§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
I beg to move,That this House affirms its belief in a democratic society in which the law is the prime guarantee of the liberty of the citizen, and in which the law, enacted by a legally elected Parliament, is indivisible, no citizen nor institution having the right to select which laws and courts will be obeyed; and deplore both politically motivated attacks upon the judiciary and attempts to remove disqualifications from, or to recompense, those who have been fined or disqualified from public office for past defiance of the law.I hope that the motion will be accepted by the Home Department, and, indeed, that the Minister concerned will be here very shortly. He was undoubtedly taken unaware by the brevity of the remarks made on the previous motion by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke).
I feel that today I may be in danger of being cast in the role of somebody who carries a placard proclaiming "Repent, ye sinners. The day of judgment is at hand." However, I was glad to have some support in today's newspapers from a right hon. Gentleman who sometimes walks in the company of some of the sinners. This is what was attributed to him in the papers:Mr. Prentice, Education Secretary, last night made a strong attack on Labour's Left wing. He accused the Clay Cross rebel councillors and Mr. Scanlon's Amalgamated Engineering Workers of turning away from democratic and constitutional methods. 'They are departing from the traditions of the Left wing of the Labour party', he told a meeting of the Christian Social Movement in London. 'I believe it was wrong for the Clay Cross councillors to take the action that they did'.Then he had other things to say, such as the following comment:We have constantly to remind ourselves that the basic liberties that we enjoy and the right to basic freedoms here are a fairly recent piece of progress in the context of world history.The right hon. Gentleman made the point that some members of the Labour movement seem to have forgotten this in the recent past.
Since that presumably represents Government policy, I am happy to say that if the Minister of State, Home Office wishes on behalf of the Government to accept the motion at this stage, I shall 2036 gladly give way to him. I am sorry that he apparently feels unable to do so. I hope that when he replies he will say what is so odious in the motion to a Home Department Minister and why he is unable to accept it. I am sure he will not mind if I press him closely on this matter.
The relationship between the citizen, his liberty and the law is not without paradox. To the citizens of many countries—and no doubt Spain and Greece will spring to Labour minds, but I suggest they remember Russia, Poland, Albania, Roumania and Hungary——
§ Mr. Tebbit
Indeed, and I make no partisan point on this subject. I was about to say that the law is not the protector of liberty in those countries but is a weapon of subjugation. For us, as part of the privileged minority that holds the right to free elections and the right to enact or repeal laws as we choose, the law is not simply that which restricts our freedom of action but that which allows us to go about our lives in peace and security. No man can be totally free unless he lives on an island. Paradoxically, even then he is not free from fear and hunger, sickness, predators and parasites, because he is a social animal. I hope Labour Members will not feel that that is too close to the argument on sovereignty and the EEC, which has been debated at such length on other occasions.
In Britain over the last 100 years we had come to believe that the rule of law as an essential part of the structure that guarantees democratic freedom had been so accepted that there was no longer a need to argue the case further, but recent events have shown that belief to be wrong. Many people grew up in an age when they read crime novels in which crime did not pay, in which armed criminals were shunned by fellow criminals and in which a criminal when caught red-handed was more likely to cry "It's a fair cop" than to call for the National Council for Civil Liberties.
At one time the murder of a policeman was a shocking crime and banner headlines reported the hunt for the murderer until he was found. Today it is only local paper stuff. The freedom of the citizen 2037 to walk alone at night, through the London streets or to travel unmolested on late buses—or indeed to act as part of a crew on a late night bus in London unmolested—has now sunk to a level which would be more familiar to the late Victorians than to those who lived between the wars and immediately after the last war.
We could debate the causes of such crimes eternally—and, incidentally, it would be an advantage if one day the House could take time to debate this important subject. There are no simplistic answers but, like any illness, if it cannot be cured its effects must be controlled. We need more research into causes of crime and more effort to bring back estranged members of society into the mainstream—but without bending society to fit the estranged individual. Even more, we need extra police, swifter justice and more relevant penalties for convictions.
The law is under attack on another front, as the Secretary of State for Education and Science said yesterday, and I am pleased to have his support. There was a day when we all used to expect Tory councils to implement Labour Government legislation—and I trust that we still expect them to do so—but we also expect Labour councils to implement legislation enacted by Conservative Governments. I regret to say that we have some hesitation in expecting these things. Defiance of the law is now urged by leading members of major political parties.
Some Members have no time for the judiciary and no time for Parliament, except as a salaried extension to Hyde Park Corner. They regard the law as being of two parts, ordinary law and political law, the latter being optional. Those people now constitute the major threat to the liberty of the citizen in this country. They face us with another agonizing paradox: that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the majority to have its way in a democracy. We increasingly see minorities, provided they are sufficiently ruthless, having their way in a democracy. The extension of that argument could be that the majority will eventually protect itself by the use of authoritarian and undemocratic means, until those means fall into the hands of a minority. It is an argument 2038 of despair, but if the law does not protect the majority it will use force to protect itself. That is the lesson of Ulster above all others.
I regret that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) is not present. I wrote to him to say that I would raise this matter, and he was kind enough to say that he would be here if he could. The hon. Gentleman recently argued on television that there are these two sorts of law, and I understand that he says that political law need not be obeyed. He instanced the Industrial Relations Act and the Housing Finance Act as political law. He said that on television, but if one wanted to be precise about these matters one could turn to HANSARD of 25th July 1972, when the hon. Gentleman said:The Prime Minister referred to selectivity and said that it was wrong for a political party to advocate the right of people to select laws, accepting those designed for their own protection and welfare but rejecting others. He said that it was wrong for people to pick and choose laws.Some of us on the Opposition side"—the then Opposition side—say that it is right to be selective.He went on at considerable length, saying later:Non-co-operation plainly means disobeying decisions. If we are not to co-operate with a political court, how on earth can we accept its decisions?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July 1972; Vol. 841, c. 1585-8.]There we see a plain political theory that political law does not have to be obeyed.
The hon. Gentleman is not alone in that judgment. He has the support of many distinguished members of the present administration. Many of them have been more discreet than he in their incitement to defy the law, but we can all doubt whether they would be to the fore of those calling for acceptance of the laws enacted by a Parliament with a Conservative majority. Even the present Lord Chancellor fell into this trap back in July 1972.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One does not wish to prevent debate or freedom of expression. That is what the debate is about. But the hon. Gentleman has just made a statement to the effect that certain members of the 2039 Government have been guilty of incitement to break the law, without any specification, without naming any names. I regard that as tantamount to saying that certain members of the Government have broken the oath they took when they took their seats in the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
My attention was momentarily attracted elsewhere, and I did not hear the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). It is out of order, however, to imply any unworthy motives to other right hon. or hon. Members. I expect that the hon. Gentleman will make clear what he had in mind.
§ Mr. Hamling
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You gave a clear ruling, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is not following your ruling.
§ Mr. Tebbit
What I was saying was that those hon. Members who advocate disobedience of the law do so, I presume, from honourable motives. I have gone so far as to quote the hon. Member for Tottenham——
§ Mr. Hamling
On a point of order. I have submitted to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman is out of order in attributing to any right hon. or hon. Member any action implying that he is inciting people to break the law. I suggest with all respect that that is quite out of order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is out of order to suggest unworthy motives. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt seek to substantiate what he has said about certain actions, although I do not want to encourage him into further clashes in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman will realise that it might be an advantage to him if he moved on from that.
