HC Deb 01 December 1972 vol 847 cc777-867

11.4 a.m.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

I beg to move, That this House reaffirms its view that strict observance of the law, both by Government and by individuals and organisations within the State, is essential to the maintenance of political freedom, and to the protection of minorities, including dissentient minorities; and repudiates the doctrine that it is in any circumstances justifiable in a free society for any individual or organisation to reject any law. I shall not speak today about crime and punishment. I know that this is a matter very close to people's hearts. They are worried sick about the apparently inexorable rise in the number of violent crimes. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is tackling this problem with courage, imagination and humanity. If things can be made better by a judicious mixture of stiffer penalties and more certain detection and—perhaps rather more to the point—more certain conviction, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will find the right mixture. At any rate, he will not forget that the more we stiffen penalties the harder it is to secure convictions. That is one aspect of the rule of law.

However, this morning I want to talk about a rather different aspect, namely, the rule of law as the protector not of our lives and property but of our freedom.

The rule of law is a two-sided coin. We cannot split it down the middle. On one side is the restraint which the law imposes on the exercise of arbitrary or tyrannous power by the Government, and on the other the restraint which the law imposes on individuals, sections or interests within the community.

I propose to argue that the rule of law in this double sense is one of only two guarantees of our political freedom. The other guarantee, of course, is Parliament. At the risk of shocking some hon. Members, I must say that the rule of law is a more reliable and certain guarantee of our freedom even than a free Parliament—this Parliament or any other.

A lot of people say that the most valuable gift which Britain gave to the overseas peoples which once she ruled was that of parliamentary democracy. If so, that gift has been frittered away, because in most of black Africa parliamentary democracy in any meaningful sense has disappeared. It is, however, still alive, and in rather more than a purely formal sense, in both South Africa and Rhodesia. Does this prove that those two countries are free? Parliamentary democracy has disappeared, or is apt to disappear, in Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria and, from time to time, Pakistan. Does this prove that they are not free countries?

If we go by the definition of Sir Ivor Jennings—he was no Right-wing imperialist—there can be no doubt. His definition was: The test of a free country is to examine the status of the body that corresponds to His Majesty's Opposition. On that definition, South Africa is in the clear and Nigeria very definitely is not.

But Britain bequeathed another gift to her former colonies—the rule of law. This has shown a somewhat tougher will to survive. In only a few of the countries of black Africa—of which Zanzibar and Uganda are the most notorious—is the rule of law entirely extinct. To the extent that the rule of law survives in, say, Kenya, Nigeria or Tanzania—that is, to the extent that judges in those countries are able to exercise any kind of control or restraint on the Executive or on arbitrary actions by the Executive—Kenya, Nigeria or Tanzania can stake some kind of claim to be as free as South Africa or Rhodesia, where the powers of judges to check the Executive still exist but are being eroded.

It is not surprising that the rule of law should be at least as effective a barrier to tyranny as is a free Parliament. Parliaments are emanations of the popular will, and there are some hon. Members who consider that this Parliament ought to reflect more closely the popular will as manifested by the Daily Express. At times of real crisis, when popular emotions are overwhelming, Parliaments are sometimes very ready to entrust the nation's liberties to a strong man. It was not so difficult to get the Reichstag to hand over full powers to Hitler; it was not difficult to get the French Assembly to hand over full powers to Petain, and, for that matter, it did not take us very long to decide to suspend the forms of parliamentary democracy in Northern Ireland. I do dispute that decision, but we did not take very long over it. For reasons which are not particularly discreditable, democratic parliamentarians are not infallible defenders of political freedom.

Lawyers, on the other hand—and this does them no particular credit—have a vested interest in the maintenance of free institutions. Quite simply, they make their money and their reputations out of them. Blocking the actions of government, whether on behalf of some giant corporation or some obstinate individual, can be highly profitable to a lawyer, and it is no less profitable to assist the Government to attain their ends. There are rich pickings all round.

A dictatorship governing by decree is very much less in need of lawyers. A dictatorship which snaps even the thin cobweb bonds of its own decrees, as in Zanzibar or Uganda, has no need of lawyers at all. All it needs is the infamous "people's courts" to destroy any individual or organisation which ventures to defy the current orthodoxy. In such a system of "justice" there is no need even of professional judges. The "people's courts," which are nothing better than institutionalised lynchings, are a grim reminder that we do not make justice either more perfect or a better guardian of liberty by bringing it more closely into line with the public will. On the contrary, the best hope of enlarging the area of freedom in a society which has lost it lies in the attempts of a shattered legal profession to rebuild its prestige and its fortunes. I have always felt that the best hope of improving things in the Soviet Union is to build on the gradually increasing prestige of the legal profession there—interpreting Soviet law, true, but gradually acclimatising people to the idea that the State must at the very least obey its own laws.

It would be unwise to project such hopes too far, as the hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) has pointed out in his admirable book on Communism and the law. I have argued that the rule of law, in the sense that the actions of the Executive must be subject to check by the judiciary, is at least as important a guarantee of political freedom as is the existence of parliamentary institutions, and that dictatorships have found it easier to destroy parliaments than to destroy the law.

It was this aspect of the rule of law which concerned the two foremost writers on the subject, A. W. Dicey and Sir Ivor Jennings. Although they wrote from diametrically opposite political viewpoints they were both almost entirely concerned with the control which law ought to exert over Government. In neither writer do we find much awareness of the other side of the coin, namely the obligation of groups or individuals within the State to submit to the law. Yet throughout the free world the problem is not so much of Governments which are too strong but—and this is astonishing in an age of high technology and mass propaganda—that Governments are too weak to defend the general interest against the particular interest. In some ways the need today is to reverse the events leading to Magna Carta. Some of the barons have grown more powerful than the king.

As the Home Secretary said in his magnificent speech to the Conservative Party conference: The law and its proper enforcement are not the enemies of freedom; they are the very conditions of its existence. In the free world freedom is threatened today not by the arbitrary exercise of State powers but by the actions of certain minority groups. Some of them—hi-jackers, bomb-throwers, and urban guerrillas—are out to destroy the law and to impose on us all some kind of unnamed and insane dictatorship.

At the opposite extreme are those normally law-abiding citizens—trade union leaders who refuse to accept the Industrial Relations Act and respectable local government leaders who refuse to operate the Housing Finance Act. As a Welsh Member I may be permitted to put into this same gallery of high-minded, wrong-headed lawbreakers the young hotheads of the Welsh Language Society who give such headaches to the Marylebone magistrates.

Between the wholly detestable terrorists and the respectable non-conformists—the trade unions, the local government leaders and the Welsh Language Society—there is the larger, rather more equivocal group of extremist militants who do not set out to destroy the law on principle but who will readily break the law, and break it repeatedly, rather than abate their claims. Let us be in no doubt about the dangers that these people represent, however inherently justifiable their claims may be.

It is because this brand of law-breaking—this readiness to break the law rather than abate one's claims—has become the norm in Northern Ireland that the province has become almost ungovernable. If the tendency is allowed to spread in the rest of Britain—if moderate opinion comes to acquiesce in continued defiance of the law by militants—then the whole of Britain will become ungovernable. No one has perceived this more clearly or expressed it more sharply than Mr. Victor Feather who recently said: Violence and disorder is the certain road to self-destruction. It is that which brings disaster, and if it is not checked, leads to dictatorship. The terrorists and the bomb-throwers are not the most dangerous threat to our future. We are not so craven that we can be frightened into acquiescing in their rejection of the law. The worst that they can do is to call into being a counter-terrorism more substantial than their own. The extremist militants, on the other hand, pushing their claims to the cliff-edge of legality and beyond, represent a much more formidable threat. The greatest danger of all comes from those pillars of rectitude and of the Establishment, who, as the leaders of great trade unions or powerful local authorities, so intensely dislike a particular Act that they will openly defy it and call on others to do so. Only these people could make defiance of the law respectable, normal, unremarkable.

The Leader of the Opposition has now publicly set his face against this sort of development. Perhaps he will now go further and urge trade unions and local authorities actively to co-operate with the law. We would be wise to do so. Strict support of the rule of law—indeed, active co-operation with the law—is even more important to the party opposite than it is to my own. It is they rather than we who believe in making men good by Act of Parliament, or making society perfect by Act of Parliament. It is they rather than we who believe in the declaratory value of Acts of Parliament such as the Race Relations Act.

So I say to those very few members of the Labour Party who have been encouraging trade unions or local authorities to defy the law, "Do you not realise that, by naturalising the idea that we can obey the law or not as we choose, you are thereby frustrating your own long-term ends? Are you not going to need the full apparatus of the law if ever, which God forbid, your turn comes to impose upon us all your highly uncongenial remedies?"

I could address the same argument to the muddle-headed idealists of the Welsh Language Society. A quarter of the population of Wales speak Welsh. The number is showing a tendency to increase, because education authorities throughout Wales faithfully interpret the requirements of the Welsh Language Act to increase the amount of Welsh teaching in schools.

Now we have the report of the Bowen Committee on bilingual road signs. The three-quarters of non-Welsh-speaking Welshmen will be required to accept bilingual road signs to satisfy the perfectly legitimate desire of the quarter of Welsh-speaking Welshmen. This whole exercise depends for its success entirely on the acceptance by that three-quarters of a legal requirement which benefits them not at all. But if the Welsh Language Society extremists had succeeded in their efforts to bring the law into disrepute they would have destroyed their best hope of achieving the end they seek.

I have argued that the rule of law is so essential to the maintenance of our liberties—both in the sense of restraining the arbitrary use of power by the Executive and in the sense of enabling the Executive to defend the public interest and public freedom against the anarchic or tyrannous pressures of determined minorities—that it should be upheld at all costs, and that hon. Members on both sides should never allow themselves to connive at deliberate breaches of the law.

Of course, this does not mean that the Government have but to pass laws and apply them and we have all but to obey The rule of law, however essential to the maintenance of our liberties, will in fact be in danger if the laws themselves are absolutely intolerable to a majority or to a very large, coherent and determined minority. The Government must at all times have regard not to the popularity but to the acceptability of their laws, if only because if they do not, the courts, particularly courts with juries, will not apply the law.

But, be that as it may, once the rule of law begins to crumble, the end not just of Parliamentary democracy but of freedom itself is very near. That is why it is so important that the House should today remove any possible doubt as to where it stands on this issue by accepting my motion.

11.25 a.m.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

We are indebted to the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) for giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject. He made a carefully prepared and thoughtful speech and I will refer to some of his arguments later. As Members of the House of Commons, we have a special responsibility here. Collectively, we are responsible for the laws we pass, and the courts of this country cannot challenge the binding force of the laws passed by Parliament. Every court is compelled to give effect to them, whatever their terms. This is not to say that all hon. Members agree with all the laws put before Parliament by the Government. There are Acts of Parliament which we dislike intensely.

There are times when law and order appear to be threatened. How serious is the threat for Britain today and who is responsible for making it? First, there are those—they are not numerous, fortunately—whose aim is to subvert and upset the political system under which we live, which has developed over the centuries, and who would replace it with a system in which the Executive was supreme and under which Parliament would at worse be abolished and at best become a cipher. They are to be found on the so-called Right and on the so-called Left and they are endlessly assiduous. Where there is public disturbance or discontent, or, indeed, legitimate demonstration, they are there to fan the flames and if possible to extend the area of conflict. Let there be no misapprehension—whether they be Trotskyites, Maoists, Fascists or British Unionists, their objective is the destruction of parliamentary democracy as we know it.

This is also the basic aim of many members of the Communist Party, although it is fair to say that many Communists—a fellow Welshman, Arthur Horner, was one—worked effectively in the present system and made a valuable contribution to our national life—

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

And Will Paynter.

Mr. Hughes

And, as my right hon. Friend reminds me, another Welshman, Will Paynter, also of the National Union of Mineworkers.

The disruptive groups that I have mentioned have been active in our universities and colleges, in industrial disputes, and in demonstrations and protests such as that in Grosvenor Square when my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was Home Secretary. I believe that he was absolutely right to allow that demonstration to go on, and he was properly commended at the time for the way in which he controlled the demonstration, which happily ended without undue disruption.

Our police are often provoked, at times almost beyond endurance, and it is just as well to remember that they are doing a difficult and often thankless job to the best of their abilities. We should remember that the police force in this country is of fairly recent origin. It is not the strong arm of the Executive here as it is in far too many countries. The British policeman is a civilian discharging civilian duties. This is why assaulting or obstructing the police is a dangerous thing and why we must not permit a deterioration in the standards of our police force.

The policeman is doing our job for us as citizens. We sleep peacefully at night and go about our lawful occasions because the police are there, and the overwhelming majority carry out their duties splendidly. That is why we are shocked when a police officer falls below the standard we have come to expect from him. In the interests of personal freedom, therefore, we must ensure that the role of the police as civilians in uniform is clearly understood and that it is not changed to something which is contrary to the British tradition.

Secondly, the challenge to law and order can come from a far less dangerous quarter. Elements in the community may feel that central Government have no sympathy with their aspirations, that the Whitehall machine grinds on unthinkingly and that the only way to draw attention to their grievances is to make a gesture by breaking the law.

The hon. Member for Flint, West referred to the position in Wales and to the more extreme members of the Welsh Language Society. They fall into this second category. There are those in Northern Ireland, and some in Wales and Scotland, who do not choose to recognise the validity of the laws or of the courts of Britain because they believe in complete separation for those countries. But I am dealing with those who break a law in order to achieve a limited objective.

There have been recent cases of refusal to pay television licence fees, of breaking and entering television studios with the object of calling attention to the need for a separate Welsh-language channel. I do not doubt the sincerity of many of these young people, but I certainly doubt their rightness and wisdom. I have always been deeply concerned to promote and preserve my own language. A great deal has been done to this end, and more needs to be done. But breaking the law and disturbing the peace is not the way to achieve it. Intolerance on the part of those who speak the Welsh language breeds intolerance among those who, by accident of birth, cannot speak it. To survive, the Welsh language needs the good will of all Welsh people, and those who purport to love the language most may in the long run prove to have brought about its destruction. There are many ways in which the Welsh language can be helped, but fundamentally it will survive only if all Welsh people will it so. My appeal to all Welsh people is that we should all work together to strengthen this national will.

Thirdly, there are some leaders of opinion in Wales, including, I am sorry to say, Church leaders, who tend to incite and condone law breaking. This is unworthy and it does not elevate the Church. Freedom of worship and freedom of speech are a precious heritage. We enjoy them because we are free under the law. If our freedom under the law is eroded, if the courts which stand between the individual and the State are defied and brought into disrepute, that very freedom which our ancestors won for us, so that we may worship as dissenters in our own way, will be imperilled.

The hon. Member discussed the rule of law and quoted some distinguished authorities. He spoke rather unfairly of the trade unions. He must remember that throughout the history of trades unionism in our, country trade union leaders have won an enviable reputation throughout the world for their qualities of statesmanship.

It is the responsibility of Government to ensure that their actions do not undermine the rule of law. A Government which become insensitive to the mood of the House of Commons and to public opinion must bear their share of responsibility for the consequences. If the rule of law is to remain inviolate, then the laws promoted by the Executive must have a broad acceptance by the electorate. Two recent Acts of Parliament, the Industrial Relations Act and the Housing Finance Act, have created widespread discontent. The way in which the Industrial Relations Act was railroaded through the House without adequate debate was disgraceful. The National Industrial Relations Court was one of the most unfortunate creations in recent history by a British Government. It gave the impression that a division of the High Court was an agency of the Executive. I am not arguing that it is the tool of Government. Its duty is to interpret and to administer the law and it may seek to do that. But the impression was created that it was something more, and that was the Government's mistake.

I should have liked to discuss the dangers of too much delegated legislation, but I do not want to detain the House.

Sir A. Meyer

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not arguing that the Industrial Relations Act is such that it in any circumstances justifies its defiance. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman is arguing that it justifies efforts made to try to secure its amendment or repeal.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman might have allowed me to continue, because I was about to develop the theme. The point I was making, which I cannot emphasise too strongly, is that the Government of the country, of whatever complexion, must be extremely careful that the laws they pass, first, have broad acceptance, and that the law can be administered by the courts in such a way as not to bring the judges of the courts into disrepute.

But let me say with all the conviction at my command that once a law has been passed by Parliament, however repugnant and bad we think it is, it must none the less be obeyed. For the public have the remedy in their hands. They can see to it that a party is within a reasonable time elected which will repeal or amend laws which they dislike.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

My right hon. Friend seems to be arguing an absolute. If, for example, a duly elected Government were to introduce the most obnoxious racialist laws—for example, causing Commonwealth immigrants to be forcefully evicted from this country—such a tyrannical Government could operate within the framework of democracy. Is my right hon. Friend saying that in those circumstances the remedy is simply to sling out the Government at the next General Election?

