§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 7 to leave out from "peace)" to "shall" in line 9.
§ The Chairman
I think that it would be convenient for the Committee to discuss, at the same time, two further Amendments standing in the name of the hon. Member, in page 2, line 1, to leave out from "five" to the end of line 3, and in the Title, line 2, to leave out from "1936" to the end of line 3.
§ Mr. Weitzman
That will be satisfactory. The two Amendments being discussed with the one which I have moved are consequential.
The Amendment seeks to delete from the Bill any reference to offences under Section 1 of the Public Meeting Act, 1908. I remind the Committee that that Section makes it an offence forAny 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…Under the 1908 Act, the offence is punishable by a fine not exceeding £5 or imprisonment for one month.
I make it quite clear that I am not suggesting that that should not be the offence. If the Amendment were carried, the law would remain as it is; in other words, it would still be, as it has been since 1908, an offence under Section 1 of the Public Meeting Act, 1908, and punishable in the same way. I am not aware of any body of opinion—other than, perhaps, the Fascists—who have expressed the view that in this respect the law should be altered. Despite that fact, the Government are taking this opportunity to alter that provision; that is to say, they are treating this offence in exactly the same way as if it were an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, carrying the same penalty.
266 Why are the Government doing that? It would probably not be in order at this moment for me to refer to the other Amendments in detail, but, in passing, I would say that a strong case was made out for making quite clear and beyond doubt that words or behaviour calculated to incite hatred on grounds of race, creed or colour, constitute an offence under the Act. An overwhelming case was also made out for increasing the penalties under Section 5 of the Public Order Act and, indeed, by this very Bill, the Home Secretary has himself recognised that such a case has been made out because, clearly, the events of last year made that manifest.
But what justification is there for including in this Bill offences under the Public Meeting Act, 1908? I remind the Committee that on Second Reading the learned Attorney-General said:The heckler who goes too far, the man who is provoked to such an extent that he himself causes a disturbance, is…never charged under the 1908 Act. He is 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"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1150.]In the words of the Attorney-General himself, therefore, that case is provided for without the necessity of the inclusion in the Bill of any reference to the Public Meeting Act.
What, then, is the purpose of here putting in this reference to the 1908 Act? I suggest that it is as if it were a sop to the Fascists and other persons who, by their recent conduct, have made the Bill necessary. It is as if the Home Secretary were saying to the Fascists. "We will punish you, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that those who attend the meetings and interrupt will be punished in exactly the same way." That is manifestly unjust. The right of public meeting is an important right, and should not be interfered with unless it is absolutely essential. It is esential with regard to Section 5 of the Public Order Act, and essential there, not as a breach in our right to free speech but in order to prevent the abuse of our right of free speech.
I would ask the Committee to look at this from a practical point of view. Suppose the Fascists proposed, as they have in the past, to hold a meeting at or near 267 my constituency—for example, at Ridley Road, a well-known place where they held meetings. It is a district where, hitherto, Gentiles, Jews and coloured people have lived in peace and harmony, with no suggestion of trouble of any kind. It is said to these people, "Keep away", but, inevitably, such a meeting provokes counter-demonstrations. People who suffered grievously—refugees and their relatives, and there are many of them who live in this district—who hate, and rightly hate, Fascism and all it stands for, will attend these meetings. They will not at such meetings allow such expressions as "Hitler was right".
Hitherto, when they have offended they have been adequately dealt with under Section 1 of the Public Meeting Act, and nobody has suggested that they should be dealt with otherwise. Indeed, if they have offended seriously at such a meeting, according to the Attorney-General's words they can be dealt with under the Public Order Act, with its increased penalties. But, with this present provision, there is the danger that for any offences they can be dealt with under this Bill, with its increased penalties, and that, I suggest, is manifestly unjust.
Both my local councils—the Hackney Borough Council and the Stoke Newington Borough Council—discussed the Bill very recently, and condemned very strongly the inclusion of Section 1 of the Act in this Bill. One of the councillors used these very strong words:By presenting this Bill, the Government would strengthen the hands of the Fascists. It was not the preachers of racial hatred who were arrested. The majority of so-called offenders were innocent bystanders.I am sure that every hon. Member will agree that the right of public meeting is of paramount importance, but it has never been recognised what an infringement of the right of free speech is the inclusion of offences under the Public Meeting Act of 1908. Many reforms have been greatly assisted by public meetings. People have the right to attend, to heckle, to express their views forcibly, even to dissent vigorously from the view expressed from the platform. Political meetings, especially, are important in this connection.
A weapon in the hands of the police is made much more formidable by reason of these increased penalties. The police 268 will be asked to say whether a heckler, forcibly or vigorously expressing a view differing from that coming from the platform, is trying in the words of the Section, to prevent…the transaction of the business for which the meeting was called…The policeman is the judge in the first instance because, under subsection 1(3) of the Public Meeting Act, 1908, if he reasonably suspects that any person has been committing such an offence he can, at the request of the chairman, require the person to give his name and address. If the person refuses, he is guilty of an offence, and the policeman can arrest him without a warrant—without a warrant—if he suspects that the person has given a false name and address.
If this provision remains in the Bill, the position will be that on the evidence of the police—and we know that a court of summary jurisdiction will be prone to accept that evidence—the person will be liable to a penalty on summary conviction of a fine of £100 or three months in gaol, or both, and, on indictment, to a fine of £500 or 12 months in gaol, or both. I stress that this is a real danger.
I remind the Committee that the Public Meeting Act, 1908, was a private Measure, introduced by Lord Robert Cecil. In Committee, it was said quite clearly that disorderly conduct was practised at public meetings in many parts of the country, and had been from immemorial time.
"It was a form of sport which was as well recognised as football", a Member, a Mr. Radford, said. He added:He was not prepared to say without a moment's notice that a man should be fined or imprisoned for doing that which they and their forefathers had done for generations.He asked that the Measure should be deferred for twelve months.
Lord Robert Cecil, in reply, said:The possible danger of hardship was really not very great. The penalty was only £5—after all, not a very severe penalty—or a month's imprisonment, and he did not think it was at all probable that any summary jurisdiction court would be at all over-severe in dealing with the matter. Where the prisoners said they were not aware of the Act, and were not evilly-disposed persons, and nothing was known against their character, the probability was that they would be let off with a caution the first time and very likely the second. He really thought they need not be afraid that the penalty would be unduly enforced.269 It was a light Measure with no question of anything really severe in it.
When the Bill went to another place, the Earl of Donoughmore, in putting it forward, said:The object of this Bill is to make disorderly conduct at a meeting for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business of the meeting an offence. I do not think it is necessary for me to remind your Lordships of recent events. I think it will not be denied that during the last three or four years the general tone of behaviour at public meetings has been of a distinctly lively character, culminating in a great meeting in the Albert Hall some ten days ago which was described to me by an eye-witness as pandemonium, and which has given rise to a rumour that the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to address no more public meetings if anything in petticoats is allowed to form part of his audience. I do not know whether the rumour is true; but I cannot help sympathising with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in view of the treatment he has had.Lord Newton, speaking on the Bill, said:The noble Earl has endeavoured to persuade us that nobody will be injured by the Bill; but I gather that any person who attends a meeting and shouts 'Votes for Women', 'Down with the House of Lords', or 'Your coal will cost you more', will be liable to a penalty of £5 or imprisonment for a month; and when the noble Earl talked about the necessity of safeguarding free speech I should like to point out that he is interfering with one of the most cherished privileges of the public It is an immemorial practice in the public life of this country to attend public meetings, not necessarily of one's friends, and the measure is such a startling departure from well-established national habits that I am disposed to suggest that, following the precedent to be established by another Bill which is before Parliament, it should be brought into operation by instalments. The most dangerous class ought to be dealt with first, and I would suggest, therefore, that in the first instance it should be applicable only to women, and at a subsequent stage it should be brought into operation in regard to adult males, and, at a still later stage, should apply to the rising generation.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
On a point of order. The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) has given us an enjoyable extract from a debate, but could we have your Ruling, Sir William? We have had a long reading from a speech made in another place. Is not this, strictly speaking, out of order?
§ The Chairman
The rule is that if an hon. Member refers to a speech of a previous Session made in another place he is perfectly in order.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I am much obliged to you, Sir William. I took the precaution of carefully ascertaining the position before I dared make those quotations.
I quoted the speeches because this was the way in which this Private Members' Measure was introduced in 1908. People then said that the Measure interfered with the right of free speech, but it was described as an innocuous Measure, the sort of Measure where there was only a penalty of £5 or a month's imprisonment and people need not worry too much about it. It was said, "If you have a case coming before the magistrate he will deal with it quietly. There is no great punishment." But the Government have now transformed this innocuous Measure into something in the same category as an offence under the Public Order Act. I suggest with great respect that this simply will not do.
It is unjust on the face of it and it is putting a. weapon in the hands of the police which can be used wrongly and vigorously against people who merely go along to meetings and who might not have intended to interrupt. If one adopts the view put forward, I suggest rightly, by the Attorney-General that we need not worry about the real offences under the 1908 Act, because they can be dealt with under the Public Order Act, why refer here to the Public Meeting Act? I suggest that this is an unjust provision and I hope that the Amendment will be accepted.
§ Lord Balniel (Hertford)
I have listened with great care and interest to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). I disagree with his conclusion, but I have a certain sympathy with his approach to the argument. The hon. and learned Member talked about the possibility of there being a danger that the Public Meeting Act, 1908, might be used to prosecute hecklers. I have a certain sympathy with his concern, because I agree with John Stuart Mill that the yardstick by which we should judge legislation is that when we grant power which could be abused we must always assume that it will be abused. He went on to say that whereas precautions will be stringently enforced to begin with 271 those precautions in time will inevitably be relaxed.
Whilst I agree with the hon. and learned Member's general approach, I am in disagreement with his argument. I was interested to hear that the Public Meeting Act was introduced by the late Lord Robert Cecil in 1908. The great-nephew of Lord Robert Cecil, namely, the noble Lord the Member for Hertford, welcomes this Amendment to the 1908 Bill. In the Amendment we are arguing about the balance we should strike between two different types of offences, both very different offences but both touching directly upon the maintenance of public order and the freedom of speech, both of which have been hard to win in this country. They must be treasured, and they are particularly precious to us because there are many pacts of the world where they do not exist.
In many respects the argument which revolves round the Amendment is the classic argument which is thrashed out by undergraduates through the night at Oxford and Cambridge—between those who contend that every legal rule should widen personal liberty and those who contend that every legal rule is inevitably an encroachment upon personal liberty. Clearly the Government in moving this Bill believe that the enforcement of penalties under the Public Meeting Act, far from restricting liberty, widen individual freedom.
Hon. Members opposite, in supporting the Amendment, have all the appearance of being little Tom Paines imagining that any Government of any kind is no more than a necessary evil, because obviously the elementary duty of any Government is the maintenance of public order at a public meeting. I cannot help feeling that some hon. Members imagine themselves as belonging to the great tradition of radicalism and riot; they imagine themselves taking part in rowdy, vigorous meetings of the Eatanswill type, forgetting, as the hon. and learned Gentleman did, that hecklers cannot be prosecuted under the Public Meetings Act, 1908. Forgetting that, they imagine themselves heckling at a lively vigorous meeting and being carted off by the police and subjected to a fine of £500 or 12 months' imprisonment. This is not the situation at all.
272 I can well understand the hon. and learned Gentleman disliking legal restrictions of any kind at a public meeting, but what we have been witnessing in the past few months at certain public meetings have, in fact, been restrictions on free speech imposed not by law but by mob violence. Restrictions on free speech imposed by mob violence are far more evil than the necessary evil of minimum restrictions imposed by a Government to maintain public order at public meetings.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
Would the hon. Gentleman explain why such matters as mob violence, as he fears, cannot be dealt with under the Public Order Act?
§ Lord Balniel
Because the Public Meeting Act is specifically designed to deal with those people who act in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business for which a meeting was called. The Public Meeting Act is specifically designed to stop people attending a public meeting for the specific purpose of wilfully breaking it up.
It seems to me that in this Amendment we are deciding the balance which should be maintained for the penalties between two totally different types of offence, two types of offence which are inextricably interwoven. On the one hand, we have the penalties which are imposed for the offence of abusing freedom of speech, the use of insulting words deliberately to provoke public disorder. That offence is denned under Section 1 of the Public Order Act, 1936. On the other hand, we have the penalties imposed on those who wilfully break up a public meeting, who wilfully try to eliminate the right of free speech. That offence is defined under the Public Meeting Act, 1908.
The Government's contention is that these two different types of offence are of equal gravity and that the penalties should be similar. The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, in moving his Amendment, is contending that one of these offences, namely, the abuse of free speech, should be punished by a penalty of £500 and possibly imprisonment of 12 months; but that the other offence of deliberately 273 and wilfully breaking up a public meeting and eliminating the right of free speech should be punished by a fine of £5 or one month's imprisonment.
§ Mr. M. Foot
Would the hon. Gentleman not reply to the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) who quoted the Attorney-General on the subject? He quoted the Attorney-General as saying: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 always charged, under the 1936 Act…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1150.]The hon. Gentleman must answer that point.
§ Lord Balniel
The Public Order Act, 1936, is designed and can be used for the heckler who is provoked beyond all bearing and utters abusive and insulting words. He can be prosecuted under that Act. But the mob or gang which goes deliberately to break up a public meeting is liable to prosecution under the Public Meeting Act.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Balniel
And the Public Order Act, perhaps. I do not know. That is not necessarily so. People can break up a meeting not by using abusive words but by surging forward in an animal rush to the platform. It is for that kind of act that the Public Meeting Act is designed.
I really do not feel that the penalty of £5 provides a reasonable deterrent to the kind of people who attend these public meetings with the purpose of breaking them up. Also I do not think that is a reasonable backing for the police who have to handle these kinds of people. After all, these meetings are not Boy Scouts rallies. These meetings are deliberately disintegrated into vicious and nasty punch-ups, and the police must have the reasonable backing of the law behind them.
