sir Leslie died and his widow returned to London, she was almost immediately telephoned by Fascists to say how pleased they were that her husband had died.
This is indeed something, as the Home Secretary said, which defies understanding by ordinary and rational people. In the past six weeks since a speech that I made in the House I have had something of the experience which the late Sir Leslie Plummer had. It is an experience which is common to a number of hon. Members. I have constant nuisance telephone calls. I have threats made by telephone to my house. On one occasion they announced that they were coming that evening to carve us up. Last Sunday they telephoned to convey the invitation that they would get me in the end. No hon. Member who is worth his salt would be deflected from doing what he believes to be his public duty by threats from the squalid sub-human dregs of the population. Nevertheless, it is, to put it in the most moderate way, a distasteful experience even for somebody nurtured in our traditions who has confidence in the ability of the police to stop the carrying out of threats of that kind.
1079 But I think that the House ought to look at it not in terms of Members of the House but from the point of view of the coloured immigrant, for example. What a terrifying experience it must be for a coloured immigrant to have a telephone call of that kind, living here with all the insecurity that he almost inevitably feels. What a grievous experience it must be for anybody who was himself a refugee from Fascism and who perhaps lost most of his family in the gas chambers during the Hitler régime.
I believe that laws are not enough in this matter and that public opinion must make itself felt. I was interested when the Home Secretary said that he was relying on the detestation of public opinion to keep the Fascists in their place. I am sure that public opinion has its part to play. Education, propaganda, the work of organisationslike the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen, the National Council for Civil Liberties, and the Council of Christians and Jews, all have their part to play. However, I believe that it is absolutely essential that the State itself, that the Parliament of the Realm, should set its seal of approval upon the campaign against racial hatred and racial incitement by passing legislation which would make that intolerance and discrimination clearly illegal under the laws of Great Britain.
Therefore, I regret that the Government have not gone further and I hope that it will be possible for them to accede to my right hon. Friend's suggestion and amend the Long Title of the Bill so as to give us an opportunity to make suitable Amendments at a later stage.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)
A good deal of water has flowed under London Bridge since the time about a year ago when this question was brought so violently to our attention because of the Fascist rally in Trafalgar Square. I think there was a genuine shock of horror to all decent people in the country when they saw photographs of Trafalgar Square with the filthy Fascist emblems displayed on the plinth of Nelson's Column.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the very great improvement that we have had in the 1080 climate of opinion and behaviour since then, without any legislative changes at all. I remember being in contact with my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Lord John Hope), who was then the Minister of Works, who seemed to feel that it was beyond his power to prevent this meeting taking place. This is obviously a question of emphasis, because no statutory powers have changed in any way but these disgusting meetings no longer take place. This is already a sign that what the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) refers to as the force of public opinion is in fact a good deal stronger than law in these matters and that the emphasis which is now placed, and rightly placed, not only in my opinion but in the opinion of all hon. Members and of the public as a whole, on the extirpation of these doctrines is being successful.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rossendale and to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) for the enormous attention they have given to this matter. Curiously enough, it is rather a good counter-argument to the plea of Jewish domination that I am the first Jewish speaker to take part in this debate and that the concern in this matter is not merely a Jewish matter but is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Rossendale referred to Colin Jordan as an insignificant ruffian. I do not think there will be many amongst us who would care to differ very much from that description. Jordan personally did not matter. It was, in fact, the ideas for which he appeared to be a mouthpiece. More than that, it was the Fascist movements in other countries which were pleased to support in this country movements that they would not support in their own. This is very important, because if there is to be a standing platform in England for anti-Jewish, anti-coloured, anti-minority views, those movements will have the support of people all over the world who have those feelings but who prefer not to voice them within their own shores.
I entirely support the approach of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I listened with the greatest possible interest to the words of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), but 1081 at the end of the road I still did not think that it would be possible to frame legislation to carry into action the totally laudable sentiments that he expressed. The hon. Member for Rossendale rather bore me out by saying that laws are not enough.
I give one example of this. Twice in my short period in Parliament I and the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) have come into contact with a very severe anti-Jewish manifestation, which has been an attempt to stop the sale of Jewish killed beef. This came to both ofus. It was brought up in this House once and in another place. In both those cases this was brought up by people of the highest moral standard, actuated by the highest motives, who relied on information, nearly all misleading, provided for them, with amplepropaganda funds behind them, by people who, I can say with my hand on my heart, were not very much concerned about the welfare of animals but were greatly concerned about the ill-welfare of Jews. I would be willing to testify this outside the House. That is no imputation whatsoever upon the good faith of those people who brought those measures forward. This is the sort of covert attack which no amount of legislation will ever prevent and which makes it perfectly clear that we cannot make people good by law. This is one reason why I personally find myself in agreement with what I would call the pragmatic approach of the Home Secretary.
My right hon. Friend takes the view that higher penalties are necessary. I would not differ from him in any way on that, but I do not think that we should spend a great deal of time debating and passing resolutions which tend to make people good by Act of Parliament or tend to stop them having evil thoughts by Act of Parliament, because that we cannot do.
We value our tradition of free speech. What is free speech? Not everybody who exercises free speech is preaching brotherly love. If they were preaching exclusively brotherly love they would get a very small audience indeed. When people are exercising free speech they are in fact attacking institutions and people whom they think deserve attacking. We do not want to stop them doing it, but equally it is no good pretending 1082 that the exercise of free speech is anything but an exercise in antagonism. I believe that free speech has brought us enormous benefits, and I think that many people who are anxious to curtail free speech in this connection would find it very disagreeable if it were ever curtailed in other directions.
My balanced view on this is that I wholeheartedly share my right hon. Friend's pragmatic approach, that this is a thing that has to be dealt with by the views not only of the Government and of the police but of public opinion and that if we keep public opinion on our side in this matter this Measure is exactly what is needed.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I am a little alarmed, but not because I in any way doubt the excellent intentions of the Home Secretary. On the contrary, I think that he realises and sympathises with the point of view that we should preserve not only order but decency in the community in this country. I believe that he honestly believes that the Measure he is introducing now will meet the situation, but I know that he will equally respect the point of view which indicates that we cannot deal with this situation quite as complacently, and I do not use the word in any offensive sense.
We are not dealing with a situation which has happened before the advent of National Socialism. We are dealing with a situation in which the complete horror of the atrocities which were committed in the name of a so-called political organisation are well known to us. I think that we have to approach the situation with the full knowledge and understanding of what happened and not merely take it for granted that that kind of thing cannot happen again with people who are similarly inclined to those who advocated the Nazi doctrines in Germany at that time. We cannot ignore the fact that the very arguments from time to time used here, in the interests of the preservation of the freedom of speech, are similar to arguments which were used by those who introduced the Nazi régimein Germany, before they came into power, and who abused all civilised ideas when they took over the State.
1083 The Nazis started in a very similar way, with a very small following, and the ultimate result was a tragedy for the world. Therefore, I know that no one will misunderstand me when I say that it is extremely difficult, if at all possible, for me to speak on this subject without some kind of emotion. Unfortunately, I know too well what happens under the Hitler policy, diabolically put into effect in accordance with the full approval of the National Socialist Party in Germany.
Every strategem was used to gain its own ends. It began with the deliberate abuse of the right of freedom of speech, a freedom which afterwards was openly declared by that party when it got into power to be absolutely contrary to its views. Their fellow men were deceived by a pretence that they were promoting a political creed, and that is what I should like to draw to the attention of the House.
We are at present not dealing with the promotion of political creeds. We are dealing with something which is a crime against humanity, whether it is advocated on the street corner, by means of banners, or by means of slogans. When people are in a position to be able to declare openly in our streets that Hitler was right, we have come to a stage when we ought to examine how we are to deal with the situation.
I remember the time when we used to read the publications of that party. I was in the House. There were very few of us at that time who appreciated what lay behind all that was being written and said. One of them was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who spoke openly about the situation at a time when similar pleas about freedom of speech were being put forward by the Nazis in Germany in the same way as the National Socialists are putting them forward here.
Many a time men who had been sent here to this country by the Nazis under their well-known blackmailing methods told with heartbreaking emotion what was happening in Germany. The wives and children of those emissaries were kept as hostages, and the emissaries would only speak when they were satisfied that their confidence would not be betrayed, as they knew the threats against their near and dear ones in Ger- 1084 many would be carried out with all the subhuman violence of the Nazis' fury, the fang and claw directed towards the violation of every moral code. Yet the very same Nazis were sending out books to Members of the House, and many of us received them, books in which they were talking about their right to freedom of speech. They complained that the results of this so-called freedom of speech of theirs were being wrongly interpreted in other countries.
Today, a circular is being issued by British citizens. It is in German. It is being distributed in Germany. The name of the organisation I do not propose to publicise here. This is what the circular says. I give a translation, for it is written in German:We in Great Britain salute the heroic victory of thirty years ago under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and the monumental achievements of the National Socialist movement. National Socialist manifestations are most severely punished in Germany.I am paraphrasing some of this.In the world outside a new movement exists. The National Socialist revival has begun. We have united with the National Socialist movements in the United States of America and in other countries. The day will come when the swastika flag will fly again. We shall win. Sieg heil. Germany, awake!This is being distributed in the name of an organisation which is asking for permission to hold meetings in this country to advocate its policy.
I agree mainly with what has been said by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), and certainly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I ask the House to take another look at what the United Nations decided about incitement to racial hatred. When we consider what was decided after the facts had been most carefully gone into and examined by the United Nations, of which we are members, we see that they do not find any difficulty in condemning racial distinctions. Not at all.
I should have said that we do not, because we are parties to the Declaration of Human Rights and we were also amongst those who unanimously accepted the Declaration on Genocide, which, unhappily, for reasons which I cannot understand, we have not yet been prepared to accede to in so far as the 1085 acceptance of the Covenant is concerned. The answer we get is that our law is sufficient to provide for all this.
This year, throughout the world, the fifteenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being observed. The foundations of this Declaration were laid down in the solemn Charter of the United Nations which not only affirmed faith in human rights but required the United Nations and its members to promote them. The promulgation of this Declaration was stimulated by the revulsion of all decent men at the enormities perpetrated by the Nazis, as is implied by the Preamble to the Declaration:Where recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace will prevail in the world.This Declaration was adopted not many years ago and we have to consider in the light of that Declaration any legislation which we pass. The Declaration itself in specific terms says thateveryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration"—It uses words similar to those which the hon. Member for Ilford, North used—Without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion….All these inalienable rights are specified more clearly in later Articles which refer to some of the barbarities of the Nazi philosophy. I could proceed from that to the question of genocide, which has been dealt with by the United Nations, too.
But how are we to interpret the position as it stands at present? I listened to the whole debate on this Bill in another place. I heard the Lord Chancellor at one time say—I interpret it in this way—that incitement to racial hatred was within the terms of the Bill itself. In other words—and I think that the Home Secretary said it today—we need not bother about introducing words of that nature because incitement to racial hatred would immediately, under our law as it stands, constitute an offence.
But I ask: why leave so much to the police? After all, it is not fair on the police. Why leave it to a policeman to decide at a meeting, or prior to a meeting, that the kind of policy being preached, or to be preached, constitutes an offence against the Bill? Why should it not be 1086 clear in the Bill itself that incitement to racial hatred is an offence, and why should not those words be used? That is all that is being asked. I do not think that that comes outside the terms of this Bill at all.
I appeal to the House. I see no reason at all why in Committee an Amendment similar to the one proposed in another place should not be introduced here. None at all. I should like the Attorney-General to reply to this question: is it a fact, or is it not, that if a person openly advocates that Hitler was right, which includes all the worst bestialities that can be perpetuated against any set of people, that in itself is sufficient to be interpreted as part and parcel of an incitement to a breach of the law?
As I said before, I cannot speak very calmly about this, knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen—having seen even the initial forms of this which, unhappily, the democratic Government in Germany thought was all right at first. They thought that those people should be given their head. Having seen the effect of that, I think that we have to be extremely careful in this age, and at this stage, to see that any legislation which we pass makes it clear beyond any doubt whatsoever that incitement to hatred of groups on grounds of religion, race or colour, is something which will not be tolerated and which is outside the law.
Therefore, whilst welcoming the extension of the penalties in some cases, this Bill, however, fails because of the wrong image that is created. There is an image created here, by the penalties being increased against the inciter and incitee in a similar way. Whatever the merits or demerits of it may be, it creates the image that we are regarding the two offences as being of the same gravity. I know that the answer will probably be,"But you are not bound to impose the maximum penalty."
Is the Bill not creating an image whereby people will believe that a person inciting to this sort of crime either at a meeting, or prior to a meeting, is no more guilty of an offence against the law than a person who, unhappily, may have been interned in a concentration camp and who, because he goes to a meeting and finds himself unable to listen quietly to what he has heard in Germany before. 1087 and consequently, becomes irate or enraged at what he hears?
I do not want anyone to misunderstand the situation as far as I personally am concerned in relation to the efforts being made by the Home Secretary. I think, as I said before, that he is endeavouring to deal with the situation and that, to some extent, he will be dealing with the situation, but I know that he will respect the view, very carefully thought out by many people who, also, have given careful thought to this matter, that the law as it stands is not sufficiently strong or clear.
I would say, in conclusion, that the very fact that the right hon. Gentleman says that we are to try the Bill out to see whether anything else is necessary indicates that he still has a doubt in his mind. Why not resolve the doubt by putting an Act on the Statute Book which will enable those who are viciously attacked in the ways described to have no further cause for anxiety?
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I wish to start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the admirable speech with which he introduced the Bill. It is not always that I agree with every word of a speech made from the Government Front Bench, but on this occasion I was able to do so, and I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for the extremely moderate and relaxed way in which he presented the Measure to the House.
When these disorderly occasions occurred during the past 12 months I was quite sure about my own attitude towards them. It may have seemed a little contradictory at times in that while I was in favour of freedom of speech—I have always agreed with that—at the same time I asked the Minister of Works to prohibit meetings in Trafalgar Square and other public places over which he had control.
I think that there is a valid distinction here. I do not see why people should make themselves a nuisance to the general public. I can imagine that it would be very offensive to people, as the hon. Member for Leicester, North West (Sir B. Janner) has just been saying, to hear certain things said which the general public might accept calmly 1088 but which they, by reason of their special experience, might take muchless calmly. They might well say that they had not sought out the occasion of hearing these things, and that they were passing on their lawful occasions through frequented places.
It has seemed to me that the introduction of loud speakers and amplification in these public places, which seems to be allowed by the authorities, must bring a new element into our attitude towards meetings in public places. I have a great deal of sympathy for the view that a man who is a Jew or a coloured man should not be expected to listen quietly and calmly while rather extreme views about his group are shrieked across large expanses of London's streets.
In my view, the time has come when controversial meetings of this kind should not be held in places like Trafalgar Square. But when it comes to the matter of holding meetings in private places, then one can legitimately say that a person who has gone specially to that place to hear what is said should impose upon himself at least the average discipline of restraint and silence. I have not a great deal of sympathy with those who go to such meetings, who seek out the occasion, and then break them up in disorder, or try to do so. I have, for myself, made this division, and I hope it will commend itself to others.
