§ Ms Harriet Harman (Peckham)
I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 7, line 3, leave out clause 6.
Clause 6 aims to make it a criminal offence to organise or take part in a march that has not previously been notified to the police. It is important when hon. Members consider this amendment that they look at its background and what the clause wishes to do. It is not an exaggeration to say that the clause is about matters that are of great importance for democracy — the right to demonstrate, freedom of expression and the right to express views in public on the streets. A recognition of the importance of the rights and freedoms of people to demonstrate should be a starting point for any discussion and any debate of this nature.
Parliament, our newspapers and the Government are quick to criticise other countries that limit the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly of their citizens. We are quick to accuse others, yet we should apply the same standards to ourselves. If we applied those same high standards that recognise the importance of civil rights and liberties, the Bill would be amended by deleting this clause. We should apply the same scrutiny to ourselves that we are ready to apply to others.
Demonstrations are important. Many people say that demonstrations are important for people in the Soviet Union because they cannot vote and do not have the same democratic processes as we have, and therefore we will uphold their right to demonstrate. We are in a democracy, and therefore it is said that it is not as important for British 522 people to demonstrate as much as people elsewhere andthat in this country democracy is served merely by people voting in a general election.
It is important for people to be able to express their views other than by simply marking an X on the ir ballot cards once every few years. Suppose they want to demonstrate, express their views or protest about a local issue that will never be of electoral or national importance or even of sufficient significance to be a local issue at a local election. It might nevertheless be extremely important to the people concerned. For example, people might be worried about a dangerous school crossing. If they cannot express their protest through the ballot box they should be able freely to do so by assembling and making the strength of their feelings clear to other members of the public.
If a matter of concern arises after a general election, people cannot be expected to wait three or four years to make their protest. The matter may be of far more immediate importance. Plans to build a major road through a village, for example, might well be implemented in the meantime. People must be able to get together and demonstrate their views publicly.
It has also been suggested that people do not need to express their views by getting together, marching or demonstrating because of the position of the media nowadays. It is suggested that such forms of protest were useful in the days when the only form of communication was through pamphlets but now that there is television and radio in virtually every home these archaic rights to protest are no longer necessary. Of course, radio and television programmes can be received in every home, but not everyone has the same access to the media. Thus, although people can receive the views of those who have such access they cannot spread their own views to others in the same way.
As a result of local protests building up to national demonstrations by large numbers of ordinary people, certain issues not previously regarded as important in elections have found their way not only into the national media but into the manifestos of political parties. Nuclear disarmament is a good example. But for the opportunity for local groups of peace campaigners to get together and demonstrate their views, whoever would have expected that that issue would become the focus of so much media attention and so much debate in the House? The House of Commons itself needs to know the electors' views not just once in a few years through the ballot box but by encouraging the growth of movements at grass roots level. The only means of expression open to many such groups is that of peaceful protest.
Some people take the view that demonstrations are a problem. They talk as though the disruption of traffic were of greater consequence than the civil liberties involved. They talk about the problems of clearing up the streets afterwards. They refer to the cost of policing as though it were a public order problem rather than a matter of rights and freedoms. It is extremely worrying when the police regard the right of peaceful assembly and protest as a problem. They should be working with Parliament to uphold democratic rights rather than sponsoring local authorities to seek greater powers for them by creating further criminal offences which would crack down on civil rights.
523 Some people even talk about the rights of demonstrators as opposed to those of the community as though demonstrators were somehow illegitimate, abnormal or peculiar people completely outside the community.
§ Ms. Harman
Even policemen's wives have been known to take to the streets to demonstrate. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) would regard them as part of the community. Nurses, too, have been demonstrating recently about cuts in the Health Service and previously about the atrocious level of Health Service pay. They are certainly part of the community —rather more so, I suggest, than the hon. Gentleman who is still muttering dissent. It is completely false to juxtapose the rights of demonstrators and those of the community.
As for the use of the streets, peaceful protest is as valid a use for our streets as window-shopping or standing in bus queues. Who has ordained that the purpose of our streets is to enable people to hurry from one place to another but not to use the public highways to express their views? The juxtaposition of demonstrators' rights and the rights of the community is utterly unhelpful and negative.
