I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
When the fortune of the Ballot gave me the opportunity of introducing a Bill, I had no design regarding any Bill that I desired to promote, and had not fixed upon any particular Bill; but the time for decision as to the Bill that one would adopt was short, and one of the Bills shown to me was a Measure which I thought I could support with a good conscience and my best endeavours. I have often heard quoted, from Lenin's article in the publication called "The Workers' Dreadnought," these two sentences:
Give us the child for eight years, and it will be a Bolshevik for ever.
Hundreds of thousands of teachers constitute an apparatus that must push our work forward.
It is no exaggeration to say that these two texts of Lenin are the inspiration of the anti-God campaigns which have, unfortunately, been introduced into this country. They are like the germs of some contagious disease, which may spread and destroy men's lives. They are germs which multiply, and, if unrestrained, may destroy men's minds and make them so perverse that they follow programmes which, to the ordinary sober citizen, must seem to lead to nothing but destruction.
It is not my desire, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, to enter upon party polemics or to engender any religious feeling. I have deliberated calmly over the matter, and I have in mind certain things that I have casually read, and also a story told me by a lady whom I have known for many years, and who devotes her life now to attending to the comfort of disabled ex-service men—a work which brings her into contact with working people, including some Communists. She keeps clear of all those things herself, and in no way could be described as a bigoted person. She told me that, in the course of her daily movements, she came across the widow of an old soldier, and this widow was very much concerned about what was happening in respect of her grandchildren. Her daughter was married to a Communist, and, although she had no complaint about him as regards his kindness to her daughter, she was worried and horrified by the fact that her grandchildren were sent to a school on the doorstep of which was a mat on which was a figure of Christ, and the Children were required to wipe their muddy boots on that figure as a sign of derision.
I do not think I exaggerate when I say that the whole of my training and public service has been one of religious toleration, and, after thinking for many years over the things that most matter in life, I have formed the conclusion that any religion, in spite of possible imperfections—and every religion may have its imperfections—is better than no religion at all. I should like, if I may, to read one Clause from the great Proclamation of Queen Victoria with reference to religious liberty. These are the words of a Christian sovereign addressing subjects in a country in which the diversity of creeds and religions and conflicting sects is greater than in any other country in the world:
Firmly relying Ourselves on the truth of Christianity, and acknowledging with gratitude the solace of religion, We disclaim alike the right and the desire to impose Our convictions on any of Our subjects. We declare it to be Our Royal Will and pleasure that none be in any wise favoured, none molested or disquieted by reason of their religious faith or observances, but that all shall alike enjoy the equal and impartial protection of the law. And We do strictly charge and enjoin all those who may be in authority under Us that they abstain from all interference with the religious belief or worship of any of Our subjects, on pain of Our highest displeasure.
That charter of religious liberty has, of course, been present in the minds of all of us who have had to administer public affairs in India. It is one of religious toleration, and it is in that spirit that I would ask the House to consider the Bill which is now before it.
I should like to make a few remarks on the Bill itself, and to explain the changes which I have made in it as compared with the Bill of 1927, which received a Second Reading in this House and also went through the Committee stage. In Sub-section (1) of Clause 1, the parent is exempted. That was suggested by the Committee. Far be it from me to suggest that the parent should indulge in imparting teaching of this character to his children, but, at the same time, one knows what would be the difficulty, what chances there would be, perhaps, of spite, if the home were invaded by spies or enemies of his with a view to getting him into trouble. One does not want that kind of thing; one does not want to interfere in the home, even although the object may be good. Then there is an important and far-reaching change, in Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, with regard to the religion. In previous Bills it was blasphemy against the Christian religion that was provided against; but the House will easily see, after my remarks about religious toleration, that it is better, and only fit, that the protection should be accorded, not merely to the Christian religion, but to any other religion, because largely the aim of this Measure is to counteract that anti-God campaign with which it is sought to penetrate also this country.
I am not alluding to imparting sincere beliefs by an agnostic, or even by an atheist, so long as he refrains from those things which lawyers would say come within the mischief of the Clause.
Naturally, ii all religions are to be included for protection, the Clause extends what is known as the law of blasphemy which related only to the Christian religion. The only form of blasphemy that is penalised in this Bill is
words spoken or written, or pictorial representations, whereby it is sought to bring the Christian or any other form of religion into contempt by means of ribald, contumelious or scurrilous language.
It is quite possible to impart instruction to adults, or children for the matter of that, without transgressing the words in this definition. The next point is that I have not included any definition of seditious matter in the Bill. I have had
special experience in India, and I know there is often a very well-defined boundary between words, however strong, which constitute a legitimate criticism and that kind of sedition which it is desired to put down. For 10 years I was the only authority in a Province who had power to sanction a prosecution for sedition. The only condition laid down for one's guidance was that one's legal adviser should first declare that the words complained of came inside the law, and it then remained with me, as the highest authority in the Province, to decide, even when it came inside the law, whether it was expedient to launch a prosecution. There are many things which just cross the boundary line but for which it is inexplicable to prosecute. Numbers of applications were made bringing seditious matter of a sort to my notice in which, although they broke the law, I did not institute a prosecution. That I exercised caution may be inferred from the fact that, with the exception of three or four cases in which I accepted an apology from the accused, and a promise of amendment, every case that I instituted ended in a conviction.
Bearing in mind that experience and that difficulty, I have introduced into the Bill a safeguard against ill-judged prosecutions. I consider that in these matters a calm legal opinion should be a preliminary to the institution of proceedings. In Scotland proceedings of this kind can only be instituted by the Lord Advocate. In England there is no such provision and, therefore, in Clause 2 (2) I propose that a prosecution should only be instituted by or on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I regard this as necessary in order to prevent ill-judged or bigoted efforts to enforce the law which will not be to the public advantage. I hope that, if the Bill gets a Second Reading, the Government, if they cannot adopt it, will at least give full facilities for its further stages and, in that case, if there are any verbal amendments which appear to be reasonable, I shall not object.
May I give such evidence as I have available to show that this movement of militant atheism, as it is called, is by no means dead and is, indeed, showing active signs of life. One of the chief objections that may be urged by opponents is that Red schools have diminished and that the evil is disappearing and, therefore, that it is much better that that should die of inanition. The evil has certainly not waned. Some Red schools have disappeared, but the much more insidious method has been adopted of corrupting teachers in State schools in order that they, in their turn, may corrupt the pupils and so raise in the next generation a large body of teachers who will instil this very poisonous doctrine which is disseminated by these atheists.
The "Times" in September, 1928, reported that it was stated at the Congress of Young Internationals held in Moscow that
England was foremost among 12 countries in successfully kneading the children.
Here I have an extract which shows that notice is taken in these circles of measures of the kind that I am dealing with. This was a catechism which was to be addressed, question and answer, to the children:
Do you know why the Seditious Teaching Bill was introduced to Parliament?
The dictated answer was to be:
Because of the activities of the Young Comrades League.
It seems likely that, had that Bill been passed in 1927, there would have been a check, and issues like the "Young Comrade" and similar publications which have since made their appearance might not have seen the light. The contents of these publications can leave no doubt as to the intentions of those responsible for them. The "Daily Worker" of 7th March, 1930, commented on the action of the Bishops apparently over the general strike, and said:
Bishops have drawn millions a year in doles, and when called upon to do something for the miner during the National Strike, issue a blank, blank prayer. They are drawing thousands of mining royalties,
one did not know that before—
so the prayer was paid for.
The "Daily Worker" of 9th January, 1931, contained an article by one, Kathleen Taylor, on the children's work in which is written
The 'Children's Movement' no longer can be considered of secondary importance but must be placed in the foremost rank.
During a struggle it is not difficult to mobilise masses of children. They must be organised on the basis of the schools, organised into children's clubs, taught revolutionary songs to sing in the streets, sent on picket lines, agitate in the schools, and all sorts of propaganda and agitational methods developed and adapted to child's mentality.
The "People" of 2nd July, 1932, had the following notice from one of its correspondents:
It is an unpleasant story, but the fact remains that a party of over 70 children, aged between three and 12 years, recently marched through London streets accompanied by men wearing red ties, singing in shrill voices the following disgusting doggerel:
'They have got the money,
They have got the money
And we can't get a bob.
They tell us to love our Jesus Christ
But there ain't no blank, blank God.'
I cannot think that any Christian or God-fearing men would like to have songs like this taught to their children, no matter to which party in this House they may belong. It is a great mistake to imagine that a movement which is inspired both in schools, in songs and in meetings of this kind has really relaxed its activities. On the contrary, the organisations which are conspiring to get hold of the children are as active as ever, though they are pursuing a different method, more insidious than the blatant Red School of a few years ago. Among these organisations the most prominent in matters which this Bill is designed to check are the Young Communist League and the Educational Workers' League. The Educational Workers' League seceded from The Teachers' Labour League, and it was the extreme section. It is affiliated to the Young Communist Internationale of Moscow. The Educational Workers' League is affiliated to the Educational Workers' International with headquarters in Paris, and is completely Communist in its advocacy. The organisation carries on its educational work and has many branches in different parts of the country. It urges, through its Communist organisation, teachers to resist all attempts to celebrate either Empire day or Armistice day.
The "Daily Worker" has a Children's Corner, and in its issue of September 1st, 1932, it instructed children that the mention of King, country, God and war should arouse their suspicions. A teacher in the employ of the London County Council was described in The "Educational Worker" of September, 1932, as the organiser of the largest Communist Local in London. He was fined £5 last June for obstructing the police in the execution of their duty, in the course of an anti-war demonstration in South East London, but I believe that he is still a teacher. Last Summer the Educational Workers' organ described a visit of 35 British teachers to Leningrad and Moscow, which was carried out under the auspices of the Educational Workers' League. The group which paid this visit arranged by that organisation was described as representing universities, training colleges, polytechnic, elementary, secondary, central, day, continuation, nursery and special schools as well as a handicraft centre. They were given an official reception by the Soviet teachers, who asked them to take back with them their greetings to the militant teachers of England.
Even in the University of Oxford we have, I am told, according to the Press, an October Club with 300 members who are Communists. I cannot help thinking that if, instead of addressing each other on the merits of Communism, they were to address themselves to a healthy exercise like rowing, it might be much better for all concerned. I will quote a few more instances. The "Evening Standard" in April, 1931, wrote
Officials of Arcos admitted to our representative"—
that is the "Evening Standard"—
that they have had established a school and kindergarten in London on thoroughgoing Communist lines; although the school is intended, it was stated, for the children of Soviet citizens in this country, it is also open to children of British Communists.
In the "Daily Mail" of 1st November, 1932, a description is given of the Reds' Anti-God War in ads country, in which it said:
A union of the Godless has been initiated.
This is the oganisation which the Scottish Prelates of the Roman Catholic Church in their Pastoral Letter, reported the day previously in the issue of that paper, declared:
will not shrink from drenching the world in blood or grinding the entire human race in appalling misery.
There are even some churches in England which are showing sympathy to these teachings, and there are many Communist organisations with the same objective. The paper says that another organisation, The League of Militant Atheists, is projected. I can produce an extract from yesterday's "Daily Worker" which says that militant atheists are very busy in our midst. They talk of an Easter Conference taking place to welcome militant atheism. In furtherance of their militant attitude, in the Red Sunday School, they are teaching young people the following murder doctrine:
If an individual is excessively harmful, if he is dangerous to the revolutionary fight, you have the right to kill him, obeying the order of your legal class organ.
In moments of acute danger it is useless to await this order. The murder of an incorrigible enemy of the revolution is a legal ethical murder, a legal death sentence.
I can multiply instances of that kind, including certain extracts from the "Morning Post" published in October last showing the inquiries of a special correspondent regarding the vagaries of the Rector of All Saints', Manchester; of the Vicar of Sneyd, Staffordshire; and of the Vicar of Thaxted, Essex. All these reverend gentlemen are apparently protagonists of what is called the Catholic Crusade. They have been incumbents for many years, and they are no doubt perfectly sincere, but it is this which makes the doctrine they preach so dangerous. The Church at Sneyd displays banners among which are the Red Flag, the flag of the Irish Republican Army, Friends of the Soviet Union, and The Order of Militant Youth. The emblem of the hammer and sickle is to be found on all sides. In the vestry nailed by another Red Flag is a, portrait of Lenin. This is the Vicar's own account:
My flock is not pledged in any way to be Communists, but, when a country demands a change and the class that stands to lose with the change rejects it, there is fundamental Christian justification for force.
There are similar posters in the church at Manchester and the correspondent says: The rector is educating children. Do they appreciate his meaning in the handbill which adorns the gates: "Down with Heaven"? It is very difficult to understand how these
reverend gentlemen, who are said to be sincere, can reconcile the preaching of anti-Christ and the preaching of Christ simultaneously. Their minds must be so constituted that most people cannot understand their meaning.
There are various objections that will be raised. It will be said: "You are attacking the symptoms and not the causes." So far as the causes are concerned, the National Government have not the power of the Almightly in the first chapter of Genesis, but they are no doubt carrying on with schemes most difficult and with schemes which require an enormous expenditure, at a time of great financial difficulty. So far as the causes are concerned it is for the National Government to deal with them. As to the symptoms, the manifestations to which I have referred are not symptoms, but species. They are dangerous spores, which are sown in carefully prepared seed beds, the minds of the children, with the view that when those seeds are transplanted and when they have tilled, the number of persons engaged in this kind of crusade will be multiplied a hundred or a thousand-fold. The beginning may be small but it is the end to which we should look, and also to the effect of the wonderful prophylactic methods in the case of disease, whether it affects the body or the mind.
I should like to read a letter which came from an assistant master in a London County Council school. The writer addressed me on 28th March last. He says:
A short while ago we were circularised regarding a teachers' anti-war movement, and out of curiosity I decided to attend the meeting which was held in London at a place where teachers congregate. I was not surprised to find out who was promoting it. Unadulterated Communists of the very worst type, and they are claiming that they are getting a very big hold among teachers; of that there is no doubt. I have been to two or three of their meetings just quietly to watch, and they are planning massed attacks on Empire Day in the schools. Unless this is actively countered it is going to spread. I have little time to spare in organising against it, but I realise that something must be done. I realise the difficulty of bringing these people to hook is who is going to lay a charge against them? If the patriotic teachers in the profession gave them away, who would back them up? I feel very strongly on this matter, and I hope you will pardon me for writing you, but something will have to be done.