The hon. and learned Gentleman's argument of differentiating between these two penalties exemplifies a sense of values which I find very hard to understand. Of course, I share with every 274 hon. Member, and most certainly with the Mover of the Amendment, a sense of abhorrence and total contempt for those who abuse freedom of speech in order to incite hatred and fear. I despise these people who hurl abuse, epithets and insults at the audience in order to provoke disorder, and of course those people who play on the emotions of ordinary, decent men and women by vaunting the Nazi movement and all its squalid anti-semitic atmosphere. I have total contempt for that kind of conduct. But also and to no less a degree I feel a sense of contempt for those organisations which are trying to eliminate free speech altogether, those organisations which send in their thugs and their mentally-retarded rank and file wilfully and delibately to eliminate free speech and break up public meetings. These two offences, the abuse of free speech and the deliberate attempt to eliminate free speech by breaking up public meetings, are no more than different sides of the same coin.
§ Mr. Weitzman
Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that if a speaker on a platform says "Hitler was right" and a member of the audience, a refugee, is so incensed by that that he creates a disturbance, they both ought to be punished in the same way?
§ Lord Balniel
I feel the hon. and learned Gentleman must have totally failed to understand my argument. The heckler is not dealt with under the Public Meeting Act. 1908. I am talking about gangs of people who deliberately go to create a punch-up and eliminate the right of free speech.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that those persons could not be dealt with under the 1936 Act?
§ Lord Balniel
Indeed, I am. I would be very surprised if they could be. The actions of these people do not necessarily constitute assault and they do not necessarily involve abusive language. It seems to me that the aim of these people who undertake these two types of offence is exactly the same. They both aim to destroy democratic government, to bring down public order and to eliminate the right of free speech. They want to establish in the place of democratic 275 government the Nazi system or the Fascist system or the Communist system of government. I cannot see the logic of claiming that those who provoke public disorder by abusive language should be punished to the extent of £500 or 12 months imprisonment or both, but that those who wilfully break up a public meeting, creating public disorder in that way and eliminating free speech, should be subjected only to a derisory punishment of £5.
Indeed, it seems to me that as we increase the penalties for offences under these Acts, it is when we seek to increase them under the Public Order Act that we should ponder longest and think deepest.
It is the Public Order Act, 1936, and not the Public Meeting Act, 1908, which trenches on our freedom of speech. Indeed, if one is forced to discriminate and give heavier penalties under one Act than under the other, I should have thought that there ought to be heavier penalties cm those who are trying to eliminate free speech rather than on those, in an educated society, who abuse free speech. In fact we do not have to choose between the two. I support the Government in, I hope, resisting this Amendment because these are both grave crimes which should be punished with equal severity.
§ Mr. M. Foot
I have listened extremely carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) and, if there is any virtue in his argument, it seems to me to be that we can deal only with gangs who engage in mob violence trying to break up public meetings under the 1908 Act. If that is not the case, the whole of his argument falls to the ground. I think that is what the hon. Gentleman has argued, and I do not think that he can dissent from it.
The first answer to that is that if gangs who engage in mob violence have been dealt with under the 1908 Act. it is gross distortion of the purposes of Parliament, as revealed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, (Mr. Weitzman), that that Act was introduced in the first place, if, in fact, the only way in which we can prevent mobs from breaking up meetings of this character is by invoking the 1908 Act. This is a most curious state of affairs, because the Act of 1908 was introduced for a very 276 different purpose, and it has apparently been the only thing that has protected the State from violence during all these years. The noble Lord's proposition is an absurdity.
If he had listened to the Attorney-General, or to my hon. and learned Friend quoting the Attorney-General, he would have seen that in fact such exercises or displays of mob violence when they have occurred are not usually dealt with under the Public Meeting Act, 1908, but under the Public Order Act, or they maybe dealt with under normal Acts dealing with general breaches of the peace. The noble Lord has based the whole of his case and presented it to the Committee on the grounds that offences committed under the Public Meeting Act are equally grave with those that may be committed under the Public Order Act, and therefore it is quite proper to increase the penalties and go ahead as proposed by the Government. But that is not the case. It is not the Public Meeting Act that protects the nation and the public from the kind of offences which the hon. Gentleman objects to so strongly when he describes them as mob violence.
We are entitled to go back first to the origin of this Act which we are trying to exclude from the Government's proposals. My hon. and learned Friend gave a most interesting account of what was said when this Measure went through the House of Commons and the House of Lords in 1908. It is no use any hon. Member suggesting that this is a trivial matter. Acts of Parliament are supposed to carry out what this House of Commons and Parliament decide they ought to carry out. There is no doubt whatsoever that the 1908 Act was not regarded when it was introduced as a Measure of great importance. It was a minor Measure, introduced no doubt by a very eminent ancestor of the hon. Member for Hertford. That is one of his claims to fame. But the Bill itself was not very important. We also know that the ancestor of the hon. Member was very much opposed to the suffragettes, and apparently he introduced this Bill to have greater powers for dealing with them, but no one at the time regarded the Measure as one of any great importance.
There was no debate on its Second Reading in this House and, as has already 277 been indicated and underlined by my hon. and learned Friend, it was only got through the House because the hon. Member's eminent ancestor said to the House quite clearly, "You can be sure that the offences tried under this Act will be very trivial indeed; if indeed the Act is ever applied at all." I think that the hon. Member's ancestor must be groaning and turning in his grave at the thought that one of his descendants had come here to say that it is all right to have a penalty of £500 applied under the Act, which he introduced so innocently in 1908. But there is an even graver offence concerned with the history of the matter. The Government should have told us when the Bill was introduced what was the origin of placing this part in the Bill.
There is no public demand for an alteration in the Public Meetings Act, 1908. It had been hardly heard of. There was no public demand for it; no agitation for it. Therefore, when the Government came forward with the Bill and the Home Secretary took the precaution, as I think all of us will acknowledge, of trying to explain this Bill in considerable detail to the House, he should have explained the origin, and why he was resurrecting this Act to amend it. Either the Home Secretary knew the history of the matter and did not tell us, or he did not know the history. Either way he is caught. The Attorney-General is even more caught because he should have explained the history and said, "When we were ferreting around the legislation we came across this Act. Almost everyone had forgotten about it, but we thought that we would resurrect it and cram it into the Bill." Then we might have paid a little more attention to it on Second Reading.
I must confess that I have not discovered the background of what was the origin of this Act. The more one looks at it, the more I think it amounts almost to sharp practice that the Government should have sought to engraft an Amendment of the 1908 Act on to a Bill which purported to deal with problems that we were concerned with under the Public Order Bill and the Public Order Act, 1936, about which, of course, there had been a great agitation throughout the country about which there has been great discussion, and about which the Home Secretary himself had 278 said on numerous occasions was the matter that we were discussing. The Government said, "No, we are going to deal with the Public Meeting Act as well, and we are going to make the penalties as severe under that Act as under the Public Order Act."
The most astonishing thing—I doubt whether it has ever happened in British Parliamentary history before, but the Attorney-General may have brushed up his history a bit better for the Committee than for Second Reading—is that I doubt whether there has ever been a case where penalties under a Bill have been increased on the scale that the penalties under the Public Meeting Act are proposed to be increased under this Measure. It is a fantastic increase from £5 to £500. Therefore, we have to look at what is the appalling offence.
The hon. Member says that this Measure is required to deal with mob violence on a big scale which is just as big a danger to free speech as people from a platform using provocative language which will cause a breach of the peace. There are plenty of other laws under which mob violence can be dealt with. I am not a lawyer, but I do not think there is any doubt at all on that proposition. Our concern about the proposal that the Government have made, particularly in view of the origin of the Public Meeting Act, is that a proposal of the Government which purports to deal with dangerous mob violence can in fact be used for dealing with perfectly legitimate interruptions at public meetings. It is all very well for the noble Lord to shake his head and say that he does not think that will happen. His word is no guarantee; nor is the Government's for that matter.
We had a case the other day of the trial of people, brought before the magistrate, following the visit of the Greek Queen to this country. There were some disturbances. One woman was brought before Mr. Robey at Marlborough Street Magistrates' Court on Friday, 12th July. She was on a charge of wilfully disregarding the Commissioner's regulations. She pleaded not guilty and was remanded in custody until Friday the 12th when she changed her plea to guilty. In sentencing her to the maximum penalty of 40s., the magistrate, after listening to the defence 279 counsel s arguments, stated that she had only herself to blame and that Parliament was considering measures which would increase the penalties for this sort of offence.
I think that was a most improper remark for the magistrate to have made from the bench. I do not think that magistrates have any business to discuss legislation which is going through the House. They should only have regard to legislation which has been passed by the House. For a magistrate in a court to make reference to legislation passing through the House, apparently for the purpose of indicating to the victim that the penalties might be very much more severe in other cases, was, I think, most improper, and I hope that the Attorney-General or the Lord Chancellor, or whoever is responsible for these matters, will see that a proper rebuke is administered in such a case.
I am not quite sure whether this refers to this part, to what would occur under the new Act, or to the other part which refers to the intensified penalties under the Public Order Act, but it was wrong for the magistrate to say so. If it refers to the magistrate's suspicion that what was passing through the House was a Measure which would intensify the penalties imposed in such circumstances, it indicates that magistrates will not have all the wise or intelligent views on how to administer the law that the noble Lord thinks they have.
It is quite possible for magistrates and for the police who are giving the evidence to strain the meaning of the 1908 Act and to use it not merely for suppressing mob violence but for interfering with the right of people to make demonstrations by making noises or by interrupting fairly considerably at a public meeting. Personally, I think that British public life would be very much poorer if all public meetings were held in silence and if people who did not like some of the things said were not able to voice their disapproval. In this House I have occasionally witnessed scenes in which the Minister, no doubt very properly, is howled down, but under this Act, as interpreted by the noble Lord, it would be an offence if that were done in the street outside.
280 There are occasions when it is appropriate for speakers to be howled down—I will go as far as that—and when a well-aimed tomato or a well matured egg should not be regarded as an entirely improper feature of the political scene. There are many occasions on which this is the only proper way in which someone can express adequately his opinion of a speaker. I speak as one who has been hit by a rotten egg. I have no objection to it. People are entitled to express themselves in that way if they feel very strongly about something. Therefore, there are many gradations that we need to protect.
I do not know how often hon. Members go to Hyde Park and listen to the meetings there. We make a great boast of what happens there to show how democratic we are in this country. In Hyde Park, everybody can say what they like from the platform. But the whole point about Hyde Park is that everyone else, too, can say what they like. The greatest exponent of the right of free speech in Hyde Park is Dr. Donald Soper. He encourages the heckler. He would not dream of having an Act to protect him in Hyde Park. Those who make speeches in Hyde Park must protect themselves by their wits. That is their business.
It is monstrous that we should interfere with the right of the heckler even if he expresses his views in very strong terms. Of course, I agree that if the heckling, the interruptions and the accumulation of eggs and tomatoes become so prodigious that the speaker is utterly prevented from making his point at all, that is a threat to free speech and has to be dealt with under the present law. But we do not need any change in the law to deal with that.
What is being proposed is to increase the penalties which may be imposed for offences far short of that. We are giving enormous powers to the police in the evidence which they give to the courts and also to the magistrates as to how they are going to exercise those powers. I have not the slightest confidence that all the police and all the magistrates are going to administer such laws properly. We know that they do not do anything of the sort. We know that in these matters the police and the magistrates show the greatest prejudice, and when they 281 hear a political opinion which they think unorthodox they show the greatest possible prejudice.
Therefore, it is the business of this House to protect people who want to express unorthodox opinions either from the platform or when addressed to the speaker on the platform. That is what we ought to be doing instead of this miserable business of increasing penal ties. When the Government do not explain to the House the purpose behind the proposal—
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
On the question of increasing the penalties, the hon. Gentleman is very controversial. There are times when I would willingly pay £2 for having the opportunity of throwing a rotten egg at him, but if I had to pay £5 I would hesitate to do so. With the lowering in the value of money, to raise the penalties is to bring them more into line with present-day values.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman says he might have to pay £5 for doing that. I think that he should be allowed to do it for nothing, particularly as I have not much respect for his aim. The last time that I was almost hit by a rotten egg was when someone aimed it at me and hit my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), and I was agreeable to the whole transaction. Indeed, when we went on those marches we tried to prevent violence. One of my hon. Friends who was with me said, "We must wait until we see the whites of their eggs". This is the way in which tempers are kept cool.
The idea that this sort of thing should be stopped by great legal machinery is nonsense. It is in defiance of our traditions. It so happens that most of the freedoms which we possess have been secured by riots. People do not like to know that, but that is true. The Reform Bill of 1832 was not passed through the House solely because of the activities of the Bristol Unionists Association. It was due to the rioters. The Chartists fought for most of the liberties which we now possess. The rioters have rights, too. We do not want it on a great scale, but occasionally it is the only way, and in those days it was the only way.
We should be extremely careful about imposing fresh penalties. Far from being 282 careful the Government have muddled up the whole thing. They have introduced into an amendment of the Public Order Bill something which should not have been there at all. Of course, we know why the Government have gone for the extra penalties in this haphazard, slapdash way. It was because they were not prepared to face the real issue with which the country was concerned, the issue of how we are to deal with the bestial offence of spreading racial hatred and discrimination. The Government were not prepared to tackle that, or face it. Either they quibbled and said it was all dealt with by the law anyhow, or they ran away from it.
I know that we are not going to be able to discuss that in Committee owing to the decisions made by the Government. It is utterly disreputable that the Government should have introduced the Bill and then taken steps to prevent us from discussing the matter in Committee. We invited the Attorney-General to give us the chance to do so, but he would not. I hope that the Committee, seeing the way the Government have dealt with this important matter, introducing a Bill purporting to deal with the subject but not dealing with it at all but, in fact, increasing the dangers of interfering with perfectly legitimate expressions of free speech, will adopt the Amendment proposed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman).
I want the Committee to excise from the Bill altogether any reference to the Public Meeting Act. We shall then have the matter somewhat clearer and, no doubt, in the next Parliament, we can deal properly, in a quite different way, with the whole question of the spread of racial hatred and discrimination.
