HC Deb 30 April 1986 vol 96 cc1062-9

Amendments made: No. 90, in page 29, line 7 leave out from 'up' to end of line 11 and insert 'racial hatred, or (b) having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up as a result of the inclusion of the programme in the cable programme service.'.

No. 91, in page 29, leave out lines 19 to 22 and insert—

'(3) For subsections (3) to (5) substitute— (3) None of those persons commits an offence if he did not intend to stir up racial hatred and did not know, and had no reason to suspect, that the offending words were threatening, abusive or insulting.—[Mr. Maude.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. Giles Shaw.]

12.14 am
Mr. Kaufman

We have now arrived at the final stage of the Bill, after long consideration. We have had a Second Reading and a Standing Committee stage which lasted 34 sittings and about 80 hours, and we have had another long day today.

I should like to thank my hon. Friends who have participated in the work of the Standing Committee and who made a significant contribution to our debates. I should also like to thank my hon. Friends who did not take part in those debates but who participated on Second Reading and on Report. It would not be proper for me to allow this final stage to be completed without thanking the Minister of State for the way in which he has responded to our arguments.

There was a time early on when, for reasons of propriety, we regretted the absence of the Home Secretary. I do not criticise his absence from this debate, as I know the reasons for it. It has to be said that he did not take the role in earlier stages of such a major Bill that we would have expected. We did not miss the Home Secretary, however, because the Minister responded, although not always favourably, to our amendments after proper consideration.

There is no doubt that the Bill is different in substantial respects from the one which the Opposition opposed on Second Reading. That is not to say for a moment that the Bill is to our liking in several parts. We still dislike some of part I, and especially some of part II, considerably. I give notice to the Minister and his officials that an incoming Labour Government after the general election will repeal most of the cotentious aspects of part II and consider part I.

I should like to itemise those parts of the Bill which we still strongly dislike. Despite an improvement that was made today, we still believe that the offence of disorderly conduct in part I is too vague and could turn louts and larkers unnecessarily into criminals. We do not believe that it is satisfactory that the use of words alone, even words on a badge, can generate an offence under what will be section 4, with the possibility of six months in prison.

Despite the considerable changes that we have achieved in part II, the police are being given new and unprecedented powers over marches and open-air meetings. They will be a burden to the police when dealing with the real law and order problems of today. The powers are based on vague and sweeping criteria, especially the criterion of serious disruption to the life of the community, to which we have taken exception throughout.

There is no recognition in the Bill of the right to demonstrate peacefully. There is no adequate remedy for citizens against mistaken or perverse use of the powers that part II confers on the police. There is still a threat to criminalise demonstrators for failure to comply with the directions of the police.

In part III, we regret that the Attorney-General's consent for prosecution in race hatred matters is still necessary. We believe that it will weaken the force of the new protections against racial hatred which have been written into the Bill.

As I said during the debate, we still regard part IV as irrelevant in many ways. We still believe that the exclusion orders, although we hope that they will work, are impractical. The Government have failed to demonstrate how the exclusion orders can work or to satisfy the doubts of the police. We still believe that it would have been a good idea to seek to take action over hooligans who go to matches overseas; therefore, we still have the most serious objections to every single part of the Bill.

I repeat what I have said throughout, on Second Reading and in Committee, that the Bill brings a new risk of conflict between the police and the community, puts new burdens on the police and is irrelevant to the crime wave we are suffering—3,600,000 serious offences last year and only about 1,000 public order offences. To have spent three months of parliamentary time on a Bill which touches only the edges of the real and frightening law and order problem in this country seems to be a misuse of the time of the House of Commons.

However, it has to be said that, after these debates, we have achieved considerable and important changes in the Bill. On the public order offences in part I, we have ensured that the use of words alone will not constitute a major offence or riot, violent disorder or affray. The offence of threatening or provoking violence has been made tigher and related more closely to the presence of an intended victim or target. The Government have agreed to reconsider removing the life sentence as a penalty for the technical offence of riot and I hope, after the events of next month, they will move towards that in an amendment in the House of Lords.