I will not give the name of the writer because I do not want to injure him.
The hon. Member has made three serious charges against three men, pointing out that they were in the Church of England in this country, and now he is safeguarding the anonymity of this writer.
As evidence of his sincerity and truth he referred me to a Member of this House. I showed the letter to that hon. Member, and he knew the writer well and vouched that he was a most sincere and honourable man.
I do not want to disclose names. I have more material, but I do not desire to take up more time than is necessary. I think I have demonstrated that these movements are alive. Here is a cutting from the Children's Corner in yesterday's "Daily Worker", in which reference is made to the revolutionary songs that they sang, the slogans they shouted and the impression they made on the crowds who watched the demonstrations. Hon. Members who are God-fearing men will agree with me that the gospel preached by the Founder of Christianity is the gospel of love. The gospel that is being preached to the children by the organisations to which I have referred involves a gospel of hate. I hope the House will have no hesitation in deciding to which of these two gospels it will give preference.
Duchess of ATHOLL:
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. Friend has reminded the House that somewhat similar Bills have been presented in former years. The last occasion when any considerable time was given to a Bill of this kind was in 1927. I should like to make it clear if I can that as regards the part of the Bill which deals with blasphemy we are faced now with quite a different situation from that
which prevailed in this country in the year when some time was given to the consideration of a similar Bill. We know that since 1921 we have Iliad a Communist party in this country, affiliated to the Communist International and adhering to these statutes of that International, which require all its affiliated sections to carry out its decisions. In 1923, in the book which is generally regarded as the authoritative text-book of Communism. "The A B C of Communism," it was stated that religion and Communism were incompatible, both theoretically and practically. At the time when that statement was made I do not think we were hearing very much of the British Communist Movement, and I think that very few people realised this declared incompatibility between religion and Communism. We did not realise the definitely anti-religious nature of the Communist movement. That definitely anti-religious character of Communism was restated last year in the programme of the Communist International, when it was declared that
one of the most important tasks of the cultural revolution affecting the wide masses, is the task of systematically and unswervingly combating religion—the opium of the people.
That is the principle to which the British Communist party is required to adhere, but it is interesting to note, by the admission of Mr. T. A. Jackson, who wrote a preface to the translation published last year of Mr. Yaroslavsky's book, "Religion in the U.S.S.R.", that it has been the definite policy on the part of the Communists in this country hither-to to refrain from openly attacking religion.
Mr. Jackson in his preface writes:
So far it has been the usual practice of the militant working-class movement in the English speaking world to leave religion alone. The subject bristles with so many difficulties and the churches work with such underground cunning, that it was felt usually that a raising of the question would create more difficulties than the effort was worth.
And Mr. Jackson goes on to say:
In face of the world crisis this attitude, never justifiable, is no longer even thinkable. However much we may wish to leave religion alone, religion, it is clear, will not leave us alone.
That statement is an echo of something which has been happening on the Continent of Western Europe during the last year or two. Hon. Members may not
perhaps realise that during that period there has been in existence an organisation known as the International Proletarian Freethinkers' Union, with headquarters at Berlin, and among the directors of its policy is Mr. Yaroslavsky, who is President of the League of Militant Atheists in Soviet Russia. A year ago it could have been said that Aline this International Proletarian Freethinkers' Union had branches in some 11 countries of Western Europe it had not yet established itself in this country, but the "Daily Worker" on 20th July last year foreshadowed the formation of a British branch of this International Proletarian Freethinkers' Union. It stated:
Our work, as we conceive it, is two-fold. Aiming always at our governing end—the maximum attainable extension and militant intensification of the revolutionary proletarian world struggle, we concern ourselves:
A notice in the "Daily Worker" which followed stated that support for this proposed League of Militant Atheists had been announced from about 50 centres in Britain, and it was also announced about the same time that Mr. Jackson had been appointed the organiser of this new league. On 31st December an inaugural meeting was actually held, which resulted in the formation of a council to arrange and inaugurate a British section of the International Proletarian Freethinkers Union, otherwise the League of Militant Atheists. I hold here one of the application forms for membership. It will be noted that Mr. Jackson is the organiser of this League, and a further statement from his preface to Mr. Yaroslavsky's book gives rather more clearly the militant character of the work they propose to carry on. Mr. Jackson says:
The revolutionary proletariat is not concerned with a merely paper war of the old style 'Free thought' kind of religion
in the abstract; it is concerned with religion as a concrete social fact and force, with the churches as part of the apparatus of the bourgeois state; with the priests as members of the ruling class and active political agents of the bourgeois order; with the churches as centres of counter-revolutionary propaganda; as active foci of division in the ranks Of the proletariat; with the church congregations as potential organisation centres for scab-herding and Fascist reaction.
The "Daily Worker" went on to announce last January that some 8 branches had already been formed in London and that meetings had been held during that month at Manchester and Stockport at which branches of the new League were formed.
Duchess of ATHOLL:
I will come to that in a moment. I wish to establish the fact that we have now for the first time in the history of this country, indeed, in the history of Christendom, a definite organisation seeking to extirpate religion in every form. The Bill does not attempt to stop the formation of this organisation, but it seeks to prevent it stepping beyond a certain line. I think it can do a great deal of harm even before it reaches that line, but the Bill only makes it illegal if it steps over a definite line. Let us be quite clear about this. The Middle Ages saw the Christian countries of Europe joining together to fight another form of religion which had largely destroyed Christianity in Northern Africa and the East, but now we have this organisation deliberately attempting to destroy religion in every form in Western Europe, including our own country. Those who are promoting this organisation realise to the full the importance of working among the young no one who sets out on a propaganda of this kind would fail to recognise how important it is to get at the young. They must get hold of the most malleable and impressionable material they can find and, therefore, it is not surprising that in the Communist party there has been formed an organisation known as the Pioneers, which is an organisation to deal with children of school age, that is below 16 years.
It is therefore extremely necessary to find out the nature of the attempts made by this new organisation to reach the children and to teach sedition and blas- phemy to children of that age. This organisation appears to be modelled on the Communist organisation in Russia, where there is a similar body for training children of school age. Then the "Daily Worker" in this country has its own "Children's Corner," which regularly makes suggestions as to the work that these pioneers might do. On 30th December last the "Daily Worker" contained suggestions for pioneer work. It said that they might sing and write revolutionary songs and might act and read revolutionary plays. That is a direct incitement to sedition, made publicly and openly by the leading Communist newspaper. Another method which appears to be regarded as valuable by this organisation is that of the workers' theatre, and I am told that it has proved itself a potent influence in spreading Communism in Germany. I have heard that it is a method which for some time past has been employed in this country. It seems to be a method peculiarly adapted to the display of blasphemy. Here I have notes on a play recently performed. It included parodies of the Doxology and the Amen. It represented L.C.C. property holders with colossal profits being spent on the Riviera and so on, and the expulsion of one of their tenants because of inability to pay. There is nothing blasphemous or seditious in that, but blasphemy came when the tenant, urged by other workers, began to revolt, and the shareholders went on their knees urging him to pray to our Lord for help. That is the sort of thing that would be regarded as blasphemous in any play licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, and it seems to me definitely that an incident of that kind is bound to hold up religion to ridicule.
I have here notes of another play of that kind acted by young children, a play situated in a school where children first recite, after the teacher, the Lord's Prayer, and one child gets up and pulls it to pieces, being severely punished by the man teacher for his irreverence. A woman teacher then takes the class and makes the children read verses from the Gospels about the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and then the children pull that to pieces. There again that quite clearly savours of blasphemy. It is bound to be very severely felt by people who value the Christian religion and its teaching.
Another method peculiarly adapted to blasphemy is the method of the poster. The cover of the English translation to Mr. Yaroslavsky's book on "Religion in the U.S.S.R." contains two caricatures. Obviously one figure is that of the Almighty, and the other can only be identified as intended to caricature the figure of Christ. I have here also a poster which shows a caricature of the Pope on the ground, sprawling in a most improper and undignified attitude, and an equally gross caricature of the Almighty in the upper part of the poster. I shall be very glad for any hon. Members to see these posters more closely if they wish to do so.
Finally I have here the reproduction of a poster which contains gross caricatures not only of the Deity of the Christian religion, but also of the Deity of the Jewish religion, and of Allah of the Mohammedans. We have here a movement to extirpate religion in every form in which it is to be found in Western Europe, and that makes me extremely glad that my hon. Friend has introduced this Bill in order to protect children from being exposed to blasphemy of any religion. I have seen leaflets ridiculing the Jewish religion, which have been printed in Yiddish for distribution in the East End of London. So it is perfectly clear that an attack is being made on the Jewish religion as well as on the Christian religion, though quite naturally, this being mainly a Christian country, we are more aware of the attack on Christianity. I submit that this evidence answers the question put by the hon. Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight), who asked whether this movement was necessarily a movement against religion. I do not think there can be any doubt about that. The authoritative quotations I have given, more especially from the man who is apparently the head and front of the militant movement in this country, are the answer.
Duchess of ATHOLL:
I do not think that that question is really of very great importance. What matters is, what is happening in this country at the present time and how far the Bill would seek to mitigate its evil? I do not think we need indulge here in academic discussion as to what is meant by an anti-God movement. What does matter is, what is being done or planned or attempted in our country, and whether the provisions outlined in the Bill would not at any rate mitigate some of the most extreme forms of propaganda, which I am sure the House feels are horrible and should not be made available to children. No one wants to prevent free thought, nor does the Bill seek to interfere with parents. This Bill would allow parents to teach their children sedition and blasphemy if they so desire, but it cannot be too clearly recognised that what is now existing in our country is not the old intellectual free thought, which we all respect and tolerate and which leaves those who value religion free to pursue their religion unmolested. This is something aggressive which is not content merely to tolerate. It is aggressive and determined to destroy, particularly in the minds of the young, by ridicule.
Much can be done to sow distrust or suspicion or hatred or indifference to religion, short of what would actually be described as blasphemy by ridicule. The Bill seeks only to deal with the most extreme form of this teaching. I submit that it is well worth while to do what we can to prevent ridicule being poured on things that are sacred to the great masses of the people, in the presence of children. If ridicule is poured on sacred things before young children it is bound to destroy reverence, which after all is a very lovable quality, a quality which older people are apt to welcome when they see evidence of it in the young. If you destroy that bloom on a child's mind, that reverence towards sacred things, you cannot possibly say how you may be warping or poisoning that child's whole outlook on life; and if you instil into his mind distrust and a contempt for clergy of any denomination you will be making him definitely antagonistic to people who, all through his life, on one occasion or another, are the sort of people who want to give him a helping hand. They may not always be able to do all they attempt to do, but we all know how many people there are, either in the ranks of the clergy or connected with different organisations inspired by Christian or Jewish teaching who want to give a helping hand to young people. If you pour ridicule on sacred things and on people who are in the service of religion, in the presence of young people, you tend to cut them off from the strongest helpful influences there are in this country to-day. To do anything of that kind is a crime against humanity—a crime against humanity, too, at a stage at which it is quite defenceless, because it is so young and inexperienced. It is also dealing a blow at what I firmly believe to be the inspiring and driving force behind all that is best in our civilisation. It is because I hope the Bill will do something to stem these influences which I have described that I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
The Mover and Seconder of the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill sought, as far as I could judge, to give the impression that what they were proposing was intended to deal with an entirely new situation and an entirely new problem. The words "Communism" and "Socialism," no doubt, will be much used in this Debate. Yesterday I heard it said that this would be a sort of Socialist versus anti-Socialist Debate. But to attempt to give the Bill a character of the sort I have mentioned, to make out that it is a Bill to deal with something new which has arisen, with a new kind of crime, is entirely false. This is only a modern form of an age-long problem.
Yes, Socialism and Liberalism both have been associated with atheism by certain people in their day. I want to call attention to the fact that we are dealing here with a problem which is rather bigger than the question of whether Communism or patriotism shall be taught to our children. The question is, first, whether liberty of thought should prevail, and whether religion of any kind and loyalty to one's country shall be saved from being made ridiculous by so-called friends. With the object of the Bill as set out in the Memorandum no one could quarrel. No one desires to see the minds of children perverted by oral and written instruction in sedition and blasphemy. Men of different opinions all through the ages have all desired to prevent the perversion of the minds of children by oral or written instruction in what they have called sedition and blasphemy. The writer of the story in the Book of Kings, no doubt, thought he was doing a good thing in the cause of reverence and respect, when he showed how the bears came out from the wood and devoured the naughty children who had insulted the prophet Elijah. It may he said that that was not a punishment for blasphemy but a punishment for ridicule. Then what would be the punishment for blasphemy?
In all seriousness I would call the attention of the House to this important fact that the sedition and blasphemy of yesterday are the order, the loyalty and the religion of to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Not always but often The Founder of our own religion suffered on a charge of sedition and blasphemy. We know how horribly wrong the accusations were and what was sedition and blasphemy then, is now religion and loyalty. We must be very careful how we approach this question. We must realise the wideness of the issues involved. Much play has been made with the fact that certain Russians or certain supporters of the Soviet Government have tried to make a hard and fast division between religion and communism. As a matter of fact they are merely playing with words. There is religion in Russia, though I do not say that I approve of that religion. But I was in Russia less than two years ago and had the opportunity of joining the great crowd passing through the tomb of Lenin. As I saw that well-ordered crowd, doing reverence to the embalmed body of the dead dictator, I realised that I was in the presence of a new kind of religion. Whatever words you use to describe it, it is a new kind of religion, and it is because of that new kind of religion that the Russians are seeking to suppress Christianity on the ground that Christianity is seditious, and, from their point of view, blasphemous. What is sedition and blasphemy in Russia is loyalty and religion in this country.
Possibly in this Debate as in previous Debates on this subject some of the opponents of the Measure will be accused of seeking merely to protect their own opinions. I hope that I do not stand suspect of anything of that sort. In order to explain my position I may state to the House that I am still, and have been for some time, on the roll of ministers of a certain Christian sect, and I am most anxious to see Christianity flourish. I am also willing to grant to the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, and the other promoters of this Bill, that there is much of the teaching given to children in these schools, to which I am strongly opposed and which I think is corrupting and horrible. I want to see every child given an opportunity of growing up to "do justly, to love, mercy, and to walk humbly with his God;" and at the same time with the firm conviction that this is the best country in which to do so and that Christianity is the surest guide. That is my own position. But how narrow is the object of this Bill, considering the great issues at stake.