Mr. Hughes

My hon. Friend is making an academic and hypothetical point. What I am saying as a general proposition is that in a parliamentary democracy if the rule of law is to be sustained and if the citizen is to enjoy freedom under that law, the right way to deal with the position is to see to it that the Government responsible for a bad law are thrown out and replaced by a Government who repeal or amend the obnoxious Act, of the type to which my hon. Friend referred. To advocate a contrary doctrine—I hope that my hon. Friend was not doing that—is to start on a very dangerous journey indeed.

Parliamentary democracy would not long survive if political parties began to defy laws passed by their duly elected opponents. My hon. Friend's position, and mine as a dissenting Welshman, would be very difficult. We should soon find ourselves disqualified from being Members of the House of Commons, as our ancestors were in the last century.

We live in testing times for democracy. Democratic governments are, unfortunately, a minority in the world But I believe passionately that it is the only form of government worth living under. Our heritage of freedom under the law has cost us dearly. We believe that everyone should be free to think his own thoughts, to have his own opinions and to express them, and to be free to criticise the government or any party or group of people, provided that he does not incite anyone to violence.

Law and order exist to protect the individual citizen so that he may enjoy this freedom. We must be vigilant in this House to defend it. With slight reservations, I support the motion.

11.38 a.m.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), and the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) are both Welsh Members, and therefore I am the first Englishman to intervene in the debate. I hope that it is not to be considered an intrusion into a private fight, such as the occasion with the Irishman in the story.

I join the right hon. Member for Anglesey in expressing great appreciation to my hon. Friend, both for his choice of subject and for the wholly admirable, interesting, stimulating and comprehensive way in which he deployed this theme to the House.

The subject my hon. Friend has chosen of the rule of law is one of both traditional and topical importance. The rule of law is an enduring theme and an essential ingredient in the history of the British people. Together with our attachment to the institutions of parliamentary democracy, it runs like a golden thread linking successive generations and giving a common purpose and basic value to them all.

Together, they form the basis of our society and way of life. The sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law to which my hon. Friend has so fittingly referred are the twin pillars of our constitution in Dicey's famous classification. Our society can be strong and secure only while those pillars stand solid for its support.

Of the two, as my hon. Friend indicated, chronologically and logically the rule of law comes first, although Dicey dealt with them the other way round. One can have a stable if not a satisfactory society without the institutions of parliamentary democracy, and history gives us numerous examples and unfortunately there are examples to be seen not far away in the contemporary world in which we live.

Parliamentary democracy manifestly must be ineffective without the rule of law, since it cannot discharge its essential functions for the governance of a free society in the absence of an effective rule of law.

The attachment of the British people to the rule of law is legendary. From very early times the people of Britain practised the rule of law and thus were able to evolve almost in the dawn of our history the practice of parliamentary democracy. So strongly were these prin- ciples and practices established, so widely were they accepted, and so confidently were they advocated that our ancestors were able over the years to set them as a model for the adoption of many lands in diverse climes, to the envy of the bond and the glory of the free.

Now here, where these great principles were cradled, we feel that they of which we were the proud pioneers are under some challenge here at home. With the sovereignty of Parliament we are not expressly concerned in my hon. Friend's motion today, and so I will say nothing of it. I referred to it on many occasions—some of my hon. Friends may fairly think on too many occasions—in the last Session of Parliament and I do not recur to it today but confine my observations to the other aspect of the rule of law.

We in this country have long regarded the rule of law and its acceptance as the solid rock on which our society is based. Today, however, we are conscious of these cracks and fissures and ominous symptoms of erosion; and that naturally excites apprehension in a community long accustomed to take for granted the benefits of the rule of law.

We must ask ourselves here, as people ask themselves in the country as a whole: to what are these symptoms due? The generalised answer is that unfortunately in the second half of the 20th century behavioural standards have failed to keep pace with the advances of science and technology which have been so striking a feature of our times. There is much truth in that melancholy paradox. Although there is much that is good in our more relaxed way of life today, we can see that in some cases it leads to extremes and extravagances—to individual defiances of the rule of law, which cumulatively, if allowed to go unchecked must bring about its devaluation.

The fact is that to maintain unimpaired the fabric of the rule of law certain basic principles have to be accepted and adhered to. One of the great facets of the rule of law is the principle of equality before the law, the knowledge that each citizen is treated alike, having the same rights and observing the same duties, without need, in Cassius' phrase, to be In awe of such a thing as I myself. Equality before the law is not solely a privilege unmatched by any obligation. On the contrary, the corollary of its existence and the condition of its continuance is the universal acceptance of the rule of law, universal obedience to law because it is the law, without discrimination and claimed exceptions. If there is to be the rule of law, if we are to have equality before the law, it cannot be operated on a basis of selectivity. The rule of law, like peace in the famous phrase, "is indivisible". Either one accepts law as in all respects applicable to all people or one in effect rejects the whole concept of the rule of law. To allow a contracting out of obedience to the rule of law on an individual basis would speedily erode the whole structure and destroy those essentials of certainty, equality of treatment, and generality of application, which are its essential ingredients.

I am here speaking of obedience and observance of the law. In a democratic society one can indicate imperfections in the law where one thinks they exist and advocate its change or improvement. But advocacy of change does not require disobedience to or disavowal of the existing law. On the contrary, the two things are quite distinct. The advocacy of a change in the law is a democratic right, but obedience to the law as existing is a democratic duty; and as is the case with all rights, the right will wither if the duty is neglected.

The duty of obedience to the law is universal and comprehensive and in no way incompatible with its change. Nor does obedience to the law necessarily imply a recognition of the wisdom of any particular law. But the duty of obedience to law properly enacted by our constitutional processes extends to all—to trade unionists in regard to the Industrial Relations Act, to local authorities and council tenants in regard to the Housing Finance Act, and to all.

To countenance a repudiation of the duty of obedience would be to admit the principle that individuals and organisations can set themselves above the law, an admission that would destroy at once the twin concepts of equality before the law and the universality of its application. We cannot have a system where people select the laws which they themselves choose to obey while expecting compliance by others with the laws with which those others may in turn disagree, and expecting also the State to enforce those other laws upon their reluctant fellow citizens.

These things, then, are the basic requirements of the rule of law. In putting them forward I am not for a moment claiming perfection for all our laws. I have been far too long in this House playing a very modest part in the making of the law, and I have practised far too long in the courts playing a very modest part in the interpretation and application of the law, to make any such extravagant claim. Of course, there is a duty on Parliament as well as on the citizen. The corollary of the duty of the citizen to obey the law is the duty of Parliament to keep the law under review, to revise the law where necessary, to strengthen it where necessary and to improve it where possible.

These, I would say, are the requisites of law—clarity, equity, contemporaneity and general acceptability. Of those four requisites, equity of course speaks for itself—the duty so to formulate the law that there is an equal and impartial application to all citizens whom it affects. The requisite of general acceptability means giving effect to la volonté générale—Rousseau's principle of the general will. After all, there are few laws that meet with everybody's approval, and that is only to be expected, but all laws should so far as possible meet with the general approval implicit in Rousseau's famous phrase.

Mr. Callaghan

I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. What about this dilemma in relation to the EEC? Is there any general will there? Does he reconcile this—I ask this not in a hostile manner but in an inquiring manner—with the absolute demand for acceptability?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point. The test of general acceptability in this country is not, of course, done in the abstract way envisaged by Rousseau in the 18th century. The reason for that is well known to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. It is, of course, because we have envolved in a pragmatic way our constitutional practices to seek to give practical effect to that principle. The way we have done it is by the evolution of the other principle with which we are concerned—Dicey's other principle of the sovereignty of Parliament. We in this country have to assume that when legislation is enacted by this House it commands the general assent and that the principle of la volonté générale is thereby satisfied. Again it is dealt with in a practical way because every few years we give to the electorate the right to pass their judgment, and that is the broad sanction under which Parliament operates for conformity to the general will.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for raising what is, I agree, a very interesting point, but on this occasion I must not be led into any further discourse on the situation concerning the Treaty of Rome with this inescapable conflict between the constitutional doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament and our obligations in international law under the terms of the treaty. That is a dilemma to which I have referred in the last Session, and it would be unfair to the House if I were to inflict it on hon. Members once again today.

It was on the other two of the four requisites that I wanted to say a brief word—that is, clarity and contemporaneity. Laws must be clear if obedience is to be expected of them. Laws must be up to date and reflect current needs and opinion, otherwise they will not be respected, and evasion or disobedience of the laws will be countenanced by public opinion. Unfortunately, and perhaps not unnaturally, many of our laws do not pass these tests in their existing state. I mentioned last week in the House that the laws of citizenship, for example, are a dog's breakfast, and, so far as I know, no right hon. or hon. Gentleman has as yet seen fit to dissent from that somewhat disrespectful description of those particular aspects of our law.

But, of course, there are many others—the laws of landlord and tenant for example, the Rent Acts. I remember in my first Parliament—the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) were here—too hearing the late D. N. Pritt, Q.C., one of the most eminent and successful lawyers ever to sit in this House—and a Master of the Bench of the Middle Temple—observing that anybody was very lucky ever to be right about anything in the Rent Acts. Though the laws have been somewhat improved since then, some of the criticism he made then still applies today.

Take the laws relating to public order, which come near to my hon. Friend's motion. When these became topical, with the spread of the habit of "demos" in Grosvenor Square and so on, we in the Society of Conservative Lawyers—two very active members of it are present today; indeed, there are three, because my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, graduated from the Society with honours, if I may so put it—drew up a report on the law relating to public order and published a very lengthy appendix to the report setting out in detail the mass of overlapping and insufficiently correlated laws governing this subject at the present time. My hon. and learned Friend knows that I have been pressing successive Home Secretaries for some action on this matter, and I hereby give notice that I will continue pressing them and I hope that he will say a word of encouragement here today.

Then another very topical subject—the law of contempt. Again I served on a departmental committee at the invitation of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East when he was Home Secretary, under the chairmanship of Lord Salmon, and we produced a very interesting report. But again nothing is done about these reports, and perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will communicate to other members of the Administration that one cannot really expect busy people to serve on committees unless at the end of the day they can see some prospect of their recommendations being given effect to for the improvement of our laws.

I take finally another topical example—the laws of obscenity. I have been tabling parliamentary Questions for the last couple of years or so pointing out the change in circumstances since the passage of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, the doubts and obscurities that have arisen in regard to the law and the need for a Royal Commission to make a much more authoritative review of the law than could possibly be achieved by enthusiastic amateurs, however distinguished, or even by the Select Committee of this House which sat before the passage of the Act of 1959.

I am quite aware that there is a problem in regard to the logistics of our parliamentary timetable in assuming the duties which I believe Parliament to have. I remember speaking at a weekend conference on the reform of law two or three years ago at which the then Chairman of the Law Commission was present. I was asked to speak on the parliamentary aspects of law and, as I gave learned gentlemen there assembled some analysis of our parliamentary timetable and explained how much time or, rather, how little time was available for law reform, their faces grew manifestly longer as I proceeded. There is a very practical difficulty before us which all right hon. and hon. Members present know but which is perhaps insufficiently recognised in the country as a whole.

I think, however, that we do our best. The Law Commission was set up, and I pay my tribute to Lord Justice Scarman for his admirable chairmanship of the Commission and I wish well to his successor, Mr. Justice Cooke, in this important work.

Provided we in Parliament shoulder our share of the burden, are sensitive to the movements of public feeling, and keep the laws under constant review with the aim of achieving the maximum clarity, equity and reflection of general opinion, we are entitled to—and we should—issue a clear call to those whom we represent for an unqualified acceptance of the rule of law and the great principle on which it rests.

12.2 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

This is a motion which begins with the statement that it is to call attention to the requiremens of the rule of law. Yet I have sat here for an hour and I have heard three speakers—the mover of the motion and two eminent privy councillors—and I have not heard the word "justice" mentioned once. I do not think that I heard the word "morality" mentioned either, and yet I have just heard a statement which calls for the unqualified acceptance of the rule of law—the desire of all dictators throughout history.

I understand that the mover of the motion has put the expression "a free society" into the motion. I notice, however, that he did not refer to "a democratic society". It is not very clear what the odd phrase "a free society" means. It has come to mean not a society which is free but a society in which the individual persons have a degree of freedom, which is a rather odd use of the adjective anyway. But under the rule of law in this country the citizens regarded themselves as free long before England was democratic. It was not democratic until the 1880s but habeas corpus existed long before that. People's lives and property could not be taken without due process of the law long before that and individuals in this coutry have regarded themselves as free for many centuries.

I am not, therefore, happy with the sole limitation by the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) on the rule of law that it must be in a free society because he does not say a democratic society. There are, however, more important reasons for attacking the motion. It is unchristian and it is, in the strict sense of the word, heretical. It is probably a good thing that our society is now sufficiently free for heresy not to be a matter for punishment. It is an ancient belief, far older than Christianity, that law should be just and that only just law should be obeyed. That belief was taken over into Christianity and it is older than the word "justice". Even the Greeks drew a distinction between a monarchy which was just and the rule of a tyrant which should be rebelled against. The word "justice" itself is Latin and the concept as we first adopted it in that word is Latin too. But the concept is anciently argued among all the Fathers of the Church and all their successors that there is such a thing as a just war or a just rebellion against an evil authority, that there is such a thing as a Christian morality and that there is such a thing as a law higher than that made by man.

The hon. Member for Flint, West has taken a good case and pressed it too far. His is a good case up to the phrase where he says "including dissentient minorities", but he then goes on to say that we should repudiate the doctrine that it is in any circumstances justifiable in a free society for any individual or organisation to reject any law. If that principle had ever been maintained in this country this House would not be here now and we should not be debating that subject.

I shall not quote small and ridiculous examples, but the hon. Member presumably realises that had the strict statutory law of the land prevailed at all times in our history the present Duke of Northumberland would be sitting on the throne. He presumably realises that James II was rebelled against and he presumably realises also that most people outside the Royal Stuart Society regard that rebellion as a just one. He presumably realises that this House fought a civil war for its rights over this very issue, that it repudiated the doctrine that it is in all circumstances justifiable to obey the law.

I am fascinated by the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff. South-East (Mr. Callaghan). He raised in a modern form the point that has been made so often in history where it has largely concerned Christian morality and human law. Here there could be the conflict of two systems of law. Is the hon. Member for Flint, West saying, for example, that if the Government find themselves in conflict with international law over Iceland that they should always obey it in all circumstances even if to do so conflicted with the desires of this country?

Let us consider the system of community law which on 1st January will be applicable to us. Here I wish to raise a point not mentioned by the hon. Member for Flint, West. I can understand his point of view. I hope that he will stick to it on Monday when we discuss the refusal by the Secretary of State for Education to obey Section 4 of the 1944 Act, which is a mandatory section. I can, however, understand the hon. Member's point of view but he omits to mention democracy and I do not believe that this Parliament has the absolute right to give away the rights of the electors.

It is right to pass laws which can be repealed by subsequent laws passed here. It is not right to pass laws which say that the very right to pass law itself shall be handed over to a body which is not elected, whether it be the Council of Ministers or the European Commission in Brussels. If at some time the majority of the people of this country say that they do not intend to obey legislation which has been passed in Brussels because they were never asked whether their rights as electors should be given away I, and I hope other hon. Members, will not be able to find it in my heart to say that they are wrong. I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but when he or his right hon. and learned Friend talk about the unqualified acceptance of the rule of law they are arguing against not only centuries but millennia of philosophy, millennia of belief in justice and morality, and the belief that those shall prevail in the world even if human legislators happen to be wrong.

12.10 p.m.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

I should like to revert to the pattern adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) in moving the motion. There are very few things in this world that are absolute, and to which there may not be exceptions. But we have a serious practical problem in this country, and I want to direct my attention more to that than to philosophical concepts of whether there are any circumstances in which white may be black or vice versa.

In 1954 and 1955 I had the honour to be a member of a committee of the society to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) referred, under the joint chairmanship of two distinguished Members of the House—the late Sir Patrick Spens, and Jack Simon, as he then was, now Lord Simon. My right hon. and learned Friend was also a member of that committee, which was called the Rule of Law Committee. It produced a paper which was published by the Conservative Political Centre and is available in the Library. The committee's whole concern was that the purpose of the rule of law is above all to prevent the very sort of thing about which the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) talked—to prevent tyranny, oppression, arbitrariness, or whatever we like to call it, by those who are in a position to impose their will, notably Governments and Executives. Having said in the first part of that report that the rule of law permits of several definitions, we said that that was the sense in which we were concerned with it. If we are to have what the hon. Gentleman talked about, a true democracy—let me not go into terms which may introduce philosophical considerations—a practical form of democracy in which the will of the people, even if it does not always prevail, is of greater importance and prevails in most instances, if we are to have any kind of democracy acceptable to all hon. Members we must ensure above all that we do not permit the Executive to get away with tyranny, oppression or arbitrariness in any form. That is what the committee considered to be what the question was all about, after lengthy consideration of how the enormous number of powers which, in a modern complicated society, are vested in the Executive can be subjected to control to ensure that they are not used arbitrarily or oppressively.

