§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE MARQUESS OF DUFFERIN AND AVA
My Lords, I. beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill was promised in the gracious Speech from the Throne, and I think that the reason for that promise was understood by all Parties in the House. It was made because the Government are firmly convinced that the existing law requires amendment to deal more effectively with persons or organisations who provoke or 742 cause a disturbance of the public peace. And when I say that it was welcomed by all Parties in this House I think that that is shown by the fact that it went through another place, on its Second and Third Readings, without a Division. The reason for this unanimity, this feeling that something must be done at this moment with regard to certain persons and organisations, is not very far to seek. In England we have had a rough and rude political history, but at the same time we have never subscribed to the doctrine of Kai Lung, who, as your Lordships will remember, said that there are moments when you should persuade with arguments and there are moments when you should persuade with the well directed end of a weighted club. We have never admitted in political life that any argument except that of logic should be employed.
But of late there have crept into our political life certain foreign creeds which bring with them foreign methods relying far more upon violence and upon intimidation than our British traditions will tolerate. We have seen both factions, of the Right and of the Left, growing up, which have relied, and are relying more and more, on provocation of others as a method of political advertisement. We must not forget that, coupled with this distressing growth of the creed or the methods of violence, the police are being faced with greater difficulties than they have ever had before. They are being faced with crowds of a size very much larger than they have had to deal with in the past, owing to the improved methods of communication which enable vast masses of people to travel rapidly from one part of a town to the other. They have, as I say, got to face this further new difficulty of the adoption by political Parties of propaganda, of organisation and of garb which are deliberately intended to provoke animosity. Finally, the police have this difficulty to contend with, that recent events on the Continent have tended in fact to create in one section or another, whether it be of the Right or of the Left, fears, however ill-founded, that they are threatened with violent attacks which can only be repelled by violent methods.
I would be the last person to pretend to your Lordships that this situation that I have described is of very great 743 importance at the moment. This is not a measure that is being brought in as an emergency method of avoiding a revolution. It is nothing of the kind. But although the situation at the moment is unimportant, and the organisations perhaps are very small, do let us remember the old Afghan proverb: "A flea is a small thing, but a flea in a man's clothes is an elephant at pasture." One can see the possibility of these very small beginnings developing into a situation which we would all deplore. The situation can, in fact, get worse, and it is desirable at this moment to take it early and crush it before it becomes more important. We do not aim in this Bill at any one Party, whether of the Right or of the Left, but we do aim at, and it is our intention to crush, all those mischievous activities, whether of the Right or of the Left, which are foreign to our traditions and which eventually might threaten our liberties.
No one is inclined for oratory today, and with that short preamble I will, if I may, take your Lordships through the main clauses of the Bill. Clause 1, as your Lordships will see, bans all uniforms which are of a political nature. "Political uniforms" may not sound, in words, of a very great importance, but in practice we all know that once you take politics into the realm of uniform you are making politics something more than a matter for civilians. You are imparting to them an air of militarisation which is quite opposite to the traditions of this country. Further, you are giving those who wear them a spirit of mischief and, worse still, a spirit of aggression which in its turn is very often bitterly resented by the public. There is no doubt at all, on the unanimous view of the chief officers of police who are responsible for maintaining law and order throughout the country, that the wearing of political uniforms is a source of provocation and should be prohibited. I may say that that view has been supported from many other quarters in the country.
I should like to point out straight away that the only uniform that is threatened in this Bill is the political uniform. The Boy Scouts, the Commissionaires, St. John Ambulance Association—these are totally unaffected by this Bill. We have not been able, and I believe we are right in not 744 attempting, to put any definition of what a uniform is into the Bill. As your Lordships all know, the more you try to tighten up rules, the more you encourage people to evade them. The tighter you draw your rules, the easier it is to get round them by being clever. Surely far the most sensible thing is to do what we have done in this Bill and to say, in effect: Everybody knows what a uniform is, and we will leave it to the Courts to decide whether this man was wearing a uniform or not." The only other point which I should like to mention on this clause is that it is felt that certain people might be inclined to use this Bill to institute vexatious, annoying, and unnecessary prosecutions just for the fun of embarrassing their political opponents. Therefore we have put into the Bill a safeguard against that by saying that no prosecution can be attempted without the consent of the Attorney-General.
Finally, in a general clause of this character, it is quite obvious that one might go a great deal too far without really intending to do so. It is perfectly possible to prevent something occurring against which, in fact, this Bill is not aimed. This Bill, after all, is aimed at the real mischief of disorder. We do not wish to prohibit the wearing of uniform on occasions when there is no possibility of such disorder. Therefore we have left it elastic in so far as the chief officer of police can, on special occasions, when he is convinced that there will be no risk of disorder, permit the wearing of uniforms. But we add this further safeguard, that the consent of the Secretary of State must first of all be obtained. We do that because it is important that uniformity of practice should exist throughout the country and also because, in the last resort, Parliament should still have control.
That is all I have to say on Clause I of the Bill, and I will now turn to the second, which deals with the prohibition of quasi-military organisations. We hope that the prohibition against the wearing of political uniforms will go a very long way to deal with the mischiefs of the present situation, but it will not be, and we do not pretend it will be, a complete solution. Political uniforms are the outward and visible sign of an inward and evil intent, and the fundamental mis- 745 chief is the organisation by private persons, for political purposes, of bodies of men who are drilled and trained to act in concert under the orders of officers, and to enforce their purpose by methods of violence and intimidation. The whole foundation of ordered government must be that, the only instruments of force should be those of the properly constituted authority. One cannot possibly allow private persons to begin to claim, to usurp, in the words of paragraph (a) of subsection (1), "the functions of the police or of the armed forces of the Crown". But, as your Lordships will see, we go a little further than that. We have also directed this clause in paragraph (b), against those who areorganised and trained or organised and equipped either for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force in promoting any political object, or in such manner as to arouse reasonable apprehension that they are organised and either trained or equipped for that purpose.The point of that is that the organisation and training or equipment must be related to the. promotion of some political object.
In this country politics must be a matter of debate, and one cannot tolerate training and equipment for political purposes which are really meant for violent purposes. We feel that so important is it that force should not be used in the pursuit of political objects that we have directed the clause not only against organisations which openly use force, but against organisations which arouse a reasonable apprehension that they may do so. But, as your Lordships know, every political Party has to have same kind of organisation, for no Party can exist without it. Therefore, we have put into paragraph (b) of this clause the provision that it must be organised and trained or organised and equipped "for the use or display of physical force", which, I think, makes it fairly clear that it will be quite impossible to sustain a prosecution against the organisation of any normal political Party.