§ Mr. Hamling
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is not a question 2040 of advice from the Chair; it is a clear matter of order. When they take their seats in the House, right hon. and hon. Members take an oath or affirm. I do not think it is in order for the hon. Gentleman, without specifying any Member or a particular member of the Government, to make that sort of accusation. Certainly to make it in these general terms implies a general slur on many right hon. and hon. Members.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
There has been a very good tone in the debate today. I am sure that the hon. Member for Chingford will not want to cast a slur on anyone. The rule is clear. Hon. Members cannot imply any unworthy motives to any other right hon or hon. Member.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I will ease the position by gladly withdrawing any suggestions that there was an unworthy motive in the mind of any hon. Member when he made the suggestions that he did, some of which I have already quoted, in the debate of 25th July 1972. I accept that each hon. Member is the best judge of what is worthy and what is unworthy and would not do anything unworthy.
§ Mr. Hamling
On a point of order. The hon. Gentleman has laid certain charges against unspecified Members of the House and unspecified members of the Government. Through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask him to withdraw that sort of statement. It is not a question of imputation; it is a direct statement that Members, unspecified, and members of this Government, unspecified, have incited people in this country to break the law. The hon. Gentleman should in all decency withdraw that statement.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understood that the hon. Gentleman was withdrawing. Maybe I misunderstood him.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I am happy to withdraw any imputation that any hon. Member acted from a motive which he thought to be unworthy. As I understand it. that is what you require me to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suggest that we proceed, and I shall return to particular matters as I continue my speech.
§ Mr. Hamling
Further to my point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has made certain statements. 2041 It is my submission that as a matter of order he should withdraw them completely.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is not out of order to say that hon. Members have done one thing or another. What is out of order is to suggest any unworthy motive on the part of hon. Members, and the hon. Gentleman must take responsibility himself. But he has not named anyone in my hearing.
§ Mr. Hamling
Exactly. Further to my point of order—and I do not want to interrupt any speech unnecessarily—what could be more unworthy than a right hon. or hon. Member breaking the oath or the solemn declaration that he made when he took his seat? Surely an incitement to break the law is a direct breach of that undertaking. The hon. Gentleman has made this statement and he mentioned one particular hon. Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson). But the hon. Gentleman has made general statements implying that other right hon. and hon. Members have done that, and it is that statement, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I did not hear the hon. Gentleman. It was unfortunate that my attention was engaged by someone at the side of the Chair when the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) was mentioned. I did not hear a reference to the hon. Member for Tottenham because someone came to the Chair. It was in the sight of the House. But I hope that we can get on with the debate by the hon. Member for Chingford hearing the strength of the point of view. I can only rule that imputation of motives is wrong.
§ Mr. Tebbit
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to say that many of us would doubt just how far to the fore some Labour right hon. and hon. Members would be among those calling for acceptance of the laws enacted by Parliament with a Conservative majority. I shall leave the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) very happy in a moment by being very particular.
For example, we recently heard in the House a hysterical outburst by the Secretary of State for Employment—I can use 2042 no term other than "hysterical outburst"—when, in the sort of tone which I should have thought would have been more appropriate to the Germany of the 1920s than to Britain of the 1970s, he attacked a High Court judge. He did so in one of those manners which are familiar to us in the House as we watched him with the familiar gesture when he wipes flecks from his lips and adds fervors to his contempt of that High Court judge. I do not regard that as an incitement to break the law.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With your leave, I would draw your attention to the altercation that occurred in the House to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred. The Chair itself ruled that there had been no contempt of the House and no breach of order, that the remark which was made was a figure of speech and that in those circumstances the House ought to pass on from the subject.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am much obliged to the Minister. I understand that the hon. Member for Chingford is not making any charge of contempt of the House. But the House is accustomed to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides expressing opinions about the speeches of other hon. Members. It was not out of order. That was ruled by the occupant of the Chair at the time. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to say what he thinks of a speech that is made by another hon. Member. No doubt he is well aware that his speech will be followed by that of another hon. Member.
§ Mr. Tebbit
The point I seek to make—in which there cannot be a point of order, as you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker— is that, whatever view one took about the incident, it is hard to take the view that it was a remark intended to add to the prestige of the courts of this land or of a High Court judge. It goes well enough with the classic words of the Lord President of the Council on Independent Television on 24th November 1973:It is not part of our job to go about telling everybody to obey the law.I take the view that it is part of the job of every hon. Member of this House to go about telling people to obey the law. I understand that my imputation that some did not was taken very ill by one 2043 hon. Member, so I am sure he will agree with me that it is our job to do that.
§ Mr. Tebbit
The hon. Gentleman has made a revealing comment from a sedentary position. We now have the distinction between not only political law and ordinary law, but between good law and bad law, and——
§ Mr. Tebbit
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making the distinction. I am glad he has been able to clear up this matter and make it plain that he would like to see everyone obey all the law and not to be selective.
§ Mr. Tebbit
The hon. Gentleman is a a magistrate, so no doubt we can rely upon him.
Supporters of the Government, as I have shown by quotation, have created doubts about the attitude of their Government and their party to the law. First, there was not only encouragement for trade unions to indulge in political strikes, but some hon. Members supported those strikes. When given a chance by the then Leader of the Opposition to condemn political strikes, some hon. Members refrained from doing so. Many hon. Members will recollect Early-Day Motion No. 156 about the dispute in the coalmining industry:That this House repudiates recent statements by the Vice-President of the National Union of Mineworkers foreshadowing an appeal to the forces of the Crown, and earlier statements seeking to invoke the strike weapon as a means of changing an elected Government other than through a democratic General Election.Sometimes the negative evidence is available as well.
§ Mr. Tebbit
A large number of hon. Members managed to resist the temptation 2044 to follow the leadership of their leader.
§ Mr. Hamling
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that anyone who did not sign that early-day motion was inciting people or supporting those who broke the law. I suggest that that is quite out of order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is not a point of order. I have been looking up Erskine May as the debate has gone on. I see that it is said on page 418 thatGood temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
There is a reference to courtesy to each other. The hon. Member for Chingford is aware of the feeling of the House.
§ Mr. Tebbit
—that when hon. Members were given an opportunity by the leader of their party and most, if not all, of the Shadow Cabinet—I have not checked on that point—to stand up for the rights of the citizen and for the rule of law, not all of them did so. I should have been happier had they done so. That is part of the way in which this doubt has been created.
Secondly, there was a difficulty some time ago over the attitude of some politicians, shall I say—I shall be sure then not to provoke any points of order which are not points of order—towards the illegal, so-called civil disobedience in Ulster, which commenced with rent and rates strikes, and in those days comfort was given to those who first attacked both police and soldiers. I sometimes wonder how much regret there is among the public at large for the way in which the then Member for Mid-Ulster, Miss Devlin, was sometimes encouraged and supported in this House.
Third, the then Opposition, with the truly outstanding exception of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and others, found it rather difficult strongly to advise Labour councils to implement the Housing Finance Act. 2045 Ultimately the Labour Party at its conference in 1973 passed its famous resolution, which concluded with these words:Conference further agrees that upon the election of a Labour Government all penalties, financial or otherwise, should be removed retrospectively from councillors who have courageously refused to implement the Housing Finance Act 1972.As I recall it, that resolution was commended to the conference for acceptance by no less a person than the present Lord President of the Council. I do not wish to transgress the bounds of order, but I believe that all us who read the New Law Journaal will remember that its comment was:This is as clear an encouragement to the breaking of the rule of law as we have had from a public platform for many years.It may be that the New Law Journal is in some sort of contempt of the House —I do not know—but no one has taken it up so far.
Finally, I believe that the Home Secretary himself in his recent amnesty for illegal immigrants again gave advantage to those who had broken the law over those who have respected it.