That consideration is no less important now than it was then. All hon. Members will take the view that it is a matter of extreme importance. We have now got into the extraordinary situation in which many many people in this country are declining to observe the law. If they are not careful they will drive the Government, of whichever party they happen to be, into taking even greater and greater and more arbitrary powers to preserve the law and order which are the essential prerequisite of any kind of democracy. If we are not careful we shall forget that the rule of law works both ways. If we fail as a community to show sufficient observance of the law ourselves, we may put ourselves in danger of losing that control which the rule of law gives us over the Executive—the only control we can ever have over an Executive.

Very few people would quarrel with the proposition that all Governments should be restrained and limited by the law; that they should all obey the law. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree with that. Unfortunately, all too many people now, although they would subscribe to that being a duty incumbent upon the Government, do not accept it as a duty incumbent upon themselves.

We have got into a curious situation in which we use the word "they" all too often but the word "we" all too rarely. So often nowadays we hear that "they" should do this, that and the other. If as a country we substituted "we" for "they" more often, we might get a little nearer to solving some of our problems.

Hardly anyone will doubt that the process about which we have been talking has gone a long way in the wrong direction in recent years. I do not think that many people would regard it as scare-mongering to say that we could soon be, if we are not already, on the verge of a breakdown of law and order. Equally, no one can doubt that the vast majority of people want above all else to see a reversal of that process.

For centuries the majority in this country have justifiably taken pride in the freedom which has been accorded to minorities to express their views. What the majority want now is freedom from the excesses of those minorities who, not content with the tremendous tolerance shown to them, are resorting to means outside the law to get even more than the tremendous amount of tolerance already accorded to them.

That may all be wrapped up in philosophical or legal terms. I want to try to put it in simple, practical terms. I do not think that any hon. Member will quarrel with any of the three propositions I want to put before the House now. We—I do not mean the House or the Government, but we the British people as a whole—cannot tolerate violence by those to whom we accord the freedom to demonstrate, however worthy or supposedly peaceful they believe their cause to be, any more than we would or did tolerate it in the case of Mods and Rockers letting off steam at Brighton or of the race rioters in Notting Hill.

We cannot tolerate the acts of men or women who forcibly hold up others, terrorise and injure them or damage property, whether by breaking a lorry window with a brick or damaging plant on a building site, in the name of industrial action, any more than we would tolerate the violence or intimidation of the robber or the blackmailer. And we cannot tolerate the repudiation of and the deliberate refusal to obey the law by any person or organisation, commercial, industrial or political, any more than we would tolerate the refusal or failure of any Government to observe and obey the law. That is the heart and soul of the matter. Even Governments must obey the law, and that is the only safeguard for us all in a democracy. If the people call upon Governments to obey the law, they must themselves be ready to obey it. I do not think that anyone would quarrel with those propositions as practical illustrations of the problem.

What, then, is required to restore the situation? To save time, I will adopt what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East rightly said about the clarity of the law. Nothing is more likely to bring the law into disrepute than laws the quality of which is bad. I am not concerned with the policy; that is another matter. When people find that laws which affect them personally and seriously are drafted in such a form that they have not the slightest idea what they mean, and when the lawyers have to say they do not know what they mean either, and that there will have to be recourse to the court, that can serve only to bring the law into disrepute.

One most urgent task is not only to bring order into such existing legislation as well as public order, to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred, but also to ensure that the legislation which we are constantly churning out is clear, understandable and enforceable. Unless that be so, we shall never get off the ground in our talk about obeying and enforcing the law. People can obey it only if they understand it, and it can be enforced only if it is clear enough to be enforced. The Government must take the lead in that, as they must take the lead in everything that affects the government of the people.

To those who take a contrary view, I suggest that nothing but bad can result from failing to observe the requirements of the rule of law. A person may feel that his case is so exceptional that, in this instance, he can take a different course. A person may feel that what he is trying to do is so important that he should, in this instance, break the law. I dare say that we all at some time in our lives have those feelings but that is a most dangerous course. Perhaps in Southern Ireland it is now being appreciated that those who do not condemn the kind of breaching of the rule of law that is happening in Northern Ireland are likely themselves to be the next victims of it. That must be true in a free society. Those who fail to observe the laws should not be surprised, and will certainly have no cause for complaint, if later somebody else ignores the laws and uses force against them.

Above all, what is needed is for the country as a whole to realise the dangers and get into the fight together. No element in our society, from top to bottom, can cure this on its own; a cure can be effected only if everyone plays his part. It is said that one reason why the excesses which occur from time to time are not dealt with is that the law is not adequate. That may be so in some instances, and I have already said that where the law is inadequate it must be improved and made adequate, but that is only half the battle. One of the biggest dangers is that people do not want to know what is going on. Until they are personally affected they do not want to be involved in it. Many acts of violence which have been committed over the last 12 months could readily have been dealt with under the law had people been ready to take proceedings and had others been willing to come forward to give evidence. At this level the matter becomes a very human problem, and no amount of philosophising will deal with it.

One can understand the feelings of the individual who says, "I do not want to be mixed up in this", or, "I dare not be mixed up in this because I am afraid that if I report it or go further and give evidence I shall be knocked on the head, or my family will be frightened." I can understand the employer who says, "I know that my men were terrorised on the building site and my property was damaged, but I do not want to know about it because I have to think of what will happen afterwards."

But less and until there are enough individuals who are prepare to say, "This matters so much to me that I shall do something about it and am prepared to risk being hurt", then no matter how much we talk about it, or how much Governments try to do something about it, we shall get nowhere. Unless and until the Government for the time being—of whatever complexion—and all the great institutions, in which I include of course the trade unions, persuade the people that it is only by us all getting together and being prepared to fight and if necessary to be hurt that we shall reverse this trend, we shall not reverse it. Only when the trend is reversed may we feel confident that the democracy which we claim to admire and which is to most of us the all-important thing in life will be safe from the ravages of lawlessness.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I apologise for intervening at this stage of the debate, but I have one of those engagements that we all often have on a Friday, and I promise the House that my speech will not be long. This is obviously a day on which people like myself should keep out as far as possible and allow others to speak.

I thank the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) for initiating this discussion and I shall say a little more in a moment about his motion. However, I do not wish to debate only the motion. I wish to take the opportunity to say a few things which have been on my mind for some time. I shall make my remarks quite briefly and then resume my place and leave others to continue the debate.

I have a personal affirmation which has prompted my life as a Member of Parliament and as a member of the Labour Party for a period of well over 40 years, and that is that there is a deep-rooted instinct in the British people that the law should be obeyed. It is something which is felt by all who have anything to do with constituents and who know the way in which they approach these matters. It is important that we should do nothing to undermine that instinct.

The rule of law expresses the way in which we choose to live together in a democratic society—and I use the word "democratic" deliberately. The rule of law is upheld and should be upheld by all political parties. It requires that political parties should neither advise others to break the law nor encourage others to do so, even when they strongly disagree with the legislation put forward by the Government of the day. Political parties in a democracy live and survive by the acceptance of the law by the nation as a whole. If that contract between parties and people is destroyed, what takes over from the democratic politicians is a dictator, a military government, or a revolutionary group.

The advice of a political party on bad laws is this: accept the law and change the Government so that the law itself can be changed. This must be the beginning of where we stand on these issues. I shall have reservations to make later because one cannot take a wholly absolute or simplistic view, but as a general principal for politicians to stand upon in a free and democratic society this cannot be challenged. I find nothing wrong with that part of the motion.

Where the situation becomes slightly complicated—a situation which is not wholly faced by the hon. Gentleman—is in relation to the individual. The advice we give will not always be accepted, or acceptable, where people feel strongly. Men of conscience such as George Lansbury, the Labour councillor who feels he cannot in any circumstances accept the imposition of the provisions of the Housing Finance Act, and the conscientious objector in time of war—these are the sort of people who find difficulties when facing these issues. In those cases it cannot be said that a man's conscience must be overridden by the law. What we say is that in a free society there must be freedom to disagree, provided that one accepts the consequences of that disagreement.

George Lansbury, before he disobeyed the law—a most unjust law, which was later drastically amended—did not come to the Labour Party Executive and say "Will you please ensure that I will not suffer in the long run as a result of my action?" He took the action he did and suffered the consequences by going to prison. I shall have other things to say about this aspect, but the weakness lies in the last part of the hon. Gentleman's motion and in those circumstances I could not vote for it.

In a free society an individual must also be free to reject the law, provided that he pays the price. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would agree with that, but it is a general principle on which we have based a great deal of our legislation and our attitude to these matters and it has helped to preserve a relatively harmonious society in years past.

Sir A. Meyer

I am fully in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman that the individual has a right to break the law and suffer the consequences. What an individual, or indeed any organisation, has no right to do is to reject the validity of law itself and to refuse to accept the consequences.

Mr. Callaghan

I am not sure that I follow the hon. Gentleman on that point, but we are agreed on the point which caused me difficulty—namely, the relationship between the individual and the law in a free society. I am glad he accepts that point because it means that I can pass on quite quickly.

Having made my own position clear—and I hope that there will be no doubt where I stand on this matter—let me add that in my opinion a little too much is being claimed for the rule of law by some of its upholders, and too heavy a burden is being placed on the rule of law by some of the actions of Government. The rule of law is not divine scripture. It is no more or less than an invaluable guide for the conduct of our affairs in enabling us to live together. If used insensitively by Governments to support their policies, a reaction will set in and respect for the law itself will be undermined. That can happen in a democracy and, in my judgment, it has happened. I hope that it will be appreciated that I am not making a party speech because this is too serious a matter but nevertheless our differences must be brought out.

I should like to quote from a very powerful analysis made by Lord Devlin in the Sunday Times on 6th August 1972: There is no magic in a majority. To the other 49 per cent. its acts may appear as tyrannical as those of an autocrat. Surely Ulster today is showing us the consequences of the doctrine that a majority is always right and that a minority must always submit. Then comes an important passage which all Governments should remember: The satisfactory way of using a majority is as a powerful instrument for securing a consensus. A consensus does not mean unanimous agreement. It means only that people generally are prepared to put up with the result. It arises out of discussion, some concession, a feeling that opposition has not been ridden over roughshod, and finally realisation that there must be some deciding factor and that a counting of heads is the best we have got. This is the way things are handled in 90 per cent. of the committee rooms of Britain. Most law is in fact based on this sort of consensus. It is what gives law its stability and saves it from change after every swing of the pendulum. I regard that statement as representing my view very clearly indeed. There is no magic in a majority and people must be ready to put up with the results of what comes from a Government composed by hon. Members on either side of the House. We have only to look at the disagreements about value added tax or selective employment tax or decimal currency—but people will put up with the consequences and this must be the situation. The job of a Government in the first place if there is to be respect for the rule of law is to try to gain a consensus. However, at least in two cases, the EEC legislation and the Industrial Relations Act, that consensus has not been gained and therefore we have heard the last of neither.

Lord Devlin acknowledges, as I do, the right of government to govern without a consensus and he puts it in this form The Government has of course a right to legislation without consensus and must insist on deciding for itself whether it is wise to do so. Non-consensus law must be enforced but the Government should do its own enforcing ". He then made the point that instead of invoking the courts to back the Government in what he would call, in shorthand terms, non-consensus law, the Government should use their own tribunals and methods.

When we appeal to the rule of law to support the Industrial Relations Act, we run the danger—perhaps because of confusion in the minds of the Government when they drafted the Bill, or because of their insensitivity, it does not matter which—of bringing the rule of law into contempt because it is being used in circumstances in which it cannot be sustained. I have always felt this about the Industrial Relations Act. I did so when we were in Government, and I have done so under the present Government. The Act has borne out the basic confusion. It is a mixture of executive decisions by Ministers followed by enforcement of those decisions by the courts of law. That is where the apparent challenge to the rule of law has arisen. It is a challenge which I regret very much, and my advice to union leaders and others is clear.

The railway strike, however, was a bad example. The Secretary of State decided that a ballot was necessary, but he did not make the order. Under the Act, he having decided that it was necessary, the court made the order, having regard to certain other considerations. The result in practical terms was humiliation for the Government and disrespect for the court. It was a situation which I hope will not be repeated.

No one can re-read the events of the dockers' imprisonment without feeling that it was a black farce. The National Industrial Relations Court solemnly moved step by step towards complete confrontation. The Secretary of State wrung his hands and told us that he could do nothing about it. Suddenly the Official Solicitor appeared, like the good fairy, and saved us all from what might have been an irregular general strike. That was the sequence of events which we seemed to be moving towards.

The Government were requiring the NIRC to enforce decisions that were basically executive in character. That might have led us into a difficult situation. The rule of law was being invoked in a situation where it could not sustain the strain. Sir John Donaldson, in giving judgment on 26th July when he released the five dockers, said: The court knew full well that our order"— that was the order to imprison the dockers— would make it more difficult for the Jones-Aldington Report to be considered in a calm and orderly atmosphere.…If the rule of law was to continue to have meaning, the court had to act and to do so at once, whatever the temporary ill-effect upon industrial relations. That was where the court was driven. I believe that the Government have been responsible for creating that confrontation and, to that extent, for eroding respect for the rule of law. I want them to get back on course as quickly as possible.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is taking an extremely bad example. I have been listening care- fully to what he has been saying about the confusion of Executive action and enforcement through the courts. He will remember that in the case of the railway dispute the court's order that a ballot should take place was obeyed while when, in the dockers' case, it came to confrontation and rejection by the court, it was nothing to do with an executive act of the Government. It was commenced by an action by an individual before the court which could probably have been taken in another division of the High Court.

What the right hon. Gentleman is being driven to saying is not that the failure was an executive act of the Government but that people have a right to oppose the decisions of the courts when the courts are acting, as Sir John Donaldson pointed out on that occasion, to preserve the interests of another party.

Mr. Callaghan

I do not say that. My view of the action of the dockers is well known and I am not giving counter advice. When I was talking about the actions of the Government in these matters I was quoting two different examples. I agree that the dockers' case is different to that of the railwaymen. I think that there is severe criticism to be attached to the Government, and that their actions are responsible for weakening the respect which we all want to see for the rule of law. They have done so by putting the court in a position where it could not sustain the weight placed upon it by the Government.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)


Mr. Callaghan

I do not want to give way again.

Mr. Stanbrook

The right hon. Gentleman has said that this is essentially a matter for back benchers. I am grateful to him for giving way. I put this point to him, and if possible I hope that he will clarify the position. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that when a law has been passed without the consensus to which Lord Devlin referred, the Government may not use the existing legal system to enforce it?

Mr. Callaghan

That would be taking it too far. The position of the Industrial Relations Act would have been much wider if it had not been placed in the hands of the court. The final consequence is that last month Sir John Donaldson announced that the court did not intend in future to use its powers to imprison trade union officials. It further announced that it may suspend its orders to give time for trade union members to be persuaded.

The court is saying to the Government, "We are sorry that you have given us these powers. We do not think that it is wise to use them." But it is not for the court to take these decisions. The Government should not enforce such powers upon the courts. Practical events show the unwisdom of what is happening.

My moral is that weakened respect for the rule of law will reach the position where the Industrial Relations Court is regarded, rightly or wrongly, as an Executive instrument of the Government. I have a responsibility for pointing out that there are circumstances in which the Government are responsible for the legislative activities of the House and that they can, by their own actions, weaken respect for the law.

Mr. Percival


Mr. Callaghan

I should like to finish. I promised that I should not be long. Hon. Members will have the opportunity of disagreeing with me if they want to do so.

Another feature that troubles me is the change in our morality and our standards which have led to some weakening in the rule of law. I have witnessed great social changes and changes in society. I do not know whether it is possible to estimate the effects of the extraordinary changes in sexual morality since I grew up. Abortion, homosexuality, all these sort of things, have had a tremendous impact on people's attitudes. Christian values are not preached with anything like the conviction with which they used to be preached. There is a more sceptical approach to these matters.

All these things have had an effect in weakening the coherence of our society and its cohesiveness. A number of Asian and West Indian families who have come to this country show a much higher standard in these matters than is shown by those of us who are indigenous. That is certainly so in some of their manifestations. I believe that we should be dealing more with the symptoms that reveal themselves in this lack of respect than with the solemn and hammer-like adherence to the principle that the rule of law must prevail in all circumstances.

I have addressed myself a little to some of those matters, not because I weaken in my principle, but because this is the right way to uphold the rule of law.

My constituents would certainly disagree very much with violence being used for political or industrial ends. They would find it, as I do, intolerable that pickets should go to a Labour councillor's house, because he insists that it is his duty to enforce the Housing Finance Act, and create fear among his family. They find it intolerable that students should shout down the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science so that they are unable to listen to his arguments. They find it irresponsible of the Welsh Presbyterian Church to issue advice calling upon its members not to pay their television licences.