Now I come to what I believe is the only controversial clause in the Bill, which is Clause 3, dealing with matters of processions. It was strongly represented to the Government that in view of modern traffic conditions and in view of many other things it would be far 746 better if the Government prohibited processions altogether. But the Government felt, and I think your Lordships will agree with them, that the procession is a traditional and hallowed way of expressing disagreement, or even agreement, with the policy of the Government, and it would be a wrong thing to attempt to take that method away from the general public. At the same time they have come to the conclusion that further powers of control of processions are necessary, and in that view they are supported not merely by the chief officers of police throughout the country and by recent experience, but also by representations which have been made to them from many quarters. Therefore we have come to the conclusion that the best solution, which is contained in Clause 3, is to confer on chief officers of police the power of regulating day by day particular processions in their districts. Accordingly, subsection (1) of the clause empowers the chief officer of police to impose, in relation to any particular procession, such conditions as he thinks necessary for the preservation of public order, including conditions prescribing the route to be followed and conditions prohibiting the procession from entering any specified street or public place.
Your Lordships will notice that the subsection assumes that the procession is going to take place, and all this does in fact is to empower the Chief Constable to impose conditions to prevent public disorder. But, unfortunately, it is quite obvious that the existing Common Law power of the police to prohibit a particular procession from taking place may not be sufficient. In certain circumstances and in certain districts where feeling is running very high—and there are some districts, as your Lordships know, where feeling runs very high—any procession or processions of a certain class would give rise to public disorder. We do not think it is right that the sole discretion should be left to the Chief Constable to decide in fact whether that condition applies; and therefore, according to the subsection, we empower the chief officer of police, who after all does know his own district, to apply to the council of the borough or district for an Order prohibiting the holding of all processions or any class of procession for a. period not exceeding three months. I think that that scheme provides ample 747 safeguards. As I said, the Chief Constable ought to know his district, and the local authority, who are popularly elected, would have to agree with the chief officer of police. Finally, there is the safeguard once again that the consent of the Secretary of State is required before any such Order can be made by any local authority. Subsection (3) of the clause merely makes special provision for London as the centre of government. It is proposed that the Commissioners of the City of London Police and of the Metropolitan Police should apply direct to the Secretary of State for consent to the making of any such Order.
Clause 4 I propose to deal with very briefly. Apart from the law relating to the possession of firearms, there is no offence in the existing law in the mere possession of a weapon, and the clause proposes to make it an offence for any person who is at a public meeting to have with him any offensive weapon unless, of course, he is legally entitled to carry it. I am afraid that that clause is only too necessary to-day. Clause 5 deals with threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace. At the moment, in London, that is dealt with under the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, which provides a maximum penalty of forty shillings, and outside London under by-laws which provide a maximum penalty of £5. Those provisions and the penalties that go with them are quite all right for the persons against whom they are primarily directed, the drunk and disorderly, but of late years it has become obvious that these existing summary penalties are not adequate to deal with the type of behaviour with which we are faced at the present moment. It is now of a very much more vicious character than was contemplated under any of the Acts which I have mentioned. Therefore this Bill provides for a summary trial, and it enables the Court to award a more deterrent penalty—namely, a fine not exceeding £50 or imprisonment not exceeding three months or both.
Finally, I come to Clause 6, which is the last clause with which I shall weary your Lordships. It deals with heckling. Heckling, of course, is a thing that we have all met with in our public lives. It is a perfectly fair and normal weapon of 748 argument, and it is traditionally English. But heckling is one thing and organised rowdyism with the determined object of breaking up the meeting is quite another and that is the type of behaviour which this clause is intended to check. There is an Act which is designed to check it, the Public Meeting Act of 1908, but no machinery was put into that Act which has ever enabled it to be applied, and all that this clause does is to put in the necessary machinery. We have said that at a public meeting, by the request of the chairman, a policeman may ask a persistent interrupter to give his name and address. If he refuses to give his name and address, or if he says that he is Santa Claus from Iceland, he can then be arrested. Having been arrested, of course, he is subject, apart from the penalties under this Bill, to penalties for giving a false name and address, and a prosecution can then take place exactly as under the present law, either by the police or by the chairman or the organisers of the meeting. But it is not intended that the police, having arrested a man or having taken a man's name and address in this way, can prosecute as a normal event. They will only prosecute when matters of real public interest are involved. Otherwise it will be left to the chairman or the organisers of the meeting to prosecute. Those of your Lordships who have suffered, as many of us have, from inefficient chairmen, who have deliberately provoked hecklers, will agree that in many cases the chairman may not wish to proceed further, having once quelled his interrupter by the threat of having his name and address taken.
That is all, I think, I need say about the clauses of the Bill. I must apologise to your Lordships for having taken so long, but, as you can see, it is a difficult and complicated. Bill to expound. All I would add in conclusion is that this is a more important Bill than the evils which it is trying to combat. It shows, if we pass it, that we are aware that liberty is a thing which can slip through one's fingers very easily unless one takes vigilant care. The evils are not of great extent, but if we allow them to pass unchecked we have the example of many great countries before us to show that liberty is gradually whittled away and finally destroyed. We are tackling this evil in good time, and I think that if your Lordships pass this Bill you will 749 find that any threat there may be to our traditional liberties will be destroyed. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Dufferin, and Ava.)
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, you will all appreciate the spirit and the lucidity with which the noble Marquess, Lord Dufferin and Ava, has introduced this important and complicated measure. It seems to me that rarely has there been presented to this House any Bill which has been accepted with more unwilling enthusiasm, or with more general distrust, than the Bill we are discussing. I personally regard it as a calamity that it was necessary to introduce it at all. At the best, it may suspend or abolish foreign methods recently imported into our political life, but on the other hand it may mark the beginning of the end of our dearly cherished political liberties. I do not remember in modern history any set of men who have more jeopardised the free habits of our land than the foreign inspired minority who have made this Bill necessary.
I have, of necessity, to-day, to support the Second Reading of this Bill because the crude racial war, the drilled military conduct of political meetings is not liberty as we have understood it, but licence. It is a system under which the rule of the chairman is taken over by the force of the armour-plated fist. That is something entirely new in our political annals, and it is something that we cannot overlook. I am, however, very frankly reluctant to entrust to any Government the supervision of political meetings. I should hate to have that duty thrust upon myself, and I think that I should distrust every action that I was compelled to take. You may prevent the excesses of the bully, you may suppress free and open speech, but you cannot suppress the thought. You cannot suppress the whispered word, though you may drive it into secret places. Personally, I would prefer to take the risk of the openly spoken, even if injudicious, word rather than get security through the spy and the sneak. I am afraid one result of this Bill may be to introduce that espionage into our modern political life.
