§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)
I have to inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the motionThat the Bill be read a Second time upon this day six monthsstanding in the names of the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and others but he has selected the second motion standing in the names of the hon. Member and others:That it he an instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out clause 29.The third, fourth and fifth motions are not subject to Mr. Speaker's selection and will be called if time permits, but they cannot be entered upon after 10 o'clock.
As there will be only a limited amount of time after 10 o'clock in which to discuss the Instruction, it may be for the convenience of the House if the Second Reading debate and that on the motion for an Instruction are taken together. If that is the wish of the House, it will be done. There will, of course, be an opportunity for the hon. Member for Stockport, North formally to move his Instruction and have it divided upon if the Bill receives a Second Reading.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to delay the House, but I wish to raise the question of the position of the petitioners should the Instruction to remove clause 29 be approved.
If the House agrees to that Instruction, when the Bill reaches Committee it will no longer contain clause 29 and there will therefore be no need to petition against it. However, it will be open to any hon. Member, when the Bill comes back on Report, to retable clause 29 on the Amendment Paper, with a motion for its reinstatement in the Bill. That situation arose on the Second Reading of the West Midlands Bill, when the House agreed to the removal of a similar clause.
As a result, that clause was not considered in Committee and the petitioners, 1578 who had lodged objections to it, were not able to pursue the matter further because the House had removed the clause on Second Reading. However, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) has tabled that clause for reinstatement in the West Midlands Bill on Report. It means that the petitioners who originally lodged objections, at some expense, operating under the rules of the Standing Orders on Private Business, will have no opportunity to petition the House on that clause, even though it will be before the House.
That is the point about the Cheshire County Council Bill. Let us suppose that the House tonight decides to remove clause 29, according to the Instruction on the Order Paper. I have been through the Standing Orders on Private Business—a substantial document—and I have also checked in "Erskine May", albeit briefly, and I cannot find any occasion on which petitioners against a clause in a Private Bill have had their constitutional and democratic rights removed from them, not deliberately, but by a quirk of procedure. Is that in order? If the House were to decide to remove clause 29, in accordance with the Instruction, would that mean the removal of the rights of those who have petitioned against the clause?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I do not think that I can fault the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on his argument, but it is always in the power of the House to put something back in a Bill when it is reported to the House. While the hon. Gentleman's point of order is interesting, it is not for me on this occasion, because these are the mechanics of Parliament.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Standing Orders for Private Business are, apparently, designed to protect petitioners who have no rights themselves to speak in the House. It appears, however, that if clause 29 is removed tonight, in accordance with the Instruction standing in my name and that of other hon. Members, we shall prevent the petitioners in this case from petitioning. As they wish to petition against clause 29 they will have no objection to its removal, but if an hon. Member can move the reinstatement of the clause on 1579 Report the effect will be that the petitioners will be denied their right to petition against the clause.
There is a procedure for the recommittal of Bills. Perhaps we may have some guidance from the Chair on whether it is correct that if an hon. Member tries to reinstate on Report a provision which has been removed earlier by an Instruction of the House, the Bill must be recommitted so that those who are opposed to the provision can petition against it, as they would have done in the first place had it not been removed on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
We are considering a particular Bill, and the submission of the hon. Gentleman is hypothetical in respect of that Bill. If the clause is not removed tonight, that situation will not arise.
§ Mr. Bennett
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have a problem. You have agreed that my Instruction to take out clause 29 can be debated. If I push the matter to a vote and I am successful in having the clause removed, it would appear that those who are opposed to it will be denied the right to petition against it. If the clause remains out of the Bill, I am sure they will be pleased. If, however, an attempt is made to reintroduce the clause on Report, the right to petition is lost.
A safeguard exists in the proceedings of the House generally that no hon. Member can restore a clause which the House has taken out. It has to be reintroduced in some alternative form. I believe that with Government Bills it is possible for the Government to put a clause back in a Bill. What safeguards exist for those petitioners to ensure that if something is taken out on Second Reading it cannot be put back in identical form on Report, so preventing them from having their petition, on which they have spent money, brought forward through the private business of the House?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I repeat that these are hypothetical questions, which do not arise now. The hon. Gentleman asked the Chair whether he should vote for or against. That is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman knows the legal implications of what he is doing. It is for him to make up his mind.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Alastair Goodlad (Northwich)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is promoted by the Cheshire County Council in consultation with the eight district councils in this non-metropolitan county, namely, the borough councils of Warrington, Halton, Ellesmere Port, Vale Royal, Macclesfield, Crewe and Congleton and Chester city council. The purpose of the Bill is to achieve for Cheshire the rationalisation of local legislation which is desired of all local authorities following the enactment of the Local Government Act 1972. Section 262 of that Act provided for the interim continuance in every local government area of the local legislation applicable to the old local authority until, in the case of shire counties, the end of 1984, the metropolitan counties' local legislation being intended to expire at the end of 1979. For Cheshire, this involved the detailed examination of over 150 local Acts and orders.
Section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972 defines clearly the local legislation to which it is to apply and which will be repealed. Generally speaking, it applies to all forms of local legislation promoted by a local authority, the exceptions extending to special law relevant to particular kinds of undertakings including harbours, markets and public utilities.
The scheme of review for local legislation commended to local authorities by the then Government and subsequently by the Department of the Environment has been subjected to detailed scrutiny between the passing of the Act of 1972 and the prospective repeal effected by section 262 of that Act of all local law even beyond the confines of what is actually repealed by the section. It was then expected that before the repeal took effect each county council, in consultation with the district councils for the area, should ensure the promotion of a Private Bill to preserve such of the existing local enactments as warranted continuance, the promoters being required to demonstrate in the ordinary manner applicable to Private Bills a present need for the powers proposed.
At the same time, the opportunity would be taken to include new powers needed to deal with urgent local problems. 1581 In each of the nine Bills introduced in this context, a small number of fresh powers have therefore been sought. Where Local Act provisions had, since their enactment, been replaced by general legislation, no need for re-enactment could of course be shown. The result of the project, as in the case of every Bill of this kind so far appearing before Parliament, is to remove a substantial amount of dead wood from the local statute book and achieve a major advance in its intelligibility.
At the outset, I pay tribute to the promoters of the Bill, the Cheshire county council, for their patience and industry in bringing this measure before us, given the obstacles that have been placed in their way during the past few months. Apart from those obstacles, it has taken three years of preparatory work, not to mention considerable expense, on the part of Cheshire. It has entailed consultation with the eight district councils, their officers and representatives.
I pay particular tribute to Sir John Boynton, secretary and chief executive of the Cheshire county council, for his work not only on the Bill but for Cheshire as a whole and for local government. It is a matter for sorrow in Cheshire, and I suspect for this House, that he is retiring this year. I also pay tribute to Mr. Kellett for his work on the Bill and to all the officers and members of the staff of the county council, the district councils and those people in Government Departments and outside bodies, such as the trade unions, who have contributed to the thinking which has gone into the making of the Bill.
It is not my intention to go through every clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) will deal with particular questions about its provisions in winding up the debate.
I should perhaps say that the Bill deals with a number of different matters affecting the functions of the county council as well as of the constituent district councils. Part II relates particularly to employment opportunity. Great importance is attached by the promoters to the powers made available by the Bill. I hope that the necessity for their use will be infrequent and that they will be used sparingly and selectively. With other local autho- 1582 rities in the region having similar powers, it is clearly necessary that Cheshire should have comparable ones.
Clause 29, to which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has referred, is the chief bone of contention before the House. The promoters particularly wish to be permitted to canvass the case for this clause or for that case to be canvassed in Committee in the context of the West Midlands County Council Bill, from which a similar clause was deleted by a motion on Second Reading, and in the context of the County of Merseyside Bill, in which the clause was allowed to proceed following a Division on Second Reading on 13 March 1979.
In the case of the Bill before us, the promoters will seek the leave of the Committee to make amendments consistent with those proposed for Merseyside. In particular, leave will be sought to reduce the period of notice from seven to three days and to add to the exemptions already included in the clause, for processions by charitable organisations, an exemption for processions organised or conducted for the purpose of any funeral by a person acting in the normal course of business as a funeral director, and to provide that proceedings shall not be instituted for any offence under the clause, nor for any attempt, incitement or conspiracy to permit any such offence, unless the proceedings are instituted by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Will my hon. Friend explain in more detail the point he makes about funerals? In Northern Ireland, and recently in the London area, a funeral was turned into a political procession. That can happen. I should like to be clear that when my hon. Friend suggests that the promoters will wish to amend clause 29 in respect of funerals he is saying that this relates to funerals that are the normal process of interring people and recognising their end rather than those occasions when a funeral can be, and sometimes is, turned into a major political occasion.
§ Mr. Goodlad
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important point. The wording suggested is "the normal course of business as a funeral director". The circumstances in which a funeral is normal or abnormal should 1583 be a matter for consideration in Committee. It may be a matter for close scrutiny or for amendments, or perhaps for amendments of amendments. If my hon. Friend would like to pursue the point further, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral will take it up when he winds up.
§ Mr. Rooker
One has to be careful what one says here, but it might help the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) to point out that the central issue is who organises the procession. Clearly, in the recent case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the funeral directors who were doing the business of funeral directing did not in the course of their business organise a procession. Someone else, or some other body, did that. Therefore, I do not think that we should get too concerned about the operations of funeral directors in the sense that they are covered in the Bill and in the sense in which we have discussed them on previous Bills.
§ Mr. Goodlad
Indeed, the principal argument in favour of clause 29, as in the case of Merseyside, is that a similar provision is now in force in Cheshire under the Cheshire County Council Act 1953 and in certain other local Acts. In practice, the existing local Act provisions have worked well, with the general acceptance of all concerned. It has been found in Cheshire that the existence of the local Act powers has been well understood by the organisers of processions and in Cheshire respected by them.
Where necessary, it has been brought to the organisers' notice, but in general the law has not been applied rigidly and the general attitude of the police is that every endeavour should be made to help organisers of processions, with due regard for the safety of the public in the streets from a road traffic and other points of view and also with due regard for the needs of persons living or working in premises adjoining the streets for peace and security while processions are going on.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman says that the existing law is working well. He will be aware that the period of notice under that law is only 36 hours. If that has worked well, what is the argument for proposing an increase to seven days and then reducing it to 1584 three days? I thought that the promoters, in their letters, were saying, in effect, "We do not need three days. We put it in simply because that was the common clause." Since all Bills are separate, would it not be better to stick to 36 hours, which has worked so well in Cheshire, get the whole thing through quickly and even save the promoters some money?
§ Mr. Goodlad
The appropriate period is a matter of opinion. The hon. Gentleman has studied the matter, so he will know that there are 115 separate precedents for this power. A number of different periods of notice are involved, many of them shorter than three days, a few longer.
Given the additional pressures on the police, the need for consideration, for the cancellation of leave and so on, a period of three days is desirable if processions are to be adequately regulated by sufficient police without too much inconvenience to the police and if such processions are to be adequately protected. However, I agree that it is a matter of opinion, and we can debate the matter further in Committee.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us of any occasion in the last 10 years when 36 hours has not been found sufficient and great confusion has been caused? When did this riotous assembly take place?