We have not focused all these matters in the debate—I do not think that I am capable of focusing them—but they have an effect on what we are doing.

I turn now to vandalism and violence.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

On the attitude of people to direct action, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware that, for example, in Liverpool ladies barricade streets to get play areas? Having presented petitions and taken deputations to the city council, debates having gone on for a year or 18 months, and nothing being done, it is miraculous that, when they hold up the traffic for one day, they find something is done about the situation.

Mr. Callaghan

I agree with my hon. Friend. This is the problem to which we must address our minds. If people can get by direct action what they cannot get by discussion, clearly respect for the rule of law will be very much weakened. If the House addresses itself to the question raised by my hon. Friend it will be doing a great deal to uphold what we have said we wish to uphold. The gap, whether in communication or whatever it is, between those who are governed and those who do the governing has to be closed. I am afraid I am being led astray. I should like to finish the point that I wanted to make.

People are extremely concerned about the growth of vandalism and violence. I know that the Government are endeavouring to do something in this sphere. The police force has been strengthened. It was strengthened very much under the Labour Government and the strengthening is continuing. I thought that the Prime Minister made a most unwise promise just before the election about stamping out violence after the Selsdon Park conference. Everyone knows that we shall not stamp out violence, but urgent action is needed to check the serious rise of crime and violence.

Old people living on housing estates who at night go in fear of bricks being thrown through their windows pose a problem which is as much a part of the rule of law as anything else. I am glad that the Minister of State is to reply, because I know that he cares very much about this kind of thing. We must reassure people not only in words, but in action, that after dark they will be able to live quietly in their own homes and go out on the street without fear. Among old people now there is more fear than I have known.

Deliberate, planned crimes—robberies and burglaries—involving the use of weapons have dramatically increased. They are as much our responsibility as any philosophical discussion about upholding the rule of law. To most people this is what the rule of law will seem to be about. The debate, has given hon. Members the opportunity of expressing their fears and concern in these matters, so at least people will feel that Parliament is taking cognisance of them. For that reason I welcome the debate.

I am sorry that I shall not be able to support the motion because of the last part, although the hon. Member for Flint, West apparently broadly agrees with what I say concerning the individual. However, I thank him very much for introducing the debate in the manner in which he did.

12.55 p.m.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

Like all the really good things in our political system, the rule of law—at any rate in its modern form—was invented by the Whig Party. As the last surviving representative of that party I give cordial congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) on having introduced the motion. I think that the Whig Party has taken the Conservative Whip since the year 1886.

I agreed with almost everything that has been said in the debate, with the possible exception of one or two of the historical allusions by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) which appeared to be completely unsound. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will re-read the history of the great Civil War and the rebellion against James II and satisfy himself that in both those issues the House of Commons based itself fairly and squarely on the law and the rule of law.

I am sure that the whole House was glad to hear the strong affirmation made by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) of the support of the Labour Party on the general issue which we are discussing. Nothing could be more important to our society than the knowledge that there is agreement on both sides of the House on this great fundamental issue. The right hon. Gentleman has done a great service by making this so plain today from the Opposition Front Bench.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the enormous changes that have taken place in the modern world during our lifetimes, which have affected the subjects that we are discussing. He referred to the great changes in sexual habits and conventions, and the great increase in violence. However, I do not think that any hon. Member has referred to two pressures which appear to be all-important in the context of this debate: first, economic pressures and, secondly, what I may call demographic pressures.

The rule of law came to birth and fruition in the age of laissez faire economics when the duty of the Government was to maintain law and order and preserve contracts. In the last two or three generations the duties of the Government have enormously widened, due to pressures derived from the increasing sections of the population who have obtained political power to the extent now that the Government's predominant duty would appear to be to preserve the national as opposed to the individual interest in all spheres of policy. This has made it more difficult to sustain the rule of law in that it has removed what was its first defence. The issue that Governments now face is that of the national against the sectional interest. This becomes more difficult, and we are aware of it every day.

The second pressure which we must face—the demographic pressure—originates from the fact that man, as I gloomily believe, is a naturally violent animal, and needs outlets for violence. In times past, bitterly as we may regret it, this violence has found an outlet in great world wars. Mercifully we have now lived through a quarter of a century, admittedly of many small wars but with no great war in any way comparable to what our fathers and grandfathers experienced. This is bound to have side effects, because if violence is inherent in the human race it needs outlets.

I cite Ireland as a small example. Ireland finished its great wars at the end of the seventeenth century. Irishmen were able, through the following 100 years, to recruit in the various armies which were fighting European wars. But throughout the nineteenth century these opportunities became more limited. It became almost a physical necessity for the Irish to have a major national upheaval once every generation.

The Opposition may think that the recent outbreak in Northern Ireland is due to the denial of civil rights to a minority. However, I believe that an equally good reason is that the Irish nation as a whole has again reached the point when, for deeply seated human reasons, it needs an outlet for violence. This is a fact of life which we must face. Ireland is a microcosm of the world situation and we see, gloomily, that violence in every form, both in individual and group spheres, is increasing throughout the world.

I want to approach this debate in a practical way and ask the House to face up to what it is that we must do. It is said of one's personal friendships that it is necessary to keep them in repair. We have all heard the old tag "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty". I prefer to say that the governing idea of this debate should be: "desperate situations need desperate remedies". We are reaching a desperate situation in a society which, despite the total absence on the benches opposite of the Liberal Party, we might still call "Liberal England". We are facing an increasing disposition among people and groups to opt out of the accepted limits of our legal and political system.

The ordinary crimes we read about may be amenable to our ordinary courts but it is essential that our courts dispense justice and, if criminals go to prison, it is essential that they should have proper prison discipline. We constantly read of increasing misbehaviour among university students. We have read recently of violence among pickets. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) has said, it is not tolerable in a modern democratic society that people should have the choice of picking and choosing which laws they welcome and wish to obey and which they do not.

We are raising the stakes by increasing the school leaving age. Our schools already face a fairly formidable truancy problem. When the school leaving age is raised to 16 the position in some areas may well be critical and unmanageable for our school authorities. How are we to protect the rule of law if we believe in it? The first thing we ought to say as parliamentarians is that we will not deliberately damage it by what we say and do in Parliament. Speeches that threaten non-recognition of the law cannot possibly be consistent with membership of this House or acceptance of our general political system. Every speech which attacks the judges, either by voting for a reduction of their salaries or by trying to denigrate them, is in a sense denigrating to the whole concept of the rule of law.

I was disturbed by what the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East had to say about the Industrial Relations Court. It seemed, following his reply to the interventions of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) that the logical conclusion of what he was saying was that where there is violent opposition to any measure enacted by a Government it will be essential, if we are to protect the generality of our rule of law, to have some special tribunal deliberately divorced from the High Court to administer that law. With respect, that is a dangerous development. We ought to think very carefully before committing ourselves to such a major departure from our accepted legal system.

Mr. Callaghan

To make it clear, it was Lord Devlin who originally advanced this view, not myself. I was quoting him approvingly.

Mr. More

I listened with great interest to that extract from Lord Devlin's article. We must all agree that there is great danger of eroding the rule of law by enacting measures which cannot claim consensus agreement. I cannot accept that the alternative put forward by the right hon. Gentleman is one to which we ought to commit ourselves.

We have listened to many admirable statements of what the rule of law is and what our population ought to do. We have not heard anything about the practical steps which might be taken. It is not sufficient simply to affirm, we have to think of the practical things which we may need to do. I would like to establish in our society a category of what might be called "opters-out". I mean those who quite deliberately say that for one reason or another or in one area or another they are not prepared to accept the authority of our courts.

That is the essential of the rule of law. The ordinary criminal who bashes the poor old lady may be content to go to trial, be sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment and to serve that sentence. If he behaves in prison, well and good. Those who refuse, in whatever context, to accept the authority of the courts, who refuse to plead, those who have been put in prison refuse to accept its discipline, are opting out of the framework of society.

We must be prepared by administrative methods to create machinery by which such people who deliberately opt out of our legal and political system are segregated from the rest of the community. They must in some way be put to useful employment in which they can no longer harm the community as a whole. We have to support the Home Office much more than we have recently done. We have failed miserably to support the probation service; we have failed appallingly to face up to the problems of prison buildings. Our prison system may not be ideally suited to what is needed. Nevertheless there is not the slightest doubt that more prisons or their equivalent are needed and that much more imaginative prisons are required.

For those opters-out I would like to see an entirely different category of prison. I know that I will be accused of advocating Russian labour camps, or something, but we must turn our minds to some system which might be called "National Reclamation Camps"—the word "reclamation" relating both to those in the camps and to the work which they might usefully do. Only in this way can we preserve the nation from the dangers which menace it and at the same time do justice to the majority of our people.

I accept the importance of what the right hon. Gentleman said about trying to avoid the insensitive use of the rule of law. We are in the dilemma that in this Parliament we have traditionally operated by means of a majority. We cannot suddenly abandon that longstanding tradition. It is far more important, if we are to preserve our society and its accepted values, to be prepared in the limited way I have suggested to support the framework of the rule of law. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West for raising this subject.

1.10 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney North)

If this motion had been confined to the rule of law and obedience to it in this country, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with it. For instance, I agree entirely with what has been said about the necessity for a law to be fair so that it can be obeyed and can be seen to be obeyed by the majority. I agree also with the strictures of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) on the Industrial Relations Act.

But the motion is very general and is not confined to the rule of law in this country. Its last words are: … repudiates the doctrine that it is in any circumstances justifiable in a free society for any individual or organisation to reject any law. As a lawyer, I obviously support the idea that, as a general rule, one must obey the law. But what do we mean by the term "free society"? The hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Myer) talked about South Africa and said that because there was an opposition there it was a free society. He almost said the same thing about Rhodesia. Are countries like South Africa or Rhodesia free societies? Is Soviet Russia a free society? Are people in those countries entitled, have they a right, to disobey the law?

In the extreme case of Nazi Germany, laws were promulgated which led to the murder of thousands of people. Were people living there entitled to disobey the law? Even in this country, people might say that there is no such thing as a free society. What we have here is a comparatively free society, particularly when one remembers the strictures that have been passed about the passing of laws.

Laws are enacted by Parliament for the common good. Judges interpret and make laws, which are part of our common law. No one is entitled for his individual selfish view to break the law and cause harm to the majority. Thus, it might be said that a parent who disobeys the law by refusing to send his child to a comprehensive school is wrong to do so. The Industrial Relations Act, which is part of our law, must not be disobeyed. But law must go hand in hand with morality.

Our civilisation has developed with the growth of our legal systems. The Hebraic philosophy was that when a law conflicted with divine law, one was entitled to disobey it. The Greek philosophy, on the other hand, was that the law should always be obeyed whatever one's objection might be.

The motion goes rather too far, particularly in its last words. It depends on whether a society is really free. If the law offends against morality, one must try to argue and do everything else one can to change it. I have grave doubts. For example, is a conscientious objector in war time entitled to disobey the law?

Sir A. Meyer

I apologise for having only just returned. I deliberately chose the word "reject" rather than the word "break" in an attempt to cover the case of the individual with conscientious objections.

Mr. Weitzman

What I am considering are the final words in the motion. There might be cases in which a man could say, "The right action may be argument and propaganda to change the law, but suppose the law says that I cannot carry on my religion or condemns a racial minority in some way". Must the members of that minority obey the law? This is a serious problem and should be considered seriously. Generally speaking, it is right to say, "Obey the law". The rule of law is a vital matter to us and the proper way in practically every case is to use propaganda to change the law but not to disobey it. But there may be the exceptional case. I hope that the hon. Member for Flint, West will accept that there may be some real criticism of the last words of his motion.

1.17 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I listened with interest to the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) who was saying, principally, that there could exist circumstances in which there was a moral duty to disregard, reject or disobey a certain law. He quoted one or two countries in existence today in which, he clearly felt, such circumstances might obtain. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. His argument is interesting. I would also agree with what he said when he described our democracy as "comparatively free". I do not believe that a perfectly free democracy exists anywhere.

But if he will excuse me the expression, because he made an interesting speech, he is on something of a quibble in the general context of the debate so far, which I have found fascinating. We must base our argument on something, and most speakers have been talking in terms of the legislation which it is our habit to put through the House. I would find it very difficult to conceive of circumstances in which the sort of moral dilemma that the hon. and learned Gentleman raised would present itself to us.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) not only on introducing the motion but on a thoughtful and important speech which I hope will be widely reported and read. I should like to offer my apologies for having, quite without intention, had to leave the Chamber and thereby missing two or three speeches. If I therefore repeat something that has already been said, I regret it.

My hon. Friend interested me very much when he divided law-breakers into three separate categories, of which he thought the second most dangerous were the "extremist militants" who push their claims to the "cliff edge" of legality or even beyond. I am not sure that I would not put them in the most important position, but I absolutely agree that they are important.

One of my hon. Friends dwelt earlier upon the point I now raise, and that is the attempts to exploit the law by organised violence under the guise of picketing. This is dangerous, because all concerned, trade unions, employers, workpeople not involved, and even the police, seem so far to be impotent to deal with this, at least consistently, and the law is held up to ridicule in consequence. It seems that the threat is growing. It is no secret now that for some time the power workers have been planning and training groups to pursue this sort of thing again at the turn of the year. I fear that we shall see more of it before very long.

When we reach such a state, there is a duty to be as precise as possible. I see nothing wrong in that. If I could name names—I do not pretend to be an expert in this matter—I should do so. But certainly one can name certain organisations—and I think that in the trade union movement that should be widely welcomed—such as the National Port Shop Stewards Committee, the Building Worker Charter Group, and the Power Workers' Group. These are what I would describe, from my experience of the activities of the Communist Party abroad rather than in this country, as front organisations.

The technique of the front organisation is as old as the theory and practice of Communism and no doubt hon. Members are thoroughly familiar with it. It is a device for concealing what is in fact Communist Party activity and attracting into the group people who are unaware that they are being led by Communists. This threat is of long standing in the trade union movement and perhaps better un- derstood in the trade union movement than anywhere else. I believe this to be so from what has been said from time to time.

I give one or two instances of what I mean. In 1955, not so very long ago, the TUC issued a pamphlet on the subject called "The TUC and Communism", in which it was stated that the Communist Party sought to "infiltrate, subvert and capture" the trade union movement for the purpose of gaining economic power which it would use to undermine and destroy our democratic institutions. That is as close a description as one could get.

I was all the more surprised, therefore, to read that comparatively recently Mr. Victor Feather gave it as his opinion in a speech that The General Council came to the conclusion that the Communist Party was no longer the menace it was thought to be in the '30s and '40s. I cannot see where the evidence for that is. It is disturbing, because if that is the predominant view of the trade union movement, and if the trade union movement is the prime target for this form of subversive attack, it raises an unpleasant and dangerous question mark. But I am sure that in general the danger is understood by them.

One or two other important pronouncements have been made on this subject which bear repeating in the context of the general debate. The first I select is one of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, when he was Prime Minister. He spoke of this form of illegal strike activity in 1966. He said No major strike occurs anywhere in this country in any sector of industry in which that apparatus —to which I am alluding— fails to concern itself. Only a little later, in October, 1967, the late Lord Carron, then the President of the AEU, said: Surely it does not require a genius to see the linkage between events divorced in geographical location but identical in nature and expression. The docks, building sites and other spheres of activity all bear the same stamp and have the same origin. Even later still, in September of this year, we heard Mr. Neal, the chairman of the Commission on Industrial Relations, talking on television, referring to these flying pickets which appear on industrial sites and which are quite clearly organised and transported at considerable expense. He asked this question: One is bound to inquire where the money and organisation comes from for activities of that sort. I believe that before very long the Government and the trade unions will have to come to grips with this sort of problem. He must be right. This is a system of what one might describe as "rent-a-picket", where an invasion of an industrial site appears to take place. Men in comparatively large numbers, even several hundreds at a time, seem to appear as dockers today, miners tomorrow and building workers the week after. They are transported about by bus and by car and such an activity could not conceivably be possible without a very considerable and very expensive orgainsation.

Who is behind it? We can speculate, but is reasonable to assume that the Government must be equipped with rather more accurate knowledge than those not so placed, except perhaps individually in industry or in some firms or trade unions. The time has come for the Government to declare what is going on in this context. It would be widely welcomed in the country if they did.

It must be perfectly clear to everyone to what I am alluding. There were examples during the late miners' strike, the recent dock strike, and particularly the building workers' strike. They were organised mobs, sometimes armed with pick helves. Often not involved in any way in the local dispute, nor necessarily are they members of the relevant trade union. They force people to stop working and threaten families and individuals. They have had consistent success.