Your Lordships will therefore see that my respect for the people who have made 750 this Bill necessary is well in hand, but just because I distrust them so much the responsibility upon me is not to be unjust to them. They are entitled, as I see it, to all the liberties that are enjoyed by their fellow-countrymen, and I shall never be a party to any special penalties being opposed upon them, but as I see it, my Lords, they already have those liberties. No one has ever sought to prevent free speech, free assembly and a free Press for them. There are certain restraints that all Englishmen impose upon themselves in the conduct of political life—restraints of order, decency, and respect for the religion of other people and for other races—and I should personally be willing to allow the Fascists to make as many converts as they could by the ordinary methods of our English political life. If our British people were persuaded, then the uniform that would be appropriate for them would be not a black shirt but a strait jacket. But indeed the difficulty is this, that what has been the proud heritage of the rest of us is not good enough for them. They want the liberty to coerce and to settle argument by force.
The noble Marquess spoke about the English device of heckling. The modern Fascist considers himself entitled to maltreat anyone in an audience who shows distrust of Fascist omniscience by asking a question. Heckling is a very old and cherished liberty of English political life. It is accepted and respected in practice. I have suffered as much of it as most people, and I will say frankly to your Lordships that I loved it and was never abashed by it. It sometimes gives a moment of relief to a tired speaker and it frequently helps him in the work he has to do. Provided always that it is accompanied by good humour, it adds zeal, variety and sparkle to a political meeting. But these dismal Jew-baiters cannot be satisfied with what generations of Englishmen have found satisfactory.
Another point about which I should like to speak is that I have sometimes wondered whether this Bill is in reality necessary and whether the police have not already the powers to control meetings under our existing law. I am not a lawyer and cannot possibly judge, but I have taken part in political meetings for the last half-century and I never wore any uniform snore provocative than a 751 red tie, and that only on special occasions. I do not know that it was anything very terrible; I feel that your Lordships would look most interesting if you all wore red ties. My knowledge of law may be wrong, but my memories of political meetings are not wrong, and I know out of my own experience that ever since the Labour movement started our meetings have been interfered with by the police either under the law or outside the law. Our speakers at open-air meetings were never in the right place and never said the right thing. This procession was not allowed, that procession had to be directed to another route, and another procession could not take place at all. I can remember a meeting when an entirely harmless man was trampled to death by police horses in Trafalgar Square. I presume that they must have had powers at their disposal then, and if they had those powers which they could use against an entirely orderly and constitutional movement like the Labour movement, I wonder why it is found necessary to get fresh law to deal with the present situation.
I have said that I must support the Second Reading of this Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading, but the language of the Bill seems to me to require the most careful consideration. The noble Lords in your Lordships' House who have special experience in the interpretation of Acts of Parliament will render the nation a signal service if they will give to the wording of this Bill their very closest attention.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I have to ask of this House the consideration which it always shows to one who is addressing it for the first time. I should have preferred to select a happier moment, but, possibly because I am a member of the legal profession, I have been asked to state on behalf of those who sit on these Benches that we accept with regret the necessity for this Bill and that we assent to the provisions embodied in it, subject always to such alterations as may be made in Committee and to a close investigation of the adequacy of the language used in some of its clauses. On what is substantially an agreed measure, that short statement might be held to suffice, but the Bill is sufficiently novel and important to justify, indeed to deserve, a slightly more 752 extended treatment. The burden of criticism of this measure in another place was the charge that it interfered yet again with the liberty of the subject. Those of us who sit upon these Benches are still impenitent believers in the liberty of the individual as the only basis of civilised society worthy of the name, and we should view jealously and with disfavour any attempt further to encroach upon that liberty. But we prefer to look upon this Bill less as restricting liberty than as repressing abuses of liberty. The Bill does not seek to exterminate any new political creed but only to suppress methods used for the propagation of that creed, and then not because those methods are repugnant to the great mass of public opinion, but because they are dangerous to public order. In so far as this Bill creates new offences it is because of those methods, happily new in the public life of this country, which have recently been introduced.
There is an old maxim known to the law that a man shall so use that which is his own as not to damage that which is another's. That is, perhaps, no bad test of the scope and basis of individual liberty. Liberty is not licence to make one's neighbour's life a burden to him or to disturb the public peace. I know of no right in the citizens of this country to array themselves for political purposes in a uniform the only object of which is to give to the wearers the appearance of being members of a military body. Such a practice was dealt with as long ago as the reign of King Henry VII, and if the Statute of Liveries has since been repealed, that as not because the principle behind it was rescinded but because the practice was thought unlikely ever to recur. One has to ask whether there is any traditional right to train and equip for political purposes a private army and to march them about in military formation with the object of over-awing political opponents. In 1819 there was passed the Unlawful Drilling Act, which arose out of the riots in which the Manchester Martyrs perished; to the best of my knowledge that Statute is still upon the Statute Book; so the control of these practices is no new thing.
I know, again, of no constitutional right in a citizen to pour upon his opponents abuse so unmeasured as to 753 be likely, if not indeed deliberately calculated, to goad them into reprisals in order that he may pose as the innocent victim of organised ruffianism. If there be a valuable right of procession in this country, does it extend to cover cases in which, by reason of the time and the place and the purpose of that procession, not a remote possibility but the immediate and deliberate object is the breaking of the public peace? I confess that the clause in this Bill which I personally like least is the one relating to this point, for it does seem that, although the draftsman was no doubt driven to legislate in very general terms, the provisions of the clause as drawn are so wide as to admit at least of the possibility of arbitrary and oppressive use in circumstances quite different from those contemplated in introducing the clause into the Bill.
The noble Marquess who introduced the Bill referred to the clause dealing with public meetings as a clause concerned with heckling. I should have thought that that was a very limited interpretation to put upon the purpose of that clause, and that it was really designed, as I hope it is, to cope with a far more formidable situation than intermittent heckling to which all political speakers are habitually and rightly exposed. I nave taken that clause to be directed at organised, sustained and senseless interruption made for no purpose except to prevent the speaker from expressing views which are not to the liking of the particular member of the audience. As the noble Marquess said, an attempt was made some years ago to deal with that situation, but, unfortunately, without the insertion into the Act of any appropriate machinery, and it is therefore necessary to put this clause into the present Bill. He would be a bold man who in the interests of free speech were to seek to uphold the negation of free speech. If the law requires reinforcement on any of these matters it ought to be reinforced, and if there are gaps in it they ought to be filled, not in the interests of any section of the community, but in the interests of public decency and public security as a whole.