The Labour Party, or its Marxist wing, has sown the wind, and it is feeling the first gusts of the whirlwind. We have recently seen two strikes with political results—I choose my words carefully— strikes which set aside the law of the land. The first was the miners' strike, which was unabashedly intended to topple the Government, as Early-Day Motion No. 156 makes plain. The second was the Protestant workers' strike, which toppled the Northern Ireland Executive.
Back in February 1972 there was a great deal of anxiety, not least, for example, on the part of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), now on the Government Front Bench, that pickets should be allowed to stop lorries to impart the message to the drivers. Now, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may take a slightly different view on whether pickets should be allowed to stop lorries in order to impart their message. That was the implication of the answer which he gave me just the other day when I inquired what facilities were made available for them to do so in Ulster.
2046 The hon. Member for York used to say of law enforcement during a strike— I take this quotation:We cannot call out the tanks or the Army….".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January 1974; Vol. 867, c. 1282.]But, of course, in Ulster not tanks but the Army was on hand to take part in the breaking of a strike.
The Ulsterman can see no difference between his political strike and that of Mr. McGahey. He can see no difference between the threats of his pickets and those of the building workers' pickets, some of whom are now in gaol in Shrewsbury. Neither can I.
If the Industrial Relations Act and the Housing Finance Act are political Acts, so will be those which replace them. If obedience to one set of political laws is optional obedience to all political law is optional. That is the way to gun law and tyranny. We have come a long way along the road, and Ulster points the way ahead. The flight from Heathrow to Belfast is virtually a time trip into London's future unless we are careful. Unless the Government can accept the motion, we shall not have confidence that they are serious about the rule of law.
I began by quoting the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I end by quoting another distinguished man who has walked in the company of the Marxists:The same old caveman impulses—greed, envy, lack of restraint, mutual ill will—still tear and rip our world apart, though now they have adopted such 'decent' labels as class conflict, race war, the struggle of the masses or the trade unions…. Violence, less and less restricted by a system of laws built up over the centuries, strides naked and victorious over the earth…. It is not just coarse violence itself that is triumphant, but also its shrieks of self-justification.Those are the words of Mr. Solzhenitsyn.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) used the phrase that the flight between Belfast and London was virtually a time trip into the future. As one who represents, perhaps, one of the most sensitive areas of the England and Scotland mainland, I must say that, in my opinion, there are few now here who want to import the 2047 troubles of Ulster into either Scotland or England.
However, I do not wish to follow the hon. Gentleman's general theme or to abuse the time of the House—I do not say that he abused it, but I should do so, if I were to use this occasion to go into detail on the contentious view which I have regarding what ought to be done in Northern Ireland. I realise that there is considerable natural concern about Concorde, the subject of the next motion. I shall, therefore, confine myself to one subject and a sort of report to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) and I spent Monday of this week in the Maze prison at Long Kesh and in the women's prison at Amah. I wish to report that, as a Member of Parliament, I feel the gravest disquiet, first, at the scale of the internment camp. I simply had no conception that there existed in the United Kingdom a major prisoner-of-war camp of that kind. Some say that it is modelled on Stalag 9. I know not on what it is modelled. But actually to go to Long Kesh is a very striking experience.
There are 1,600 men in that complex. It covers such an area that one has, perhaps, to be transported by vehicle, and to a Westminster politician it is extraordinarily striking that an operation of this scale should exist anywhere in the United Kingdom.
One sees there the families lining up to talk once a fortnight or once a month —whatever it may be—with the internees, families with children the age of my own, children of 8 and 6 as well as babes in arms. It is an experience not readily forgettable.
When one talks to the families, one hears from them their sheer loathing of any man such as myself who comes from Westminster, a loathing based on the fact that many of the men are there not yet having had trial and being interned, in many cases, on what they regard as suspicion. Many of us on this side of the House had the gravest about internment in the first place, but actually to see the results was a shaking experience. There was a hatred coming through such as I in public life have never before experienced.
I can best express what it is like, when one goes inside and talks, by relying on 2048 quotations. I take the case of Mr. O'Hare, of the Official IRA. He said that internment escalates problems, "that a gesture is necessary if there is to be an overall political solution." "Political prisoners", he said, "should be released on the basis that it is the end of a war. It is a war situation in which prisoners should be treated as they were in 1945 after the Second World War ".
This is not the place to argue that case. All I ask is that the Home Office, with the Northern Ireland Office, should consider the position in Northern Ireland, where the implementation of justice has become clogged up for months at a time with the result that it breeds the most burning resentments.
Especially today I ask that that kind of consideration be given, because last night's speech by the Prime Minister of Eire, Mr. Liam Cosgrave, may well be seen in years to come as a historic watershed. It is the first time in my recollection that a leading Eire politician, let alone a Prime Minister, has dared to suggest that the cherished concept of a united Ireland may not be practical. It was certainly the very strong impression that we have had not only from the UWC itself but from leaders of the strike like Harry Murray and Jim Smyth. On two separate occasions when I have met them, they have asserted time and again "We are not anti-Catholic, we are anti-Dublin rule."
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I would be grateful if he would come to the motion, which is not to do with Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It would be a disservice to the general case I wish to make if I were to challenge your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I end, therefore, by making a plea to the Government to look at Long Kesh and, in particular, the women's prison at Armagh. As a former school teacher, I was shocked at what I saw. I saw girls there whose chronological age was 17 or 18 through to 22. However, their age in terms of maturity may well have been rather 14 or 15. Indeed, they might easily have been your pupils, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or mine. They are clogged together in an early nineteenth century prison.
2049 I am under no delusion as to what some of them may have been up to in the burning of Belfast, or about the other very serious crimes in which they may have been involved. But, whatever they have done, one must ask whether cooping them up in a nineteenth century prison is the best way to treat these young girls and, indeed, their contemporaries outside in order to try to inculcate into them what one might call, as un-pompously as possible, British values. I hope that a different kind of line will be taken on the liberty of the citizen in Northern Ireland, especially in the light of the new situation introduced by Mr. Cosgrave.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), whose contributions are always listened to with great respect because everyone knows of his obvious honesty, will forgive me if I do not follow him in detail on this matter, because I do not claim to have expert knowledge. But I wish to say something about the subject in general of Northern Ireland.
I have looked carefully at the motion, as you have, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to me that it concerns the liberty of the subject, and if ever there was an occasion which affected the liberty of the subject it is the war that has been going on now for years in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is not the title but the terms of the motion that we are discussing.
§ Mr. Fell
Indeed, I have looked at the terms of the motion and shall, therefore, do everything I am able in no way to transgress your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
In connection with the subject of law, I want to mention the recent announcement by the Home Secretary. I admit that what I have to say is a little vague, and, therefore, I am not being dogmatic or category. The right hon. Gentleman made a statement which, to put no finer point on it, led us to believe that the situation concerning the Price sisters was clear—that on no account would the British Government be pushed or blackmailed into doing something about the Price sisters.
2050 I was deeply impressed when the right hon. Gentleman made his statement and I wished to express that feeling. However, I was not called to put a question to him after his statement, and, therefore, I privately congratulated him.
It was, therefore, all the more of a shock to me earlier this week when we heard some rumblings that there had been some extraordinary sort of concatenation of heads between the Home Secretary, a senior member of the Conservative Party and even going so far as to include, I believe, a member of the Liberal Party. It was suggested that there had been some sort of agreement as to what should happen to the Price sisters following the threats and blackmail and so on.
I am even more troubled that today there are reports in the newspapers—as far as I know, nothing has been said in the open, apart from the right hon. Gentleman's uncategorical answer to a Private Notice Question—that it is his intention that within this year the Price sisters shall be returned to Northern Ireland. I cannot express sufficiently my perturbation at such a report, if it is true. It would be contrary to the point the Home Secretary made, about which I was so pleased, as, I am sure, were most hon. Members.