This is not a subject for academic speculation or for discussion any longer. This is mob rule, or the beginning of it, and there are two areas in which the Government should now be considering action.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) said that one of his disappointments about the debate so far was that where we were defining what was wrong in this country but were not making too many suggestions as to what ought to be done about it. I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to two areas. The first is that the law on picketing is still equivocal. It has a chequered history, which dates from the Combinations Act, 1824, right through to the Industrial Relations Act of last year. It has been amended many times. Nevertheless, it is still unclear where picketing is illegal and what constitutes violent picketing. As such, it is not being enforced. I may be wrong, but that is my interpretation. I should like my hon. Friend's assurance about this. If these instances recur and it is my contention that they will—we cannot be satisfied with the present legislation.

The second area, and the more important, is the whole question of the enforcement of the law and the ability of the police to control this mob activity. The police are seriously under strength, especially in the metropolitan area. I was delighted that their conditions of service and pay were improved recently. But we cannot be satisfied with a situation in which the police are under-established. If something needs to be done about it, it should be done. But even if the establishment of the police were full, could they any longer be regarded as an adequate force to cope with the sort of thing I have sought to describe? I am uncertain about that.

The Government should now be considering the extension of the police through some form of special constabulary, perhaps, or even the Territorial Army, or something like it. Obviously this activity is not straight military activity; it is para-military. It is a police activity rather than a soldier's activity. That the police force alone should be expected to cope is dubious as a policy in the future.

I ask my hon. and learned Friend to turn his attention to these matters and to let us have a few words about what the Government's thinking is and what they propose to do about it.

Democracy is meaningful only if it rests on individual liberty, as was stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West and others. Liberty in turn depends on the concept of property and upon the rule of law. This is the sequence of the construction of a free society, at its foundation rests the law. When the law is abandoned or defeated, the superstructure of liberty begins to crumble. That is a situation which we in this country now contemplate.

If it resulted solely from an imprecision in the law it would be one thing, but, alas, it is there by conscious design. There exists a growing and evil conspiracy in our midst to destroy the whole edifice of our achievement as a free nation and to impose some kind of what my hon. Friend described as "insane" dictatorship in its place to suit the needs of a few men who are either wicked or misled or both.

The Communist Party and various groups of the new left play a great part in all this. They have succeeded in generating a lot of talk about the need to change our institutions. We hear this from entirely respectable and innocent people, but I have little doubt about its source. They are always alluding to the need to destroy or pull down what they call "the Establishment". But our institutions—our Establishment—exist to permit orderly and peaceful change. That is why we are all here; that is what this place is about. Why do not these people make use of it?

The reason is not far to seek. If they explained truthfully to the people of this country what their aims and methods really were no decent person would vote for them. Therefore, they resort to conspiracy and to violence.

These people are making for too much headway and it is up to all of us in this place, no matter where we sit, who believe in the rule of law to urge the Government to act now against them. The danger is immediate. I believe that the public are increasingly aware of it. I hope that one result of the motion which my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West has been so wise as to bring before us will be to stimulate the Government to act and to explain to the public and to us in this place what they know of the truth of these matters and what they propose.

1.32 p.m.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

I found the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) somewhat sinister in its tone. We know the emotive nature of the attacks the hon. Gentleman made. There is a germ of truth in this. We know that society is exposed to dangers today, not simply from elements on the extreme left but also from elements on the extreme right which the hon. Gentleman chose not to mention in his very selective approach to this problem.

For the hon. Gentleman the National Front presumably does not exist and is unimportant. The damage that that sort of organisation does to the rule of law in constituencies such as mine which have a very large immigrant community is infinitely greater than the damage that is done by the ridiculous elements on the extreme left—the new left, as the hon. Gentleman termed it. But he chose to ignore this damage.

Further, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Government should establish a Territorial Army unit or some special constabulary to deal with picketing was somewhat alarming. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks in that regard will not commend themselves to many hon. Members on either side. The frontiers between the activities of such a governmental unit exercising the powers of the Government to break a strike and to secure adherence to the law are very ill-defined. That is a dangerous course.

It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to condemn the trade union movement root and branch for not responding more readily, as he thinks, to the threat that is posed to it by the Trotskyist elements. The trade union movement is well aware of these dangers and knows much more about them than does the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hastings

The hon. Gentleman has sought to attack what I said. I remind him that I said at the beginning of my remarks that I would concentrate on one area which seemed to me to be an important one within the general context of the debate. I did so deliberately. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about other elements. Such other elements have been mentioned by a number of my hon. Friends. It may be that organisations of the right are in some areas just as dangerous—

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

"May be"?

Mr. Hastings

—I am not disputing that for one moment. I merely remind the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) that I was trying to concentrate on one element which seems to me to be important.

Mr. Davis

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. By selecting one aspect in the way he did he distorted the whole problem. This is what I find so objectionable about the hon. Gentleman's approach. When approaching an issue such as this it is wrong to adopt a selective attitude.

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) said in his very measured speech. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not having heard the beginning of his speech, for reasons which were completely beyond my control and which I gather afflicted the Prime Minister the other day.

One thing I draw the line about arising from the hon. Gentleman's speech has already been raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). The hon. Member for Flint, West went a little overboard by talking in absolutes, because it is not right so to talk. My hon. and learned Friend was right to assert that the motion is drawn not simply in national terms but in international terms. I know not whether the hon. Gentleman intended that.

My hon. and learned Friend was right to assert that people living in a totalitarian society cannot be expected to obey the laws promulgated by that society. The Nazi Party came to power in Germany through a democratic process of election. It then began to impose unjust laws, racial and otherwise—laws which were designed to attack the trade union movement and religious minorities, for example.

Let us assume that that German Government had been prepared to say that in five years' time, or whatever the period was, they would go to the country. In the interim a disastrous situation was being caused. This was the purpose of my intervention in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes). It is possible to conceive of a situation where within the framework of a democratic society a majority that is duly elected can totally abuse its powers. One cannot simply wait for the ordinary democratic remedy of voting that party out. There are occasions where a conscience drives people into a situation where they must oppose such a Government's laws there and then.

Sir A. Meyer

That is precisely why I used the qualification "free society" rather than "democratic society". I fully see a situation in which a democratic society could pass unjust and oppressive laws. By the phrase "free society" I intended to convey a situation in which it was possible for an individual to work effectively to change a law which he regards as unjust.

Mr. Davis

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I do not want to get involved in a semantic argument about the meaning of "free". "Free" can mean all things to all men. There are politicians who proclaim that there is freedom in the Soviet Union, in South Africa, in Rhodesia. What does "free" mean? It is a difficult thing to define. I am seeking to point out that operating within the limits of our own framework of democracy it is possible for a Government to misuse its powers and for the electorate to have no effective remedy. This is a dangerous situation, but it is one that has to be faced.

As a lawyer and as a democratic Socialist, I accept that in general terms the thesis which is relied upon by the hon. Gentleman is right, but it is subject to exceptions, and it is because he cannot find room for those exceptions in his speech and in his motion that I cannot go along with him in supporting it root and branch. However, I agree totally with the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that in general the law must be obeyed.

What I have also found disturbing about this debate—it took me back 25 years or so when I first went into a law tutorial—is that the first few speeches at least seemed to be dealing with this abstract philosophy of the law and the rule of law, failing to clothe the situation with any reality. It seems to me that when, for example, we talk about adherence to the law it is quite absurd that people can be so utterly selective in their approach. I remember a year or so ago when a landlady flagrantly disobeyed the Rent Act in respect of a tenancy. She got rid of her tenants. The Press supported her. They thought how justified it all was. This again had its support from a small minority of people on the other side of the House.

There have been people who have applauded the action of a parent who decided, acting within his conscience, not to send his child to a comprehensive school and kept the child away, and broke the law. I think that parent is not necessarily to be condemned, but he certainly ought not to be applauded. He is not to be condemned because, as my right hon. Friend said earlier, it is all right not to obey the law if one realises that one is taking upon oneself certain consequences. That parent presumably did that. But it seems utterly wrong that that action should have been applauded by hon. Members opposite and certainly by the Press, who are the first to condemn trade unionists who do not adhere to the so-called rule of law.

It goes without saying that for the rule of law to be meaningful the Legislature as a whole must adhere to certain undefined, unsettled but yet, within a democracy, appreciated lines of demarcation. We have to make sure, too, that we do our best to ensure that we have equality before the law. The law must be seen to be fair in its operation. It is in this respect that I complain that the Government have not taken those maxims to heart.

It is underlined, indeed, by Section 141 of the Industrial Relations Act which reads: Where it appears to the Secretary of State … that there are reasons for doubting whether the workers who are taking part or are expected to take part in the strike or other industrial action are or would be taking part in it in accordance with their wishes, and whether they have had an adequate opportunity of indicating their wishes in this respect, the Secretary of State may apply to the Industrial Court for an order requiring a ballot to be taken. That view, presumably, expressed in an affidavit or representation to the court cannot be challenged. This is, therefore, directly bringing the court into the realms of politics. The court is being required to act as an arm of the Government. This was a point made by my right hon. Friend with very great force. It has had very embarrassing consequences for the court, for the law and for lawyers, too—embarrassing consequences because it is quite clear that political pressures have now had an effect upon the way in which the court operates.

We know that the imprisonment of trade unionists is out. That is the result of a political pressure. We know that when the Midland Cold Storage dispute was on and the dockers were released from prison, the judge said that the Midland Cold Storage people who were not members of the Transport and General Workers Union would not be forgotten. I think those were his exact words. It was a most extraordinary remark. But it indicates quite clearly that this court has been brought into political decision-making in a way which brings disrepute upon the law and upon the court. I suppose we can get some comfort from this fact at least that there is no more effective way of securing the repeal of obnoxious laws than by their stringent execution.

It was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) that advocacy of change does not require disavowal or disobedience of the present law. I do not believe that can be stated in absolute terms. The intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) gave force to that. People who feel frustrated about something—some local issue or dispute, or even some national matter—feel that their views are not taken into account by us in this place. What can they do? They barricade their streets and they get some action.

It would be folly for us to pretend that we should be insensitive to these matters. All too often we are. It is this insensitivity which itself also brings the rule of law into disrepute. All sorts of objections exist in our society and in the administration of our courts. I came across a ridiculous situation the other day, to which the Minister of State, I think, was greatly insensitive. It may be regarded as a very small matter. It affected an accused person whom the court thought did not have the ability to communicate satisfactorily in English. So the court got in touch with him a very short time before he was due to appear and said. "When you appear in court you will have an interpreter available. If you lose the case you will have to pay the costs of that interpreter." What an imposition! There could not be any representations made to oppose the appointment of the interpreter because when the accused appeared in court the interpreter was there.

When the accused duly lost and was convicted he had to pay £5.25 for the interpreter's fees—a very small matter but in itself a very objectionable course for a court to follow. What is more, it was also in total defiance of the European Convention on Human Rights which says that a person who is incapable of communicating in the tongue that is prescribed by a particular court shall have free access to an interpreter. That is a matter to which perhaps the Minister of State will apply his mind when he reconsiders the answer that he gave me when he said there was no occasion for any intervention.

I think that the remarks we have heard from too many hon. Members opposite and, with great respect, the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East indicated a far too complacent and, indeed, somewhat unrealistic approach—an approach that did not take into account the real facts of life which make people frustrated and feel that somehow or other, because their voices are not listened to, they have to challenge the rule of law. In saying that, I am not seeking to condone the activities of a small minority within our community who have no regard for this place, for the parliamentary institutions or for the courts of law. I have no time and no truck for those people. But I do not believe that they represent a real threat to our society because they will be destroyed, not by the power of statutes but by the power of persuasion and influence. That is the only way to solve the problem. We cannot solve it by instituting a dictatorial régime such as that suggested by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire.

I beg the House in considering this matter not to adopt a grotesquely complacent attitude about an absolute rule of law. That would be to do a real disservice. I believe that we should pay attention to the note of reality that was introduced most emphatically and profoundly by the useful and well-informed intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East.

1.52 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) not only on his choice of subjects but also on the manner and content of his speech. I was particularly interested in his wise comment on the maxim of Jennings that one studies a constitution and the freedom within it by reference to the existence of an Opposition. I was interested, too, in his reference to what has happened abroad, notably in Africa. It is, perhaps, of some significance that in certain terrorities of Africa which were formerly British colonies—for example, in Nigeria and Ghana—there may no longer be parliamentary institutions, but there still exists a very healthy respect for the law, and that is something which we have perhaps assisted in implanting in those territories

The Bar in those countries which do not have a Parliament has become the custodian of people's freedoms within the existing law which is ultimately based upon a military régime. It is not without significance that whilst the military régime in Ghana, for example, permits of no parliamentary institution, it came to power after a parliamentary institution had ruled the country—a parliamentary institution to which a military régime had originally surrendered authority. That is a phenomenon almost without precedent in modern times, and something to which we should therefore pay tribute.

My hon. Friend spoke seriously about the threat to the rule of law by Establishment figures who, he said, make defiance of the law respectable and normal, and I entirely agree with him. By their conduct in recent months certain members of the Labour Party and the Liberal Party have been assisting in creating a sort of Frankenstein monster, in the shape of anarchy which could overcome us all. We know of the examples in the Labour Party's opposition to certain Acts passed by this Parliament, and we know of the Liberal Party idea for community politics, which raises a lawless, night- marish spectre of political action outside the law.

The effect of this rather corrupting process can already be seen in our legal system. We should regard the jury system as a safeguard for freedom in this country, but in recent cases before the courts there have been acquittals where members of the jury, who are chosen to act as laymen and to apply their common sense and to apply the law, have been confused. There was the acquittal on some counts of Mr. Hain, following demonstrations which were clearly lawless and violent, and there was the acquittal, more recently, of Mr. Gold, who was involved in the publication of what were clearly pornographic items of literature. In both those cases, I suggest, members of the jury had become confused about the law as it stands because of the prevailing climate of society in which people who should be respectable and law-abiding have tended to suggest that such laws need not be obeyed.

For this reason the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) about picketing was an important one. The law depends upon efficient law enforcement and therefore when the police find themselves compelled to tolerate, for example, a flood of pornography and vice in Soho—as was revealed recently in the case involving Mr. Blackburn—it is a serious matter. The police are not compelled to assist illegal picketing but, unfortunately, the law and respect for it having been fudged in recent years the police have used their powers in individual cases actually to stop vehicles at picket lines. Vehicles are not obliged to stop for pickets, because the right of peaceful picketing does not include the right to stop people who do not wish to be stopped. On the other hand, any lorry driver is bound to stop if he is ordered to do so by a police officer. The point should certainly be studied with a view to adjusting this unsatisfactory position.

A bad law weakens respect for the law, and there can be no doubt that this respect is affected by conditions in our society. It is therefore irrelevant to discuss what might be the conditions appertaining to the rule of law abroad because foreign countries do not have the same conditions, background or history that we have. There are three basic requirements for a just law. It must be applied to all, there should be equality before it, and it should be passed after due constitutional process.

Mr. Heffer

Does that include the Royal Family?

Mr. Stanbrook

The answer to that question is, of course, "Yes". Of course the law applies to everyone save within the law where provision is made for exceptions. This concept of the law means that it is not a condition of its observance that it should be necessarily fair, or even seen to be fair, or even—in the term used by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English)—moral. Morals do not necessarily enter into the law, however desirable it may be for laws to follow morals. Such qualitative judgments are for the democratic assembly before the law is passed, and possibly afterwards. They should not serve as a basis for observance or non-observance of the law by persons made subject to it.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, West spoke of Parliament's having fought a civil war for that principle, but I do not think that he was historically accurate. If that war was fought for a principle it must have been the principle of parliamentary supremacy, which we have now established, so perhaps historical parallels are no more appropriate than European or foreign parallels would be.

For that reason I believe that Lord Devlin was absolutely wrong when he suggested that law owes its force to consensus. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) quoted Lord Devlin's words in an article with approval. But he marred an otherwise moderate and wise speech by the way in which he accepted Lord Devlin's thesis, because what he appeared to be saying was that all law, to be observed, must be passed by a consensus, and that any law which was passed without such a consensus could not be enforced by the normal law enforcement agencies, through the existing legal system.

Sir A. Meyer

Does my hon. Friend agree that an instance is the Race Relations Act, which at almost no stage has commanded a consensus?

Mr. Stanbrook

I entirely agree. That Act is in some ways on a par with the Industrial Relations Act, except that it was passed by a Parliament where the majority party was different. In both cases the law intervened in individual behaviour. In both cases opponents argued that it was wrong for the law to intervene in relations between man and man, but in both Parliament decided that circumstances were such that it was right for it to intervene.