§ Mr. Goodlad
I hope that the hon. Lady is not suggesting that there is any question of there being a riotous assembly in Cheshire—certainly not in my constituency, or hers, I should have thought. It has been the custom to give a week's notice. There have been street processions which have given rise to unhappy incidents, such as in Ellesmere Port in 1971—
§ Mr. Goodlad
—eight years ago, when a mass of flying pickets took off on a march along a busy arterial road. That led to chaos, brought traffic to a standstill, left many drivers and other members of the public generally confused and, even more important, placed some people in danger. The police found it necessary to make a number of arrests—45, I believe—and I am told that they are of the opinion that had adequate advance warning of the 1585 march been given, the necesary arrangements could have been made, confusion and danger could have been avoided, and no need for arrests would have arisen.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I apologise for interrupting again, but how many processions have been notified to the Cheshire police since 1971?
§ Mr. Goodlad
I regret to say that I cannot tell the hon. Lady the exact number, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral will try to do so.
On the Ellesmere Port occasion, I understand that the assistant chief constable is of the opinion that the procession could have taken place with no unfortunate incident had notice been given in accordance with the statutory powers. Section 3 of the Public Order Act 1936 empowers the chief officer of police to give directions as to the route that the march should take and also requires the chief officer, in a case of serious danger, to request the district council to apply to the Home Secretary for an order banning marches in its area for a limited period. In practice, those powers can be exercised only if the authorities have advance notice of a march. Furthermore, the police cannot arrange for extra men to be on hand to maintain order without such notice, since it takes time to cancel leave and to make arrangements with other police forces to draft men into the area where they are required. As the hon. Lady and others will know, we have seen examples of that in the past few months—although not, I admit, in Cheshire.
The fact that there are 115 precedents since 1910 for provisions to require notice of public processions shows that most local authorities have found the power of major assistance in securing the orderly carrying on of processions in their areas.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that many in that list apply only to processions which involve live circus animals.
§ Mr. Goodlad
The provisions of the clause also fall clearly within the intentions of Parliament in enacting section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972 and within the advice of the Department of the Environment that the powers, which are in regular use, 1586 should qualify for re-enactment under Bills such as this.
The important factor for the county council in seeking the powers has been the demands on police manpower. In the case of a major procession it is necessary to make advance arrangements for the cancellation of policemen's rest days, to divert other police from their normal duties and to arrange for the erection of barriers as necessary to close side roads. The exercise also involves a careful husbanding of police service morale. This is naturally disrupted if cancellations of leave and alterations of duties sometimes substantial—have to be arranged without notice.
The powers in the Cheshire County Council Act 1953 have not applied since 1974 to the whole area of the new county and in particular do not extend to the former county boroughs of Chester and Warrington or to that part of the former Lancashire county which has come within the Cheshire boundary. Enactment of clause 29 should therefore regularise the unified treatment of the whole county under this power.
I repeat that there is no intention in the Bill to fetter the freedom that Cheshire has enjoyed for a long time, which it has exercised responsibly and liberally, and which it will continue to exercise responsibly and liberally. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)
I want to address myself to clause 29. As Conservative Members will have noticed, a large number of us on this side—I am pleased to see that some new Members have joined us in this exercise—feel strongly about the inclusion in the county council Bills which have been coming forward in the last few months of provisions which strike at the right of people to demonstrate without necessarily being obliged to notify the police in advance—whether 36 hours, three days or seven days. This is a deeply held right in this country, although not written into the law in any constitutional sense.
§ Mr. Goodlad
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady so early in her speech. Does she acknowledge that the clause does not govern spontaneous demonstrations but is concerned only with organised street processions?
§ Miss Richardson
The hon. Gentleman does not quite understand the words in the clause. Those who have a spontaneous demonstration could equally be caught by the provisions of this Bill. They are the people we are out to protect. We seek to protect their right to demonstrate in an organised way, but on a spontaneous basis. I do not understand the point the hon. Member is trying to make. What is "organized" and what is "spontaneous"?
We must remember that we are discussing not simply the interests of those who live in Cheshire but those of everyone in this country. If we go on enacting such clauses in Bill after Bill, we shall eventually cover the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and everyone's interests will be injuriously affected. A precedent will be set and we shall never get rid of it.
This country is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 20(1) provides that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. We are also a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, and have ratified article 1(1), which also provides that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Neither of these items has any standing in British law, but our international obligations must surely imply a presumption in favour of freedom of peaceful expression and association. I do not think that we should go against the spirit of those articles.
I have forgotten how many times we have debated this point. In our previous debates there has been reference to the judicial consideration which was given by Lord Scarman to the proposal that it should be an offence to organise a demonstration without prior notice. It is worth repeating that in the report of his inquiry into the Red Lion Square affair Lord Scarman said that he saw no justification for agreeing with this proposal. He said that he saw no reason why it should be accorded merit or written into our law. The former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), now sitting below the Gangway, in February 1978, when talking about the Public Order Act, said that, although he was having discussions with the police, he could see no reason why, at that stage, there should be a change in 1588 the law. From my investigations of this Bill and my contacts with the people in the area—I have a few—I have learnt that there has been a good deal of local opposition to the inclusion of this clause. The county association of trades councils—which comprises nine local trades councils—has been campaigning against the inclusion of this clause.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)
Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to give details of those organisations or people, other than the local trades councils, who have objected to the clause.
§ Miss Richardson
The hon. Gentleman is somewhat impatient. I was about to tell him. The North-West region of the TUC, which covers Cheshire—I checked that this afternoon—passed a resolution which was against the introduction of these provisions. I have also been in contact with Friends of The Earth. This organisation has 230 local groups throughout the country. I understand that it has a group in Cheshire. Friends of The Earth, as those who are interested in such matters will appreciate, tends to run local campaigns. It looks out for matters affecting local areas in addition to its national campaigning. It watches out for issues in a locality and action taken upon them is principally the function of the local group. I understand from it that it has good relations with the police and that it does notify the police in advance as a matter of courtesy—as do most organisations. The North-West region of the TUC and the trades council do so.
The fact that such organisations would have to notify the police would take away that element of spontaneity, of thinking up a demonstration and holding it immediately. That would be gone if we allowed clause 29 to be enacted. There could be an issue arising on which it would be difficult or even impossible for the necessary amount of notice to be given to the police. People run away with the idea that organisations do not notify the police. In their own interests they try to do so whenever possible.
Suppose that there were to be another Flixborough—although I hope that there never will be. An organisation such as Friends of The Earth, and doubtless many other people resident locally, would want to demonstrate on such a matter and 1589 would probably want to do so within a matter of minutes or hours of such a disaster. It would not necessarily follow that there would be time for such a demonstration to be notified in advance to the police. We should not place upon people the necessity of having to give such notice.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Can the hon. Lady give any example where the police have been so foolish as to react to a spontaneous demonstration carried out peacefully? When, for example, have they used the powers provided in the Merseyside County Council Act in the manner she is suggesting?
§ Miss Richardson
I do not know when the police have used these powers. If they have not used them, as the hon. Member seems to be implying, why are we discussing this matter? Why have such a provision? If the police will take the attitude that everything will go on as before and no action will be taken—that there will be no fines of £200 imposed—I do not know why the promoters are bothering to include this clause.
It was interesting to read some of the discussions which have been taking place in the United States on this point. I have some links with the American Civil Liberties Union—not very close ones, but I get some information from it. This issue has exercised its mind. I understand that a number of courts in the United States believe that the requirement of notice is unconstitutional in American law. I know that we are discussing not American law, but British law, and in particular Cheshire county council law. It is interesting to note the American experience. I understand that the bulk of it has shown that no requirement of notice is quite the best way genuinely to ensure that there is the right of freedom of speech and assembly. In the United States it is traditional to notify the police as much as possible in advance of any demonstrations which are to be organised. But the requirement to do it is what raises the difficulty. In particular, I understand that the identification requirement has, in the words of one judge in one court in the United States, hada chilling effect on legitimate assembly.I think that the House will understand 1590 that where one person or one organisation has to be held responsible and is liable to fine or other sanction, as is proposed in such a clause as this, people can be inhibited from ever having demonstrations at all.
We all want to see people allowed to demonstrate peacefully, where they wish to do so, with no question of disturbing other residents or passers-by on the public highway. Most people, and certainly most organisations, will as a matter of routine get in touch with the police and make proper arrangements. But, surely, we must retain the right of everyone in this country to demonstrate without the legal necessity of having to notify the police in advance and being subject to the sanctions written into the Bill.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I wish to speak briefly on this matter, and the House knows my interest as parliamentary adviser to the police service.
I start with a general point. I do not like the way in which we are dealing with this matter piecemeal in a series of local authority Bills. It is a national matter. It would be far better if we could arrive at some sensible agreement in the House, the basis of which the Government themselves could put forward, so that the police, wherever they were, and the local authorities would know exactly what the position was.
I have attended most of these debates, though not all—
§ Mr. Griffiths
I missed the West Midlands one, as the hon. Gentleman never fails to point out. If I had been here, he would not have won the point. But, as I say, I regard it as unsatisfactory that county councils are having to deal with this matter on a piecemeal basis, albeit by standardised clauses, It is a national problem. It should have a national response, and I am sure that that is what both the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who tackled these problems, and my right hon. Friend would prefer.
There is, of course, the special problem of London. I need not go into that, 1591 but it is probably true that the Commissioner in London and the police authority, who is the Home Secretary, must have special powers because of the special nature of London, and it is in all probability unnecessary to extend those quite considerable London powers to the rest of the country. Therefore, whatever we did nationally, we should probably have to make some exception in any event for London. Nevertheless, I think that the time has come to sweep up these matters in some nationally agreed clause. It could perhaps be included in county council Bills, but it ought to be a matter agreed at national level.
My second general point is that I welcome the change from the seven days' notice to three days' notice. I am not exactly sure what the position is here. I do not know whether Merseyside, where the amendment was accepted, now has three-day notification and whether the West Midlands, where it was removed, has no notification period at all or has a seven-day notification period. I am afraid that I do not know the facts in that respect. But what I am clear about is that where there were, for example, two county council areas with different requirements and it was possible for a procession to go from one into the other quite legitimately, that would place both the public and the police in an absurd situation.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the Order Paper he will see that the position on the West Midlands Bill is that it has been reported without any clause on processions in it, but there are amendments down which seek to put in such a clause.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I think that my point is made. We need to deal with this matter on a national basis, though I welcome the changes which have been so eloquently proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad). I think that the intervention of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on the question of funerals answered my point.
I have three small points to put to the Minister and the promoters. The police in general—I speak of the Police Federation—welcome the clause because they think that it is right that notice should be given where an organised procession 1592 is to go through the streets of any city. It will be within the recent recollection of the House that there have been appalling encounters where one group of people perhaps on the far Left of politics and another group on the far Right have almost deliberately chosen to have processions through the same areas at the same time. The police have found themselves in the middle. People on both sides have been hurt.