The part of the Bill dealing with racial hatred has always been welcomed by the Opposition. That part of the Bill is now stronger that it was before and in many respects it will provide some of the strongest statutory provisions ever against the promotion of racial hatred. The amendment we proposed and which the Government accepted, whereby for the first time the police are to be given a power of immediate arrest for offences involving racial hatred, will have a real affect on these matters.

We are pleased that the Government have accepted, within the exclusion order procedure, that the courts will be given power to ban people who commit offences involving racial hatred from attending football matches. I have discussed with the football authorities and with a number of football clubs the ugly presence and menace of racial louts at football matches. It is agreed on all sides that they make a sinister and ugly contribution to hooliganism at football matches. It is satisfactory that, as a result of amendments we tabled and which the Government have accepted, for the first time the law will address itself specifically to the problem of racist troublemakers who attach themselves to sporting events and spoil and make horrible those occasions.

We are pleased that the Government have accepted our proposition that the stirring up of racial hatred should be a criminal offence, not only in public places but in private places, other than domestic dwellings. We are pleased that we have secured a commitment from the Government to consider urgently the need for new legislation to deal with racist videos; we are also pleased to have secured a commitment from them to hold discussions with us on the case for new legislation to deal with offences of racial harassment. Indeed, only this evening, I received from the Home Secretary a letter inviting Her Majesty's Opposition to take part in discussions with him on the possibility of us agreeing in further legislation to consider an offence of racial harassment.

There was a great deal of misgiving, after the Bill appeared—and indeed, to be fair, before it appeared—about what would happen under clause 5 as it was originally drafted. We criticised it strongly on Second Reading. The Home Secretary at that time invited us to debate in Committee amendments to the Bill that would seek to negate the possibility of the new offence of disorderly conduct being turned into a resuscitated sus law. The Government acknowledged right away, when we began debating the matters in Committee, that they did not want a resuscitated sus law, and they moved considerably along the road that we asked them to travel along, when they accepted the necessity of a victim for that offence. We believe that the acceptance of a victim assists in transforming the offence from an almost certain resuscitation of the sus law into more of the sort of offence that many of our constituents wish to see when they are harrassed on their estates and in the areas in which they live.

Although, as I have made clear, we still do not regard the new formulation as entirely satisfactory, and although we believe that there are dangers in it, we also believe that, following the case that we made in Committee, the new clause will be less unsatisfactory and may even be positively of value because a real victim will have to be present, the victim must be one likely to have suffered alarm, distress or harassment from the offenders' words or conduct, and a person will not be guilty if he had no reason to believe that he was being watched or heard by a likely victim.

When we saw the new clause, we were still worried that it would be usable as a new sus law, and would therefore not only mean harassing youth and possibly particularly black youth, but would bring the police into conflict with the community. We believe that the changes that have been made mean that the new offence is much less likely to be brought into use at pickets or demonstrations. The Government responded to the new amendment that we moved this evening, saying that the Minister will issue guidance to the police on the way in which the offence is enforced, and will write to me and publish that letter so that we can monitor the proper use of the offence and ensure that it is not misused to harass boisterous youth or others whose behaviour should not be turned into criminal offences.

Of course, the heart of our opposition to the Bill has been that we were extremely concerned, and remain concerned, at the controls that it contains on marches and demonstrations. Here again, we may say that we have achieved major changes, possibly the most important changes in the Bill. The amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), which the Minister accepted, is perhaps the single most important amendment that has been incorporated in the Bill. It increases the definition of an assembly from three to 20. The idea of an assembly of three not only meant that the police could disperse any group of people numbering more than two on the grounds that they could be a disruptive or disorderly assembly, but that peaceful small-scale picketing, which was not even potentially unlawful under the Employment Act 1980 and which was within the TUC codes of picketing, could have been turned into a criminal offence.