Not only do I wish to see children protected, if possible, from such perversions of the truth as have been described by the Mover and Seconder, but I feel that they run a risk of far greater dangers from certain popular entertainments than from any Red school-teaching. When the Noble Lady mentioned a certain play performed in the Workers' Theatre, told us how horrible it was, and gave us the reasons why it was horrible, there passed through my mind the reflection that at present in London one or two plays are running which are far more corrupting, far more likely to pervert the minds of young children than anything shown at the Workers' Theatre.
No, I grant the Noble Lady that point, but I say that at most picture houses and theatres there are to be seen things, passed by the Censor, which I think are most corrupting.
I am referring to those which are passed for universal exhibition and which children can go to see. I think some of them are not only corrupting to the morals of children but also corrupting to their taste, which, to some, is almost a greater crime. Again, I would if I could have our children protected against a certain kind of blasphemy which if not mentioned by me will probably not be mentioned at all. Thank goodness this kind of blasphemy is now disappearing from Christian teaching in this country, but I think there is far more of it than there is of the teaching to which the promoters of this Bill object. I remember as a child one dreadful night that I spent thinking upon the so-called Christian doctrine of eternal damnation, and the only thing I could pray for was annihilation so that I should be able to escape the terrible fate which, I was told, was stored up for me by the Christian God. I do not wish to be extreme, but I would rather that 10,000 children were taught that God was an imposter, and that Soviet Russia was the only paradise, than that any child should be taught that he was damned by God from the foundation of the world.
I cordially thank the hon. Member. I say here is a certain kind of blasphemy we are asked to suppress, and I can suggest some blasphemy which, if I were in favour of prosecution for blasphemy—which I am not—I would wish to see suppressed. This Bill touches dangers to children which, to me, are compara- tively mild when compared with many dangers which children have to face. The motives behind this Bill are really of a political kind—I mean that the promoters of the Bill, if one reads their names, all belong to a certain group in this House, and they are anxious to see children saved from certain teachings which are contrary to their own particular convictions.
The Bill begins by excluding the parent from any penalties. I, myself, have long felt that, just as a child's dearest friends, so its greatest enemies are in the home; and a child is far more likely to be formed in the wrong way by parents than by any outside influence. But we must exempt the parents, because if we include them we are running a tremendous risk of intruding on personal liberties and personal responsibility. We cannot do it. We refuse to include the parents, but we include the lesser risks which the child runs from those outside. This country cannot, without doing grave damage to its fundamental character, approve of a Measure of this kind. We must be very l0th about interfering with personal liberty and liberty of thought, and this Bill would interfere with personal liberty and liberty of thought. This country is fundamentally different from such a country as Soviet Russia, and different from. Fascist Italy or Fascist Germany. It is different from them, and it stands strong to-day because of this great principle of personal liberty and liberty of thought. It is that which has made this country strong, and is saving this country from the troubles and disasters which have overtaken other countries in Europe.
Because of that, we must take certain risks. I think it is terrible that children should have to listen to the dull, pompous and humourless rubbish of which the Noble Lady gave us examples. It is a shame that any child should be so taught, but this Bill after all is not really for protecting the children, but for certain political purposes, strengthens the laws against sedition and blasphemy. As things stand, our judges, our law courts, are becoming more and more reluctant to convict for sedition or blasphemy. Sedition is very difficult to deal with in a, free country, and one must be very careful how one initiates and deals with prosecutions for sedition. Therefore, very wisely, nobody is prosecuted for sedition, whether it is seditious teaching to adults or young children, unless it is leading definitely to a breach of the peace. But, even then, we cannot be too cautious. During the Great War, the Sermon on the Mount was seditious, and, as I have said, what were sedition and blasphemy yesterday, are religion and loyalty to-day; what were sedition and blasphemy during the War are religion and loyalty in times of peace. The examples which the promoters of this Bill gave of revolutionary teaching are so impotent that they need not fear it. If you want to fill people with revolutionary thoughts, there are certain things in the Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat which would do far more than any "Red Flag" to inspire them with a desire to make better the world in which we live.
With regard to blasphemy, the present position is very strange. Any prosecution for blasphemy, one may say, is made impossible. The Statute of 1698 is the only Statute we have dealing with blasphemy, and this Statute strangely enough, as far as I understand it, only approves of prosecution for blasphemy against those who are professed Christians. In other words the prosecution of those who are so to speak traitors to their religion and the charges against them must be denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, of the truth of Christianity and of the truth of the Holy Scriptures. Of course that Statute is obviously a dead letter. If it were to be brought into operation to-day not only one Bishop here and another Bishop there but the whole bench of Bishops could be accused under it. Prosecution for blasphemy to-day takes place under the judgment of Chief Justice Hale in 1675 when he laid down that Christianity was parcel of the law of England, and, therefore, anyone who said anything against Christianity was committing an offence. But for the last 30 or 40 years that has been considerably modified, and now it is held that, as long as you use reasonable language, and a courteous manner, you may say what you like against Christianity or any other religion, against the State or against the Government, as long as you use the language of an educated man. In other words, blasphemy becomes a poor man's offence.
If you are a poor, uneducated man and have a very perverse sense of humour, you are liable to be prosecuted for blasphemy. As soon as that sort of thing is brought to an end, the better.
This Bill is quite unnecessary, because all that the promoters of the Bill can possibly desire in reason is already assured them by the present law—too much, in fact. Now they are bringing in the children in order to achieve certain political ends. It is no use saying that ridicule is more dangerous than reason. There is nothing so dangerous as reason allied with courtesy and wit, and the great enemies of orthodox Christianity to-day in this country are not the Red Schools, but educated men like Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, and Professor Gilbert Murray. It is they who are doing the greatest damage to orthodox Christianity, through reason, courtesy, and wit. Ridicule, scurrility, ribaldry are the weakest and most ineffective of weapons, and usually the people who seek to bring religion into contempt by such means end by making themselves contemptible.
I beg the promoters of the Bill to withdraw it, for it is no use trying to protect religion from ridicule by the hard processes of law. Christianity has endured corrupt Popes, priests, and presbyters, and I think essential Christianity to-day is stronger than ever. I am not to be misled by the fact that the promoters seek to include "any other form of religion," because we have already heard that certain definitions of religion will be required. Again, when it comes to defining what is ribald or contumelious, this Bill would cut off accused persons from the comparative coolness and wisdom of the Assize Court and hale them before the magistrates, which would be doing grave damage to their interests. Finally, I would repeat that the sedition and blasphemy of yesterday are the loyalty and religion of to-day, and the best way to cure sedition, as the mover of the Second Reading confessed, is to create justice and content. We are motivated, I am sure, by the same feelings, and I would say to the mover and seconder of the Second Reading, "Do not press this Bill, but, instead, join with me and others in urging on the Government to do all they can to create conditions which will breed content and so
do away with sedition." As for blasphemy, the surest way to prevent it is for the adherents of Christianity, by their example, to show the blasphemer what Christianity really is:
Christian, rise and act thy creed;
Let thy word be in thy deed.
And I am sure that in no shape or form has persecution any place in that word and deed.
I beg to second the Amendment.
The object of the Bill before the House is one which I am sure the great majority of Members will favour. It is, as stated in the Memorandum,
to prevent the perversion of the minds of children by oral or written instruction in sedition and blasphemy.
Sedition and blasphemy obviously spoil a child's mind, but I have never heard, in the advocacy of any Bill before this House, less association between the speeches of those who favoured the Bill and the Bill itself. It seems to me that the promoters of the Bill are pursuing their quarry with the wrong weapon; they are shooting sparrows with a rifle, and they will not get their sparrows, but they may do a great deal of harm. I notice that the Mover and the Seconder paid very little attention, especially the Seconder, to the Bill itself. I took a list of the examples given by the Mover of the Second Reading, and a number of them are in no way affected by the Bill, while others are adequately covered by the existing law. As the Noble Lady said, her whole fear was against this modern attack on religion as such, but this Bill does nothing whatever to prevent that attack, and it in no way adds to the protection given by the existing law against serious and reasoned attack.
The Bill deals with two separate subjects, sedition and blasphemy. As far as I understand it, there is no fresh definition of sedition in the Bill, and no new offence created, unless it be that of having in one's possession seditious matter with the intention of its being used for teaching children. As far as I understand the common law at present, it is not seditious to have such matter in one's possession, and that perhaps is a new offence that the Bill creates; but is it easy to prove that, because you have a thing in your possession, you have it in your possession with the intention of its being used for teaching children? It is an offence which it would be extremely difficult to administer, and that is always bad law. The real novelty of the Bill—
I thank the Noble Lady for her correction, but it does not affect my argument. It is a new offence to have a thing in one's possession, because I think at present a person can have such matter in his possession for sale or distribution without committing an offence under the common law. Under the blasphemy section of the Bill there is a very distinct and important novelty. The present common law is stated in Halsbury's "Laws of England." which says
Blasphemy is a misdemeanour…. It consists in scoffingly or irreverently ridiculing or impugning the doctrines of the Christian faith….in profane scoffing at the Holy Scripture or exposing any part thereof to contempt or ridicule.
That is expanded in this Bill, because, as the mover has very rightly observed, he includes the ridicule not only of Christianity but of any form of religion. There again we shall all agree that it is an admirable intention to include within the scope of blasphemy not only Christianity but every form of religion. If you have a blasphemy law at all, that is clearly of importance. I profoundly agree that no child should be encouraged to treat with ridicule or contempt any subjects that are sacred to his fellow beings. It is part of social sympathy to respect such feelings in other people, and the extended definition is not one to which objection can be taken; but, when it is sought to do that in a Statute rather than by bringing up children in the way that they should go in their own homes, and having a correct atmosphere round them, a fresh set of circumstances is produced.
After all, how are we to define religion? I remember being told that in the Eighties the Japanese made formal official objection to the Foreign Office at the performance of "The Mikado" which, they asserted, ridiculed the sacred person of the Japanese Emperor. That to the Japanese is blasphemy. Are you to make it a statutory offence to publish among children copies of "The Mikado"? Of course, religion includes all forms of religion, even those of primitive races who are subjects of His Majesty. Under this Bill, it might even be necessary to talk to one's nephews and nieces with respect about cannibalism, which is a ritual of some primitive religions. To bring such a thing into the Statute is absurd and does not advance the cause at which you are aiming.
I must continue to examine the Bill, because it has not been done properly. What about the publishers? It is an offence under the Bill to publish blasphemous matter with the intention of its being read to children. Let me take examples of books that undoubtedly come within the definition of blasphemy. There are classics like Anatole France's "Penguin Island," and Butler's "Erewthon Revisited," and I agree that it is not wise to read books like that to children of 14 or 15. How is a publisher to protect himself against prosecution because he has produced a book which it is alleged is intended to be read to children? Is a publisher of any book which is blasphemous within the definition in this Bill to state on the title page that the book is not intended to be read to children under 16?
I particularly put a Clause in the Bill so that a prosecution could not be launched in such cases except with the authority of a man learned in the law. That is a protection against extreme possibilities.
I thank the hon. Member for calling my attention to a point to which I shall recur, but meanwhile I want to state the offences which the Bill creates. I have taken the instance of an innocent publisher who has to protect himself against any possible prosecution by putting on the title page that the book is not intended to be read to children under 16. What about the guilty publishers? What about the publisher who is deliberately publishing something that is blasphemous? Suppose he puts it in language which is suitable to children under 16, but puts on the title page that it is not to be read to children under 16. If such a case came before me as a magistrate, and I asked whether it was not his intention that it should be read to children under 16, could he not reply that it was asserted on the title page that it should not be read to children under 16, and that he meant it for children of 17?
It is legal for children of 17, but illegal for children under 16. I agree that if it is in large type and words of one 'syllable it is obviously intended for children of seven or six. In the case of books for the older children, it would be almost impossible to prove that the publisher had the intention that they were to be read by children under 16. If I am wrong in that, it only illustrates the danger of bringing things like that before the magistrates. No doubt a learned judge would take the view of a skilled lawyer like the hon. and learned Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson), but I am sure that my fellow magistrates would share the difficulties that I should feel.
What about the parents? The Bill contains a most extraordinary provision, It creates new offences, which we all admit are very unpleasant and disagreeable offences, but it gives the parents special licence to commit them. We have had sent to us from the Lords in the last few days a Consolidating Bill relating to children and young persons. Part I has 12 Clauses relating to offences against children. In only one a parent has some special privilege to participate in what is an offence when committed by other people. In other cases, however, the parent has no special privileges. In cases of cruelty to persons under 16 the parent has no special privileges. In the case of causing or allowing a person under 16 to be used for begging, you might have expected that, if parents are to be allowed to teach their children blasphemy, they might be allowed to take them out to beg. In these and the other cases under that Bill it is recognised that the parent is equally bound with everybody else not to commit offences against the child. To give parents a specially privileged position in a matter of blasphemy and sedition seems to me ludicrous.
We are told that the real protection against any foolish use of this Bill is that a prosecution is only possible on the initiative of the Public Prosecutor. To create a law that can frequently be broken but is only to be enforced at the will of one particular officer in London is a bad principle. Why not trust the police to take action if this thing is as bad as is made out? I would be more content to trust the local police to initiate prosecutions than to leave it to a central authority to decide what cases are to be taken before the police court. But the police are not to do this; it is to be left to the Public Prosecutor. Another very serious objection is that we are introducing into the administration of the law an element of political control—inevitably. We all know that under some Lord Advocates and some Attorney-Generals an Act like this would be very sparingly put into operation.
Surely the hon. Member must recall that one Government ceased to exist because they acted in that way and no other Government is likely to follow that example in a hurry.
There is evidence that such things are possible. A particular case would be brought to the notice of the Attorney-General and he would be asked, "Ate we to proceed with this case or not?". I am not imputing any kind of evil motive, but we all know that one kind of man would say, "Yes, let us prosecute," and another would say, "No, leave it alone." I am not imputing any kind of corrupt motive, but to have the public mind associating the administration of a Bill of this kind with an admixture of political influence is wholly bad.
Let me suggest what is the real method of treating these unpleasant subjects of sedition and blasphemy. I believe the promoters of this Bill are profoundly wrong in leading people to suppose that statute law is a cure for sedition and blasphemy. Already we have very adequate protection under the common law, and the true cure for seditious teaching is, as my bon, Friend here has said, to provide a framework of society with which the great mass of people are content and which only a very small body of cranks would desire to alter by means other than lawful means. The cure for blasphemy is analogous. If religious bodies are left to do their own work they will prosper far better than if they are supported by such props as this Bill provides.