That state of affairs is unacceptable for us in this country, and it therefore follows that there must be notification and there must be a chance in advance for the police to agree with the organisers which routes they will use and at which times of day they will process in order to avoid the clashes which none of us wants to see.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Will the hon. Gentleman explain the Police Federation's attitude to the counter-procession as opposed to the counter-demonstration? I ask that because of the way in which he is illustrating his point. If one person is given the exclusive right for his procession to go through, because he has given the minimum notice so that no one else can organise a procession on the same day, it means that people stand around on the sidelines and, unfortunately, do what they can to disrupt it. I should have thought—many policemen have expressed this view to me—that it would be preferable if it were arranged for someone else to organise a counter-procession held sufficiently far away so that the two groups did not come to blows.
§ Mr. Griffiths
That is precisely the point that I was trying to make. The police invariably find themselves in the middle. I say at once that they do not particularly like to protect either the black Fascists of the National Front or the red Fascists of—occasionally—the Anti-Nazi League. They do not like to do that, but in a free society it is their job to do it.
I think that it is a matter about which we can be perfectly sensible. If in any one built-up community there are to be three, four or five processions—let us recognise that in many of our big cities there are often as many as that almost every weekend in the summer—elementary common sense requires that there be some arrangements so that they do not clash.
1593 The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) makes the point that people will stand on the sidelines and jeer and occasionally throw stones. It is a simple matter. If they break the law, they must be stopped. If they do not break the law, they are exercising their rights. But the difficulty for the police is that they have to stand between two rights—first, the undoubted right of the citizen to organise, to process and to protest, and, secondly, the other right of the citizen not to be prevented from going about his lawful business in peace, not to have his home and his garden damaged, and so on.
The police must see that both those sets of rights are preserved. They can do that only if they are given reasonable notice of what is to happen. They are told who is organising the procession so that they can deal with him. Very often, if they know the names of the organisers, they will sit down and go to considerable lengths to help the organisers make their procession successful. The police have an interest in seeing that the rights of the citizen are not only protected but are successfully asserted. They seek to do that. But they cannot possibly do it if they do not know who is organising the procession, where it is to go and at what time of day it is to take place.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the red Fascists of the Anti-Nazi League. Is he implying that all members of the Anti-Nazi League are Fascists, and, if not, will be withdraw that remark?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Of course, I am implying no such thing. I am talking generally. There are in the National Front black Fascists, and there are, in my view, a number of red Fascists in the Anti-Nazi League. I do not like either of them. I was simply saying that the police have no desire to be thought to be on the side of either. They are only on the side of the law and the balance of the two sets of rights, the right of the hon. Gentleman to protest and my right, if I happen to live in the same neighbourhood, not to be prevented from going about my lawful business in peace. The police have a difficult task. Surely it is reasonable that they should be given notice and the names of organisers so 1594 that they may have a constructive discussion and indication of the times of processions and thus try to avoid clashes.
A few of the hon. Members who talk about these matters seem to think that the police service is anti-freedom. Because the police have to protect those whom those hon. Members think that the police do not like or with whom they disagree, they are on the side of those groups. That is not so. In my view the police are the best guardians of freedom that we have. We should be giving them support and not removing it.
In the end, it is a matter of resources and good will. The police service is overstretched. It does not have enough manpower, and it has insufficient resources If large numbers of police officers are taken away from neighbourhoods to protect protest marchers, organisations and demonstrations, it should be accepted that those who pay the price are citizens who live in the neighbourhoods from which police officers have to be removed to carry out other duties.
It happens all too often, especially in London, that 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000 police officers have to be removed from their duty of protecting the neighbourhoods of London to be present at demonstrations in the centre of the capital. The result is that many citizens find that crime, larceny, hooliganism and vandalism increase in their neighbourhoods. They have to pay the price. The elementary utilisation of police resources means that it is sensible to give the police service, by notice, the opportunity to use its manpower properly.
I hope that the clause will be accepted without too much contention. The time has come when we must have a national clause—with the exception of London—which will bring about standardisation throughout our legislation.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
First, I quote from a brief produced by the National Council for Civil Liberties earlier this year, which states:The National Council for Civil Liberties considers that the proposals, if implemented, would be a serious limitation on the freedom of association and expression. It is disturbing that the law can be amended in such a fundamental way through the introduction of private Bills by local authorities".1595 That echoes a view that was expressed by Lord Justice Scarman, who after the Red Lion Square inquiry said:It cannot be said too often that our law assumes that people will be tolerant, self-disciplined and willing to co-operate with the police. The assumption is still sound: that is why the police go unarmed, and also why, with no legal requirement of notice, the police are in fact notified in at least 80 per cent. of the cases. There are some who—law or no law—would never give notice: but they are on the very fringe of our society and should not, I suggest, force upon the law a largely unnecessary requirement, which can at times be an embarrassment to law-abiding citizens.I have quoted those views because I feel that a back-door method is being used to make major changes within the law. Local Bills are largely innocuous measures dealing with the closing of parks, the parking of caravans, the paving of yards and basically local matters. By using local legislation to make major changes that will affect people's basic rights and freedoms, local authorities are sneaking in measures that the House has not properly debated or aired. In that way the House is being prevented from expressing a proper point of view on national legislative change.
If the House accepts the Bill, any organiser who fails to give the necessary notice and is found guilty of an offence will be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200. However, in 80 per cent. of demonstrations the police are notified voluntarily. Major demonstrations of the type that pose a threat to public order need to be publicised if they are to be effective. The police know well in advance that such demonstrations will take place. They have ample warning.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) spoke about the thugs and bully boys in the Anti-Nazi League and those on the far Right. There could be people in such groups who will not give notice in any event, law or no law. At present the courts are left to implement the provisions of the Public Order Act 1936. Surely the provisions in that measure should continue to apply. It is a dangerous precedent to sneak through local legislation that will restrict the right of association. The supervising of demonstrations is not like looking after the Chester Walls. Surely the right to demonstrate is the political privilege of every Briton, or it should be.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
How is the right of the citizen limited if he has to tell the police in advance where he is going so that he does not clash with somebody else?
§ Mr. Alton
There are spontaneous occasions when there is a wish to demonstrate because, for example, a child has been caused an accident while playing in the road, because a Conservative-controlled authority has introduced massive rate increases, or because there has been an industrial injustice. Advance notice will prevent that type of a spontaneous demonstration. It is significant that the original provision in the Bill was to limit the period of notice to seven days instead of three days.
There are many inconsistencies in the various local Bills that have been introduced. For instance, in Tyne and Wear no notice is required. In the Isle of Wight the requirement is seven days, as it is in Greater Manchester. On Merseyside three days' notice is required. A reduction from seven days to three days is sought in Cheshire.
It is true that there were many anomalies among the old authorities. There was a hotch-potch of legislation. I understood that the reason for the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act was to harmonise and rationalise local legislation. However, we are introducing more inconsistent legislation. From area to area the public will be unaware of the application of the law. It could be caught in different laws in different counties. The application of the law could be different on each side of a river.
Liberals view with great concern the possibility that seven days' notice will be required in most of the country for the holding of street processions. That poses a serious threat to individual political rights. We deplore any breach of public order. However, the seven days' requirement will hit hardest at spontaneous small-scale demonstrations that pose no threat to public peace. The relevant clauses are misguided, however good the original intentions might have been. There are already sufficient limitations on our freedoms and the right of peaceful assembly. We should be especially concerned to stop any further erosion of our civil liberties.
1597 Conservative Members speak a great deal about the need to strike redundant provisions off the statute book. The Bill is promoting more inconsistencies within our legislation and more provisions that will have to be repealed.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)
I support the Bill and the clauses that we have been discussing and I pay tribute to the work that has been done by the county council and its officers, especially to Sir John Boynton, whose going I regret. I pay tribute to the officials of the Ellesmere Port district council, who have done so much work in preparing the Bill.
My constituency is in two areas. Part of it is on Merseyside and the other part, the area that we are discussing, is in Cheshire. The odd situation may be envisaged whereby a procession could be legal in one part of my constituency and illegal in the other on crossing a road. That is nonsense and goes some way to supporting the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) and, as I understand it, of the former Home Secretary—namely, that these matters should be dealt with nationally. I support that view. Nevertheless, it is a Cheshire County Council Bill and that is how we must deal with it.
When I first read the Bill and the Instruction I wondered what it had to do with the rolling plains of Cheshire, as it was difficult to imagine that there would be riotous assembly, danger and trouble in those areas. However, my attention was drawn to what occurred in Ellesmere Port in 1971. Much has been said by hon. Members on both sides, and especially by the Opposition, about the rights of the demonstrators.
§ Mr. Porter
That information is not available to me. Presumably the hon. Gentleman knows those figures. I do not. However, the hon. Gentleman's argument 1598 in favour of spontaneity is an argument for possible trouble. I am concerned not only with the rights of demonstrators and processors but with those of the people around whom they process and against whom they demonstrate.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
At that time was not there a requirement in that part of Ellesmere Port to give at least 24 hours notice? As that provision did not solve the problem then, why would a requirement now solve it?
§ Mr. Porter
That would be like an argument against the law of murder because some people did not observe the law. The purpose of this legislation is the provision of a safety net.
At least 80 per cent. to 90 per cent. of demonstrators, as a matter of courtesy and practicality, inform the police of their intentions, rightly and properly so. This clause will not apply to the 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. who behave in a reasonable and civilised fashion. It is meant for the 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. who have no intention of behaving in a reasonable and civilised fashion.
Hon. Members may care to consider whether a spontaneous demonstration, about which we are arguing, is desirable. Flixborough was mentioned. Is it of necessity right that, as soon as there is a ghastly occurrence, people should take to the streets to protest, without knowing the circumstances, without considering, without reflecting? That is the way to make a bad decision. It results in people being on the streets when tempers are running high and feelings are extremely heated. That is where danger occurs—not in a demonstration that takes place two or three days later when people have had time to reflect. That does not mean to say that their feelings are any less strong. However, they may well participate in an organised, orderly but nevertheless strong demonstration. I do not understand why the Opposition are so excited about the matter.
§ Mr. Rooker
I know that the hon. Gentleman represents Bebington and Ellesmere Port. People living around Flixborough for several years might have complained about unsafe practices. This does not apply to Flixborough; this is an example. Something might have happened that they forecast and expressed 1599 concern about, but about which there was no action. When the crisis occurred they would not have discussed the matter for two days and then decided to demonstrate. Of course not. This is the point. This is where the spontaneity is involved.
A spontaneous demonstration may occur in the case of an accident black spot, where accidents have repeatedly occurred in the same place and where people have been repeatedly killed. That is when a demonstration would arise. If there was no problem, there would not be an issue about which to demonstrate. The hon. Gentleman must be realistic.
§ Mr. Porter
I concede that I am not in the business of going on demonstrations. However, I take the point made by the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds would confirm this. It is highly unlikely that in such circumstances any action would be taken by the police to prosecute.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
There is a large oil refinery close to the edge of the hon. Gentleman's constituency, if not in it. Let us assume that there was a story in this week's local newspaper that there were unsafe practices there. Would the hon. Gentleman advise his constituents to wait for a week or two before organising a demonstration to demand that the unsafe practices cease? He would not. He would ask for immediate action to be taken. But if he organised a walking protest he would be in breach of the law if he did not wait. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) disagrees. It is not a good law if it allows the police to choose whether to prosecute or approve or disapprove. There should be a right to demonstrate, ideally, giving the maximum notice to the police. However, sometimes, because of the nature of the urgency, notice cannot be given. Therefore, in those circumstances people should be entitled to demonstrate.
