HL Deb 30 May 1963 vol 250 cc978-84

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, it may be convenient to the House if I repeat a statement which is now being made by my right honourable friend, the Home Secretary, in another place on the subject of public order. I will us his own words, which are as follows:

" As promised in my statement of November 8 last, the Government have reviewed the adequacy of the law relating to public order in the light of the two cases which have, since then, been before the courts.

" In one case Colin Jordan, leader of the so-called National Socialist Movement, John Tyndall, its national secretary, and two other members of it were charged under Section 2 of the Public Order Act, 1936, with running a quasi-military organisation. They were found guilty at the Central Criminal Court on October 15 and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. Jordan and Tyndall sought leave to appeal against their convictions and sentences, but this was refused by the Court of Criminal Appeal on November 9. They have since been serving their sentences.

" In the other case, Jordan and Tyndall had been convicted by the magistrate at Bow Street on August last of using, in Trafalgar Square on July 1, insulting words whereby a breach of the peace was likely to be occasioned, contrary to Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Both appealed to quarter sessions against conviction and sentence. Jordan's appeal against conviction was allowed. Tyndall's appeal against conviction was dismissed, but a fine of £10 was substituted for the sentence of imprisonment.

" The chairman of quarter sessions was asked to state a case for consideration by the Divisional Court, which decided on March 19, 1963, that the appeal should not have been allowed and that Jordan had been rightly convicted by the magistrate. The Lord Chief Justice said in the course of his judgment that ' a man was entitled to express his views as strongly as he liked…but he must not threaten, abuse or insult by hitting with words.' An application for leave to appeal to the House of Lords was subsequently refused, and the case was sent back to quarter sessions, where a sentence of one month's imprisonment was imposed.

" The Government are determined that extremists should not be allowed to provoke violence by stirring up racial hatreds. The action so far taken under the existing law has been effective, and offenders have been punished.

" The immediate action required is to strengthen the penalties for offences under the Public Meeting Act, 1908, and Section 5 of the Public Order Act, 1936. A Bill for this purpose is being introduced forthwith in another place.

" The people of this country are united in their detestation of Fascism and in their determination not to allow abuse of free speech by extremists, leading to breaches of the peace.

" The police can be relied on to enforce the law with vigour; and I would remind the House that the sanctions provided by the existing law do not rest entirely on Statute Law, and that a person who speaks words or publishes matter calculated to provoke a breach of the peace, with the intention of stirring up hatred or hostility between different classes of the Queen's subjects, is guilty of the Common Law misdemeanour of sedition. That offence extends to the stirring up of hatred or hostility on the ground of race; and it is punishable by fine and also by imprisonment, the amount of the fine and the term of the imprisonment being entirely at the court's discretion.

" It will be the duty of the Government to watch the situation closely, and if further legislative action be found necessary we shall not hesitate to take it, for we are determined that the law shall be fully adequate to deal with any persons or groups whose words or actions give rise to breaches of the peace."

That is the end of my right honour able friend's statement. I intend to introduce the Bill referred to by my right honourable friend at the end of Public Business to-day.


My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for giving us the substance of the statement of the Home Secretary in another place. I should think that the objective of this statement would meet with fairly general approval everywhere, and, beyond the point I am going to raise, I must not be misunderstood on that point. The warning was given in the last few phrases used by the Lord Chancellor that if the measures which were proposed were found to be not sufficient, the Government would not hesitate to come to the House for further powers. On the other hand, we have a point of view which, submit with all humility to this House of Lords of ours, is one to be considered—especially as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor proposes to give notice of the Bill to-day, Second Reading to be on the third and fourth day when we reassemble after Whitsuntide.

The main operation which might be proposed in the Bill—of course, we have not seen the Bill yet—is to increase the penalties in regard to the matters which have been raised, but the actual legislative powers dealing with increase of charge by way of penalty in our courts is in the long run as much a question of the administration of legislation with regard to civil liberties as anything else. This is intended to apply to all circumstances covered by the cases which have been cited in connection with public meetings, and the like. This goes very wide.

