HL Deb 20 June 1963 vol 250 cc1390-406

3.57 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, I rise to support, subject to certain reservations and apprehensions which I shall indicate, the Second Reading of this Bill, which has been moved in very clear language by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. On the point of the constitutional aspects which we raised at an earlier stage, when the Lord Chancellor made his original statement, I still think we had a case. Indeed, our view was supported by the Leader of the Opposition in another place. I agree that the Bill does not directly change what may or may not be said in public, and to that extent it does not affect free speech. But, my Lords, it makes it much more expensive if the person is prosecuted and if the court takes a severe view of the offence; and to that extent it will possibly diminish the likelihood that people will say what they believe. I admit it is desirable that they should be more careful what they say.

Nevertheless, if the effect of a Bill is to diminish the degree of free speech as exercised by a British citizen, it is a Bill in the nature of a constitutional Bill, and it does affect civil liberty, whoever may be affected. I am not now challenging the principle of the Bill—not at all; far from it—but I still think it would have been constitutionally more correct if this Bill had started in another place. Nevertheless, it is comforting to know that the Government as a whole have come to the conclusion that this House is the most expeditious House of Parliament. I take it as a compliment to us all, including myself. It is a very delicate compliment to this place, and I think it is well merited.

This Bill arises out of two things, and the first is the practice of some people, in this case the National Socialist Movement—there have been some others, but these, possibly, have been the most extreme of the lot so far—to hold gatherings in certain public places and to say things which in themselves are brutal, unkind and provocative of disorder. It is right that the penalties should be increased. Of course, it is the case that these people do not believe at all in Parliamentary, or any, democracy. That is a cardinal, fundamental principle of Fascism as it is equally a fundamental and cardinal principle of Communism. Neither of them believes in democracy or Parliamentary democracy.

If they were bigger, if they were nearer to the possibility of power, there would be a strong case for Parliament, in the interests of democracy and civil liberty, to take steps to suppress both Fascist and Communist organisations because they are both conspicuously against freedom, probably of all kinds, and the supremacy of Parliament. But, fortunately, neither of them is a serious challenger to Parliamentary power. Therefore we have as yet no need to worry. But we must remember that in any totalitarian country—whether it be a former Fascist country, or one of the existing Fascist countries or a totalitarian, Communist country—even to criticise the Government, itself established by revolution and by force, is described as a crime against the State. It is treason, however mild the criticism may be. Therefore, whoever else has the right to criticise the Bill on the grounds of liberty and free speech, it is not the Fascist and it is not the Communist.

The Bill has two legs to it. One is the Public Order Act and the other, the earlier Act, is the Public Meetings Act. The increased penalties apply to a person who uses language which is liable gravely to wound people's feelings and to provoke disorder. That is the leg upon which it rests—the provocation of disorder. It is right that the penalties should be stiff. On the other hand—and this is more arguable—the penalties for interrupting a public meeting and causing disturbances with a view to making it impossible for the meeting to go on, have been increased much more substantially than in the case of provocative speech which is the cause of the disorder. It is arguable whether that should have been so.

I must say that when these National Socialist meetings take place the best thing that could happen would be for the critics and opponents to stay away. But just as the National Socialists want to provoke disorder, so the Communist Party itself wishes to play at that game by publicising their intentions and asking the masses to come—presumably by a three-line whip—with the deliberate intention of causing disorders and breaking up the meeting. Coloured people and members of the Jewish community, understandably but, as I and many of the leaders of Jewry think, unfortunately, are usually also encouraged to come to those meetings for the same purpose. It is understandable; but I wish they would stay away, because then the number of people who freely go to listen to these speakers would be limited and the meeting would become an anti-climax.

However, it is one thing to hope and another to understand the instinct of human nature causing people to go to these meetings. What I do not sympathise with is a deliberate attempt in certain political quarters to organise the presence of others with a view to disorders taking place at the meetings. I am never happy to read of students in other countries causing disorders. It is extraordinary what power students in other countries have; even to changing fundamental political policies of government from time to time. Thank God we have not quite reached that stage here, and I hope we never shall. Although students here do express their opinions, sometimes curious ones, and they have a right to do so, we are not at the stage reached in Cairo and elsewhere. These people are incited to go to the meetings and to break them up whatever the speakers may say—although the National Socialist men can usually be relied upon to say something cruel and provocative—and the result is disturbances.