§ Mr. Porter
May I put the argument another way? There are ways of demonstrating and showing disaffection, anger or other emotion other than by holding a street procession. This clause relates to street processions. If the Opposition cannot think of any other way of indicating their anger or disapproval, 1600 perhaps I may be able to enlighten them elsewhere.
The arguments advanced by the Opposition do not take account of the danger to people who live on the streets where the processions take place. That is what concerns me.
The hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) made no reference to those not involved in demonstrations, who presumably are not interested and do not care. Why cannot the Opposition see that there must be counterbalancing forces? There is the right to demonstrate and assemble. Equally, individuals who do not want to be upset or bothered have a right not to be involved in that assembly. They have the right to pass and repass over their roads. It must be correct for the police to make the appropriate arrangements.
I am sorry to say this. It appears to me that on some occasions at least the Opposition assume—in some degree—that the police are not sympathetic to whatever demonstration is going on. I give my sympathy to the police in the circumstances that arise, especially in the major cities. The circumstances described will largely arise in Cheshire.
§ Mr. Porter
I am obliged to the hon. Lady for that information. I was aware of that. Although the Bill refers to Cheshire, it relates to a large number of other places. If not, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) would not be here. I understand that he, too, was present in the debates on the West Midlands and Merseyside Bills. He treats this as a national matter. If I stray from the clause I do not apologise, as I also treat it as a national matter.
I was interested in the views of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton), who could think only of demonstrating about Tory-controlled authorities, which is typical of any Liberal contribution to a debate of this kind. The hon. Member talked about political privilege and inconsistencies of notice. Indeed, there are inconsistencies—there always have been, I understand—in local government and local government Bills. 1601 I see no virtue, necessarily, in all local authorities having exactly the same provisions. I have been told that on a previous occasion in another place that was part of Liberal philosophy.
I do not want to detain the House for much longer, except to say that this is a perfectly sensible clause and that sensible, practical people will see no harm in it. The list of people given by the hon. Member for Barking as being opposed to the clause, in my view, can only be seeing principle where none exists. If it is any comfort to the hon. Lady, however, I share her view about launderettes being zero-rated for VAT. Perhaps we might be able to agree on that as a matter of principle in due course.
The Bill has taken some time to get to the present stage. The activities of some, including, perhaps, some Opposition Members, have caused a great deal of trouble and expense and—
§ Mr. Rooker
The hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) must not come to this place and criticise any hon. Member, whatever side of the House he or she is on, for operating within the rules of procedure and articulating the problems that constituents have raised. If it causes the hon. Gentleman, his party or anyone outside inconvenience and extra expense, so be it. That happens to be what this place is for—to air such problems. There is nowhere other than the British House of Commons that one can go to raise such issues.
While I am on my feet I should like to ask the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt), through the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port, one question. He concluded by saying that reasonable people would accept the clause. Does he mean reasonable people such as the promoters of this Bill? For example, if this clause was removed on an Instruction so that it did not go to Committee, and if at some subsequent time during the passage of the Bill, which still has a long way to go, the hon. Member himself tabled the clause again on the Floor of the House, would the promoters of the Bill be prepared to say now that they would agree to the clause being recommitted to the Committee so 1602 that the petitioners, who have spent money and time organising their petition, could have their petition served?
That is part and parcel of my original point of order. I should be grateful if, at some time during the course of the debate, the promoters could give their views on that matter.
§ Mr. Porter
Obviously I am not in a position to reply to that question. I am quite certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) has instructions on that point and will deal with it when he winds up.
I believe that it ill behoves the hon. Member for Perry Barr to remonstrate with me for expressing my deeply held views. It is perfectly valid for me to mention the fact that people are causing expense and inconvenience. The hon. Member may think that, in the circumstances, he is justified in causing inconvenience and expense, but I am equally entitled to hold a contrary opinion.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
One of the advantages of having been released from my previous European incantations is that I am able to spend more time taking part in debate on the Bill before us. I have followed previous debates on this subject with great care.
I have the great honour of serving Cheshire county as one of its Members, and I have had the advantage, over a number of years, of learning about the special character of Cheshire men and women. They are unique and have a quality of self-confidence that is sometimes mistaken by people outside the county as an ability to push people around. One aspect of the character of Cheshire people which shows itself when people talk about the removal of liberty and freedom of assembly is that they become angry, and they are wont to make their anger felt—not heatedly, but effectively.
Before the House lightly passes a clause such as the one in the Bill referring to the freedom of assembly, it should realise exactly what it is doing. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said that this was a reasonable requirement and there was not reason why we should oppose it. I agree with him wholeheartedly when 1603 he said that the way to bring about a change in the Public Order Act is not to use a tiny clause slipped in among the dustbins of the Crewe corporation. That is an unwise precedent to set.
There is one other thing that we should guard against, and that is people who come to this House and say unreasonable things in very reasonable tones. The law of assembly has been fought for by this Parliament over many centuries. It is not something that has been acquired lightly. It can be chipped away, limited and changed.
Many centuries ago a gentleman called de Tocqueville set out his analysis of why British democracy worked. If there is one thing that we can see from our European colleagues not 10,000 miles away, it is that we are extremely blessed in having a politically stable society. I do not know how long it will last, but we in Britain benefit from a system which allows people to express their anger in a parliamentary and democratic fashion and in normal spontaneous street demonstrations.
It is important that we should realise that the Bill is the wrong way in which to bring about this change. But I realise that it is also intended to set a precedent for other areas.
As a small child I took part in many demonstrations in the East End of London and, with both of my parents, I saw what it was like when people chose to bomb someone with soot and flour as he passed by their headquarters. These were people who were not themselves demonstrating against others. They were people who stood on the roof of the Fascist headquarters in the East End of London and threw things at those who were democratically demonstrating in the street below.
I have considerable reservations about the arguments that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has been putting forward this evening. I do not believe that his suggestions will necessarily solve the problem of those who want to use the democratic processes to achieve power in order to subvert it for their own ends. When we contemplate any change in the law, it is essential that we are aware that there will always be people who will use existing powers for ends other than those for which this House has agreed them.
1604 I am not entirely without fault in this matter. As a tiny cog in a large machine I have stood at that Box and said "Of course you are wrong. You are misinterpreting what this law says. It does not really mean what you think it says. It simply means something extraordinarily limited." The House has a responsibility to pass precise laws which mean what they say and not what we think others will interpret them as meaning.
The Cheshire county police, on the whole, are a fairly sensible body of men. I do not have any real argument with them. I find them to be well aware of the problems of policing a county which contains so many mixed elements. The Cheshire police are loth to do anything that would in any way exacerbate any kind of differences between one group and another. However, it is not always easy for even experienced police officers to take decisions that will have a political impact.
I should like to relate a particular instance. A group of students in my constituency decided that they wished to picket a certain well-known educational establishment. It was rather an effete, middle-class picket, because the students took their chairs on to the grass by the doorway in order to sit there. Nevertheless, it was an occasion of extraordinary calm and considerable discipline—until, because a junior Minister happened to be visiting the establishment on that day, the local superintendent of police, with the best will in the world, appeared with a bus load of uniformed policemen.
Those police officers were not required. They had not been requested. There was no obvious explanation for their arrival—except, perhaps, the desire to be over-careful. But the result was very interesting. What had been an astonishingly boring and rather timid demonstration showed distinct signs of stepping itself up into a minor riot. It was only because of considerable efforts by some of the staff and the fact that it was pointed out that this was just an extraneous arrangement that the students were convinced that great actions were not being taken against them and that the police had not been requested by anyone concerned in the establishment.
1605 No one could say that that superintendent was wrong. He was simply interpreting what he thought might happen. This little clause says, in effect, that the power of decision and interpretation will rest with the police force. The demonstration may be against the local authority, a particular kind of industry or even another trade union—all sorts of disputes arise in the streets—but if people suddenly become exceedingly angry they need to work off that anger in a disciplined way. They need to be able to demonstrate openly to others what they feel. It is the spontaneous quality of that combustion that makes it important that it should evaporate in a way to cause the least damage. With the best will in the world, a police officer with powers of this kind and faced with that situation could take the wrong decision.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Lady is making a perfectly valid point, but on a different subject. Nothing in the clause gives the police the ability to do anything but discuss with the organisers of the procession the route and time that they choose to move.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
The hon. Gentleman is mildly naive if he feels that those things in themselves will not have a political impact. They will have a considerable impact on the sort of demonstration that takes place. If these changes are to occur, they must be undertaken in the context of a much larger Act, where they can be openly discussed.
Certainly in Cheshire it cannot be demonstrated that there is need for these extra powers. There was no real problem with a limited power of notification. If the police cannot demonstrate that even in the past eight years there has been a need for extra powers, why are they being included? It is being said that the need for these powers cannot be demonstrated but they might be needed in the future. There is no genuine evidence that they are needed.
It is a diminution of civil liberties to change and limit the ability of ordinary people to demonstrate their feelings.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Whatever view the hon. Lady takes, she must recognise that over the past few years, as in the 1930s, there have been occasions when 1606 groups of highly motivated people from one side of the political spectrum have clashed in the streets with people from the other side. That happens in a racial, industrial and ideological context. In those circumstances, it is elementary to public order, and therefore freedom, to arrange for both sides to process and demonstrate in a way that will avoid clashes and injury to large numbers of people, as has happened in Southall and other parts of our country.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
That argument will not do if one is seeking changes in particular areas. If there was evidence that such changes in public order were needed, the measure would have to come before the House and be debated openly. The police, trade unions and other voluntary organisations would have to be allowed to give evidence. That is not happening. In the legislation on caravans in front gardens, there is a change in the law to limit people's actions in a positive manner.
It has been implied that the TUC in the North-West does not need to be treated seriously. I assure hon. Members that in Cheshire if we believe our rights are being attacked we respond. It is precisely because there is no evidence whatsoever to show that Cheshire needs a change in the Public Order Act that Cheshire MPs feel that it is necessary for them to take part in the discussion on this Bill.
I have discussed this Bill with the Cheshire county council. We were able to reach agreement. One of the things that saddens me is that we have had to go on as long as we have with this Bill, when it is obvious that hon. Members have considerable misgivings after the discussion that took place on the West Midlands County Council Bill. I would have hoped that there could be a greater and more flexible response, and not simply that we arrive at this point in the discussion, only to find the Cheshire county council saying that it is prepared to withdraw the original period of notification and halve it. If it can be halved as lightly as that, why did it have to be increased at all? Not one hon. Member from Cheshire, or anywhere else, has demonstrated that we need it. All they can say is that it is possible that there might be some future occasion when it 1607 would give some extra support to the police if it allowed them to rearrange routes.
That argument might have some effect in areas where the police forces are badly overstretched. The interesting thing about the Cheshire county council is that for almost all the time its police force is up to strength. This proves that, short of an extraordinary explosition of ill will—which we hope we shall never see in Cheshire—they are able to cope with the political changes that take place. Therefore, I cannot see that there is any argument for this clause. It is not needed.