Blasphemy is essentially an offence with which religious bodies should be able to cope. The real remedy is for members of religious bodies to lead such lives that blasphemy will slink away ashamed. The prop of a little Bill of this kind is not going to support religion. Let me remind the House of a saying of one of its old Members, a shrewd old statesman, Lord Melbourne. When people came to him with some very nice and precise cure for a disease they had discovered he used to say to them "Why not leave it alone?" It was a searching question, and frequently produced very healthy results. It is a question the promoters of this Bill should ask themselves, and I believe they would see that the true answer is that they should leave this question alone. If they will rely on the common law and on the sense of common people it will he the best way of curing these diseases. To attempt to strengthen the State and religion by such feeble props as this Bill provides is, I believe, to do a dis-service to both.
The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) said that this Bill would be making an addition to our Statute law in order to protect children. That is exactly what the promoters of the Bill wish to do. We wish to protect our young people from the crude and brutal teaching of what, in a common-sense view, is "blasphemy and sedition." He went on to analyse, in a somewhat metaphysical way, the definitions which are given in the Bill, but if one took any Act on the Statute book and treated it in that way one could make it appear to a large extent absurd. I would remind him that the Bill provides that no proceedings can be brought except by or on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions who will be unlikely to sanction proceedings where they are not justified
by the evidence. Also, it is to be supposed that any proceedings would take place before people who possess commonsense. I will repeat that what we wish to, do is to protect the children of this country from the crude and brutal teachings of blasphemy and sedition. This is a Bill to promote religious tolerance as against intolerance, and I would recall the lines of the Western poet who wrote:
I take no thought of my neighbour's birth,
Nor how he makes his prayer,
I give him a white man's place on earth,
If only his game is square.
The game of the people against whom this Bill is aimed is not square. They are miscreants, and we want to have an instrument to deal with them when we discover them. It is, I admit, difficult to discover instances of such teaching as we have had examples of to-day, but the fact that the means of punishment contained in this Bill were in existence would act as a deterrent to such teaching.
There is a certain feeling of spurious pacifism abroad. We are told that it is not worth while or right to fight for King and Country. That, I suppose, one would call Joadism. There is a very strong resemblance between Joadism and Communism. A Joadist is one who, when his country is in danger, says, "I am much too precious to fight for my country, but you,"—that is, his fellow-countrymen and women—"you can fight, and when you have saved me and my country I will emerge from my retirement and I will tell you how wrong it was of you to fight." There has been an outbreak of Joadism at a certain University of late, but I prefer to believe that that was more or less an outbreak of cussedness, and that if the call came and the country were really in danger then, if we can judge by a most attractive article which was written by an Oxford man soon after that notorious motion was passed at the Union, most of the young men who voted that they would not fight for their King and country would be found doing so. I believe that article was called, "What is England?" and it gave a moving picture of what does really move a man to fight for his country and especially for England. It reminded one of some of the passages in the speeches of the Lord President of the Council. A Joadist is one who will not fight for his King and country; a Com- munist is one who fights against his King and country; the result in each case would be the same; therefore they are allies. One good point was made by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman).
In the sixth line of the Bill upon the first page there is the provision:
Any person other than the parent.
I quite agree that a parent might teach his child things that are blasphemous and seditious, but I object to the parent doing so. A Bill similar to this got as far as the Committee stage some years ago, and in Committee I moved the omission of those words. If this Bill gets a Second Reading, as I hope it will, I shall at once put down an Amendment to omit those words. This is a short and simple Measure. Any prosecution would have to be undertaken at the instance of the Director of Public Prosecutions and would appeal to the common sense of the people. There is a feeling in some quarters of ultra-pacifism. I regret it, but I do not believe that it is the feeling of the country, or that it has taken deep root. I believe that the country at heart has a great regard for tradition, and the tradition of every true man and woman is to defend his country. The teaching that we attack in this Bill cuts at the root of loyalty, patriotism and reverence, and, whatever the cynic may say, the country still values those attributes. Canadian trappers tell us that if you get the young early enough, before the mother has had time to teach them the fear of man, the young have no fear of man and become quite tame at once. Those who favour teaching of the kind that we are trying to prevent are very wise from their point of view. They want to get the youth of the country young, and to prevent them having feelings of loyalty, patriotism and reverence. What is there in that tradition? It is a tradition that is common to every true man and woman in every country, and it is thousands of years old. Let me remind the House of the oath taken by the Athenian young men of 18. They came to the temple of Minerva and took the oath, before they got their arms, and before they were sent to serve
in the defence of their country. The oath ran:
I will not dishonour my sacred arms. I will not desert my fellow-soldier by whose side I shall be sent. I will do battle for my country, whether aided or unaided. I will strive to leave her better than I found her. I will reverence the temples in which my fathers worshipped. Of all these things the gods are my witnesses.
That is the tradition of loyalty, patriotism and reverence, and it is because we want to preserve those attributes that we are offering this Bill to the House.
This is, of course, a typical Friday afternoon Bill. The final Clause is the one that arranges to send someone to prison. Private Members, and particularly Tory private Members, always seem more anxious to send people to prison than Tory Governments. This Bill will never find its place on the Statute Book; no Government would allow it to do so, but the private Member always takes the bit between his teeth, and, because he dislikes somebody or something, decides that they ought to go to prison and that a Bill to that effect ought to be perpetrated. I do not like a lot of people opposite. I do not like the views of the Mover of this Bill, and I do not like even all the views of the Seconder, but I would not dream of sending them to prison because I do not like to have their views expressed. I take it rather to heart that the Noble Lady the Member for Kinross (Duchess of Atholl) should try to send me to prison.
I am exempt, under this Bill, in so far as I teach my own children, but I have taught my children what I believe to be true. Some of the best irreligious literature of this country was read aloud to me when I was young—Shaw, Motley, Froude and Wells—and it has been read aloud to my children, and I see that I have done my children good and not harm. Take that magnificent poem which I remember as
being quoted in this House by one of the miner Members, Swinburne's "Proserpine":
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
That is from one of the finest poems in the English language. Under this Bill, the author, publisher and anyone who reads it aloud to children would have to go to prison for four months. Anatole France has been quoted. The "Ile des Penguins" published, I am glad to say, in English at a reasonable price, is blasphemous, according to this definition, from end to end. Would hon. Members bar that out?
"Blasphemous" in this Bill implies "ribald, contumelious or scurrilous language." Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman apply those words to the book to which he referred?
I wonder what the definition of "contumelious" is. There is no definition in the Bill. I presume it would be left to magistrates or to the Director of Public Prosecutions to give a definition of contumelious language. It is obvious that "contumelious language" can be twisted to mean almost anything, anything that you dislike. Take the statement of M. Clémenceau. M. Clémenceau said that Christianity, which began by being the refuge of the poor, has ended by becoming the trades union of the rich. Contumelious, I think. Is that also to be tabooed for ever in England? One could carry on these references indefinitely. Directly you begin enacting laws against what you do not like, you involve the whole country in an endless controversy, and you destroy our good tradition of freedom of thought and freedom of speech. It was said by the last speaker—a schoolmaster, who ought to know better—that this was a Bill in favour of tolerance. Yes; under this Bill you are to tolerate everything on earth, every vicious and untrue religion, except Communism. Communism to-day is as much a religion as any other. I do not agree with it; I think it has inspired Germany to what we see to-day; but this doctrine of imposing upon people by compulsion what they may hear and see is the beginning of all evil. The way in which we have avoided it in this country is by letting all spout, and then thinking for ourselves. This is a Bill for intolerance of this one particular belief.
I want to raise to-day the much wider issue of whether we ought to be tolerant or whether we ought to be intolerant. Every Member of the House seems to think that toleration is a virtue. But toleration of that which is wrong—toleration of cruelty, toleration of vice, of superstition of what each may think untrue—is not a thing to be blessed or praised. We ought to be intolerant of evil. Take the institution which is behind this Bill to-day—the Christian Protest Movement. The noble Lady is its joint President and you have the most reverend the Archbishop of Armagh, the right hon. the Lord Bishop of London, the right rev. the Bishop of Gloucester, the Bishop of Chelmsford and also—I suppose he is the head of the Jewish community—the Very Rev. Dr. J. H. Hertz. They are promoting this Bill.
I am rather sorry to hear that, but this is the only document which has been sent to Members of the House, or to me at any rate, in connection with the Bill, and, therefore, I thought that the organisation was behind it. The point is that these clerics whose names I have read out are believers in militant Christianity, and I think that, if you are a Christian, you ought to be in favour of militant Christianity; that is to say, you ought to try to prevent the leading of people into error.
If I think anybody is wrong, I am going to employ every possible argument against him. Ridicule is the whole basis of Anatole France's attack on Christianity; cartoon ridicule is the whole basis of the work of Will Dyson and Low. If we are to stop the use of ridicule in controversy, it will destroy the salt of controversy.
If one side is entitled to use caricature, to use ridicule, to pour contumely upon any particular faith, the other side must be allowed to do it too. I want to urge that both sides should be allowed to do it—that you should not, under the guise of toleration, stop everyone saying nasty, sneering things about other people. It is so easy to be tolerant; it is the lazy course; and, as I get older, I find that it is much more easy to tolerate them. But it is wrong; it is cowardice, and I think a word ought to be said here in regard to intolerance as against religious toleration.
This Bill, of course, is a wholly impracticable Bill. It would be a real disaster if we thought that we were passing a Bill to-day to prevent intolerance on the part of the Communists and to leave others free. I want to say a word in favour of some people who, according to the instances that have been brought before us to-day, would really get into prison. Take the case of the Vicar of Sneyd, who is a personal friend of mine. He has shocking religious views, though similar to those of the Bishop of London; but often very fine people, whose lives and energy you admire, hold wrong views. He is the sort of man that we want to encourage; he does more good work in the Potteries than any other parson that I know. He will call himself Father Wilson, and wear long skirts, but he is in a, very real sense the father of the people of Burslem. I would urge that we should not make it in the least degree more difficult for that sort of parson to carry on his work, or use the opportunity of a, debate like this to try to draw adverse attention to the work which he is doing.
I would say that I have often been present at these Socialist services. The Labour party is divided into three classes. There are those who are Catholic or Anglo-Catholic, who take a strong religious view of Socialism, to whom Socialism really is the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God. They would naturally dislike what are called Socialist Sunday Schools. Then there is another section of the Labour party, which is strongly Nonconformist, whose members have been brought up as local preachers, and who loathe all this, as they would call it, sham religion in the Socialist and Communist Sunday Schools—I think partly because they do not like any shocks to any people's religious feelings. Then there is a, third section, who regard their new teaching of Socialism or Communism as a religion in itself. These people not only had to face enormous difficulties and hardships in their private life, but have had to face the contempt and contumely of all the established religions; and, naturally, in their teaching of their views and gospel—for it is a gospel—they are very apt to hit back at the people who hit at them. I should be ashamed of them from this point of view if they did not do so. They are not people, generally speaking, of very high education, but at least they try to prove their case, and we can help them by showing that we can sympathise with a point of view which may not be ours, and the fallacies of which we can point out. They may feel as deeply on this question of their religion as any Christian does about his faith.
I have been very much discouraged by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's Amendment as I read it on the Paper—to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words
this House declines, at a time when Communism and Marxism are being persecuted in Germany, to give a Second Reading to a Bill devised to penalise people of those views in this country.
What in the world has this Bill to do with Germany or what is happening there? They are persecuting Marxists. What has that to do with the protection of our own children and our own religion? It seems to me that for once the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has become entirely illogical and has put down an Amendment which has no meaning in it whatever. He says the Tories always
want to send people to prison for breaking the law. I cannot help thinking that it is better to send them to prison than to adopt Marxist methods. If a man in Russia blasphemed Lenin, there is not much question what would happen. He would not go to prison. He would go against a wall and be shot. We are proposing to make the penalty fit the crime. If you bring up the question of Marxism, you must accept what the Marxists are doing and, if we are going to have the propagation of Marxism against Christianity, we have to bring in laws the penalty under which will be to be shot or to be put in prison for life, as the ease may be, instead of the very small penalty proposed in the Bill for blasphemy.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman says he can see no harm whatsoever in ridicule. I imagine that, when he was a boy, he read "Robinson Crusoe," and he must be aware how Crusoe, when he was travelling back from his desert island through some country North of China, seeing, an image which the Chinese were worshipping in a temple, got off his horse, seized an sword and commenced to smash the image to pieces. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman went to India and were to abuse the Mohammedan religion outside a mosque, or the Hindu religion outside a Hindu temple, he would be dealt with severely, not only by the religionists whose feelings he had wantonly injured, but by the Government which, although a Christian Government, protects equally the feelings of the people in the country over which the Christian flag is flying, and he would be haled off to gaol and punished for having blasphemed a religion which we do not believe in, which we think is wrong, but which the people whom we are governing believe in from their hearts.
We cannot ridicule religion. It is one of the things that are outside ridicule. One must respect the innate belief of a man, right or wrong. I have numbers of intimate friends among the Moslems. I do not believe in their belief, but I have many times been to their religious festivals. I have taken part in them, and I have respected their religion. Wherever I have been all over the world, I have respected the religion of the people. Religious tolerance and the prevention of blasphemy against other gods carries the day everywhere. When I was a young man about 16 or 17 years of age I met Dr. Aveling, who married Karl Marx's daughter. I was astonished when I was told he was an atheist. It was something terrible to me in those days. I did not understand why God Almighty had not struck him dead. I asked him if he did not believe in God. He said, "Do you, my lad?" I said, "Yes." He paused a moment and said, "Go on believing." That was the spirit of a great man. I have never forgotten it. He would not corrupt n young man by giving him his views. He said, "No. He has been taught that by his parents. That is the religion of his country. That is the religion of the people." If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had not had those books read to him when he was a young man, perhaps he would not now be sitting on that bench sponsoring this Amendment. He is a dreadful example of that form of propaganda. Our whole constitution is built up on Christianity, our laws are built up on the Christian laws, and, if we begin to sweep those safeguards away, believe me, we shall sweep away this great constitution, and we shall sweep away with it that freedom and justice which our flag brings to all the peoples of the world over whom it flies.
When a new Member of Parliament comes here and draws a place in the ballot, well down the list, he goes to his Whips and consults them, as a child consults his parents. They look down a long list and say, "How can we find something which will not do anyone much harm, will never get on the Statute Book, will give the people who are foolish enough to come on that particular Friday a pleasant entertainment, while the Members of the Government can go down to the country or to the seaside?" They produce this Blasphemous Teaching of Children Bill. No more responsible Minister than the Secretary for Mines, whose life is spent in the dark places in any case, remains to shed the light of his countenance on us. I think that it was grossly unfair. I can remember during the War, when the German cause was reported to be going badly, that we always learned in the Press that the German Government were calling up the Landsturm. I look at the names on the back of this Bill and I see "Colonel Applin, Mr. Annesley Somerville, Major-General Sir Afred Knox and Rear-Admiral Sueter." I see that the Landsturm have been called up to support a distinguished Indian administrator, who, after a very long and distinguished record in India, comes in here as an innocent youth and is shoved forward by this collection of wily old birds.
It was a metaphor. I do not think that it was right to treat a colleague just in that way, because not one of them, if he had got a place in the Ballot, would have taken this Bill himself. Why they should pick upon the hon. Member who sits so close to me, and for whom I have a great regard, for this duty I cannot understand. I was surprised to find the Noble Lady the Member for Kinross and Western (Duchess of Athol]) supporting the Measure, and I have some doubts about my own rights in opposing it, because I notice she has taken care to exclude her own native land from the provisions of the Bill.
Has my hon. and learned Friend, who is a distinguished figure at the English bar, forgotten that as far as legal matters are concerned he is not allowed to practise in Scotland?
I was reminding my hon. Friend that the application of the Bill includes Scotland for the reason that Scotland is part of England under the operation of Statutes unless deliberately excluded.
I hope that I am right in believing that there is no step taken in this Bill for making it operative in Scotland, because if the fine of £50 for blasphemy is to apply to Scotland I am about £300 to the bad this morning already. When the Bill goes up to the Committee for further consideration I hope that the authorities in the House who appoint these Committees will withdraw the ban which has been applied to me so far with regard to Committees and will allow me to get on to this Committee. It has been a dull Session. We are entitled, all of us, to some little relaxation, and I hope that I shall have an opportunity of serving on the Committee during the Committee Stage of the Bill to see if we can make it a better Bill before it comes down to be slaughtered on the Third Reading stage.
I have treated the matter perhaps in a somewhat light strain, but I have very serious views upon this subject. Listening to the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading, to the noble Lady, and to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Enfield (Lieut.-Colonel Applin), it would appear that the only views which are to be Prevented from being taught to children are the views which I hold. They are the views which I hold very genuinely and very sincerely, and which, I think, offer the only chance of getting a really decent world for people to live in on their being applied. The people of the world will have to be freed from their belief in supernatural religions. What is the trouble in Ireland? What is the trouble in getting peace in Ireland? What is the trouble in getting a peaceful India I What is the trouble practically in every corner of the globe in getting settled civil conditions? There are two things. There is the great class problem—the problem of a poverty-stricken mass and a few wealthy people—and there is the other problem of the superstitious religions which divide nations into warring sections—Mohammedan and Hindu; Protestant and Catholic. These two problems are at the root of all the dis- peace, of the social stress and strain, and of the civil disturbances throughout the world.
The only teaching which I know which gets anywhere near to providing intelligent explanations and intelligent solutions of the troubles of the world is the Marxist teaching, which includes within it the destruction of the idea of a supernatural God who is of one kind in Africa, another kind in Northern Ireland, another kind in China, and another kind in Japan. If I am to be asked to pay respect to all these different Gods I shall be asked to pay respect to something which everybody in this House knows must be a lie in one or other of the cases, because if you believe the one God to be right you must believe the other to be false. I am an old teacher and I know how
The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft agley,
particularly when we set out to try to make our sons and daughters grow up exactly to the pattern of their parents. It does not work. Fortunately for the progress of the world, it does not work.
I have my own ideas as to what I would like my son to be taught. I send him to a public elementary school. I let him read the papers that are published by British capitalism for the consumption of boys. I do not attempt to restrain him in any way, and when I have been down here for three weeks and go home to find how the culture of my son has advanced under the normal educational things that are available to him, I find that he knows all about crooks, gangsters, detectives, cow-boys, shooting out in the wild west camps, wars, and how Britain is always right; the most preposterous mix up of ideas, before which the parent can only stand flabbergasted. He will come out of it in the end. He will come through it all right, because youngsters, fortunately, have a certain capacity for just putting what their adults tell them in its proper place. Thank God, the rising generation has always got a little more intelligence than the generation that went immediately before it. I am sorry, perhaps that was blasphemy on my part.
I hope that, joking apart, the hon. Member who Moved the Second Reading of the Bill and the noble Lady who supports the Measure will cease to do what has been proved impossible through all the ages since the appearance of sentient, conscious human beings, namely, to make the past dominant over the present and the future. It is an impossibility. Why we should try to produce legislation to do impossible things when there are so many possible things that are well within the range of our operation that we fail to attempt to tackle, is something that I cannot understand. I hope the House will reject the Measure.
One has been learning some valuable lessons in advocacy this morning One is that if you have a bad case you should either ignore your opponent's case or misrepresent it. We have had some striking illustrations of both those rules. One would have thought that the first thing to do when you criticise a Bill is to find out what it does, and to criticise those things. It is sheer waste of time to misrepresent it and to criticise something that the Bill does not do. That my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) was not even thinking of the Bill, was clear from his two illustrations of what the Bill would do. He quoted Swinburne, and said that that which he quoted would be an offence against the Bill. Of course it would not. He referred to some friend of his, and the work he was doing. Does he suggest that the friend would collect some little children around him and jeer at the religion of their parents, in scurrilous and offensive language? I do not think for a moment that that would ever enter his head, but if it did it ought to be stopped. The right hon. Gentleman was not suggesting that he would do any such thing, but he was suggesting that he would be put in prison under this Bill because of the work he was actually carrying on. That shows that the right hon. Gentleman had not taken the trouble to read the Bill.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) was not criticising the Bill. The Bill does nothing to prevent the very widest amount of criticism. You can argue against any religion in the world, you can try to convince, you can try to persuade people that their religion is wrong, and there is nothing in the Bill to handicap you in doing that. What the Bill does is to prevent the poisoning in advance of the mind which cannot stand up for itself and cannot criticise. It seeks to prevent the poisoning of the child's mind not by any argument or constructive criticism but by the use of contempt, ribald, contumelious and scurrilous language. That is the whole handicap that this Bill puts upon the anti-religionist. He can argue as much as he likes and he can try to persuade and to reason. All that the Bill tries to stop him doing is to prevent him poisoning the mind that has not the critical faculty.
Nearly everybody has some religious principles that they hold sacred. Everybody by this Bill is put on the same footing. Their religious principles are not to be scoffed at and jeered at to the young. There have been some criticisms of the Bill with which I agree. The words, "other than the parents," must come out of the Bill. I would not vote for any Third Reading of a Bill which contained those words. If these things are wrong and ought to be stopped the person who ought to be stopped first and foremost is the parent from teaching his own children what is wrong. The man who taught his child to be a pickpocket would be an offender against the law. He would be inciting to future crime. I cannot see why a parent should be allowed to teach his own children to be pickpockets any more than the children of his friend.
It has been said, why not trust the existing law? There is a good deal to be said in favour of that argument, but think the answer to it is, that when you find a particular aspect of the law is being ignored by people and even ignored by the authorities it is very often wise to re-enact it and, if necessary, to extend it, if extension is wise, for the purpose of bringing home to the people and those responsible for law and order what is the law. We had a very striking example of that in the Bill dealing with general strikes. We were told again and again that there was no real change in the law. But it is a wise thing to emphasise what the law is, so that the people who are ignoring it day in and day out may know that they are doing something which is contrary to the law of the land. The view that those responsible for law and order have taken in dealing with sedition and blasphemy is that they have only interfered when there has been an immediate prospect of a breach of the peace or when what is being done by way of sedition is aimed at His Majesty's forces. I think they have ignored every other branch of the law of sedition and blasphemy, but when you find that there are abuses which come about when the law is ignored and you find people doing something which you have no right to ignore, it is the duty of the Legislature to re-enact the law and strengthen it in any respect where it seems weak.
In Clause 1 (1, a) the teaching of sedition and blasphemy may be and probably is completely against the law now. It seems to me that it would be definitely inciting to sedition or blasphemy and would probably be against the law. If there is any doubt it is wise to re-enact it. But paragraph (b) contains something new. It says:
or has in his possession for sale or distribution, any document containing seditious or blasphemous matter for the purpose or with the intention of its being used for teaching such children.
It is against the law to distribute it now. It may be that it is not against the law to have it for the purpose of distribution, but if it is not then, surely, it ought to be. You want to catch a crime if you can before it is committed, not after. The point has been put as to how one would know if a, publisher wrote upon it "not to be read to children under 16 years of age." We all know those books which are meant for children and those which are not; and if there was any doubt on the matter the person who is prosecuted would get the benefit of the doubt. If it is a clear case of a publication obviously meant for the teaching of children, then it is perfectly right to say that it is against the law. It must always be remembered that these documents are controlled by the words that blasphemous matter means ribald, contumelious or scurrilous language which brings into contempt things which are
held sacred. That is the only type of book which is attacked by the Bill. The law needs strengthening in that respect.
I wish to make it quite clear how limited in scope the Bill is. It is limited in regard to teaching, and to documents. It is limited in regard to the people to whom such teaching is to be given. It is limited to the teaching of children, and it is limited to a particular way, if it is calculated to bring religion into contempt by means of ribald or scurrilous language. It is very important nowadays to re-enact the law if it is necessary, and to extend the law if it is necessary to make it quite clear that this sort of thing ought not to be tolerated in a civilised society.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has put forward the most formidable opposition to this Bill; his ridicule was more telling than any argument put forward by other opponents of the Bill. A good deal of the Debate has centred round the question of freedom. You cannot argue as to where freedom ends and licence begins. Another argument which I want to stress is that Communism is a religion. We are told that we must treat Communism as a religion. Let me quote from the A.B.C. of Communism, the official publication of the Communist Party, which has been translated by the Communist Party of Great Britain. It is, therefore, above suspicion. The first paragraph in that book says:
Religion and Communism are incompatible both theoretically and practically.
Later on in the same paragraph it is said:
The very idea of God and of supernatural powers rose at a definite stage in human history and with another definite stage begins to disappear as a childish notion.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton was logical, but other opponents of the Bill were not so logical. He agrees with me that Communism cannot be a religion, that it is incompatible with religion—
I admitted myself that Communists say that they are opposed to religion, but I gave evidence of what I saw at the tomb of Lenin in Moscow that whatever term is used Communism is a religion and is treated as a religion by the people there.
That I think is splitting hairs. No one can claim that to walk round a corpse is religion. To walk round the tomb of Lenin's in Moscow is not a religion; it does not teach one morals; it is not a religion as we know the meaning of the word. Later on this A.B.C. guide to Communism says—
In order to prevent children being influenced by any religious teaching they might receive from their parents Communists must see to it that the school assumes the offensive against the religious propaganda in the home, so that from the very outset children's minds shall he rendered immune to all those religious fairy tales which many men continue to regard as true.
That is a very definite statement from an entirely reliable source. The hon. Member for Bridgeton put the true Communist point of view when he suggested that commercialism pure and simple was the policy for the future well-being of the peoples of the world. I am right in saying that any man or woman who is definitely affiliated to a branch of the Communist Party is compelled to hold the views expressed by that Party. The Communist Party is the most disciplined body in this country or in any other country. They do not allow half measures. You have to accept their views or you are outside the movement. I want to draw the attention of hon. Members to a Communist body inside the teachers' organisation of this country. It is called the "Educational Workers' League." It is difficult to ascertain their exact numbers. It is suggested that they have a membership of 500, but if there were only five teachers in this Educational Workers' League I should still consider it a menace to the children of this country.
This League is definitely affiliated to the International Communist Party, to the Minority Movement, and, therefore, every teacher in this League is working for the Atheists' national movement. In the winter of 1931–32 the League organised an exhibition in London of educational methods, and they claimed that over 10,000 people visited the exhibition. It was moved to Cambridge, where a Russian student translated some of the captions on the pictures exhibited, and they were found to be so disgracefully blasphemous that the people of Cam-
bridge demanded their removal. If that was so the House will agree that it was not a suitable exhibition to have been organised by men and women responsible for the teaching of our children. I have a quotation from the "Educational Worker," the official organ of the Teachers' League. In November, 1926, they said:
If anyone imagines that the Socialist state is going to leave the schools alone in the name of religious freedom or anything else, they are tremendously mistaken. Socialism cannot be kept going unless every child is educated as a Socialist.
There again is a very definite statement, from no Tory or biased source but from the official organ of this teachers' organisation. I have one more quotation which is proof of the methods and the views of this organisation. In 1926 a split took place in the League, and the seceding members explained that they were leaving because of the League's adherence to the policy and methods of the Communist and minority movement.
I was drawing attention to the fact that there was a split in this League of workers, and I was about to read another quotation. These quota-ions are important, because it is always disputed whether these Leagues are working for atheism or not and as to what is their exact object. This quotation is from the "Educational Worker". They give an extract from the League:
Under the title of 'Blasphemous attacks on Christianity' we read:—
'In order to make the work of instilling atheistic ideas into the minds of children an easier job, an organisation called the Educational Workers' League has been formed in Great Britain. It is affiliated to the Bolshevik Comintern of Moscow, and its organ, the Teachers' International, states that religion is the weapon of oppression employed by the reactionaries of the governing classes.'
I think every Member of the House will agree that the teachers' profession is probably the most honourable, and certainly the most responsible one held by our people. We are responsible for the future. If our children are exposed to subversive influences with which we entirely disagree, in future we shall not be in a position to blame these children, unless meantime we have acted to protect the children from those influences.