Apart from the effect on our own country—I do not like to read of riots in London or in other cities of our country—the people I am always sorry for are the police; perhaps because I am a policeman's son, and also I was once the Home Secretary. I have a great general affection for the police and I am very sorry for them when they have to be turned out in great numbers over the week-end to deal with these meetings. They are reasonable people themselves, but they get knocked about and run the risk of somebody accusing the police on Monday morning of having been brutal. Usually it is not true or grossly exaggerated. It is really rough on the police. They do not like the job. They do not want to have to push British people of any sort about, and it is very rough on those people that these disturbances should take place. Nevertheless, there is this question whether the penalties ought to have been so much more increased in percentage in the case of interrupters breaking up a meeting, who may have been very much provoked, as compared with those who are engaged in the provocation. I only say it is arguable. I wish both things would stop because they are not good.

The other point raised in the discussions on this proposal is whether there ought not to be legislation to make it an offence to have any racial discrimination at all; or to utter words of a character which reflect adversely upon particular races. I have a great deal of sympathy with that. I think it is natural that the point should be raised and pressed. But, as a practical man who has had some hand in the drafting of Parliamentary legislation and in approving and altering it before reaching Parliament, I must confess that I think it is an exceedingly difficult thing to draft without doing the very thing that these people would not want to do—namely, impinging on civil liberties.

There are many sorts of things said by Irishmen about Englishmen, especially in Southern Ireland. But they are not part of the United Kingdom—that is, not by legislation—but they are in every practical sense British citizens if they come here. The English sometimes say rough things about the Scots; and the Scots say rough things about the English. The English often say terrible things about the Welsh. I would not say the Welsh say terrible things about us; I have always found them charming and hospitable, and I love them all. They are all God's creatures; but I wish they would always behave themselves.

Then, there is of course the more clear-cut and difficult issue of criticisms of the Jewish community, of coloured people, and so on. The problem is where to distinguish between the kind of thing that these National Socialists men are saying and the kind of thing which men and women say in the course of innocent conversation in which they might be quite critical about certain nationalities and certain races. Whilst I sympathise with the demand for legislation, I should not like our going so far that we thereby imperil a reasonable degree of freedom of speech within a proper sphere. I should not like to imperil civil liberty. In the end, these things are largely determined by the common sense of the public as a whole, by public opinion, which has its own ways of making itself felt. But I do not say that the attempt should not be made. I only say that I hope that the drafting of it will not fall to me, because I confess that I am a little appprehensive about whether I should make a successful job of it.

There is no doubt that there is a strong feeling about this, and it will be heard in another place, when this Bill gets there, and on other occasions. However, so far as it goes, this Bill deserves a Second Reading. We agree that the sooner it is passed, the better, and I share the hope of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that it will result in good. We take note, with approval, that he has undertaken, on behalf of the Government, as the Secretary of State for the Home Department did in another place when the announcement was made, that the Government will watch the situation and will not hesitate, if necessary, to bring in further legislation to deal with this very unpleasant and horrible business. In these circumstances, we acquiesce in the Second Reading of the Bill.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for allowing me to precede him in this debate, because I did not think it right that the Liberal Party, which has taken such a keen interest in these matters, should be unheard in the course of the Second Reading of this Bill. I feel that normally it is undesirable to place restrictions upon freedom of speech. In my view, there are far too many restrictions already, and, with more and more powerful Governments in the world, the danger is that freedom of speech will become far less common than it is at present. In fact, that is the case in many countries in the world. I think that an abuse of the present law of libel in this country may also be some danger to freedom of speech. But there is one area in which it is obviously necessary to have restriction—that is, the area covered by this Bill.

Those who abuse freedom and who exist because of their abuse of freedom should themselves be restrained. They should have no right to come to this court or any other to ask for exceptional privileges in this respect. After all, that is the Fascist mentality and, I regret to say, the Communist mentality, and all other totalitarian mentalities. It is the opposite of Liberalism. They have no right to be able to pursue their vicious creeds, undeterred by any action on the part of the police and the courts.

This Bill applies to those who intend to stimulate hatred against people on account of their race, colour or religion. So far as the great metropolis of London is concerned, this means speeches inciting people against coloured folk or against Jews. It might be said, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has said, that coloured people and Jews should not go to hear such speeches. Why do they not stay away, and there will be no incitement? It is really asking too much of people who have not forgotten—and who know better than the Jews?—what happened under Hitler. Many people used to say in Parliament and elsewhere, "Why do the Jews bother? Why don't they say nothing and take it for granted?" I can remember things being said on these lines. That did not help the 6 million Jews who were immolated in the gas chambers, burned or destroyed in other ways. This was a terrible blot on humanity. It passes my comprehension how any body of men, however depraved, could take little Jewish children and immolate them in gas chambers. It passes belief that any men—Germans or whoever they were—should have been such brutes and beasts as to commit horrors of that kind. But while men are brutes and beasts, and there are some in this country, as there are in all countries, we have to deal with them.