§ Mr. David Hunt (Wirral)
Presumably the hon. Lady has had some discussions with the police about this clause before speaking about it in the House. Is she aware that in her constituency there is at present a provision for notice? In almost all cases where notice is given, it is usually at least one week's notice. In this clause the notice is only three days. Does she not, therefore, recognise that the promoters are merely exercising their right to reproduce the existing situation and at the same time halve the normal period of notice?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
The one thing that I enjoy in my constituency is its enormous stability. We do not have violent demonstrations. Until recently we have not had any Conservative-controlled authorities of the kind that one hon. Member spoke of tonight. Perhaps I should not be too sanguine and say that at some point in the future there will not be some enormous demonstration against the existing authorities. I cannot say that we always approve of everything that the county council does, but the fact is that we have not had the violence in the streets that seems to demand the enshrining in a Bill of this unnecessary provision.
Over the years in this House people have sought to say that they are not seeking to limit the honest rights of reasonable men, only the right of unreasonable men. The older I get, the more I believe that everybody's definition of "unreasonable" is different. I may believe that the man who has been pushed beyond the point where he can cope with homelessness or domestic difficulties, and who breaks a window in the local authority's offices, has been pushed to a great extent 1608 by forces outside himself. I do not excuse him, but I do not believe that he is acting altogether unreasonably.
§ Mr. John Evans (Newton)
Does my hon. Friend accept that this clause, which we are told deals with the attitude of reasonable men, will mean that unreasonable men will not obey its provisions? The unreasonable men—the extremists of Right or Left—will not give notice to anybody because they will be only too happy to take to the streets and have the punch-ups that allegedly they were looking for in the first place.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
One of the hazards of this type of change is precisely that outlined by my hon. Friend. He and I have one thing in common, namely, that we spend a great deal of our time with our constituents dealing with the problems of their industrial and domestic lives. We know that the one thing that one must never do to any Cheshire man is to limit his sphere of activity. He takes unkindly to it—so unkindly that one may produce the very response that one is seeking to limit. There is no evidence that one can bring to show that this change is in the interests of my constituents, or anybody else in the county of Cheshire.
I wish that this clause had been withdrawn before the Bill was brought on to the Floor of the House. I can only hope that good sense will now prevail.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)
I shall later take up the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) and others in directing attention to some of the difficulties that arise from clause 29 and some of the disturbing features of that provision.
Before I do so, I wish to deal with the three motions in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) seeking the committal of clauses 6, 7 and 8 to a Committee of the whole House. Those clauses empower the county council to give three different forms of assistance to industry. However, as I read the clauses, the assistance could go to organisations engaged in other commercial occupations than industry.
I regard it as a proper use of the finances and assets of a local authority to give aid of this sort. My own local authority gives such aid, and I am very 1609 much involved locally in a voluntary organisation which helps the authority to do so. I have nothing against the objectives which the county council seeks in these three clauses. However, I believe that the county council has not thought through the detailed problems which can arise from the implementation of these clauses. They require examination to ensure that they will implement the intention behind them.
The subject of aid to industry, whether from central or local government, is complicated. The setting of criteria in determining the proper recipients of aid and the amount and forms of aid are no light task. Let me quote one example of why I feel that the county council has not thought the matter through. Clause 6 empowers a local authority to make loans for industrial purposes to small firms, and "small firm" is defined asan industrial undertaking which has no more than 100 wholetime employees.That is an impractical definition which avoids altogether the complications that arise when industries which are labour-intensive and those which are capital-intensive are considered. There are large, prosperous, hugely wealthy and highly profitable firms which have a great deal fewer than 100 employees in highly capital-intensive businesses. One company that is part of a group organisation can perform a specialist function that is concentrated in a relatively small unit. That company may carry out those functions for the benefit of other larger elements in the unit. There may be a tremendous turnover with a relatively small number of employees.
The number of employees is no criterion of whether a firm is small. It may not even be small in a physical sense. There are whacking great power stations covering acres of land with only 30 employees. In the days of the silicon chip, that will become more and more the case. A firm is not necessarily physically small or commercially or industrially small because it has fewer than 100 employees. Other definitions have been made which are equally fallible, but if a definition is to be sought the various yardsticks must be considered—number of employees, turnover, profitability and capital investment. Alternatively, a formula which represents a combination of two or more 1610 of those criteria could be considered. It is a complex and sophisticated matter.
I am sure that officers of county councils run those councils well. However, they do not know much about industry, or this highly oversimplified, unsophisticated and inadequate clause would not have been written into the Bill. That is why the Bill needs examination. The best way to do that is for the House to accept the three motions to commit those three clauses to a Committee of the whole House.
I turn to the only subject raised so far in the debate—clause 29. A small point arises from an intervention by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). The hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad) told us that the sponsors were proposing to include a provision to exempt from clause 29 a funeral procession and to exempt from obligation or potential blame under the clause a professional funeral director carrying out his job in the ordinary course of his business.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that sometimes in Northern Ireland there were funeral processions with a political content. Is he asking the sponsors to include a clause exempting from obligation a funeral director organising a funeral procession unless that procession has a political content? A definition clause five pages long would then be needed. How is "political content" defined? As he often is, the hon. Gentleman was wrong. Occasionally the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm to serve the Police Federation faithfully and give it good value for the money that it pays him runs away with his judgment.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds got it absolutely wrong He spoke of the organisers of a procession being the political chaps—such as the IRA in Northern Ireland In fact, the man who is to be exonerated from the need to give notice is the professional funeral director. The poor old professional director cannot be held responsible for people who join in a funeral procession that he has organised, and he certainly cannot be held responsible for speeches made at the graveside The hon. Gentleman was talking nonsense.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)
I did not understand what was being said 1611 about funerals, but in an earlier debate it was pointed out that when there was a problem in the Midlands over the funeral of an IRA man, which would have led to trouble in the streets, my predecessor as Home Secretary used the Public Order Act to prevent the march. It is hardly possible to have a funeral without giving notice. There has been confusion about this aspect, and I am still not clear what is afoot in the Bill.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. What was said in the previous debate applies with equal validity to this Bill.
Death is something of which we do not always get notice. If the sponsors could arrange that we always got notice of when we would kick the bucket, we could go to a funeral director a couple of weeks before and ask him "Will you tell the chief constable of Cheshire that I am going to be buried next Tuesday morning?" We do not always know and we cannot always give notice.
I remind the House that it is the practice of adherents of some religions to bury their dead as quickly as possible—sometimes on the day of death and certainly by the day after. They would be violating the principles of their religion if they had to give notice. That is why it is sensible that the sponsors should include the exemption. I am sure that they will not be so daft as to do what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds asks and exempt from the exemption for funeral directors any director of a funeral with a political content.
The hon. Member for Northwich said more than once that the arrangements in Cheshire had always worked well. He and the county council have every right to be pleased about that, but the hon. Gentleman did not answer the question why, if the arrangements had worked well, the county council was seeking a change. Of all the aphorisms that men use, the wisest is surely that one should leave well alone. Why is the county council not leaving well alone?
The question of spontaneous demonstrations is a serious matter, and I invite the House to give it more serious and detailed consideration. Of course, we are not talking about the generality of processions. Most are fixed well in advance. I used to go on a long weekend 1612 procession every Easter. One good thing about Easter is that although it does not fall on the same day every year, we know the date well in advance each year. So there was no difficulty about giving substantial notice to the various police authorities of the areas through which that long march took place.
Again, the one good thing about May Day is that we know, at least to within a few days, when it will be, so that if any trades council wants to organise a march that day it has no difficulty in giving notice, and the trades councils always give notice. I have taken part in different parts of the country. I have never been on one in which there was the least difficulty, and I am happy to say that I have never been on one which did not receive the best and most friendly co-operation and assistance from the police. I believe that there are some people who organise marches on St. George's Day. They know in advance when that is and they can give notice.
But, as everyone in the House recognises, there are such things as spontaneous demonstrations. I caught my breath when I heard the hon. Member for Northwich say that spontaneous demonstrations were not covered by clause 29 and that they were all right. I am sure that he has been briefed to the contrary since then. If he will put down an amendment to the clause stating specifically that it does not apply to spontaneous demonstrations, and that no penalty arises for no notice being given of those spontaneous demonstrations, those of us who are at present causing him a headache will, instead call down blessings upon him and troop enthusiastically into the Lobby to vote for the Bill.
§ Mr. David Hunt
I am so grateful to the hon. Gentleman that I rush quickly to my feet in the hope that I might get him in the right Lobby. The definition of "spontaneous" in the Oxford English Dictionary is that which is not organised. Clause 29 applies to processions which are organised. Will he not now reconsider what he has just said?
§ Mr. Mikardo
If it were as simple as that, it would be very simple indeed. I just want the thing spelt out, and I think that we would have to have an amendment in the clause to make it clear. I repeat that if what the hon. Gentleman 1613 has said is the interpretation that the sponsors of the Bill put upon this provision, and they will spell it out in the Bill, all this argument falls to the ground. The fact that the argument has to go on is in itself evidence that the position is not quite as simple as the hon. Gentleman puts it.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I agree that the question of spontaneous demonstrations needs clearing up. My hon. Friend will recall that in 1972 the miners were engaged in a long battle with the then Tory Government to get a better wage deal. The Wilberforce committee was set up on a Friday. It deliberated and came to some conclusions. The then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), decided that the dispute needed to be settled, quite dramatically, because of the loss of coal over a seven-week period.
The result was that the miners' leaders left 10 Downing Street in the early hours of the Saturday morning, catching a train to Nottingham. They had no time to organise a demonstration, of course, but they went with the blessing of the then Prime Minister to try to get a spontaneous demonstration going in the streets of Mansfield and Chesterfield because the Tory Government were anxious that Lawrence Daly and the others should be seen to be recommending the new deal hammered out at 10 Downing Street.
Therefore, in Mansfield, at 10 o'clock in the morning, with no time to do the thing under the premise of this Bill if it had applied at that time, but with the co-operation of the Tory Government, who wanted a ballot very quickly in order to get the miners back to work, Lawrence Daly and I and many others marched through the streets.
So encouraged was the Establishment to see that we were actually trying to get the message over to the miners—well, I was not, but some were—with a view to getting them back to work under that wonderful settlement that it asked us to go to Chesterfield and do a similar demonstration in north Derbyshire. I was not very happy about that—it was my territory.
That is an example, notwithstanding what we have heard, of the Tory Gov- 1614 ernment at that time actually willing a spontaneous demonstration. They did not want anyone to stand in the way of Lawrence Daly or Mick McGahey. They wanted them to march through the streets. They wanted the miners to get together to reach a settlement and return to work so that the power stations and the country could get back to work. That was a spontaneous demonstration. What would have happened under the Bill we are discussing tonight?
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The whole House is always indebted to him for his special insight into the industrial history of Great Britain. We profit a great deal from the information he gives and the education he provides for us. His remarks lead neatly to the next point I wish to make. Even if the sponsors wanted to respond to my invitation to amend clause 29 to exclude spontaneous demonstrations, they would have an awful job defining "spontaneous".
It is terribly difficult. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) intervened with the best of intentions. One cannot say that "spontaneous" is anything that is not organised. The example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was an example of a spontaneous demonstration organised by a Conservative Government. It is not so simple as the hon. Member for Wirral says. There would have to be some definition. This is not theoretical.