May I say one more personal word on a particular aspect of this Bill which touches very closely that section of the community to which I have the honour to belong? It would be idle to pretend that one of the main reasons for the introduction of this Bid was not to be found 754 in the attacks which have recently been made upon the Jewish community and in the repercussions of those attacks from both extremes. The Jews in this country have good reason to regard with gratitude and with veneration the traditions of freedom and tolerance which are deep rooted in the public life of this country. It is now nearly eighty years since, after a long and stern fight, they achieved equality with their fellow citizens, and since that date they have asked for nothing more than the elementary right of every citizen to go about his legitimate business freely and in peace. They have no desire to-day to be made the stalking horse either of Fascism or of Communism.
I should personally have more respect for the campaign against them in this country if I thought that it was supported even by the dignity of conviction and not dictated by the squalor of expediency. Certainly, no section of the population has greater cause to regret the circumstances which have made this Bill necessary. But, my Lords, the time may come when it will be recognised that a real debt of gratitude is owed to the Jewish community for having borne the initial brunt of this movement and allowed it to spend its force upon them, for I firmly believe that the Jews are only the nominal objective of this attack and the onslaught on them is only a feint to distract attention from the real onslaught upon the free institutions of this country, freedom of speech, of Press, and of belief, and not least upon Parliament itself. If in these circumstances, being itself attacked, Parliament takes prompt and effective steps in its own defence it is difficult to see how blame can attach to it.
The weight of these attacks has fallen upon the East End of London. Why? Because it was hoped that there the most inflammable material was to be found. Admittedly, there are living in that area men and women who are not the children or the grandchildren of immigrants but are themselves the original fugitives to this country from intolerable persecution. Their own youth and the whole lives of their predecessors were spent within the Jewish pale of pre-War Russia, where they were always conveniently accessible to police or soldiery in search of exercise or distraction. For centuries the shadow of the pogrom rested on their daily lives; 755 for centuries every wearer of uniform was their natural enemy. These age-old inborn fears die slowly, but they were almost extinct from long lack of fuel. Then comes this new movement and it is just those dying embers that these recent demonstrations were designed to rekindle and to exploit. Can there be a more contemptible plan of campaign, and can it be urged that this House is doing violence to liberty if it takes steps to suppress such dangers?
In the year 1819, when the Unlawful Drilling Act was foreshadowed in the gracious Speech from the Throne, the noble Earl, Lord Manvers, who moved the Address, gave a warning which is perhaps applicable to the present Bill. He was aware that much was said out of that House, said the noble Earl, and that much would be said within its walls, respecting the rights of the people; but their Lordships must be cautious lest while they were protecting the liberty of the subjects they should compromise the security of the State. The same responsibility rests upon us to-day. I have to thank your Lordships for the patience with which you have listened to me.
§ LORD ATKIN
My Lords, it is my pleasure—and not in a conventional sense—to be able to congratulate my noble and learned friend on the admirable, eloquent and moving speech which he has just made to your Lordships. And it is a special pleasure to myself, who was associated for such a long time, both at the Bar and on the Bench, with his distinguished father, to hear him follow in his distinguished father's footsteps. I may be permitted to express a hope that we shall often on future occasions have the benefit of his advice and assistance.
I rise certainly not to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, and after the speech that has just been made it is very obvious that the occasion of the Bill is one which, all of your Lordships will agree, calls for legislation. But it is to be remembered that this Bill is of course, not aimed at one particular organisation or association. It is couched in general terms, and it therefore seems to be important that those general terms should be carefully scrutinised so that they do not go too far in imposing restrictions upon the liberty of persons to associate for political purposes and to express themselves as they may lawfully think fit. 756 The noble Marquess who introduced the Bill in his very lucid statement refreshed the House with two aphorisms from the East. Perhaps I may be permitted to mention a very familiar maxim of the law in this country—namely, that legislation to create a new criminal offence should be couched in the clearest and most unambiguous language, so that anybody may know whether he has committed an offence or not, and so that the Courts may have no difficulty in deciding the issue which is brought before them. I do not know of any case where that is more important than in a case like this, which is associated with what I may call political offences, and in respect of offences that are liable to be heard—most of them must be heard—before a court of summary jurisdiction, that is to say before magistrates in all parts of the country.
I venture to think that this Bill, from that point of view, requires reconsideration in Committee. It is merely from that point of view that I wish to call your Lordships' early attention to some of the matters which appear to me to arise on it. The first question arises on C1ause 1 in respect ofany person who in any public place … wears uniform signifying his association with any political organisation …The noble Marquess said they had not thought it necessary to define what was meant by "uniform". It seems to me of the very essence of the matter that "uniform" should be defined. It was, said in another place that any reasonable person knows what is meant by a uniform. I venture to suggest that your Lordships will find the greatest difficulty in agreeing as to what is meant by "uniform". I heard a discussion the other day between two very eminent lawyers, both of them well versed in the criminal law, and they took diametrically opposite views as to what is meant by "uniform". Does it mean, as my noble and learned friend suggested, something which suggests association with a military force? To what articles does it apply? Does it cover the use of a badge? Because, if so, that is a most serious matter, and in fact makes it possible, as it appears to me, for the main object of this Bill to be entirely evaded. Does it cover a cap? Does it cover a red tie, as the noble Lord suggested, or does it cover the old school tie at all? Does it 757 include a body of people who walk merely with a cap which is of a distinctive type, colour and association? Does it cover the ordinary badge of a Party—the Party colours which are worn at elections? Does it cover a sash?
All these matters would have to be decided by different courts of summary jurisdiction—by stipendiaries in the boroughs, by county magistrates, and so forth. There can be no difficulty in defining the word if the Government will only tell us what they mean. It is the easiest thing in the world to say whether it would be a crime to wear a badge or a cap in public which signifies association with a political Party. After all, there are not so many articles of clothing possible, and apparently it would be perfectly easy to define those which are meant. It is apparently intended to cover a shirt, but what other garments? The magistrate has somehow or other to define what is intended. I hope that the Government will enumerate the classes of apparel, if it is apparel, or badges, if it means badges, that are comprised in the "uniform" the wearing of which constitutes a criminal offence. It can be committed only by one person, and that person can be charged arid may be remanded in custody before the evidence is brought up. It appears to me to be a great hardship and to be wrong that a criminal offence of this vague character should be constituted.
I venture to say one word about the so-called protection of the consent of the Attorney-General. I have already pointed out that that does not prevent the actual fact from being a crime. All that the Attorney-General can do is to intervene, after the person has been charged, to say that the charge shall be no longer persisted in. But the Attorney-General has never before this, at any rate as part of his function, had to decide whether a crime is committed or not. There are many cases where the criminal procedure requires that the consent of the Attorney-General should be obtained. That is for the purpose of seeing whether criminal procedure is being abused, but certainly the Attorney-General is not supposed to have a general dispensing power, and I cannot help saying that in respect of political offences it is particularly inadvisable that the decision should rest with the Attorney-General who, after all, is an officer of the 758 Government for the time being. I recollect cases in which difficulties have arisen in the past when the Attorney-General's discretion has been invoked in a case that had a political complexion.
If your Lordships will look at Clause 2 you will observe that the first part of paragraph (a) has nothing to do with any political purpose. It does not say that the association should be an association for any political purpose. The words used are to my mind as vague in creating a criminal offence as any you could find. It says where the adherents areorganised or trained or equipped for the purpose of enabling them to be employed in usurping the functions of the police.…I began to think what the functions of the police are. I suppose the functions of the police are to prevent crime, to detect crime, and to help to keep the peace. These words are so wide that they would, as I think, cover such a case as this. Your Lordships are aware, and I dare say many of you are members, of fishery associations which engage keepers and watchers to guard against and prevent the crime of poaching in rivers by night or, for that matter, by day. Are the adherents of such fishing associations persons who are employed in "usurping the functions of the police"? They certainly are engaged, and are intended to be engaged, for the purpose of preventing the crime of poaching, of detecting poachers, and so forth, and the words seem to me to be necessarily wide enough to cover that case.
Not long ago I read, and I am sure many of your Lordships have read, a recent novel written by a distinguished representative of the Crown abroad in which several chapters are devoted to an organised hunt by the owner of a deer forest in Scotland in order to detect or keep off a person who had threatened to kill a deer in the forest. Were all those adherents usurping the functions of the police, or were they not? Nobody supposes that was intended, and again no prosecution is to be instituted without the consent of the Attorney-General. The objection is that it is made an offence, and the objection is that an association which trains its adherents to be employed in usurping the functions of the police ipso facto becomes an illegal association. I venture to think that though that is entirely unexpected and 759 unintended the words ought to be more carefully defined. Then there is at the end of this clause a proviso to the effect that a person charged must prove he is not guilty. That is a class of provision that is increasingly common. It has always been, as far as I know, when attention has been brought to it, rejected in this House. It seems very difficult nowadays to find any Bill that comes from Whitehall in which the promoters do not propose that a person charged with an offence shall prove his innocence, instead of complying with the old rule that he must be proved to be guilty. I think some modification should be made there.
It is unnecessary to go on dealing with further questions of this kind because this is not the Committee stage. I am only calling attention to some of the matters that are important. Clause 2 (4) will require very careful attention. This subsection says:In any criminal or civil proceedings under this section proof of things done or of words written, spoken or published (whether or not in the presence of any party to the proceedings) by any person taking part in the control or management of an association.… shall be admissible as evidence of the purposes for which, or the manner in which, members or adherents of the association (whether those persons or others) were organised, or trained, or equipped.One of the great objections in the old days, before the Trade Unions Act was passed, was the difficulty that trade unions were placed in when their branches did things of which the organisation disapproved, and it was held that so great was that hardship that upon the whole it was desirable and proper to relieve them of any liability for things done by the trade unions altogether. This is a revival of that old story, because this is a case where a man managing a branch, and using injudicious words or doing injudicious things, can make the managers at headquarters liable for that which is done. What a man says in Newcastle is to be evidence against the controllers in London I Your Lordships will remember that this Bill is of general application, and applies not only to the Fascist organisations but to any other organisation which can be said to be one where members are "organised and equipped for the purpose of usurping the functions of the police."
760 The only other matter to which I will call the attention, of the noble Marquess, and which I am sure he will consider, is that provision in Clause 4 which provides that:Any person who, while present at any public meeting or on the occasion of any public procession, has with him any offensive weapon, otherwise than in pursuance of Lawful authority, shall be guilty of an offence.There is no definition of an offensive weapon. The phrase used was used in some of the old Poaching Acts in relation to a person who went in pursuit of game by night armed with an offensive weapon. I think the phrase is to be found now in seine of the Acts where a person is charged with being on premises or loitering for the purpose of committing a felony armed with a gun or other offensive weapon. Your Lordships will see that this applies to a person present on the occasion of a procession. It is made to cover a man who looks on at the procession, because it is meant to cover not only the persons in the procession but their opponents who perhaps are lying in wait for them.
That I can well understand, but it also applies to the innocent spectator who may be carrying a walking stick. Is a walking stick an offensive weapon? It has been held in some cases that it might be, and in others that it might not be, and it is left to the jury to say whether it was intended to be used as an offensive weapon. I cannot imagine a more difficult question than that. A man will say: "I never intended to use it as an offensive weapon. I intended to use it as a defence against attack." I must apologise to your Lordships for keeping you so long. I am interested in this matter solely and purely as a lawyer on the point of seeing, where criminal offences are created under the Bill, that they are so carefully defined that there can be no doubt as to whether a person has committed a crime or not. Subject to that, I can myself fully support the Second Reading of the Bill.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, may. I say one word on the subject of this Bill somewhat in reinforcement of what has fallen from the three noble Lords who have spoken hitherto? And in passing I would add my few words of congratulation to the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, for the most interesting 761 maiden speech to which he has treated us, and would congratulate the House on having so distinguished a recruit to follow in the footsteps of the noble Marquess his father. He said that the wording of many of these clauses was very wide, and my noble friend Lord Snell said that the language required consideration. That has been technically elaborated by the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down. From his wealth of experience at the Bar and on the Bench he has placed before your Lordships the difficulties which have arisen in his mind.
We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Snell, of the modest way in which he has distinguished himself on certain occasions by wearing a tie of a certain hue. In the district where I live coloured ties are sometimes worn not in the least as modest as that affected by the noble Lord. They include red, yellow, and several other colours. These garments, as your Lordships may well understand, are not worn except on occasions of political elections. Nobody would dare wear such things unless for political purposes. Generally that is the use to which they are put. They direct attention to their wearers' political adherence, and I can assure your Lordships that in many cases they can be quite sufficiently distinguished at a distance of fifty yards.