The fact is that we can prevent that sort of thing only if we have the means of dealing with such people. I would have no mercy on people in this country who have the sort of bestiality we have seen in foreign countries. Let us not be mealy-mouthed about this. This is not an infringement of democratic practice at all. This is the way in which democracy protects and defends itself against the Devil, the Evil One, and his servants—the people who do that sort of thing.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, did not give it a name, but I think he referred in an oblique way to Mr. Fenner Brockway's Bill, which has had the support of both Labour and Liberal Parties. Unlike the noble Lord, I am fully in favour of Mr. Fenner Brock-way's Bill. I think it was quite time that this Bill was put on the Statute Book. It provides that people who discriminate against coloured people, or others on account of their race or religion, commit an offence and can be punished. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth—and this was the view of the Labour Government, of which he was so distinguished an ornament—


Not an ornament.


I was using the word in the complimentary sense; I did not mean it in the sense of bijou or objet d'art. At all events, the Government of which the noble Lord was a most distinguished member took the view that this was impossible to carry out in practice and would not be much use anyway. I had the same opinion at that time, but I have changed it since, because the position is not getting better. Since the Labour Party has now also changed its opinion, I do not think the noble Lord is likely to blame me for changing mine. The fact is that there has not been any improvement in this sphere. We hear continually about coloured people being refused rooms in houses and hotels.

I believe it is very important to have a declaration. In many ways, it would be impossible to carry out the Declaration of Human Rights, but it is important to have this Declaration, and in this instance, I think it would be important to have a declaration that the law believes that this discrimination is wrong, and if it can be proved in court that the law has been broken, offenders can be dealt with. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for explaining this Bill so succinctly to us, and I hope it will have the effect we all desire.

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, I am very happy that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, felt constrained to speak on this Bill, because I feel that support from the Liberal Benches on a matter of this sort is of the greatest value and it would have been a grave omission if there had been no voice raised from those Benches. Like my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the moderate way in which he introduced this Bill. Perhaps that is not surprising, because it is a moderate Bill, which goes some small way to catching up with inflation. What it does is to increase certain penalties for certain existing offences, so that those penalties now approximate in real values to the size of the penalties which legislators had in mind when they were first introduced.

That, so far as it goes, is good enough, and we are quite happy that the Government have seen fit to do this. It will, I believe, satisfy a considerable number of people. It will satisfy all those people who feel that they have done a good job when they have put a new coat of whitewash over the sepulchre, and who pay no attention to the putrifying corpse inside the sepulchre. But we should look inside the sepulchre: we should not be satisfied by saying, "This is all white, and all that is inside is no concern of ours." We should concern ourselves with what is inside, because it is what is inside that is the cause of the troubles we are discussing to-day. As the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said, to a large extent it is the feelings of racial intolerance and racial hatred that give rise to the type of meetings with which the Public Order Act and the new Public Order Bill are designed to deal.

This is a matter which, as the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has said, again very moderately—over-moderately—has not improved over the years. In my view, it has grown steadily worse. It has grown worse in this country; but it has also grown worse throughout the whole world. It has grown worse in the United States and in South Africa. And, in fairness, let us admit that it has grown worse in many of the newly independent countries of Africa itself, where you find discrimination and incitement to hatred, not of the whites against the blacks, of the so-called Christians against the Jews, but of the blacks against the whites. That is a matter of the utmost seriousness, but it is one for which we must hold ourselves to a large extent responsible.

My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth said that while he was in general sympathy with the ideas of legislation to combat this problem, he would not like to have the job of drafting any such legislation. There is no doubt that it is difficult. But I should like to remind my noble friend, and other noble Lords, that this country, this Government, in writing the Constitutions of some of the newly independent countries which were formerly colonial territories have actually written into those Constitutions that there shall be no discrimination on grounds of race, colour or creed; and I do not believe that Her Majesty's Government would insist that such stipulations were written into new Constitutions if they themselves did not think it was possible to legislate to see that those stipulations and conditions were enforced. For that reason alone, I believe that it is quite possible to introduce legislation if—and it is a big "if "—the will is there.