I want to draw attention to types of spontaneous demonstration that have taken place and do take place. If the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) believes that it is enough to wag his finger and say to a bunch of rightly angry people "Don't demonstrate. Wait a couple of days until you have cooled off", he only demonstrates that his knowledge of human nature is as incomplete as is apparently his knowledge of the history of his own constituency.
I should like to give some examples. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) mentioned Flixborough. A close example occurs to me. People who live in the vicinity of nuclear power stations and nuclear installations are always worried about the possibility of radiation leaks, as would any of us 1615 living in that environment and those circumstances. While we are in the middle of our worries and being reassured by the authorities three times a day after meals that there is no need to worry and that everything is safe, there is one day a bump. There is a Harrisburg bump, and the thing goes wrong. People will then and there march to the nuclear station and demand some protection, or they will rush to the responsible Minister. They will do something about it. They will not wait until they have cooled off. People do not act in that way.
There have been similar demonstrations by people on the announcement of the route for a motorway which runs through the area where they live and where the things about which they care will be destroyed. What do we do when they get angry? We send for the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port, who will come and say "No, no. Quiet, please."
I know of a case where the mothers of children going to a certain school demanded a pedestrian crossing outside the school because half the children crossed a busy road in order to get to it. They nagged for a pedestrian crossing and were turned down. Then an eight-year-old girl was killed while crossing to school, and all the mums took to the street. If the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port had wagged his finger at them and lectured them on the foolishness of their behaviour about taking to the street in anger, there would shortly have been a by-election in Bebington.
I will mention another example, which I quoted in the debate on a similar Bill. An industrial tribunal has given an expensive judgment in the last week against a company which dismissed many of its workers at five minutes' notice. When workers are told at five minutes to four on Friday afternoon "Your job ends at four o'clock, so don't come in on Monday," and the head office of the plant is three-quarters of a mile away, they march there to see the boss. Some underling has told them that their livelihood has been destroyed at five minutes' notice and they want to see somebody bigger than the underling.
I give one last and sad example. Unhappily, in the last couple of years, there have been a number of murders in East London, which prima facie seem to be 1616 racial. When a member of a community has been killed on the street in broad daylight and in cold blood, apparently because of racial hatred, how can one say to those people "Don't be angry, don't march to the local police station and demand action"?
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that the police were very understanding, that they never proceeded against people demonstrating spontaneously in that way. In that case, why do they want the powers to proceed? If they have never proceeded and have no intention of doing so, why do they need them?
As the Bill stands, the police will be able to proceed against and secure punishment of people engaged in such spontaneous protests. I would ask the hon. Member, if he were here, why the police are asking for these powers if they do not exercise them and do not want to. After all, it is they, not Cheshire county council, who are asking for the powers.
This is sinister. If the police said that they wanted the powers because they wanted to exercise them, I should not like that, but I should understand it. But when they say that they want them even though they will not exercise them, I ask myself whether it is because they want to proceed against A and not against B or vice versa. If so, by what criteria will they choose?
Friends of The Earth might have a spontaneous demonstration, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking described. The local police chief might think that they were a bunch of nutters who should be dissuaded. There might be a spontaneous demonstration about a redundancy. The police chief there might be a fan of Friends of The Earth and an environmentalist himself but against trade unions—or, at least, against all unions but his own. He might decide not to proceed against them. This is too great a power to be put into arbitrary use by people who are not directly accountable for its use and upon whom there will be no check when it comes to the criteria they use in deciding whether to exercise it.
The clause is riddled with difficulties. It seeks to make but a little change. It cannot be said to be a huge change now that the county council has climbed down from the stipulation about seven days. If the county council thought that it 1617 needed seven days, it ought not to be climbing down. It should have the courage of its convictions. It ought now to be asking whether there is any point in arousing all this controversy and prejudicing the possibility of getting the other beneficial provisions of the Bill enacted as quickly as possible for the sake of this small item. That is why I strongly support the motion to instruct the Committee to leave out clause 29 and, for the reasons I gave earlier, the motions to commit clauses 6, 7 and 8 to a Committee of the whole House.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
I want to speak to clause 29 in the hope that the sponsors of the Bill will agree to withdraw the clause. I am amazed by what I have heard from Tory Members. It seems that they want organised demonstrations which are not spontaneous. They want spontaneous demonstrations which are not organised. They do not want spontaneous demonstrations which are organised, which would seem to be far more sensible in terms of maintaining law and order than spontaneous demonstrations which are not organised. Next they will be saying that they want spontaneous demonstrations with seven days' notice. The sponsors of the Bill have not thought out what clause 29 means.
Conservative Members believe that the clause allows for spontaneous demonstration when it obviously does not. I suggest that they read the clause carefully and recognise that it will take away the freedom of people to demonstrate spontaneously, in a way that they have been able to do in this country for many years. This is a basic freedom which should not be lightly thrown away—in Cheshire or anywhere else.
It is also being said that the police will not use the clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) has said that this is sinister and I agree. One of the reasons why the police have not used such a power in the past in places where such a provision has been in force is that it is unenforceable.
It is not possible to enact a law to prevent people from demonstrating spontaneously in certain circumstances. One of the tests of good legislation is whether 1618 it is enforceable. This legislation is not enforceable unless there are to be major conflicts between the police and those who seek to exercise a democratic right to demonstrate peacefully because they feel angry or concerned about something and wish to demonstrate that at short notice. The clause will not work, and that is why in the past the police have on many occasions been reluctant to use such a power.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is not present now, because I have a question to put. I am concerned about the question to whom we would be giving the power if the clause were enacted. It would not be so bad if, when we passed legislation giving power to police forces, we gave the power to the police authority rather than to the chief constable, to the people democratically elected in the area rather than to the executive, to those who have to carry out what is required.
I am concerned that we are constantly being asked to give more power to chief constables to take decisions which ought to be taken by the people democratically elected either to this place or to local authorities. It is difficult at present, with the way that our police forces are organised and power is vested in chief constables instead of in police authorities, to get any democratic discussion about decisions taken, for example, to ban marches or to prosecute people who break provisions such as clause 29. It is difficult to have proper discussion in democratically elected bodies such as police authorities.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that the police were the best guardians of freedom that we had. I wonder whether he really believes that. It is certainly not true in a lot of countries that the police are the best guardians of freedom. One of the reasons why in many other countries the police are the ones who interfere with people's freedoms—the term "Police State" is familiar to us all—is that more and more power is given to the police and is taken away from democratic institutions such as local authorities, police authorities and Parliament.
If we continue to take away basic freedoms, allowing decisions about whether people should march, about whether a 1619 march is spontaneous or about whether people taking part in a spontaneous march should be prosecuted, and if we vest those decisions in chief constables and the police forces, we shall find that the police are not the best guardians of freedom. Quite the opposite will be true. I am sure that the police themselves do not want it, but they will come to be seen as the people who restrict freedom, who are seen to be controlling citizens' democratic rights in a way which must be totally unacceptable.
It should be remembered that there is a strange aspect to this matter in another respect. In metropolitan counties and non-metropolitan counties, the police authority is the county. It is a county council function exercised through the committee of the police authority. What little power there is to debate and control police matters vests in that authority. But under the Public Order Act the local authority that is consulted about whether a march should be banned is the district authority, and the existence of this situation creates great problems.
I was a councillor in Manchester in 1977 when the local authority, which has a right to be consulted by the police about whether marches should be banned, was totally ignored by the chief constable of Greater Manchester, who then, in his words, connived with the National Front, which planned the route of a National Front march through the most sensitive areas of Manchester, where the immigrant communities live. He did that without consulting the district authority, allowing the National Front to trespass on land owned by the then city of Manchester, again without consulting the local authority.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that one of the problems about these marches was that the police were taken away from other duties which were of importance. Literally thousands of policemen were guarding that march, protecting the National Front, a march which was planned by the police. It cost the ratepayers of the city of Manchester and Greater Manchester thousands and thousands of pounds, but they were not even consulted. Such a thing could do nothing but harm to the image of the police, and in that situation they are seen to be not the best guardians of freedom but quite the opposite.
1620 I believe that one reason why we have clause 29 in this form in the Bill is the same as the reason why it was in the Merseyside Bill and is in the Greater Manchester Bill. It is there—this is sinister, too—because chief constables are getting together. They are deciding what local authorities should put in their legislation. They are beginning to influence legislation in a way that is totally unacceptable. That is not their job, and they should be kept well away from legislation.
I represent Bootle, which had its own police force before local government reorganisation. The chief constable was a local man who grew up in Bootle and married the local sergeant's daughter. Everybody knew him. Before the reorganisation there were many chief constables. Now the whole of urban Britain is controlled by six police forces and the Metropolitan police in London. There are six men with a great deal of power outside London. They are policemen who meet together to decide policy. Seemingly they are accountable to no one. They are not accountable to Parliament, the Home Secretary, or even their police authority on such matters. Some of the chief constables, including the chief constable of Manchester, Mr. Anderton, have made political speeches, become cult figures of the Right, and attacked our democratic freedoms and rights.
Clause 29 is part of that campaign. We must vote against it. If Conservative Members really believe in the concept of freedom—and they use that word so often that it is losing its value and changing its meaning—they will vote with my hon. Friends and me against the clause. That will ensure that we take a step towards more freedom, towards maintaining and protecting freedom, and towards stopping chief constables from deciding what the laws should be. The House should decide those laws.
People should have the right to demonstrate when they feel the need to go out into the streets and do so. I cite three examples of spontaneous demonstrations. I was personally involved in two of them. My first political memory is of the Suez crisis, when I took part in a spontaneous demonstration. If the clause had been in force then, that would have been illegal.
Again in my youth I took part in a demonstration about the Cuban crisis. 1621 There were demonstrations then throughout the country that would have been illegal if the clause had been in force.
There was a recent spontaneous demonstration following the execution of Bhutto. If Conservative hon. Members who are fighting for the restoration of the death penalty want to ban the right to demonstrate spontaneously when a decision is taken elsewhere that someone who is under sentence of death by hanging is not to be reprieved, that is an extremely dangerous course to advocate.
Clause 29 is far more significant than at first appears. It is important that it be removed from the Bill or defeated. If the clause is not removed or defeated, it will become a major step towards giving the police far more power than is right, just and sensible if we wish to maintain good relations between the police and the public and the democratic institutions of which we are proud.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Leon Brittan)
I should like to give the Government's views on some of the matters raised during the debate. I shall comment on the clauses in part II of the Bill that relate to the authority's powers to give assistance to industry.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment made clear on Second Reading of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill on 12 June that the Government are firmly opposed to any further proliferation of Private Act powers for local authorities to give financial assistance to industry, especially at a time when we are closely examining the Government's powers in that area.
We shall oppose all provisions in local authority Bills now before Parliament that seek to increase existing local powers or to extend their life beyond 1984. For that reason we are opposed to the broadening of the term "industrial", which clause 2 seeks to achieve. We are also opposed to clauses 6, 7 and 9, on the ground that they seek an unacceptable amplification of existing powers. I hope that in its consideration of the Bill the Committee will be persuaded by the arguments put forward opposing those provisions.