§ Mr. Hamling
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has completely denied what the hon. Gentleman has just said.
§ Mr. Fell
I am most interested to hear this. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is able to give us chapter and verse. This is very important. I am not making any accusations, but the reports are printed in many of the newspapers today. I would be delighted to give way again to the hon. Gentleman so that he could tell us more about the Home Secretary's denial. Where was it made, when and how?
§ Mr. Fell
I am delighted that the Home Secretary has made that denial. Nevertheless, this sort of thing is deeply worrying. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will make a public statement. Is the hon. Gentleman referring to a public statement by the Home Secretary? I am delighted to have heard what 2051 the hon. Gentleman has said, because 1 am in support of law and order. He has just made a statement that the Home Secretary completely denies——
§ Mr. Fell
I am not talking about whether there was a deal but about whether the right hon. Gentleman has intimated officially within the last couple of days that the Price sisters are to be returned to Northern Ireland within this year. That is what I am talking about. I should be delighted to give way to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) again, but he is now as quiet as a mouse. He has rather let himself into this. The hon. Gentleman has interrupted me several times, no doubt for good reason in his own mind. But now, having said that my information is wrong and that the Home Secretary has denied it, I ask him to tell me when and how the Home Secretary has denied these reports.
§ Mr. Hamling
I simply said that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had denied that there was a deal. The hon. Gentleman has had sufficient experience of the ways of this House to know that as Members we cannot comment on Lobby stories of that sort.
§ Mr. Fell:
Really! The hon. Gentleman himself is an old enough hand in this place to know perfectly well that many questions put down by hon. Members arise from the stories of Lobby correspondents. Do not let us have that sort of nonsense.
But I do not wish to detain the House for long because I know that other hon. Members are anxious to discuss Concorde on the next motion. I want to end by asking a question of my own Church in regard to the law. One of the reasons why I hoped to be called by Mr. Speaker to put a question to the Home Secretary after his statement was that I wanted to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it would help him if the hierarchies of the Catholic Church in Ireland and of the Catholic Church in this country were much more outright in their condemnation of the IRA and of its using terror to get its will.
As I have said, I was not called on that occasion, but I am delighted to note that 2052 there was a statement by Cardinal Henna only yesterday. I regard his statement as perhaps as good but not as strong as I had hoped it would be, but then no doubt he has advisers who are not at one on this issue. But what really worried me was the statement of the Cardinal-Archbishop of all Ireland, Cardinal Conway, and of the Bishop of Derry. They were reported to have made a statement which said roughly that they wanted the Home Secretary to use his discretion in favour of returning the Price sisters to Ireland in his own time.
I believe that the Catholic Church is in the most diabolically difficult situation, particularly the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland, because many priests, particularly those in dioceses that are very Catholic and that may have many IRA members, are in dreadfully difficult situations. I shall not say more about it than that. I hope that in their battle to see Christianity spread, which must be a concomitant with the spread of respect for law and order, they will find themselves able to be a little more dogmatic about respect not only for the law of their own nation but for the common law and respect for each other.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) gave two examples of periods of anarchy through which the country had passed. In some ways, the country has come to have a callous disregard for the law, a callous disregard for Parliament and a callous disregard for the future of the children of these islands. There are two examples of anarchy that 20 years ago, and perhaps only 10 years ago, would have been unthinkable in this country. The first was the miners' strike, which aimed at the heart of the nation, the heart of the nation being the Parliament that had been democratically elected. That strike had the express aim of bringing down the Government of the country.
I do not want to wig Labour Members too much about this, because many of them agree with me anyway. They are the slaves of democracy. If the democracy of which they are the slaves admits anarchy in order to bring down the Government of Britain, thoughts of being of any future use in the service of mankind should disappear from their minds.
2053 As of course we all know, the miners' strike succeeded and the miners have been confirmed in their success by the Scottish miners' conference yesterday and the day before when the miners claimed that the miners had brought down the Tory Government—and I am not actually quoting the words, because I do not have a transcript of what was said—and that they would not be averse, if necessary, to bringing down the Labour Government on the same ground.
The second example of anarchy's success in recent weeks has been the bringing down of the Northern Ireland Executive. There is no future for this country or any part of it, including Northern Ireland, except under the rule of law, but the rule of law has been destroyed on two occasions within six months: first, by the miners and, secondly, by the Protestant workers in Ulster. What other conceivable reason for the militancy of certain groups of nurses can there be other than the example of the miners and others who since the war have blackmailed their employers, who have found that the only way in which to get the wages they wanted was to blackmail employers, to kick and kick, to put the nation into an impossible position, to blackmail in order to get their own way?
That was the example that was set to all workers. Because of the weakness of Governments and the weakness of employers, workers believe that the only way in which they can get not necessarily their lawful dues but what they want is to strike, to hold the nation to ransom. So we have the nurses acting in a way that was unthinkable 10 years ago. So we have disrespect for and disregard of most of the law.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what law was broken by the miners in their strike and what law is being broken by the nurses in their strike, and, if there was a breach of the law in relation to the miners' strike, why his Government did not do anything about it?
§ Mr. Fell
Even if no laws were actually broken, and I do not admit that 2054 —[Laughter.] The hon. Members who are laughing know as well as I do that laws were broken in the behaviour of the miners in the 1972 strike. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West is laughing about that. If he had been a girl in Doncaster during the miners' strike and had been spat on by the miners, would he have felt that that was breaking the law? Of course it was breaking the law.
We know perfectly well that not only did the miners break the law, but they wanted to break the very fabric of our society. We all know that the trade unions in this country have never regarded it as part of their job to subvert the Government in order to achieve trade union ends. That course has always been eschewed. If the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, who is wagging his head, accepts the new age that we are coming into, if he regards it as the right way in which to conduct affairs for trade unions and others, to blackmail the nation to get what they want, he should not be a member of even the Labour Party. We all know that what is going on within the nation is causing great concern.
Having been slightly interrupted, I have gone on longer than I intended. Because of the brilliance of the motion, so ably argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford, and despite the lack of ability in what I have said, I hope that hon. Members will deeply and seriously consider whether there is any future for the British nation in continuing to go down the road that we have so disastrously followed for the past few months, the road along which the nation has proceeded for the past 30 years and which has led the nation only into worse and worse difficulty.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
Perhaps we may now come back to the motion. It states:That this House affirms its belief in a democratic society in which the law is the prime guarantee of the liberty of the citizen, and in which the law, enacted by a legally elected Parliament, is indivisible, no citizen nor institution having the right to select which laws and courts will be obeyed.It is to those words and phrases that 1 want to take the House back after the speech of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). In talking of miners an 2055 nurses he has not been talking about the motion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
I think that in the circumstances I ought to let the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) continue to make his speech and see how it develops.
§ Mr. Hamling
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. All I was saying was that in my view the hon. Member was not speaking to the motion. That was merely my view and it was certainly no imputation on the Chair.
Nobody in his right mind would suggest that in their action in recent weeks the nurses have broken any law. They have carried out official trade union action, and no one could say that that was illegal. There is no evidence that last year the miners were breaking any law in taking the industrial action which they did. The party to which the hon. Gentleman belongs was in government at the time. They had a whole battery of laws which they might have invoked against the miners if they had wished. They did not invoke those laws.
§ Mr. Hamling
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not try to put words into my mouth. Whatever foolish words he may put into his own mouth, I hope he will not try to do the same for others. As his speech shows, he is capable of an immense amount of idiocy. He should not attribute the same attitudes to others. No action was taken by the miners which the then Government, made up of the hon. Gentleman's party, thought was illegal.