A good deal has been said about the legal wording of the Bill. I am not a lawyer, but I consider that the arguments used against the Bill have been merely red herrings to hide the real necessity and meaning of this movement. We need this Bill for the sake of our children. As the law stands it is not sufficiently strong to deal with the abuses which we see. I would say also, on behalf of the teachers, that I think they must realise that their position and status would be improved if the law was able to rid their profession of influences which are so utterly evil and so incompatible with the responsibilities and the pride of their profession.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken has done so with very strong feeling about the object of the Bill, and I appreciate that my noble Friend the Member for Kinross and Western (Duchess of Atholl) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for the English Universities (Sir R. Craddock), who are responsible for the Bill, have spoken under similar emotion. I ventured to interrupt them earlier in the Debate, but I assure my hon. Friends that it was not from a want of sympathy with their point of view. I merely thought that some further elucidation should be given as to the proposals of the Bill. The main interest I have is that this House should do nothing which is derogatory to its history and traditions. The law of England is the law of liberty, and His Majesty's Judges are required to lean to the liberty of the subject. We have built up that system with very great care. Personally I should deplore any action taken by this House which would show to the country that we are in any way disinclined to continue the tolerance and liberty which we have secured.
It is perfectly true, as has been said by some supporters of the Bill, that the Bill is directed to the interests of children. But at what time is this supposed protection of children being provided? This Bill contemplates two particular forms of activity, the relation of the citizen to the State and the relation of the citizen to any form of organised religion. Is this a time when it is desirable that we should withdraw the thought and feeling of the youth of the country from those two purposes? We live in times when entirely new meanings have been placed upon these experiences. The conception of the State is enlarged, as is the conception of religion. It is fitting that children of even tender years should be induced from their earliest days to reflect and think about those larger meanings which modern life is placing upon these conceptions. Of course, there is a reservation to be made as to the method by which this should be done. I am pointing out what a contraction of liberty is sought to be placed upon children by withholding them from the new and different meanings of the State, and the relation of the citizens of the State, and the new and different meanings about the relation of the citizen to any religious observance.
It is complained here that certain organisations, political on the one hand and religious on the other, and in the centre organisations which combine those two forms of activity, in part of their teaching to the children of tender years are doing it in a way which brings into ridicule and contempt existing institutions and forms of religious observance and faith which are sacred to others. In so far as it is necessary to check that sort of teaching the present law provides an ample remedy. There is no lawyer here who will dispute what I am going to say. Wide and splendid as is the law of liberty in this country the criticism of that law, whether in regard to the State or in regard to religion, must be in language which does not bring into contumely the beliefs of other people. There is a perfectly simple remedy provided by the law of England and it is to proceed against the person complained of on the ground that he is using language likely to lead to a breach of the peace. That famous old formula which has been used in the law of England for generations, should be sufficient to deal with any mischief which we want to prevent. I ask the hon. Members in charge of this Bill whether, on further reflection, they are not satisfied that that old remedy, which is still available, is sufficient to deal with the sort of teaching of which we have heard to-day. If that teaching is conducted in language likely to lead to a breach of the peace, by affronting and insulting the feelings and beliefs of others, that sort of thing can be aimed at under the present law and in my opinion rightly aimed at.
Does my hon. and learned Friend seriously suggest that a teacher instructing half-a-dozen young children, perhaps about eight years of age, in a private room, would be liable to proceedings for using language likely to lead to a breach of peace.
My hon. and learned Friend must be aware that language used in any place, which is likely to lead to a breach of the peace, can be made the subject of proceedings. Even in the case he mentions of a teacher imparting instruction to half-a-dozen children in a private room, if the language used by the teacher is likely to have such an effect upon the parents of any of those children that it may lead to a breach of the peace, then it comes within the present law. No lawyer of experience would question that for one moment. The law of England is most careful to protect the feelings of every citizen in regard to matters which he holds sacred, by laying or others the obligation that expressions of opinion on those matters must be couched in language which is not insulting and which is not calculated to lead to a breach of the peace. That remedy is available and ought to suffice to secure the ends, as I think the reasonable ends—which the sponsors of the Bill have in view.
I am satisfied that there is a type of person who deliberately insults the views and feelings of others in imparting opinions whether of a political or a religious character. There is a type of person known to us all, who likes to hold different views from others and who expresses his views in the most insulting way, largely through ignorance, but sometimes with deliberation. I suggest that the present law is sufficient to deal with such a person, where necessary, and that to adopt these proposals would be to place a contraction on the law of liberty in this land which, at this time of day, the House ought not to contemplate. We have been given to-day examples of the kind of expressions which have been used and the kind of matters which are being discussed. I think we are approaching a time when these matters are going to be very sharply presented to our people. But the law of England regards only conduct and not the expression of opinion. If an expression of opinion incites conduct. which may lead to a breach of the peace, that conduct is actionable. But it is no offence under the law of England to advocate Communism or any other form of political theory and the sooner that is recognised by some people the better, not only for their own peace of mind, but for the reasonable carrying-on of public controversy.
It is open to any citizen to advocate any change in the law of this country, so long as, in that advocacy, he does not incite others to commit a breach of the peace. I should deplore the fact of this House giving support to any proposals which contracted the present liberty in. regard to these matters. It is open to any person within the jurisdiction to hold any religious faith he chooses. He is no longer bound, as he was up to comparatively recent years, to the doctrines of the Church of England. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson) who occupies a very distinguished position in connection with the administration of justice, thought that, where the provisions of an existing law were disregarded or were unknown to sections of the population, it was advisable to have them reiterated in new legislation. I should like to ask whether it has not been of frequent occurrence in the history of the law, that some provision of the law has fallen into desuetude because it has ceased to have any effect on the public mind. The offence contemplated by it has been gradually set aside and ignored by the authorities, because they were satisfied that, if proceedings were instituted, public opinion would not support such proceedings.
I ventured to intervene during the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for the Second Readng with an inquiry as to whether in their view, religious teaching necessarily involved the acceptance of a Deity. It is common knowledge that you may have forms of religion and ethical systems which do not include any conception of a Deity but which are as much entitled to be regarded as religions, within the meaning of the law, as the doctrines of the Church of England. Therefore, I say again that I should very much deplore any contraction of that view, which is the right view, which is consistent with the law of England, which is in accordance with tradition, which this House, through many struggles and centuries, has ever held and I hope that we shall take no course which will contract those ancient liberties of the Kingdom. In these circumstances, especially as other business is awaiting—I apologise for detaining the House longer than I intended—having had full statements from both sides, perhaps the promoters of the Bill might consider the withdrawal of their Motion.
I rise to support this Bill, because I feel that a Measure of this kind is long overdue. I have, personally, had a long experience of this kind of activity throughout Great Britain and Ireland, and I want to make it perfectly clear that at no time in my humble career have I ever denied the right to any man to express his feelings or his thoughts, either politically or religiously. I want to say this to those good people who are opposing this Measure, and talk about that wonderful gem called liberty, they must, at any rate, concede that the rights of the other man must be sacred or the rights of none are sacred, that liberty is a thing to be enjoyed by all, and when I deny the liberty of the other man, or he denies me my right, then it is either tyranny on my part or tyranny on his. Some little time ago I went to a meeting addressed by one of those wonderful atheists. They are so inconsistent that they contradict themselves at every turn. When he had finished—he had worked himself inter a terrible state of excitement; he was almost frothing at the mouth with his denunciation of almost everything sacred and holy—I said to him, "Are you an Atheist?" Very proudly patting himself on the chest, he said, "Thank God I am an atheist."
Of course it is no crime, but it is a great joke for an atheist, who denies the existence of God, to thank God that he is an atheist. This is not a thing of recent growth. Many years ago, when Karl Marx came here accepting the hospitality and sanctuary of this country, he, like many of his type, began to bite the hand that fed him. He went into the British Museum, searched the archives there and wrote his famous "Das Kapital" within three miles of this House, and it was the famous Karl Marx who said that the idea of God is the keystone of a perverted civilisation, and must be destroyed. The true root of Socialism, he said, was atheism in religion, republicanism in politics and communism in economics, and that no Socialist could be a Socialist unless he accepted those tenets. A few years later we had the redoubtable Robert Blatchford writing in the "Clarion," then a popular paper, and he made the declaration: "I deny the existence of a Heavenly Father, the efficacy of prayer, the providence of God and the truth of the Old and New Testaments. I do not believe Christ was divine; I am inclined to believe he never existed at all." That teaching has soaked into the minds of millions of people in this country, and to-day it is the poison of sedition. When all is said and done, you may be a Jew, Catholic, Protestant or Presbyterian—
There is hardly any distinction, except, in the sense that the average Protestant pursues his Protestantism in a very broad-minded way, and, I am afraid, the other one does not. That is the distinction, if I may draw a distinction.
Why should a man have his religion insulted? Why should he be told that all these things which have been handed down for more than 1,000 years are all one? Why should these people who are supposed to represent the views and opinions of a proletariat, as they call it, tell the children in this country that all ideas of God, all ideas of a supernatural are a silly superstition of the past? If they only knew the mass of their own people, they would know that they live in the simple faith, in the hope that one day there will be a brighter and better destiny for them, and because of their simple belief and faith they are able to endure the miseries and tortures of this unfortunate world. I have observed a Member wagging his head from time to time ever since I began. I thought at first it was some mental affliction. After- wards I thought he did not agree with my opinion, but I have come to the conclusion that it is neither. So if you see him wag his head again, take it from me there is nothing in it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Good old chestnut!"] It is. I am an authority on that sort of thing.
In an Amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), he says there is persecution of Communism and Marxism in Germany. I hold no brief at all for the methods pursued in Germany within recent times. We are told by the Press that all kinds of terrible things have happened there, but I am inclined to swallow these things with the proverbial grain of salt. I get information from Germany which conveys to me an altogether different impression from that given in the newspapers. However, if Germany today is putting down Marxism or Communism, are you blaming the German people for fighting in their own defence and trying to preserve the sacred fabric of their industry and religion? Are they going to allow, are we going to allow, those who are to-day pleading for the overthrow of society, to destroy everything we hold sacred? We can say what we like about Christianity, but remember this, that the four corner stones of the British Constitution are built upon the principle of Christianity, which is the Sermon on the Mount, doing unto others as you would wish them to do to you. If Germany is to-day weeding out the garden, so to speak, if, in the interest of her nationality, her sacred religion, her industrial, financial, and commercial future, she is doing something which is calculated to rebuild Germany, I admire the German people for doing it.
We have Communism in this country. What is Communism but the last resort of the desperate politician, who has no constructive ideas with regard to statesmanship, but who only wishes to pull down and destroy in the hope that he may be able to lay the foundations of a Communist State after he has destroyed the rest. Are we going to allow all this to be destroyed, just to oblige him? Are we going to allow political incendiaries to set fire to everything, in the national and international sense? Who are the people who are causing the trouble in Germany? They are internationals, who do not belong to Germany at all, and an international is a person who has no country and never did have one. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Hitler"]. Herr Hitler is putting things right. I think Signor Mussolini has put things right, I think Mr. Roosevelt will put things right, and I am only hoping that the day will come when we shall have a man in England who will put things right here as well.
I am referring to the Amendment on the Paper, and I have just as much right to reply to that Amendment as the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme has to put it down. If he did not want to bring Germany and Marxism and Communism into this debate, he had no right to put down the Amendment.
On this occasion I may not be permitted to tell the hon. Member, who is rather suspicious about Herr Hitler ruling in England. I do not believe we shall ever get anything of that kind. I have said that we may get a man who will put things straight, but Mr. Roosevelt is not Herr Hitler, and he is putting things straight in America. I am not suggesting that we might have the Hitler methods applied to England.
I apologise, but I was drawn off the track by the interjections of the hon. Member opposite. It would be a fatal thing if ever we were to pass a Measure to restrict the liberty of the subject. I have said that the days of your Empire and everything connected with it will be gone the moment you turn round and declare by Act of Parliament that you are going to tie a man's tongue in regard to these things, but this is a different commodity. Blasphemy is one thing, and free speech is another. To blaspheme one's religion or the basis upon which it is founded, to howl down by vituperative language everything in connection with a man's faith is alto- gether different from criticising the fundamental principles of that faith. I have lived in Ireland, and I have seen the controversy between Catholic and Protestant there. I have lived in the Crumlin Road, Belfast, and perhaps on some future occasion I may tell some very lurid stories of adventures in that wonderful place which somebody has called "a little piece of heaven"; but I want to make this clear, that whenever controversy has raged between Catholic and Protestant in Ireland, it has only been on a question as to whether Catholicism is good or Protestantism is good. Neither of them has ever insulted the Christian faith, neither of them has tried to pour ridicule and blasphemy on his Creator, neither of them has tried to bring the sacred religion of Christianity into disrepute, and neither of them has ever taught this basic materialism, this vile thing which teaches a child to live for what it can consume, like in the words of Bernard Shaw, "Sensual pigs in a sensual stye," with just the same amount of run.
I ask hon. Members opposite who have any thought of religion, who have any clear thought of Christianity, whose minds, I know, are mainly pure, independent of their political thoughts, what love their children will have for them if they deny their children the right to hold in respect a heavenly Father? What right have they to expect the respect, fidelity, love, and comfort of their children when they grow up, if those children have been denied the right to think of a heavenly Father? What can they expect themselves as earthly fathers? After all, religion comes down to your own homes.
I agree, for, after all, your country is only an enlargement of your home, a nation is only an enlargement of a family, and an Empire is only an enlargement of a nation. However we might look at it, we have to remember that the simple faith comes down to a man's own home. What kind of children are you going to have if the one great inspiring thought of religion is taken out of their simple little minds? What have they to live for? What inspiration is there? I ask hon. Members who vote against this Bill to think of the time when they were children. Whether they believe now or not is of course a matter for themselves alone, but I as a man try to cherish those fragrant memories of my own youth. I try to think the thoughts that have been given to me by others and to follow their inspiration and teaching. I try to think that one day when I go beyond to the great Divide I shall be taken to task and asked whether I have left the world a better place than I found it. That is the one great inspiring force of the human race, and if you tell children that they have no longer the right to believe in this and that they live for this world alone, I say that in this welter of damnable materialism we as a nation and as a people and as an Empire will perish. I hope that this Bill will be passed in the interests of civilisation.
This Bill can be accurately described as an old friend. I remember taking part for many weary weeks in Committee in 1927 trying to get a Bill to appeal to every section of the Committee. As the House can imagine, we had a. good deal of trouble. Since 1927 three other Bills have been introduced into the House, all based on the Bill of 1927 as it left the Committee. These three Bills did not make much progress. The chief difference between this Bill and its predecessors is that blasphemy is now to include attacks not only on Christianity, but on all other forms of religion. There has been a good deal of discussion to-day whether Communism is a religion. I am not prepared to express any opinion on that question, but I believe that it is the common view that Leninism is a religion. If it is, I do not know whether it is the desire of the promoters of this Bill to prevent Leninism being brought into contempt. I only suggest that to the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading, because, in accordance with the provisions of the Bill, that would undoubtedly be the effect.