In considering the amendment to delete the clause, it should be remembered that we are talking about the opportunity to exercise political power. Hon. Members might say that members of the stock exchange and members of the IMF do not take to our streets, troubling us all by disrupting the traffic and dropping litter when they demonstrate. They have a great deal of political power so they do not need to take to the streets when they are faced with economic policies they do not agree with, because they can exercise their powers through other channels. Unfortunately, they operate in different and much more powerful ways. When the military chiefs are concerned about cuts in defence spending, we do not see them taking to the streets, worried about the country's defence strategy, but again they do not need to because they are immensely powerful already. We must be careful, therefore, that we do not take away from people who otherwise have not very much political power the opportunity to exercise what power they can by organising, assembling and marching through the streets to make known their views to other people. Curbs on demonstrations will undoubtedly affect those who are otherwise politically the most weak.
As to the brigade of people who believe that demonstrations are a bad thing and somehow improper or undesirable, I emphasise that the overwhelming majority of demonstrations are entirely peaceful and pass off without any incident or disruption. This is in stark contrast to football matches, for example, where there is regular disruption, but I do not hear from Members of the House an argument that we should somehow hedge round the organisation of football matches with criminal offences.
There is a great deal of hypocrisy about people gathering on the streets, disrupting traffic and dropping litter. When an event such as the jubilee or the royal wedding takes place, thousands of people flood the streets. It is necessary to erect signs well in advance saying that it will not be possible to get from A to B in London because there will be so many people demonstrating their support for the event that is taking place. They are every 524 bit as much demonstrators as peace demonstrators. It is merely that they are demonstrating about something different from going from A to B. going shopping or waiting for a bus.
I regret having to move the deletion of the clause from the Bill in one respect because I know that some people in Nottinghamshire have a strong feeling that it is no business of a Member of Parliament who does not represent Nottinghamshire to have a view about a matter included in the Nottinghamshire County Council Bill. However, I believe that this is not just a local matter. The question of civil rights, civil liberties and how the criminal law relates to the right to demonstrate is not simply a matter of local interest. It should be the responsibility of the House to decide the limits and boundaries of freedom of assembly and of expression. Therefore, even people who believe that there should be the criminal offence of failing to give notice of a demonstration in my view should accept that the proper place for such a clause—although I believe that there should not be such a clause—is in a national Bill laid before, and considered by, the whole House. It is the proper business of the House and not merely a local question.
It is also nonsense to have a code of criminal law that differs from one area to another of the country. The criminal law should be uniform across the country. It brings the law into disrepute to have as an offence in one area a matter that, for no apparent reason based on any local circumstances, is not a criminal offence in another area. I therefore believe that it is wrong to include this sort of power about the criminal law in a local Bill.
The clause would infringe treaties that have been ratified by the United Kingdom, including the European Convention on Human Rights, which purports to protect freedom of expression and assembly. We were one of the earliest signatories to that convention.
The clause would make it a criminal offence to march, however peacefully, without having given prior notice to the police. People could be guilty of an offence even if there was a small demonstration with no mishap. They might not even be aware of such a law. After all, it would be a local law and the demonstrators might come from a neighbouring county and not be aware of it.
To make such demonstrations a criminal offence would, in my view, breach the European Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, I believe that it would breach the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which we are a signatory. We are quick to sign grand-sounding documents about the protection of rights and to point to other countries which we do not believe uphold human rights. But when it comes to matters nearer home we find excuses for ourselves, and for the sake of expediency, national or local, we forget our fundamental principles and create criminal offences where they are not needed.
Although the clause would inhibit perfectly peaceful demonstrations, it is unnecessary because most demonstrations are peaceful. The few demonstrations that cause the police real problems are not those about which the police are ignorant: they know that they will happen and the route they will take. How, therefore, can the supporters of the Bill claim that it would prevent acts of public disorder? Prior notification does not present a problem. Many marches take place of which the police are not aware and no problem is caused because they pass off 525 peacefully. Marches which cause problems are generally known about in advance by the police. It is clear, therefore, that prior notification has not been a problem.
Not only is the clause unnecessary and undesirable, but it would be harmful because while we have signed various conventions showing how anxious we are to protect our freedoms, we have no statutory right to demonstrate. Freedom of expression in Britain is extremely tenuous. As we have no statutory right to demonstrate, it is utterly wrong to create a completely unnecessary offence.