Mr. Heffer

I was on the Committee considering that Act. It is not true to say that the then Conservative Opposition fundamentally opposed the Act. They proposed a Select Committee. The Government accepted the proposal, and I served on that Select Committee for a number of years. Certainly, there were groups of the then Opposition who fundamentally opposed the Act, but it was amazing to see the consensus between the two Front Benches on it. Let us get the reality of the situation absolutely clear.

Mr. Stanbrook

The hon. Gentleman may well be right. I am not disputing the facts of what he has just said. What I am suggesting is that it was an objection to the Race Relations Act—an objection put forward very forcefully by then Opposition Members—that it was wrong for Parliament to erect a system of law around individual relationships. That was a fundamental objection exactly the same as the sort of argument addressed to the Government by the Opposition during the passage of the Industrial Relations Act.

But the basic assertion made by Lord Devlin and supported by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East is unacceptable. I do not think that Lord Devlin was really speaking as a lawyer, to whom law exists to be obeyed, there being no question of its validity; I think that he was speaking as a sort of sociologist.

The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) referred to the phrase "broad acceptance" when he echoed the Devlin thesis. Even my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) used the words "general acceptability" about laws. That may be all very well over most of the canvas being painted by Parliament, the majority of subjects being subjects on which it is possible to pass laws commanding consensus. But at times there are certain problems so acute as to justify the need to pass laws without such a consensus.

It may be true that the law is most effective when it is universally accepted, or at least when it has broad acceptance. It might be said that most criminal law is in that category. But there are vast areas, not only in new matters like industrial relations, where that acceptance is qualified.

Democracy has been appropriately defined as a state in which the minority has its say but the majority gets its way. I believe that to be a correct interpretation of the authority of law in our democracy, but if we bow to Lord Devlin's dictum, and say that we cannot make a binding law on a subject for which there is no consensus, some of the biggest, most difficult problems of our time will never be tackled.

The Industrial Relations Act was passed lawfully and constitutionally by Parliament. It tackled one of the gravest problems of our time. For years this country has laboured under the handicap of an undisciplined trade union system, growing stronger and more tyrannical every day, backed by its creature, the Parliamentary Labour Party. For the passing of such an Act there could not possibly be consensus. Yet—rightly or wrongly, it matters not—the Conservative Government saw it as an essential measure if Britain was ever to recover her industrial strength, and inflation was to be cured. We were deprived of the opportunity of a consensus. Opposition Members—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) in particular—may talk of it as an immoral, unfair law. It may be so in his eyes, but it is law and must be respected, because it was passed constitutionally by Parliament.

The same applies to the Housing Finance Act. Some local authorities whose membership is dominated by the Labour Party have been reluctant to comply with its provisions. All reform is painful to someone. We always knew that that reform of the outdated, antiquated rent control system would be unpopular with those who were being subsidised needlessly by their neighbours. But it is now law, and it is sheer dangerous hypocrisy to distinguish betwen one law and another—to pick and choose which shall be obeyed. That is what some local authorities are trying to do. But we who believe in the rule of law bear a responsibility for maintaining respect for it.

However, in many cases we have unfortunately allowed defiance and contempt for the law to go so far as to make enforcement difficult, so that an indulgent Government condoning the evasion of their own laws are a danger to society. When that sort of condition sets in the rot is almost impossible to stop, because indulgence in the evasion of law encourages those others who are contemptuous of the law to continue in their contempt, and it discourages the law-abiding majority in their respect for the law.

Perhaps the greatest influence is the lack of restraint in human behaviour. This subject was wisely introduced into the debate by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East. The spectacle of the law being openly and flagrantly broken by violent demonstrations, such as those which recently occurred outside Transport House, with no prosecution following, although they were committed in full view of the television cameras, leads to a fear of anarchy.

The rule of law is perhaps a way of expressing the concept of discipline in our society, and for that reason it is of great significance to us just how our children are being educated in the schools. There is, unhappily, increasing violence and hooliganism in schools. A lot of rubbish is talked about self-discovery, and many criticisms and attacks on the educational system are made on the basis that it is bad for children to have set before them obstacles to climb over.

Respect for the law starts with respect for others, and a system under which anything goes—the "do as you please" attitude—is obviously corrupting society. Watchwords of the permissive society would, if applied generally, mean the end of the rule of law for us. We need self-discipline to be taught in our schools and just punishment for wrong-doers. At the same time it is our responsibility—all of us, not only Members of Parliament—to give an example of respect for the law in everyday life, not to allow things to pass when we should complain about them, not to condone bad behaviour, bad service, shoddy goods or bad manners but, as part of our everyday duty to support the principles of good behaviour which should underlay our respect for the law.

2.13 p.m.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

When the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) moved the motion he referred to the increasing violence and crime in our society. Has he ever considered that his own political philosophy engenders and encourages violence and crime in our society because it is based on the concepts that the winner takes all, the best man wins, and conflict in a competitive society? That is the sort of society that brings about crime and violence, because the people who win are the people who are already on top. It is not the people who work day by day in factories, offices and shops but the immoral property speculators who get the big rewards. That is why people have the impression that the rules and the laws of our society are built not for people but for property, for the rich and not the poor.

Like others of my hon. and right hon. Friends, I cannot support the motion, although I am a supporter of law and order, because of the last words: … and repudiates the doctrine that it is in any circumstances justifiable in a free society for any individual or organisation to reject any law. The greatest freedom enjoyed by a free society is the freedom of conscience. Without that freedom of conscience we should not have many of the things which we now take for granted in our society. For example, if the suffragettes had accepted this motion, would women today have the vote? Would we now have a charming lady Deputy Speaker if the suffragettes had not been prepared to chain themselves to railings and throw themselves under horses at racecourses? Many similar examples can be given.

I well remember that at Nuremberg we did not accept the plea that a person was acting under orders, or acting in accordance with the rule of law—because that is what orders mean. We did not accept that doctrine because we said that a man had a moral responsibility towards his fellows and that he was first answerable to his conscience. I very much agree with that. The United States is a free society, as Nazi Germany was not, but in the massacres at My Lai the soldiers who shot those innocent women and children were obeying the rule of law. They were acting under orders promulgated by the State Department. They were acting under orders according to the rule of law. Surely, everyone would agree that they should have obeyed their conscience rather than what to them was clearly the law.

Mr. Stanbrook

Surely the hon. Gentleman will accept that they were not acting under the rules applying to themselves at that time, because subsequently after trial they were convicted under the system of law. Their actions, in so far as they could be proved, were not condoned by the American law.

Mr. Stoddart

As they saw it at the time they were obeying a senior officer and obeying the law.

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) must keep the argument on a sensible plane. Surely he is confusing an order given by a person in authority with the law of the land. There is no suggestion that merely because a person is ordered to do something he must in all circumstances obey that order even if the order is illegal.

Mr. Stoddart

We are not talking about the law of the land; we are talking about the rule of law. The officer derives his authority from the law of the land, and that is precisely the point I am making. A person has a greater responsibility to his fellows and to his conscience.

A lot has been said about trade unionists disobeying the law, and holding demonstrations outside prisons and outside Transport House. People will obey the law when they feel that the law has been passed after due consideration, after Parliament has had an opportunity fully to discuss it. By no stretch of the imagination can anyone believe that the Industrial Relations Act was discussed fully by this House. The Government, in their arrogance, decided to bring forward a huge, major Bill to the House of Commons and to pass it in one Session. The result was that we had no opportunity at all to discuss major parts of that legislation. Indeed the functions of the national Industrial Relations Court and the results of its operations were never mentioned, let alone discussed, in this House. It came as a surprise to people when they saw what powers that court had and what the exercise of those powers could lead to. Little wonder that five dockers were gaoled and that there were demonstrations outside Pentonville Gaol.

We must also take into account the new circumstances which will operate from 1st January. Again, an arrogant Government have been unwilling to take account of real opinion in this country—not to act on a mandate, but to ignore public opinion on the question of our entry into the Community. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) raised this matter very succinctly. What laws are we to obey in this country? Are we without any discussion at all expecting our people to obey alien laws on the Continent—laws which perhaps have been framed with the assistance of Fascist Spain. Is that what we must expect? The Minister grins and laughs—

Mr. Carlisle

I neither grinned nor laughed. I just thought that the hon. Gentleman was making a speech which did not have very much logic to it. But as far as I know I was neither grinning nor laughing.

Mr. Stoddart

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman was merely sneering. Perhaps it is congenital.

I draw attention to an item in today's Evening Standard which refers to the London Borough of Ealing: A London borough could find itself in the embarrassing position of explaining its housing policy to a foreign court of law, once Britain joins the Common Market in January. The borough is Ealing, which, through a loophole in the Race Relations Act, is legally entitled to restrict its council-house waiting list to British nationals only. But Market membership means free movement of workers between member countries and, other things being equal, no discrimination in public housing on grounds of nationality. It will be interesting to see exactly which law Ealing borough will obey and which law will be enforced.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said that the law must be applicable to all and must be seen to be applicable to all. I should like to draw attention to Early Day Motion No. 67 which is relevant on this topic since it reads That this House deplores the fact, underlined by recent events, that there is one law for the rich and privileged, and another for the poor; and urges Her Majesty's Government to take vigorous action to allay public anxiety and indignation on this matter. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will take note of that Early Day Motion because it has a great relevance today.

Recent events have persuaded the people that the law is not applied equally. The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that in my own constituency, and in my own county, just recently disquiet has been expressed about the treatment of a certain case. He will also know that there is great anxiety on the part of the general public, particularly the motoring public at present, that the law is not being applied equally as between one motorist and another.

It is unfortunate that whenever one mentions a Princess or a member of the Royal Family, one is labelled as being anti-royal. Let me say right away that I am not anti-royal, but I deplore the fact that it appears, or is appearing to the general public, that the Thames Valley Police are discriminating in the treatment which they mete out to one person as against another when caught for speeding.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the same police authority issues hundreds of similar cautions every year to erring motorists?

Mr. Stoddart

If the hon. Member had listened to what I was saying, he would have heard me use the word "it appears". I have already tabled a Question on this point.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

Cheap little man.

Mr. Stoddart

The hon Gentleman says that I am a cheap little man. When we discuss law and order it is important that we recognise that it applies to everybody, irrespective of rank. I have already said that I have nothing against any individual. What I am concerned about is to see that people have confidence in our laws and in the keeping of order, and that the laws will be obeyed by everybody from top to bottom—and that if they are not obeyed by all and sundry from top to bottom they will have to pay the penalty.

If the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that is wrong, if he thinks that such a philosophy is not applicable, will he stand up and say so? Does he believe that the police should make a decision whether to prosecute on the basis of rank? He said I was being cheap. Well, if he disagrees with that philosophy, will he get up and say so? Apparently he will not. Therefore, he must agree with that philosophy.

Mr. Carlisle

I wonder if I may now make two points so that I shall not have to deal with them in my summing up at the end of the debate, since this seems to be something of a red herring. First of all, I must point out that the hon. Gentleman referred specifically to a case in his constituency which had recently caused disquiet because it was felt that different people were dealt with differently because of their financial position. Presumably, the hon. Gentleman said that because he felt it was justified. I thought that I had succeeded in satisfying the hon. Gentleman in the discussions I had with him—I apologise if I have not satisfied him—that that was not the position. Indeed, I thought that he had completely accepted that the law in that case was applied similarly to the various cases to which he drew my attention and that the fault, if there was a fault, was a fault in the law and did not lie in any differentiation in its use.

So far as the second point which he is now making is concerned, I must make it absolutely clear that the decision whether to prosecute has always been a matter for the relevant chief constable of police. It is not, and should not be, a matter for the Government of the day. The chief constable has a discretion whether to prosecute and, as the hon. Gentleman must surely accept, a chief constable often exercises that discretion in many cases to choose not to prosecute.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

But not twice.

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Member for Swindon said that the treatment appeared to be unfair. The hon. Gentleman should accept that in exercising discretion those who are in authority do so by assessing a case on its merits and not in respect of an individual person.

Mr. Stoddart

Let me deal with those two points straight away. First of all, I said that public disquiet had been caused with regard to the Wiltshire case, which I discussed with him; and though he may well have convinced me on the matter, unfortunately the public at large has not been convinced. That was why I raised the point because it is necessary to reassure public opinion that the law is applied equally to all. I have always accepted that it is a matter for chief constables to decide whether they prosecute. But I must reiterate that when they make that decision they must take every consideration into account. Provided that it can be shown that no discrimination of rank was made in the case of Princess Anne, everybody will be satisfied. I certainly will be satisfied. The point which I am trying to make is that public opinion must be convinced. At the moment, bearing in mind the correspondence which I receive and that which I see in the newspapers, and statements, for example, made by magistrates, public opinion is not convinced.

It is essential that the Government and everyone else, including the hon. Member for Flint, West, should convince people that we must have law and order, that the laws which are passed must be reasonable, that they must be upheld and that they must be applied to everyobdy irrespective of rank.

I am sorry that I cannot support the motion, for the reasons which I have mentioned. If it goes to the vote, I hope that it will fail.

2.32 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)

There is just one thing that I would like to say about the speech of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart). It must be right that a general allegation that the police are applying the law according to rank is of no service to the law or to the general public. It is an allegation, made in a general way, that would be indignantly denied not only by chief constables but by the Police Federation, which represents all trade unionists within the police service. I very much regret that the hon. Gentleman has used the opportunity afforded by this debate to make such a generalised allegation.

It is one of the proudest boasts of the police service that it applies the law generally and fairly to everyone within the country. We should at the very least be extremely careful and cautions in making allegations that suggest that it is not being applied to the general standards of fairness that the public expect and respect. That is the only remark that I wish to make about that part of the hon. Gentleman's speech, which I regard as very unfortunate.

Mr. David Stoddart

The hon. Gentleman said that I have made an allegation. I have made no allegation. I hope that all I did was to reflect a public feeling. As a former member of a police authority I probably know a fair deal about the way in which police officers go about their business. The last thing I wish to do is to criticise the police, who do an excellent job.

Mr. Fowler

I will not dwell unduly on the point which the hon. Gentleman made because I do not think that it was an important part of what he had to say. But I am surprised to learn about the last part of what he was saying, because I should have thought, if that had been the case, that he would have been a little more careful in the words he chose, which gave the impression that he was saying exactly what he now denies that he was saying. I accept that the hon. Gentleman is withdrawing them.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) for calling attention to this fundamental subject. There is a temptation to dwell upon industrial relations, picketing, and the affairs of the Welsh Language Society and to ignore the most obvious challenge to the rule of law in this country, which I believe is the current problem of crime. That is a problem which was raised by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More). They were absolutely right to concentrate the attention of the House upon the matter.

Some people deny that there is a problem of crime. They say that because the problem in Britain is less grave than that in the United States it is something from which we should take comfort. I accept that law and order in this country has not broken down to the same extent that it has in the United States. I am sure that we are all grateful for that. But some take the argument further. They say that the problem is not very bad at all. They say that what appears in the crime statistics appears for two reasons—first, because the public today report more crimes than they used to do, and, secondly, because the police recording methods are much better than they have been in the past.

I do not dispute that police recording methods are better now. But there is one way of testing that theory, and that is to examine the crimes which in the last 10 or 20 years have had a high report-ability rate—that is to say, crimes which are sufficiently serious for errors and differences in reporting practices between police forces to produce very little variation. I suppose that one of the outstanding examples of that sort of crime is murder and attempted murder, but perhaps the outstanding example is robbery accompanied by the threat or the use of violence.

Robbery is likely to be reported because people are unlikely to ignore the fact that they have been robbed. Therefore, comparisons over the last 20 years become valid. Far from this form of serious crime having risen by less than the reported increase, it has increased dramatically more than the average increase of all indictable crime. In 1950 there were 250 robberies in London, but last year there were 2,700. In other words, the figures have increased more than tenfold.

The fact that we must face is that this situation is appreciated by the public from their own experience, but I believe that it is inadequately appreciated in the House. It is the crimes that the public consider to be the most serious which are increasing at the fastest rate—for example, robbery, wounding, murder, and attempted murder. We must recog- nise that we now have a problem of serious crime. It is not on the scale of the United States—that I accept. However, we are likely to make a mistake if we take analogies with the United States too closely. Our problem is similar to that being faced by the major countries in Western Europe. In some of those countries—for example, Germany—crime has traditionally been far more violent than it has been in Britain.

I should like to point out one serious aspect about the increase in crime. One of the characteristics of much European crime is the use of violence. Up to fairly recently we seemed to be reasonably free from this development. It had been thought that because the police service was unarmed that in a sense had a persuasive effect upon criminals, that it was unusual for criminals to go about armed, and therefore that the risk of armed crime in Britain was considerably less than in many other countries. But it is time we recognised that that position has now dramatically changed and that we are presented with an extremely serious challenge.

The figures were published in a report on social trends which came out this week. In 1967 there were 265 armed robberies in this country. In 1971 that figure had gone up to 573. I have taken a five-year period. If this rate of increase continues we shall have 3,230 armed robberies by 1980. On average, we shall have nine armed robberies a day. That is a projection which we should take very seriously indeed.