We were extremely worried about the infringement of the rights to assemble and to picket caused by this narrow definition, and we are gratified that the increase to 20 removes a great many misgivings. Nevertheless, we remain wholly opposed to the provision itself, and a Labour Government will repeal the whole provision relating to the control of and conditions on assemblies.

Despite that opposition we believe that the change from three to 20 will be of value, and that the Government's agreement to issue a circular reminding the police in considering the use of their powers over assemblies and processions of peoples' rights to assemble and to demonstrate peacefully is an important innovation. It is the Government's public acknowledgement of the right to assemble and picket. The circular will be published, and will be an important document, although we still wish that it was a statutory provision. Nevertheless, we welcome it as likely to have an important influence on the working of the provision.

We are also pleased that, as a result of our proposals, the six days' notice to the police of any planned procession will not now be required, if it is not reasonably practicable to give advance notice. We are pleased that a procession is more tightly defined, although we are not wholly satisfied with the definition. We are pleased that notice of a procession will be accepted by post, and need not require a personal application, as was originally provided in the Bill.

We are glad that the Government have acknowledged and accepted amendments to the effect that, regarding assemblies and marches, arrests may by made only be a constable in uniform. The activity of police who did not appear to be police during the miners' strike and some of the events that have taken place at Wapping in recent weeks have caused grave disquiet. This new provision will be an improvement, and will ensure that only acknowledged police are active.

We are glad that directions regarding conditions on planned assemblies or processions must be given in writing, rather than verbally, by a chief constable or a metropolitan commissioner. We are pleased that the application by the police for banning a procession must now be based on reasonable belief of disorder, rather than merely belief. That change will make it easier to apply for a judicial review of a ban.

Some of those are small mercies and some are large changes. They do not make the Bill palatable to us in many of its provisions. They do not reduce our utter determination to rid the statute book of all its parts which are objectionable to civil liberties.

We are able to say, however, that during the months which we have spent considering the Bill, the parliamentary Labour party has been active and vigilant on behalf of the civil liberties of our people. In the House, we are massively out-numbered in voting terms by the Government, but we have been able to make changes which all who care about civil liberties will welcome as progress, although they will not be fully satisfied until we have a Labour Government who reassert in statutory form the right to freedom of expression, assembly and procession of our people.

12.35 am
Sir Eldon Griffiths

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) spoke at length, and I think that on no fewer than 25 occasions he said that he was pleased, which is commendable. I, too, believe that the Bill is a civil liberties measure, for the most important civil liberty of all is the liberty of our people to live in peace; not to be intimidated, not to have their lives disrupted, not to be made the victims of violent men who go rampaging round the country, not to be made the victims of rat packs on our great housing estates, and not to be intimidated, as the right hon. Gentleman fairly said, by racist gangs. The Bill is indeed a civil liberties measure, in the sense that it provides proper protection for individuals against collective violence.

I join the right hon. Member in saying that I think that the clause providing exclusion from football clubs is something of an irrelevance. I am with him in welcoming what the Government have been able to do in the interests of racial equality. I hope that it will never be said of the Conservative Government, or the Conservative party, that we have done anything other than massively assist the cause of racial equality. It is much to the credit of the Government that that has been done.

The main drive of the Bill—this follows from the White Paper and the studies of the Select Committee on Home Affairs—has been to move to the rescue of those who live on our great housing estates and who have been grossly abused. I believe that the Bill will give material assistance to the police in helping the poor, the elderly, the lonely, those who are set upon and those who are assaulted and vandalised. It is to the Government's credit that by the Bill they have gone to the assistance of those people.

