I beg to move, in page 5, line 3, after "behaviour," to insert:
or wears emblems or displays banners or emblems.
It will be observed that the Clause says:
Any person who … uses threatening; abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace … shall be guilty of an offence.
Earlier on in the Bill it was indicated that banners and emblems of a provocative character were to be considered on the Report stage. But here we have no offence under this Clause as it stands unless the police have taken action and certain conditions prevail. It occurs to many of us that at the present time you are quite likely to have disorder and a breach of the peace if there is a display of provocative emblems, just as you are with abusive epithets or insulting words. I will give one instance of the fears we have. You might have a public demonstration in Hyde Park or some other meeting place, and you might suddenly find a section of the audience producing very provocative emblems. I have had a good deal of experience of public meetings in this country during the last 32 years and I am a processionist. I am glad that we are preserving the right to march. I once had the honour of leading 70,000 persons from Hyde Park to call on the Prime Minister, at that time, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). The fact that he was not at home did not alter the effectiveness of the procession. We were orderly people, and, as has been explained all through these good-humoured Debates, no one in this House is going to attempt to deprive persons of the right to demonstrate in an orderly manner.
It is conceivable, now that the black shirt is not going to be worn in procession, that there might be persons who are enthusiastic supporters of that system on the Continent who at the psychological moment might produce a swastika on a banner and cause a great disturbance. To be impartial, there might be men who produced a red flag at a respectable meeting and caused disorder. In either event it is clear that the same reactions on the public mind which would be caused by the foreign uniform or fancy dress which we have noticed recently might also be caused by emblems which were foreign to the instincts of Englishmen. The policy of the hon. Gentleman is a foreign importation.
I will not accuse him of having produced his policy from the ranks of the Labour party. I beg the Government to insert these words, because it would be a great mistake if it were imagined in any part of the country that this Bill was weighted all the time against one particular school of thought and it is important that we should show that it is a Measure not specially brought into this House out of panic on account of certain disturbances in the East End, but because we want to revert to the ancient ideal of complete freedom in this country. It must be admitted that if you were to have a meeting and there was a sudden parade of emblems which are offensive to British people, such as fasces inscribed on a flag, the swastika or any other emblem which was provocative, it would be likely to cause disturbance. I have attended meetings, not of a party character, but educative, addressed by various members of the Dominions over-sea. I was the only Englishman taking part, and I have seen many meetings of that character, broken up. I remember that on one occasion at a fairly peaceful meeting an emblem was produced which caused grave annoyance, and the result was disorder. Now that we are dealing with this question, let His Majesty's Government see to it that the ground is covered. The principle has been admitted in an earlier Clause in regard to emblems and banners, and I hope that it will be adequately covered on the Report stage, and that the Home Secretary will now accept my very modest Amendment, which I realise has the approval of all parties.
We had a very long discussion on this matter, and I think it will be the general point of view of hon. Members in all parts that it is very difficult to define what is a provocative emblem or device. We should be imposing a very difficult duty on the police if we asked them to decide that question. The hon. and gallant Member has indicated that he would take a view which I am sure would not be shared by hon. Members on these benches. He said that he. would regard the red flag as a provocative emblem. The red flag has been used by Socialist assemblies for very many years. If the hon. and gallant Member would be provoked by the display of a red flag at any meeting that I addressed, I should regard it as part of my duty to have him immediately ejected. I should not regard it as reason able on his part to suggest that I should be arrested because he took offence at the display of the red flag. I should regard him as the unreasonable person.
The hon. and gallant Member wants to put words into the Clause which are unnecessary. The Clause says:
Any person who in any public place or at any public meeting uses threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour.
I should have thought that everything was covered by that provision. It goes on to protect the speakers at a meeting, as they ought to be protected. We ought to guard against allowing any of our liberties to be interfered with by restricting the holding of meetings, and we ought to have some regard to the behaviour of the people there. Sometimes tempers run high and people say things on the spur of the moment. It would be very unfortunate if our British genius for heckling were restrained. Some of the most humorous incidents in British political history have arisen from the right to heckle. We have so little humour left-in politics that it would be regrettable if that right were interfered with. I hope the Home Secretary will not accept the Amendment. If he did accept it he would be inconsistent, having regard to what he said on the previous occasion, when he stated that he hoped to insert words in the Bill which would meet our position in regard to the display of flags.
The hon. and learned Member must realise that it is difficult to say when an emblem is provocative. I have been intensely provoked on numberless occasions when I have seen the Union Jack displayed on Conservative platforms. If there is anything that would outrage me it would be the impudence of the Conservative party in using the National flag as a party emblem. I am sure from what we know of the hon. and gallant Member that at his meetings he swathes himself in the Union Jack. How objectionable it is that that national emblem should be associated with the odious politics of the hon. and gallant Member and his friends.
If all parties showed the national emblem there would be no force in it. The hon. and gallant Member and his friends use the Union Jack at Conservative meetings because they want to give a sacrosanct air and authority to their dubious messages. They know that the national emblem is something that arouses great emotion among the people and they want, with their mediocre policies, to borrow vitality from those emotions. I should not, however, like the hon. and gallant Member to be put into prison or to be prosecuted because he does that. Surely, hon. Members in other parts of the Committee must feel that it is unreasonable to take exception to the display of the red flag, which has been endeared to us by many sacrifices which have been made under its auspices.
If a person came into a meeting and behaved in such a, manner that he clearly intended to cause a breach of the peace and waved a swastika flag in confirmation of that intention, he would be offending against the law. It all depends upon the circumstances surrounding the case. The hon. and gallant Member must realise that the swastika is the national emblem of Germany, whereas the red flag is the international workers' banner. It depends upon the association surrounding the incident. As the hon. and gallant Member has indicated what is in his mind in moving the Amendment, it seems to me that there would have been many more converts to his point of view had he not made his speech. I hope that the Committee will be satisfied that all the requirements of propriety are satisfied by the use of the word "behaviour," and that it is unnecessary to insert anything which might further restrict the liberties of the subject.
The Amendment is really related to Clause 3, which has been discussed for a considerable length of time, and which seeks to prohibit the use of provocative banners and emblems in processions. The Government have told us that they intend on the Report stage to insert words making such a display an offence. In Clause 5 we are dealing with public meetings, and the question before the Committee is whether provocative emblems and banners produced at such meetings with intent to produce disorder ought to be prohibited. It ought to be an offence so to display banners of a provocative kind. The question is not a large one. It is not profitable at this stage to discuss what are or are not provocative banners and emblems. We have all had experiences of banners and emblems being produced at meetings for the purpose of creating disorder and preventing the meetings from being carried through.
When we are dealing with this matter I submit that it would be well to make it clear that such conduct is not orderly and should be punished when it is done with the intention and effect of producing disorder. I hope that I have made it clear why our Amendment has been put down, and I hope that it will receive favourable consideration.
I have listened carefully to what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend, and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) and I have no doubt whatever as to Clause 5 being sufficient to deal with the case. I have consulted the Attorney-General and the Lord Advocate and they agree with me. I can hardly imagine a more obvious example of "threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour" in a public place, if we think for the moment of political behaviour, than the sort of case which has been referred to as needing special treatment. There cannot be any doubt in anybody's mind that the ground is covered by this Clause. I think it would be a very serious mistake to introduce a separate phrase on the subject. We might have some difficulty in defining its exact limitations. I am of opinion, and I am supported by my learned Friends who are helping me, that what is in the mind of my hon. and gallant Friends, in so far as it ought to be dealt with, is certainly covered by the word "behaviour." The exhibition of flags and emblems is "behaviour."
One argument used by my hon. and gallant Friend was that it is contemplated to make a reference to this class of subject in connection with the conditions that may have to be imposed in regard to processions, but the two cases are quite different. As the Clause is now drafted, when we speak about conditions, about the route, about the street not to be entered, those phrases do not really give sufficient room for the introduction of conditions of rather a different character, namely, conditions about banners. Therefore, while it will be wise to deal with the matter in Clause 3, there is no ground for doing what is suggested in Clause 5. I can give the hon. and gallant Member the assurance that there is not the slightest doubt that the word "behaviour" covers the exhibition or display of banners and emblems.
I beg to move, in page 5, line 8, to leave out "with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or," and to insert:
calculated to excite racial or religious prejudice.
I move the Amendment in a form different from that on the Paper. Owing to an inadvertence the Amendment on the Paper did not include the word "or." The purpose of the Amendment is obvious. On the Second Reading of the Bill I pointed out that the penalties under the Clause were going to be much higher, and I am now submitting that, so far as our experience has gone in regard to recent happenings, the law seems to be sufficiently strong in this matter. Until the events in the East End there has been nothing to make urgent any demand for an alteration of the present law. In these circumstances I think it is well to maintain the old position and deal only with the new circumstances which have arisen. The difficulty has occurred owing to the attempt to excite racial and religious prejudice, and I see grave dangers if the Clause is unduly extended. A subject which has aroused a good deal of attention to-day is the position of the law of libel. Many people feel that the law of libel in this country is being so extended as to be a real danger to liberty. I think the Clause in its present terms would have a similar effect. Unless there is a limitation on the Clause and it is confined to abusive language calculated to excite racial or religious prejudice, you are going to make public controversy very difficult indeed.