I believe that this is probably the most serious criminal development of the decade. Through the 1960s the new criminal problem that we thought we were facing was that of drugs, and so it was. I suggest that the most acute criminal problem that we face in the 1970s is that of armed crime.

I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend will be replying to the debate. I hope that he will take the opportunity to tell the House about the steps that he intends to take to control the availability of arms.

I should like to point out one other matter, because I know that my hon. and learned Friend has recently received a departmental report. The illegal use of and trade in arms is a problem which extends beyond Britain. It has a European dimension. If controls are to be effective on the supply of illegal arms in the new situation of our entry into the EEC, they must be applied throughout Western Europe.

I should like to point to another implication. If it is accepted that we have a problem of serious crime—I do not see how it can be denied—attendant upon it we have the problem of the serious criminal. This has implications for all our crime services, but particularly our prisons, because they hold the dangerous men who are beginning to appear in the criminal sphere.

The incident this week at Gartree shows how real and dangerous this threat is. It is the threat of the young, violent prisoner—the equivalent of the young, violent criminal outside, but with the added element that many young, violent prisoners feel that they have little to lose if they commit violence when in prison. This is a problem that we must face and reconsider very carefully.

There has been discussion on this matter. When right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power they instituted a new security system inside the prisons to deal with dangerous criminals. I do not deny that this is a difficult problem. Some people claim that all dangerous prisoners should be put in one prison, but we run the risk of creating one unmanageable prison if we put within the walls of one prison some or all of the dangerous prisoners held within the prison system.

This is a particularly real risk because the distinction now made between category "A" prisoners—those whose escape would be considered a threat to the security of the nation—and category "B" prisoners, who in many cases are only marginally less dangerous if they were to escape, is not as great as it might seem. Therefore, unless real evidence to the contrary can be shown, I think we are right to persevere with our policy of dispersing very dangerous category "A" and some of the category "B" prisoners to about half a dozen closed high security prisons. The suggestion that we should create one Alcatraz-type of prison in this country should be considered very carefully indeed.

Whatever views we may hold about dispersal or non-dispersal, it is beyond doubt that perimeter security at the maximum security prisons must be extremely close. I regard this as the most serious aspect of the incident which took place at Gartree. Although no one escaped permanently—the security guards and the security precautions should be given all credit for that—I understand that the perimeter fence was breached. This is a serious matter, because Gartree is not a relic of the Victorian era. It is not one of the old, ancient prisons, of which we have too many; it is a modern purpose-built prison which has been in use for only a relatively short time, and I understand that the security precautions have been carefully introduced and tested.

I do not expect my hon. and learned Friend to tell me what has so far been found in the inquiry looking into the escape, but I should like an assurance that special precautions are being taken on the perimeter security of other dispersal prisons. That is crucial. Pending the report on Gartree, it must certainly be clear to the public that special precautions are being taken at other high-security and dispersal prisons. If a basic defect in the security at Gartree is revealed I hope that the situation will be held in check until the report is available.

I should like to mention prison policy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow pointed out that we had not talked about practical policies this afternoon. Our first priority must now be to give protection and support to the prison staff. They have a thankless job and deserve our support. However, they seem to have been almost forgotten as a crime service ever the last decade. I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend's involvement with the prison service. I would like to see the status of prison officers substantially increased.

The next aim must be to distinguish even more carefully between the serious criminals and others who can be dealt with in other ways. Again I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend for the part he played in the Criminal Justice Act, which recognises this distinction. The argument for such a distinction is that prisons with this kind of serious criminal problem should not be weighed down by being asked to deal with others who could be dealt with more adequately elsewhere. I could give a number of examples, and I am thinking particularly of the alcoholics at Pentonville Prison.

If we are to deal with others outside prisons—if we are to put them in an institution and supervise them—it is important that the means of supervision are adequate. That means a much strengthened probation service. The Government have recognised the importance of the service and laid far more stress on it than any other Government in history.

Although the recruiting figures for the service have increased I ask my hon. and learned Friend to pay serious attention to the point put by all hon. Members who have spoken today saying that the recruiting targets should not be considered sacrosanct. We should place great emphasis upon the probation service. At present half of the efforts of the service are taken up in dealing with non-criminal matters, by which I mean such things as matrimonial conciliation. We are removing that amount of effort from the service which also has to deal with criminals.

It must be accepted that for the law to be effective it has to be generally observed. Crime shows the non-observance of the law in its most dramatic form. But other forms of non-observance—violent picketing and demonstrations—are also of serious concern, because they further erode the rule of law and reduce respect for it. Those who defy the law for whatever reason should remember that it is respect for the law and the impartiality of the legal system which distinguishes democracy today. The citizen who believes that he has been wrongly treated knows that he can appeal to the courts who will be impartial and will uphold his legal rights. In this way the law restricts the ambition of dictators and bureaucrats. It serves warning upon them that there are limits upon their power and tells them that the citizen can appeal to a higher court if they seek to abuse that power. It is for these and other reasons that I warmly support the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West.

2.55 p.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

What I find amazing about this debate is the absolute certainty of some people in their opinions on this question of law and order. Too many people think that they know the precise answer to the problems, moral and otherwise, of this complex matter of our attitude towards law and order. I find it a difficult subject because it seems that there have always been two types of laws. There are laws applicable to all sections of society—laws which protect, or should protect, people from criminals who would strike at whatever class a person comes from. But there are other laws, which have been produced as a result of the dominating class in society deciding the law in the interests of their powers and their privileges, against the interests of other sections of the community.

It is not a simple matter to talk in terms of law and order, and to say that everyone must abide strictly by the law. It depends on what type of law it is, against whom it is directed, and whether it is a law in the interests of society as a whole. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) because it seems that there is an important development within our society as shown by the growth of crime. Anyone who tries to deny this does not live in the real world.

A magistrate friend of mine in Liverpool had a very permissive attitude towards young people. She always said that crime was a product of our society and that if we improved our society much of the crime would disappear. One day she suddenly said to me, "I do not believe this any more. I find that children of rather rich families, who are born in very good circumstances, turn to crime. It is not just a question of their environment."

My mother-in-law lives on a working-class estate. She tells me that before the war they never locked the doors of their houses. Perhaps it was because they were so poverty-stricken that there was nothing worth taking. Nevertheless, they did not steal from one another. Today, on working-class estates they not only lock the doors; they bolt them and bar them. They have to protect themselves from youngsters in their own area who break into the houses of old ladies. These old ladies go in fear, and are deeply worried. I, too, am deeply worried. When we talk of law and order let us talk of these real questions. Let us see how we can deal with crime prevention and detection. The law which applies to every section of the community must be accepted and abided by by all. I do not regard that as class law.

But there has been other talk today, about trade unionists opposing the Industrial Relations Act. Hon. Members cannot be terribly surprised about that; I practically wore myself out for one year advising the Government that if they brought in this type of class law—I distinguish it from the laws that I have already mentioned—trade unionists would be bound to oppose what they saw as an unjust law, affecting ordinary union practice.

I admit that a Labour Government, biased in a left-wing Socialist direction, would bring in laws that other people might find totally unjust, particularly if we took an industry from people who were doing very nicely out of it. In a sense, that would be our class law, operating against those whom we felt had had too much power and privilege in an industry.

Law is not an absolute, distinct from existing society. Our rights and privileges were not handed to us on a plate, or brought to us by Moses on tablets of stone; our laws, which have constantly extended freedom, have been fought for. Many times people have broken the law of the day in order to extend and improve the law.

The Combination Acts were vicious class laws. When I first joined my union branch I went to a room above a pub. Someone inside opened a little window in the door and the man introducing me identified himself and said he was bringing a new member. I was later told that this practice went back to the days when organising meetings to form unions was illegal. But workers were prepared to break the law, and ultimately the Combination Acts were eliminated We have also heard about the suffragettes, who constantly broke the law to extend rights and privileges to all, and to develop freedom. New laws were brought in to give people those rights.

It is a matter of the greatest importance that people should stand up and fight what they consider to be unjust laws. They should not be equated, as some hon. Members have tried to do, with criminals who rob old ladies' houses or break into a rich man's house, or carry firearms to rob banks. The trade unionist on the picket line or the man who goes to prison against the Industrial Relations Act is not a criminal but someone who believes in fighting an unjust law. He is not like a genuine criminal, fighting the whole of society.

It has been said that during the building workers' strike all sorts of things happened in regard to picketing. I do not deny that. I was interested to see that one man who got involved in some physical violence was convicted for that. The law is there and people can be convicted now if they step outside it.

Hon. Members on the Government side of the House seem to think that this law does not exist. The law on picketing can be very unjust to workers. In some cases, the only way that workers can picket a firm in, for example, a conglomeration of industrial concerns on an industrial trading estate is to go on to private property in order to deal with it. They can be and have been arrested in those circumstances. There was an example of this at Ellesmere Port, about which I corresponded with one of the Ministers of the Home Department. Workers were merely walking up and down on private property. Thirty of them were arrested and most of them spent the night in gaol. Their relatives did not know where they were. That was totally unjust. They were rightly arrested for being on private property, but these men said, "We have been wrongly picked up for picketing."

It is not as simple as that. It is not all black and white. There are complications. I wish that the world were not full of these complications, difficulties, and laws which overlap one another.

Our picketing laws are quite satisfactory. The amount of violence in picketing today is much less than it was between the two world wars, and certainly much less than it was before the first war. The history of the Labour movement shows that there was much more violence in industrial disputes at that time. But this matter is blown up because certain hon. Members on the Government side of the House do not accept that workers should be able to picket. Some want to eliminate picketing, particularly when it is successful, as it was in the coal miners' dispute.

Let us distinguish clearly between what I would call law to protect society as a whole, society law, and laws which are brought in by Governments which are representative of various sections of the community, largely various classes in the community, class law, designed to protect the power and privileges of a certain class. If we can get that distinction in our minds, obviously it is nonsense to talk of repudiating the doctrine that it is in any circumstances justifiable in a free society for any individual or organisation to reject any law. It is not wrong when people feel that strongly about it. I am not advocating that people should break the law, but I understand that when they consider certain laws unjust they will break them. Those who do so will know the consequences. That point was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). They know what they are doing. They are prepared to be martyrs. They want the law changed and consider that the best way of achieving that is to bring it into disrepute.

If the debate has done nothing else, it has helped to clarify our minds on this subject.

3.9 p.m.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)

I add my congratulations to those already tendered to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) on introducing the motion. I apologise to my hon. Friend for having arrived just after he completed his speech. I had to join colleagues from North-West Kent in a delegation to the Ministry of Defence earlier this morning.

I will not attempt to compete in the legal niceties which have been raised by many of our learned colleagues; nor do I particularly want to go into the realms of the rare and extraordinary incidents which have been so frequently referred to in the debate.

I am more concerned to put to my hon. and learned Friend the sincerely- held worries of ordinary people in the constituencies about problems on which they think that insufficient action is being taken. First, there is a general feeling that those who commit violent murder, those who are dangerous to society, should serve sentences which will be sufficient to deter not only them but others.

I know that my hon. and learned Friend will argue that many of those who have been released after seven or eight years were convicted under the previous legislation when capital punishment applied and were reprieved because of an element of doubt. However, it is necessary to reassure the public that those who cannot be sentenced to death now will serve a term of years which the public feel is commensurate with the horrors and bestiality of some of their crimes. It would be helpful if my hon. and learned Friend would tell us how many murderers sentenced since abolition are still serving and are likely to continue serving for some time.

There are also complaints amongst constituents about the mounting incidence of crime among young people, the complete rejection by a minority of young people of any sense of honesty or feeling for public property, and their refusal to accept that vandalism is a wanton crime against society.

This year I have had three delegations of small shopkeepers complaining bitterly about what they consider to be the piffling penalties awarded for shop-lifting. These people are suffering heavy losses by constant shop-lifting. These shopkeepers in most instances run the business with the assistance of only their wife. If one person only is in charge of a shop it frequently happens that a child or children accompaying a parent who is purchasing a packet of cigarettes, say, will steal a couple of bars of chocolate while the shopkeeper's back is turned. The grown-ups' response to the shopkeeper's complaint is, "What are you beefing about? It is only a tanner for a bar of chocolate. We will pay for it". as if they are doing the shopkeeper a favour. These small shopkeepers believe that the courts are dealing far too leniently with what they consider is the first step for youngsters on the slippery slope to crime that pays.

On Saturday afternoons a minority of youngsters practise a game in the high streets; those interested in shoplifting to pick up extras not covered by their pocket money whip down the high street to see from how many different shops they can nick an article.

Often the large chain stores receive little sympathy. They take what action they can with closed-circuit television and by employing security officers. Such methods are not open to the small shopkeeper who will probably be lucky to find at the end of the year that he has made £40 a week from his shop for himself and his wife. He is continually suffering from this sort of thing. When he goes to court he probably has to spend four hours away from his shop, to find almost invariably that unless the stolen article has a very high value the charge will be dismissed.

Twice this year I have attended a juvenile court. On one occasion I left before the last case was heard, in order to come to this House, and as I went into the entrance hall of the court building I saw the little boy who had been charged in the previous case, his mother and his elder brother, and there they were, rejoicing and saying, "You got away with it." In fact, he had not; he was put on probation. Nevertheless, the mother was saying, "You got away with that very nicely." The boy replied, "It was lucky I was only nicked with the twelve-and-a tanner item." To round things off they said, "Let us go to the Wimpy bar and celebrate."

Parents have protested to me vigorously when their boys and girls have been sent away. I have asked whether they had been in trouble before and the answer has always been "No, never." Yet on inquiring at the Home Office I have been informed by my right hon. Friend or his predecessor that, indeed, the boy had been up at the courts before.

Somehow we have got to get across to the parents and children that being put on probation or receiving a suspended sentence is not getting away with it, and that it does not mean that they have been cleared of the charge. We must explain that they would not be put on probation if the court did not think they had committed a misdemeanour, that a person would not receive a suspended sentence if the court did not believe that he was guilty of the charges brought against him. There is wholesale ignorance amongst parents, which is encouraged amongst the young, that they have got away with it because Parliament in its wisdom has decided to make arrangements for dealing with the young far more leniently than was the case years ago. I do not quibble about that. The probation service is doing its best, and I acknowledge the tremendous work that the probation service is doing, in spite of being so stretched and working such long hours.

The unhappy fact remains that the number of crimes committed by the under-25-year-olds is continuing to rise. Should we not take another look at this question and try to make a young person who is starting on a life of theft realise that crime does not pay? When he is 17 or 18 he is old enough to get a driving licence. Then comes the time when he may take somebody's car and eventually he may find himself involved in a "job". The statistics of the increasing number of young people who commit crimes of violence are proof that we are not deterring the minority of young people who, at an early age, are turning their attention to crime, some for profit and some for kicks.

I should like now to turn to the question of vandalism. We are regarding far too lightly the enormous expense which is imposed on local authorities, education authorities and others, by the increasing vandalism which, providing it is done by a mass of people, offenders seem to be able to get away with, due to some deficiency in our law. A constituent said to me, "If I were to sling a jar of paint at my next door neighbour's door he would either come round to me and say ' You will pay for this' or else he would summons me. If I knocked a policeman's helmet off or deliberately charged into him, I would be charged as an individual. But when a dozen roaring youngsters rampage through the public gardens which are provided for the benefit of the community and for the beauty of the environment, ripping out 3,000 bulbs, nothing can be done."

When the students at Warwick University destroyed a great hall that had cost thousands of £s to build, there seemed to be no redress because it was done by a mob. The same happened at the London School of Economics. If witnesses believe that three or four of the students were more responsible for the damage and deliberately perpetrated acts of vandalism, and those three or four are brought to court, there is immediately a mass lobby that those four must not be victimised. There is an outcry of victimisation of a small number who have been witnessed out of the 400 who were present. This is blackmail of the mob, a principle which demands that either everyone is charged or no one.

When the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke about the peacefulness, as he tried to describe it, of picketing, he must have forgotten the occasion when a very well-organised trade union march to this House was turned into a near-riot by uninvited youths, uninvited students who did their best to disrupt the march. It had been organised in full co-operation with the officers of the House and the police but the disruption meant that the door had to be closed through no fault of the original organisers.

We must look at this "mass" problem, the problem where 100 or so youngsters at a football match destroy the pleasure for everyone else, where a dozen or so on a train do thousands of £s worth of damage, and we must find some way to avoid being blackmailed by the demand that we should not fine the six who were witnessed doing the damage when 400 are responsible.

We have not solved the problem. I doubt very much whether the Minister will be able to say how many millions of £s of damage have been done by young people—and they are nearly always young people—who believe that their safety lies in numbers and that they can act above the law. My constituents feel strongly about the damage and destruction which is done in our area in schools and on half-finished housing estates which do not have security officers to watch over them all night. Houses are in building by the local council, and within 24 hours of the floors and staircases being put in the vandals will go in and smash around for fun and games. The builders dare not put a window in until almost the day that the house is to be occupied.