§ Mr. John Evans
The Minister made an important statement. Does he agree 1622 that it would be better for these clauses to be considered on the Floor of the House—in view of the wide ramifications for local authorities which wish to assist industry—rather than in a narrowly defined Committee?
§ Mr. Brittan
I do not accept that argument.
I should like to proceed to the matters that have occupied the House for the bulk of the time in which consideration has been given to this matter. I refer to the clause requiring those organising or conducting street processions in the county to give advance notice to the police and the district council. The clause is similar to those in a number of other local Bills. Similar provisions in the West Midlands and Merseyside Bills were debated at some length by the previous Parliament.
At present there is no requirement in the Public Order Act 1936 or other national legislation for the organisers of processions to give advance notice of their intention. When, following the Red Lion Square disorders in June 1974, the then Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis proposed such a requirement, Lord Scarman expressed in his inquiry report the view that the need for such a provision had not been established. He had especially in mind the problems that would arise for demonstrations legitimately called at short notice. That matter occupied much of the debate tonight. He also felt that the actions of those who were determined not to co-operate with the police should not cause a legal requirement, which might be inconvenient, to be foisted on the ordinary citizen. It is worth noting that the lack of a notice requirement played no part in causing the disorders into which Lord Scarman inquired.
Moreover, since 1974 there have been further disturbances where lack of notice created substantial problems for the police in the task of preventing disorder and minimising the inconvenience that the ordinary public inevitably suffer as a result of marches.
Serious problems arose at Ladywood in August 1977 on the occasion of an impromptu march connected with a violent demonstration against a National Front by-election meeting. At Digbeth in February 1978 demonstrators against a 1623 National Front meeting decided at the last minute to hold a march along a route that completely nullified a traffic diversion that had previously been arranged and advertised by the police. Hon. Members are well aware of the burdens imposed on the police and the community in the recent general election campaign by often hastily arranged and ill-organised demonstrations.
In the absence of a notice provision, information reaching the police about proposed marches and processions may very well be patchy and arrive too late for appropriate action to be taken to deal with the situation and to make it possible for such marches and processions to take place peacefully in the way that we all want.
It is therefore right that, in relation to the national law, we should consider matters afresh. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated that he intended to consider whether any changes in the law would be useful or desirable.
We heard a great deal tonight about the right to demonstrate, but it is not a right to demonstrate whenever and wherever we want. The exercise of the right of protest must be balanced against the rights of ordinary citizens to go about their business without undue obstruction and inconvenience.
Those hon. Members who referred to the views of Lord Scarman should note he made it clear that he did not consider that a requirement for advance notice represented an unacceptable encroachment on liberty. We heard a great deal about liberty and the right of peaceful assembly from the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson).
Reference was made to international obligations and the need to protect the right of freedom of expression and freedom of speech. I yield to no one in my support and passionate belief in the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association. With the best will in the world, I do not see how a limited requirement that notice should be given—not permission sought, but notice given—of such matters as the route and the nature of the procession in any way conflicts with freedom of speech or freedom of association.
The language used by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts), about tak- 1624 ing away freedom, was simply inappropriate to a provision of this kind which requires no more than that notice of the details of the procession should be given. The hon. Gentleman said that it was unenforceable. It would, indeed, be unenforceable if what was required was something of the nature of permission. All that is said here is that notice must be given, and that if notice is not given that is an offence. I see nothing unenforceable about that. To talk about taking away freedom because there is a Bill which seeks to extend from 36 hours to three days a requirement that people should give notice to the police is, perhaps, to put it at its happiest, a reflection of how free a society we are if a matter such as that is regarded as deprivation of freedom.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts
As the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be suggesting that the requirement to give notice does not take away freedom, will he tell us how it is possible to give notice of a spontaneous demonstration?
§ Mr. Brittan
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I was coming to the question of spontaneous demonstrations, which has occupied much of the debate. It has been made quite clear, in the course of the debate, that in the past, when this provision has lain on the statute book, in Cheshire there has been no trouble with spontaneous demonstrations and no prosecutions have been brought in relation to them. The fact that the notice provision is increased from 36 hours to three days does not affect the position.
§ Mr. Brittan
I must elaborate this point, and I shall give way in a moment. I just want to answer the points that have been made about spontaneous demonstrations. If a demonstration is truly spontaneous, it makes no difference whether the period of notice is 36 hours or three days. In either event the spontaneous demonstration must be in breach of the law, yet there have been no prosecutions.
If anything, what is proposed in the Bill provides further protection against unreasonable prosecution in the case of 1625 a spontaneous demonstration that has not actually occurred, and in relation to which there has been no evidence, because the promoters have indicated that they are suggesting that the Director of Public Prosecutions should give his consent before any prosecution is brought under this head. To suggest that underneath the provision that notice should be sought there lurks some sort of conspiracy among chief officers of the police to take away rights, and some lurking desire to show preference either for Friends of the Earth against trade unions or vice versa, is bordering on fantasy. I do not believe that those hazards apply.
I have spoken about the scope of the national law, but if we are to make changes nationally in the Public Order Act, there should first be careful consultation and consideration. In the meantime, it is reasonable for local authorities to seek to continue in force local powers that they consider necessary and that in each case Parliament should judge the proposals on their merits.
§ Mr. Brittan
I shall give way in a moment, after I have finished my next sentence. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said, that it will be preferable when these matters are considered on a national basis, as they will be in due course. However, I think that in the meantime, for local authorities in the new counties to ask to enact legislation in substantially the same form as before, with slight variations in the powers that previously existed, is not in any sense unreasonable.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
The confident assumption that the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be making, that because the powers have not been used they would never be misused, is the basis of all bad legislation. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad) was not able to quote the number of cases where there had been this sort of riotous assembly, needing this kind of notification, or to demonstrate that spontaneous demonstrations had got out of hand? Why does the hon. and learned Member think that he has any right to say that this can be done by the back door 1626 when the Government are not prepared to bring forward changes in the Public Order Act at present?
§ Mr. Brittan
I cannot see how it can be doing something by the back door to seek, in effect, to re-enact, for a slightly larger area than existed in the past under comparable legislation, a power to do substantially the same thing, with a slight variation in the period of notice.
As for there being no abuse of the power, all I can say is that those present have memories, recollections and evidence from researchers which has led them to give examples of spontaneous demonstrations on a substantial scale, yet no one has given an example of a prosecution in respect of a spontaneous demonstration or procession which is regarded as being unfair or inappropriate.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I am grateful for what my hon. and learned Friend said about the Home Secretary giving consideration to the need for national legislation on this matter. He has very fairly said that he will need to consult and to consider the matter carefully. Perhaps I may make a suggestion. When other county council Bills come forward, as indeed they will, I suggest that my hon. and learned Friend should invite the promoters to come to the Home Office, if they wish, and to consider with his officials ways in which they can bring forward clauses of this kind within the Bill in the spirit of the national consideration that the Home Secretary has undertaken to give and to report in due course.
§ Mr. Brittan
I am grateful for that suggestion. The difficulty is that if one is seeking consultation with promoters of local Bills, it presupposes that one has reached a view of what the national provisions should be, and—
§ Mr. Brittan
I shall not give way until I have finished my sentence. As the review on which my right hon. Friend is embarking has not been concluded, it is difficult to see the basis for doing that up to now. However, it seems to me that where local authorities are seeking to continue powers on the lines of those that already exist, it is a reasonable thing for them to do.
§ Mr. Tom McNally (Stockport, South)
Terms such as "consult", "consider" and "reach conclusions" are being used. However, will the Minister acknowledge that, without using emotive words such as "conspiracy", a pattern is being established right across the country which is pre-empting just the kind of careful consideration to which he is now giving lip service?
§ Mr. Brittan
I do not believe that it is pre-empting it, because I am certain that when the review upon which my right hon. Friend is embarking is concluded the conclusions will be put before the House and the House will have ample opportunity to decide whether it wishes to legislate at all and, if so, on what lines. Therefore, for the moment, and concerning this legislation, I think that it is right that the clause should be subject to detailed scrutiny in Committee. The Committee will wish to consider the scope of the provision, the length of notice proposed and the local need. That, indeed, is precisely the purpose of the Committee stage. But it would be wrong, and a disservice to the people of Cheshire and their elected representatives, if the motion in the names of the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and others prevented proper democratic consideration of just these matters.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I do not wish to make a speech in this debate. Much of the ground has been covered. However, it is most important that we should know more about what the Minister of State has just said. I welcome the fact that the Government are looking at the Public Order Act. There is no national legislation on the subject that we are discussing. Because of local government reform, what is happening is that we are being presented with the Private Bills, and there is a hotchpotch of legislation.
Other aspects of public order need to be considered in the right hon. Gentleman's consultations. The chief constable of Leicester, in whom I have great confidence, quite properly took a view about a march during the election campaign and brought in reinforcements from Norfolk and the Metropolitan police force. As a result of a change made in the law in 1936, a judgment made locally can affect the country as a whole in terms of reinforcement, and that aspect must be considered. The inspectorate and the 1628 Home Secretary are involved. I admit that I had not considered that aspect until the election, just before I ceased holding office.
§ Mr. Brittan
I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that those considerations will be wholly appropriate for the review. Circumstances have changed in a variety of directions since 1936 and that is a vivid example. The review is needed precisely for that reason.
§ Mr. Rooker
I have a sheaf of correspondence dating from 1976 between the agents and promoters and the Home Office about the common clauses in the Bill. They did not arrive spontaneously, but followed the permission granted after a parliamentary question to my right hon. Friend the previous Home Secretary in March of this year. The Home Office is not ignorant of these matters. If the Minister cares to check, he will find more information than that provided to me.
It is correct that some of us on this side of the House have good memories. Is the Tory Party tonight operating in the same way as it did over the past few years in Opposition? It set the precedent of a major political party putting a Whip on private business. Is there a Whip tonight on Tory Members?
§ Mr. Brittan
I was not aware that I suggested that the Home Office was in ignorance. Nothing I have said could be interpreted as seeking to make that case, and I cannot see why the hon. Gentleman raised that point.
My right hon. and hon. Friends will vote according to their views. The Government's view is that it would be wrong and a disservice to the people of Cheshire and their elected representatives if the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and others prevented proper and democratic consideration of these matters.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
It is sad that we are debating the procession clause for the third time and have not achieved a satisfactory solution. The silk weavers of Macclesfield 163 years ago were able to form a procession without giving notice. They proceeded towards Manchester and only ran into difficulties when they arrived at Peterloo. They had the right to process 1629 without giving notice, but subsequently that right has been taken away, and people in this country should have the fundamental right to demonstrate.
I am in sympathy with the argument that the police should be given as much notice as possible, and three days is not enough. Most hon. Members would not be pleased to be suddenly told that their activities planned for Sunday or Monday had to be cancelled. They would prefer a longer period of notice than three days. Those organising a demonstration, particularly if it involves large numbers, should give the police as much notice as possible.
We are in danger of getting the worst of both worlds with this clause. We are whittling down to a minimum the notice of three days which really does not help the police at all. At the same time we cause difficulties and embarrassment to those who want to organise a demonstration at very short notice about some immediate event. I believe that we should be looking at the possibility of giving the maximum possible notice of any demonstration or procession.