In regard to what the noble Marquess said, I would ask, are we all quite sure that we know what is not a uniform? I think in this matter we do require a little guidance from the Government in order to know exactly what a unform is not. As has been said, this Bill will have to be interpreted by petty sessional courts all over the country. I happen to be a magistrate myself and I am somewhat intrigued to know whether gentlemen who are friends of mine and have on occasions to be arrayed in uniforms have committed an offence or not. I think we ought to have a little more guidance from the Government on that subject. The noble Marquess said with truth that this Bill would not apply to such organisations as the St. John Ambulance Brigade or the Red Cross or the Boy Scouts. These organisations are all incorporated, and I think there is an Act of Parliament which regularises the wearing of uniform by certain bodies which have been incorporated. When we come to Clause 2 we see that it includes mem- 762 bers or adherents of any association of persons whether incorporated or not if they are organised or trained or equipped to enable them to usurp the functions of the police. That includes all such bodies, and their members will therefore be liable to penalties under the Bill in certain circumstances.
Your Lordships' attention has also been directed to certain functions carried out by keepers and others in keeping the peace and performing functions which certainly are the functions of the police. But there are other functions of the police which are entirely peaceful that are often performed by people who are not police, such as the duties performed by members of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. That is an Association which instructs the police in first aid work. The St. John Ambulance Brigade is organised for nothing except for the rendering of first aid and the running of ambulances and so forth. Its members do not run them against the police, but with the additional assistance of the police. Nevertheless, as the police do the same kind of thing, it seems to me these people are organised and equipped for the purpose of being employed on and doing the same things as the police do. Then when we come to such a body as the Automobile Association we know that they have scouts whose duties include the regulation of traffic. Now the regulation of traffic is in towns one of the duties of the police, while in many country districts the regulation of traffic is entirely in the hands of the scouts of the Automobile Association. Are they usurping the duties of the police? Are they under this Bill, or are they not?
I think these matters require a certain amount of explanation, and I hope the noble Marquess will be able to assure us that steps will be taken to make them clear, for there is a danger that petty sessional courts, perhaps in an excess of zeal, may regard these highly useful personages, who are working with the best will in the world with the police, as interfering with the functions of the police. I think these questions do require a certain amount of clearing up and I venture to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, in what he said.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I rise for a moment only to say that I was not quite convinced by what my 763 noble and learned friend said about Clause 2. I should have thought that if you read Clause 2 as a whole the cases he had in view have been covered by giving to it a reasonable interpretation. I do not see how those cases mentioned could possibly be regarded as associations formed for doing the work of the police or that they could be regarded as usurping—I think the word "usurping" is very strong in that matter—the functions of the police. I should not have thought that that was a really serious danger. With regard to uniforms, however, I feel strongly that the clause as it stands is too vague. It evidently covers a great number of cases which nobody would wish particularly to stop, and I venture to ask my, noble friends in the Government to consider whether it would not be sufficient to forbid uniforms used by persons for the purpose which is forbidden by Clause 2. I do not know whether I make myself clear. I should have thought that was all you really wanted to do. Otherwise you may possibly find yourselves brought up in the Courts by some ill-disposed person in a case where no one would wish to forbid the use of some particular dress, and you would get a decision by the Judges that that was not covered. That might be extended and extended until you had eaten away the whole purpose of Clause 1.
It is not that I am so much afraid of something being included which nobody wishes to stop, but that in point of fact the vagueness would enable ill-disposed people gradually to eat away the prohibition which we all desire to see enforced. For that reason I hope the Government will consider this matter very carefully. I know there was a great deal of discussion in another place on the subject, but, especially in view of the warning by so high an authority as my noble and learned friend who has just spoken, I would ask the Government whether they will not try and do something that will be more certainly effective than the provision in its present condition.
My Lords, I hope I also may be allowed to join in the general congratulations addressed to the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. I do so with the greater pleasure not only because his father was a friend of my father's but because he has directed our thoughts, if I may say so, in a very 764 useful direction, and has given me the opportunity of saying, what every one of your Lordships will agree with, that there is no sympathy whatever for this particularly cowardly form of bullying, which consists in baiting what is, after all, a small racial minority. None of us will dispute that that has got to be stamped out. On the other hand, I thought the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, was possibly a little oblivious of the fact that there is and still remains another Party equally prone to use violence for the propagation of its own political ideas—not his Party, I need hardly say. That being so, and it being our intention to support the Government in suppressing what has lately become an evil, what steps ought the Government to take?
It is quite clear already from this debate that your Lordships are not satisfied with this Bill. You are satisfied with the intention of the Bill, but you are not satisfied with the wording of the Bill. I thought myself that when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, said that the Bill is aimed at one particular organisation though couched in general terms, he hit the nail on the head. This Bill, though aimed at one particular organisation, is of necessity, possibly, couched in general terms, and will affect many other organisations which it is not meant to affect at all. That being the case, and presumably it not being the Government's intention to go much beyond the present emergency in the scope of their legislation, I personally feel that it might be much better if the Government could see their way to withdraw this Bill and put forward another Bill couched in quite other terms. Take the case that Lord Cecil has just put to the Government. That would mean—if I may venture to say so, there is a great deal in the suggestion—turning that particular clause upside down. In any case it does seem to me that there will have to be very radical revision of the terms of this Bill, and I hope your Lordships, who are quite clearly dissatisfied with the Bill, will not rest without effecting that change.
After all, this House is rather further removed from the seat of evil and of disturbance and is able to take a rather more impartial view of the difficulties, but I would point out that these particular disturbances have ceased of late, not be- 765 cause of this Bill, for the Bill is not law, but presumably because of suitable action which has been taken or threatened. In any case the disturbances have recently, I believe, entirely ceased. Is it not possible that the emergency has been very greatly exaggerated? Is it not possible that having exaggerated that emergency you are going to pass exaggerated legislation? After all, it is on the face of it unlikely that the Executive will be the best guardian of the liberty of the individual. The natural propensity of all Executives is to strengthen their own powers, not to protect the individual citizen, and when you think of the most moving national unity which was displayed only yesterday in this House, and to which the noble Lord opposite so greatly contributed by his speech, is it a moment when we need fear so deeply the forces of disorder? Might we not have greater confidence in our fellow citizens, taken as a whole, rather than inflict upon them a measure which so clearly invades their liberties? I, personally, think the British people are not worthy of the treatment which this Bill proposes to apply to them, and for that general consideration, if for no other, I should tend to oppose the underlying principles, if there are principles, which are contained in this Bill. When we come to the details of this Bill it is already obvious that the language of the Bill is at fault. Nobody can say what is a uniform. Nobody can say what is "usurping the functions of the police," and nobody can say what is a procession. As to that last term, I believe there is no legal interpretation, and I speak in the hearing of many lawyers, for the word "procession." Is it a procession, for instance, when noble Lords opposite pass into the Lobby in support of the Government, or is it a procession when I take my family to the sea? Nobody knows.