The more I look at what is proposed, and the more I look at the penalties, the more strongly do I plead with the Committee not to allow the Bill to go through in this form. What will be the end of it? We all know that the origin of the Bill was representations made to the Government from both sides of the House with a view to dealing with the subject of racial hatred and incitement. The Government said that they would examine the matter very carefully. They had to wait for all the cases in the courts to be dealt with. They examined them 283 with the utmost care and in detail, so they said. What do they propose now?—this hotch-potch of a Bill which jams together legislation on quite different subjects without dealing at all with the main matter which had aroused concern in the country and in the House.
The bets way to proceed is to improve as far as we can this miserable piece of legislation, and the best way of doing it is by reaffirming the purpose of the Public Meeting Act as stated by its author, the ancestor of the noble Lord, the Member for Hertford.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Willesden, East)
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) has told us that he has had experience of having rotten apples, eggs and other things thrown at him. I think that all of us have had, at the Marble Arch, the experience of being shouted down from our platforms. Usually, as a result, there is a very much better and larger meeting than there would be if there was no heckling. Hecklers can be extremely useful.
In my view, the Government are wielding a very heavy hand here. Not merely will these be the prescribed penalties for the speaker if he goes outside the terms of Section 5 of the 1936 Act, but the same type of penalties can be attached to the heckler who, when all is said and done, might have gone to the meeting not with the object of having some sport, not with the object referred to by my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) of breaking up the meeting but with the genuine intention of defending his own honour, his prestige or his beliefs. This is a quite extraordinary view.
Looking back over the past few months, how did these questions arise? In the 55 years since the 1908 Act was put on the Statute Book, the police, for whom I have the greatest admiration, have been able to look after large public rallies and public meetings throughout the country very well, and, in fact, as the Attorney-General has rightly said, very little use has been made of the 1908 Act. Then, in 1936, it was necessary to have another Act of Parliament to deal with a number of things, processions and so forth. Just recently, of course, my hon. Friend the 284 Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and I introduced a Bill, which, unfortunately has not become law, to deal with racial incitement. I appreciate that if I go further in discussing that Bill I shall be out of order, but I wish to draw attention again to the circumstances and events giving rise to it.
We had in this country a man named Jordan who said "Hitler was right". This caused a wave of resentment throughout the nation because many people could see the danger which might come to us unless there were suitable legislation on the Statute Book. When the question was raised in the House, no one talked about the 1908 Act, because, of course, that Act was not relevant. The point at issue related to the speaker at public meetings, not the audience.
The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) has attended meetings from time to time at Dalston Junction. He will remember that I was his opponent as prospective candidate for his constituency at one time and I also went to such meetings and found out exactly what happened there. I suggest to my noble Friend the Member for Hertford that he should take the opportunity of seeing the sort of things that can occur nowadays. A man stands on the public platform and proclaims something which is extremely impertinent. Is someone in the audience simply to stand aside and just listen to it all? Let us remember that it will depend entirely upon when the police intervene whether the meeting is closed or not. Let us suppose that there is a timid policeman present who is reluctant to do anything about closing the meeting for some time. A lot can be said, and the offence is created.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that impertinence should be the criterion for closing a political meeting?
§ Mr. Skeet
Certainly not. Far from it. I was using a particularly soft word. At some of these public meetings, of course, there is nothing short of an outrage.
A man is looking after his own interests and trying to defend himself. He 285 creates a little commotion at a public meeting. Along with others, he is arrested. They are all taken to the police station and charged. The extraordinary result is that the speaker who makes the outrageous speech advocating racial incitement receives a certain penalty, and, at the same time, 15 or 20 hecklers, perhaps, receive penalties of much the same order, yet they have done nothing but try to defend themselves.
§ Lord Balniel
I hope that my hon. Friend understands that I have nothing but contempt for some of these speakers at public meetings. But is my hon. Friend really satisfied with the idea that a number of public meetings can be closed before the speaker can make any statements at all? Is that the kind of freedom of speech which he advocates?
§ Mr. Skeet
I know very well that my noble Friend is absolutely sincere in what he says and is opposed to anyone who tries to spread racial incitement in this country. But I ask him to consider this further matter. A little time ago I received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department telling me that there was no power to ban a meeting in advance but that the police could close a meeting from the outset. I appreciate the point which my noble Friend makes. Nevertheless, what the law cannot do is stop an offensive document being circulated. When a leaflet was published saying that "Hitler was right", it was not possible to bring a prosecution on the document. The Attorney-General gave one or two answers off the cuff to the effect that these documents could be brought within the terms of Section 5 of the 1936 Act, but I very much doubt it. This is a point which should be examined extremely seriously.
We tend to become rather confused on this subject. On the one hand, there are people who go along to public meetings for sport to break them up and there are those who, out of sheer venom, want to break up public meetings. On the other hand, there are sincere people who go there to defend their rights. These are the people about whom I am concerned. They are the ones I want to protect. But let us not have these extremely stringent powers and heavy penalties in order to deal with them.
286 The Attorney-General said that the 1908 Act had been rarely used. But there were sufficient powers under the 1936 Act which could be invoked. My noble Friend said that there had been no restriction of liberty in freedom of speech and that our present law had not led to any diminution of that freedom of speech. I take that point, but I draw attention to the effect of the interpretation of the law by the Lord Chief Justice. The Lord Chief Justice said, in the principal case recently decided, that theperson 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 the peace, then the speaker is guilty of an offence".There has been a very severe diminution of freedom of speech in this country as the result of the interpretation of the law given by the Judiciary in the major case coming before them recently.
I do not wish to take up too much of the time of the Committee. I hope that I have made my point. I revert to what I said on Second Reading. We have in the United Kingdom certain substantial minorities. They are picked on from time to time as scapegoats, and they are perfectly entitled to do what they can in their own defence. They seek to defend themselves at public meetings when certain persons use public meetings in order to provoke them and as a vehicle for outrage. It is quite wrong to suggest that the House of Commons should by this Bill visit on the people who do what they can to defend themselves the same penalties that can be imposed upon a man who is prepared to say on the public platform "Hitler was right".
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
I think that the most important point which the Committee has to consider relates to one point made by the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel). He said that if he had to choose he would deal rather more severely with people who go to break up a meeting than with the speakers and organisers of a meeting who deliberately insult members of their audience and inflame and incite them to violence. The noble Lord revealed a good deal of his thinking by making this somewhat unnecessary point, because I take it that he rose to support what he supposed would be the Attorney-General's case. 287 I fear that he will find, when the Attorney-General speaks, if he is to speak, that he did not do very well for the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
However, the noble Lord went beyond what he hoped the Government would do when he said that he would treat more severely people who went to break up a meeting than those who inflamed the audience to race hatred.
§ Lord Balniel
Of course, I have no idea what the Attorney-General will say. My reason for thinking in those terms was that the Public Order Act, 1936, trenches on freedom of speech, and there is no defence, apart from restrictions by law, against mob violence. But there is a defence against abuse of free speech, and the defence surely is an educated society.
§ Mr. Mendelson
The important point about the noble Lord's contribution in going beyond what was necessary for his purpose is that obviously he has had very little experience in recent years of what is going on at some of these meetings organised by those who propagate race hatred. This was clearly revealed, and it was also revealed by the fact that he concentrated entirely on anti-Semitic movements. But he must be aware that there are other groups, particularly coloured citizens, who are subjected to attempts at terrorisation at least as bad and sometimes worse than those directed at members of any of the religious minorities in this country.
As was said to the Home Secretary in the Second Reading debate, the aspect of terrorisation is the dividing mark between the approach which some of us have to this matter and the approach of the Home Secretary. The noble Lord confirmed that he has no clear appreciation of what goes on at these meetings, because terrorisation is something which he clearly abhors. I know enough about the views of the noble Lord to need no affirmation from him that he is against race hatred and that he has an enlightened liberal view on all these matters. But, precisely because he has this decent approach, it is clear confusion of thought of argue as if we were dealing, on the one hand, with people who are trying to inflame their audience to race hatred and to violence and, on the other hand, with organised mobs and 288 gangs of, as the noble Lord put it, educationally retarded people who go along deliberately to break up a meeting. That is a parody of the situation.
What we must face is an altogether different position, and the Attorney-General knows this quite well. We must face a position where there are several Fascist movements which deliberately organise campaigns of violence and campaigns of inciting people to violence. They pick a certain part of the city, as they did in the City of Sheffield, not very long ago. In this case it was Attercliffe, one of the working class districts of Sheffield, where a considerable number of coloured people had their homes. These were decent, hard-working folk who make their contribution to the life of the community by working in industry, on the buses and in hospitals.
Members of the Fascist movement do not call their meetings on public ground, outside the city, in the centre of it or in a major square. They deliberately decide to call their meetings where the coloured people live. They distribute handbills throughout the city, for a fortnight before the date of the proposed meeting, in which they publish the most indecent statements about the people whom they propose to attack in the demonstration, some of which I should not like to repeat even publicly in this House. They peddle the worst sort of lies, and hope to inflame the attitude of the people who come to the meeting.
As is well known and common ground, there are certain types of statement about people—in this case it was about a coloured minority—which themselves lead to violence and which are an incitement to violence because if one makes these statements in a handbill in advance and then holds the meeting in front of the houses where these people live, one is not only putting intolerable provocation on the people who have their homes there but one is also terrorising them.
This point would be immediately seen if a movement were to be set up in this country which decided to apply this treatment to other sections of the community. If a movement were created to mete out this sort of treatment to certain social sections many hon. Members who are now luke warm to this Amendment would be shouting for the Government to take action straight away. They would 289 argue that no section of the community identifiable in any way should be personally intimidated and terrorised. This is the nub of the argument.
The members of the Fascist Union movement to which I am alluding wanted to go to Attercliffe to terrorise the inhabitants. In their whispering propaganda in the fortnight preceding the proposed date of the demonstration they were passing the word along, not that they were going to Attercliffe for a peaceful demonstration, but that they were "going to show them", as they said. The idea and implication behind it was that they would terrorise the people to such an extent that some of them would pack their bags and go back to where they came from. That was the intention of the demonstration.
We are not dealing with an ordinary, innocent public meeting at which certain views are to be expressed and at which it is essential to protect the speakers so that they are free to express their point of view. I do not know whether the noble Lord assumed the mantle of Burke in his high-sounding sentences and phrases, but he charged those of us who support the Amendment as being little Tom Paines. That does not depress me at all, because I should not mind being a little Tom Paine. The man was great enough, even the little Tom Paines, not to be too badly off in his niche in history, as the noble Lord should know.
Whether we are little Tom Paines or not, the mistake which the noble Lord has made is a cardinal and historic one. It was made by the opponents of the great Tom Paine. They were confused as between the need, desirability and public importance of protecting free speech and the need to make it impossible to terrorise certain sections of the community and should not be regarded as a far worse offence than the interference with the speaker and his expressions of opinion.
What happened in this case in Sheffield was that the local people in Attercliffe decided to oppose the Fascist meeting. It might interest the noble Lord to know that they had a great deal of public support. A number of the local citizens got together and said, "We do not want the Fascists to demonstrate here. We have always lived peacefully with our 290 fellow citizens, no matter what their colour or religion. We do not want the Fascists." Two clergymen joined their ranks and helped them with an informal committee.
The local newspaper, the Sheffield Telegraph, was also very helpful. People were invited to make statements to the newspaper and a public opinion was created hostile to the attempt of the Fascist Union movement to hold a terrorising meeting in Attercliffe. As a result of many protests, the police banned the demonstration which the movement intended to hold through the streets. After the demonstration had been banned, the Fascist Union movement decided to give up the meeting in Attercliffe, because it felt by then that there was so much public opinion aroused against it that it would not do to go to Attercliffe and hold this terrorising meeting.
Let us assume, however—and this is the case that the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary must meet—that the Fascist Union movement had not abandoned the meeting, but had decided to go to Attercliffe to hold it in front of the homes and houses of our coloured citizens and had successfully terrorised them. What should the people who live in those houses do? The demonstration which is directed against them is not being held somewhere in Hyde Park, where they do not have their homes. Nobody is obliged to go into Hyde Park. If somebody insults a person there, he may not like it but he can stay away.
§ Mr. Mendelson
My hon. Friend is quite right in interjecting "Why?" It would be important to make illegal, as we shall discuss under other Amendments, racial attacks whenever they may be uttered at a public meeting, but my hon. Friend must allow me to make my case in my own way and to put the point. There may be a strong general case. My example provides an even stronger case to meet this situation.
If a person does not want to go to a public meeting in Hyde Park, he can stay away, but if the Fascist Union movement decides to held the demonstration on his doorstep, if they come to his front door and to his window and utter the most despicable lies about him, not political 291 accusations or that he has a bad policy, but statements about his personal hygiene, cleanliness, and the like, if they shout that from the rooftops with the one and only aim of inciting the audience to violence against the coloured people, what are these coloured people to do?
I certainly suggest that if we found ourselves in this position and people came to our own front door, we would not keep quiet about it. We might even be provoked into some kind of action, because what is taking place is occurring in front of our own homes, and our homes have always been regarded as our castles. Many of these people may have modest homes and they live in conditions which are difficult enough. They are in a new environment. In many ways, some of their homes are well below standard. If they have made their entry into the community, if, as many of them have done successfully, they have been accepted by their neighbours, if they are happy about this acceptance, if they begin to be parts of the community, it is wrong for a deliberately organised and financed movement of hooligans to come along to their very doorstep and make up this propaganda against them.
The Home Secretary tells us that when either people themselves or other citizens of the area go outside and join the meeting to attack the speaker and are, perhaps, provoked into action against the platform and against the speaker, they should be met with the same severity of the law and the same severe penalties as those who deliberately were going to Attercliffe to poison the minds of people there and create violence. The absurdity of this proposition is obvious once one looks at it.
That brings me to my final point. When I stress so heavily that these people are being incited to violence at the meetings, I do so because I am convinced—and the Attorney-General should be convinced—that, where people engage in racial attacks, that kind of attack is completely different from the propagation of certain political and social ideas—not because the attack is more indecent; it is, but that is not the point I am on.