That is the sort of notice that the organisers give to those whom they want to turn up. If organisers aim to get 10,000 people, and send out posters and leaflets to that effect, it is reasonable that they should consult and discuss with the police when they begin to draw up their plans. But at the same time if, because of the immediate urgency of the event, only very short notice can be given, telephoning round to people and asking them in turn to telephone, or if one goes round knocking on doors, again one should be entitled to give the police that sort of short notice. That is the kind of compromise that would be most satisfactory. We should try to persuade people organising demonstrations to give as much notice as possible. As many hon. Members have said, the vast majority of people who organise demonstrations give a long period of notice for their own convenience and the convenience of the police. There is no problem with the majority.
The problem arises when one lays down that a particular length of notice should be given. If it is very short notice—like the three days proposed—it would still 1630 cause the police difficulty in organisation. At the same time it would cause problems for those who are organising the demonstration. It also makes impossible the counter-procession or counter-demonstration.
In all the discussions that I have had with the police they have made it absolutely clear that if one group of people plan to have a procession that is bound to cause controversy, they would much prefer that someone organises a counter-procession which takes place away from the first one, than that people simply line the route of the original procession and cause disruption and difficulties.
As long as there is any time limit, it is possible for those organising the first demonstration to give the absolute minimum time, and having done that they make it absolutely impossible for anyone to organise a legal counter-procession or demonstration. The inevitable result is that this forces any group of people who want to express disgust or horror for the original demonstration not to do it in an organised way but merely to line the route to jeer and shout or, unfortunately, in many cases take more serious action. The very inclusion of a time limit makes the maintenance of public order that much more difficult.
I turn to the question of the spontaneous demonstration. It is absolutely clear that we cannot define a spontaneous demonstration. Although the promoters have claimed that they do not want to include spontaneous demonstrations, it is quite clear that in fact they are included. As soon as one person suggests that people should line up in threes, or go to one side of the road, that person is starting to organise that group. Because he has not given notice he is, under this Bill, committing an offence. It has also been suggested that those who commit that kind of offence are unlikely to be prosecuted. That is a very unsatisfactory way for the law to operate. It has been said repeatedly that there has been no problem in Cheshire with groups of people who have not given the old minimum amount of notice and who were not prosecuted. But surely we do not want the police to decide which laws they administer and which laws they do not.
First of all, I do not think that it is the job of the police to decide which laws of the land they employ and which they 1631 do not. But immediately they begin to be involved in deciding that they will administer the law in one case rather than in another, they start to appear, whether it is true or not, to have political biases. If they do not intervene because somebody is organising a demonstration in favour of, say, blood sports but intervene when somebody is organising a procession against blood sports, they appear to be taking a political stance.
§ Mr. Rooker
May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to a law which was on the statute book for many years but not enforced, and which when it was eventually enforced cause a general strike? I refer to a case which occurred in Australia. When a company refused to discuss a wage claim, the workers sent for the trade union officials. Because it was found that the discussion involved more than three people, that obscure law—to the effect that one could not address a meeting of more than three people unless one had police permission—was invoked. As a result, three union leaders were arrested, and there was a general strike in Australia. That was a good example of why one should not have laws which can be spontaneously enforced to allow matters to get out of control. My hon. Friend might care to develop that argument.
§ Mr. Bennett
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for illustrating that problem in deciding whether to exercise the law.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are thousands of laws on the statute book at present which have never been tested in the courts? In other words, thousands of laws, which exist with no ill intent on anybody's part, have never been tested in the courts.
§ Mr. Bennett
If that is the case, I do not see why we should now try to put forward yet another law. I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is suggesting that those laws should be abolished, or whether one should add to the statute book. I realise that there are lawyers who have a vested interest in extending the number of statutes so that the ordinary person cannot understand them.
I believe it is important that the individual who is thinking of organising a demonstration should know where he or 1632 she stands. The matter should not be dealt with on the basis that the police or the Director of Public Prosecutions should decide whether to prosecute. Most people want to be law abiding and before they take action they want to know how the law stands. They want to take such action in order to keep the law rather than break it, and they hope that they will not be prosecuted for it.
The promoters are suggesting that we should include this provision to make it illegal to carry out the demonstration or conduct the procession, but provided that one has not caused a nuisance there will be no prosecution. That surely is a bad situation in respect of the law, because the individual should know where he stands. It is a different matter for people who are members of big organisations. If one is a member of a substantial trade union and is used to political activity, it is easy to take that kind of risk. But most of the people who organise such processions have never organised anything else in their lives.
§ Mr. McNally
Will my hon. Friend guide me through my perplexity? The Minister called for national consultation, and my right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary called for regional and local examination of the law in such cases. We have already established that Cheshire is not likely to be the start of the next revolution. Has my hon. Friend in his examination of the problem seen a national pattern in some of the legislation that is now coming before the House? If he has noted a national pattern, will he say whether it does not directly contradict the kind of assurances which have been given by Ministers to the House?
§ Mr. Bennett
I was concerned that there appeared to be some conspiracy among groups of people who got together and suggested that the period should be seven days. They put that view forward not because they believed that it should be seven days but because they believed that if they asked for such a period a bargaining process would take place and they would end up with a period of three days.
That was an unfortunate element. The advantage of having national laws is that people move about the country. It would 1633 be better if someone moving from Stock-port to Wilmslow knew that if he wanted to organise a demonstration or procession the same rules would apply in both localities. At the moment, they do not. It is possible that those who want to cause a nuisance will pick the areas of local authorities which do not have restrictions on demonstrations and processions.
§ Mr. John Evans
My hon. Friend has raised some important points, particularly the point that people in this country are basically law-abiding citizens who want to know and understand the law in order that they can obey it. Is my hon. Friend aware of the parallel between what we have discussed tonight and the law on picketing? We have been told that concessions will be given and that the Director of Public Prosecutions will be brought in and look upon particular demonstrations sympathetically. In other words, it depends upon the attitude of the chief constable or chief superintendent in any district. The Government constantly talk about the law on picketing, but my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and I attempted to clarify the law on picketing in the Employment Protection Bill of the last Parliament—
§ Mr. Bennett
I appreciate that the law should be clear in order that the individual should know it before he embarks upon organising any demonstration. The responsibility for a demonstration or procession is laid on the individual in this Bill. If the promoters are looking for
§ ways to meet our objectives they should consider amending the provision to cover persons or a group. The past has shown that it is best that a person with experience should organise a demonstration.
§ There are many instances where trades councils in a particular area have been responsible for organising a demonstration or procession. That is a collective responsibility. Under the Act an individual will have to be nominated to be responsible for the behaviour of the vast majority on the procession. It is difficult for an individual to accept responsibility for the actions of others. A small concession would be to allow a corporate body or group to take on the duty if it is necessary.
§ There is a strong argument for exempting a small demonstration or procession from giving notice. Some of the promoters have been prepared to look at the question of exempting a demonstration or procession involving less than 200 people because the number of police required is very small. Not only that, but the amount of traffic disruption is small. Two hundred people walking down the street take up about the same space as three double-decker buses.
§ If someone wants to organise a small demonstration or procession, it is silly that he should have to give notice in this formal way. People in Cheshire who have been giving such notice have been told by the district office—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 164, Noes 41.1635
|Division No. 17]||AYES||[10.00 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Bowden, Andrew||Chalker, Mrs. Lynda|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Boyson, Dr. Rhodes||Churchill, W. S.|
|Alexander, Richard||Braine, Sir Bernard||Clark, William (Croydon South)|
|Ancram, Michael||Bright, Graham||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Arnold, Tom||Brittan, Leon||Clegg, Walter|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Colvin, Michael|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston North)||Brooke, Hon. Peter||Cope, John|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Brotherton, Michael||Costain, A. P.|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)||Crouch, David|
|Bendall, Vivian||Browne, John (Winchester)||Dean, Paul (North Somerset)|
|Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)||Bruce-Gardyne, John||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Berry, Hon. Anthony||Bryan, Sir Paul||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Best, Keith||Budgen, Nick||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Bulrner, Esmond||Durant, Tony|
|Blackburn, John||Butler, Hon. Adam||Dykes, Hugh|
|Boscawen, Hon. Robert||Cadbury, Jocelyn||Eden, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Bottomley, peter (Woolwich West)||Carlisle, Rt. Hon. Mark (Runcorn)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Pembroke)|
|Emery, Peter||Mackay, John (Argyll)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Madel, David||Shersby, Michael|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Marlow, Antony||Silvester, Fred|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Marten, Neil (Banbury)||Smith, Dudley (War, and Leam'ton)|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Mates, Michael||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Mather, Carol||Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mawby, Ray||Sproat, Iain|
|Fowler, Rt. Hon. Norman||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Fox, Marcus||Mayhew, Patrick||Steen, Anthony|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stevens, Martin|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan||Miscampbell, Norman||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Gow, Ian||Monro, Hector||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Gray, Hamish||Montgomery, Fergus||Thomas, Rt. Hon. Peter (Hendon S.)|
|Greenway, Harry||Moore, John||Thompson, Donald|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)||Morrison, Hon. Charles (Devizes)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Gryils, Michael||Morrison, Hon. Peter (City of Chester)||Thornton, George|
|Hannam, John||Murphy, Christopher||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Needham, Richard||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Hawksley, Warren||Neubert, Michael||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Henderson, Barry||Newton, Tony||Viggers, Peter|
|Hicks, Robert||Normanton, Tom||Waddington, David|
|Hill, James||Onslow, Cranley||Wakeham, John|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Osborn, John||Waldegrave, Hon. William|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Page, Rt. Hon. R. Graham (Crosby)||Wall, Patrick|
|Jenkin, Rt. Hon. Patrick||Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Waller, Gary|
|Jopling, Rt. Hon. Michael||Patten, John (Oxford)||Ward, John|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Peyton, Rt. Hon. John||Watson, John|
|King, Rt. Hon. Tom||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Wells, P. Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)|
|Knox, David||Rathbone, Tim||Wheeler, John|
|Lamont, Norman||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Whitney, Raymond|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Rhodes James, Robert||Wilkinson, John|
|Lee, John||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Rossi, Hugh||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Sainsbury, Hon. Timothy||Sir. Nicholas Bonsor and|
|MacGregor, John||Shelton, William (Streatham)||Mr. Barry Porter.|
|Alton, David||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Prescott, John|
|Anderson, Donald||Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)||Race, Reg|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Kerr, Russell||Rees, Rt. Hon. Merlyn (Leeds South)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N.)||Kinnock, Neil||Richardson, Miss. Jo|
|Booth, Rt. Hon. Albert||Lomond, James||Rooker, J. W.|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Leadbitter, Ted||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S.)||Leighton, Ronald||Skinner, Dennis|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P.)||McCartney, Hugh||Snape, Peter|
|Dormand, J. D.||McDonald, Dr. Oonagh||Soley, Clive|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth||Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)||Spriggs, Lesile|
|Eastham, Ken||Maynard, Miss. Joan||Young, David (Bolton East)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Fitt, Gerard||Orme, Rt. Hon. Stanley||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|George, Bruce||Pendry, Tom||Mr. Allan Roberts and|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Mr. Tom McNally.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put accordingly and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed.