§ 3.27 p.m.
§ The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Aberdare.)
§ Lord AVEBURY
My Lords, may I say one or two words about a provision in the Isle of Wight Bill which has come before your Lordships' notice on one previous occasion, that is to say on 19th February last year? Several of these county council Bills were considered on the same day and I ventured to draw your Lordships' attention to the provisions regarding notice of street processions. Prior to the Local Government Act 1972, many local authorities had provisions in their local legislation requiring such notice; but, in general, it was very much shorter than the notice they sought in the reorganisation that followed in 1972. By far the largest number of the old enactments called for either 36 or 24 hours' notice, whereas in the new Bills that were presented, either in your Lordships' House or in another place, as much as five or even seven days' notice was to be required. In the case of the Isle of Wight Bill it started off with three days and it finished up with three days.
In another place, my honourable friend Mr. Alan Beith moved an Instruction on the West Midlands County Council Bill. That was accepted by another place and the clause requiring notice of street processions was deleted. I will not go into all the arguments again, but one of them was that 991 we should have a comprehensive review of requirements for notice, particularly in the light of the remarks that have been made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in relation to the Red Lion Square demonstration.
I should add that since the present Government came into office a review has been announced of the Public Order Act and related matters. Sooner or later the Government are, one supposes, going to introduce public general legislation regarding the holding of street processions, demonstrations of one kind or another, in the light of the experience that we gained not only from the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Scarman, into the Red noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, into the Red Lion Square demonstration, but also from the recent events in Southall which led to the tragic death of Mr. Blair Peach and the injury of a large number of persons.
I did submit on a previous occasion that it was a mistake for local authorities to introduce a variety of provisions in their own Acts regarding the notice to be given of public demonstrations when sooner or later Parliament would come to some general conclusions, particularly in the light of any advice that may be offered to us by the Home Office. I still think that is true, but the battle seems largely to have been fought over the West Midlands Bill and a conclusion reached which may not entirely satisfy anyone. I would call it a sort of "interim compromise".
Those local authorities which originally wished for more notice than they had would be content with three days but feel that special provision should be made for spontaneous demonstrations. My honourable friend, in his speech in the other place, gave various examples, and I think it is important for your Lordships to note the possibility of demonstrations by a trade union in legitimate furtherance of a trade dispute where some event has occurred which immediately excited the passions of the workpeople and they wished to show their feelings in a public manner. There is no reason whatsoever why they should not be permitted to do so.
After these questions were discussed in another place, it was agreed that although, generally speaking, 72 hours' notice had to be given for a procession, where an 992 emergency occurred which led to "spontaneous demonstrations", as they were called, it would be perfectly in order for the organisers to notify the police as soon as practicable thereafter. This was the form that the clause took in the final version agreed on the West Midlands Bill.
It is unfortunate, I think, that all this time has gone by—a whole year's deliberation since the matter was first raised in your Lordships' House and even slightly longer than that since my honourable friend Mr. Beith and my noble friend Lord Hooson, who was then in another place, first drew attention to the matter there. With great respect, I do think it would have been possible for the local authorities to get together and devise a common solution on the West Midlands lines.
I am not entirely content with it, but at any rate it is preferable to the extreme of five or seven days that some authorities were asking for, though I should have preferred none at all. But, with the provision for spontaneity and the additional proviso regarding funerals, I think this would be, as I believe my honourable friend said, an interim compromise acceptable to most people. I cannot let this occasion pass without expressing some regret that the promoters of the Isle of Wight Bill have not seen fit to fall into line with that compromise which had been so generally agreed in another place and without expressing the hope that, even at this late stage, they may see fit to do so.
§ Lord ABERDARE
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, says that this is a matter which is basically better dealt with in public general legislation, I must say that I thoroughly agree with him. There are a number of matters in these large authority Bills which would be better dealt with in public legislation, but the fact is that there is no such legislation at the moment and, where local authorities feel the need for a power, this is the only way they can obtain it.
As the noble Lord rightly pointed out, there has been an agreed compromise on the West Midlands Bill. The relative provision reads as follows:Notice under paragraph (a) above shall be served at a time not less than 72 hours before the procession starts to pass through any street or as soon as reasonably practicable after that time".993 I think he does less than justice to the Isle of Wight promoters in criticising them. They have already reduced their period of notice to three days, and the compromise on the West Midlands Bill occurred after the Select Committee of your Lordships' House had considered the Isle of Wight Bill. This Bill, will, if your Lordships give it a Third Reading, now go to another place, and I have no doubt that they will look with great care at this particular provision.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed and sent to the Commons.