These attacks are of a different kind, because if a person is attacked for holding certain political beliefs he can change those beliefs, but if he is attacked because 292 of his racial origin he cannot change it or do anything about it. This is why I stress the point of inciting to violence. If a person argues that somebody is inherently evil because of his racial origin, he is insinuating into the minds of his audience a criminal intent, because the only solution to cure the evil is the physical destruction of the racial minority. This is the real reason, although there is no need to make comparisons between the incubation period of the National Socialist movement and the situation which we face now.
As I said with other hon. Members on Second Reading, we are not facing that kind of situation, but certainly there is this parallel. If somebody begins a racialist movement, eventually inspiring people to do acts of violence against the minority whom he denounces, because there is no other remedy the only way in which that can be cured is by being destroyed or driven out. Once we are dealing with such speeches and propaganda, we are dealing with a propaganda which is clearly of criminal intent.
That is why the Government should deal severely, as they have been asked to do, in their legislation and their administrative instructions with people who create such poisonous situations, who deliberately organise meetings for the purpose of terrorising peaceful citizens. They should accept our argument that there is no reason why, on the other hand, people who oppose such meetings should be treated with such rigorous severity in exactly the same way. There is a clear case for accepting the Amendment. I hope that the Government have had second thoughts and that we shall get from the Attorney-General a better explanation of the Government's position than we had on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I do not want to dwell too much on turns of phrase and choice of words, because I expect that between the rather sharp clash between proponents of one side or the other in this matter there is probably, nevertheless, the same objective of preserving the widest possible degree of freedom of speech which is consistent with public order. Nevertheless, I have been concerned, both on Second Reading and in the debate on the Amendment, at the phrases which have been used and at the 293 conception which some hon. Members appear to have of what constitutes incitement to disorder at a public meeting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet) used only per incuriam the phrase "impertinence", but it is a little indicative of the attitude in which this matter has been approached that my hon. Friend could utter a sentence implying that a political meeting should be shut down on the grounds of impertinence,
§ Mr. Bell
I agree that when I interrupted my hon. Friend he said that he used a soft word, and I took account of that in introducing my reference to him. I said that it was in a sense per incuriam that he used the phrase. Nevertheless, I repeat that it is a little significant that making allowance for that he nevertheless was able to say it at all without being shocked by the words as he said them.
A little later in his speech my hon. Friend referred to those who attend a meeting—we are discussing an Amendment about the conduct of an audience at a meeting—with the intention of causing disorder or who, when they get there, cause disorder. My hon. Friend described those people as going there to defend their rights. That, again, is a phrase which has rather shocked me.
Imagine that somebody holds a meeting and in the course of it he says, or was going to say, things with which other people strongly disagree. It does not matter which of them is right; he is saying things with which they disagree. How do people have to go there and be disorderly to defend their rights? It appears to me—
§ Mr. Weitzman rose—
§ Mr. Skeet
If pamphlets are distributed before a meeting and they say "Hitler was right" is not a man entitled to go along and say, "This seems to be a little outrageous"? He may go along to hear what is said and he may become incensed by what he hears and may start a commotion, but is he not entitled to appear at the meeting?
§ Mr. Weitzman rose—
§ Mr. Bell
I cannot give way to the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). I cannot give way to everybody. I have given way rather freely to my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East because I am referring to him.
I was drawing attention to the way in which these things have been said, because they are indicative of an attitude and a mood with which on this matter I simply cannot agree. The hon. Gentleman said that it was a justifiable or at any rate a venal thing for people to do. In fact he said, "What else can they do? ". He said that if they thought certain thing; were going to be said they should go along to the meeting to defend their rights. The point I want to make is that their rights in this matured and developed community are defended for them by the law, and that if they allowed those persons to say what they wanted to say their rights would be not in the least diminished.
§ Mr. Abse rose—
§ Mr. Bell
I really cannot give way. I think I should like a little bit of freedom of speech myself.
They might have to abstain from taking part in a controversy in which they were particularly interested. They may have to deprive themselves of some opportunity of influencing their fellow men by putting forward their own views at the time when contrary views are being advanced. That is a matter of importance to them. They may, indeed, wish to go to a meeting to ask questions and possibly indulge in that form of heckling which is rather like peaceful picketing—regarded as one of the pillars of the British Constitution, although where the boundary line lies is a very difficult thing to decide.
295 I think I can understand what my hon. Friend has said, but it is this phrase that I am catching on, "What else could they do?". What else could they do but go along to the meeting and defend their rights? That was the point made in the Second Reading debate and also made on this Amendment.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I am following the hon. Member very carefully and up to a point I agree with him, but will he deal with this point? Does he not recognise the distinction between going to a meeting and having a meeting held on one's doorstep at which people deliberately say provocative things?
§ Mr. Bell
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I happen to be rather on common ground with him because I have made it clear all the way through from the beginning of this controversy, and I made clear in my speech on Second Reading, and I have always taken the view, that when inflammatory things are said—say, in Trafalgar Square—or some places where the general public cannot help hearing them and which are incitement, different considerations come into play. Indeed, I urged my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works not to allow those meetings in Trafalgar Square. I would say in passing, in personal justification, that when I first suggested that it was met with a certain amount of ridicule from both sides of the House, but I am very glad that my right hon. Friend accepted the advice which I pressed upon him and has banned such meetings. I think that is right.
In this Bill, however, we are not primarily concerned with demonstrations in public places. They capture the headlines, but let us not forget that 99 out of 100 of these gatherings to which the Bill would apply are meetings in private places, and I take the view that people who go to a meeting in a private place should behave when they get there, even though they very much dislike what they hear when they get there.
I should like to have the attention of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) because I want to refer to something he said on Second Reading and which I think is depressingly significant 296 for what we are considering now. He was speaking to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and he said this: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?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1933; Vol. 680, c. 1144.]The hon. Member for Islington, East made it clear from the way he said it and by what followed that he regarded the proposition as quite ridiculous.
That is what worries me about the attitude in the speeches I have heard from many hon. Members, including, I am sorry to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East. Is it really to be argued in this Committee that if somebody honestly thinks that Commonwealth immigration should be altogether stopped—he could be wrong about that, but if he thinks it should be—not with just the licensing we have now but altogether stopped, and that if he says that at a public meeting he should expect to find the place in an uproar around his ears and that the people who break up the meeting would be merely defending their rights or stopping some act of public indecency?
That is very dangerous ground, and I beg hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee to think about it carefully. I understand the emotions which press them forward, but this is very dangerous ground. The hon. Member for Islington, East went further in the same speech. He asked, "Is somebody to be entitled to get up at a public meeting and ask for the deportation of Commonwealth immigrants? Is that sort of thing to be allowed?" My answer is, yes, it is to be allowed. Quite definitely. Provided, of course, that it is done in a way that is not insulting, abusive or threatening. [Interruption.] Those are the words of the Public Order Act. The hon. Gentleman and others with him have been suggesting that, quite irrespective of the conditions in the Public Order Act, that sort of thing in itself should be made an offence, and that if that sort of thing is done, we really cannot blame those present resorting to violence.
I think that this is a damnable, dangerous doctrine. I do not say that in any spirit of ill humour because, as I 297 say, I think everybody has been quite genuine about this in the debate, but listening to this debate I say that I think this is very dangerous stuff which has been said and that, if it were accepted, we should most bitterly regret such restrictions on our personal liberty and our personal right to express opinions. I think anybody expressing such opinions, and more extreme opinions than that, provided he expresses them in moderate language, is entitled to a quiet hearing. Otherwise we get the point of view that where some violence at a meeting is done it is even praised as a kind of public hygiene.
I am prepared to support the increase in penalties which is proposed in the Bill. I would have had a rather different view if the Amendment had been moved slightly to reduce them, but the fact is that this Amendment is very different from that and it says, "No, leave them alone. Do not touch them." That, in the current atmosphere, I find an utterly untenable argument.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I wish briefly to summarise the argument why I very much hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.
Before doing so, may I deal with the observation made by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell)? He referred to something which I said on Second Reading and said that I had gone too far in suggesting that there should be certain limitations on' freedom of speech. I am as fervent a believer in freedom of speech as he is, and if he looks again at what I said on Second Reading he will find that I was putting a number of questions to the Attorney-General in order to elicit from him the ground on which the Government were resisting the demands from this side of the House that the advocacy of racial hatred per se should be made an offence and written into the Bill.
If the hon. Member looks at column 1152 of the OFFICIAL REPORT he will find that, as I had been unable to get a specific reply from the Attorney-General, when the Attorney-General was speaking I intervened and asked:Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that one ought to be able to advocate racial hatred provided that in doing so it does not lead to a breach of the peace?298 The right hon. and learned Gentleman replied:No. I am not saying that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1152–53]I gather from what the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South said that he would give a different answer.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
The hon. Member cannot slide away like that. I am referring to what he is reported as having said in column 1144, which I read faithfully. He was asking rhetorical questions of the character, "Can a leopard change its spots?" He was clearly implying what I said in my speech. He said:Is that the argument? I will assume for the moment that it is not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1144.]There is no doubt that he was implying both there and in the other passage that a person ought not to be at liberty at public meetings to advocate either the total cessation of Commonwealth immigration or the deportation of immigrants.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The hon. Member obviously has not understood the point. I was asking rhetorical questions and trying to ascertain whether the Government's reasons for resisting our Amendments was either that they were undesirable or that they were unnecessary. I was putting a number of questions directed to that end.
What emerges clearly is that the Attorney-General, presumably speaking on behalf of the Government, expressed a different view from that of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South. The Attorney-General said definitely that he does not think that one ought to be able to advocate racial hatred even if in doing so it does not lead to a breach of the peace. I prefer to leave it there, because we have had a long debate and, with great respect to the hon. Member, this is outside the relatively narrow ambit of the Amendment.
I should like, therefore, shortly to summarise the reasons why I hope that the Government will be persuaded to accept the Amendment. It is obvious from all the speeches on both sides of the Committee that in any Measure dealing with freedom of speech or the freedom of public meetings or public order, or any suggested limitation on our cherished 299 liberties, we should be most circumspect in what we are doing. We are saying that it is quite unnecessary, and wrong and repulsive, of the Government to have introduced into the Bill the Public Meeting Act, 1908.
The speeches illustrated how careful the House must be, in legislating in matters affecting freedom of speech, to ensure that Bills introduced for one purpose are not abused and exercised for another purpose.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
And without any opportunity on the part of the House to amend the original Act. There is great constitutional objection to what is being done.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Any matter which entrenches on the liberty of the individual and freedom of speech or rights of public meetings raises great constitutional issues. I do not want to repeal what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), but the Committee must bear in mind the very special circumstances in which the Act of 1908 was introduced. There was no debate whatever on Second Reading. It was a Private Member's Bill, introduced by Lord Robert Cecil without a word of explanation. It was only when it got to the House of Lords—an unreformed House of Lords—that one learned what it did.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that in some way Statutes which were passed before the House of Lords was reformed are not as effective and valid Statutes as any others?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I was not making any comment on the historical fact which I was noting.
But it is obvious, as was said in the other place, that the Bill was introduced because it was said to be urgently required for the protection of Members of the House of Commons, especially of members of His Majesty's Government. Under its terms it was limited to public meetings and political meetings preliminary to a General Election. If one looks at the Act, it is seen that it is not only an offence to act in a disorderly manner at a lawful public meeting but 300 if the public meeting relates to a Parliamentary election, then the offender is guilty of an illegal practice.
It is not surprising that when it came to the Committee stage Mr. Radford, who was then the Member for East Islington, a constituency which even then was imbued with liberalising ideas, drew attention to the fact—he was the only one to do so—that it appeared to be a very serious inroad into rights and freedoms, which the country had enjoyed from time immemorial, of interrupting and heckling at public meetings.
Mr. Radford was put off by being told that it was very unlikely that anyone would ever be charged under the Bill, or that, even if he were, he would probably get off with a caution on the first offence and would very likely get off with a caution on the second offence.
It appeared in the House of Lords that the reason for the Bill was that at a meeting at the Albert Hall, Mr. Lloyd George, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, had been interrupted and a hullabaloo had broken out at his public meeting. It was said that Mr. Lloyd George would not go to any more public meetings if anybody in petticoats were allowed to form part of the audience. There we have a Bill designed for the limited purpose of protecting Mr. Lloyd George from the irritating antics of people in petticoats at public meetings, and it is now being used by this Government, with savagely increased penalties, for a totally different purpose.
What has emerged most clearly from the debate is that while there was a very limited purpose for which the Act was passed, the Attorney-General in referring to it, as he did at some length on Second Reading, gave a totally different interpretation to the scope of that Act from that of its promoters and those who passed it in 1908 and, as far as I know, from that of all the other Law Officers who have ever had to administer the Act.
Not content with saying that it was a very minor matter of very limited scope, with a negligible penalty, the Attorney-General has now said that the 1908 Act was far more serious in its operation than the 1936 Act. The 1936 Act was seriously debated in both 301 Houses and was a Government Measure. Every Clause was carefully looked at. I am sure that nobody in 1936, when as far as I recall the 1908 Measure was not noticed, thought that in passing the 1936 Act he was passing an Act of much less importance than the 1908 Act.
The Attorney-General, on Second Reading, said: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.Later, he said: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 for the very purpose of preventing the transaction of the business…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1150–1.]So the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the prosecution has a much heavier onus of proof under the 1908 Act than it has under the 1936 Act. But, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, in 1963 we are dealing with a totally different situation. We are not dealing with what goes on at political meetings. People are free to go into public meetings if they want to, whether in Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park Corner, or elsewhere. But a situation has arisen in which it is important to preserve a distinction between places at which public meetings are held. That is bound up with the whole question of freedom of speech.
There are places where one can say what one likes—for example, in this House and at public meetings in Hyde Park. But there are other places where one cannot say exactly what one likes without incurring the risk of inciting people to disorder, and very often by deliberately provoking a breach of the peace. I give an example divorced from the events we have been discussing.
I have heard a great many anti-Papist speeches in Hyde Park, where people are quite free to discuss the Pope, the Roman Catholic religion and all its works. I imagine that no one likely to be offended by such remarks would go there of his own volition. But if a similar meeting 302 were organised outside the precincts of Westminster Cathedral, with the deliberate object of putting forward these views, that would be something, I imagine, that people would not be entitled to do, or would be less entitled to do, and it could not be assumed that they did it for any other purpose than that of inciting disorder and provoking disturbance and breach of the peace, since people in that vicinity would quite naturally be provoked and disturbances would arise.