The House has worked hard on the Bill, and the members of the Committee achieved considerable harmony. At the end of the day, I believe that they will wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Department. I have had the doubtful pleasure of serving on about 20 Committees which have considered Bills of various sorts, including many which have been directed to the police and public order. I know of no Minister who has brought to a Committee the degree of patience, good humour, sweet temper and constructiveness that has been demonstrated by my hon. Friend. Whenever he undertook to assist the Committee, he did so. He has not delivered in every respect in a manner that has been wholly satisfactory to me, but he has won the great admiration of those who were members of the Committee, both Government and Opposition Members.

When the House has released the Bill and it has passed through another place, it will fall to the police service to implement it. I hope that no hon. Member who has played his part in getting the Bill through the House will wash his hands, walk away from the problem, and return to the ordinary parliamentary dialectic of bashing the police whenever possible. We lay heavy burdens upon the police. We have asked them to undertake an immensely complicated task and we have not helped them by adding to their paperwork. Nevertheless, I am sure that the police service, as it always does, will do its utmost to make the Bill work. I hope that it will have the practical support of hon. Members on both sides of the House in seeking to do so.

12.40 am
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

We should remember why the Bill is before us and why we have considered it in preceding months. It was born out of industrial chaos caused by the Government. The Government caused chaos by putting millions of people out of work.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I remind the hon. Member that on Third Reading the House considers what is in the Bill. The House does not have as wide a debate as is conventional on Second Reading.

Mr. Skinner

I shall explain why it is important to oppose the Bill.

The Government chose deliberately to cause chaos. As a result, they had to introduce a Bill to try to remedy that chaos. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on some of the changes that have been made, minor though they were. It is important to remember that the Bill would not have been drafted had it not been for certain incidents, such as the miners' strike and other industrial disputes, which arose because of Government policy. The Bill would not have been introduced had there not been massive cuts in public expenditure. There has been a series of attacks on local government expenditure. Inner city areas have been allowed to run down. There has been a failure to build houses and bungalows for the people who need them.

The Government caused chaos in both industrial and economic terms. As a result, they came along with another piece of the jigsaw—in the form of this legislation—to try to control law and order. For those reasons, it is important that the Labour party is seen to be opposing the measure to the bitter end. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said that parts of the legislation will be repealed by a future Labour Government, because the legislation attacks civil liberties.

In 1979 the Government claimed that they would set the people free. They talked about law and order and said that they would impose a short, sharp shock on those who were supposed to be upsetting society at that time. After seven years, the Government have not set the people free. After all the chaos caused by the Tory Government, we find that today, of all days, on Third Reading, the Government have set the prisoners free. We shall vote against the Bill.

Mr. Giles Shaw

I thank the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) for his extremely courteous remarks at the outset of his speech. I recognise, as he does, that during the many sittings of the Committee we endeavoured to achieve major changes in the Bill for the betterment of public order. I thank all my colleagues who served on the Committee and helped to make the Bill possible.

I refer also to the substantial effort by my staff in the Home Office in helping members of the Committee and helping to maintain an orderly flow of information on this major undertaking. I refer to the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter). His benign chairmanship ensured that we did not descend into the acrimony that a topic of this order could easily attract. A number of changes have been made to the legislation. The right hon. Member for Gorton catalogued them for the House.

This is a major Bill about public order. Its genesis was not the miners' strike, despite the efforts of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to make it appear so. Its genesis was a major review of the law on public order based on the 1936 Act undertaken by the Law Commission. It will now stand as a major modernisation and codification of public order law, together with the additional powers it conveys on certain aspects on which the Committee spent much time.

The Bill's major contribution is in the context of public order law. I dismiss the views of those who seek to belittle the importance of the measure or seek to deny the importance of its roots and antecedents.

We have worked together in a genuinely constructive spirit in providing a parliamentary process. I suspect that the way in which the Bill has emerged is a credit to that process. Of course there have been profound differences of opinion, and those differences remain, but we respect the views of those whose ideas differ from the Government's. Equally, we are determined to look after the community we serve. It deserves and demands an effective and measured response from the Government to the growth of violence and disorder in society. That is what the Bill sets out to do.