The speech of the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) in moving the motion was rather unfortunate. He made holus-bolus accusations against certain 2056 right hon. and hon. Members. There is a good deal of meat in the motion. There are certain important legal points we might discuss, but I suggest that in the speeches we have so far heard from the Opposition we have been singularly ill-served.
I must declare an interest in that 1 am a magistrate. As such I am pledged to uphold the law. At no point in my life have I ever publicly advocated that anyone should break any law, however bad it might be. The last Conservative Government were bad enough but my experience in politics goes back 40 years. I have known worse Conservative Governments even than the last one, difficult though that may be for some of my younger colleagues to believe. At no time have I advocated that anyone should break any law. I hope hon. Members will accept that there are many in the House who will feel offended by the general attacks made in the speech of the hon. Member for Chingford. That is the only reason why I have been moved to speak.
I am a great believer in upholding the law and I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that there are a lot more people in the Labour Party who are much stronger advocates of the rule of law and dedicated defenders of the liberty of the subject than would appear to be the case to anyone from outside the House who reads or hears the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Tebbit
The hon. Member will recall that I was most particular in my comments about two right hon. Members who belong to the Labour Party and who have been very much to the fore in upholding the law—the Secretaries of State for Education and for the Environment. I was quite specific in what I said about the Lord President, his words at the Labour Party Conference and the comments of the New Law Journal upon them. I was quite specific about the quotations I used.
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Gentleman referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and said that he was the only Government Front Bench spokesman. His words are clearly within my memory, however inaccurate his memory may be. The fact is that my hon. Friend the Member 2057 for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), speaking from the Opposition Dispatch Box as the spokesman for my party in the last Parliament, said on behalf of my party and the Labour Opposition that we deplored people breaking the law. I hope that when his words are read outside the House the remarks of the hon. Member for Chingford will be taken for what they are worth. It is no good the hon. Member for Chingford waving a volume of HANSARD at me. His remarks are on the record and so are mine, together with the remarks of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. His speech has done a grave disservice to this Parliament and to the terms of the motion about which he was supposed to be speaking.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
I should like to join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) on winning a place in the Ballot and on the skill he showed in the way in which he moved the motion. It is an interesting and important motion. I must say I feel that there has been an unexpected degree of sensitivity from the Labour Benches at what has been said.
Certain fundamental points need repeating. If the law is to bethe prime guarantee of the liberty of the citizen "—to use a passage from the motion—it must mean that the citizen accepts and recognises the law. Society can only be run by consent—consent in a mood of tolerance, with the acceptance that restrictions must be imposed when society finds certain conduct unacceptable. In part, that is what consent means here. A degree of censorship is necessary when offensive matter may be thrust into the face of people either by direct public display or by indiscriminate postal canvassing to people who are often greatly offended by receiving such material through the post.
That brings me to ask the Minister of State: what is the Government's intention about the recent Bill dealing with this issue started by the last administration and which died upon Dissolution? Is it the intention of the Government to restore it as soon as possible? Consent to accept the rule of law is so implicit in our system that it is only recently that 2058 the threat of calculated and organised resistance to laws has become apparent.
In the past our system always recognised that the way to deal with a law which was not liked was, by every legitimate means, to seek to persuade Parliament to change that law. It is because our system operates by consent that our courts are able to function. It is worth thinking about what would happen in a British court if, for example, the jurors said that they refused to try a case, or the witnesses refused to attend, or the ushers refused to carry out their duties, or prison officers refused to bring prisoners, police officers refused to go to court and, unlikely as it is, solicitors refused to instruct counsel and counsel refused to argue the case and even the judge to try it.
Any one of these acts could bring the court to an instant standstill. If it happened by a concerted move across the country our system of administration of justice would stop. It would be pointless to try to apply the sanction of contempt of court. The prisons just would not be big enough.
Parliament works by consent. There were occasions, possibly within the memory of some hon. Members, certainly within the memory of those who have read the biographies of events after the first World War, when operation by consent of the proceedings in this Chamber very nearly broke down. This place can be brought to a halt if consent of the Members to its proper operation is withdrawn. The recent events in London over last weekend, apparently concerned with the IRA, show again what could be the future pattern of calculated disobedience of the law.
I do not want to say more about that because the matter is now being considered, one imagines by the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General. It is now nearly a week since those events, and there can be few crimes, if it was a crime, which are better catalogued and about which there is more evidence. We have television film, photographs and the rest. I very much hope that a decision about this will follow soon, since any delay in acting quickly in such cases can only create doubt and uncertainty in the minds of the people, and, I suspect, might encourage a repetition on some other pretext.
2059 It is because the rule of law prevails that individuals do not take the law into their own hands. If a father finds that his daughter has been attacked and raped he lets the law take its course. He does not start a personal vendetta against the attacker. This restraint is an essential factor in a civilised society and is another recognition by the individual that the law must be observed.
It is essential also that those whose duty it is to administer the law should not be subjected to unfair attacks, particularly attacks which impute an unworthy motive. No judge will resent fair criticism, comment or discussion on his decisions, but it is, for example, the allegation of personal bias which is unforgivable and totally unacceptable.
The rule of law, and its observance and acceptance by the citizens, is an essential part of any democracy. The debate has not been well attended but it has raised a certain amount of vehemence, and this has demonstrated the existence of a threat to the foundation of our way of life. If the only result of the debate is that the country outside begins to appreciate that this threat exists the debate will have been totally worth while.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)
I regard the debate as extremely important. It raises fundamental issues of principle on how we want our society to develop and how we want our laws to be expressed. However, many of the arguments advanced in favour of the motion amply demonstrate why some of us on this side have suspicions as to the basis for its being brought forward. It has been imputed on the Opposition side of the House that those hon. Members who do not sign early-day motions demonstrate a lack of sympathy with them, as if every early-day motion automatically merited a 100 per cent. response by every hon. Member in the House.
It has been suggested that it is the role of an elected Member of Parliament to enforce the law. This is to me a strange concept. Certainly, it is the role of every Member of Parliament to uphold respect for the law, but we have our agents of law enforcement, and I would not want any Member of Parliament, however distinguished, or how little distinguished, to 2060 spend a substantial amount of time exhorting the public at large to obey the law. Rather, it is his role to be sensitive to the kinds of law which would best express the public concept of social justice——
§ Mr. Tebbit
Before the hon. Gentleman gets too far away from the point regarding early-day motions, he will recall that the early-day motion to which I referred, No. 156, was not just one of a hundred or so which go down—very few of which I sign myself—but was an official Opposition early-day motion and the signatories to it were led by the Leader of the then Opposition and his Shadow Cabinet colleagues.
§ Mr. Davies
I recognise part of the hon. Gentleman's point. However, 1 still think that the situation obtains, and will be recognised by even the newest Members of the House, that an early-day motion has limited significance in the political role it plays, and I find it difficult to accept the argument that non-signatories to the motion disclaim any support for it.
I emphasise that we on this side of the House recognise that the law is the prime guarantee of the liberty of the individual, but liberty is a fragile flower, and to flourish it needs rather more than a fence or a boundary of law against those who would trample on it. The flower of liberty also needs the food from the good rich soil of good social relations and concepts of social justice and, in particular, from respect for minorities and the weaker members of society. This is an argument which was clearly advanced by John Stuart Mill anticipating the age of democratic politics in terms of the necessity for the majority to recognise and protect the rights of the minority. The law must not be a weapon of oppression purely because from time to time it commands the support of the majority.