When you come to the question of uniforms, I could quote cases of a far more startling character as to under-uniforms displayed in recent cases, and when you come to usurping the functions of the police I think the members of the Front Bench all know that they have, in their youth, been guilty of usurping the functions of the police, and that their sons at public schools are perhaps actually engaged in. using physical force to this end. I am sure the noble 766 Marquess who so ably introduced the Bill must have painful knowledge of the way in which the force and power of the police are usurped in certain public schools. Are these to be suppressed? Because that indeed would be a revolution. The Committee stage of the Bill must depend upon the interpretation of these words, but if sufficiently adequate interpretations cannot be obtained, and interpretations which do not lay upon the subject the onus of proving that he understood what your Lordships do not understand as to the language of the Bill, I hope the Government will withdraw this Bill and introduce one which is more applicable to what they really have in mind.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, at this somewhat late hour I will jettison the speech which I had intended to make, and refrain also from uttering the complimentary remarks which I had intended to address to Lord Reading on his speech. I will confine myself to asking His Majesty's Government one question, which I conceive to be of very considerable constitutional importance. I would ask the noble Marquess who introduced the Bill what Minister of the Crown is to assume the responsibility for the actions of chief officers of police under this Bill. The chief officers of police are given very wide powers indeed, and I suggest that in the interest of constitutional propriety it should be made crystal clear what Minister is assuming the responsibility for these officers, since there can be no doubt that their conduct will be liable to be raised in Parliamentary debate.
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to be permitted to make a quotation from the favourite author of the noble Marquess in charge of the Bill. In introducing the Bill he "led us through a garden of pleasant images", and only when we looked at the Bill did we step out of the garden. I think we all recognise that the political situation which has given rise to this Bill requires attention, and I cannot help regretting that the Government have not decided upon a more far-reaching and comprehensive measure, rather than a palliative. I therefore urge the Government very respectfully to limit the time of the Bill, so that it may be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. It is quite possible that the working of 767 Clause 3 may be so unexpected that the Government may be very glad to have its operation limited in time. Clause 1, which deals with uniforms, has put the Government in a dilemma. Lord Atkin said that he wished for "uniform" to be defined. But if the Government define a uniform, then they stultify the object of the Bill, because as soon as a definition is made the people whom they really want to attack move quietly outside it.
We understand that a black shirt is a uniform, and I believe that the Attorney-General holds that a red tie is not a uniform. This is a very fine distinction. I think that the term "political uniform" is so wide that it must include Party colours, as has been stated by the noble Earl who is presiding over our deliberations. It is so wide that if a prosecution is undertaken it appears to me that any court must find that almost anything is a political uniform. The distinction, therefore, lies in the mind of the Attorney-General, and there a great danger in this Bill that it will be a temptation to Attorneys-General in the future to initiate prosecutions when they will be supported by the majority in Parliament. There might even be a danger of Ministers of the Crown forgetting the impartiality of their authority as Ministers and endeavouring to foment public demonstrations against any political Party distinguished by uniform which is objectionable to them.
Clause 2 deals with the usurping of the functions of the police. I think that requires further definition, because I should like to have it made clear that it does strictly mean performing those functions of the police which are not shared by ordinary citizens. Most of the legal functions of the police are shared by ordinary citizens. As long as I can remember there has been a. certain portion of Hyde Park which has been set apart by time-honoured custom for the propagation of every sort and kind of religious and political belief, and which is known, I believe, familiarly as Soapbox Paradise. I do not quite remember how long ago it was, but some time ago all the various discordant voices of Soapbox Paradise were hushed, and hushed in favour of a unanimous Communist propaganda. Shortly after that the Fascist organisation turned their attention to this matter, and once more the various conflicting voices were raised and Soap-box 768 Paradise came into its own again. It is precisely action of this kind that this Bill is intended to suppress, and I can quite understand any Government being extremely piqued at that action on the part of any organisation which was not official. I think, however, that your Lordships will agree that British people will always undertake that action if they are not convinced that the preservation of free speech will be undertaken and carried out by the Government I should like to ask the Government also to put into this Bill a definition of the word "procession." I think it is most important that that word, at any rate, should be defined, and at a later stage I propose to move an Amendment somewhat to limit the operation of Clause 2.
§ THE MARQUESS OF ZETLAND
My Lords, it is clear from the debate which has taken place on this Motion that there is a very wide measure of agreement with the Government in the object which they have in view in introducing this Bill. There has certainly been varied criticism of the means by which the Government seek to achieve their object, and I can assure your Lordships on behalf of His Majesty's Government that those criticisms will receive at their hands the consideration which they undoubtedly deserve. I will refer to one or two of the speeches which have been made in the course of this debate. The noble Marquess, Lord Dufferin, who moved the Second Reading of the Bill made it clear that this was not a measure to meet a sudden emergency. We are not on the brink of a revolution in this country, or anything of that kind. This Bill has not keen introduced in any panic, and may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, to disabuse his mind of any such idea? It h as been obvious to His Majesty's Government for some considerable time past tat there were being introduced into this country methods imported from other countries which, if not designed for the purpose, would at any rate have the effect of curtailing the freedom of speech of people in this country and their liberties in that respect.
So long ago as 1934 the then Home Secretary, in reply to questions in the House of Commons, said that representations on this subject—that is to say, the subject with which the Bill deals—had been reaching him from many quarters.
769 He said:The aspect of the problem which has been causing me most concern is the provocative effect of the wearing of such uniform in the street and public places, and the increasing number of street disorders which have occurred in consequence.That was more than two years ago, and the desirability of introducing legislation to deal with this matter has been exercising the mind of the Government for years past. The noble Lord, Lord Atkin, referred to the fact that the noble Marquess who introduced this Bill had accompanied his speech with two maxims from the East. May I in my turn add a maxim from the East—namely, this: Experience is a comb given by Providence to man after he has become bald. In this case we do not propose to wait until we have become bald to use the comb! We do not propose to wait until our liberties have been taken from us to take action to preserve them. Although, as I have said, this is not an emergency that we are legislating for, there are undoubtedly indications that the evil which this Bill seeks to remedy is tending to increase.
Now with regard to the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. As I always do, I listened to the noble Lord's speech with great interest and with great attention, but I must confess to having been a little bit puzzled on this occasion as to precisely what it was that was in the noble Lord's mind. The noble Lord, if I recall his words correctly, said that no Bill had been introduced in your Lordships' House with so much unwilling enthusiasm—a somewhat cryptic phrase—or with so much general distrust, and the noble Lord went on to give us reasons why such a Bill, as it seemed to him, was undesirable. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, having done that, proceeded at the end of his speech to tell us that he proposed to support the Second Reading of the Bill.
If I may say so, the noble Lord seemed to think that this Bill was giving the police powers to prohibit or at any rate to control public meetings. That, of course, is not so. Clause 6 is the only provision relative to meetings, and all that Clause 6 does is to enable the police to ascertain the identity of persons who persist in so interrupting the proceedings as to make the holding of an orderly meeting impossible. With regard to that particular clause, I would 770 say that I think that it is a valuable addition to the Public Meeting Act which, if my memory serves me rightly, became law as a result of the initiative of my noble friend Viscount Cecil in the House of Commons in 1908. The object of the noble Viscount in those days was to prevent the organised rowdyism which at that time was beginning to make itself a public nuisance in the course of Elections in this country. But the Act did not contain the machinery which is really necessary if the Act is to be effective, and the only object of Clause 6 of the present Bill is to provide the machinery to make effective that Act of 1908.
Next I turn for a moment to a speech to which I listened with great interest and with great pleasure, the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. And I take this opportunity, as other noble Lords have done, of expressing to the noble Marquess our pleasure at this his first contributions to our discussions and the hope that it will be by no means the last. As I listened to that mellifluous voice it occurred to me that here again was an example of the mantle of Elijah descending upon Elisha. No one perhaps has better cause than I have to recall the tremendous services rendered to the State by the father of the noble Marquess. I have no doubt that the noble Marquess will carry on the great tradition which has been set for him by his father. The noble Marquess expressed some doubt as to the drafting of Clause 3, and I can assure him that what he said on that point will be taken into consideration. The noble Marquess also referred to Clause 6, and I need not add perhaps to what I have already said on that point, except once more to say that the object is not to prevent heckling but merely to enable the organisers of a meeting to call in the assistance of the police if persistent and sustained interruption on the part of a body of persons at a meeting make the carrying on of the meeting impossible.
A good deal of criticism has been made with regard to the provisions in connection with the wearing of uniform, and various noble Lords have suggested that a definition of "uniform" should be inserted in the Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, told us, if I recall what he said correctly, that he overheard two distinguished lawyers discussing this 771 matter and that they were wholly unable, to agree upon it. If I may say so with great respect that does not cause me any great surprise. After all, lawyers are trained and brought up and paid to disagree. When the noble and learned Lord recalls the fact that it was said in another place that any reasonable person knows what a uniform is, I would be inclined to modify that phrase and say that any reasonable person, not being a lawyer, knows what a uniform is. After all, we are a practical and a commonsense people and I should have thought that really it would be quite possible to trust the interpretation of this clause to the Courts.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
Does the noble Marquess mean to the Courts of Law? Is it to be entrusted to the Courts?
§ THE MARQUESS OF ZETLAND
To the Courts before which these cases come, magistrates and Judges. Let me, for the benefit of those noble Lords who really appear not to know what is meant by a uniform, give them the definition which they will find in standard dictionaries. The definition given in standard dictionaries is that the expression "uniform" connotes some dress, or at any rate the substantial part of some dress, and that the wearing of a mere emblem such as an ordinary rosette would not be regarded as uniform, and that the dress or part of the dress must be distinctive and peculiar to the persons wearing it. I hope that perhaps may, to some extent, answer the question of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, thought that there would be difficulty in determining what was actually meant by "usurping the functions of the police". I really do not think that there was a great deal in what the noble Earl said with regard to the St. John Ambulance Association coming within the scope of the mischief of the clause of this Bill which deals with that matter, nor do I think there was really much in his suggestion that the scouts of the Automobile Association might also come within the scope of the mischief of that clause.
772 The noble Earl admitted, I think, that those persons work in co-operation with the police, and surely it is a straining of language to suggest that persons who are admittedly working in co-operation with the police can be said to be usurping their functions. If I may say so, therefore, I was not very greatly impressed by the criticism of the noble Earl on that point. Of course we all know what is meant by usurping the functions of the police or the military. I had grievous experience of that during my own time of administration in India, when organised bodies unauthorised for that purpose were banded together for the deliberate purpose of usurping the functions of the pc lice. Well, we had no difficulty in that case in determining that they were guilty of an offence, and I cannot believe that there will be any difficulty in this country in determining when an organised body of persons is usurping the functions of the military or of the police.
Then I must reply to a question which was addressed to me by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. He asked me as to the position of the police, and he pointed out, very properly, that considerable duties are imposed upon police officers under the provisions of this Bill. Let me remind him that as regards the Metropolitan Police District the Home Secretary is the police authority and the Home Secretary is responsible to Parliament for the policy and conduct of the Commissioner of Police, though, of course, not for the actual day to day activities of the police force. As regards the county and borough police forces, the Home Secretary is not the police authority. In the case of the boroughs it is the watch committee, and in counties it is the Standing Joint Committee. The police in the provinces, however, are not servants of the police authorities. They have an independent position at Common Law and under Statute. The police authority provides the force, and is responsible for its administration and its equipment. The function of the Home Secretary is to exercise a general supervision over the police throughout the country with a view to securing that they are generally efficient. And, as the noble Earl knows, a government grant of 50 per cent. of approved expenditure is made to the police forces, provided that the Secretary of State is satisfied of their efficiency.
773 Under the Bill the only special power conferred on chief officers of police are those conferred by Clause 1 (1), Clause 3 (1), and Clause 3 (2). As regards Clause 1, a permit granted by a chief officer of police requires the consent of the Secretary of State, who is responsible to Parliament and would, if challenged, have to justify his decision. As regards Clause 3 (1), this subsection substantially reproduces an existing power in London, and corresponding local provisions. The power is only to regulate, and not to prohibit, processions. The Secretary of State in this case would not be responsible for the exercise of the power by the police as regards this particular subsection. As regards Clause 3 (2), a chief officer can only set the machinery in motion, that is to say, he can only apply for an order prohibiting processions. Every order has to be approved by the Secretary of State, who again would be responsible to Parliament for his action. I think I have now dealt with the greater part of the ground which has been covered in the course of this debate. Let me say once more that these criticisms of the actual provisions of the Bill which have been made by your Lordships will receive the careful consideration of His Majesty's Government.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.