I would like the House to notice three principal points in connection with the Bill. First, it does not seek to give statutory form to the Common Law meaning of sedition; secondly, in England—and this has been emphasised in more than one speech—proceedings under the Bill could be instituted only by or on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and I will say a little more about that at a later stage; thirdly, the Bill does not apply to the teaching of children by their own parents. I want to say a little about the existing law. The publishing of blasphemous matter by speech and blasphemous libel, which is the publication of blasphemous matter by writing, are offences at present under the common law. I would like to make the existing law perfectly clear. I do not wish to exaggerate the powers which we at present possess. I can make the existing position clear by referring to a decision in the House of Lords in 1927. It was made clear that an attack upon, or a denial of, the doctrines of Christianity, however fundamental, is not in itself an offence, and that the offence of blasphemy at Common Law is not committed unless the attack or denial is expressed in scurrilous or outrageous language. In the judgment in that case it was stated that to constitute blasphemy at Common Law there must be such an element of vilification, ridicule or irreverance as would be likely to exasperate the feelings of others and so to lead to a breach of the peace.
It is obvious from that decision that there are certain differences between the Common Law of to-day and the proposals in this Bill, but the differences are not really material. One may note that it is a breach of the law now to publish blasphemous matter by speech, and to publish blasphemous matter by writing. My hon. Friend the promoter of the Bill might quite well say to me that there is nothing in the Common Law with regard to the teaching of blasphemy. I think that the answer to that must be that one cannot conceive how it would be possible to teach blasphemy except by speech or by writing, and as blasphemy by speech and by writing are both illegal, therefore I maintain that the teaching of blasphemy or the teaching of sedition must also be illegal.
I do not think that they are covered by this Bill. Acting certainly is not, and pictorial representation only when it is sought to bring
religion into contempt by means of ribald, contumelious or scurrilous language.
The poster by itself is not covered by the Bill.
I think, if the hon. Member will read the meaning of the expression "blasphemous matter" he will find that it speaks of
pictorial representation whereby it is sought to bring ….religion into contempt.
I have been trying to make clear the difference between the existing law and the law as it will be if this Bill becomes an Act. I hope that I made that clear because it is an important difference. Under the law as it exists, there must be a breach of the peace or the likelihood of a breach of the peace. With regard to sedition and seditious libel—the former is sedition by speech and the latter is sedition by writing—these are Common Law offences now. Broadly, then, the Bill does not create new offences. There are differences, as I have already admitted, but in the main the proposed offences are covered by the existing law.
Apart from this altogether, I would ask the House, Is blasphemy or sedition a common offence at the present time? The hon. Member who promoted the Bill was good enough to have a talk with me in the House only a few days ago, and I hope that I am not disclosing any private conversation which he would resent if I recall that I asked him if he would be good enough, in his speech to-day, to bring some concrete examples before the House. I must admit that I was a little disappointed with the examples he gave. I took one down as rapidly as I could, and I do not think that the quotation I shall now give from his speech is really very inaccurate. He said he had heard of a woman who had heard of another woman who had married a Communist, and the first woman was horrified that the grandchildren of the second woman—[Laughter]—I think this is right—were, so it was said, compelled to walk in muddy boots over a mat upon which was a figure of Christ. I think that is a fair interpretation of one of the cases he gave. I will admit that I share his horror of it, but that is really not very direct evidence that such a thing took place, and in any event I am not sure that it would be covered by the Bill. I say I am not sure. I do not know whether a mat could be described as a document. In any event, whether it would be covered by the Bill or not, I submit that what he told us was not very direct evidence that this, in practice, does exist. Then he said that teachers are being corrupted. Whether that be true or not I am not in a, position to say, but that, again, would not be covered by the Bill. There is nothing to prevent teachers being corrupted even if this Bill becomes law.
My argument was that teachers were being got at in order that they might train these children, and that the Bill had value as a prophylactic Measure which would check teaching of that kind by teachers.
I quite see that point. Then he said that the "Workers Weekly" pointed out what teachers should do in order, I suppose, to fit themselves for being able to teach these blasphemous and seditious principles to the children, but he gave no evidence as to what the teachers have been doing or are doing at the present time. He quoted the case of a London County Council teacher who, I think, was a Communist, and, I think he said, had been imprisoned for a breach of the peace. If I recollect aright, there was more than one teacher. But he had no proof or suggestion that that particular teacher, who undoubtedly held Com- munist principles, had been guilty of teaching blasphemy or sedition in his school; and I must tell the House that it is no offence at this moment to be a Communist, though perhaps some people would like it to be an offence. The Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl) quoted the doctrine of many organisations with which she and I both disagree, but, again, there was little in her quotation's about the teaching of sedition or blasphemy to children under 16. She said quite rightly that this doctrine might corrupt the children. It might, but has it done so up to now? That is the question we ought to try to answer.
My noble Friend exhibited a poster. I think that poster was printed in Russian, and it was very difficult for me to understand it. She also exhibited pamphlets and booklets which she said, I think, were being distributed in the East End.
If these publications are blasphemous or seditious, they can, in fact, be dealt with under the law at the present moment. Does she really think that some of those publications could really be understood by children under 16? I submitted two or three of them to one of my hon. Friends sitting beside me, and his words to me were, "I would not understand a single thing about them." I studied them very carefully, and I must admit that I did not realise that there was anything really blasphemous or seditious in them.
The caricature was so gross that I honestly think nobody could understand what it meant. I could not understand it.
The difference between the Bill and the present law is in the main, one of procedure. At the present moment the offence is dealt with on indictment, and on conviction at the assizes the punishment is imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years with or without a fine. Under the provisions of the Bill any persons guilty of an offence under it are liable to punishment on summary conviction. They can be tried by a court of summary jurisdiction. I should imagine that the promoters desired to secure greater ease and expedition by having these cases tried in courts of summary jurisdiction instead of having to go to quarter sessions or assizes. On the other hand, that desire to speed up is slowed down again by Sub-section (2) of Clause 2, where it states that proceedings for offences under this Bill shall not, in England, be instituted except by or on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I realise why my hon. Friend put in that sub-section, but, on the other hand, he must admit that it does give less force to the contention that the law will only be set in motion if it is made possible to deal with these cases in a court of summary jurisdiction. If the Director of Public Prosecutions is alone allowed to prosecute, surely it is unlikely that more cases will be brought into court merely because the proceedings can be taken summarily.
I want to give this warning to the House. The law of sedition and libel is very difficult and very complicated. In the House to-day lawyers have disagreed about it. I have been asked questions which, of course, I could not answer, because I have not got the legal mind; but, on the other hand, one must assume that even in my humble position I have as much intelligence as the least intelligent of the justices of the peace throughout the country. Therefore I maintain that it would be safer to leave this question in the hands of the higher courts, which would have greater experience in these matters, than to leave them to the decision of laymen up and down the country.
Is there a real menace to the peace and security of the country at the present time? The promoters of the Bill have not shown that such a menace exists. So far as the Government are aware, there is no ground for believing that subversive teaching of the kind aimed at by the Bill is going on to any extent which would justify new measures such as are now proposed. As regards pernicious teaching by teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, the Noble Lady has had a good deal of experience at the Board of Education, but I arm informed that the Board of Education have stated that they cannot recall a single instance of a teacher being charged with corrupting the minds of children in this way. I am further told that the teachers would be well aware of the dangers of their own position, if they were to introduce politics or irreligion into the schools. The Government are aware that the dangers that the Bill is designed to meet have largely, if not entirely, disappeared. We are in a better position than we were even in 1927. The promoters have not produced definite evidence to show that special measures of this kind are necessary.
I want to assure the House—I know that, so far as my own party are concerned, my speech is far from a popular one—that I have every sympathy with the intentions of the promoters. I abhor blasphemy and sedition as much as any hon. Member on this side of the House. In those circumstances, no pressure will be brought upon the House, either to oppose or to reject the Bill, but I suggest that there is little to be gained by giving a Second Reading to it. I say that, not because I desire blasphemy or sedition to be taught to children, but because I believe that the powers that we possess are sufficient to deal with the existing situation.
In this Debate, no hon. Member associated with this side of the House has expressed the attitude of my colleagues and myself to the Bill. I therefore venture, on their behalf, to say a few words. I hope not to detain the House unduly because I have given a promise to the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore), whose Bill is next on the Paper. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken from the Government Front Bench said that he spoke for himself and for Members of his party when he said that he abhorred both blasphemy and sedition. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, in saying that, he was speaking just as much for us as he was for his own side. Not one hon. Member in any part of the House has a word of commendation to offer those who delight in giving offence to people's deepest convictions in religious matters. While we are agreed upon that, it is not improper for us to remember that, in connection with subjects such as these, very strong feelings are apt to arise. There are those who, like the mover and seconder, maintain the strongest views concerning Communism, sedition, blasphemy and irreligion, but while they take a strong view, they must grant, as I am sure they do, that right to other people, who are just as anxious not to encourage blasphemy or sedition, to hold equally strong views concerning the merits of this Bill. I am very glad that the representative of the Government has spoken so courageously, concerning the merits of the case as it has been presented. In neither of -the speeches which supported the introduction of this Bill was evidence adduced to prove that there was a strong case for the enlargement of our legislative enactments in this regard.
I hope that I may be forgiven for saying that not merely the mover and seconder, but subsequent speakers, have introduced into the discussion a good deal of irrelevant material. All the discussion concerning the attitude of Russia towards religion, and of Hitlerism and the attitude of Hitlerism towards the Jews and the Catholics in Germany, had nothing to do with the Bill. The point that we have to discuss is whether there is a case for introducing this Measure, which is concerned strictly, as I understand it, with the teaching of sedition or blasphemy to children under the age of a6. That is the kernel of this Measure. Some hon. Members have spoken as though there were a feeling that we on this side of the House were in favour of
sedition and blasphemy. I have already given an assurance on that point. Apart from the definition of sedition and blasphemy, so clearly given to the House by the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me, my difficulty in regard to the Bill is that in one of the Clauses the phrase occurs
any other form of religion.
The point has quite properly been put to the House by the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight); "what do you mean by religion?" It is possible for a person to argue that his adhesion to a certain moral code is as much a religion to him as the formularies of any given church. As everybody knows, I am not a Communist. Indeed, in the last fortnight, many of us have been engaged in an attack upon Communism in a recent by-election. I know, and I have met, scores of young Communists, in the course of the last few years, who regard their Communist faith, and preach it, with as great an intensity as I and others have preached the Christian faith. It is to them a religion. The right hon. Gentleman assured the House, quite properly, that it is not illegal for people to preach the Communist faith in this country. Therefore, if a parent happens to be a Communist, is not that parent entitled to instruct his child in the principles of what he regards, perhaps wrongly, as the truth? I know I shall be told that the Bill provides exemption for parents, but is it not competent for a Communist parent, with other Communist parents, to send his child to a school where Communist principles are taught? Supposing that a Communist school were being run by the mutual efforts of Communist parents, the person who was at the head of that school would be breaking the raw under this Bill.
I was coming to that point. At the moment I am supposing a Communist School—an ordinary day school, run like a Church of England school, or a Wesleyan school, or a Catholic school. The Noble Lady and her friends take the view that the preaching of the doctrines of Communism is tantamount to preaching sedition.
Yes, that is true. In practice their attitude is that the Communist is a seditious person, and the whole purpose and inspiration behind this Bill is the deliberate belief that exists at the back of the minds of hon. Members, quite genuinely I dare say, that those who preach Communism are in fact preaching sedition, though perhaps not legally so. I may be told that that is not at all the view that is taken, but let me show the House how the attitude of the supporters of this Bill has changed as the years have passed. When the Bill was first introduced into this House, it was not the Communist Sunday-school that was so much attacked, but the Socialist Sunday-school. That was in 1924. When we came to the year 1927, those who introduced the Bill started by assuring the House that they were not at all attacking the legitimate Socialist Sunday-schools, but were only concerned with the proletarian Sunday-schools. Today we have been assured by the Mover of the Bill that the proletarian Sunday-schools are now almost non-existent, so that what he is trying to safeguard against is not something that is actually in being at the present time, but something that may come into existence a few years from now. If, without a change of the law, the proletarian Sunday-schools have disappeared, is not that an adequate reason for not introducing a new law?
After all, we shall be agreed that the only way, in the long run, to meet error, is by setting side by side with it truth. I remember a distinguished divine, in the days of the "New Theology" controversy, using a phrase like this: "Sin," he said, "is the shadow where the light ought to be." I think there is a great deal in favour of that proposition. If we want to get rid of sedition, if we want to get rid of blasphemy, the only sound way, in the end, is to put side by side with the error the proposals which we regard as true, and I am sufficient of an optimist to believe that, in the long run, truth will prove stronger than falsehood, and virtue stronger than vice.
We on this side of the House take the view that there is no case for changing the law, and that, even if there were a case for changing the law, the phraseology of this Bill will not suit the needs of the situation. We believe there ought to be an opportunity for all people to preach their political or social or religious feeling without fear and without any trammels being imposed upon them. Toleration is what we plead for, for without tolerance the lamp of liberty will indeed burn low. It is the business of everyone of us to see to it that, whatever glimpse of truth men may have had revealed to them, they shall be free to declare it, always subject to this over-riding limitation, that in the presentation of the truth as they see it they shall not offend the most sacred convictions of those who take a contrary view. I am glad that the representative of the Government has taken the view that he has, and, in view of his statement, I most earnestly hope that those who promote the Bill, having had a chance to express their case fully and completely, will now deem it wise to withdraw it.
I hope it will be some consolation for the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Government to think that the reasons that he adduced against the Bill have given very great satisfaction to us on these Benches. It sometimes happens, especially on a Friday, that the Diehards get out of hand, and we have had a number of speeches from Members who are suffering from the familiar disease of seeing red. I cannot claim to have made the same close study of Socialist and Communist Sunday schools as have some Members who have spoken. The only hymn of theirs that I have ever heard is one that runs like this:
By reason, not ructions, we rise to the skies.
The means of production we nationalise.
Rapture surprising we bring within range
By nationalising the means of exchange.