Therefore, there cannot be the same rights of freedom of speech in one place as in another. That seems to be the basis of the distinction which should be observed. This year, we are dealing with a situation in which Fascist bands are not content with advocating Fascist doctrines in places where either no harm can be done or where people are not likely to be provoked, or even likely to attend—or if they do choose to attend cannot have any legitimate complaint.
We are dealing with a situation in which Fascist bands deliberately organise meetings in places where they are most likely to provoke disorder, to arouse passion, to cause disturbances, because those places have large Semitic or coloured populations. These are places like Ridley Road and one of the roads in my constituency. This is done not so much for the purpose of putting forward views which they could put forward as much as they liked in Hyde Park, but with the deliberate intention of inciting racial hatred leading to provocation, knowing that disorder must follow.
What we say is that, in this situation, it is monstrous for the Government to propose the same penalties for those who organise these meetings as for those who are naturally provoked at them. It is no use hon. Members opposite saying that people are free to go 10 meetings or absent themselves. These meetings are held on their doorsteps. That is the reason we object to the introduction of these savage penalties under the 1908 Act on people who will inevitably be provoked by those who organise these meetings.
The object of the Bill is to increase the penalties against those who organise provocative meetings likely to cause breaches of the peace, and there can be no possible justification for increasing in any way the penalties under the 1908 Act.
303 The Home Secretary has recognised that the 1936 Act is sufficient to deal with people, members of an audience, who deliberately cause a breach of the peace. It hits both at the organisers of the meetings and those who unreasonably break up meetings. Therefore, there can be no necessity, on the Home Secretary's own argument, for introducing into the Bill any reference to the 1908 Act.
These are the reasons, at this limited point, why, when all has been said about freedom of speech and public order, when one realises that there cannot be any real freedom of speech unless public order is preserved, and when the current problem is to increase the penalties against those who deliberately stir up racial hatred, there cannot be any justification for increasing the penalties under an Act introduced fifty-five years ago by a private Member for a purely limited purpose and which has no relation or relevance whatever to the present situation.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
We have heard very interesting and important arguments which I shall not repeat because they were effectively made. It is alarming that we can so calmly talk about two distinct matters in precisely the same way as though they were of equal importance and significance.
The Committee might consider the enormous difference, in true perspective, between the two offences, and realise that we cannot treat this as a minor matter, for we must take into account the fact that the Bill was introduced for the specific purpose of stopping people from advocating a crime which is acknowledged to be a crime not only by the average person but by the United Nations.
How can we discuss sanctions in respect of these two matters in the same terms? It is inconceivable after what we have seen and what we know to have occurred and what we know is being advocated by those whom it was intended to stop from that kind of advocacy by the Bill. How can we compare it, so far as sanctions are concerned, with the trivial offence of a person going to a meeting, being incited and expressing himself in the usual manner? It is sheer nonsense.
304 How many times has the 1908 Act been invoked? How often have the maximum penalties been imposed? How many times have offences at meetings been treated as offences under the 1908 Act, and how many times as entirely different offences? If there is an assault at a meeting, one charges the person with assault. If there is assault intended to do bodily harm, one charges the person concerned with intent to do bodily harm. If a policeman is stopped in the execution of his duty, that is an offence of its own. There are sufficient penalties to cover all these offences.
With regard to the offence about which we have been talking—going to a meeting for the purpose of stopping it—Section 1 of the 1908 Act says:Any 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".It does not matter whether he went there with the best of intentions and was provoked, or whether he arranged to go there for that purpose. If the second case can be proved, there are other ways of dealing with it. There is conspiracy. There is legislation which deals with riotous gatherings. But the Measure—no wonder people spoke about it in the way they did when it was introduced—is not intended to deal with that kind of thing at all.
I gather that we are not likely to get the Government round to our point of view on this Amendment. We may have to discuss it again on another Amendment, and I shall then take the opportunity of referring to detailed points. The Government must understand that the image here is wrong. Do not the Government realise that by bringing in this Measure with a provision dealing with the 1908 Act they are telling the public that they regard people who incite to crime at meetings in the same way as those who go to ordinary meetings in order to heckle? Even more important, it indicates to the courts that they have to treat this crime, if crime it be, in the same way as incitement to genocide or something of that nature in the general sphere of human relations.
I do not understand it. I know that the Joint Under-Secretary understands and has sympathy with our point of view. I 305 do not know why he will not come our way. Perhaps he has been prompted from a higher source. I urge him and the Attorney-General to say that it is not necessary to increase this penalty because the Measure does not deal with the kind of problem which we have in mind. It has already been explained that the Measure should deal with something entirely different. The result is that the postion has been put in the wrong perspective.
I hope that we shall be told the reason for the Government's attitude. It seems inexplicable that they should drag this paltry thing into a Bill which deals with something tremendously important, something which involves world problems—where our name has been vilified, where organisations who are advocating racial hatred are sending their circulars into Germany under their own names and saying that the British people are advocating this kind of thing. That is a world problem. It is an important issue.
This should not increase penalties on the poor fellow who walks into a meeting, perhaps being an ex-Service man and perhaps of the Jewish persuasion, and finds somebody saying things which no self-respecting person could listen to without being incited into action. I appeal to the Government to see the matter in its right light and to deal with it accordingly.
§ Mr. Bowen
I find myself in sympathy with the Amendment. I have only two points to make at this stage of the debate. First, it seems to me that the only basis on which one could justify the increases proposed in the Bill in relation to the 1908 Act is that serious disturbances may occur in public meetings, which cannot be dealt with under the 1936 Act, and that these disturbances will be dealt with under the 1908 Act.
Accepting that for a moment, I think it might well be argued that the existing penalties under the 1908 Act are inadequate, but that is on the basis that the Act will be invoked for the purposes of dealing with serious disturbances and behaviour which might call for a penalty of 12 months' imprisonment and £500 fine and which cannot be dealt with under the 1936 Act. If that argument is not sound, there seems no real basis for alter- 306 ing the penalties as proposed in the Bill in relation to the 1908 Act. But I do not accept that proposition, and I shall deal with it shortly in a moment.
Even if that proposition were sound, it seems to me that the way it is proposed to deal with the matter in the Bill as it stands is open to very strong objection on constitutional grounds. The reason why I say that is that it is quite clear from what we have heard in this debate that it was never envisaged that the 1908 Act would be invoked for the purposes which it is now suggested it should be invoked. If that were in mind, apart from what we have heard, it is inconceivable that the penalties in that Act would have been what they are, £5 or one month. I hope that we shall be given information on this. So far as I know the 1908 Act has never been invoked for the purpose of dealing with serious misconduct. That Act is now to be invoked for a purpose for which it was not originally intended and, in order to make it a suitable instrument to be invoked for these new circumstances, the penalties have to be increased.
It is open to the very strongest constitutional objection to change the whole purpose for which an Act of Parliament is to be used by changing the penalties. That is particularly so because this House has not been given any opportunity for considering whether the 1908 Act is ripe for amendment in its general object. If, for example, the Government take the view that they want powers outside the 1936 Act to deal with general disturbances at meetings, surely the proper course is not to increase the penalties under the 1908 Act but to introduce a Bill to deal with the situation not covered by the 1936 Act with appropriate penalties and to give the House an opportunity of considering the whole matter on its merits. This is a back door method of changing the whole purposes of an Act of Parliament simply by increasing the penalties. It is open to serious constitutional objection on those grounds.
I revert to my original point. It seems extremely difficult to envisage any behaviour at a public meeting of a serious character which would not give rise to an offence under Section 5 of the 1936 Act and say that it could not be dealt with by invoking Acts other 307 than the 1908 or the 1936 Act. It seems difficult—I do not say it is impossible, but difficult—to envisage circumstances which would be outside Section 5 of the 1936 Act in respect of which it would be necessary to invoke the 1908 Act.
Section 5 deals with threatening behaviour, abusive behaviour, insulting behaviour. It is extremely difficult to think of behaviour at a meeting, which breaks up the meeting and interferes with the business of the meeting, which would not involve some threatening conduct on the part of the person who indulged in it. The other element in the Section—intent to provoke a breach of the peace—would inevitably be covered if a person sought to interfere with the business of the meeting. Nothing would be more likely to create a breach of the peace than an attempt to wreck the purpose for which the meeting was being held.
If the Government think that they need powers outside Section 5 of the 1936 Act, the proper way to provide them is not to increase the penalties under the 1908 Act but to bring in a new Bill setting out the powers required and what the Government think are appropriate circumstances in which they should be used.
§ Mr. Abse
I regret that the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), who treated us earlier to an academic exercise, is not now with us. I felt that his resuscitation of the memory of a misogynist ancestor as an example of concern on the part of those who provided laws in the past with democracy was considerably inept. The 1908 Act seems to have been largely intended to make quite certain that people should not spread democracy to include rights for women. We now have a Bill before us which seems equally determined to place severe restrictions on democratic rights.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
The hon. Member has got it all wrong. Lord Robert Cecil was one of the great champions of votes for women.
§ Mr. Abse
I think that the hon. Member did not understand that that 308 Bill was to prevent anyone in petticoats getting anywhere near Mr. Lloyd George.
I find it singularly unfortunate that a Bill which has become an antidemocratic Bill should have arisen out of an understandable and justifiable agitation which came from minority groups, particularly from the Jewish community. I am well aware that unless there is a democratic feeling and spirit in the land a minority group such as the Jews, as we know from long experience, is always threatened.
When I see a Bill brought in deliberately for reasons, still inexplicable, and reasons we are not permitted by the rules of order to mention—racial incitement—but which seems to be dealing in some obscure way with that problem, used to prevent legitimate heckling, I become disquietened.
It has been suggested in speeches today that it is not very important if people say certain things, provided that they do not say them within the hearing or presence or proximity of groups who may be severely affected or moved by what is said. I do not hold that view. I think that if an anti-democratic exposition is made anywhere in this land we not only have rights, but duties as democrats to make it abundantly clear that we oppose such a point of view.
It seems to have been suggested in some quarters that there is something wrong in accepting an invitation to a public meeting. A public meeting invites people to attend. If people are preaching racial obscenities in Hyde Park or in the East End of London and we are really determined to protect our democracy, we have every right to respond to the invitation and to show, within the limits of the law, our objection to the obscenities which may be poured out, whether it be in Hyde Park or in the East End.
There is something radically wrong if we are trying to create a Measure which, as the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) attempted to imply, would ensure that the law would look after our democratic rights. It is not for the police to look after our democratic rights, but for each and every one of us as individuals to do so. We know the reason why this Bill was introduced. It was to contain and deal with obscenities 309 coming from Fascist and neo-Fascist organisations. Yet there is a Clause which specifically says that people who go to a meeting and offend against an Act designed for a limited purpose, which was very narrowly construed at the time and intended to be so construed, they can be put into prison for twelve months. What a great measure to protect democratic rights! Is it believed that the police can be effective arbiters in that situation?
Hon. Members should look at the wording of the 1936 Act and the 1908 Act. They should ask themselves whether it can be expected that any policeman who came to the conclusion that what he heard at the meeting was material which was offensive and offending against the Act, that it was threatening, abusive or insulting words, or behaviour likely to provoke a breach of the peace. Could a policeman, or any of us, distinguish that and what is said in the 1908 Act from anyone acting in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business of a meeting?
Do the Government expect a policeman to distinguish between heckling, an offence under Section 5, and conduct likely to result in the meeting being completely broken up? None of us would like to be given such a task. It is totally unreasonable to expect a policeman to make such a distinction at a disorderly meeting, with all the excitement and with all the provocations and insults which are hurled about. The policeman will have only one desire. He will want a quiet meeting with no trouble. That is understandable, but it is not what should be the right course of action for democrats at such meetings. They may want to raise their voices. They may want to make the traditional use of heckling. They may want to protest against what is being said.
Everyone at such meetings is faced with the possibility that the police will take him before a court. Under the encouragement—indeed, the incitement—of the Bill, the police are far more likely to plump for the more serious offence. If the same set of facts could sustain a conviction on either one or two offences, is it not likely—indeed, is it not often the practice—that the police or the prosecut- 310 ing solicitor will lay the charge on the more serious offence?
I am deeply concerned that what we have is not a victory for democrats. Unless the Amendment is accepted, it will be a victory for Fascists, As a result of their activities and their incitements, we are placing a severe restriction upon heckling. Where is the evidence justifying such a radical change in the law? The hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) is right in saying that, if such a major change in the law is needed, instead of trying to impose a heavy penalty under an Act designed for another purpose the Government should tell us that there are mobs who are in danger of breaking up our political life and that there are gangs organising to wreck our political meetings and parliamentary democracy. Then we could test that. I do not believe that any such thing exists. My view is that there are people who believe that, whenever racial incitement is spread, their duty as democrats is to go to such meetings and protest.
On Second Reading, I said that, speaking as a Jew, I understood the history of my people in dealing with this problem. Acquiescence and silence have always led to extermination. Fighting against our troubles has led to the battles of the Ghetto in Warsaw and to the creation of Israel. The Jews have learned from their experiences that they must fight against these things. I believe that every democrat has learned in the same way. Do we want to induce an atmosphere into this country under which, because of the inhibitions of a fumbling democracy, we behave as they did in pre-war Germany? If we allow the Nazis to go on elaborating their theme, it will be an example of a government fumbling in exactly the same way as the democratic Weimar Republic.
This provision is offensive. It is aimed at people who believe in democracy and believe that they have a right and duty to go to meetings where racial obscenities are being preached, as they should go, in my view. If I learned that racial incitement and obscenities were being preached at the corner of my street which would be directed at stirring up hatred against my children, I would regard it as my duty to be at the meeting protesting. It would not be my duty not to go to the meeting or, if I went there, to run 311 away from it. That is the way to allow these obscenities to grow and eventually to engulf democracies.
The Clause as it stands completely misses the historical situation and completely misunderstands the explosive character of racialism. Because of its misunderstanding, it treats interruptions at meetings on the same level as if they were offences of genocide. This is a most disturbing situation. It is unsatisfactory. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
I represent a section of the City of Manchester into which since the war there has been a steady influx of Commonwealth immigrants. As with other constituencies, there has been such an influx that in some of our schools no less than one in four of the children are children of immigrant parents from various parts of the Commonwealth. I am happy to say that in Manchester we have had no real tensions or disturbances in the community. Unfortunately, this is not true of other areas. The one and only case that occurred in Manchester when there was an explosion was as a result of a provocative march of Fascists through parts of my constituency. The Committee knows the attitude that the Fascists adopt now, as they did before the war, to racial minorities. At the time I did not understand—I still do not understand—why the chief constable, who I understand has powers to direct where marchers should go, did not direct these Fascists to some less explosive part of the city. If marchers of this type went to certain parts of Manchester which I can think of, however deplorable the objectives of the marchers the consequences would be far less dangerous to public order than their being allowed to go through parts of the city where there is a heavy concentration of Jewish citizens or Commonwealth immigrants.
However, in the event they went through my constituency and parts of neighbouring constituencies. In consequence, there was a row. There were fights in the streets. There was uproar. A number of Manchester citizens were arrested, brought before the court and convicted. They were not Fascists. They were people who were outraged by the Fascists, people who under the provisions 312 of the Bill would be liable to very severe penalties.
I have heard most of the speeches. I heard the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) refer to people who demonstrate against this offensive propaganda—I appreciate that the noble Lord regards the propaganda as being offensive—as being educationally retarded. He described people who seek to break up such meetings as being educationally retarded. It is hard on our fellow citizens who attend a meeting addressed by Fascists to describe them—
§ Lord Balniel
The hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I did not refer to people who merely attend such meetings. I recollect my words very well. The hon. Gentleman can look them up in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow. I referred to organisations which sent in their thugs. I referred to such things as the mentally retarded rank and file. I was referring to the Communist, neo-Nazi and Fascist organisations who send in their gangs to break up these meetings. I was not in any way referring to the ordinary mass of the public who attend such meetings.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I accept that at once, although I thought that the noble Lord had said something different. If I misunderstood him, I apologise. Even if they are not organised by Communists or other such bodies, is it surprising that people should react in a violent way when one considers that many of them lost relatives in gas chambers during the war or lost their homes and possessions as a result of the activities of the Nazis?
I am therefore concerned to see that people not only have the right to say what they like but that those who demonstrate against something which they regard as offensive should not be subjected to the punitive measures proposed in the Bill. After all, the Bill was introduced following the representations of many hon. Members to protect the community against the offensive consequences of meetings in Trafalgar Square and demonstrations in Manchester and elsewhere. It is the view of many hon. Members that the Government should not introduce a Bill which inflicts punitive measures on hecklers or which retards free speech.
313 We need legislation of the sort proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway)—a Measure to make it specifically against the law to preach racial propaganda of the kind described by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) as genocide. The present Bill leads many of us to suspect that it does not meet the demands that have been made by hon. Members, while slipped into it is a provision which imposes punitive punishments on hecklers at public meetings against remarks made from the platform.
We have heard about people being sent in gangs to break up meetings and that the provision is necessary to give reasonable backing to the police. I have experience of taking part in demonstrations against Fascism, although it is 30 years since I took part in such a demonstration in London against the then British Union of Fascists. On reflection, I think that some of the demonstrations against the Blackshirts in the thirties were ill-conceived because we were hitting at the wrong people. The people who were then the danger to the safety of this country were not the Fascists but the people in power in this House—those who had no difficulty in persuading the electorate to return them to power, namely, the Conservative Governments of 1931 and 1935.
I know enough of what happened in those years to know that it is awfully easy for a policeman, in the heat of the moment when he is trying to control angry crowds, not only to make a mistake from the point of view of arresting someone but also in seeking to get a conviction and to allege against the demonstrator words and actions which are not strictly in accord with the truth. It is possible to say about the provoked and angry demonstrator that he sought to lead others into action against the meeting, perhaps a meeting of Facists. I say these things having had personal experience of these matters.
That being so, such an individual, provoked beyond endurance by racial propaganda, might find himself charged, convicted on indictment and imprisoned for a period not exceeding 12 months or a fine not exceeding £500, or both. This is an absolutely monstrous thing to include in a Bill of this kind. I am glad 314 that the Amendment will be forced to a Division and I hope that all hon. Members will support it.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M. Woodhouse)
The effect of the Amendment is to delete the reference to Section 1 of the Public Meeting Act, 1908, from the operative part of the Bill and, therefore, to leave the increased penalties applying only to Section 5 of the Public Order Act. As the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. weitzman) said in introducing it, the Amendment would not in any other way affect the 1908 Act. It would not repeal that Measure, which would remain on the Statute Book.
I will, as far as I can, deal with the many points which have been sensibly and eloquently argued on both sides of the Committee, particularly by hon. Members opposite. Before doing so, I will refer briefly, not in any spirit of controversy, to the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) about the Bill being suddenly used for an Amendment of the 1908 Act. It is fair to put on record that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in his statement in November last year, included the 1908 and the 1936 Acts as Measures under which the penalties were to be increased. The hon. Member for Islington, East is entitled to object to the matter in substance, but this was not suddenly done when the Bill was published.
I entirely appreciate—and some hon. Members have acknowledged that they knew that I would—the motive which underlies the Amendment. Its purpose is to draw a clear distinction between offences under the Public Meeting Act, 1908, and those under the Public Order Act, 1936, as being of unequal gravity. I hope that that is a fair summary of the motive underlying the Amendment. I know that the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North and the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) will confirm that when this matter was first raised in an Adjournment debate a year ago I said at that time that this was a problem which had scarcely been out of my mind in the 16 days I had been at the Home Office. Now that I have been in that Department for about one year and 16 315 days I can repeat in all seriousness that this is a problem which I have had to live with and discuss continually with my colleagues in the hope of clearing our minds and reaching a solution in which the House would be prepared to acquiesce, if not all hon. Members would unanimously approve.
I should indeed sympathise wholeheartedly with the motive underlying the Amendment if I thought that there were any danger of what hon. Members opposite fear might happen actually happening. However, I believe that it rests on a misunderstanding which I would like to clear up, even if it takes a while to do so. Hon. Members fear that two kinds of offenders of unequal culpability—and I recognise that they would be of unequal culpability—should be equally severely punished; in other words, those who use a public platform to abuse free speech—in ways which have been movingly described by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Grffiths), the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and almost all hon. Members who have spoken, for this is common ground—and those who yield to provocation and commit violence against the abusers of free speech.
As I have understood hon. Members the presupposition is that there is a danger that these two types of offenders are liable to be prosecuted respectively under the different Acts with which we are concerned; the provoker under the 1936 Act, and the provoked under the 1908 Act. I think that I am almost echoing the words of the hon. Member for Islington, East in drawing that distinction.
I entirely agree that their offences are unequal, and I have every sympathy with the picture drawn by hon. Members of what might happen at meetings of the Fascist kind—indeed, one of them I witnessed myself in Trafalgar Square last year—but I would ask them to understand that rest of their presupposition is misconceived, since this is not the distinction between offences to which the distinction between the two Acts corresponds. The offence which the 1908 Act sets apart from other offences is not that of the provoked as against the provoker, but that of the deliberate, unprovoked breaker-up or preventer of meetings. In 316 this, my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) is quite right.
§ Mr. Weitzman
How can the hon. Member possibly say that the offence is something deliberate and unprovoked? In Section 1 of the 1908 Act there is no question of it being deliberate and unprovoked. Anyone at the meeting who may be held to have caused a disturbance and have intended to prevent the business being carried on is guilty of the offence. That must depend on the evidence. In other words, if a person interrupts a meeting, the police may arrest him and endeavour to show that by his conduct he tried to prevent the business being transacted. It is not a question of its being unprovoked.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I think that the hon. and learned Member is mistaken in his understanding of the words used and, perhaps, if I pursue the argument a little further, he may see my point.
What I am stressing is that the 1908 Act is not directed against the heckler, or the man who yields to provocation. That, I think, was made abundantly clear in the Second Reading debate. It is not, indeed, directed against believers in democracy, as the hon. Member for Pontypool said. In contrast to him, I do not believe that it is difficult for the police to distinguish between the heckler and the man who sets about to prevent the meeting from transacting its business. I shall come back to the subject of hecklers in a moment—
§ Mr. Abse
The Under-Secretary is under the belief that what has been stated in the Bill about the Public Meeting Act, 1908—thatit is conduct designed to break up a public meeting—is, in fact, what is in the Act, and I am sure that it was also the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North. It does not say that in the Act—it states it quite differently—and the magistrates will look at that Act, and not at something that is an explanation within the Bill.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I appreciate the hon. Member's point, but the phrase that the courts will have to interpret is…acting in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business…As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has said, that places a heavy burden of proof on the prosecution.
317 The fact is that the 1908 Act never has been used, and never would be used, against people provoked to violence by a speaker because, of course, if it were so used a conviction would not be obtained. That Act was intended to be used against those who go to a meeting with the intention of preventing the business being transacted. That is perfectly clear from the words of the Act. It is, therefore, a protection of free speech and not an infringement of it, as my noble Friend the Member for Hertford said.
At this point I want to deal with the argument put forward by several speakers, including the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) and, I think, the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) and the hon. Member for Islington, East, that the 1908 Act had, so to speak, been pulled out of the drawer and dusted off for this occasion, having been virtually a dead letter in the meantime. That is not true. The history of the 1908 Act did not come to an end in 1908. It was amended by the 1936 Act. If hon. Members will look at Section 6 of the 1936 Act, they will find that it is an amendment of and an addition to the 1908 Act—
§ Mr. Weitzman
But it was amended only with regard to the one small point of a constable arresting someone without a warrant—that is all. It is subsection (3).
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I take the hon. and learned Member's point, and I think that he will see mine if he will let me go on further. There is also the fact, though I readily concede that this is a very small point, that the 1908 Act was also amended in 1949 by the Representation of the People Act. I mention these points just to show that the 1908 Act has not been forgotten for the last 55 years.
When it was amended in 1936, its effect was considered more generally, and not only in relation to the particular small new subsection that the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North says was added at that time. It was considered more carefully, and the then Home Secretary said during the Report stage of the Public Order Bill: 318I think it will have to be a plain case and a severe case to justify a prosecution under the 1908 Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1936; Vol. 318, c. 1761.]That has been the position since that time.
The 1908 Act has been rather seldom invoked—as the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West has said. I have been able to trace only four occasions since 1956 when it has been invoked—
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I will come to that, if the hon. Member will allow me to take things in my own order. I have made a note of his point, and I am coming to it in what I hope he will see is the logical order of my speech.
As I have said, the Act has been used only four times since 1956—and not at all in the disturbances of 1962. Hon. Members may be interested to know that in the case of the disturbances at the Jordan meeting on 1st July, 1962, 17 out of the 22 charges were brought under the 1936 Act, and none under the 1908 Act. In the case of the very different disturbances at the Mosley meeting on 22nd July, 1962—the difference is, I think, perfectly familiar to those who have studied the subject closely—23 out of the 60 cases were brought under the 1936 Act, though I think that many witnesses might have been inclined to think that in the disturbances on 22nd July there was a deliberate intention to break up the meeting.
I think that these are sufficient indications that the 1908 Act has been used, and would be used, only rarely and exceptionally. This is not surprising, for the reason that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General stressed in the Second Reading debate; that the 1908 Act does place a very heavy burden of proof on the prosecution. I can reassure the many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths), who are afraid that the 1908 Act might be used against heckling, and are naturally very anxious to safeguard the rights of hecklers—as, indeed, I think we all are. I share the opinion expressed on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that most speeches are improved 319 by heckling. But the Attorney-General said in that debate—and I will not repeat his words in col. 1149—that we need not worry about this.
If I may elaborate the point, to be caught under the 1908 Act heckling would have to amount to something very much more severe than what we normally understand by heckling today. One has only to bear in mind the ordinary connotation of the word "heckling" and compare it with the words…acts in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business for which the meeting was called together…to see that these things differ totally and that any attempt to use the Act to inhibit heckling would be bound to fail in the courts. Something far beyond the ordinary bounds would be required. Neither the 1936 Act nor the 1908 Act has been used against heckling, and neither is now being amended in substance to make it possible to use it against heckling in a way in which it has not been used before.
I understand that an Amendment referring to heckling is likely to be out of order. It seems to the Government superfluous to add words to say that no act which has not an offence already shall be made an offence by this Bill. There seems to be no necessity to establish a statutory recognition of the right to heckle, which I am sure every hon. Member and the country generally recognise.
The point was made by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, and it was underlined by the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan, that as very little use has been made of the 1908 Act it might be judged superfluous on that count to increase the penalties under it and that this might be used as an argument for accepting the Amendment, as the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West in fact used it. But the grounds for introducing the Bill were that although the powers were sufficient in substance and were adequately defined, the penalties were insufficient and the teeth needed sharpening. It therefore seemed to the Government right, since they were concerned with legislation on public order, to take account of both Acts which deal with public order and to sharpen all the teeth.
§ Mr. Weitzman
As the hon. Gentleman has said, far more serious offences 320 are dealt with under the Public Order Act. We are amending that Act anyhow by increasing the penalties. If the offences under the Public Meeting Act, 1908, are only very light—to a certain extent only heckling in the ordinary way—why is it necessary to add these words to the Bill?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
It is not a matter of more serious and less serious offences in these two Acts. They are just different offences—although there can be serious and less serious offences within the same Act—and it is a question of balancing them together.
Another point in the minds of hon. Members is that it would seem to them that there are no more grounds in 1963 for assimilating the penalties under the two Acts than there were in 1936. There are two arguments to meet that argument. The first is the point which I have just made in reply to an intervention by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, that although the maxima under the two Acts will be the same, because in the Government's view the denial and abuse of free speech in extreme cases are equally culpable, there is no reason why a court should impose the same penalties in all cases.
The court takes account of circumstances and character. One has only to read the record of the courts after the major disturbances in Trafalgar Square in July last year to see that this is what happens and that the penalties imposed within the maxima are by no means equal for different offences.
§ Mr. Mendelson
Does the hon. Gentleman not see that a decision now to increase penalties so severely will be regarded as a direction to the courts to treat them as equal? Is the hon. Gentleman not undoing the sentence which he has just uttered from the Dispatch Box?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
No, I do not think that that is so. All we are telling the courts is the maxima which they may impose. Many hon. Members know from their experience in the past that courts are very chary of imposing maximum penalties. I see no reason for the distrust of the courts which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and others have expressed. If we are going to distrust the courts we cannot pass any legislation 321 at all. The interpretation of legislation must rest with the courts and must always remain with them.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if Parliament increases a maximum penalty from £5 to £500 the courts are not inclined to think that the offence is more serious?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
They would certainly be inclined to regard the worst offences as more serious, but no offence of this kind has been brought before the courts under the 1908 Act and therefore this comparison cannot be made.
The other answer to the question why there is no more reason in 1963 than there was in 1936 to assimilate penalties under the two Acts is that if the 1936 penalties alone were increased the gap between the penalties under the two Acts would become not only larger but of a totally different order from what they are today. This would be even more emphasised by the fact that in that case the 1908 offences would continue to remain triable only as summary offences whereas the 1936 offences would also be triable on indictment.
There is a last point on which I should like to answer the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North. I speak subject to correction and I will study his words in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I believe that he spoke of the danger not only to those whom I have called the provoked being prosecuted under the 1908 Act but even innocent bystanders. I think that on reflection the hon. and learned Member may think that it is a very unlikely contingency and that if it occurred the likelihood of such a prosecution being successful can be regarded as negligible.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I quoted something which was said by a councillor in a local council who referred to innocent bystanders. The relevance was that often one would have an innocent bystander who was provoked and was arrested and charged under the Act.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
The hon. and learned Member is perfectly right. I recall now that he was quoting a local councillor and I am glad to have been corrected. The fact remains that there is a heavy burden of proof under the 1908 Act and 322 I do not think that we can take seriously the possibility of an innocent bystander being prosecuted under it.
It is perfectly natural with a Bill of virtually one Clause that the debate in Committee should repeat the ground covered on Second Reading, and to me it has been something of a relief to find that no unexpected arguments have been addressed to the Government Front Bench today. It has been even a slight surprise to me that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has not sought to improve my speech by heckling me. On the ground that in extreme cases—and it is for the courts to judge extreme cases—the offence of abusing free speech and the offence of deliberately denying free speech are in our opinion equally culpable I would hope that the Amendment will not be pressed.
§ Mr. Mendelson
Why has the Joint Under-Secretary failed to deal with the important case which has arisen in the past, and which might arise again, of the Fascist Union movement deliberately organising a meeting on the doorstep of a minority in order to terrorise it? If these people have a fortnight's notice and prepare themselves to do something about it to show their opposition, how will the Measure deal with that sort of case?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I thank the hon. Member for reminding me of that point. The important consideration is not where the meeting takes place but what is the behaviour at the meeting. In the hypothetical, and indeed actual, instance which he describes there is a clear case of an offence under the 1936 Act.
§ Mr. M. Foot
Since the Joint Under-Secretary invited me to heckle him in order to improve his speech, I would not like to be ungracious enough not to do so. What difficulties does he think the Government would encounter in maintaining law and order if they were to accept our Amendment?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I think if there were any possibility—and we cannot rule out this possibility—of a repetition this year or in future years of some of the Trafalgar Square meetings which took place last year, the Clause that we are now discussing would be of great value.
§ Mr. Foot
If that is the hon. Gentleman's hypothetical answer, I must say that I cannot think that my intervention has improved his speech. If that is his answer, that he wants to deal with the possibility of a recurrence of these kinds of Trafalgar Square meetings, why does he think that sort of case could be properly dealt with under a Measure which was introduced in 1908 for dealing with an entirely different purpose altogether?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I have already pointed out that it is untrue to imagine that the Bill has had no history since 1908.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I think all hon. Members on this side of the Committee will agree that the Minister's speech was thoroughly unconvincing and unsatisfactory. The last two questions from my hon. Friend have exposed the weakness of the Government's case, and I hope my hon. Friends will support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) and myself in the Lobby.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out, to "of" in line 8, stand part of the Clause:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 195, Noes 162.325
|Division No. 180.]||AYES||[7.42 p.m.|
|Aitken, Sir William||Gammans, Lady||Marten, Neil|
|Allason, James||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)|
|Arbuthnot John||Glover, Sir Douglas||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Mawby, Ray|
|Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)||Goodhart, Philip||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Balniel, Lord||Goodhew, Victor||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Barber, Anthony||Gower, Raymond||Mills, Stratton|
|Barlow, Sir John||Grant-Ferris, R.||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Barter, John||Green, Alan||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Batsford, Brian||Gresham Cooke, R.||Moore, Sir Thomas (Ayr)|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Gurden, Harold||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Bidgood, John C.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Orr-Ewing, sir Charles|
|Bingham, R. M.||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Box, Donald||Hay, John||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Partridge, E.|
|Brewis, John||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Brooks, Rt. Hon. Henry||Hendry, Forbes||Peel, John|
|Brooman-White, R.||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Hobson, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Bryan, Paul||Holland, Philip||Pilkington, Sir Richard|
|Buliard, Denys||Hornby, R. P.||Pitman, Sir James|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Hughes-Young, Michael||Pott, Percivall|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Jennings, J. C.||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Chataway, Christopher||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Pym, Francis|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Ramsden, James|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Cole, Norman||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Rees-Davies, W. R. (Isle of Thanet)|
|Cooke, Robert||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Renton, Rt. Hon. David|
|Cooper, A. E.||Kershaw, Anthony||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Corfield, F. V.||Kirk, Peter||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Kitson, Timothy||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Leavey, J. A.||Roots, William|
|Crowder, F. P.||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Curran, Charles||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Russell, Ronald|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Lilley, F. J. P.||St. Clair, M.|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Lindsay, Sir Martin||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Litchfield, Capt. John||Sharples, Richard|
|Donaldson, Cmdr, C. E. M,||Longbottom, Charles||Shaw, M.|
|Doughty, Charles||Loveys, Walter H.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Speir, Rupert|
|Duncan, Sir James||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||MacArthur, Ian||Stodart, J. A.|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||McLaren, Martin||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricla||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Farr, John||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Fell, Anthony||McMaster, Stanley R.||Talbot, John E.|
|Finlay, Graeme||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Maddan, Martin||Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)|
|Freeth, Denzil||Maginnis, John E.||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Galbraitn, Hon. T. G. D.||Maitland, Sir John||Temple, John M.|
|Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)||Van Straubenzee, W. R.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Thompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton)||Vane, W. M. F.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Wise, A. R.|
|Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin||Vickers, Miss Joan||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Walder, David||Woollam, John|
|Turner, Colin||Walker, Peter|
|Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.||Wall, Patrick||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Tweedsmuir, Lady||Ward, Dame Irene||Mr. Hugh Reesand|
|Mr. Ian Fraser.|
|Ainsley, William||Grimond, Rt. Hon. J.||Paton, John|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Gunter, Ray||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central)||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Pentland, Norman|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hannan, William||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Barnett, Guy||Harper, Joseph||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Probert, Arthur|
|Bence, Cyril||Hayman, F. H.||Redhead, E. C.|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)||Rhodes, H.|
|Benson, Sir George||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Blackburn, F.||Hilton, A. V.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Blyton, William||Holman, Percy||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Boardman, H.||Hooson, H. E.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Howell, Charles A. (Perry Barr)||Rodgers, W. T. (Stockton)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics, S. W.)||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Hoy, James H.||Ross, William|
|Bowles, Frank||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Short, Edward|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Hunter, A. E.||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Janner, Sir Barnett||Small, William|
|Callaghan, James||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Snow, Julian|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Chapman, Donald||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Cliffe, Michael||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Steele, Thomas|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Kelley, Richard||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Crosland, Anthony||Kenyon, Clifford||Stones, William|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||King, Dr. Horace||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Lawson, George||Swain, Thomas|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Swingler, Stephen|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Symonds, J. B.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Taverne, D.|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lipton, Marcus||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Dempsey, James||Loughlin, Charles||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Diamond, John||Lubbock, Eric||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)|
|Dodds, Norman||McBride, N.||Thornton, Ernest|
|Edelman, Maurice||McCann, John||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Edwards, Rt, Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||MacColl, James||Warbey, William|
|Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||McInnes, James||Watkins, Tudor|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mackie, John (Enfield, East)||Weitzman, David|
|Finch, Harold||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Whitlock, William|
|Fletcher, Eric||Manuel, Archie||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Foley, Maurice||Mapp, Charles||Willey, Frederick|
|Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||Mason, Roy||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Mayhew, Christopher||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Forman, J. C.||Mendelson, J. J.||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Millan, Bruce||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mitchison, G. R.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|George, Lady MeganLloyd (Crmrthn)||Monslow, Walter||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Ginsburg, David||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Woof, Robert|
|Gourlay, Harry||O'Malley, B. K.||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Paget, R. T.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Pargiter, G. A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Parker, John||Mr. Ifor Davies and Mr. Grey.|
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, after "1", to insert "(1)".
This is an Amendment to make clear the effect of the Bill on the Public Meeting Act, 1908, and to remove a misunderstanding which, I think, was expressed by one or two hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member far Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood), on Second Reading, when it was suggested that the 326 Bill would have the effect of increasing penalties under Clause 1(3) of the 1908 Act as well as under Clause 1(1) of the 1908 Act; in other words, that a severe penalty might be imposed not only for the serious offence of preventing a meeting from taking place but also on a person refusing in certain defined circumstances to give a name and address.
The Government's view is that there is a conceivable ambiguity here. Clause 327 1(2) of the present Bill expressly repeals the existing penalty under Clause 1(1) of the 1908 Act, but makes no reference to a penalty under Clause 1(3) of the 1908 Act, and the existing penalty of 40s. under Clause 1(3) of the 1908 Act would remain. However, lest there should be any possibility of ambiguity from the bare reference in line 8 unqualified, we considered it preferable to add "(1)" after Clause 1 to make the intention and the effect indisputable.
§ Mr. Fletcher
In supporting the Amendment, we should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) for having pointed out the ambiguity in the Bill and to the Minister for having made the necessary correction.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I should like to congratulate the Government on their extraordinary restraint in not increasing the penalties under this subsection.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Sir B. Janner
I beg to move, in page 1, line 9, at the end to insert:in the case of an offence under the Public Order Act 1936".
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Robert Grimston)
With this Amendment we might consider the Amendment in page 1, line 15 at the end to insert:or, in the case of an offence under the Public Meeting Act 1908, on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50, or imprisonment not exceeding 1 month".
§ Sir B. Janner
May I say how disappointed I was to hear the nature of the reply from the Minister to the debate which took place on the first Amendment. I thought that he might have taken note of the point that I was trying to make in respect of the image that his intentions were creating in the minds of the community as a whole and in particular in the minds of the judges or the magistrates. If he has not yet got my point, he must forgive me if I take a little time trying to explain why some of my hon. Friends and I feel so strongly about this.
As a preliminary I ought to say that the Amendment that I am proposing was not put on the Notice Paper because I did not feel strongly about the previous Amendment. In spite of the fact that the 1908 Act has no teeth, the hon. 328 Gentleman said that he was sharpening its teeth. It has been on the Statute Book for over fifty years and it is only just beginning to teeth, accordingly to him, and I doubt whether the teeth will ever come through at all.
The Minister is entitled to raise the penalties only so far as necessary to conform with the value of the £ and perhaps a little over. Therefore, I have chosen the figure of £50 in the hope that that may stir him into the belief that that will meet fully the case that he has been trying to present to us. As for imprisonment, there is no difference in value today—a month's imprisonment is a month's imprisonment, and that is that. Therefore, I am not suggesting that we should increase the term of imprisonment.
Let us consider what the Minister and his colleagues are trying to do. They are trying to equate an offence under what I shall call the petticoat act with a riotous, vicious and intolerable action which is being taken by people who are following in the footsteps of their master, Hitler. If there were a Preamble to this Bill, how would it have read? Would it have read that whereas the Public Meeting Act, 1908, has failed in its objects and in consequence has not been able to deal with the position which has arisen in which higher penalties were necessary, and therefore the penalties would have to be increased? Nothing of the sort. There have been four cases. It is illogical because how can one possibly ask a sensible set of legislators to legislate for something that has been proved to be not at all necessary? The argument is that, because there have been three or four cases in three or four years—is that it?—or is it in fifty years—
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Sir B. Janner
Four cases in seven years. So we must take a sledgehammer to deal with it. It really is not logical. We should only introduce fresh legislation to cope with a situation which is not being properly met by the laws at present in force. That is the way to do it. I simply cannot understand the Government's argument, and, to be frank, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman really understands it himself. I cannot believe that a sensible 329 person like him can possibly find a reason for what he proposes.
There was a reason for introducing the Bill. But what the Minister is now saying is that we should have the same sanctions for murder, manslaughter, assault and grevious bodily harm, it being for the courts to decide how heavy a penalty to inflict. This is nonsense. We have different maximum penalties for different offences, and the court takes note of these in what penalties it imposes. In fact, it says so. In many cases, the Judge may warn a jury that, because of the severity of the penalty, it must be extremely careful to be 100 per cent. satisfied that the offence has been committed.
What the Government now propose is an indication to the courts and to the country that the two offences are of precisely the same seriousness. This cannot be tolerated. There is a very great difference between them. Imperfectly, I know, but doing my best, I shall try to give the hon. Gentleman a reason why he should reconsider his decision and accept this Amendment at least.
Either the two offences are of the same seriousness, in which case we should impose the same maximum penalty, or a mistake has been made in not increasing the penalty for the very serious offence. In the latter event if he likes, he can leave the penalty for the other offence, although I am convinced that it would be a ridiculous penalty to impose. But he does not suggest this.
In the Second Reading debate in another place, the Lord Chancellor said:We dislike incitement to racial hatred just as much as anyone else, but the position now is this. As a result of the appeal, which held that the conviction was wrongly quashed, it is, I think, as clear as it can be made under the law of today that 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.]In other words, what the Lord Chancellor said lays down that the Act of 1936 covers, whether we say it in terms 330 in the Bill or not—we have asked dozens of times that it should be clearly stated—incitement to racial hatred because the words of the Act cannot be otherwise interpreted if the words used incite racial hatred.
§ Sir B. Janner
That was its purpose. Why am I so upset by the line taken by the Government? On 9th July, the Attorney-General said that we are dealing with wrong-headed expressions of opinion. We are not just dealing with wrong-headed expressions of opinion. We are dealing with a cold, calculated and deliberate attempt to destroy all fundamental human rights. This is why the Bill was introduced. The same methods and the same objects are being pursued as in the early days of the Nazi movement.
Then, too, provocative speeches by the Nazis were regarded as merely crackpot expressions of opinion. In our lifetime, we have seen what these crackpot expressions of opinion lead to. They led to the subjugation of Germany and almost the whole of Europe, with all the attendant massacres and brutality. I do not say that the same sort of thing will happen here, but this is the kind of policy which is being advocated by a movement which calls itself a political movement but which, as many of us have said, is not a political movement. It is a movement which encourages Nazi crimes.
If we are seeking to put a slight curb on the abuse of freedom of speech, we do it in order not to weaken but to protect this right which neo-Nazis, having abused it for their own ends, would then trample underfoot, together with all other human rights. Other Western nations have found it quite compatible with their respect for freedom of speech to incorporate in their legislation laws against incitement to racial hatred, as we have done and as we are trying to do now.
Such laws would be fully in accord with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 7 of which states thatAll are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.331 In its conclusion, by Article 30, the Declaration provides thatNothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.We did not subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lightly. I refer to it because I want the Minister to realise that this is what the Bill deals with, apart from the side issue. The other matter is de minimis. The real purpose of the Bill is to deal with incitement to racial hatred, and we should not disregard its implications in the present situation.
This country is, and should continue to be, a leader in these matters as a rule. Our moral strength is our greatest weapon in the defence of the free world. We are not talking today about trivialities. We are talking about activities of the kind which I have described, and this I cannot emphasise too strongly. Our present law is not in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It does not afford the protection advocated by Articles 7 and 12. Protection is offered only when the incitement and attacks lead to a breach of the peace, or they are considered likely to do so.
This is bad enough in itself. As a result, law abidance is penalised. The peaceful citizen who, with the utmost self-discipline, manages to prevent himself retaliating at Vile threats and insults to himself and to his kith and kin is the sufferer. He is expected to acquiesce in the name of one right, freedom of speech, in the face not only of insults but of oral and written advocacy of a policy which would destroy all the other fundamental rights set out in the Declaration, a policy advocating not only discrimination but all that went with Hitlerism—concentration camps, gas chambers, the deliberate murder of children and babies, paganism and the destruction of all that is holy to Christian and Jew alike.
If certain individuals lack this tremendous self restraint and find themselves unprotected from the law from the utmost insult and provocation, it is surely inequitable that they should be penalised as severely as the persons whose deliberate provocation has led to retaliation.
332 I appeal to the Minister to see this matter in the light in which we see it. During his trial, Eichmann said—and this is the kind of policy being advocated—The commandant told me he had liquidated by gassing 80,000 Jews, mostly from the Warsaw Ghetto, in three months.Describing a visit to Minsk in 1942, Eichmann said:When I arrived exterminations were in full swing. I saw a baby shot in his mother's arms.This is the kind of thing that we are talking about. We are discussing the destruction of synagogues and sacred books. This took place on an organised scale in the pogroms in 1938 in Germany and Austria.
Special destruction was carried out on the Arks of the Covenant and the Holy Scrolls within them which were set on fire and desecrated. This was highly organised and by no means spontaneous temporary policy. After the fires had burned themselves out, conducted tours were organised to admire the damage done, and fees were collected for those tours on behalf of Nazi funds. Documents to which I have referred previously are being sent from Germany to this country and messages which are being stuck on the walls in Germany come from an organisation in this country which in themselves are an intolerable insult to everybody in this country.
People are advocating the destruction of books which contain the Ten Commandments. I could quote from the Nazi policy the advocating of pagan rites which are part and parcel of the same thing. Yet we sit here and say that the same penalty should be imposed on these people that is imposed on a person who does not agree with what is being said at a meeting. The Minister is wrong in what he says about the 1908 Act. It refers to people who are actually at a meeting. There is no provision dealing with people who conspire together to go to a meeting for the purpose of upsetting it. I should like the Attorney-General to deal with that point. The Act refers to a person who is at a meeting, but who acts in a certain way.
What does the Minister expect from a person with a tattoo on his arm which he got in a concentration camp and who has had to wander through the woods leading a subhuman life for years and 333 who comes back here and hears the same kind of thing in an enlightened country? Those of us on the Jewish Board of Deputies, which is the official representative body of the Jewish people in this country, have told our people not to go to these meetings. For years, before the great attack was made in Trafalgar Square, we managed to do that to a certain extent.
But we cannot stop people from going to these meetings. How can we? Who can blame people for going to these meetings? They want to be there to be able to answer what is said. They do not want others to go away with the impression that everything that has been said is right. This is an attack on the mind. It is worse than a brutal attack on the body.
It is ridiculous to put these people in the same position as those who incite people to racial hatred. This is almost like saying that we should lay down the same maximum penalty for every criminal offence on the Statute Book and to leave it to the courts to decide what punishment they will impose. That would be sheer nonsense, and I am sure that no one would be more anxious to attack such an idea than the Attorney-General.
I appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Do not let us pass a Bill which, when it becomes an Act, may be interpreted by people, if only by a few people, as meaning that we regard these two offences as being of the same standard. The 1908 Act has been in existence for over fifty years. In seven years, four summonses have been taken out under it. It does not serve much purpose. How can it? I do not know how many summonses were taken out last year. There could not have been very many if only four have been taken out over seven years.
I should not like the Minister to go away bearing the burden of allowing a triviality to impede something which is of tremendous value to the country. This is an important issue and I hope that in the circumstances he will say, "It would be quite wrong to impose the same penalty". If he thinks that there are some cases which might be a little more serious, let him lay down a penalty of £50, but do not let us give anyone the 334 impression that these two offences are of the same gravity.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
The effect of the Amendment would be to limit the penalties prescribed in the Bill to Section 5 of the Public Order Act alone and, additionally, to provide a separate increase of the maximum penalty for offences under Section 1(1) of the Public Meeting Act, 1908, this separate increase being only on the fine and not on the prison sentence. I hope that I have correctly defined the effect of the Amendment. It would still leave a wide gap between the 1936 and 1908 Acts, although not as wide as that proposed in the previous Amendment. It would, incidentally, also remove from the Bill, although leaving the 1908 Act in the Bill, the right of a magistrate to decide under the 1908 Act that the accused should be commited for trial on indictment.
The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) said very eloquently that this was an important issue. He also said that he was disappointed in my reaction to the previous Amendment. I am sorry that he was disappointed. Unfortunately, I am also disappointed in the hon. Member, because I could not find in his speech on this Amendment any ground for accepting it which would not also have been ground for accepting the earlier Amendment. I do not want to weary the Committee by repeating the arguments which I put forward in considering the previous Amendment, but I stress again the essential point that this Amendment also rests on a misunderstanding of the nature of the distinction between the 1908 and 1936 Acts.
I recognise that I have not carried the other side of the Committee with me in my arguments on this subject on the previous Amendment, but it would not be profitable to rehearse them all over again, because even on reflection I cannot see any ground for withdrawing them. If, therefore, as I urged with the former Amendment, it is the fact, as the Government believe it to be, that in extreme cases—and I am speaking only of extreme cases—the offence of denying legitimate free speech and the offence of abusing free speech are equally serious, the penalties should be the same. For this reason, it is not possible for the Government to accept the Amendment and I hope that it will not be pressed.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I am surprised at the Joint Under-Secretary's answer. I can only assume that he has instructions to accept no Amendments. It is difficult to imagine that anyone could be convinced by his argument. I have no political feelings in the matter. I am between the two sides of the Committee. I have listened to the argument on the present Amendment and the previous one. When the Minister argues that because the previous one was rejected there is, therefore, no case for this one, I do not follow him. The previous Amendment tried to eliminate the reference to the 1908 Act for the strong reasons put forward by several of my hon. Friends. The Government rejected the Amendment and they carried the day.
The argument still remains, however, that we are dealing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) said, with two quite distinct offences, which are dealt with in two quite distinct Acts, one of which—the 1908 Act—imposed minor penalties for the minor offences. The Joint Undersecretary says that the offences under the two Acts are equally serious. That makes nonsense of the 1908 Act and the penalties therein specified and of the fact that only four cases have arisen under it in the last seven years and have been dealt with summarily and satisfactorily, presumably, on the basis of the £5 fine or a month's imprisonment.
In the circumstances, for the Minister to say that that Act and the offences which it defines, for which such small penalties were laid down, must be treated as in the same category as those dealt with by the 1936 Act, passes my comprehension. I do not want to underline what already has been said by my hon. Friend in dealing with the almost inconceivable results to which offences such as are supposed to be covered by the 1936 Act can lead. Enough has been said about this, and the Government side know it as well as we do. Therefore, we must regard the two kinds of offences as entirely different.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), who spoke on the last Amendment from the Front Bench, in regard to the distinction that should be made about the place where a meeting is held at which one of these offences is committed. 336 There is something traditional about Hyde Park meetings, but if a meeting is held there at which incitement to genocide or its equivalent is advocated, I cannot see that anyone is less likely to be offended than if he happens to hear the speech if it is made at a street corner or in a public hall. It would be difficult to carry forward the distinction.
It does not matter whether it is Hyde Park or Finsbury Park, Battersea Park or a street corner with an equally traditional spouters' corner, just as traditional and protected by tradition as Hyde Park. How do we distinguish between the traditional spouters' corner and a corner at the other end of the same street? I do not make that distinction. The offence is the same wherever it is committed and it must be judged on the enormity of the offence and the purposes for which the offence is committed.
The previous Amendment has been rejected. That being so, if we are trying to increase the penalties under the 1908 Act and to use the Bill as the instrument of doing it, we should at least make clear what we are trying to do. I presume that the Government will tell us that it is not the intention that on summary conviction under the 1908 Act a person should be liable to imprisonment for three months or a fine not exceeding £100, or both. That would be absurd in relation to a £5 fine or a month's imprisonment under the 1908 Act. I presume, therefore, that it is not the intention that these penalties should be imposed for the kind of offences defined in the 1908 Act and in respect of which minor penalties were laid down and have been applied.
That being so, what is the objection to making it clear in the Bill that that is the position and that these new heavy penalties of £100 or three months' imprisonment, or £500 or a year's imprisonment, are intended to apply to the more serious offence which was supposed to be covered by the 1936 Act?
If this practical Amendment were adopted, I imagine that there could be no objection to its drafting. It could only assist in clarifying what the Government tell us they are trying to do. It could only assist the courts and relieve them of some of the burden of trying to 337 define the enormity of the offences over such a wide field in the two Acts.
For those reasons, the Amendment is entirely constructive and helpful. I see no reason for its rejection except, as I suggested earlier, that the Minister has no authority from the Government to accept Amendments. If that is so, it makes a mockery of the debate and of Parliament. I hope that the Ministers who are in charge of the Bill will extend the proceedings and get further instructions so that they may be released from their present instructions and, at least, give us the benefit of explaining their attitude. It is not asking too much for them to accept this modest Amendment, which could only be helpful and help to improve the Bill.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The Minister was quite right in one thing he said, and that was that he had entirely failed in his previous speech to convince any of us on this side of the Committee by his argument in resisting the first Amendment. It is inevitable that arguments in support of this Amendment should to a considerable extent overlap the arguments which were put forward in respect of the first Amendment which has been defeated by the Committee, but, nevertheless, that Amendment having been found unacceptable to the Committee, I still hope that my hon. Friend will press this Amendment, because it is an Amendment which, at any rate, would go some way to establishing the distinction which ought to be made between the punishment meted out, on the one hand, to those who deliberately make provocative speeches advocating racial hatred and, on the other, to those naturally incensed and provoked when they hear such speeches.
I think the Minister justified his resistance to this Amendment by saying he thought the penalties ought to be the same for denying free speech, for abusing free speech, but the matter is not as simple as that. We cannot speak about free speech as though it were some abstract theory which entitles anyone to say anything he likes anywhere he likes; and we cannot say that if anybody stops him saying it he is denying free speech. I am afraid my hon. Friend did not understand the distinction I was trying to make.
338 The reason for this Amendment, in my opinion, is this. In the interests of free speech we should give the maximum liberty to people to proclaim unpopular ideas and unpopular tenets in places where it is customary for unpopular speeches to be made. There are limits to which people ought to go at such meetings. On the other hand, in a situation in which Fascist and neo-Fascist bands deliberately organise provocative, abominable meetings, advocating racial hatred, in places where they are deliberately calculated to arouse feeling, we do not think it right that people thus provoked in their own neighbourhoods, where there is a predominantly Jewish community or a predominantly coloured community, who object to those views and are provoked, should be said to be denying free speech. We think that if provocation arises the greater offence is in those who organise the meetings in those places and thereby abuse free speech. It is for that reason that we think the punishment should be greater for those who abuse freedom of speech in those places than for those who, quite legitimately we think, are provoked beyond measure to denying freedom of speech in those places.
They are the reasons for this Amendment, and I hope that my hon. Friend will press it to a Division.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I shall be very brief. I have listened with care and consideration to the arguments put by all three hon. Members who have spoken, I am sorry to have to disappoint them again, but although I agree with many of the things which have been said, particularly by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), what I agree with does not, in my view, bear on this Amendment any more than it would have borne on the previous Amendment, because I adhere to the view that both rest on a misconception of the distinction between the two Acts. The point I wanted to try to make clear and which I failed to make clear to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) was not that I was arguing that because the previous Amendment had been defeated this one must be also but that I had heard no arguments for this Amendment which would not have been arguments, if valid, for the previous Amendment.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted:—340
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 157, Noes 186.341
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered; read the Third time and passed, with an Amendment.