We have applied a consistent test to our proposals to give the police only such powers as are necessary and effective in helping them to avert disorder and to protect the rights of the citizen. On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary stressed that it was all too easy to talk of worries in isolation and in absolute terms. The Government staunchly defend and protect the rights of free speech, assembly and demonstration. They are all of fundamental importance in a democratic society. As a member of a Government who have their roots deep in the traditions of our nation and the defence of individual liberty, I take ill lectures from any quarter about the importance of sustaining and nurturing the British people's historic freedoms.

Where we differ from the Opposition in presentaton and perhaps in substance is that we insist on keeping firmly in view the fact that these rights must always be balanced against the rights of others to live their lives peacefully, free from intimidation and violence and free from deliberate disruption by those who want to force their views upon them.

We recognise, therefore, only an equality of rights. We reject the notion that, because a person forms part of an organised group—whether a picket, demonstration or protest march—it confers special privileges upon him. It would be wrong for the law to give such a person greater protection than the individual who does not want to picket, demonstrate or do any such thing.

It is not the Bill that weakens the responsible and peaceful exercise of democratic freedoms—on the contrary, it strengthens them. Rather it is those who misuse and twist such rights and their apologists who hide tyranny behind a mask acclaiming liberty who are the enemies of our traditional freedoms.

In short, we like to stress that rights carry responsibilities and that the right to demonstrate cannot be used as an excuse to deprive the rest of us of the right to live our lives in peace. A prerequisite for the exercise of rights is the existence of order. Public order is the most fundamental common good and, in helping to prevent disorder and thereby to provide greater protection for the citizen, the Bill is a timely and important piece of legislation. I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be read now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 116, Noes 14.

Division No. 166] [12.50 am
Alexander, Richard Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Forth, Eric
Amess, David Franks, Cecil
Ancram, Michael Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Best, Keith Garel-Jones, Tristan
Boscawen, Hon Robert Glyn, Dr Alan
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bright, Graham Gow, Ian
Brinton, Tim Gregory, Conal
Buck, Sir Antony Griffiths, Sir Eldon
Budgen, Nick Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Burt, Alistair Ground, Patrick
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carttiss, Michael Hargreaves, Kenneth
Cash, William Harris, David
Coombs, Simon Haselhurst, Alan
Cope, John Hawksley, Warren
Couchman, James Hayes, J.
Dorrell, Stephen Heathcoat-Amory, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Hickmet, Richard
Durant, Tony Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Forman, Nigel Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Pawsey, James
Jackson, Robert Powley, John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Raffan, Keith
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Rathbone, Tim
Key, Robert Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Robinson, P. (Belfast E)
Knowles, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Lang, Ian Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Lawrence, Ivan Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Sayeed, Jonathan
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lester, Jim Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lilley, Peter Sims, Roger
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Spencer, Derek
Lord, Michael Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Lyell, Nicholas Squire, Robin
Maclean, David John Stanley, Rt Hon John
Major, John Stern, Michael
Marlow, Antony Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Mates, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Mather, Carol Twinn, Dr Ian
Maude, Hon Francis Viggers, Peter
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Waddington, David
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Mellor, David Waller, Gary
Merchant, Piers Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Watts, John
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Whitney, Raymond
Moynihan, Hon C. Wood, Timothy
Newton, Tony
Nicholls, Patrick Tellers for the Ayes
Norris, Steven Mr. Michael Neubert and
Pattie, Geoffrey Mr. Gerald Malone
Barron, Kevin Parry, Robert
Bermingham, Gerald Pendry, Tom
Clay, Robert Pike, Peter
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Sedgemore, Brian
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Skinner, Dennis
Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Tellers for the Noes:
Madden, Max Mr. Jeremy Corbyn and
Michie, William Mr. Dave Nellist.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.