§ Mr. Butterfill
Will the hon. Lady accept that we have a common law right to do so? We do not need all our rights to be enshrined in statutes. The common law has been good enough for most of us for most of the time since this country has been a democracy.
§ Ms. Harman
No judge has stated in court that we have such a common law right. I may be wrong, but I am not aware of any judgment stating that there is a common law right to demonstrate. Nor am I aware of any such statement that is considered to be as binding as a statute. Indeed, we should make demonstrating a statutory right. The burden of proof rests on those who would restrict demonstrations.
I do not believe that there are special circumstances in Nottinghamshire that require a law of this kind. I do not come from Nottinghamshire and I regret having to stray on to such local territory, but the Bill contains provisions with national implications, and therefore I cannot avoid referring to Nottinghamshire.
A patchwork of local enactments exists in the area for different notices to be given to the police. According to the information given to me by the proposers of the Bill, no prosecutions have taken place. Is that because everyone in that area who knows about the byelaws goes in fear and trembling of them, knowing that they must not be breached? Do the people of Nottinghamshire behave differently from people in areas where there is no requirement to give notice? That is nonsense. Such byelaws have fallen into disuse. Prosecutions have not taken place as the problem is not one of prior notification. If it were, the people who took part would be prosecuted before their feet could touch the ground.
There is a great deal of local opposition to the Bill, which found expression in the petition that was brought to the House asking for the clause to be deleted. To show that the clause is unnecessary, I wish to call in aid Lord Scarman, who said, when considering specifically the issue of demonstrations after the Red Lion square incident, that there is no need for this type of clause. He said that 80 per cent. of demonstrations are already notified to the police. He also said that effective demonstrations by their very nature need publicity. Therefore, the police are likely to know about them and notification is just a formality which would make no difference in practice.
§ Mr. Ottaway
I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that Lord Scarman changed his mind when he discussed the Brixton disorders. He recommended at paragraph 7.49 of his report the inclusion of arequirement of advance notice of a procession to the police
§ Ms. Harman
I am well aware of what Lord Scarman said in his report. That is one recommendation among several, with which I disagree. When he made that 526 proposal in the Brixton report, his mind was not focused properly on the issue. He was examining riots at that time, but when dealing with the Red Lion square incident he had been specifically focusing his mind on demonstrations. His decision on demonstrations was correct but his thinking was wrong on riots, disturbances and unplanned demonstrations. His thinking was much clearer when he said that 80 per cent. of demonstrations were notified, that effective demonstrations needed publicity and that the requirement would create insuperable difficulties for urgent demonstrations.
I wish to refer to spontaneous demonstrations. Let us imagine a terrible incident occurring in a factory where some machinery is extremely dangerous and the workers wish to walk out in protest. Are they to be told that they cannot demonstrate as the notice period is 24 hours? Let us imagine that parents are worried about a child being killed on an unsafe road opposite a school. Are they to be told that they cannot demonstrate on the following morning when they next get together because the police must be given 24 hours notice? To organise a demonstration would take longer because the police must be given 24 hours notice of the route, which means that consultation must take place.
The 24-hour notice rule is an inhibition. It could be considered to be an imposed cooling-off period. We have no right to impose such a cooling-off period on spontaneous demonstrations unless overwhelming evidence exists that such action is necessary in the interest of public order. I do not think that such evidence exists.
Some hon. Members may ask about the exemption clause. It might be argued after a spontaneous demonstration that it was not reasonably practical to notify the police and that the demonstrators were not criminals.
§ Mr. Ottaway
The hon. Lady is quite wrong. Is she aware that since 1951 it has been necessary in Nottinghamshire to give 36 hours' notice before a procession takes place, and that in the city of Nottingham it has been necessary to give 24 hours' notice since 1929? It can hardly be said that a new provision is being introduced. The hon. Lady says that rights and liberties in Nottinghamshire are being restricted, but we have got by up there for over 50 years now.
§ Ms. Harman
I believe that the provisions have fallen into disuse. I am sure that the average police officer in Nottingham would not be aware of the different notice requirements in the different areas. In any event, there have been no prosecutions. Perhaps the citizens of Nottinghamshire—
§ Mr. Ottaway
Once again, the hon. Lady is completely wrong. It is the memory of the deputy chief constable of Nottinghamshire that not one application to hold a march has been refused.