The public know that eventually it is they who must pay, certainly for the schools and universities. They believe that there is a different law for the individual than for the mass. They believe that the mass can get away with causing damage and they say that if they did one-tenth the damage they would be fined or would find themselves behind bars.

There has been an increase in mugging, an offence which used to be an unhappy regular incident on the streets of the major cities of the United States. I remember going to buy a handbag. The clasp of the handbag I had taken out with me had broken in New York. I was not very keen on buying a double-handled handbag, but although there seemed to be an enormous number of handbags in the shop they were nearly all double-handled. The attendant said to me, "You're from England, aren't you?" I replied that I was. She said, "I could tell that. We get a thousand muggings a week. If you have only one handle on your bag someone will divert your attention, click the clasp, and be away before you can do a thing. You should buy an anti-mugging bag." We did not know of such things in England then, but we are approaching the need for anti-mugging bags here. The idea is to get rich quick, to grab an old lady's pension on a Thursday or someone's pay packet on a Friday.

The public are glad to see that the courts are dealing firmly with this new fashion in crime, that the sentences are commensurate with the damage done, with the fear and danger experienced by old people going home.

Although I know that the transport authorities do all that they can. I hope that we can deal with lawlessness on the Tube. A visitor from overseas whom I know very well asked whether I could obtain a ticket for her to hear a debate in the House one evening. When I rang her to say that I had obtained a ticket, she asked when the debate would end. I replied that I could not say, but that it would go on until at least 10.30 p.m. She shocked me when she then asked, "May I have another ticket to bring a male friend, because I am frightened to take the Tube out"—to a suburb of London—"late at night on my own?"

The trend is bringing great fear and worry to parents who would trust their daughters to go out for the evening but are in fear and trembling until they return home, because something might have happened to them on the way.

Has any thought been given to the mass crimes in which those concerned seem to get away with it? I refer to vandalism, hooliganism and theft. Should not there be an attempt to educate the public to realise that probation or a suspended sentence do not mean getting away with it, so that we can halt earlier the rise in crime among our young people and introduce that respect for the law, that desire to live with one's neighbours and not menace them, that we should like to see?

3.28 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

Like other speakers, the right hon. Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith), has used the phrase "respect for the law". What most people mean by that is that other people should respect the law, because they always regard themselves as natural respecters of the law. But for a law to be respected it should be sensible, and commonly be regarded as such.

I want to introduce into the debate a note which I think has been missing. Those in authority, which means Ministers, and particularly civil servants, should examine how much they are responsible for bringing the law into disrepute by allowing blatantly bad laws to continue in existence.

I should like to give the Minister an example, and I think he knows what I shall refer to. I am thinking of the Officials Secrets Act. For years successive Governments have allowed the Official Secrets Act to remain on the Statute Book although it has been shown to be grotesquely unfair, totally discredited and generally disregarded. The reason is that the top civil servants and Ministers are beneficiaries of the Act, just as the public are the people who suffer from it. Top civil servants and Ministers can shelter behind the provisions of the Official Secrets Act; they can hide their administrative muddles so that the public do not know about them. It is they, not the public, who are perpetuating a bad law and bringing the law into disrepute.

I ask the Minister of State what he proposes to do about the Act. The Franks Committee Report has been published. The Sunday Telegraph, whose political comments I do not regard highly, has been fearless in its campaign on the Official Secrets Act. According to that newspaper the report will be pigeonholed because the civil servants object to it. I do not agree with all the conclusions of the Franks Committee, but Section 2 of the Act should be done away with immediately. I hope that this bad law will not be perpetuated a day longer than is necessary.

This House, and lawyers in general, have perpetuated for years a system under which ordinary members of the public with a grievance are not able to get an effective remedy. I am referring to grievances against the man who installs the central heating, the man who repairs the car, defective goods, and so on. A Member of Parliament over and over again has to tell his constituents that they have a right, that the supplier, tradesman or manufacturer is in the wrong, but it will cost far more to go to the court to assert that right than the sum that is being contested. The law is brought into disrepute because, although the member of the public has a grievance, the law does not adequately protect him.

What plans has the hon. and learned Gentleman for establishing a small claims court? That is a popular phrase; I do not think that it should necessarily be the name of the court. What is needed is a court in which ordinary people can assert a right and know that the cost of doing so will not be more than the amount contested.

The motion is over-simplified, because law and order is such a complex subject. No subject under the sun brings out so many generalisations. People who feel strongly about obscenity and are affronted by a smutty book want a law against obscenity. If they are asked whether they want censorship as well they will say, "No". That is an over-generalisation. People say that hardened criminals should all be put in one prison but they do not stop to examine the disastrous effect of doing so. That, too, is an over-generalisation. People feel strongly about one law and not so strongly about another. Hon. Gentlemen on the Government side direct their attention to trade unionists who appear to be defying the Industrial Relations Act, but they are not so diligent about businessmen who defy Rhodesian sanctions because they feel that sanctions should not be imposed against Rhodesia. We do not hear a voice raised on that.

People are selective in condemning those who defy laws. We condemn those who defy laws which we like and we do not condemn those who defy laws about which we do not feel so strongly. I promised the hon. and learned Gentleman in a "sign exchange" that I would sit down at this time and I duly honour that promise.

3.35 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson). He is right to say that we agreed that I would not attempt to speak before he did provided that he undertook not to speak for too long.

In this wide-ranging debate some of the points which the hon. Member has raised were raised earlier by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith). I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot answer specific points on such matters as the Franks Report but I take the point that it is important that the law should have clarity and that people should not be asked to serve long periods of time on major inquiries without seeing the fruits of their work carefully considered by the Government.

Like the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) I have heard practically the whole of this debate, having missed only two speeches. I am sure we all agree that the House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) for raising this subject. It has given us the opportunity for a debate covering all aspects, not just the rule of law. We have touched on the rather wider theme of law and order, crime and punishment. I am sure that those who heard it will support me when I say that this motion was introduced by an extremely thoughtful speech from my hon. Friend.

The criticism has been made by, among others, the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and the hon. Member for Accrington that the motion is too wide and absolute in its terms. I welcome the motion, which has to be approached realistically. It was clear from my hon. Friend's speech that when he talked of a free society he was talking not only of a free society but a democratic one. He made clear in his intervention during the interesting speech of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that he was not saying that we cannot, out of conscience, choose not to obey a law and be prepared to face the consequences. He was not suggesting that in those circumstances an individual should never refuse to obey the law. He said that we could not in a democratic society choose to reject the law as such by saying that it did not apply to people as a whole.

The Government welcome this motion. I can assure my hon. Friend that they lay just as much stress as he has on the maintenance and upholding of the rule of law, upon its acceptance and upon respect for it. As he said, freedom depends upon law.

The freedom of the individual and the freedom of minorities depends upon respect for and obedience to the law by the majority. It is the law that guarantees the freedoms of the minority. Equally, as has been pointed out, respect for the law is necessary for the majority to protect itself against the tyranny of minorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West suggested that the rule of law as such was more reliable than Parliament as a guarantee of political freedom. I am not sure, with respect to my hon. Friend, whether I would go entirely along that road with him. While I agree that the existence of a democratic Parliament is not necessarily a sure sign that a country is wholly free, equally it seems that mere adherence to the rule of law does not by itself guarantee political freedom. The two must go together if we are to be guaranteed real freedom.

The rule of law would not be effective, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Anglesey in ensuring freedom if all it did was to enforce restrictive and unjust laws. If tyranny is to be avoided, what matters is not only the ability to enforce the law but also the state of the law itself. That can only be fairly controlled by a democratically-elected Parliament such as ours, supported by general acceptance and respect of the laws it passes.

As a lawyer I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West describe as he did the activities of lawyers in the rule of law. My hon. Friend suggested that a strong and independent judiciary and legal profession, with a proper sense of its own standard of conduct, is one of the most essential links in the chain on which liberty of the subject depends.

I wholeheartedly support my hon. Friend's contention that a democratic society with a democratically elected Parliament imposes a duty on all of us as individuals to respect the law passed by that Parliament, whether we agree with it or however hard we may choose to fight to attempt to get it altered. Whilst the law of the land must be accepted, as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East pointed out, there may be occasions when a man chooses deliberately, out of conscience, to disobey the law. However, all of us who are involved in any form of public life have a duty and responsibility to accept the law of the land and to respect and adhere to it. That applies as much to hon. Members, trade union leaders, local government leaders and leaders of the Welsh Language Society as anybody else.

Mr. English

Every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate and every hon. Member listening now would agree with what the Minister of State has just said. But how does he square that with the fact that it is possible—and it happened this year—for a freely elected Parliament to pass over some of its power to an undemocratic legislature which cannot command the respect which can be given to a democratically-elected Parliament?

Mr. Carlisle

I will come to the duty of a Government to provide acceptable law at the end of my remarks. The matter has been raised by other hon. Members.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and myself are aware of the concern that exists in the country, which has been clearly spelt out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith)—about the rule of law, and particularly that law and order is in danger of breaking own. For what it is worth, I assess that it was at its height in the middle of the summer of this year, and I get the feeling that it is a combination of three separate factors, all of which have come out during the debate.

First, I think it is caused by real fear at the growth in what one might call ordinary crime, the fact that the figures for each year seem to go up, and while it is true—and this should be emphasised—that the percentage increase per year is now considerably less than it was in the 'fifties and 'sixties, nevertheless the overall volume of crime is going up. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) said, people are worried about the growth of violent crime in particular. That is one strand.

The second strand is again the genuine and understandable concern about the new manifestations of violence, particularly in pursuit of political ends, that we have seen appear to grow over recent years. The hijacking of aeroplanes, terrorism, letter bombs, the tragedy of Munich and, at the other end, violence in the picket lines are new manifestations of violence in the apparent pursuit of political objectives.

The third strand, which is what most of the early part of the debate was about, is the feeling that respect for and acceptance of the law in this country, on which our freedom depends, is being deliberately undermined and that attempts are made to make that appear respectable. During the next ten minutes or so I shall attempt briefly to cover those three aspects and deal with some of the fears.

I deal first with the general overall crime situation which has been referred to by many hon. Members and in particular by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. It has always seemed to me that the task of the Home Office is threefold—first, to provide adequate forces of law and order, secondly, to ensure that the powers available to the courts are adequate, and, thirdly, to provide the necessary resources to carry out the individual sentences of the courts.

On the first of those, we said in our election manifesto—indeed, I think it is self-evident—that the greatest deterrent to crime is the likelihood of being caught. This must presuppose a strengthened police force, and the continuation of it at that strength, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that recruitment has been going extremely well in recent months. Whereas in 1969 the net increase in the size of the force was less than 1,000, in 1970 it was 2,000, last year, 1971, it was 3,100, and in the first 10 months of this year it was 2,500.

Mr. Clinton Davis

What about coloured officers?

Mr. Carlisle

I should be willing to give the hon. Gentleman an answer to that if he put down a Question on it. He knows that it is the desire of both the Government and the police to see more coloured officers in the force. I believe that not only have we substantially increased the rate of growth of the police force, but that we have done it without lowering the standard of entry, and the impression that I get from talking to chief constables is that they are confident about the rate at which they are absorbing new men into their forces.

On the question of the powers of the courts, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst will agree that individual sentences to which she referred must never be a matter for the Government whose duty it is to provide the framework within which the courts act. The Government accept that the sentences passed play an important part in deterring crime. We keep maximum penalties continually under review. As for vandalism, the Criminal Damage Act 1971 substantially increased the penalties. As with so many other aspects of the law, the real difficulty is with enforcement, catching those responsible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South asked about firearms. The Criminal Justice Act also increased the penalties here. We have recently received in the Home Office a report by H.M. Chief Inspector of Constabulary on the control of firearms. My right hon. Friend has already said that he is considering it very seriously. There is undoubtedly, and regrettably, evidence of a wider use of firearms in the commission of crime in recent years.

I believe that the Criminal Justice Act also substantially carries out the widening of the powers of the court which I believe was needed. For example, it enormously strengthened the power to order compensation to the victim by the individual criminal.

The third important aspect is the provision of adequate resources for the orders of the court to be carried out. Several hon. Members have mentioned the probation service. When we took office, its strength was 3,400. One of our first acts was to announce a new target of 4,700 by 1975. Last week, or the week before, we announced a revised target of 5,000 for 1975 and 5,350 for 1976.

I am glad to say that the size of the service is now about 4,000. Over the last 2½ years it has increased by 25 per cent. We envisage a further 25 per cent. increase over the next 2½ years, up to the figure of 5,000. We have provided the training places and we are on target—if one can be on target towards a target.

As for prisons, we are undertaking the biggest prison building programme ever, starting places at the rate of 3,000 a year, compared with only 80 in the financial year before we came to office. We are anxious to see a reduction in overcrowding. As for Gartree, we have not yet received the report of the regional director, but we will consider it carefully.

The second matter to which I want to refer is the new manifestations of violence. Because of the time I will deal only with picketing. I hope that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer), who was good enough to tell me that he could not stay to hear my speech, was not suggesting that violence on a picket line is in any way different from any other form of violence. Violence on a picket line is as much a crime against society as violence elsewhere.

The law has always recognised peaceful picketing during industrial disputes, but that does not involve threats, intimidation or any compulsion. When picketing ceases to be peacful, it is a criminal offence. Pickets have no immunity against charges under the criminal law or offences such as assault, obstructing the police and matters like that. The law allows peaceful picketing but peaceful picketing only, and in certain circumstances an excessive number of pickets can amount to intimidation and can cease to be lawful picketing.

As for the points about the law on picketing, although the Government are still reviewing the law, the real problem is not so much the law as enforcement.

I decided to go to Lincolnshire recently to congratulate the Scunthorpe police on what they did in preserving the right to work of those who wished to continue to work at the wharves in Scunthorpe during the dock strike. Although it is important that the Government should accept that there is a right to picket, we must remember that there is the right to work and and it is a right which we all have a duty to preserve. I believe that by closer cooperation between police forces we can ensure the presence of sufficient police reinforcements which can be employed in timely fashion to prevent some of the scenes we have seen in certain strikes.

May I in the last few moments at my disposal deal with the main theme of the early part of the debate, respect for the rule of law. I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East that one cannot operate the rule of law on a basis of selectivity. I must say to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton in his absence—and I appreciate why he cannot be here—that I totally reject his philosophy, which seemed to be that one could pick and choose in these matters. In a free society one must obey the law whether as an individual one agrees with it or not. I see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor recently pointed out, perhaps somewhat mischievously, that in many ways the only law which there was merit in obeying was that with which one disagreed, because there was no difficulty in obeying a law with which one agreed. To say, as some people say today, that one can choose either to accept or reject laws or to accept or reject court decisions is absolute nonsense. We are all free to work in order to get the law changed and nobody would object in any way to any legitimate form of public protest—but by "legitimate" I mean measures within the law aimed at persuading the Government to change their mind or, alter- natively, to persuade the electorate to vote for a different Government at the next election. But we shall stand on dangerous ground if we appear to condone in any way deliberate breaches of the law to try to coerce authorities into a change of attitude.

The law is one and is indivisible. We cannot say that there is one law which we should all obey and another law that we should be free to choose whether to obey. I do not believe any such solution is possible. Those who choose to disobey one aspect of the law cannot pick and choose whether to obey other laws which are passed for their protection. I agree that laws passed by a Government must meet the requirement of acceptability. But what do we mean by acceptability in a free democracy? I suggest that in a free democracy the test of acceptability must be the passing of legislation by a majority of Members of Parliament who are answerable to their constituents. That is the only test of acceptability in a parliamentary democracy.

I totally reject the suggestion that the Industrial Relations Act did not pass that test and I fear that there are those who attempt to confuse bitter opposition by a minority group with the general principle of acceptability.

I wish I had time to answer more of the points that have been raised in this debate, but I conclude by thanking my hon. Friend for raising this matter. I commend his motion to the House.

3.59 p.m.

Sir A. Meyer

In the one minute that remains I should like to point out that I deliberately framed my motion in such a way that I hoped that it would be accepted by both sides of the House.

May I draw attention to three terms? I referred to the protection of "dissentient minorities", in which I include dissentient individuals. I regard the law as an essential safeguard or protection. I used the words "free society" to indicate that it is obligatory to obey the law only if there is no other way of securing amendment of the law.

Finally, I particularly chose the word "reject" rather than "disobey", thereby indicating that I consider that the individual had a right to disobey the law. What he does not have is the right totally to reject the law. I hope that, with that explanation, hon. Members on both sides will he prepared to accept the motion.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

In the one minute that now remains may I take issue with the one point which was left by the Minister of State who—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.