I would ask hon. Members to look at the names on the back of the Bill. It is introduced by an hon. Gentleman repre-
senting the English Universities and it is supported by a Noble Lady who represents a country seat in Scotland and various other Members who represent rural or residential constituencies. We have had all this talk about Communism. Is it not rather remarkable that a Bill of this kind, designed to suppress Communist propaganda among children, should be brought forward by a group of Members scarcely one of whom can have had any experience of Communism within his own constituency. I represent a constituency where, at the last election, there was the largest Communist vote in Scotland and the second largest in the whole country. The Communist candidate polled well over 10,000 votes. I was accustomed to hear children at meetings singing the Red Flag and other Communist or Socialist songs.
By measures of this kind—and, after all, the aim of the Bill is to increase the number of prosecutions for blasphemy and sedition—you will not suppress Communism but will in effect encourage Communism. If you take proceedings which are ill-advised and which do not commend themselves to the sense of fair play of the majority of citizens you will encourage those whom you prosecute. Representing as I do a constituency where there is a very strong Communist element, I do not think that anything has encouraged Communism in this country in the last few years so much as the ill-advised prosecution of Mr. Tom Mann. You will increase by this Bill the number of ill-advised prosecutions which will have a similar effect in encouraging the growth of Communism in this country.
I will give an example of the kind of thing that may happen if the Bill were actually carried into law. Suppose you had a teacher, shall we say, in a Scottish school teaching history dealing with the time of the Stuarts, and the teacher became excited, as every one ought to do in the teaching of history, and declared that the revolution of 1688 was illegal or was a mistake, and that the present reigning House had no right to sit on the Throne. He might, in the excitement of the moment, go so far as to advocate a Stuart restoration. That would be against the laws of sedition in this country. The teacher who made a remark of that kind to children in school, or said anything which could be construed in that sense, would be laying himself open to a charge of sedition. That is an example, I think the House will agree, where you may have technical sedition, or words which are technically seditious, and where no one in their senses would want to prosecute?
We were told that we have the safeguard of the Public Prosecutor. I do not think it is a very good safeguard. If you bring in a Bill to increase the number of prosecutions for seditious words or malicious libel—those are the two forms which sedition takes—you will make the Public Prosecutor an arbiter of public policy. That is a position which he has never had to occupy until now. What is the Public Prosecutor? He does not decide whether it is advisable in the interests of the State to initiate prosecutions. When papers are sent to the Public Prosecutor, he has to decide, as a lawyer, whether the evidence is sufficient to justify a prosecution. That is his concern. If you extend in any way or strengthen the law with regard to sedition and blasphemy by the passage of the Bill, it will mean that the Public Prosecutor will be put in a very difficult position. If it was shown that there was sufficient evidence to justify prosecution, surely, in most cases, his duty would be to recommend prosecution however ill-advised he might think it might be.
I was very glad to hear what the Minister said with regard to the most objectionable feature in the Bill, that in future there should be a complete innovation in the law on this subject and that persons charged with seditious words or seditious libel, or with blasphemy, should be triable before the court of summary jurisdiction. I am not going to make an attack upon courts of summary jurisdiction and upon benches of magistrates but I think that the one class of case which you ought to try to keep out of reach of the magistrates are the cases which have any political flavour of any kind. That is just the type of case with which magistrates ought not to deal, because when you deal with the question of sedition there must be a political atmosphere about it. You would be taking before those courts where you have, not a stipendiary magistrate, but laymen, questions which are among some of the most difficult a court can ever be called upon to decide.
I think that the promoters of the Bill could not have studied some of the case law and some of the judgments given on the subject, and could not have appreciated how very intricate and subtle in some of its distinctions is the law with regard to sedition in its various aspects. For instance, Mr. Justice Stephen, who perhaps of all our judges of recent years had the greatest knowledge of criminal law, gave as his opinion that, strictly speaking, there was no such thing as "sedition" in the law of this country. The word "sedition" could only be used as an adjective, and there was only such a thing as speaking seditious words or publishing a seditious libel. That shows the difficulty of this question, and it would be extremely undesirable if trials of this kind, which arouse so much political feeling and which involve so much difficulty of legal interpretation, were left to courts of this character.
It always creates an unpleasant impression upon members of the Conservative party, who are loyal supporters of the Government, when they find that the views put forward from the Government Front Bench are met with bouquets from speakers on the Opposition side and from below the Gangway. It makes us a little suspicious when we find that the views which have been held for years on this subject by the Conservative party are so heartily applauded by Members opposite and below the Gangway. Like the Under-Secretary of State, I also suffered with him in having to go through the whole long Committee stage in 1927 on the previous Bill, and I can also remember the Bill before that which was introduced and considered by this House. When I look at this Bill and compare it with the Measure of 1927 I find it a little difficult to understand why the present Measure is being opposed. I find it difficult to understand to what hon. Members can object, because all the difficulties and problems of the previous Bills have been left out and the present Measure is strictly limited to the teaching of blasphemous and seditious matters to children under 16 years of age.
Nearly every speech this afternoon has gone off on side issues; the merits of Socialism, and the things which are at present happening in Germany. Every conceivable kind of red herring has been drawn across the real purpose of this Bill by its opponents, who are not able, apparently, to face the issue and make the honest statement that the provisions of the Bill should not be enacted and that it is a desirable thing that children under 16 years of age should be taught blasphemy and sedition. We have not had a speech on this line this afternoon; and it is really the only ground upon which the Bill can be opposed. What was the reason the Under-Secretary of State gave for his Laodicean attitude this afternoon? He assumed an attitude of complete complacency, of false confidence. The fault he found with the speeches of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading and the Noble Lady who seconded was that they gave no concrete proof that this kind of teaching was going on to such an extent that it demanded legislation being passed. That may be so, but hon. Members must remember that it is difficult to find concrete cases of the actual teaching of blasphemy and sedition to children which would be stopped by this Bill.
Consider what they would have to do in order to get the evidence. They must be present where and when the teaching is being given. They must be able to take down shorthand notes of the teaching and, in addition, they must have witnesses to prove that it was given, before any conviction could be obtained. What I go upon is this, that about the time when the previous Bill was before Parliament a complete change took place in the tactics of the Communist party on this matter. Up to that time they had relied on schools, they started schools in various places, and it was comparatively easy to find some evidence. What is their present policy? What are their present tactics? Let me quote from one of their documents—this new move was started in 1926—
The Communist Children's Movement is of the highest significance to the Communist parties in the eduction of a new revolutionary generation. The class struggle must be carried into the schools. Communist parties of all countries must assist the young Communist League to unite broad masses of workers' children and educate them in the Communist spirit.
Later on they say:
'School Groups' of not less than five children were to be formed in every elementary school where possible, who should elect from among the children themselves a group
leader. These groups were to form 'the School Group Executive Committee.' Larger bodies called 'Communist Children Sections' were to be formed out of the school groups, with schools in the locality, and these sections were to form 'section committees,' with a member of the Young Communist League as their leaders. Private meetings of these groups and sections were to be held at any available places, as for instance at the houses of Communist parents.
Then we have a further move:
On April 14th, 1926, a conference of the Communist International decided to help the new childrens' organisation in every way possible, including special consultation of party members, especially school teachers, by propaganda, by education of active comrades for this movement, and by moneys placed at the disposal of the Childrens' League for the supply of literature and other propaganda purposes.
Whether this new move, this new policy, of corrupting, as I hold, the children of this country is meeting with success or not seems to me to be entirely beside the mark. We know that the policy adopted to deal with the children is to teach them what we regard as blasphemy and sedition. The Under-Secretary of State has shown that the existing law is not applicable to the case where you are only dealing with children. He answered me quite fairly when I interrupted him that the test of being liable to cause a breach of the peace is not applicable in cases where you are only trying to teach a few young children. In such circumstances breaches of the peace are inconceivable. If that is so, there is a perfectly clear case for the Bill, and what possible harm, from the point of view of the country or the religion of the country, or the future of the children of the country, can you possibly do if this Bill is on the Statute Book? Why not look at it from that point of view, instead of the Under-Secretary saying: "Well, I do not think the promoter and the seconder of the Bill have really made a sufficiently strong case to show that there is such urgency in this matter that we ought to pass the Bill?" I would have thought that because he had gone through all that hard work in 1927 he would have remembered the motto, "Be not weary of well doing," and would now undertake the much simpler task of passing a much simpler Measure, when he is in more direct relation to it and has a much greater responsibility to the children.
I do not often find myself in agreement politically with the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), but I must confess that I do agree with the point that he has made in stating that many of the speeches this afternoon have not referred to the Bill at all. There is nothing in the Bill about Communism, and yet an hon. Gentleman opposite who spoke for his colleagues said that it would be a crime for a teacher to teach Communism. Whatever our views, let us at least try to understand the Bill and state what is the case. What does the Bill say? It says very distinctly:
Any person other than the parent who teaches seditious or blasphemous matter to children under the age of 16.
Blasphemous matter is defined as
words spoken or written or pictorial representations, whereby it is sought to bring the Christian or any other form of religion into contempt by means of ribald contumelious or scurrilous language.
That is very clear, and does not offend against anyone's religious susceptibilities. It offers to anyone an opportunity to practice any religion that he may choose. But this is a Christian country, and we are entitled in this House, as part of the institutions of this country, to base our law upon the principles of the Christian religion. How do we recommend the Christian religion? By trying to excel any other religion in generosity, tolerance, magnanimity and all those virtues which are well known to members of all and no religious creeds. If we excel those other faiths in those virtues, then we recommend our faith. But at the same time we are entitled to apply our faith to the laws which we submit to this House. As we are tolerant and the principle of the Christian religion surely is charity, we welcome Roman Catholics, Agnostics, Jews and men of whatever faith, so long as they conform to the laws of the country, which in the main still is a Christian country. This Bill is a very simple Bill. I did not follow the Minister when he tried to condemn it, for I do not think he made any case against the Bill. He said that the law to-day did all that was necessary. Then why object to this particular Measure? The Bill does not introduce any new form of intolerance.
I have already occupied the time of the House for a considerable period, and I do not want to intervene, but the hon. Member must not assume that my unwillingness to intervene indicates inability.
All I can say is that I heard the hon. Gentleman, who took up a great deal of our time in making fun of the authors of the Bill, in insinuating all sorts of things against their motives, and in trying to reduce the Bill to ridicule. That was a gross waste of Parliamentary time and made no impression on those of us who try to understand the Measures brought before us and judge them on their merits. The hon. Member's inability to answer me now, is on a par with his treatment of the Bill which was merely to try to make fun of it. This Measure is brought forward by hon. Members with some of whom I do not agree politically, but we are bound to consider it on its merits, and I submit that it ought to commend itself to anyone whose religious beliefs are based upon Christianity and tolerance.
I think an expression of encouragement is due to the courageous Members who have brought forward this Measure. This House is a Conservative House and if Conservative principles are to be maintained in England we ought not to wait until Communism is in our midst before attempting to deal with it. We ought to apply preventive measures. It is wiser to prevent the growth of what we look upon as a horrible political heresy, than to wait until it has gained a footing. If we believe in our principles, if we think that English traditions are worthy of being preserved, if we believe in ordered and decent public and private life, then we cannot tolerate easily a movement in connection with which a Bill is considered necessary to prevent the teaching of seditious and blasphemous doctrines to children.
In this House we are accustomed to orderly and seemly Debate conducted in a manner which can make no one blush, but, if hon. Members go into the public places, into the highways and by-ways, from Blackwall Tunnel to Hyde Park, they will find meetings in progress at which language is used, not only seditious and blasphemous but violently obscene. To the manner in which peace is maintained at these meetings by the Home Office through the agency of the police, I can bear testimony, but it is not right that our people should be subjected to continuous poisonous innoculations by means of language which is scurrilous and propaganda which is often obscene. I am sorry that this afternoon's Debate has been marred by one remark of the preceding speaker. He said that in this country Jews, Agnostics and Roman Catholics were "tolerated." We do not "tolerate" Jews, Agnostics and Roman
Catholics. They have as much right to breath the air of this country, to eat its food and enjoy its amenities as any other citizens. If we value the traditions and history of this country, and the life of this country and its religious laws, we ought to do something to preserve those traditions and laws. I hope that a gesture of approval will be given by this House to the promoters of the Bill in order that the Home Office may be gingered up into taking a conservative outlook upon these matters.
|Division No. 223.]||AYES||[7.07 p.m.|
|Allen, Lt. -Col. Sir William (Armagh)||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmst'd)||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Heneage, Lieut. -Colonel Arthur P.||Rankin, Robert|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Hepworth, Joseph||Ray, Sir William|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Hornby, Frank||Reed, Arthur C, (Exeter)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Hurd, Sir Percy||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Rosbotham, Sir Samuel|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romford)||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Bracken, Brendan||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Ker, J. Campbell||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Kerr, Hamilton w.||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Kimball, Lawrence||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Burnett, John George||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S. w.)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Scone, Lord|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Selley, Harry R.|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Shaw, Helen S. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||McKie, John Hamilton||Stewart, William J. (Belfast, S.)|
|Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Magnay, Thomas||Storey, Samuel|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Maitland, Adam||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Clayton Dr. George C.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Manningham-Bulter, Lt. -Col. Sir M.||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Copeland, Ida||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Cranborne, Viscount.||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H,||Mayhew, Lieut. -Colonel John||Ward, Lt. -Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Cruddas, Lieut. -Colonel Bernard||Moore, Lt. -Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Davison, Sir William Henry||Moreing, Adrian C.||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Eady, George H.||Moss, Captain H, J,||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Munro, Patrick||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'id)||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Nunn, William||Windsor-Clive, Lieut. -Colonel George|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halle||O' Donovan, Dr. William James||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Patrick, Colin M.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)||Pearson, William G.|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Penny, Sir George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Harbord, Arthur||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, B'nstaple)||Sir Reginald Craddock and Mr.|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Potter, John||Raikes.|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Procter, Major Henry Adam|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maxton, James|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro; W.)||Palmer, Francis Noel|
|Batey, Joseph||Groves, Thomas E.||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Holdsworth, Herbert||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Cove, William G.||Horobin, Ian M.||Thorne, William James|
|Cowan, D. M,||John, William||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Daggar, George||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||White, Henry Graham|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Edwards, Charles||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||McEntee, Valentine L.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||McKeag, William||Mr. Pickering and Mr. Denman.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to Standing Committee.