§ Ms. Harman
The hon. Gentleman is missing the point entirely, but he has made an interesting intervention which leads me to another extended exposition. The hon. Gentleman talked about applications for permission to march. If that is what he thinks the clause is about, that is significant and sinister.
The clause is concerned about the giving of notification. In practice, it will be regarded as a provision that requires application to be made for permission to march. It will be construed as a requirement for 527 application to be made to the police for permission to exercise a democractic right. The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the central issue by suggesting that it will be seen as a requirement for permission to be sought to exercise the freedom of assembly. Is it being suggested that we can exercise our democratic rights only at the convenience of the police? There have been no prosecutions under the existing legislation and byelaws, but that has not been because everyone has been in fear and trembling of them, afraid to besmirch himself and frightened of having a criminal record. I have no doubt that the people of Nottinghamshire have not been aware of the patchwork of byelaws in their area and, as a matter of formality, custom and courtesy, have given notice to the police.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
The hon. Lady has talked about the United Kingdom, of which Northern Ireland happens to be a part. She has stressed that there should be uniformity of requirements throughout the country. Will she address herself to the fact that the people of Northern Ireland have to give five days' notice prior to holding a demonstration, under provisions introduced by a Labour Administration?
§ Ms. Harman
I think that five days' notice is completely wrong. There should be no notice requirement. People should be able spontaneously to demonstrate. It is not the demonstration which the police do not know about which causes the problem. Spontaneity of demonstration has no correlation with the difficulties of the police in controlling demonstrations. The two issues are completely separate. We are talking about inserting a fresh, new and updated requirement that people must apply for permission to demonstrate.
Someone might say, "One can always argue that it was not reasonably practicable," but I maintain that the exemption does not wash. In my view, it does not mitigate the clause. When a policeman discovers that a person wishes to organise a demonstration, he will say, "You cannot do it. You must give 24 hours' notice of the demonstration and of the route. You must read the code of guidance and comply with the requirements contained within it in respect, for example, of stewards." He will not say, "You will have to do that unless it is not reasonably practicable to do so, in which case you can go ahead." That will not happen.
The applicant will not be in a position suddenly to summon legal advice. He will be told: "I am sorry, but you cannot have a demonstration for 24 hours. Perhaps you had better make an appointment with the relevant police officer at the local station the day after tomorrow. If you do so, we can start to discuss the matter from that point." People will not know about the small print and the exemption. Even if someone does know about it, will he risk committing a criminal offence on the basis that he might have something good to say in court, when he is taken before it? Who would commit a criminal offence on the basis that he might have a good defence? Most demonstrators are law-abiding and do not want to tangle with the criminal law. It will be no comfort to them to be told, "Do not worry. You have a good defence. If you get legal aid and if you manage to get someone who can argue well for you you will probably get off." That is nonsense. The defence of exemption is no good.
528 I should like to give an example of a place where notice was required. There is an updated notice provision in the west midlands because unfortunately that authority did not drop the clause and in that instance the House did not agree to delete the clause, as I hope hon. Members will do in this case. This is a concrete example of the inhibition of a peaceful protest. I shall read from a statement by a Civil Service trade union organiser, Edward Berrow. The House will remember that the Civil Service trade unions began a dispute with the Government in March 1981. He said that on 10 April he discovered for the first time that Lord Soames, obviously a very important symbolic figure in the dispute,being Lord President of the Council who is responsible for Civil Service pay and conditions was visiting the University of Birmingham for a private lunch and to hold a press conference".The Civil Service employees in the area wanted to take the opportunity spontaneously of demonstrating to show their anger at the Government's continuing refusal to negotiate with the unions over the 1981 pay claim. He said:I then realised that because of the West Midlands Act it would not be possible legally to organise a March because we could not give the police notice. (I was not sure whether it was 3 days or 5 days notice)".In fact, he was due the next day. Mr. Berrow said:I therefore decided that though we would have wanted a march, as it gets much greater public attention than a stationary rally, that if we did so we would have put ourselves in danger of being prosecuted.Instead, we asked members to make their own way to the university where we had a demonstration which though attended by 20 members, attracted very little public attention to our dispute.He believes that if they could have had a march they would have been better able to express the strength of local feeling. He said:I am now told that there is an exemption for those who fail to give 3 days notice if 'it is not reasonably practicable' but the reality of the situation in practice is that trade union organisers, who need to organise peaceful protest by their members at very short notice, do not have time either to look up the fine print of legislation or to go and visit lawyers.Most lawyers' offices do not have copies of local Acts, so even if someone went to a local lawyer he probably would not find out the notification requirement. Mr. Berrow said:Even if we had known what the law was, we would not have been able to risk going ahead with a march unless we had been able to consult a lawyer about whether notice in the particular circumstances of our march was not 'reasonably practicable' because Lord Soames' visit had been arranged some time before —it is just that we did not discover until immediately before the visit.That shows that the "not reasonably practicable" exemption will not give people confidence that in practice their right to demonstrate spontaneously is not inhibited.
The notice requirement will make an impact on the policing of demonstrations. There is far too much policing, especially of peaceful demonstrations. Two things are wrong. When there is strain on the police force in terms of catching burglars and dealing with other criminal offences about which people are increasingly worried it is wrong that they should spend time policing peaceful demonstrations. It has almost become a reflex police practice to send to a demonstration twice as many policemen as they estimate that there will be demonstrators.
As well as being the wrong use of police resources, this is undesirable. It gives the people on the demonstration the feeling that they are doing something that is quasi-criminal and on which it requires many police to keep their eye. The 529 more notification that we have and the more palaver surrounding a demonstration, the more it will institutionalise that idea.
§ Ms. Harman
No notice should be required for any demonstration. I am bitterly opposed to the racial hatred that the National Front demonstrations cause, and it should be prosecuted for causing it. Having notice of National Front demonstrations is not a problem for the police, who almost invariably know about them but cannot control the thuggery on the streets.
§ Mr. Skinner
Perhaps my hon. Friend will bear in mind that these things can occur on the other side of the political spectrum, not extending as far as the National Front. There was a typical example of this last year in Chesterfield. We should bear in mind that Derbyshire is not the county council that wishes this clause to be inserted. However, Chesterfield is in Derbyshire. The council decided to rededicate the fountain in the market square and call it the peace fountain because it had just found that there were some people coming down from Scotland on a peace march from a Polaris station, so this was a spontaneous decision. On the Friday there was a Right-wing demonstration in Chesterfield by the local Tories on the council and a few of their allies. They proceeded spontaneously to heckle the vicar, who was rededicating the Eastwood fountain as the peace fountain, and the mayor of Chesterfield. Such events can happen across the political spectrum, and that is worth taking into account in view of what is likely to happen in Chesterfield soon. Tory Members should remember that their friends heckled the vicar and mayor of Chesterfield.
§ Ms. Harman
That is an important point. It is clear that the Conservative Members do not think that notification will help to deal with the thuggery of the National Front. They want everybody to apply to the police for permission to demonstrate. I should not like the police to be able, directly and on a day-to-day basis at local level, to make political decisions. If one has to make decisions at a local police station about who is allowed to march in one's area from one day to the next, one will be making political decisions. Notification will be interpreted as permission to march.
§ Mr. Concannon
I wish to make the point, in case it had happened to slip my hon. Friend's mind, that this Bill comes from a Labour-controlled council, which has gone through it meticulously four times. I asked it to go through it once. I may not believe in what it is doing, but it is its right to do it. It is worth pointing out that this is a Labour-controlled council and the biggest percentage of that Labour majority is of miners. They know what they are doing in Nottinghamshire. For the life of me, I cannot see why we in the House dictate to people in Nottinghamshire who have been elected by the Nottinghamshire people. I have been sitting here wondering where I live, and I live in the middle of Nottinghamshire. Some of the things that my hon. Friend has said are not applicable to Nottinghamshire.
I go on marches regularly and my town has been used for marches on umpteen occasions. Indeed, we have had the IRA. The IRA came to see me in my little town of 530 Mansfield, and there were no problems whatever. The only problem was that I had to make sure that we had enough police there to protect its members from the citizens of Mansfield.
So I hope that my hon. Friend will point out that this proposal comes not from Conservatives but from my local elected Labour councillors, most of whom are hardworking miners, housewives, and so on. It is worth bearing that fact in mind.
§ Ms. Harman
I have considered that fact, and I said at the outset, in moving the amendment, that I very much regretted having to comment on what is happening in Nottinghamshire. However, I backed that up by saying that it is not a local issue. The question of the criminal law as it applies to civil liberties and rights, should not be treated as a local issue.
Perhaps I can shed further light on the matter by referring to the statement that was made on behalf of the promoters in support of the Consideration of the Bill, which has been issued. The first paragraph said:The promotion to the present stage of this Bill has not been accomplished without considerable expense to the local authorities".Clearly it is a terrible situation, and we are causing more expense by saying that we cannot stomach clause 6. However, we have to say that we are not prepared to accept it. If the promoters want to save money, as well as doing the right thing, they should drop the clause, and then we could all facilitate the passage of the Bill. This point has been put to the promoters on a number of occasions.
There is another matter in the statement that I wish to draw to the attention of the House. Paragraph 5 says:Clause 6 of the Bill is in accordance with the proposals made in the Green Paper on the review of the Public Order Act 1936, published in 1980. This clause is not in accordance with the proposals in that Green Paper".Incidentally, I disagree with most of that Green Paper as well, but I happen to know that it does not say that there should be local requirements to give notice. It specifically says that there should not be a patchwork of local clauses. It says that there should be a national clause and that Parliament should consider it as a national question. Therefore, the fact of promoters of a local Bill praying in aid a Government Green Paper which says that there should be a national clause is something of a sleight of hand, in my opinion, and my eyebrows raised when I read it.
My eyebrows raised further when I got to the next sentence, commenting on the fifth report of the Home Affairs Committee of Session 1979–80. It says that their clause to restrict demonstrations is in accordance with the Home Affairs Committee's report. It is not, if my memory serves me right. That report referred to national legislation not breaking the principle whereby local legislation deals with certain things, and criminal law and the right to demonstrate is dealt with at national level.
Paragraph 6 of the statement in support of consideration gives a brief rundown of the historical appearance before the House of various Bills, some of which contain clauses, some of which require three days' notice, some of which require 24 hours' notice, some of which require 48 hours' notice, some of which managed to get through the House with the clause intact, and some of which did not. I am glad to say that it was in the Kent Bill that the clause was 531 dropped. Paragraph 6, which I shall not quote because I do not want to detain the House, shows the need for a comprehensive consideration by the House.
It is nonsense that this sort of clause, which is highly contentious nationally—it is highly contentious locally but I will not trespass on the local point—should be put into a local Bill. What we need is a comprehensive review of the right and freedom to demonstrate, starting with writing in a statutory right rather than writing statutory limitations into local Bills.
Clause 8 provides—and this is the nub—In Nottinghamshire the police attach importance to the continuation of the present system for prior notification.I am afraid that the pressure for this clause has come from the police in Nottinghamshire. I must tell the police in Nottinghamshire that it is not for them to decide the limits of the right to demonstrate and the ambit of the criminal law. It is for us in this House to decide something which is of national importance, as I believe this to be.
§ Mr. Concannon
I wish that my hon. Friend would think a little about what she is saying. The people on the Nottinghamshire county council are elected. Some of them are very fine, upstanding citizens of Nottinghamshire. To say they are in the hands of local officials or of the chief of police is impugning some of the finest people we have had in the Labour party for more than 50 years. She is saying things like this about my friends, my agent, county councillors, and people like Bill Morris. I am sure that when they read Hansard they will flip straight through the roof.
§ Ms. Harman
I cannot sufficiently emphasise that I genuinely do not want to criticise in any way the local county council, but I have to say that I believe most sincerely—and it is my right to say it—that they are wrong. That is why this Bill has come to this Chamber today, to give Members of Parliament who believe that something which is not appropriate for a local Bill should not be in it the opportunity to say so.
I should like briefly to go through some of the points in the clause. Subsection (2) makes it a criminal offence for a procession to pass through any street in the county which has not been notified. Deviation from the route can be a criminal offence, even if the demonstration is perfectly peaceful. Should we really be in the business of saying that it is a criminal offence to deviate from the route of a demonstration? Suppose a march starts in one county and ends up in another. The people organising the march, if it is a national march, would have to deal with a patchwork of different legal rights in different counties. That shows how wrong it would be. The fact that it says:Nothing in this section shall apply to a procession —commonly or customarily held;favours entrenched opinion at the expense of new movements and ideas.
The code of practice says:For the furtherance of co-operation between the organisers of processions and the police, the chief constable shall issue a code of practice giving guidance to the organizers…We have experience of such codes of practice in the west midlands, and I must say that, even though I knew quite a bit about the west midlands clause requiring notice of demonstrations, when I read the west midlands code of practice—
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Is there in being a draft of the Nottingham code which we can discuss rather than having to refer to the west midlands one?
§ Ms. Harman
I am afraid that my local knowledge is not such that I know whether there is in being a draft, but if I can comment on the example that we do know about from an identical clause—
§ Mr. Bennett
My hon. Friend should be aware that when the Bill went to Committee to be considered there was no draft code to present to a Committee of this House which was supposed to be giving it detailed scrutiny. I assume that by now there will be one and that when the promoters reply they will quote from the draft code and make copies available to us.
§ Ms. Harman
The code of practice in the Bill relating to the west midlands was made under an identical clause. I had to take it up with the chief constable as it merged statutory requirements which were laid down in that Bill with other requirements which the chief constable thought desirable. As a result, it looked as though the level of stewarding, for example, was as much of a statutory requirement as the statutory requirements. Therefore, inclusion of a code of practice would give the chief constable an opportunity to write in rules which have not been presented to the House.
If the code of practice is important it should already have been drafted and it should have been presented to the House in an annexe to the Bill. If it is so important, we should see what it is, as it is a quasi-statutory document. If the code of practice is not important, why is one provided for in clause 6? I suggest that it has been included as a means of deflecting opposition to a restriction. That has not worked. It simply makes matters worse. So does clause 6(5), which provides:Proceedings shall not be instituted for any offence under this section unless the proceedings are institued by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.It was said by none other than Lord Reid in 1973 that a bad law is not defensible on the ground that it will be judiciously administered. Therefore, having a bad and restrictive clause and saying, "Do not worry, we will have a good code of guidance," which, incidentally, the House has not seen, is not good enough. Moreover, having a bad law and saying, "Do not worry, we shall not have any old police force implementing it," because it will not be possible to prosecute without the permission of the DPP just shows what a mess all this is. The DPP is a national officer, so the issue cannot be particularly local or such consent would not be required. The council has given the game away on that as well.
I hope that the House will recognise the importance of the right to demonstrate in terms of civil liberties. I hope also that the House will not be caught up on the idea that everything which the council puts in the Bill is appropriate to such a Bill simply because it is elected locally and knows its area better than any of us. We must insist that we have the opportunity to draw the line. We should ask that the provision be removed. The support that the council has claimed in Green Papers and in Select Committees does not exist. I therefore hope, with all deference and respect to the Labour group in Nottinghamshire, that it will recognise that it is wrong.
§ Mr. Skinner
Will my hon. Friend emphasise the fact that, as was argued earlier, this is not a local clause in the sense that—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I understood the hon. Lady to have finished her speech and I did not call the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
§ Mr. Clay
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), who concluded by saying that although this might be a local matter it affects other local authorities. I do not want to discuss how Labour groups in Nottinghamshire make their decisions but, rather, to refer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said.
I have some experience of how officers in other local authorities try to bend the ears of Labour councillors. As a trade union official, a member of the Labour party and now as a Member of Parliament I try to bend the ears of Labour and other councillors in different directions. However decisions are reached in Nottingham, if such contentious clauses exist, officers in other authorities will say, "Nottinghamshire has such a clause and it is Labour-controlled." Therefore, this is not just a parochial Nottinghamshire issue.
Some local government officers will say that Nottingham, which is Labour-controlled, has this provision but will omit to mention that many other Labour-controlled authorities do not. Unfortunately, because many Labour councillors, in my area as much as in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), are miners and shipyard workers—they are not all unemployed yet, but are busy people who work and attend council meetings afterwards —when officers whisper things in their ears and try to baffle them with science, even the most superb Labour councilors—
§ Mr. Concannon
We must destroy the myth about Labour county councillors in Nottinghamshire. They are not a bunch of idiots, but people who have served the community for many years. I take strong exception when it is said that they are manipulated by people who have neither the opportunity nor the guile to manipulate them.
§ Mr. Skinner
In respect of local interests, we are not representing a view which may be unique to Nottingham elected councillors. The clause cannot be local, because it is repeated in countless Bills stretching back over the years. On the question of local opinion, we can argue that some upstanding citizens in the various trade councils in Nottingham have made protests about the Bill. Nearly every trade union in Nottingham has asked people such as ourselves to do their level best to remove the clause from the Bill. It cannot be argued that we are acting without support in the locallity. All the trade councils in Nottinghamshire—they represent all the trade unions—have come down on the side of those who are trying to remove the clause.
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to put it better'? If the internal problems of the Labour party are such that all the people listed are against the Bill, and yet, as the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) made clear, a city council with a Labour majority has asked Conservatives to put its case for it, this is not democracy at work, but lunacy.
§ Mr. Clay
I shall ignore that point.
A spontaneous demonstration took place recently by shipyard workers. They received a telephone call in their shop steward's office in the shipyard saying that national negotiations were taking place in Newcastle the following day. That gave them less than 24 hours' notice. Due to the turmoil in the shipbuilding industry, negotiations on a national and local level take place in that way.
It is not strange that those shipyard shop stewards and others were anxious to express their view to the leaders of their union. A Committee is currently meeting upstairs to discuss the so-called Trade Union Bill, which is meant to be about trade union democracy, but which is about the opposite. The shipyard workers had an opportunity to march to the meeting place of their leaders to give them advice. The advice was written on placards, which said things like, "15 per cent. and no strings", "No closures", and "No sell-outs". Ten thousand marchers went to Denton House in Newcastle and stood outside to communicate their opinions, arrived at democratically, to their leaders.
That is the sort of thing that can happen with far less than 24 hours' notice. If there had been such a clause in a Bill for Tyne and Wear, it would have been impossible for the shipyard workers to do that, unless the shop stewards were placed in the invidious position of having to say to their members, "We want you to go on a demonstration about saving your jobs. It may be a criminal offence. The union will probably get you a good lawyer if you are charged, so please take the chance." One cannot organise expressions of opinion on that basis.
We have already had illustrations of what can happen at times of grave international tension. We did not have notice of cruise missiles being brought into the country or of incidents such as the Cuban missile crisis. Even the Government did not have notice of the American invasion of Grenada.
§ Mr. Nellist
My hon. Friend has given an excellent example of the problems that could face workers in the north-east and drawn a parallel with possible future problems in Nottingham. We both sat on the Committee which took evidence from trade union organisers in the Nottingham area. They gave examples of the closure of health facilities and of visits to the region by Tory Ministers when only minutes' notice, let alone hours' notice, was given. If the clause were passed, those spontaneous demonstrations would not only be illegal, but the demonstrators could be subject to a fine, not of £5, as it was in 1977, nor of £50, as it was after then, but of £200, which will be the penalty if the Bill is passed.
§ Ms. Harman
Does my hon. Friend agree that the overwhelming majority of trade union organisers and 535 members have great respect for the law? If they are told by a police officer that their action might be against the law, will there not be an immediate freeze and a cooling-off period?
§ Mr. Clay
I agree with my hon. Friend. It could be argued that some people in the higher echelons of the trade union movement have had too great a respect for the law in some recent cases. In my experience, trade union representatives and officials have never lacked respect for the law.
As has been said on many occasions, people may be expecting a visit from a personality. I recall occasions when shipbuilders were told that a leading public figure would launch a ship, but sometimes we were not told who it would be until the day before. Nowadays, it would be nice to have some ships to launch. If the personality turns out to be a Tory Minister, or even the Prime Minister—as has happened in Sunderland—do not people have the right to organise a spontaneous demonstration? They would not organise a demonstration if it were Princess Anne or another member of the royal family, but if it is a leading politician, people have the right to organise demonstrations. The clause makes it too easy for Members of Parliament and Ministers to visit an area with practically no notice, which makes it impossible to organise democratic demonstrations.
It is ironic that if the clause had been in operation when the Polish shipyard workers demonstrated at Stettin in the early 1970s they would have been committing a criminal offence. In the 1980s the Lenin yard was occupied, shipyard workers started to march from Gdansk and went to other shipyards, and the trade union Solidarity was born. All that activity was illegal in Poland.
The House is considering a clause which would make such activities illegal here. We have heard a good deal of cant and hypocrisy from Conservative Members about trade union freedom in Poland. The birth of that trade union movement rested on a combination of factory occupations and spontaneous demonstrations about the price of meat and other commodities and about things that were happening in the work places—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed on Tuesday 24 January.