I think that my right hon. Friend is right to resist the pressures brought upon him. I realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) have strong views upon particular aspects of this matter because of their political beliefs in respect of them, but if we were to give expression to their views on matters of race relations and colour attitudes we should, in principle, be taking a significant step.
Up to now, the law of England has, with some exceptions which I will mention later, punished not the expression of particular views but the manner in which they are expressed, that is to say, words which incite disorder or, in the words of the Public Order Act, 1936, which are"insulting, threatening, or abusive"—even though the opinions which are being expressed may be mild 1089 opinions, if the manner in which they are being expressed is of that character, then an offence is committed.
The exceptions from that general rule are, of course, first treason or sedition, about which one need say no more. Blasphemy was referred to by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), but it is, I think, a bad example in this context. I regard that as a hang-over from old times. I am perfectly willing to let men stand up, as they do, at the corner of Hyde Park and utter continuous blasphemies for quite a considerable period of time, not merely denying a particular denominational view of the Deity but denying his existence altogether and preaching atheism and agnosticism.
§ Mr. Bell
The right hon. Gentleman says"The bishops of the Church of England". That was in a book.
I am quite sure that that is a freedom which a mature society ought to allow. When my right hon. Friend brings forward a Bill abolishing the offence of blasphemy, if conducted in an orderly and courteous way, it will have my full support.
A further exception is obscenity. When the House was discussing the Obscene Publications Bill I took an extreme view about it, as hon. Members may remember. I am not, on the whole, in favour of punishing obscene publications unless they are inflicted on people's attention. One is not doing a good thing in an adult society by trying to wrap people up in this way. The right attitude in the middle of the twentieth century is, I believe, what is now generally enshrined in the criminal law; that one lets people express what opinions they like, providing that they do it in a grave and serious manner. If they do it in a threatening, abusive or insulting way then they should be punished.
The change proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North would represent the first breach in that general principle. My hon. Friend wants to say, in effect, that if words are spoken which the court would not hold to be abusive, threatening or insulting, nevertheless they shall be declared to be within the offending category if they incite to 1090 hatred of any section of the public. I use the phrase"any section of the public" because it was used earlier by my hon. Friend. I cannot but think that that would be wrong. I agree that it represents only one encroachment; but it picks out the emotion of hatred and outlaws it.
Is it to be an offence, ipso facto, without the use of any safeguard whatever regarding offensive words, to incite hatred of capitalists—for they represent a section of the public? What about landlords? Why should we isolate hatred for this venom? There are other deadly sins. Is it to be an offence to incite to envy or lechery or to the other kinds of conduct which we would all join in reprobating?
I join with the Home Secretary in agreeing that we should not embark on this sea except in accordance with the very good English rule of the pragmatic approach. If it must be done because public order is being subverted, then one must do it. It is unfortunate if one must do it, and only if one is forced by contemporary, practical considerations should one embark on an operation of that character. And I am sure that the test should be the maintenance of public order.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, if I may be permitted to say this, was almost inciting to hatred in his speech against that section of the population which did not agree with his Bill.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I thought that I was well within Section 5 of the 1936 Act because my words did not provoke public disorder, which is an element my hon. Friend appears to be overlooking.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I did not. I said that I would not continue with the rest of the Section because I did not wish to delay the House. However, the entire Section as it stands is included and I am adding words to it and not eliminating any. I was at great pains to point this out at the time.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
As the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has again pointed out, he was inserting words and not attempting to delete them.
§ Mr. Bell
Nevertheless, the words which follow in Section 5 are important, for they state: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, shall be guilty of an offence.The material words are:…or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned…because that throws the matter back on to the audience and raises a very big constitutional principle indeed.
Hon. Members will be familiar with the case of Beatty and Gillbanks and the controversy as to how far one can take that principle. It is an important principle; that we should not in England allow the disorder of the crowd or the audience to limit the freedom of expression and speech when the speaker is not using words which are not in themselves provocative. That is the most important principle in relation to Section 5. It must be remembered that if one short circuits the requirement that the words must be threatening, abusive or insulting by inserting reference to a particular view, then one makes the audience the arbiter as to whether or not there will be disorder because it could be argued that the audience was in a roaring mood and that the words used might cause a breach of the peace. It is for this reason that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North is not on a good point.
It is important that we in this country should maintain our traditional and wide freedom of speech. Let us remember that anything we provide in relation to Fascists must be provided equally in relation to the opposite extreme of the political range. If we are going to proscribe Fascist views, we must proscribe Communist ones. And as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North fairly said, there is no greater Jew baiter in the modern world than Khrushchev. That is largely true. The Communists do not believe in freedom of speech or the system of democracy in which we believe.
1092 For example, it would be absolutely wrong if we were to proscribe the Communist Part in Britain, as has been done in other countries, including the United States. It should have full freedom and enjoy the freedom of speech we have and be free to use it to attack the institution of freedom of speech. That must be right. Equally, I would give that freedom to the extremists of the Right. Let them, too, attack the institution of freedom of speech or any other institution—provided they do it seriously and not by the violent or provocative use of words.
The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) referred to things like threatening telephone calls. This kind of activity, about which he felt something should be done, is outside the scope of the Bill. Threatening telephone calls and things of that kind are no part of the law of public meetings.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale(Mr. Greenwood) mentioned threatening telephone calls in an endeavour to make certain that the Government realise the mentality of the kind of people with whom we are dealing. He did not think that such things should be included in the Bill.
§ Mr. Bell
I thought he was suggesting that some further legal provision was needed to deal with them. The point is that we should be careful about this business of the state of mind of people. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North used some alarming expressions in this context because he implied that people who took views on race and colour relations with which he did not agree—and he included among those the Afrikaaners of the Republic of South Africa, with their policy of apartheid—were suffering from difficulties of a medical order. I make allowance for his strong feelings on the subject, but these are dangerous attitudes and dangerous words. I find it a little reminiscent of some of the things said in Germany between 1933 and 1939, and some of the things done there, such as the sterilisation of people for political views.
We must be very careful about becoming intolerant of views, and saying that people who hold views that we cannot understand and do not like are pathological cases whose difficultyis medical. Let us have a very wide tolerance, 1093 remembering that the whole purpose of freedom of speech is that people shall be able to say things that may be disliked by and incomprehensible to many of their contemporaries, but things which must be said if the whole range of controversy is to be enjoyed in this country.
My impression from reading of the past is that the vigour of controversy, and the abusive character of controversy, both inside and outside this House is very much milder now than in the time of preceding generations. We have become very moderate in our expressions. What strikes us now as extreme and provocative would, in earlier times, have been taken as being very much in the course of events, and expressions that were freely accepted in this House 100 years ago would be regarded as unparliamentary now. We have, therefore, made great progress towards mildness in political utterance, and I should be very unhappy if the criminal law were to be used so harshly in this respect as has been suggested this afternoon.
In a leading article on 25th August last, The Times newspaper expressed views with which I entirely identify myself, and used a phrase which, in concluding, I repeat,It is no function of the criminal law to articulate the conscience of society.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
On 3rd August of last year I had the privilege of raising on the Adjournment the subject of free speech and the question of disturbances at public meetings. I hope that the House will forgive me if I refer to one or two of the points I then made because, in a sense, they are the basis of the argument I now desire to make.
I said then that I recognised how important was our right to free speech, but that events had occurred that were clearly an abuse of that right and a negation of free speech. I tried in some detail to deal with the remedies available in the existing law. I referred to the power to close meetings, the offence of speaking seditious words, and the misdemeanour of unlawful assembly. I said that the existing law provided sufficient safeguards to enable the situation to be dealt with—if the law was applied. I emphasised those last words.
1094 It will be remembered that Jordan was subsequently convicted of an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, that he appealed to quarter sessions, and that the appeal was allowed. Hon. Members will remember that at that stage the Home Secretary promised to increase the penalties and to review the position when the Divisional Court had dealt with the case stated from Jordan's successful appeal.
We now have this Bill. When it was introduced in another place, the Lord Chancellor referred to the fact that, having deferred a decision on the need for legislation until those cases were no longer sub judice, the Government concluded that, since the eventual result showed that the court took the view that infringements of the Public Order Act had taken place, the adequacy of the law to deal with the activities of Fascist and neo-Fascist bodies had been demonstrated. The practical question is: are the Government right in taking that view?
This Bill may be satisfactory as far as it goes, but it is disquieting that the Government should take the view that it is not necessary to do anything more than introduce these provisions. There was here an opportunity to examine the problem of incitement to hatred of any section of the public, and to see what could be done. Speaking as a lawyer, I have no doubt that if the remedies now existing in our law could be applied there are ample safeguards.
The difficulty lies in applying the existing law. For example, there is no doubt that words…inciting hatred of any racial group of Her Majesty's subjects…would come within the crime of speaking seditious words. The Attorney-General, who I am glad to see in his place, will recognise the truth of what I say in this criticism. This, after all, is an old remedy that covers a wide range of possible offences. It has fallen rather into disuse, as is shown by the fact that very rarely, in this century at any rate, has that course of action been applied. Rarely has there been any indictment for that offence. So wide are the words used to cover that crime that there clearly are dangers to free speech in seeking to apply it.
1095 It is said further, particularly by reason of the decision of the Divisional Court—and the Home Secretary based the whole of his speech upon that—that it is unnecessary to add the words proposed by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) in his Bill:…or words inciting hatred of any racial group of Her Majesty's subjects…The right hon. Gentleman said that it is unnecessary to use them because, if such words were uttered with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace was likely to be occasioned, they would come within the provisions of Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
I appreciate that it will be argued that that is the position, but when the chairman of quarter sessions dealt with Jordan's appeal he appeared to take a different view, and I should like here to quote some words from the judgment of the Lord Chief Justice in the Divisional Court case. I quote from page 1047 of the Weekly Law Reports. The Lord Chief Justice said:Speaking for myself, I had great difficulty in understanding what quarter sessions were intending to convey. It seems to me, however, that what they had in mind was a hypothetical audience of ordinary, respectable citizens, whatever their creed, faith, race or political views might be. In other words, they were eliminating from the audience anybody who was intent, for instance, on breaking up the meeting, whatever words the speaker used.It may be that that is what quarter sessions had in mind, but, even if that be so, I cannot myself, having read the speech, imagine any reasonable citizen, certainly one who was a Jew, not being provoked beyond endurance, and not only a Jew but a coloured man, and quite a number of people of this country who were told that they were merely tools of the Jews, and that they had fought in the war on the wrong side, and matters of that sort.These words show clearly, whatever may be said now about the adequacy of the law and the position being perfectly clear, that at any rate the chairman of quarter sessions, who was the judge dealing with this matter, held that words of this kind did not constitute an offence within the meaning of Section 5 of the Public Order Act. One must remember that these offences are summary offences dealt with by magistrates as the law now stands. I do not suggest for a moment that magistrates are other than perfectly competent people, but the position would 1096 be made perfectly clear by inserting the provision proposed by the hon. Member for Ilford, North that the wordsinciting hatred of any racial group of Her Majesty's subjectsbe added. Those words would remove the possibility of doubt.
I know it is often said that by inserting words there is a danger because one might make the law uncertain, but there is no danger whatever of that occurring here. The words inserted will be there for the guidance of magistrates and judges on whether an offence is committed against the words of the Section. I appreciate the arguments that can be put that if we leave out those words it can still be shown that an offence has been committed, but I point out that there was doubt about this matter. The chairman of quarter sessions was in an important position, dealing with appeals from magistrates, and he chose to take a certain view of the matter. The Divisional Court said that he was wrong.
Let us suppose that a magistrate has a case before him where something of this kind occurs and he seeks to take the same sort of view as the chairman of quarter sessions. If we had words of this kind in the Section then, firstly, they could not possibly do any harm, and, secondly, they would make it abundantly clear that when there was the sort of thing that occurred in the case to which we are referring an offence had been committed. This is why I think that a strong argument can be made for inserting these words, and why I think that it is not right to say that the decision in the Divisional Court has recognised the adequacy of the law and that there is no need to do anything further.
There is another point about the Bill which I wish to make. I agree very much with the criticism made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) when he dealt with the fact that these penalties applied not only to offences under Section 5 of the Public Order Act but also to offences under the Public Meeting Act. It seems to me that those offences may often be on an entirely different footing.
It was recognised in the provisions of the Public Meeting Act that if someone came along who might disturb a 1097 meeting it might be a fairly nominal offence. The punishment meted out was £5 or one month. There was no question of its being an indictable offence. I ask the Home Secretary to think of some of the cases which have come before the courts as a result of recent meetings. There were many cases where persons who had been charged with offences pointed out that they were refugees and had come along to the meeting and heard what had been said and as a result had been grievously provoked and had done something which was wrong and which offended against the criminal law. How does that compare as an offence with the offence of uttering words of this kind at a public meeting so as to provoke a breach of the peace? How can it be said that the punishment meted out for the one offence ought to be the punishment meted out for the other? I hope that in Committee the Home Secretary will think again about this matter.
I join also in the criticism made that by virtue of the Long Title we may not be able to discuss what ought to be the main point of discussion. My complaint is that the Government have not taken the opportunity of dealing with the real problem. It is idle to say that, after all, there is only a small number of these people, perhaps 200 or even two, at a meeting of some kind, and to try to argue from that that there is no real danger. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) referred to this point. I know the Home Secretary's sympathetic approach and I appreciate the way he dealt with this matter in his opening speech, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that there was only a small number in Germany when National Socialism began to rear its head.
We know that the advice given in Germany on many occasions was,"Let people keep away from the meetings. This is only a small movement. Treat it with contempt. It cannot grow in any way." Many people kept away and treated the movement with contempt, but we know what followed. There is therefore a real danger in that argument. In our Commonwealth there are people of all colours and creeds. If we allow these enemies of society to preach sermons of hatred and prejudice, are we not inviting trouble? That is not free 1098 speech; that is the very negation of it, and it should not be tolerated.
It is said that it is difficult to frame legislation, but there is legislation in existence in many countries against racial incitement. It exists in Austria, Denmark, in the Federal German Republic, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland. Indeed one might say it exists in every country in Europe except in this country which proudly boasts of free speech and of looking after the rights of minorities. I am sure that the Home Secretary is in possession of the words which appear in the legal codes in Switzerland and in the Netherlands. There is no difficulty there in putting forward words which legislate against racial hatred or enmity. I think that I gave the Home Secretary the words used in the Indian code. Legislation in India is very strong on this point. If this can be done in other countries, where does the difficulty arise here?
The Home Secretary put forward what in many ways is an attractive argument by saying,"We do not want to put on the Statute Book legislation which will deal with one particular sect", and he referred to Jews in this connection. I agree that we do not want to deal with one sect, but we are not dealing with one. We are dealing with racial enmity and prejudice, with colour prejudice and with things which are said against minorities. Surely, it would be quite proper to put a comprehensive piece of legislation on the Statute Book which would deal effectively with it.
The Bill will receive its Second Reading. We support it as far as it goes, but I emphasise that it is totally inadequate to deal with the real problem. I hope the Government will yet realise that it is no use tinkering with the problem, that it must be tackled effectively and quickly. I hope that something on the lines suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper will be adopted. Perhaps the Government can alter the Long Title of the Bill so that in Committee we may get down to the real problem and try to achieve a practical solution.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Willesden, East)
I am glad to have this opportunity of following the hon. and learned Member 1099 for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). I concede his point that these difficulties must be seen from afar, so that they may be avoided. He was quite right to remind us of some of the circumstances abroad and say that such things could occur here.
I was very interested, also, in what the hon. and learned Member said about the difficulties of quarter sessions in interpreting Section 5. I have here a typescript of the judgment of the Lord Chief Justice in the case of Jordan v. Burgoyne. I shall read one paragraph of it:This is, as I have said, a public order Act, and if in fact it is apparent that a body of persons are present—let me assume in Mr. Jordan's favour that they are a body of hooligans present—yet if words are used which threaten, abuse or insult—all very strong words—then that person must take his audience as he finds them, and if those words to that audience or that part of the audience are likely to provoke a breach of tile peace, then the speaker is guilty of an offence.We have had two speeches to-day, one from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), the other from my hon. Friend the Member for Was all, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid), which argued that we should have the broadest freedom of speech in this country. I do not think that either of my hon. Friends appreciated from the words of the Lord Chief Justice that there has been a marked reduction in freedom of speech following that interpretation. It was pointed out some time ago that many people thought that what mattered was the impact of words on the ordinary or reasonable man. Now, apparently, this is not so.
When the matter went to the House of Lords on an appeal which was rejected, Lord Reid said:…if he knows that there are people there who are likely to react to what he says, it does not matter whether those people are reasonable or not.Further, Viscount Simonds said:When you get these racial differences and differences in creed, you must allow for the idiosyncrasies of your audience.It is quite apparent to me, reading all that has been said, that there has been a radical alteration, and I am not at all surprised that the chairman of quarter sessions did not quite appreciate the full implications of the Section. I ask hon. Members on both sides of the 1100 House to read Section 5. They will see the point of ambiguity.
In moving the Second Reading, my right hon. Friend, for whom I have great respect, put his views extremely forcefully, but I pray in aid also what the Lord Chancellor said in another place, which represents the sum total of the law at present:As a result of the appeal…anybody who incites racial hatred is using threatening abusive or insulting words; and, indeed, I find it impossible to envisage words used at a public meeting which really incite hatred of any racial group which are not also at the same time threatening, abusive or insulting."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20th June, 1963; Vol. 250, c. 1406.]He went on to conclude that the present law was adequate.
I suggest that this further point follows from what I have said. It is not apparent on a reading of the Section that that is so, that the Section embodies what the law has found. I suggest, therefore, that it is very desirable to make the matter clear and comprehensible to the man in the street and to all concerned. With the Bill now before the House, we have an opportunity to do this. It is proposed to amend the Public Order Act, 1936, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend that this is the occasion to clarify this piece of legislation.
We have been reminded that the Act is the Public Order Act, and, as the Lord Chief Justice rightly said, its purpose is to ensure public safety. This is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in charge of the Bill. But what about the responsibilities of the rest of the Government? What we do now can have a long-term effect upon public order. If undercurrents or subversive action or movements are allowed in the United Kingdom, unrestrained expressions, they can affect the lives and welfare of hundreds of people. Let us remember that our Jewish population, which is making an enormous contribution to our good, has risen considerably since before the war. We must remember also that, in addition to the Commonwealth without, there is the Commonwealth within. In my constituency of Willesden, East, the number of Commonwealth people is 13,300, and the total of foreigners is 9,500, many of them coming from Europe. The whole situation has changed.
1101 I am very glad that we have with us this afternoon one of the Law Officers of the Crown. I put to my right hon. and learned Friend this question. How would he deal with a case of this kind? If a speaker made a temperate speech, but, just before the meeting, or during it, a supporter distributed anti-racial leaflets, it could be that a man in the audience became so incensed by reading the leaflets that he created a commotion. As I understand the law, he would be liable to prosecution under Section 1 of the Public Meeting Act, 1908, yet the speaker who made the temperate speech would not be liable at all. It is quite extraordinary that this should be so.
Many hon. Members will recognise the leaflet which I have in my hand now. It is headed:Hitler was right!Democracy means—Jewish control, National Decline, Racial Ruin".I wrote to the Joint Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department about this and I received a reply on 27th August, 1962, in which he said:With regard to the leaflet itself, I am informed by the Commissioner of Police that the question of proceedings has been carefully considered, but that the conclusion has been reached that there are insufficient grounds to sustain a prosecution under the law as it now stands.I ask, in all sincerity: has the law been altered since 1962 to make it possible to bring such leaflets within its compass? Nothing in this Act will enable a prosecution to be brought on this document, which is equally as vicious and poisonous as any speech. A speech is made orally. This is a speech written on paper, and it is extremely dangerous to the very existence of minorities.
I ask the Attorney-General to consider this, too. It is quite possible to have a packed and disciplined meeting inside a building to which only a few outsiders are allowed to enter. Arranged round the wall may be a number of anti-racial posters. Normally, at such an indoor public meeting, the discipline is arranged by the speaker's own henchmen. It would be possible for speeches to be made from the platform, perhaps, flamboyant anti-race speeches, but the meeting would not be broken up. Prosecutions would not follow, yet the organisation would 1102 receive Press coverage and the broadest publicity.
I emphasise a point made by an hon. Member opposite. At the meeting in Trafalgar Square, on 1st July, 1962, two of the speakers were arrested and charged, but what was the price?—at least 20 people in the audience who may have been there to defend themselves against insult had to appear before the court. Under the Bill before us now, we find that such people are liable, if the case is brought on indictment, to a penalty of as much as £500.
I pray in aid, also, the very heavy responsibility of the police in these matters. It is all very well for the court in its deliberations to consider calmly whether words are insulting and so on, but the police officer on the spot may allow a good bit to go by quite reasonably before he decides to close a meeting. These are all matters which we must consider.
One or two hon. Members have stated that my right hon. Friend has a number of precedents which he can accept from abroad. It is true that there are the Civil Rights Bill and the Interstate Public Accommodation Bill, 1963, of the United States. One will observe what has been happening. The United States, that great country, is appreciating that it has a problem in its midst. I do not propose to tire the House by going through the provisions of these measures, because many of them would not be applicable here. Many provinces of Canada also have legislation of this type. Suffice it to say that they have a problem in their midst and are seeking to deal with it.
Before the war, we had our Commonwealth abroad. At present, a large segment of the Commonwealth is in the United Kingdom, and it is growing fast. As has been said, there must be reciprocity in the legislation that we have. When a man comes here from abroad, he may have no protection, but if a white man goes to Kenya or certain other parts of Africa he expects protection and there is something written into the local legislation to ensure his rights.
It may be, as the Lord Chancellor said elsewhere, that the penalties which were imposed had a very sobering effect on the National Socialist movement. My right 1103 hon. Friend the Home Secretary has endorsed what was said. I urge hon. Members to remember what Mr. Jordan said when he came out of prison. The Evening Standard of 31st May, 1963, reported him as saying:'My sentence has reaffirmed by beliefs. I shall carry on the struggle to free this country of Jewish domination and coloured immigration.' He had no complaints about his treatment in prison. 'The officers treated me absolutely fairly'. Mr. Jordan said he would soon be working full-time for the movement.This is a man who had served a very severe sentence. The Lord Chancellor, in another place, said that the penalty imposed had had a sobering effect. If this man is a fanatic in his cause, even if the sentence is multiplied three or four times in duration and even if the amount of the fine is increased, will this man be driven into silence?
I am inclined to agree with what was enunciated by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) and the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, that great movements start from very small beginnings and can be exceedingly dangerous.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Does my hon. Friend think it right that any man, whatever his views, should be driven into silence?
§ Mr. Skeet
I am not suggesting that a man should be driven into silence. What I am saying is that certain matters can be stated at public meetings which will have long-term repercussions. If the effect, as in my constituency, leads to violence and intimidation at a later date, even though not immediately, I say that there should be some legislation available to protect his interests. After all, we are a race which protects the minorities in our midst.
It is all very well to say that the legislation which was available many years ago is suitable in 1963, but the whole climate of opinion has altered and the composition of the populations in our great cities has altered. It may be that there is not such a broad interest in this House because many of the Cornish or Scottish Members of Parliament are not particularly concerned with problems of this nature, but if in the great centres like Liverpool, Birmingham 1104 and London there are problems for which we have responsibility as legislators, it is only right that Parliament should consider them circumspectly.
I turn to the question of penalties. I should have thought that they would have a certain deterrent effect on all those who were not fanatics in their cause. It is the people who are fanatics who are the most dangerous, and the Home Secretary should bear that in mind. He has said that he is prepared later to introduce legislation if he finds that his own legislation is deficient. I say to my right hon. Friend—and I represent a constituency next door to his—that the time has arrived when legislation should be introduced in the House. I see present difficulties and racial friction. There is not complete harmony.
The difficulties can be alleviated in some measure by setting up friendship groups for rehousing the people affected by racial tension and bringing peace into the homes. Local friction can be abated by racial integration and by taking other steps of this nature. These are voluntary steps taken by local groups. Nationally, the responsibility is with the Government and the House of Commons, because we know that sober speeches with live innuendoes can still be made in such a way that they do not create trouble at public meetings. It is the new Mosley approach. But, at the same time, such speeches can do incalculable harm to the millions of our people. This is the new, sophisticated approach of those who want to subvert the institutions of this country and to use every device that they can assemble for this purpose.
I may have become a little overheated, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on a matter about which I feel rather strongly. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has had great experience in this subject, will not be unaware of what is going on in the country and in his own division. It is most important that we should deal with this matter at an early stage. If I could put my hand on my heart and say that I did not think that we had problems, I should be prepared to concede my right hon. Friend's case that penalties are enough. But my experience is that we have these problems, and if we do not do something about them we will have something like the 1105 Kennedy legislation on our hands. It is not a question that foreign and Commonwealth elements are dispersed throughout our country. They are, in fact, situated in our large cities. It is a question of this House giving a lead. I do not think that any other course will be satisfactory or enduring.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
We are discussing the Second Reading of a very modest Bill, but the discussions relating to it have given rise to the expression of very fine and noble sentiments on which I believe there has been complete accord in the House.
As I say, the Bill is a modest one. It deals solely with the behaviour of people at public meetings or in public places and relates only to penalties. There is nothing in the Bill which creates a new offence. I have no quarrel in that respect. I am in favour of general legislation dealing with race and colour discrimination as a whole, but I do not think that a Bill which deals entirely with conduct at public meetings is appropriate to deal with the general question of race discrimination. That is a subject which is ripe for treatment, but it should be dealt with separately and not in a Bill which is concerned with public meetings and public order
I disagree with what the Home Secretary said on one aspect of this matter. He said that the Acts with which the Bill deals relate solely to public order. That may be true of the 1908 Act, but it certainly is not true of Section 5 of the 1936 Act. It is clear that the first limb of Section 5 deals with the subjective aspect, while the second deals with the objective aspect. A person who indulges in insulting behaviour or gives vent to insulting words with a particular intent commits an offence under Section 5, whether or not there is a breach of the peace or whether or not a breach of the peace is likely.
I believe that the 1936 Act and this House are concerned with personal behaviour in a public place, whatever the reaction to it, provided there is a particular intent in view.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman feel that that particular intent is intent to cause a breach of the peace?
§ Mr. Bowen
Of course it is. The fact is that Section 5 goes on to deal with the position where that particular intent is not present but is likely to be, and this clearly indicates that it is concerned with the personal behaviour of the individual, quite irrespective of whether or not there is a breach of the peace, because the breach of the peace aspect is clearly covered.
I want to make one or two comments on the penalties, which is the sole aspect dealt with by the Bill. The point has been made that the Bill will increase penalties and, therefore, the power of suppressing behaviour of this kind. I sympathise with the point made by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) that the increase in penalties seems to be directed to a far greater extent against offenders under the 1908 Act—those who indulge in disturbances at public meetings—than against those who indulge in offensive conduct and make insulting statements at meetings.
For offenders under Section 5 of the 1936 Act, and as far as these are dealt with summarily, the increase in penalties is quite derisory. The Home Secretary talks as if we are to have a substantial increase in penalties for persons who commit offences under Section 5 by indulging in insulting behaviour with intent to cause a breach of the peace, yet they are to be much the same penalties as now.
If these offenders are dealt with summarily today, they are liable to three months'imprisonment. Under this Bill they will still only be liable to three months'imprisonment. There is to be no change at all in that respect. It is true that the monetary penalty is to be increased from £50 to £100, but that does no more than take account of the effect of inflation as between 1936 and the present time.
It is true that if these people are dealt with on indictment the penalties are increased substantially. I hope that the Attorney-General will indicate whether it is expected that there will be a change in this regard. At present, as I understand it, they cannot be dealt with on indictment. In the Bill there is provision for them to be dealt with in that way and, if they are, then the plea that it increases the penalties very substantially has substance in it. But if it is not expected that serious cases will be 1107 dealt with on indictment, then the penalty increase is, I repeat, derisory.
A matter raised by several hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), is that there should be a revision of the wording of Section 5 so as to include words such as"inciting hatred of a racial group or section of the public". As I have said, the Bill does not create an additional offence and I do not quarrel with that. I concede immediately that the behaviour or the utterances that the hon. Member for Ilford, North has in mind would certainly be an offence under the wording of Section 5 as it stands.
It might well be asked, therefore,"Why do you want to change them when the behaviour or words you are attempting to deal with can be dealt with as Section 5 stands?" It might be argued, however, that there is some ambiguity about it. The fact that the chairman of London Sessions did not seem to appreciate the point is a suggestion that clarification is required.
The answer to that is that no one will have any excuse, now that the Divisional Court has pronounced on the matter, for a misunderstanding of that kind. I believe that insulting behaviour directed towards race or colour is a particular form of insulting behaviour to which it is desirable that attention should be drawn, and that those who are tempted in any way to indulge in that type of behaviour should have it made abundantly clear to them that they are committing an offence under Section 5.
The most that can be said critically of the proposal of the hon. Member for Ilford, North is that it puts something in the Bill which is there already. I concede that it does, but, in my submission, there would be considerable advantage in doing it nevertheless. It would draw the attention of those who are to administer the law—in many cases they will be laymen—and of those tempted to commit breaches of the law, to the fact that the 1936 Act, as amended by this Bill, has in mind in particular those who are indulging in insulting behaviour directed towards particular sections of the community.
I hope that in Committee it will be possible to amend the Bill, not, in effect, 1108 to create a new offence but to single out for special significance our particular revulsion against insulting behaviour or the expression of hatred of particular sections of the community.
This is a modest Bill. The heightening of penalties is fully justified. I hope that the Attorney-General will explain whether the heightening of the penalties is, however, illusory, or whether we really shall be in a position to deal with offenders under the Bill and the 1936 Act in a truly effective way.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Like the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) I have some doubts about this Measure, but on the whole I come down at this time in favour of what is now proposed. If there existed circumstances such as have been described by some hon. Members, I would certainly take the view that even the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) were inadequate, but we have to have regard to the circumstances of our time and legislation of this kind, to public attitudes and to our experience over a decade or so.
We also must have some regard to liberty of speech because it is possible—and here I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) although I do not agree with him in other things—to end up by having a howling mob as arbiter of free speech in a society, and that would be highly undesirable. I should like to consider the question of whether we need to impose words beyond those which my right hon. Friend seeks leave to impose today.
I have spoken before in the House of my repugnance at those who attack racial minorities. There are very few things more cowardly than the behaviour of those people. If there were any real danger of these people gaining ascendancy, or if I felt that there were a possibility of a substantial increase in that behaviour, I should be anxious to go not only further than my right hon. Friend but also further than my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North. But are we able to say to ourselves that there exists in this country a situation which demands what 1109 might be regarded in some quarters as panic legislation and which would of necessity carry with it the risk of an unreasonable interference with the freedom of speech?
One of the compelling reasons which I find against taking any more drastic action than that proposed by my right hon. Friend is the influence of administration in legislation of this kind. It is really a matter of the view which current society takes of this legislation rather than what is actually in the Measure itself. If the House wanted to look at the possibilities in this respect, it should have a look, on the one hand, at the view taken in the Appeal Court and, on the other hand, the view taken by the chairman of quarter sessions—which I thought was a very remarkable judgment, though I am not a lawyer and it may be all right.
However, we have to realise that whatever words are in an enactment of this kind, in the end what happens and what matters is the current view that society takes of what is dealt with by the Measure, and interpretation is much more important than the actual words in the Measure or in any Amendment that we might make to the Measure.
I was forcibly reminded of the importance of administration when, after having been a Member of Parliament for a few years, I went on a Sunday morning to listen to the speakers on Hampstead Heath near where I then lived. I got annoyed by a Communist and started heckling him. Within a short time I was hauled out of the meeting by a young constable who said that if I did not behave better I should be arrested. It seems to me that if a fairly law-abiding person like myself, putting the case not too strenuously, could be dragged out—I was physically dragged out—by a constable and told that if I did not behave myself I should be taken inside, there exist already powers of some very considerable measure. Therefore, I feel that we ought not to rely too much on excessively punitive legislation, because it is the current interpretation of the Act in a given period of history which really matters.
I want next to deal with an important issue raised by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner). 1110 Is it true that we are justified in going further at this moment of time because we stand in a position similar to that in which Germany stood in 1933? If this is so, I agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, but I ask the House to believe that it is not so. One of the most encouraging things to me since the end of the war has been the relative absence of anti-Semitic feelings in this country. The diminution has surprised me. But is there any danger of the circumstances of 1933 in Germany occurring here in 1963? I think not.
Although I am not a Marxist believer in the materialist conception of history, I admit that one of the fundamental requirements for the Hitler régime was the economic conditions of the day. They do not exist here, and I do not think they are likely to exist. I think, too, that we have in this country people who would not be prepared, once they knew of circumstances such as those which obtained in Nazi Germany, to allow them to continue. I also think that we have people in this country who are perfectly capable of recreating all the horrors of Nazi Germany. Let us have no dispute about that at all.
There are plenty of people in this country who are perfectly prepared to do exactly what was done in Nazi Germany. But the difference between our country and Germany is that the vast majority of the people in this community would not be prepared to allow it to go on once they knew of its existence. Therefore, I do not believe that there exists in this country anything approaching the danger which existed in Nazi Germany in 1933.
I want to finish by saying one or two things about positive race relations. We do not get good race relations within a community by passing laws and punishing those who do not do something to preserve them. That is not the way. We have to have laws which deal with offenders, but it is the creation of the positively good relations between elements in the community which is the important thing. I want to say a word or two about this at the risk of giving some offence, because I think not only that it is the duty of the majority to preserve a reasonably decent attitude towards minorities but that minorities also have 1111 their responsibilities in the society of which they are minorities. I wonder whether all minorities are carrying out their responsibilities as well as they might, and whether, indeed, our largest and, in a sense, our most controversial minority, the Jewish minority, is doing as much as it ought to do in this connection.
I know that this is a controversial matter and that I shall probably be accused of being anti-Semitic even though I am a member of the Council of Christians and Jews. However, I dealt with this in an article for the TAF magazine 14 years ago, and I think it is truer today than when I said it 14 years ago. The great problem of the Jewish community, as I see it, is that they live as a race apart. It is not merely a religious difference. I feel that good relationships would be better served if there were less positive seclusion among the Jewish community than exists at the present time.
I realise that when I said this 14 years ago there was no such thing as a Jewish National Home, and, therefore, there was a strong case in those days for preserving a Jewish community even in the scattered corners of the world. But today there is a Jewish National Home, and I wonder whether the great desire to remain an exclusive community within large communities is now as necessary as it was.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
While the hon. Gentleman is making these comments, would he care to address other communities, such as the golf clubs of London and elsewhere, which make quite certain that the Jew is excluded? Does he not think it is possible that there are pressures which cause some of the problems about which he is speaking?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I have spoken on these matters previously, and I appreciate what the hon. Member says; that it is not by any means a one-sided exclusion. What I am saying—I say it as a member of the Scottish race which has in many ways done a very similar thing to that done by the Jewish race by going out into various parts of the world and settling in communities—is that I wonder whether it is not desirable now that we have a Jewish National Home for more integra- 1112 tion, and even assimilation, to take place here.
I find that that integration already exists at two levels. I worked for many years in the East End, and I know that the Jewish people are very well integrated in the Gentile community there. There are few differences at all between them. Also, there is an upper crust which is also very well integrated. But in my experience it is the middle-class section of Jews—I know many of them very well—who live far too exclusive an existence. When people live apart from a community they can be very easily misrepresented.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
As I represent a large part of the middle-class Jewish community, I should not like it to be thought that I accept what my hon. Friend says. I do not think that it is so. There is always a tendency for those who worship together and have a common interest to be together. Certainly, at Hendon, I find that the Jewish community takes its full part in everything, in the same way that the Catholic and any other community does, and there is little anti-Semitic feeling. Jews can represent Christians and Christians represent Jews on local bodies. They all get on perfectly well together and mix socially all the time.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend takes my view. I wish that I was as convinced of it as he is, because I am sure that if there were less exclusion and more integration there would be less misunderstanding than at present.
§ Mr. Abse
The hon. Member is addressing his comments to the Jewish community. Would he be aware, for example, that there is a widespread view among that community that unless he has the advantage of being a baronet, it is highly improbable that a Jewish candidate could be adopted by the Conservative Party as a Parliamentary candidate? Does not the hon. Member think that perhaps the type of lecture which he is giving could well be given in many of the constituencies which send Tory Members to Parliament?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am certain that a vast amount of prejudice still exists and I want to break it down. I address my 1113 remarks not only to my fellow Christians but also to Jews. Jewish people have a duty to try to help those of us who want to break down this prejudice and I believe that in all respects they are not doing as much as they should.
§ Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid
May I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether this discussion on doctrinal questions is germane to the purpose of the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
It is getting a little wide, but I have not considered that the hon. Member was out of order in view of the general trend of the debate beforehand. It is, however, getting a little wide.
§ Mr. Shepherd
As, obviously, there is a certain amount of opposition, although I want to stand up for the rights of free speech even in this debate, I will leave the matter where it rests with the assurance that those of us who belong to the Council of Christians and Jews will, despite some difference of opinion, continue to do what we feel best to integrate our society.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has done a service in bringing forward this rather limited Measure. I consider that it is all that is needed and demanded by present circumstances, but should there be any deterioration, I for one will be ready to support him in a more serious Measure.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I am not quite sure what the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) was trying to say in the latter part of his speech, and if I were to attempt to argue about it I, too, might find myself out of order. It seemed to me, however, that he was introducing matters which could be discussed properly only in a much more extensive manner.
The hon. Member might have taken into account, for example, that some people say that assimilation of the Jewish people had gone further in Germany than in almost any other country, and yet the greatest catastrophe to the Jewish people happened there. This possibly points to the fact that anti-Semitism is due not to the activities of the Jews, but to the atmosphere of the societies in which they happen to live. It would be wiser to approach the matter in that sense.
1114 Many compliments have been paid to the Home Secretary during this debate. In so far as they refer to the temperate and elegant and even eloquent language used by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing his Bill, the compliments were justified. If, however, we are considering what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do and not to do, it is not possible to pay the compliments, certainly in the excessive manner which has been done by some hon. Members. The more the debate has continued, the more it is evident that the Home Secretary has gone about dealing with the subject in quite the wrong way.
I do not propose to argue this point in detail, because the case has been overwhelmingly made for a law against incitement to racial hatred or the dissemination of race hatred, however it may be described. The speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood), the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and others have made an overwhelming case for such a law. There are difficulties in incorporating it in the Bill that is before us, although I think that those difficulties could easily be overcome. I do not propose to argue the case much further, because it has been made so powerfully by those who have put it.
The Home Secretary, however, has argued against having such a proposition, either in this Bill or, presumably, in other Bills. He said that if this Measure did not work satisfactorily, he would recommend a further Measure to the House of Commons later. Apart from that, he seems to be against any such proposal as has been advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) over so long a period. The Home Secretary devoted part of his speech to opposing that today, even though it is not part of the Bill.
If the Home Secretary wants to prove his good faith in this matter, he should let the House of Commons have the right to decide. Therefore, we should have the most specific indication from the Attorney-General whether the Government will alter the Bill to enable this matter to be argued and voted upon in Committee. If the Government reject that proposition, I would certainly wish to withdraw the compliments which have been paid to the Government, because 1115 if they say that they will not alter the Bill, and will not allow the House of Commons to decide this matter, all the polite words which have been used in the debate do not mean anything. All that they would mean is that the Government insist that it is they who shall decide whether there should be such a law and that the House of Commons shall have nothing to do with it.
This is pre-eminently a matter which the House of Commons should decide. Who is best qualified to decide whether there should be a law against the dissemination of racial hatred, the Cabinet or the House of Commons? If the Government refuse to alter the Title of the Bill to enable an Amendment of the kind put down by the hon. Member for Ilford, North to be discussed and voted on in Committee, the Government will be saying that they will not allow the House to have any say effectively in this matter. That would be a disgraceful state of affairs.
This is not a question in which great, difficult consequences would follow. Indeed, some people have argued that according to the latest judgment, on which we have had discussion by many hon. Members, the law already condemns the dissemination of racial hatred. In that case, it cannot be a tremendous point whether that declaration is made openly in a Bill. If it is not such a tremendous point, all the greater should be the argument that the Cabinet should let the House of Commons decide the question.
No enormous difficulties would follow for the Home Secretary in his administration of the law or his organisation of the police. The Home Secretary has not said that it would be utterly damaging to the country if such a proposition were incorporated in the law. He has not put his argument as strongly as that. Therefore, why not let the House of Commons decide?
The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that whatever words he uses, and however much the Attorney-General says that the Government have listened most carefully to what has been said, from bothsides of the House, and that this has been an agreeable debate, however much they say that the Government will take into account the views which have been put, it so happens that 1116 the Government propose to go ahead with the proposition which they have fixed upon earlier—that is, according to the Title of the Bill—which specifically excludes the right of the House of Commons to decide the matter.
In their answer to that question, put to them at the beginning of the debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper, the good faith of the Government is at stake. If they say that they will not alter the Title, all their willingness to listen to the debate and all their good manners will count for nothing. They will be saying that the Cabinet will decide the matter and that they will not allow anybody else to have any influence on it.
When the Home Secretary remembers that on nine occasions my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough has secured the good will of the House to introduce such a Measure, does he not think it rather arrogant of him to say,"I do not care how often the House of Commons votes in favour of this proposition. We, the Cabinet, will decide it"?
It could be argued that this is a matter like the question of capital punishment which the House has always agreed should be settled by a free vote. Why will not the Home Secretary allow this matter to be settled by a free vote of the House? He could do it immediately by saying that he will alter the Title and allow the matter to be debated and we would then have the collective wisdom of the House of Commons instead of the decision of the Cabinet itself to settle the matter.
Haying said that—and I hope that we will get such an Amendment because the arguments are overwhelming—we will have to do it with care. The hon. Member for Ilford, North illustrated that when he said that he had considered altering the words which he had first proposed from"incitement to racial hatred" to"incitement to hatred against any sections in the community".
That would be a very dangerous change, partly for reasons already suggested. Many of us would go to prison on that ground. If we are to be denied the right to tell the truth about landlords, free speech is at an end. Many hon. Members opposite have made 1117 speeches—and I dare say that they will do so again when they are especially hard up—saying that all the ills of the country are due to unofficial strikes or shop stewards. By the Clause as drafted by the hon. Member for Ilford, North in his lapsed mood, it would be possible for such a speech to be an offence. The provision should be confined to the dissemination of racial hatred and I do not see that there is any difficulty about devising such a provision. The hon. Member got it right the first time. No doubt he has been listening to some member of the Government who advised him badly. He got into trouble on that account and he should return to his original inspiration.
To return to the Bill which, after all, is what we are discussing—[Laughter.] It is the fault of the Government; every other speaker has done this and there is no need for anybody who has just come in. and who has not listened to the debate, to jeer. It is one of the condemnations of the Government that practically the whole of the debate has been on what they have refused to incorporate in the Bill.
This is one of the most miserable little Bills that I have ever seen, and that is saying a great deal. It is a Bill which intensifies the penalties without clarifying the offences and without making the certainly of detection any the greater. That is a bad principle on which to legislate at any time. Governments usually do that when they are in a panic. They cannot think how they can specify the offence more clearly, so they say,"Let us slam on the penalties and make them tougher". [An Hon. Member:"Flog 'em."] Yes, it is allied to that sort of psychology.
The Home Secretary said that he would be very tough about dealing with these unspecified people—although he specified a few. He had no right to do that. He specified the Committee of 100, among others, but he had no right to say that all the activities of the Committee of 100 fell within the Bill. Nor had he any right to talk in those terms of the Communists and many others. No Government have the right to specify a group and say,"We condemn a group of people irrespective of whether they break the law". 1118 What we are discussing is whether the law should be better clarified, and the Bill does not do anything to clarify it. It leaves it to the police. When he says that the penalties are to be much more severe, the Home Secretary thinks that that will show what a strong man he is in dealing with the problem, but if he does not more carefully define what the problem is, he will not be being so strong. As Disraeli said,"Like all weak Governments, they resort to strong measures".
The Home Secretary thinks that if he makes the penalties stiffer, it will escape attention that he has failed to clarify the offences. He has failed to clarify what is meant by racial discrimination and many comparatively innocent people will suffer under the increased penalties which he is imposing in respect of other matters.
For example, disorderly conduct which is designed to break up public meetings is a crime under the Public Meetings Act, 1908. There are many gradations of disorderly conduct which are designed to break up public meetings. The hon. Member for Cheadle gave an example of how a constable came to him at Hampstead because he was heckling a Communist and said that he might be"had up" for an offence, presumably under the Public Meetings Act, 1908. This Bill might be called the Hecklers Suppression Bill. The hon. Member for Cheadle might not have been as inoffensive as he pretended and the constable might have had a case, but, if he was as inoffensive as he pretended to be, then either the constable was acting very wrongly, or the Act which enabled him to act in such a fashion was itself wrong.
§ Mr. Shepherd
May I assure the hon. Member that I never displayed anything like the violence of which he is capable?
§ Mr. Foot
I am out to protect my own powers of violence, which means that pretty well everybody else will be covered. There is nothing wrong with violent speech. It has to be protected. I was attempting to come to the hon. Member's rescue—he did not seem to be as grateful as he should have been—because he instanced a case in which a constable thought that he had the right to suppress a heckler.
I do not think that constables should have the right to suppress hecklers. 1119 Hecklers contribute a great deal to the political scene and most public speakers would be improved when heckled. Indeed, some should be heckled much more ferociously than they are. However, it is difficult to draw the line between heckling and the crime of disorderly conduct which is designed to break up public meetings.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper gave an example in which, apparently, it was carried too far. He said that there was no provocation, but I dare say that there was. It may not have been the kind of provocation which we have been discussing, but it is a very tender line to draw. I do not see why the penalties for disorderly conduct designed to break up public meetings should be stepped up merely to deal with the spreading of racial hatred. Why not have a law dealing with the spreading of racial hatred, leaving aside the present penalties for disorderly conduct designed to break up public meetings?
Some people talk as though those who hold the public meetings or demonstrations are the offenders. Of course they are not. All the liberties about which we hear so many boasts were obtained by demonstrators. As I listened to the Home Secretary lauding our liberal principles and rights of free speech, I wondered how many of them would have been gained if we had had a Public Order Act with these severe penalties for the last hundred years. Most of the rights of free speech in this country have had to be fought for by demonstrators against the Government of the day, against the powers of the day.
Leaving aside the things we want it to do which it does not do, what the Bill does specifically is to put more power into the hands of the police to decide, in effect, what is the law. I do not think that the Home Secretary can deny that, because the police will have greater encouragement to decide what they think is conducive to public disorder. The fact of the Bill being pushed through and the fact of the penalties being increased will encourage the police to believe,"We can go a bit further in putting some of these people in 'jug', or taking them to court."
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Member is quite correct. The police can decide whether to make a charge and, in most of these cases, when the person comes before the magistrates the police evidence is accepted. It is all very well to say that the police have a very difficult job. We always use that sentence before we say what we think about it. No one envies them their job. They ought to have more pay. [Laughter.] It is no good hon. Members laughing; there have been many occasions when the police have behaved improperly.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper referred, quite properly, to the incidents which happened in the 1930s. No one who saw those incidents could say that the police were not to a great extent acting on the side of the Fascists. They were assisted in that by the law of the land.
I quite see that the police are always in difficulty because they come to the protection of those who are making speeches rather than the protection of people who want to heckle or to stop a demonstration. Therefore, the police may appear to be biased. It is no good anyone blinking his eyes to the facts that in the 1930s the police were regarded as enemies of the people, because on many occasions they were seen to be acting on the side of the Fascists.
§ Mr. Iremonger
Was not that exactly the reason why the Government of the day introduced the Public Order Act, 1936?
§ Mr. Foot
The Public Order Act, 1936, also had some objections to it. Like this Bill, although this proposes heavier penalties, it was a big, blunt instrument. Because the Government would not take action against racial discrimination they employed a blunt instrument to stop the demonstration by anyone within an area. Many of us at that time criticised the Public Order Act. We criticised it because it was as stringently against those who were perfectly properlydemonstrating as against those who were using demonstrations to spread racial hatred. We said that we should have a law, if one could be clever enough, which discriminated between those two. But that Act did not make any attempt to discriminate between those who were properly demonstrating and those using demonstration for what 1121 should be a criminal offence, spreading racial hatred.
The Government do not attempt to do this now. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough has been urging this on them for ten years. The Government say that they have been considering it for a whole year, but what do they do? They produce at the end of that time a Bill which merely increases the penalties, and which, possibly, will do nothing to prevent the spread of racial hatred, but which in the process may increase the penalties against perfectly innocent demonstrators who are trying to put their point of view.
I do not know what is happening in London today. There are many people in London today who want to protest against the visit of Queen Frederika to this country because of what they consider to be the tyranny which is prevailing in Greece. They have a perfect right to demonstrate. As the Prime Minister said a week ago, they have, of course, a perfect right to demonstrate. Someone in interfering with their rights. If someone protests, who has caused the demonstration? If the Bill were in operation now those who protested would face heavy penalties, increased to £500 of a year in prison.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
The Evening Standard tonight designates London and its protective measures as a police State.
§ Mr. Foot
That is an example of how the Government get into a panic and use enormous powers, not to guard against the evil against which they have a right to guard, but in such an extensive manner that they interfere on a grand scale with the liberties of perfectly law-abiding people who have a right to make their protest.
The Government do not deserve any credit for the Bill. The only way in which they can rescue any credit is by permitting the House of Commons to vote on the issue of racial discrimination and the spreading of racial hatred. It would have been much better to do that in a separate Bill. All we have here is an excuse from the Government. They think they can fob off the House of Commons with the Bill, which contains many injustices which we must try to 1122 remedy in Committee. We should alter all these penalties when we are in Committee. The Bill does not deal with the real problem, which should concern the House and the country, of how to stop the bestial spread of race hatred.
It deals with something else, and the Government, in their usual shoddy manner, think that they can get away with it. I hope that the few remarks I have made reveal that not only am I objecting, but that most of those hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, although in very polite accents, criticised the Bill for failing to deal with the real problem which concerns the nation. I hope that the Government will take the Bill away and reconsider it and that, in Committee, we shall do our best to make a silk purse out of this sow's ear.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
I listened with care to all that the Home Secretary said. Like my hon. Friend the Member forEbbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), I was much impressed by the vigour with which he spoke against those groups whom the whole House quite clearly abhor, but I am very suspicious of a Bill which merely introduces heavy penalties, because we have a long history which has shown again and again that merely by increasing penalties we rarely deal with the crux of the problem.
When I have endeavoured on other occasions to introduce some Measures which would cause some alteration in our laws, oft-times I have heard complaints that if we altered existing laws and made them more permissive we would take away from the general public the power of discriminating between what is morality and what is law. We are always told when attempts are made to reform the law that there is a great danger, if we allow offences no longer to be offences, that it will be misunderstood by the country. It will be believed that although there are offences which we regard as offences against morality, if we cease to make them offences against the law people will regard what is immoral as proper.
I cannot think of anything—and apparently this is true of all hon. Members—which is more abhorrent than racial hatred. There is nothing more obscene. I should have thought, therefore, that when an occasion presents itself, as it does today, when it could 1123 be made abundantly clear that we regard dissemination of racial hatred not only as something which is an outrage against humanity but such an outrage that it should be declared in our law as a criminal offence, this would be one of the least of the measures that the Government could take.
I listened to the Home Secretary in order to find the reasons why he did not want to introduce into this Bill something in the form of a declaration that racial incitement was an offence. The reasons seemed extraordinarily odd. It was suggested that this was superfluous because the words proposed would be merely repetitive. This would not be the first Act in which a draftsman had said the same thing more than once in a different way. That kind of argument cannot impress members of the Jewish community in this country, those who are coloured, those who have had a traumatic experience behind them which has happened as a result of racial prejudice.
Again, it was suggested by the Home Secretary that the reason he did not want to introduce words of this kind was that he had some diffidence in introducing the concept of race within our law. I do not understand what he means by this. After all, he was a more or less vigorous Minister for Welsh Affairs at one time. Is he suggesting that words such as"Welsh" are abhorrent, that a man would not wish to stand up and admit to being a Welshman or a Jew? Does he think that if within an Act of Parliament he declared that the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) was, in fact, Welsh, the hon. and learned Member would feel offended? Does he think that anything within an Act of Parliament of that kind would make someone of the Welsh race, or any Jew who has the privilege of belonging to the Jewish community, feel in the slightest bit offended? Or that any coloured man would feel offended because we indicated the fact that he was coloured?
What is the reason? People belonging to minority groups do not feel ashamed of belonging to them. It seems an extraordinary attitude to suggest that to make it an offence for any persons to declare publicly that they wish to incite people 1124 against those who belong to a racial minority would be offending the members of the racial minority. Has any responsible Jewish leader in this country expressed such a view? Or has any coloured man who is the leader of his community done so? From whom is the Home Secretary protecting the Jew and the coloured man? This will not do at all.
I followed the argument put up by the Lord Chancellor in another place. As I understood it, his argument against any introduction of words which would include incitement to racial hatred was based on the fact that it would mean that the difficulties of the police might be increased. As I understood it, the suggestion was that this would be a subjective test on the part of a police officer confronted with a situation where a man was using certain words. However, I feel that the Home Secretary owes it to the minority groups in the country to have it clearly indicated that racial incitement is an offence, and the right hon. Gentleman owes it also to the members of the police forces.
At present the police officer on the spot is faced with the dilemma of deciding whether words being used are threatening, abusive or insulting. He has to assess them and decide, on what is being said, whether in his view there is the basis for a charge. He has to decide alternatively whether the behaviour is threatening, abusive or insulting. In many cases these could be nice points. Those of us whose professional work brings us into contact with the police have a great respect and regard for them. But I would not say that one of the particular attributes of the police is that they are so sophisticated as to be able to distinguish nicely between one word and another; and in the heat of a lively public meeting it would be placing an intolerable burden on the police in many cases to decide whether what was being said was words which were threatening, abusive or insulting.
Even worse, a policeman may have to decide whether what is being said is likely to cause a breach of the peace. He must anticipate whether he could prove before a court whether a breach of the peace was likely to be provoked. These are hard tasks. Why does not the Home Secretary want to make it quite 1125 simple by inserting a Clause to make clear beyond any doubt that if anybody incites the community to racial hatred—we all know the type of language and the words which are used—he would be committing an offence. A police officer would know then that an offence was being committed. Why should we hinder the police rather than help them? Would not that be a much more objective test? Do not we owe this to the police in order that the matter may be placed obviously beyond doubt?
I wish to take up a second point raised by this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) has anticipated something which I wanted to say and which, until he elaborated the point, had not, in my view, been said in sufficiently definite terms in this debate. A heckler is an important part of public life. The Home Secretary says that we must not legislate to restrict free speech. To bring in the possibility of penalties against people who are protesting in some form or other against what is being said might quite easily lead to an interpretation of something by a police officer on the spot as coming into conflict with the Act of 1908. That is wrong. It is not only a question of protecting the heckler. In doing this the Home Secretary has shown—if I may say so with great respect—that he lacks an historical sense, because in fact it is no use attempting at this moment to bring in a Bill which merely adds on some penalties to pre-war legislation.
As the Foreign Secretary has said, racialism is one of the most explosive forces in the world today. We have something like half a million coloured people in this country and about the same number in the Jewish community here. Surely it has to be understood that when events throughout the whole world are showing, unfortunately and lamentably, the dynamic of racial feeling; when we know what happened to the Jewish community and how it was decimated, do hon. Members think that that has not affected the minds and attitude of coloured people and of Jews?
I was brought up in a place where I went to school and where I belonged to the only Jewish family which sent children to the school. I came from a home which, fortunately, gave me pride 1126 in having the privilege of belonging to the Jewish people. Even in the pre-war years I was not taught to bear anti-Semitism with a patient shrug. I well recall that in my early days at school I was constantly fighting in the playground. The teachers were very sensible and wise. When I fought someone of my own size I usually managed to cope, and sometimes I did with people a little taller or bigger than myself. But there were occasions when I received a thrashing. On those occasions I found—fighting was, of course, prohibited in that school as in other schools—that when the teachers became aware of the matter, the boy who had given me a thrashing received a thrashing for the offence he had committed. That was very wise. It was a good way to deal with the situation.
As the"headmaster" here, the Home Secretary deals with the situation in an entirely different manner. It seems that he expects that the Jewish community and the coloured people should receive abuse and the dissemination of racial hatred with just a shrug. When I look on the history of my people—as most Jews do—it is not our martyrs which we regard with pride. For example, we do not take pride in the action of those Jews in York in the thirteenth century who, when surrounded by a howling mob, decided to commit suicide. The people in whom we take pride are the Judas Maccabeuses of history. We look at what happened inside Germany and in Europe. It is not those Jews who, alas, first stripped themselves, then dug their own graves and then were shot in whom we take pride. We take pride in those Jews who fought back in the Warsaw ghetto and showed that they would hit back when people attacked them.
We take pride in the Jewish National Home in Israel and the fact that the people there are not quiescent about racial hatred. We, too, must recognise the damage that can be done to democracy and which may destroy the democratic life of every nation. We must not assume that the half a million Jews who have elected to stay in this country and have not gone to the National Home—they are British citizens of the Jewish faith—are prepared, or that their young people will be prepared, to accept quiescently the fact that people can 1127 disseminate racial hatred by which children may be affected.
How would I like it if I found that on the corner of my street a man was whipping up racial hatred and teaching youngsters hatred which could affect my own children? Yet under the Bill hecklers, people who dare to take any action at all against this evil, are clearly in danger of suffering increased penalties, penalities far greater than those to be meted out to those who provoke these horrible occasions. I am profoundly uneasy. It is because I have this great sense of unease that I trust the advice given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale that we should have an opportunity in Committee to go much further into this matter will be heeded.
I trust that the Long Title will be amended so that we can have a wider debate. The Home Secretary may not agree with the point of view expressed on both sides of the House, but that point of view is deeply held. It requires careful examination. The Jewish community would be dismayed if it thought that, as a result of a strategem in the form of the Title to a Bill, the House of Commons was denied the opportunity carefully to consider a matter which requires earnest consideration.
I hope that the Government will have second thoughts. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to go into the Bill in greater detail so that we shall have in the end a Bill of which we can be more proud than the House of Commons can be of this wretched little Measure.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I intervene very briefly because I think that I may be personally involved in some aspects of the arguments which have been advanced. I very much hope that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) will not leave the House, because I intend to make a reference to him. During what has been described as my"campaign" to introduce some control over immigration into this country, I personally was subjected to a certain amount of abuse, not least from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. There is a great danger involved in extending 1128 this Bill so as to import into it any racial content, because it is obvious from what has been said in the debate that I myself would be in grave danger of being proceeded against under such a Bill if it were passed.
When I attempted to introduce a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule to provide for the deportation of immigrants guilty of serious offences, despite the fact that they had been in this country for five years or more, I was accused by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale of being prejudiced. He used these words:All he has done is to use the Ten Minutes Rule procedure to make a further smear against immigrants coming to this country, and he has done so in a most disgraceful way."—[Official Report, 5th March, 1963; Vol. 672, c. 218.]If those words, which were said under the cloak of privilege in the House of Commons, were to be taken at their face value, it would mean that if I had uttered outside the House what the hon. Gentleman criticised I would have come under the provisions of the Bill as amended in the way he would like.
In all my arguments for the control of immigration or for the strengthening of the deportation rules I have stated only the facts. They were disputed on that occasion, but they had been mentioned in Hansard. If I say that in regard to living on immoral earnings in the Metropolitan Police Area more than one-half of those convicted are immigrants, if I say that one-third of those convicted come from a certain country or a certain part of the world, according to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, and, I suppose, many of his hon. Friends, I should be accused of a smear, although what I say is a fact, and a fact that I have the right to put before the public. If the view of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and some of his hon. Friends were accepted and if an Amendment such as he suggests were introduced importing a racial content into the Bill, in future I would be very wrongly accused of being guilty under the Measure and my liberty of speech in stating facts to the country, as I have the right to do, would be seriously affected.
§ Mr. M. Foot
The hon. Gentleman had better be very careful, because the Government claim that racial hatred of that type is already catered for under the law.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
The Home Secretary, in introducing the debate this afternoon, said that there were momentous problems involved in the debate and therefore we are all justified this afternoon in discussing the details of the Bill and many of the important problems behind it. Before turning to the wider problems, I want to refer the Attorney-General to a practical consequence of the Bill as it stands at present. I want to refer to the increase in penalties to be imposed on people who organise or take part in a counter demonstration or who are at a meeting at which racial minorities are offended and attacked and who are provoked into some counterstatement or counteraction.
I thought that the Home Secretary dwelt far too often upon the Jewish community. I would have welcomed it if the Home Secretary had said a good deal more about the racial attacks being made all over the country against coloured Commonwealth citizens who dwell amongst us. I know that the Home Secretary had good reason for leaving the debate early. He informed my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) of his reason. I make no complaint of his absence. I repeat that the Home Secretary said singularly little about the serious problems that coloured Commonwealth citizens are facing who dwell in various parts of the country.
I am reminded of an example that occurred in Sheffield not long ago. The Fascist Union Movement decided to hold a meeting in Attercliffe, where there is a considerable concentration of people from various Commonwealth countries. They are working in industry in Sheffield or on the buses. They are making an excellent contribution to the life of the community in Sheffield. It is a contribution which I am glad to say is being more and more appreciated by the citizens of Sheffield. The Fascist Union Movement announced in the most offensive manner that it would march through the City of Sheffield to Attercliffe, demonstrate in front of the houses in which citizens who have a different colour from most of us are living, and show them where they got off. The Fascist Union Movement spent a fortnight announcing this demonstration in the most threatening terms. No action was taken 1130 by the authorities against the Fascist Union Movement.
The first thing that happened was that a number of local people in Attercliffe got together and decided that they did not like this kind of demonstration occurring in their midst. A couple of reverend gentlemen joined them and took a leading part in their deliberations. In the streets of Attercliffe in those days many local citizens expressed a fear which they felt. People were saying,"We have lived in peace around here. We have not had any trouble. Now the Fascists are to hold a demonstration here. We do not know what the result of it will be. There might be violence. Children might be harmed. We do not like it. We are disturbed about it". Many housewives were interviewed by the local paper—the Sheffield Telegraph—which I am glad to say played a very good part in this and allowed some of the local people to voice their independent opinions, regardless of political affiliation. Day by day the paper published a number of expressions of opinion from local residents. Thereupon, the local residents, encouraged by the support they were getting from all over the City, announced that they would attend this meeting, if it were held, and make their opinions heard. As a result, the Fascist Union Movement cancelled its own indecent and threatening demonstration.
I support and welcome the action taken by the people of Attercliffe. They displayed good sense. They did not want the introduction of ugly race hatred into their part of the City. They expressed their opinion in an unmistakeable manner.
Let us assume for a few minutes that the Fascist Union Movement had decided to go ahead with its provocation. It must be remembered in this case that the movement was not to demonstrate on the highways and byways outside Sheffield or, perhaps, in a part of Sheffield where there were not so many Commonwealth citizens living. The movement had announced publicly that it would deliberately go to an area of Sheffield where people whom it wanted malignantly to attack lived in considerable numbers. Let us suppose that the movement had announced that as the purpose of their demonstration. It is generally known that these Fascist organisations 1131 quite deliberately organise their marches and meetings to intimidate and harass members of racial minorities. That is why they wanted to go to this section of Sheffield. Let us assume that the Fascists had not decided, in the face of public opinion in Attercliffe, to call off their demonstration but had insisted on going to Attercliffe. In fact the police then decided to ban the march and the march having become illegal the Union Movement cancelled the demonstration.
Let us assume that instead the Facist Union Movement had decided not to march to Attercliffe but to go there by the normal means of transport, as they had done on other occasions when they had held provocative demonstrations in certain parts of our industrial cities, and had gone there and held their ugly, malignant demonstration. Undoubtedly, a considerable number of local people in Attercliffe would have turned out to oppose and heckle them.
Under the legislation that the Government are now introducing, these ordinary decent people who did not want race hatred introduced into their section of the community, if they had turned out and, having been provoked, said some hard things against the Facist speakers, they would be hit by the full penalty of the law just as much as those who were going to Attercliffe to introduce provocation into that peaceful area. Surely the Government should regard that as absurd when they look at it carefully and face the reality of the situation as it exists in this country.
I turn to another aspect which concerns the mentality of the Facist Movement. The hon. Member for Cheadle, who has been attending the debate for a good many hours and who has only recently left the Chamber, said that there was no danger like that of 1933 in Germany in this country at present, and, therefore, he could not see that the terms of the Bill needed widening. I agree at once that there is no such danger. Speaking for myself, I also agree with his assessment: I believe that if an attempt were made to build up a big Facist party in this country there are sufficient people to oppose it and defeat it. Having agreed on that, I must say it is not very relevant to what we are discussing in this Bill. We 1132 are discussing a much narrower point, namely, whether there is anything special in the kind of racial attacks that are being made by the Facist movement and whether there is anything specially criminal in the malignant theories which they have distributed and in the kind of attacks which they have invited other people to make upon members of racial minorities.
I should like to put to the House and to the Attorney-General an argument that was worked out some time ago by the French playwright and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. When he dealt with the philosophical implications of the problem of racialism and anti-Semitism he decided to write a long essay on anti-Semitism, and what he said about anti-Semitism would apply equally to all kinds of racialism whether directed against the minority that is singled out because of different colour, or any other cause. This was his argument. He said, rather startlingly, at the beginning of his essay that an anti-Semite is by implication a potential murderer, This is a statement which many people who at one time or another have harboured some anti-Semitism themselves will be greatly shocked by.
Jean-Paul Sartre knew that he was starting his philosophical argument by a statement which would be regarded as shocking by many people. I repeat that he started by saying that every anti-Semite is a potential murderer. He then went on to proceed with the argument in this way: if one attacks a person because he is black or because he is Jewish one is attacking him for qualities which are inherent in him and for qualities—and this is the essential point—which he cannot change.
Here I should like to turn to the speech made by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), who said that if we are seriously restricting the rights of what we can say against people and how we can criticise people, are we not going to reach a situation where it will become illegal to attack capitalists and landlords? I should like to point out to the hon. Member the illogical way of his reasoning, because it is obvious that if there is normal political warfare between parties, for instance, and someone attacks someone as being a Labour man, or a Socialist, 1133 this is an attack of an entirely different quality because the Labour man can change into a Liberal or a Conservative.
The party opposite now harbours in its midst one hon. Member who made all his political career on this side of the House and was at one time Under-Secretary of State at the Air Ministry, and is now beginning to play some part on the other side. Therefore, if these attacks are made on people who hold a particular view, they are capable of change. Jean-Paul Sartre says that if you attack a man because he is Jew that is something that he cannot change. If you attack a Jew or if you attack a Negro for certain qualities that must be eradicated, there is only one valid conclusion to this state of reasoning, and that is that you must destroy him physically. That is why Jean-Paul Sartre starts off with his argument that the anti-Semite is essentially in the long run a potential murderer. Therefore, we have no right to take his argument too lightly.
One of the essential characteristics of all Fascist movements when they attack members of the Jewish faith is to point out that they have the qualities of a pest or a plague. That can be seen in all the early pamphlets of the National Socialist Party of Germany and is equally present in the propaganda of Colin Jordan. Colin Jordan has successfully picked up the essential argument used by the Hitler's National Socialist Party and he is applying it in his propaganda in this country. One is therefore driven to the conclusion that there is an essential difference in quality which I should like hon. Members who have doubts on this matter to consider very seriously. There is an essential difference in quality as to the kinds of attack people make when they make an attack based upon racialism or an attack based on a different position in society, the landlord, for instance, or a difference of opinion—Conservative or Labour. This is altogether a different kind of attack. It is for that reason that racialism ought to be included and named as an indictable criminal offence in this country. It is a case which is of profound relevance to what the Home Secretary called the momentous problems behind the piece of legislation that he is introducing.
There is one other aspect with which I want to deal, having, I hope, established the case that this is a peculiar kind of attack; one other aspect which should 1134 prevent us from belittling the kind of movement that Mr. Jordan and others have built up in this country. I have in front of me a leaflet which was published a few weeks ago in Western Germany. It is published in German. I hope that someone at the Home Office has seen it by now. I shall not wish to conclude that they have not seen it, but if they have not I shall be glad to hand it over at the end of the debate. This pamphlet is in German and is addressed to the National Socialists of Germany. It says at the end of the page,"Printed and published by the National Socialist Movement, No. 74, Princedale Road, London, W.11". It was published in this country but is being distributed in Western Germany, and this is what it says to the National Socialists of Germany. I translate:National Socialists of Germany, we in Great Britain salute the heroic victory of thirty years ago under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and the monumental achievements of the National Socialist Movement. We know that in Germany today under the Jewish democracy there exists no political freedom. National Socialist manifestations are most severely punished. We ask you only to keep the faith. The faith lives on and should live on among the young generation. In the world outside a new movement exists. The National Socialist revival has begun. We have united with the National Socialist movements in the U.S.A. and in other countries and we have started to fight for our idea and for the liberation of the world from the Jewish rule of power. The day will come when the swastika flag will fly again. We shall win. Sieg heil. Germany, awake! Printed and published by the National Socialist Movement, 74, Princedale Road, London, W.11.This is a new kind of propaganda which, only a few years after the kind of events which occurred in Germany, is reintroduced from the shores of this country to Western Germany. It really does make one feel amazed and puzzled that from the very country which for more than a year was mainly responsible for keeping the Third Reich at bay there should now come this kind of propaganda, and that it should be possible to organise it here.
§ Mr. Mendelson
This is an aspect of the propaganda which the National Socialist Movement in this country carries out in Germany, but it is not an isolated case. I have also in front of me, the House may be interested to hear. 1135 a report in a respectable liberal paper published in Frankfurt on 28th June this year—only a few days ago. In this report they are reporting about a number of swastika posters which had been put up in Frankfurt. They point out that it is not quite certain yet, but they are almost certain that they can be traced to this country. The article says:Swastika posters. Who are the culprits? It has not so far been possible to trace the unknown persons who during the night from Tuesday to Wednesday deposited or pasted on house walls posters containing anti-Semitic and National Socialist matter. The acting chief prosecutor, Herr Weitzel, declared that some twenty of these posters measuring 25 by 15 centimetres had been secured. The imprimature is that of an English body calling itself the National Socialist Movement which allegedly has its address in London, W. 11.The Joint Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell the House whether this is the alleged address or the real address of the Movement. The article goes on:Investigations are being made to establish whether this is in fact the seat of a neo-Fascist organisation.I quote quite deliberately that second example to prove to the House that this is not an isolated instance and that it happens most of the time and has been going on now for several years. I think it is the duty of the Government when making law and amending existing law to be aware that there is an international arm of this movement which is perhaps not quite so insignificant as the activities of the movement in this country are alleged to be by some hon. Members from time to time.
The essential quality of a Fascist campaign both at home and abroad is the design to create a state of mind in an audience which leads to one outlet only, and that is direct physical violence against the members of the minority which is being attacked. That is the deliberate design.
The Home Secretary spoke in contemptuous terms about the members of the Fascist groups in this country, and most people are tempted to agree with him, but on one occasion I undertook a certain amount of research into the background of the activities of National Socialists in various countries and for this purpose I went to the International Research Institute for Social History in Amsterdam and I looked at some of the 1136 documents concerning the period of the rise of the German National Socialist Movement between 1922 and 1933. I was particularly interested in a bundle of letters which had been addressed anonymously by members of the National Socialist Movement in Berlin to the Deputy Director of Police in Berlin in 1931, who has since died, a Dr. Weiss, who happened to be a Jew. Those cards and letters are kept under lock and key and one has to get special permission to get to them, and young people, rightly, are not allowed to see them, because they are a collection of obscenity, under the guise of political attack, the equal of which I have never seen in any other research institute which has interested itself in matters of this kind.
The relevance of that to this debate is this, that many Members of this House know that as soon as they begin to take an interest, say, in the problem of South Africa, or in the well-being and safeguarding of the interests of our coloured Commonwealth citizens in this country, then they receive a similar kind of correspondence.
I had not been in this House for more than eighteen months when I took part in a demonstration in Trafalgar Square about the problems in South Africa and organised by the National Executive of the Labour Party, than which no more respectable body, I suggest, can be found in the United Kingdom. The demonstration was presided over by a former Minister of Pensions, one of my right hon. Friends who normally sits on the Front Bench and who speaks for us on pensions matters from time to time, and there were a number of prominent people who were the speakers. Circling the demonstration were a number of lorries full of members of the National Fascist Movement and other Fascist groups and they made a particular spectacle of themselves by spitting on the people taking part in the demonstration, and giving the Hitler salute. I took an interest in this, and I asked a police officer on duty about it, and later I put down a Question about the behaviour and action of the police and, as a result of this one Question, I immediately received a letter posted in Brighton—with no address, of course, and no signature—and in the most indecent terms.
1137 It is quite clear that there is a whole group of people of that kind at work in this country who are of the same mentality as the people who were responsible for the bundle of letters which I discovered, several years ago, in the Research Institute in Amsterdam.
This is not a matter of which we can take only little note. These people are of criminal intent, and they are using the means of racial attacks in order to create an atmosphere of lawlessness in this country which they hope will lead in the end to the destruction of our Parliamentary and democratic institutions, and that is why this is a matter which does not concern primarily the members of the racial minorities but concerns primarily the Members of this House of Commons and the Government, whether they sit on the Treasury Bench or a little further removed from the Treasury Bench at the present moment, but holding great and high responsibilities.
This is why the Government have a case to answer, and in view of all this information, which to some extent, at any rate, must be at their disposal, it is their bounden duty to let the House of Commons decide whether this Bill ought to be more widely drawn. For us it is a matter which concerns the future of Parliamentary democracy in this country, and it is for the House to decide.
I hope that, in a matter of this kind, second and wiser counsels will prevail, that the Government will have another look at this whole problem and that they will try to work with majority opinion in the House to pass a Bill which will, in the end, provide the basis of action against those who by racial attacks wish to incite to criminal action those whom they address at their meetings.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
Although I wish to be brief in my remarks, I think it only right that an hon. Member who represents a Scottish constituency should associate himself with the protests that have been voiced by hon. Members, particularly those on this side of the House, against racial discrimination. We have, in Scotland, a long history of recognising the need to allow public meetings, processions and demonstrations to take place. Approvalto hold these demonstrations was not won easily and 1138 today they are an inherent and accepted part of our Scottish tradition. I only wish that this principle was accepted as freely throughout Britain.
No one can believe that this miserable little mouse of a Bill is equipped to deal with the main cause of disorder at public meetings. For many years hon. Members have been talking about racial incitement and discrimination and the plight of minorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) has played a major rôlein urging the Government to do something to prevent racial discrimination. After all the agitation that has taken place, the Government introduce this miserable little Bill. It is to be regretted that after the attempts that have been made over the years by my revered and hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough—with his constant desire to see minorities regarded as human beings, whatever their colour or creed—we should be faced with this sort of Bill.
On eight or nine occasions my hon. Friend has attempted to introduce a Bill to humanise the present position. On each occasion he has been spurned by the Government. It is, probably, because of the doubts, uncertainty and, perhaps, a little heart searching by hon. Members opposite that we now have this Bill, although it is nothing more than a miserable scrap of paper which does not measure up to the discontent of our time. Considering the indignities and obscenities to which minority groups in Britain are being subjected, something much more enterprising is needed from the Government.
I was appalled by the speech of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), who tried to smear coloured people as being the cause of immoral houses being kept. [Hon. Members:"No."] He certainly mentioned immoral earnings. This is a bad time for any hon. Member opposite to be using those sort of arguments. If anything has weakened the moral fibre of this country it has come from higher levels of society. I do not want to use this sort of argument, but I am merely endeavouring to comment on the speech of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I hope that the hon. Member will devote his speech more directly to the Second Reading of the Bill.
I agree, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I am endeavouring—[Interruption.] I think that I heard the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet) use the word"mud". I can assure him that I am not in the mud.
§ Mr. Skeet rose—
§ Mr. Manuel
I will not give way to the hon. Member. As yet, he is only a boy in the House.
It is a pity that when the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South made that smear against coloured people he was not corrected at the time. I am merely now trying to redress the position and to put the matter in its proper perspective. Gibes of that sort only weaken legislation and it ill befits a supporter of the Government to say those sort of things. I am not attempting, by my remarks, to get into the gutter. I am trying to square my conscience and that of hon. Members opposite with the situation as it exists.
In my view, the Bill is being used by the Government merely as a buffer instead of curing the real evil and singling out racial incitement as an offence. It is a buffer and nothing else. It would be easier for the police force if there were a singling out process of the main causes of public disorders at meetings. It should not be left to individual officers or senior police officers in the areas where meetings take place to decide for themselves if something said by a speaker is causing incitement.
I am afraid that the heckler who may be right in his repudiation of the racial hatred being disseminated may be the person to be proceeded against by the police simply because the disorder may occur from the heckler's questions. This is a dangerous position. It would be easier for the police to recognise whether an utterance is leading to racial hatred if the facts were written into the Bill in terms of what and who should be proceeded against.
In terms of the heckler, the Bill may be dangerous. I hope that it will not, but we have already seen the danger signals of public disorder in Britain. For example, in the Evening Standard tonight we read the blazing headline:It's a 'Police State' Welcome.That headline refers to the Greek Royal visit and the report beneath it states: 1140Shortly before the train bringing the royal guests was due to arrive, the Victoria area got a glimpse of a police State.It goes on to indicate what can happen when the police swoop, and says:They sealed off a 50-yard area outside Woolworths in"—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. Member again, but he should devote his remarks to the Bill and to its Second Reading. His remarks are getting far too wide.
§ Mr. Manuel
I would like you to think again about that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The Bill is, presumably, dealing with the matter of public order. No knowing smiles in the House of Commons or elsewhere can deny that the police were today dealing with what they considered was likely to be a public disorder. This has been put out for the information of, and for action by, senior officials of the Metropolitan Police Force. If you are ruling that out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I cannot understand it, and I should like you to clear up the position as to whether we are dealing with public disorder or not.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
There will be no misunderstanding, I am sure, between the hon. Member and myself. This is a Bill to increase the penalties for offences under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, 1936. It is to increasing the penalties that the hon. Member should be devoting his remarks.
§ Mr. Manuel
I can concur in that Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have been complaining that that is all the Bill does. I have been complaining about what is not in the Bill. I have been an hon. Member for a considerable time now, and I believe that to be in order. I complain that the Bill does not go far enough. That is the whole tenor of my remarks, and I am very glad to note that you agree with me.
I am arguing for a Bill that designates in a more definite form the main cause of racial hatred so that we can control the disorders that are worrying so many thinking people in all parts of Britain. We have read today of the lengths to which senior police officers in London have gone, under instruction, to avoid public disorder—just because there is no direct indication to the police what 1141 public disorder is. That is a danger signal that the Government should heed, and I hope that we will be able to pay full regard to it in Committee, that we will be allowed our peaceful demonstrations against what we think are injustices, and that we may improve the Bill out of all recognition compared with its present form.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
All who have listened to this debate today will agree that we have had a most instructive and valuable discussion. If one thing has emerged more clearly than another from practically every speech, it is that, on both sides, nearly every hon. Member is dissatisfied with what the Bill contains. While there may be a substantial measure of agreement—or, perhaps, not very much disagreement—about the specific, limited and puny reforms that the Bill introduces, every hon. Member has pointed out that the Bill entirely fails to deal with the issue uppermost in the minds of practically all of us—racial hatred and racial discrimination.
I hope the Attorney-General will be able to give us a categorical assurance that before the Committee stage is reached the Long Title of the Bill will be amended so that we may have an opportunity to express our opinions in Committee as to whether there should be added to Section 5 of the Public Order Act, 1936, words on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), the hon. Members for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet), and by my other hon. Friends.
Without such an assurance being given, the Government will not only be rendering a great disservice to the House and expressing some contempt for the views expressed but will be failing in their duty to let the House of Commons express its opinion on a matter which the Home Secretary himself said raises a momentous issue.
It is unnecessary for me to emphasise the views that have been expressed so forcibly and eloquently by, among others, my hon. Friends the Members for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) and Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). I would only say that members of the 1142 Jewish faith are not alone in feeling and expressing their condemnation and loathing of the resurgence in this country of anti-Semitism or of fascism in any form at all. The whole House is convinced that those hon. Members have rendered a service by drawing attention to something that has arisen in our community, and which should not be ignored.
Having said that, I want to deal, in as moderate and tolerant language as I can, with what I understand to be the objections raised by the Home Secretary and by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) and by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell), who, unfortunately, is not now in his place. As I understand it, they are the only three speakers who have attempted to oppose the demands that have been made on both sides of the House that Section 5 of the Public Order Act should be amended by introducing into it specific words to make it a clear and unambiguous offence for anyone in a public place or in a public meeting to use words inciting racial hatred. That is the short and simple issue now before the House.
I am perfectly prepared to proceed in my arguments on the assumption made by the Home Secretary in opening this debate. He said, and I agree with him, that there should be no interference with freedom of speech unless the need is proved up to the hilt. We can all make violent speeches about anti-Semitism and about Fascism, we can also make strong speeches about freedom of speech, and we can all recognise, as we should—and as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale does as much as anybody—that, basically, the whole of our liberties depend on the victories that have been won in exercising freedom of speech.
I understand this Bill to deal with one aspect only of freedom of speech—not freedom of speech in general, not freedom of speech in writing, but freedom of speech in public meetings. The whole basis of the Public Order Act, which introduced certain limitations on freedom of speech at public meetings, is that freedom of speech at public meetings is meaningless and illusory unless the Government of the day can preserve public order, because we cannot have freedom of speech at a public meeting without 1143 public order. It has therefore been recognised since 1936 that if anybody at a public meeting uses threatening, abusive or insulting words that are likely to cause a breach of the peace there is an offence.
I contend, as my hon. Friends and most hon. Members opposite have done, that that is not enough, but I accept the view that one ought to justify any further limitation of freedom of speech. Before attempting that, however, I want to examine what was said by the hon. Member for Kirkdale in a very revealing speech. He said, and one has to meet the point, that he believed that if this amendment of Section 5 of the Public Order Act were made he would probably be exposed to penalties if he advocated at a public meeting, as I think he has, and is entitled to do in this House, that Commonwealth immigrants who have committed an offence should be deported.
I should like to ask the Attorney-General his opinion. Is it his view or is it not—and I will not express an opinion about it—that in the interest of freedom of speech a person who honestly and sincerely believes that Commonwealth immigrants should be deported is entitled to say so? That is an arguable proposition. Is that the Attorney-General's view?
§ Mr. N. Pannell
The only point I made in my short speech was that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M Foot) accused me of a smear which comes under the definition of"abusive" and according to his definition I should have been liable under the type of Bill that he wanted to see introduced.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am obliged to the hon. Member. I want to see how far this proposition goes. After all, the Home Secretary resists our demand that the use of words inciting to racial hatred should be made a specific offence. I am trying to find what is the rational and logical basis, if there is one, on which that proposition is defended.
Does the Attorney-General contend, or could it be contended, as it might be by some, that in the interest of the hallowed tradition of freedom of speech anybody who sincerely believes that in the interests of our society as a whole Commonwealth immigrants should be 1144 deported is entitled to say so at public meetings? Is he entitled to go further and say that there should be a complete restriction on coloured immigrants?
Will the Attorney-General allege that if somebody thought it was necessary to advocate complete restriction of Commonwealth immigration, even though that were bound to lead to racial hatred, he should be entitled to advocate such a policy because of the cherished tradition of freedom of speech? Is that the argument? I will assume for the moment that it is not. I will assume that the argument is, as was put forward, I think, by the Lord Chancellor in another place and by the Home Secretary today, that the real reason why the Government resist this desired amendment is that they think it unnecessary?
I hope that we shall have a categorical reply whether the Attorney-General thinks it desirable or not or whether he rests his case on the view that it is unnecessary. If the argument is that it is unnecessary, I must remind the House that until the decision of the Divisional Court in the Jordan case there was the greatest ambiguity as to what the words of Section 5 as they stand mean, and I do not think that it can be seriously contended that the decision of the Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues removed that ambiguity.
All that that judgment has done is to lay down that in the case of the particular words used by Mr. Jordan those words were sufficiently insulting or sufficiently abusive to enable the court to deal with him, Mr. Colin Jordan, under Section 5, but that leaves completely wide open all the other cases in which somebody, without necessarily using words which would be caught by Section 5, deliberately uses words calculated to incite racial hatred.
I regret that I was not in my place when the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South, spoke. He knows perfectly well that I was taking the chair at a meeting of the Committee on Statutory Instruments of which he is also a member. The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to tell me the gist of what he said and other hon. Members have also told me. This is how I understand his argument. He referred to blasphemy 1145 and how wise it would be if we now removed blasphemy as a criminal offence from the Statute Book. I agree with him.
The analogy I draw is that there was a time for many centuries in the history of our country when blasphemy was properly thought to be a criminal offence and was specifically mentioned as such, and in order to deal with it one did not have to rely upon common law or upon the use of insulting words which might provoke a breach of the peace. In those days, the reason was that blasphemy was regarded as so serious and so likely to undermine the whole structure of society that it should be punishable per se, without proof that anybody using blasphemous words might provoke violence or a breach of the peace. This is no longer the case. Today, people may use as much blasphemy as they like without their words leading to violence. They may provoke dissent and argument, but no one says today that the preaching of atheism or anything of that kind would lead to violence or a breach of the peace.
I contend that the very same reasons apply today in this other context. In earlier centuries blasphemy was singled out as a specific punishable offence, without proof that the use of particular words led to violence or a breach of the peace, precisely by the same reasoning as our society today justifies and requires us in our statute law to make the use of words inciting to racial hatred an offence. In the conditions of British society and world society, particularly in the conditions of the Commonwealth, without reference to the United States of America or anywhere else, the propagation of racial hatred is in itself something calculated to do damage to society, irrespective of the provocation it gives to those who are naturally incensed, whether they be Jews, coloured immigrants or any other minority. Nowadays, when racial tensions are increasing, and when it is part of the fundamental duty of all civilised Governments to try to reduce them and to promote the integration of immigrants and minorities of all kinds within the social structure in order to prevent trouble, precisely the same reasons, in my submission, apart from all the other arguments, justify and require the specific introduction into the Bill of the words which have been proposed.
1146 I repeat what I said at the outset. It would be a thousand pities if the House parted with the Bill on Second Reading without an assurance from the Government that we shall have an opportunity in Committee of expressing the considered judgment of the House on this matter.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir John Hobson)
Everyone who has heard the debate will agree that it has been both interesting and, on occasions, very eloquent. It has touched upon matters which are of the greatest importance in the functioning of our democracy. It deals with one of the most difficult problems in the art of government, namely, the holding of the balance firmly and fairly between the rights of free speech at public meetings, on the one hand, and the need to keep law and order and see that justice is done, on the other.
I agree fundamentally with my hon. Friend the Member for Was all, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) when he says that free speech is not concerned with saying what is acceptable. It has nothing to do with that. If freedom of speech were simply limited to saying what most of the community thought was right and correct, it would be useless and utterly meaningless. I think that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) made the same point. Socrates, Galileo and many others we can think of wished, in their time, to say what was utterly detestable and wholly unacceptable to the people among whom they lived.
We must, I submit, remember to stand by what is a difficult attitude, which requires constant courage to maintain, namely, that perverse and erroneous opinions must be tolerated to the fullest possible extent, provided that reason and truth are left free to combat them. It comes back to what the philosopher said,"I disagree with every word that you say, but will defend to the last your right to say it". This is the difficult principle which we must consider when discussing what every hon. Member and the vast majority of the people of this country outside believe to be the utterly detestable views of Fascism which are now, to a small extent, showing themselves in our midst.
1147 Certainly, if the fears expressed by some hon. Members opposite as to the likely recrudescence of that doctrine in our midst, following the pattern of Germany in the 1930s, revealed a serious risk, I would absolutely concede that very serious measures ought immediately to be taken. But for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) and others I should have thought that the British people would never have a part of it and that we could rely on their good sense and knowledge of what it means utterly to reject any such doctrine.
We must, therefore, be careful in dealing with the question of the law affecting the right of free speech at public meetings to make sure that, in order to hit at one danger, we do not narrow it to such an extent or in such a manner that we exclude what ought to be the fair expression of opinion, and do not prevent people from expressing other unpopular views which did not occur to our mind at the time that we legislated.
I hope that the House will consider that, in general, the law should not be concerned with whether views or statements are correct, unpopular or accurate, and that citizens should be free to say whatever they wish, however wrong-headed it may seem to most people, unless there are overriding reasons of public policy why they should be prevented from making such statements.
§ Sir B. Janner
Would the Attorney-General deal with what we have subscribed to, namely, the Declaration of Human Rights, which says categorically:All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration, against any incitement to such discrimination.Do we agree with that or not?
The Attorney-General: It is not a question of whether we agree with it or not. It is a question of whether and to what extent people should be allowed to express their own views at public meetings. Is not that proposition to be the subject of discussion at public meetings by rational people who desire to say that it is either right or wrong? However wrongheaded we may be to disagree with the proposition, is it to be said that we must not under any circumstances dis- 1148 agree with it at a public meeting? The question is: are there, in this case, overriding reasons of public policy why people should be prevented, and in what circumstances should they be prevented, from expressing their opinions?
The question, I think, has come down to this: have we reached the position where the views of Fascists and, naturally, then, of Communists have become so extreme that they should not be tolerated or allowed to be expressed? Once we started on that slippery slope and, for the first time in this country, prevented the expression of extreme views because they were thought to be wholly unacceptable, we would then, I have no doubt, be under pressure in future to prevent the expression of extreme and unpopular views of a different category and nature at public meetings.
We must remember that we are not here dealing with any question of censorship. No one in this debate has discussed that question. We are not concerned with, and the Bill does not and cannot possibly attempt to deal with, the question of books, of printed matter not distributed at public meetings, of newspapers and of television. The control of opinions through those media is, of course, quite outside the scope of this debate, but it is because there are many people to whom those media are shut and who have no access to them that the rights of people at public meetings become very important indeed.
One point which was raised by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) dealt with the position of coloured persons and the liability which they are to attacks of racial violence. I suggest that that is not a matter which we are really debating here today. I would have hoped that the Notting Hill case at the Old Bailey, some time ago, had shown that our law was quite strong enough to deal with outbreaks of violence of that nature. I hope that it will always be properly enforced. The sentences which were then passed were both exemplary and salutary and did much good for public opinion, not only in this country, but in Jamaica and the rest of the West Indies, whence the people against whom the attacks were made had come.
The hon. Member also asked what should be done if the meeting in his 1149 constituency had taken place. One thing that can certainly be done is to go and heckle. I hope that nobody will imagine that the law is being altered in any way to prevent proper and reasonable heckling at public meetings. We have had the Public Meetings Act since 1908 and I do not know that anybody has ever been charged with an offence under it for reasonable heckling. It could, of course, go to the extent of being a breaking up of the meeting, and then other considerations might arise.
Apart from publicly heckling the speakers, one could always take along a shorthand writer and take down what is said. If it is thought that a speaker has infringed the provisions of the Public Order Act, one can also lay an information. This is the real remedy to prevent people making speeches such as were made in Trafalgar Square on 1st July, 1962, which the courts have now said were an infringement of the law.
§ Mr. Manuel
Would not the Attorney-General recognise that the Bill specifies heavy penalties where disorder might be created? While, in the past, heckling may not have been considered an offence and would not have troubled the police, where there is a penalty of the kind which is now envisaged if heckling leads to disorder at a meeting, an unskilled politician or police officer might consider that it was prohibited by the Bill, with the result that heckling might be limited for this reason.
§ Mr. Mendelson
The point I was trying to make was not that there is no legislation to deal with violence against coloured people. I am well aware that there is legislation on the Statute Book and I welcome the confirmation which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given. My point was that under the Bill, which he is commending to the House, the penalties against those who have been provoked will be as heavy as the penalties against those who deliberately stage provocative demonstrations. Is not that unreasonable?
§ Mr. Greenwood
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also bear in mind that the Public Meetings Act, 1908, contains the provision that 1150If any constable reasonably suspects any person of committing an offence…he may if requested so to do by the chairman of the meeting require that person to declare to him immediately his name and addressand that if he declines to give it the policeman can arrest him without warrant? Does the Attorney-General think it justifiable to fine a man £100 for that?
§ The Attorney-General
He would be fined not for that, but only if found guilty of the offence.
The basis upon which the increase in the penalties under the 1908 Act is being brought are as follows. There are two events that can happen to interfere with the right of public meeting. The first is where a man abuses it completely by making a speech which is threatening, insulting and abusive and is calculated or likely to cause a breach of the peace. That is where the speaker creates the disturbance. Under the statute, he is the person who has committed the principal offence and who now, if it is a serious offence, can be committed for trial upon indictment. This deals with the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen). It is intended that in the case of the most serious offences of outrageous abuse of public speech at public meetings an indictment should be preferred, although it must, in accordance with the usual law, be left to the prosecuting authority to determine.
To go back to the point I was trying to deal with, that is one side of the picture. The other side of the picture is that there are people who go to meetings determined that they shall not take place. That is what the 1908 Act was aimed at. This is putting into the hands of people attending the meetings the right of censorship, and that is utterly unacceptable. Therefore, the Government took the view that there is an equality between those who abuse the right of free speech in a manner which is wholly unacceptable and likely to cause a breach of the peace and those who prevent the right of free speech by causing a disturbance and breach of the peace. The heckler who goes too far, the man who is provoked to such an extent that he himself causes a disturbance, is, as far as I know, never charged under the 1908 Act. He is 1151 always charged, under the 1936 Act, of himself having used"threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour" in such a way as to be likely to cause a breach of the peace.
Therefore, if it is to be said that one is discouraging those who are likely to attend meetings because one is increasing the penalties too greatly, it ought to be an attack not on the increase in the penalties in the 1908 Act but on the increase in the penalties in the 1936 Act. I should have thought that the matter could be properly dealt with in this way, and that nobody supposes that a reasonable man who goes to a meeting and is provoked by a speech which is utterly provocative and loses control of himself would be very severely dealt with by the magistrate.
The maximum penalty under the 1936 Act, as it is being put up, is intended to deal with the extreme case of the man who abuses the right of public speech, as the court held in July, 1962, in the Jordan case. It is not that the penalties in the 1936 Act are being put up to a maximum. It must be recognised that those who are merely provoked and those who lost control and misbehave must be subject to the same maximum—though the probability of their ever getting the same maximum can, one would think, be ignored.
§ Mr. Abse
If a man went to a meeting, and found himself so intolerably provoked that he wanted to end the meeting, there is nothing that the Attorney-General can say to him to prevent a policeman charging him under the 1908 Act and his being subject to the increased penalties. That is the position. Nothing said by the Attorney-General here handicaps or inhibits the police from making a charge under the 1908 Act. Surely that is the position.
§ The Attorney-General
It has not happened for a very long time now, and I think it would be very unusual indeed. As far as I know, it has never happened. The gentleman who merely behaves in a somewhat outrageous way, including using insulting behaviour calculated to cause a breach of the peace, is not guilty of an offence under the 1908 Act. He has to go much further than that—to the extent of acting in a disorderly manner 1152 for the very purpose of preventing the transaction of the business for which the meeting is called—before he can be found guilty. Therefore, one has a much heavier burden before one can bring such a charge under the 1908 Act.
This is the basis upon which the maximum penalties are fixed. The Bill merely lays down the maximum penalties. The maximum penalties are fixed equally for the two offences, as it is as shocking to abuse the right of free speech as it is to prevent free speech, and within those two categories the extreme cases ought to be dealt with upon an equal basis. The courts can be trusted to separate out quite carefully those which have not really come anywhere near the worst form of the offence in either provision.
I was dealing with the Public Order Act and was about to submit, when I was interrupted and diverted, that the Act really does approach this problem on the right basis. There have to be two elements in any offence under that Act. First, the person has to use language beyond the bounds of fair discussion. It has to be threatening, abusive or insulting. On top of that, and in addition to it, the language has to be used either with the intent to provoke a breach of the peace or in circumstances whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned.
If one abandons either of these two legs of the criminal offence, one will either be punishing those who wish publicly to discuss important issues in perfectly moderate and correct terms, to which nobody could take the slightest exception, and then one will be censoring their actual views and not the manner of their expression; or one will be putting in the hands of an audience the right to censor a speaker because it complains not of the manner of a speech but of its contents.
The second leg of the argument is,"Why should not people be allowed to say what they like when no breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned?" But this would be applying to literature, books and the Press a different standard from that which would apply at public meetings.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that one ought 1153 to be able to advocate racial hatred provided that in doing so it does not lead to a breach of the peace?
§ The Attorney-General
No. I am not saying that.
My next point will, I think, answer the hon. Gentleman. We must remember that there remains, in addition, a weapon of the law which is applicable not only to public meetings but also to literature, the Press and the other media I mentioned. This is the charge of sedition. For disorders which are deliberately provoked, and, in particular, those provoked by literature as distinct from speeches, we can use the law of sedition, and I think that it would be appropriate for me to remind the House of how the common law deals with provocative literature of that kind.
The common law was stated in these terms by the learned judge in his summing up on the last occasion of a prosecution for sedition, which was the Caunt case at Blackpool. He said that a man publishes a seditious libel if he does so"with the intention of promoting violence by stirring up hostility and ill-will between different classes of His Majesty's subjects".
That would, of course, be sufficient to cover the stirring up of hostility or ill-will on the grounds of religion, race or colour or any other of the matters we have been discussing.
§ Sir B. Janner
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that in that case, although the prosecution, after the fullest consultation with all concerned, came to the conclusion that an offence had been committed, nevertheless the jury decided that an offence had not been committed? Does not he, therefore, understand that something must be done about a situation of that description, so as to make it abundantly clear what these provisions really mean?
The Attorney-General: I was dealing with the nature of the crime of sedition and seditious libel. I realise that that case failed, as the hon. Gentleman says, somewhat to the surprise of the prosecution which, I believe, was ordered by one of my learned predecessors, now Lord Shawcross. I would have thought, however, that we would not want questions of sedition and seditious libel to 1154 be tried by anybody other than juries. Seditious libel is a serious offence and is triable only on indictment.
We must remember that there is a delicate balance to be struck in the prosecution for sedition and that the jury, as reasonable men, will be considering not only the intention to provoke hostility and ill-will or hatred, but, on the other side, the essential rights of free speech. History has shown that juries have been jealous to guard the rights of free speech and reluctant to convict except in the clearest possible cases. Nevertheless, the procedure on indictment is not one which can be invoked as a measure of swift justice, since it leads to the more deliberate procedure of trial by jury. Consequently, it is a procedure to which resort should be had only in serious cases whose gravity is manifest after tempers have cooled down. But I should like to take this opportunity of telling the House that if our new Nazis or any other extremists carry things so far as to bring themselves within the law of sedition, I shall not hesitate to invoke that law against any such person.
Having reminded the House of the existence of that weapon, which deals not only with public meetings, but also with all forms of provocation which are likely to stir up ill-will and hatred on any grounds, I come back to the argument which we have largely had today, whether it would be beneficial to add within the Public OrderAct, 1936, a specific reference to racial hatred. Perhaps I can make two points. I venture to suggest, first, that even if this Bill had been law in July, 1962, at the time of the Jordan meeting, and had contained this provision, the police could not have dealt with the matter in any other way, and that it has been shown by the courts that they had sufficient power to deal with that meeting.
Secondly, I remind the House that it is difficult to conceive of any words which would promote racial hatred and fall within the Section without the use of threatening, abusive, or insulting language. It may just be possible to conceive of this being done, but I am bound to say that it is exceedingly difficult to see how it could be done, and I do not know of anyone who has succeeded in doing it yet. Therefore, as has been conceded by many speakers today, the words 1155 of the 1936 Act are adequate now to cover the sort of speech which we all want to prevent.
It has been said that the law was in doubt. It is perfectly true that it was in doubt during the period until the decision of the Divisional Court was available. This was the very reason why the Government waited to see what the decision was. I would have thought that, after all that has gone on to this moment, nobody could have said that he was unaware of the fact that abusive, insulting and threatening language must not be used on the subjects of race, Jews, or coloured people, and that to do so in public was to make oneself liable to the penalties of the law if abreach of the peace is likely to ensue.
The only merit which has been suggested for putting in Section 5 of the 1936 Act an express reference to racial hatred is that it will make plain to ordinary citizens what the position is. I have already submitted that they should now know. However, I should like to warn the House that however desirable that object may be, one has to be very careful when amending an Act that one does not hit at something which one never intended to hit.
First, the words"racial hatred" are not very precise and, for a criminal Statute, there might be substantial risks of bringing into the penalties of the criminal law matters quite different from and other than those which we have been discussing today. We have a great deal of violent discussion among Scotsmen, Americans, Jews, Russians and all sorts of people. Those are persons who belong to individual races. One might quite unintentionally widen the provisions of the criminal law to inhibit discussions to which no one would really object.
Secondly, if one did this one would be for the first time introducing into the criminal law a provision which deals with the opinion being expressed and not with the manner in which it is actually phrased. That is a very substantial difference. Provided that we are satisfied that the law at present will deal with people who make these outrageous speeches, I ask the House to come to the conclusion that it is not 1156 necessary to make any such alteration and that the law is adequate at the moment.
§ Mr. Greenwood
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain why it is proposed to restrict this law to words which are spoken and not to words which are written—such as those which appeared on the banner on the plinth in Trafalgar Square?
§ The Attorney-General
Of course, I express a personal opinion, which is not binding on the courts, but I should have thought that in view of the phrases of Section 5, which deal with"words or behaviour" at a public meeting, the distribution of poster by hand or their display by the organisers of the meeting, or the waving of banners and matters of that sort, come within the words of the Section. I express that opinion as my own view. Of course, the hon. Member will realise that this is not binding on the courts, but I hope the courts would agree that these are matters which come within the words dealing with behaviour at a public meeting.
I respectfully submit that by altering the law, if people are satisfied that it is adequate at the moment and only want it to be clarified, one would run the great danger of striking at opinions and, secondly, at widening it very much further than one had expected by the interpretation which might be placed upon it by the courts.
§ Mr. M. Foot
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman answer the point which was put at the beginning of the debate by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and by many others, whether the Government propose to alter the Title of the Bill to enable the House of Commons to decide on this matter which he has been discussing?
§ The Attorney-General
The answer to that is, no.
I remind the House of words spoken by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) on 14th March, 1946 when he was discussing a very similar topic. We do not always agree with what the right hon. Member says, but on this occasion I commend his words to the House:what we require to do in this matter is to keep a sense of proportion, and leave these 1157 people to the sense of humour of the British people. We shall not cure Fascism in this country by turning the Home Secretary into a Fascist, with powers to suppress opinion."—[Official Report, 14th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 1263.]There has been no real opposition—except on minor details of the balance of penalties, to which we can return in Committee—to the provisions of the Bill. There has been discussion only on whether it ought to be wider. I hope that as a result of the arguments I have advanced the House will now think it right to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. M. Foot
Will the Attorney-General give the House some reasons why the Government have reached the decision that they will not allow the House of Commons to vote on the question whether this Clause should be incorporated in the Bill? That was put from the Opposition Front Bench at the beginning of the debate and it was raised by at least six other hon. Members, but apparently the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not proposing to answer it. He has not presented a single argument why this should be so. It is no use saying that the Home Secretary did not want to be a Fascist in this respect; he is treating the House as if it were a Reichstag.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House—[Mr. Pearson.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.