HC Deb 03 November 1983 vol 47 cc984-5
2. Mr. Lawrence

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has completed his review of the Public Order Act 1936; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Leon Brittan)

Work on the review is nearing completion.

Mr. Lawrence

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that offenders are going unpunished because the public order laws are obscure and difficult to apply? Does he also agree that the sooner those laws are made certain, relevant and plain for all to see, the sooner will relations between the police and the community improve and lawlessness in our society decrease?

Mr. Brittan

I would not put the situation quite as strongly as my hon. and learned Friend. The review was set in train because we thought that the law required examination.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

Does the Home Secretary agree that among those crimes that are unpunished under the Public Order Act 1936 is the exhibition of racist leaflets and banners during a demonstration? No prosecutions follow such actions. Does he agree that we should now consider allowing members of the public to submit complaints against the police for non-prosecution of those distributing racist literature, and allow those complaints to go to the Director of Public Prosecutions for subsequent prosecution?

Mr. Brittan

It is always open to any member of the public who thinks that an offence has been committed to submit evidence in support of that view to the relevant prosecuting authorities. What is more, I would encourage anyone to do so.

Mr. Greg Knight

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider introducing powers for static demonstrations similar to those that exist in respect of processions and marches, and, if not, why not?

Mr. Brittan

That is one of the main points that the review will cover. I have considerable sympathy for my hon. Friend's view. Whether it is practicable to take that step will be considered during the course of the review.

Mr. Janner

In view of the patent weakness of the Public Order Act to deal with such evil manifestations as National Front parades, marches and demonstrations at the Cenotaph service during the forthcoming Armistice and Rememberance observances, will the Minister, in considering amendments to the Act, take care to see that such activities can be banned?

Mr. Brittan

The concept of public order disturbances should be at the centre of such legislation. I understand and share the anxiety expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman about the activities of the organisations that he has in mind.