If we bring to bear in this argument Northern Ireland to which there have been many references in the debate, we should get several facts clear in our mind. The first is that hon. Members opposite seem to think that the recent demonstrations of lawlessness in Northern Ireland are a reflection of recent developments in our society, but many of us recognise that the Northern Ireland situation was born in many respects out of defiance of the 2061 law, and it was a representative of the main Opposition party who argued that Ulster would fight and Ulster would be right over the issue of Home Rule.
In the 50 years of Irish history which has since developed one aspect of the situation which gave rise to the Civil Rights movement in the mid-1960s was the inability of the minority to protect rights or to get from the majority a recognition of such rights. Such movements do not flourish unless a deep and abiding sense of social justice obtains in such a society. We must recognise that those who argue that respect for the law is paramount must equally recognise the obligation of those who make the law to be sensitive to the needs of such minorities.
Government in a democratic society must be by consent. Passing of laws which manifestly do not command the consent of the people but reflect perhaps the position of superiority of one party at a particular point in time is the way to bring this House into disrepute. We recognise the opposition and criticism advanced on many sides throughout the country, not just by hon. Members present on the then Opposition side of the Chamber, worries about the Industrial Relations Act—that it was an intrusion of legislation into areas in which it would not be acceptable to the majority of the people. Equally well is it proven that a substantial number of people, by their judgment at the last election, rejected this intrusion of the law into this area of particularly sensitive social relations——
§ Mr. Tebbit
Does the hon. Gentleman say that in future there is to be no law on this matter because to intrude the law into this area is not permissible because, for the time being, there is a minority Labour Government in power? I do not know from where he produces the idea that a majority opposed that law. Is there to be no law any more, or am I to be free if I wish to oppose his new law?
§ Mr. Davies
The point I was seeking to establish in terms of majority opinion rejecting concepts of the Industrial Relations Act was well attested by the fact that two parties—the present Government party and the Liberal Party—contested the last election on a platform of opposition to industrial relations legislation and 2062 its early repeal, and these two parties clearly commanded a substantial majority of public opinion in support of that position.
The danger is that this motion, instead of discussing the principles and basis of a democratic society—and as has shown in two of the speeches to which we have been subjected from the Opposition— has been used as a thinly veiled attack on the right to strike. The miners broke no law by the action which they took in February. Nor are the nurses guilty of breaking the law. Those who have denied social justice to groups such as the nurses should recognise that substantial action against the Government will be forthcoming from all those who believe that social justice is not present in our relationships in society.
Therefore, in order to promote respect for the law we as law makers must have respect for and be sensitive to social developments in society. We must ensure that our laws are based on the concept of consent. When the laws have the agreement of the majority of the population they are upheld. On this basis we can assuredly advocate that we have the right to demand respect for the law, but laws which do not enshrine concepts of social justice, laws which seem to be motivated from the basis of limited ideological predilection, such as the Industrial Relations Act, not only cause disruption in industry but inevitably bring into disrepute the concepts of law on which a democracy must be founded.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
As a Member for a Greater London constituency I am greatly alarmed by the serious manpower problems of the Metropolitan Police. The basis of law and order in Greater London is undermined by manpower shortages. I represent a constituency sometimes described as "the copper belt" because of the number of Metropolitan Police officers who live in Welling and Bexleyheath.
The shortage of police in Greater London is not a new problem. What is new is the dramatic acceleration in the wastage rate. I am convinced that the policing problems are far worse in Greater London than they are elsewhere. It is a vicious circle. A shortage of officers imposes a greater strain on those 2063 who remain in the force and makes police work even more unpopular as a career.
In a recent speech the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said:We cannot go on for ever losing men at this rate without being required to consider new and experimental methods of policing. The beat system may have to go in some areas where there is a dire shortage and we would have to rely on team or 'fire brigade' policing, drafting the men into an area when required for emergencies".If that speech did not trigger off the alarm bells in the House, it certainly should have done; I view what I believe to be an accurate observation with considerable alarm. It is a frightening prospect that the police should be regarded as being available only in emergency cases, rather like the fire brigade.
How can we solve the problem? I am convinced that the national pay scales for the police must be upped. It is a basic point that when there is a threat to law and order we should go out of our way to insure that the police are adequately paid. That raises the vexed problem of the London allowance. The police in the Greater London area are in a special position and they must be specially looked after. I blame the Police Federation for being slow to appreciate the special problems of its officers in the Greater London area.
Weekend duties are a major cause of the police shortage. All too many officers in Greater London are working a six-day week. That cannot go on indefinitely. One reason for the increased number of weekend duties is the crazy altitude that if someone has a point to make he must organise a demonstration, starting in Hyde Park and ending at Trafalgar Square. It is high time that we grew out of that idiotic phase. It is not lost on the Metropolitan Police that almost invariably the demonstrations are organised not by the Right but by the Left. There are too many totally unnecessary demonstrations in London and they pose an unwelcome, and indeed unnecessary, strain on our loyal, hardworking, devoted police officers. They impose considerable strains on the family lives of police officers. That is another reason for regretting them. I mention briefly the complaints procedure against members of the police force as I believe that it ties in with the whole problem. 2064 I hope that the police will come to realise that there must be greater public participation in the investigation of complaints against individual police officers. I believe that there is a move in that direction, and I welcome it.
I come from a military background. It was the practice for Army officers at a court-martial to try Army personnel. That was sensible and, of course, the Press was allowed to be present. I should like to see far more public involvement in complaints against police officers.
I now refer to the problems of a small part of New Scotland Yard—namely the fingerprint department, which has been undergoing considerable strains. Hon. Members will know that there have been considerable wastage problems within the department. I am delighted to learn that progress is being made on the pay dispute which has worried many hon. Members. But even if the pay problems within the department are sorted out, a lot more needs to be done to the career structure within the department.
I shall not bore the House with the details but the present state of affairs is unsatisfactory. I draw attention to another speech which was made by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. He said:Dissatisfaction with their pay"—that is, in the fingerprint department—is such that we have lost 87 out of 288 last year…. The result is that one of the most essential weapons in the police armoury is blunted and policemen themselves can do nothing about it. When you consider the vital importance of fingerprint evidence in some of the most important and difficult cases—the London bombers' trial, for example—the dangers of this situation become only too painfully clear.I am sure that the commissioner's observations will not be wasted on hon. Members.
Finally, I mention a matter which is the subject of an early-day motion. I believe that it falls within the whole problem of law and order. I refer to the totally unnecessary interview on BBC television last week with a gentleman who claimed to be the leader of the Provisional IRA. We have had on television in the past innumerable interviews with members of Sinn Fein and other IRA members. It is an extraordinary state of affairs that the BBC in its wisdom staged a long interview with a man who claimed 2065 to be the leader of the Provisional IRA and showed the interview on "Midweek".
I happened to see the programme. Like most hon. Members, I do not normally have a chance to watch television. My reaction was one of total wonderment. There was no explanation of why a man who in his own country—I presume that the interview took place in Southern Ireland—is presumably a member of a proscribed organisation should appear on BBC television. No apology or any other sort of statement was produced in advance. When I discussed the programme with those around me, they were baffled. I discovered last week that some 70 hon. Members were equally baffled by what had taken place. That sort of programme undermines respect for law and order.
§ Mr. Tebbit
Surely the most important thing is that the members of the BBC who arranged and conducted the interview knew that they were talking to a man who was wanted by the police, yet they did nothing to co-operate with the police by informing them but carried on and gave him a platform.