To-day we have even additional evidence that such legislation is, in fact, possible. My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth mentioned at one point in his speech an Irishman giving advice to this country. A man of Irish descent could, I think, give at any rate an example to this country, in the form of the President of the United States. In The Times of to-day there is a long article headed: "President's Call to Congress on Negro Rights". With your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote two short extracts from what the President of the United States says in this matter. I am not suggesting for one moment that the situation which we find in this country is in any way comparable in extent to that which is found in the United States, but I suggest to your Lordships that in quality the situation basically has some disquieting similarities.

The President, at one point in his message, says this: The result of continued federal legislative inaction will be continued, if not increased, racial strife—causing the leadership on both sides to pass from the hands of reasonable and responsible men to the purveyors of hate and violence, endangering domestic tranquillity, retarding our nations' economic and social progress and "— and this is important— weakening the respect with which the rest of the world regard us. He goes on to say—and in this he might almost have already heard the queries raised by my right honourable friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth: Such legislation is clearly consistent with the Constitution and with our concepts of both human rights and property rights. The argument that such measures constitute an unconstitutional interference with property rights has consistently been rejected by the courts in upholding laws on zoning, collective bargaining, minimum wages, smoke control and countless other measures designed to make certain that the use of private property is consistent' with the public interest. President Kennedy goes on to remind Congress of this: While the legal situations are not parallel, it is interesting to note that Abraham Lincoln, in issuing the Emancipation proclamation 108 years ago, was also accused of violating the property rights of slave owners. So I think it must be admitted that if there is the will to have legislation of a kind which will in one form or another outlaw racial discrimination and the incitement to racial hatred, it is possible that such legislation can be drafted and can be enforced.

The question is: is it desirable to have such legislation? Of course, we do not want to proliferate legislation simply for the fun of it. But in this country (I will not weary your Lordships by going through a long list of the occasions on which these things have happened) we know full well that over the past years there has been an increasing amount of racial tension, and, among even the most respectable and decent-minded people, of actual racial hatred. We have only to remember two recent examples to see what happens, among the bus employees of Bristol and Walsall, where they have now, I believe, fortunately, fairly satisfactorily settled the acts of complete discrimination against people solely on the grounds of their colour. In regard to housing it was only to-day that I saw a lease for a flat which was about to be taken by somebody I know (not the printed lease, but typed in as a later insertion), in which there was a condition that, "The tenant undertakes not to sublet to any person who is coloured or Negro." That, as I say, is something which has been added to an existing stereotyped lease; and it is going on in this country.

Have we any need, or any right, to interfere in this matter? There are some who say, "No"; that this has nothing to do with legislation, and the law should not concern itself with these moral issues—because it is a moral issue. But, after all, the law does concern itself with moral issues. The law concerns itself very definitely with the Sixth Commandment: "Thou shalt not murder"; with the Seventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery"; and with the Eighth Commandment, concerning the rights of private property. We are moral in this country when it comes to looking after the bodies of people, their wellbeing and protection; we are moral when it comes to sexual affairs—at least, our laws try to support morality in that respect; and we are moral when it comes to safeguarding the property of individuals. But when it comes to dealing with the happiness and wellbeing of people; when it comes to the Christian injunction of loving your neighbour as yourself; and when it comes to the question of charity, in the Christian sense, then we say that the law should wash its hands of this; that it has nothing to do with us whatsoever.

There is the most curious dichotomy in people's minds over this question. That great organ of public opinion and morality, The Times, published on June 11 a leading article, which most of your Lordships will have read, in which it said "It is a moral issue". But the article was not referring to charity; it was not referring to the happiness of individuals; it was referring to something entirely different. When it is referring to this matter of racial hatred, encouraging one human being to rise in hatred against another fellow man. The Times takes a very different attitude indeed. Because on August 25 of last year it had a leader on this subject, and it finished up by saying, having given a long disquisition on the duties of the criminal law and its responsibilities, and on similar matters, that the comportment of the people has as well justified this course of freedom and that might be expected to be a cause of legitimate pride. Yet, not much more than six months later, it indicts this country for falling away from moral standards and for living entirely by materialism. I think it is right in doing that, but I believe that here we have a test in front of us.

Is The Times, in its leading article of June 11, right when it says that we have turned our backs on ethical principles and on morals, and that we are concerned purely with personal welfare, personal safety, personal property, sexual morality and nothing else? Or are those, including the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House, right when they say that we are as moral a country as we have ever been? I believe that this is not only a test for our own consciences in this country, which perhaps is the most important test of all, but a test before the eyes of the whole world. Are we this smug, self-seeking, materialistic, affluent civilisation which is prepared to use the whole force of the law if it is going to protect the material things of life, or are we a civilisation, a country, a society, which not only believes in higher things but is prepared to use the force of the law and the weight of the Government and legislative attitudes and beliefs in this matter by saying, not only as the noble and learned Lord has said—and I was grateful that he said it—that we abhorred Fascism, but more than that; to say that we, as a civilised and moral country, will not tolerate the abuse of liberty and speech when it means that one man is encouraging another man to hatred and enabling one man to increase the tensions and mistrust which already in any human society exist? For these reasons I am full of concern and unhappiness that this Bill goes no further than it does, but I am in a very modest way grateful for the small step forward it does take.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, I had not thought of speaking but I feel it would be desirable if we all said just what we think about this Bill, and I propose to do it very shortly. Like my noble friend who has just spoken, I am disappointed that the Bill goes no further than it does and it is so framed that it seems impossible to produce any Amendments to it except in the direction of increasing the punishments; but it does not, to my mind, really touch the problem we are faced with to-day.

There are two things we have to face. One is racial discrimination, which, with the question of leases, entry into clubs and so on, is a little difficult. The other is the actual use of language which is calculated to stir up racial hatred and prejudice. This Bill deals with it only up to a point, where those words are likely to result in breaches of the peace. But the real danger of the use by people of language which is calculated to stir up hatred and prejudice is not merely because it results in breaches of the peace; the real evil is that it produces a canker in the body politic of our people and causes this body to become demoralised and to deteriorate. Those of us who studied the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire will remember that one of the causes was this very thing: racial hatred. At one time the Roman Empire was famed for its liberty and freedom, and when they began to decline the Roman Empire began to fall.

I fear that a nation which is gradually permeated with feelings of racial hatred and prejudice is in danger of reaching the same position. Whether or not, in fact, words are likely to cause a breach of the peace, as the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, said, it is possible for people who would be affected by statements of this kind to stay away from meetings where they would be used and in that way breaches of the peace would be avoided. But this would not avoid the evil I have in mind. This language would still be poisoning the minds of the population, and it is just that which I should like to avoid.

My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth. I suppose not too seriously, compared it with the statements that we make about Scotland, Wales and Ireland; but these, of course, are matters of good humour. We all have our jokes about Scotland and they have theirs about us; and nobody enjoys our jokes about Scotland more than the Scots do themselves. In fact, they repeat them and treat them as good jokes. But these jokes are not made in the same spirit as the statements that are made, say, about Jews or coloured people. These are deliberately calculated to inspire hatred and prejudice. Nobody suggests that anything we say about the Scots is with the desire to make us hate them, although they may, if you like, be figures of fun. So I think this is a subject that has to be dealt with from the viewpoint of discrimination. I realise that it is impossible to do very much with the Bill as it stands, unless we widen the Long Title, but I do not think that this is a suitable medium.

I hope that the Government will give this matter very serious consideration, because it is an evil which is growing and is likely to imperil the whole future of this country. After all, we are a Commonwealth in which we have people of all colours, and we like to feel that they are our brothers and are human beings like ourselves. If we are to permit expressions of hatred or prejudicial remarks against them, it is the beginning of the end of our Commonwealth; and the same applies in regard to a very substantial number of, I hope, respected members of the community who belong to the Jewish race. This evil ought not to be tolerated and I would ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to give full weight to this problem. I do not feel that I can carry the matter any further to-day, but he should not hesitate to introduce legislation to ensure that any attempt to stir up racial hatred and prejudice, whether it is liable to cause a breach of the peace or not, should be dealt with, and to see whether at the same time we cannot in some way deal with racial discrimination. My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth appreciated, as a former Home Secretary, the difficulties in drafting such legislation, and I should not wish to minimise them; but I am sure that we can frame legislation, if we so desire, as my noble friend Lord Walston pointed out; and I hope that we shall do so.