I am anxious for this legislation to be brought up to date in the speediest possible way, but I am persuaded, as I think are my friends in the other place, that this measure ought not to be introduced into the unrepresentative House first. It should go to the elected Chamber because it deals, in fact, with basic civil liberties. If it is a question, such as I suggested when I put my point at Business time to-day, of getting the greatest speed, then I think that in the long run, if the Bill is introduced here it will be a longer process in getting the legislation than if it were introduced into the representative House first. Any point of amendment could be discussed and passed as early as possible in that place, and there would be no difficulty en route afterwards. I hope, therefore, that this Bill will be, reconsidered from the point of view of its place of introduction, and that it will be introduced in the representative House.


I have listened with interest to all the noble Earl has said. I cannot agree with him that the Bill—which, of course, he has not seen—is one that deals with basic civil liberties, because it does not alter the ingredients of the offences. What it does do, and what it is desirable we should do as soon a; possible, is simply lo increase the penalties for existing offences. I should think that that was a perfectly proper Bill to be introduced into this House, and I am sure that those proposals in the Bill for increased penalties will be welcomed in both Houses and in the country at large. I do not think the Bill which your Lordships will see to-morrow really raises the issues to which the noble Earl refers.


My Lords, with great respect to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I find myself, in principle, in agreement with my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. I must say that if I were now Secretary of State for the Home Department I should take the same view—that it was appropriate that this Bill should be introduced into the popular House. The Lord Chancellor argues that the Bill's purpose is to increase penalties. I am not on the side of Mr. Colin Jordan; nevertheless, one must see justice done, and see that proper Parliamentary consideration is given to these matters. If the penalties are increased, in this case they would affect Mr. Colin Jordan, but in future cases they might, of course, affect somebody else, even people who say indiscreet things with innocent motives, and to that extent it is a greater penalty within the field of a prima facice civil liberty offence. Moreover, Parliament may wish to amend this Bill and that may bring in other considerations of civil liberty. The Bill is a descendant, so to speak, of the Public Order Act, 1936—which was eminently a Bill about civil liberty, which I supported—and the Public Meeting Act of an earlier period.

There is, however, another point. I was in earlier years chairman of the appropriate committee of the Cabinet dealing with the legislative programme, and I tried hard to get more legislation than was hitherto the case sent early to this House. I think noble Lords who were here at the time will remember that that was so. Lord Addison asked for it, and I backed him up. But there were two classes of Bills, if not three—I cannot remember the third, if there was a third—about which we had reservations. One was clearly that of Money Bills—on which this Government recently slipped up—to the extent that they had to be started in another place and not in this House. The other class was Bills of a constitutional character. It is arguable as to whether this Bill is a Bill of a constitutional character, but on balance I think it is. The Criminal Justice Bill, I would say, was not. That was an appropriate Bill which under both Governments was brought in here, if my memory serves me rightly. But this is a Bill of a constitutional character setting limits to the freedom of speech without penalties being incurred, and I should be surprised if there is not trouble in another place.

I would earnestly urge the Government, including the Lord Chancellor, not to put this Bill in this House first of all, but to let it start in another place where, in view of the general purpose of the Bill, I should think the Government will get pretty good support and co-operation. I think I can say for my noble friends that that will be the case in this House. But I am very anxious, not only as an old House of Commons man, but as a man who is enjoying himself in this place, too. I do not want to see this place getting itself off on the wrong side of the fence, and I would beg the Lord Chancellor, with great respect, to be good enough to think over this matter again.


My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, refers to the other House as popular, I hope he is not implying any reflection on your Lordships' House.


No: it has been very popular of late.


I cannot agree at all with the noble Lord when he refers to this Bill. He is in the difficulty that he has seen it as a Bill of a constitutional character, but it really is not. It does not alter the limits of freedom of speech at all. All it does is to increase the liability to penalty of those who now infringe the existing law. There is no constitutional question involved. I myself believe that when the noble Lord has seen the Bill he will realise that, really, on this particular issue the balance lies in favour of the argument that I am putting forward, and not in his favour.


My Lords, I am afraid I am not willing to withdraw my view upon this matter. Whatever happens to this afterwards, the responsibility will rest upon the Government and upon the advisers of the Government as to what was the right thing to do in this matter. I have already said that I have taken soundings of representative people in the other place, and I have stated not only my view and the view of my colleagues in this House but the more general view.


My Lords, of course I am grateful to the noble Earl. I was not expecting him to withdraw from his point of view, but I can assure him that the matter has been fully and carefully considered by my colleagues.