§ Mr. Townsend
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I hope that the Director-General and the Governors of the BBC will take note of the strong feelings in the House about the interview.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) raised a matter which is of considerable significance in my constituency. He spoke of the number of policemen involved in dealing with the demonstration over the weekend. In the last three years there has been a festival of pop fans in Windsor Great Park. At first about 2,000 people attended, but I am told that this year 30,000 people are expected. Large numbers of police will have to be drawn from the Thames Valley, and helicopters and radio will be needed for this one event which is clearly illegal and against the law of the land under the regulations which have been made to apply to the park by Parliament. There will be 30,000 people there, with no provision for sanitation, and that is in clear breach of the law.
I have no complaint about the police, but last year they were incapable of containing this demonstration. We shall face 2066 a similar situation in August, to which I am sure the attention of the Minister will be drawn nearer the time. Many people, both in Windsor and outside, are extremely worried about the conduct of pop festivals. Last year a large number of teenagers committed drug offences. Such events are just one more reflection of the breakdown in law and order, and I hope later to draw to the Minister's attention the details of a problem which is becoming serious in my constituency.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)
The difficulties of a debate upon a general subject of this kind are two-fold. One difficulty is peculiar to the Minister who has to reply. It is impossible for a Minister to be properly briefed upon the multifarious aspects of a subject matter such as this which may be raised in the debate. When I asked the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) what he had in mind he was able to point only to some matters that he would raise. I must apologise to the House initially if I do not deal with, or deal inadequately with, every matter that has been raised.
The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) asked a question and left the Chamber. I can only reply to him from my recollection, which is that, although a Bill was introduced into the House to deal with the situation he has in mind, it never became law. To talk in terms of a breach of law when there is no law is to add to the confusion created by Opposition Members in the debate. When we are talking about the liberty of the citizen and breach of the law we should be specific about where there is a breach of the law and about where the liberty of the individual has been impinged by the activity of any other individual.
We live in a free society. By "a free society" we mean that anyone can do whatever he likes within the law. But within a free society there would be anarchy if everyone did what he liked irrespective of what other members of society wanted. The difference between anarchy and civilised society is the law. The law is the expression of the will of society that certain laws and certain rules are the way in which the tensions between people exercising conflicting freedoms shall be ironed out.
2067 The purpose of our political system, our politics and our legal system is to express the will of people in society through the machinery of the law. Therefore, of course I uphold the rule of law and subscribe to the sentiments in the motion. The hon. Member for Chine-ford, even before he got out three sentences in moving the motion, asked whether I would accept it from a sedentary position. I had no expectation that if I had done so he would immediately have ended his speech and not availed himself of the opportunity of having a go at the Labour Government and some Labour Members. If he had thought of doing that, I might have been tempted to get up there and then and say that I would accept the motion. The trouble is that we see the concepts which are implicit in the motion from different points of view, and those views have been properly aired in the debate.
§ Mr. Lyon
It only underlines what I said were my difficulties in replying to this wide-ranging debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not expect me to cull from memory the regulations for the Royal parks. He may be right in saying that there are some regulations which impinge on this problem. I shall have to look at them and decide whether that is the case. The hon. Gentleman may be right in saying that there is a breach of the law.
To return to my central theme, it is right in a democratic society that the machine for changing society, for ending social problems and for changing the law is the structure which that democratic society has evolved. In this country that structure is Parliament. All parliamentarians would subscribe to the view that the right way to change the law is through parliamentary action. We would deplore any attempt to undermine that principle, but we must also bear in mind—and this point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) in one of the most attractive speeches in the debate—that we cannot, merely by the diktat of a group of 630 2068 members in a society of 60 million, decide that whole groups of people shall do what we wish them to do, however much we regard ourselves as representative merely because we were elected.
In seeking to do what we believe to be right—which I hope is the objective of all Members of Parliament—in calculating what is right we must bear in mind the effect of our legislation on the majority of people who will be affected by it. There is a need for consent before one legislates. The balance is difficult to keep, but it must be kept by any democratic Government who do not want to alienate the public.
§ Mr. Tebbit
Surely the Minister will accept that any Parliament can make mistakes in judging the public view or in the way that Parliament legislates. I think we all accept that. What I am putting to the hon. Gentleman is that, even if it appears to some of us that mistakes have been made and legislation is unsatisfactory or has not the full support of the country, until an election is held and that legislation is repealed or changed the duty of us all is to obey the law and advocate that the law should be obeyed.
§ Mr. Lyon
I thought I had already said that. I may return to it. But what I am saying now is that my feeling throughout the debate has been that it is a hangover by the hon. Gentleman, I suspect a deliberate hangover, from the General Election. This was one of the issues that came up in the constituencies during the election. We were faced nightly by Conservative spokesmen, including the then Prime Minister, telling the country at large that we were in danger of a breakdown of the rule of law, and that what was really at stake in the election was whether it was possible to govern our people.
The fact that the debate takes place today against the background of an almost empty House, with no real sense of occasion about the subject matter, indicates how far we have progressed even in the few months that this minority Labour Government have been in power. We have seen a total change of attitude and concern.
There is no doubt that in the initial days of the election campaign there was a tension, which reminded me strongly of 2069 the 1930s, a tension that I never want to return to. It was a tension that had been engendered in our society by three years of incompetent, muddle-headed, bad government by the last administration. If that Government had never sought to thrust down the throats of many of our people pieces of legislation that were anathema to them, there could never have been any suggestion of a breakdown of law and order.
The fact is that, despite the fervors the Conservatives sought to whip up in the election, they could point to very few instances of a breach of the law. The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) became almost apoplectic today at the prospect of trade unions holding the Government to ransom, seeking to bring down democratic government. He did not give us chapter and verse for the allegation that any trade union leader had suggested that the coal miners' strike was a political strike designed to bring down the Government. In fact, on one occasion one trade union leader did suggest that. His opinion was rejected by the President of the National Union of Mineworkers and by every other major trade union leader. It was also rejected in the motion to which the hon. Gentleman referred, tabled by my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister. It was rejected by most people in the country; and the gentleman in question sought to retract it after the initial furore. Therefore, let us have no nonsense about there having been a coal strike which was an attempt to subvert government or the rule of law.
When the people really understood what the coal miners' strike was about there was a wide measure of sympathy for their cause. When the then Prime Minister finally appointed, in the course of the election campaign, the inquiry he had rejected weeks and months earlier, that inquiry found that the claim was justified. Because it was found to be justified, the settlement was made inevitable, and because the settlement was made inevitable we got our people back to work for a five-day working week instead of the three-day working week into which the Government had thrust them by their ideological passion. It was not the coal miners who were subverting the rule of law; it was the Government, by their attitude of trying to thrust down people's 2070 throats the kind of measures that were anathema to them.
There was one central feature of the previous Government's policy that was capable of raising the kind of resistance that did, in some cases, result in a breach of the law. That was the Industrial Relations Act. It is true—it is a matter that I regret—that there were two unions which were penalised by the National Industrial Relations Court for contempt. But all of us now accept—including, I suspect, most hon. Members who sit on the Opposition benches—that that ill-judged Act was the cause of much of our bad industrial relations last year. Last year, while this law was on the statute book, it resulted in more days lost through strikes than at any time since the war. It was the record year for days lost through strikes, even though we were living within the framework, so-called, of Tory law.
§ Sir Michael Havers
We have had an interesting few minutes of political propaganda. May we now turn to the motion? When the Minister uses the phrase that Parliament must bear in mind the effect of legislation upon the majority, is he saying that that must be the governing factor? If he is saying that, perhaps he will say what he thinks is the view of the country about capital punishment, and whether he thinks that anyone wants to pay his income tax.
§ Mr. Lyon
The hon. and learned Gentleman interrupts me in the middle of an argument, for reasons which I can well understand. After all, he would want to avoid the responsibility for some of the acts of the previous Government, just like any other member of that Government. But I will deal with the problems which he has put to me because they are part of the serious examination of this problem.
Yes, of course it is true that, despite the fact that Parliament can rule only by consent and despite the fact that a majority Government, even though they could say that an item was within their mandate, need that element of consent, there are occasions when Governments will be ahead of public opinion. There are times when there is a difficulty in obtaining for what the Government or politicians generally regard as the right 2071 policy that degree of majority assent which will allow them to proceed. Capital punishment is one such matter. The difference between the two, I suggest, is that Governments have to assess the depth of feeling that is opposed to the measure which they propose to introduce. In what sense can they accept that even if the majority in the country dissent from their view, they are willing to accept that the law should be put into operation despite the majority's objections? In what sense would it be impossible to obtain the assent of the majority in a way which would allow the legislation to be operated?
I go back to an example which is not politically controversial and which occurred during the period of the previous Labour Government. It was the intention of that Labour Government to introduce a breathalyser law for road safety which would have allowed the police to stop at random any motorist and apply a breathalyser test. There was general support in the House for the concept of a breathalyser test. There was considerable reaction from the public at large to the idea of applying it as a random test. In the end, the Government yielded to that pressure and decided not to push it through. There is no doubt, I think, that had they chosen to use their parliamentary majority to get it through, it would have gone through; and it may be that our experience of the rather muted breath test since will suggest that we ought to have put it through in 1967. In due course, perhaps, we shall have to come back to it.
I suggest that the policy was right. What we found impossible to secure was that degree of assent from the public at large which would allow us, even with our majority, to put it into operation, and, like a sensible Government, we decided not to do so.
§ Mr. Fell
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this is most important. He is advancing the thesis, as I see it, that it is up to a Government to make a judgment—I absolutely agree—on whether there is generally within the nation consent for something that they want to do, and if they think there is not likely to be consent enough, they should, perhaps, be of a mind not to put it through. But 2072 the essential point is that if it be passed through Parliament it must be obeyed until such time as the democratic rules work and the people put in another Government who may withdraw it. In the meantime, it must be obeyed.
§ Mr. Lyon
Again, the hon. Gentleman intervenes before I have come to the question he has in mind. I have made the point that before even a democratic Government can pass controversial legislation they have to make this very difficult judgment about whether, even if there is majority dissent, there is at least sufficient assent to accept the legislation and to make it workable. But I agree that if a Government are so foolhardy as to go ahead and pass an unworkable law which will deeply antagonize great sections of the community to whom it applies, none the less the rule of law demands that they obey.
Where one has difficulty, a difficulty which has not yet, apparently, shown itself to the hon. Member for Yarmouth, is that if one applied that principle indiscriminately one would find it extremely hard to rebut the defence of those who were; saying at Nuremberg that they acted in response to an order which came from a properly and lawfully constituted Government.
§ Mr. Lyon
Of course it was not democratic. There is, therefore, a sense in which one has to form a judgment about political institutions. I have long been in favour of the Freedom Fighters in Southern Africa precisely because they are fighting against Governments which are not democratically constituted and because there is no other way open to them to change their society to remove the inherent social injustice which they are fighting.
Equally, within a democratic system— this is a matter which causes the gravest difficulty—where a Government have acted with such intemperate behaviour that a man feels so deeply affronted that he cannot in conscience accept what the law says he should do, we have in the pass: seen such men stand by their convictions. They have gone to prison. But we have welcomed them afterwards as heroes in our history.
It is difficult easily to rebut—I want to rebut it—the comparison which is made 2073 by many people between those who stood for conscience in the past and those who stand for conscience now. If I may seek to rebut it, this is where I take my stand. In a civilised society, with a democratic Government, where there is a machine for changing social injustice through political institutions, if the individual feels so strongly affronted by a law which in conscience he feels he must disobey, he has the moral right to disobey, but he must expect to take the punishment which follows from it. Therefore, if a man says that he will risk going to prison for disobeying a law which he cannot accept, one may respect him. But so long as it is a democratic society and there is an institution which can change the structure of government, he must accept the punishment, and he cannot expect that anyone will relieve him of that liability. Therefore, I take the view that it would be wrong in respect of some transgressors of the law in the past to make any kind of concession in that way now.
I come now to two or three separate points which arose——
§ Mr. Tebbit rose——
§ Mr. Tebbit
I shall not delay the hon. Gentleman. I merely put it to him quite bluntly and brutally: Does he agree or disagree with the present Lord President's acceptance and welcome for the Labour Party conference pledge to recompense and remove the disqualification from the Clay Cross councillors? It is a simple question.
§ Mr. Lyon
I agree entirely with what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his statement to the House about that matter. The Government have not said that they will in any way remove the disqualification.
For the rest, I have made my position plain. What I wanted to do was deal with one or two specific items in the debate which need an answer. The first is the general assertion—and most of the speech of the hon. Member for Chingford consisted of assertions—that so many policemen have now been murdered in the course of their duty that it is a matter of such little importance that it attracts attention only in the back columns of the local Press. Since 1966 six police 2074 officers have been killed on duty. Although one deplores that any police officers should be murdered, one should bear this figure in mind in relation to the enormous number of offences that are committed against our law in the course of the average year.
Murder of a policeman is a very rare offence. It is very rare because it is almost certainly solved. The culprit is apprehended and brought to justice. If we could have that degree of detection throughout the whole range of our law, there would be a marked reduction in crime. Although I sympathise with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) about the London police force— and we are doing our best to solve some of the very difficult problems which we inherited—one of the best things which have happened in recent years is that the detection rate has gone up, including in the Metropolitan force. So there is some improvement to that extent.
The next thing I can deal with because it relates to my specific responsibility is the suggestion of the hon. Member for Chingford that my right hon. Friend's declaration that he would not use the retrospective powers to remove the illegal entrants under the Immigration Act 1971 was in some way a breach of the rule of law. It could not be anything of the kind. By its nature, the Act indicates that the Home Secretary has a discretion. If he chooses to use his discretion in one way, he is not in any way breaching the law.
The reason why we chose to take this action only in the limited number of cases that come within the class of what has been called the "amnesty" was that we could not accept that, where people before 1973 had acquired immunity from removal under the old law in a way that gave them the right to stay here as long as they wished, they could have that immunity removed from them by legislation which was retrospective in its effect, was never properly discussed in this House, was never drawn to the attention of either House of Parliament, and in that way sought to undermine a right that these people had acquired, even if initially they had broken the law in entering the country. Therefore, we said that it was against the rule of law to operate such a practice. 2075 The hon. Gentleman talked about the Burma Oil Company case. No doubt along with his colleagues then in the House he deplored the retrospective legislation to right a matter relating to Burmah Oil as being totally wrong, and as a result of the reaction in the House of Lords the Labour Government withdrew that piece of legislation. What is right for property must be right for blackmail, and that is why we would not use these powers under the 1971 Act, which were retrospective in effect and were unjust in application. I think that I ought now to close my speech.
§ Mr. Tebbit rose-——-
§ Mr. Lyon
I have given way three times to the hon. Gentleman, so I cannot be described as "windy". The hon. Member for Christchurch and Limington (Mr. Adley) is waiting to air at least some of his views about Concorde.
We do not accept the tone or the nature of the comments of the hon. Member for Chingford about the motion, but we are quite prepared to accept its general terms.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House affirms its belief in a democratic society in which the law is the prime guarantee of the liberty of the citizen, and in which the law, enacted by a legally elected Parliament, is indivisible, no citizen nor institution having the right to select which laws and courts will be obeyed; and deplores both politically motivated attacks upon the judiciary and attempts to remove disqualifications from, or to recompense, those who have been fined or disqualified from public office for past defiance of the law.