Finally, I want to make one point which I think has not been referred to, and that is on the position of the police. The police have a tremendous difficulty. They are likely to be "shot at" by those who provoke and those who are provoked. I believe that, on the whole, the police are an unbiased and fine body of people who take their task seriously and who have the sole desire to maintain the peace on these difficult occasions. But we must make it not too difficult for them. I do not know whether the penalties that are proposed are, in the view of the Government, sufficient to make the task of the police easier and to make the offences such that people will be deterred from committing them. If the Government have second thoughts about it and wish to increase the penalties, I should have no desire to prevent that. I should like the Government to think seriously about that. All they are doing, as my noble friend said, is dealing with the question of inflation. The penalties today, in real money, are no more severe than they were in 1936 when the Public Order Act was passed. I should have thought that conditions to-day would justify an even greater penalty in the interests of the preservation of peace. But, as I have said, while we want to preserve the peace, I do not think that that is the main question. The main question is the stirring up of hatred and racial and other prejudice, and I hope that at an early date that matter will be dealt with.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I reply rather briefly to the points raised by your Lordships in this debate. I am grateful to your Lordships for the way in which this Bill has been received for its content. The main criticism that has been made has been that it does not deal with a number of other matters. It has been described by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, as a very moderate Bill. Moderate it certainly is in length, but I think myself that its contents will have a very considerable effect. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked that we should consider whether the penalties should be further increased. I do not share the view that the increase of penalties here is just to make up the difference due to inflation. I will certainly look at that, but I will not go further than that, because I have had at the back of my mind that we are trying to get the sort of range of limit of fines which can be imposed in the magistrates' courts and again at assizes or quarter sessions.

May I turn to the various points raised in the debate? The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, still tried, rather to my surprise, to assert that this was a constitutional Bill. His argument in respect of that was entertaining, and not only entertaining but, I thought, extremely curious, because he based it on the ground that the increased penalties imposed by the Bill would act as a more adequate deterrent to stop people from breaking the existing law. He said, if I followed his argument correctly, that it followed from that that anything to discourage them from breaking the existing law involved restriction of the freedom of speech, which seemed to me not to flow very well.

May I come to the next point he made? He referred to being expeditious. I am glad he made that observation in regard to himself, and during the course of the London Government Bill I hope he will continue to justify it. I was glad that he and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to the particular position of the police. I am sure everybody in this House knows what a burden these matters cast upon them, and I am sure we all think they discharge that burden wonderfully. May I just deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, as to the penalty under the Public Meeting Act? He criticised that penalty on the ground that it had been increased too much. I do not share that view. The penalty imposed is, of course, the maximum, but an organised breaking up of a meeting can be a serious restriction of freedom of speech, no matter by whom that breaking up may be done, and if we value freedom of speech it is important, I think, that real "teeth" should be put behind that particular provision.

As I expected, in the course of this debate a considerable amount has been said about incitement to racial hatred and racial discrimination. This Bill does not deal at all with racial discrimination, and I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that it is one thing to make a reference to racial discrimination in the Constitution and quite a different thing to draft an effective provision for our criminal law dealing with the same matter; because if you are going to have the criminal law operated and effected as everyone wishes, it is absolutely essential that the criminal offence should be defined in the most clear and positive terms. I put this question of racial discrimination—this is really not within this debate—such as the noble Lord referred to in the lease he mentioned, on one side.

But what there has been concern about in this debate is incitement to racial discrimination. I want shortly to deal with that. When Mr. Colin Jordan had his appeal allowed at London Sessions there was, if that appeal was rightly allowed, certainly ground for supposing that an incitement to racial hatred would not come within the Public Order Act. At that time, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, while one knew there was going to be an appeal, a great many of us devoted a great many hours to seeing what would be the best way of strengthening the law in that particular provision if the appeal failed. We dislike incitement to racial hatred just as much as anyone else. But the position now is this. As a result of the appeal which held that the conviction was wrongly quashed it is, I think, as clear as it can be made under the law of to-day that anyone who incites racial hatred is using threatening, abusive or insulting words; and, indeed, I myself find it impossible to envisage words used at a public meeting which really incite hatred of any racial group which are not also at the same time threatening, abusive or insulting. But, as I have said before, we shall watch the situation. I think there is no division of view as to what we seek to achieve. In my belief, the law at the present moment is adequate.

I do not myself share the view—I may be wrong and I am expressing a personal opinion—which has been expressed rather pessimistically from the Liberal Benches that this situation is continually getting worse. I am not at all sure that that is right. At any rate, we are keeping an eye upon it. If that view does tend to be right, the step put forward in this short Bill will do something, and I think an important something, to maintain both the liberty of speech which we all think should continue to be enjoyed and, at the same time, and just as important, to deter abuse of that right in our country. I thank your Lordships for the way in which this Bill has been received.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.