An hon. Member opposite gave us an illustration of what he would regard as abusive language. He said that he should regard "Down with British Imperialism" as abusive language. Evidently he would take action if he heard that phrase used. But there is a whole school in this coun- try which regards all social development as being dependent on the downfall of British Imperialism. It is a basic principle in our political thought; we must achieve the overthrow of British Imperialism before we are able to enter into a civilised Socialist society. The hon. Member opposite, in quite good faith, if he heard me make a statement like that, calling upon the workers in the country to support our party in the overthrow of British Imperialism, would possibly go to the police and say, "Did you hear the insulting language he used about British Imperialism, which I prize so highly"; and as the hon. Member is a very good-looking fellow the police constable might be impressed, and I should later on be faced with a charge of using abusive language calculated to create a breach of the peace, when, in fact, I had used language which has been in use, in the public controversies of this country for years. The Home Secretary may say that the magistrates would throw it out, but suppose the person on the bench was of the same mind as the hon. Member opposite? In that case I should be subject to the heavy penalties which are proposed in the Bill. Formerly it was a matter of 40s., and did not matter so much, but now I should be faced with imprisonment for three months and a fine of £50.
The illustration I have given shows the danger of the words as they now stand. They require some modification. The incidents which have called for these heavier penalties and an alteration in the law have been incidents which have been calculated to excite racial and religious prejudice, and, therefore, if the Government accept the Amendment they will be dealing with the real substance of the problem. They will also allow public controversy to go on in the way it has done in the past without creating any special ill-feeling or difficulties.
I do not think the object of the hon. Member would be in the least attained by the Amendment he has proposed. Indeed, in many cases the Amendment, I think, would curtail liberty of speech more than the original Clause. I have never heard a proposal coming from an alleged democratic party which has been more undemocratic. Does the hon. Member mean that nobody is to be allowed to criticise in public the Roman Catholic or the Protestant religions or to criticise the actions of Germany or France or anybody else? Under the wording of his Amendment we should be creating racial or religious prejudice. It is a most astonishing proposal. You will certainly be creating religious and racial prejudice if you criticise the Roman Catholic religion or the Jews. Personally I do not think the Clause will have the slightest effect. A law to the same effect as regards London has been on the Statute Book for some years, but has never been put into operation. It provides that if the speaker at a public meeting, not only some unfortunate interruptor but a Minister of the Crown or the Leader of the Opposition, makes threatening or abusive language, the Commissioner of Police may prosecute. The Clause will make practically no difference to the law as it stands. There is such a provision already in force; but it has never been put into operation.
I admit that the penalties are different. I hope the Committee will not support the Amendment. It would be an intolerable abuse of public liberty if people were not permitted to make speeches which showed either racial or religious prejudice. If a speaker uses threatening or abusive language he can be summoned under the present law, but to say that no one shall make a speech showing racial or religious prejudice is preposterous. It has existed in this country for hundreds of years, and will always exist. If speakers use abusive or threatening language they can be dealt with under the law of criminal libel.
I think the argument of the Noble Lord is sound. The Clause includes the words "with intent to" and therefore the responsibility rests on the prosecutor to prove his case that the words are calculated to cause a breach of the peace. Who is to decide the calculation? It is for the Government to prove the case. If the Amendment were accepted it would mean that in the mind of the police officer they were calculated to bring about certain results, and you would have shifted the ground from one side to the other.
We do not want to press this Amendment unduly, but the point is worth consideration. I do not think there is much legal difference between the words "calculated" and "intent," but really the point is this: To criticise a person's religion would not be wrong, but, in the words of the Amendment, it would be wrong if it were calculated to excite racial or religious prejudice. That is another matter. To criticise the Roman Catholic or Protestant religion or the Jewish faith is not wrong, but if you accompany that criticism by saying that the Roman Catholics are bloodsuckers, it would be a crime because it would create religious prejudice. If you said that Protestants were a crowd of people of immoral character you would be creating religious prejudice.
Does the hon. Member seriously ask the Committee to accept the point of view that when you make speeches criticising a particular faith or religion you are not attempting to create prejudice?
I think there is this difference. No one would complain if Mosley and the Fascists simply criticised the Jewish religion. That is not a crime. It is an ordinary controversy of the day. But the complaint is that the Fascists want to create prejudice against the Jews, that Mosley does not content himself with criticising the Jewish faith and religion—indeed, that faith is open to criticism and there are many persons who differ from it.
The complaint is that they are creating prejudice against the Jews. To create a breach of the peace obviously means doing something more than merely criticising a faith. Therefore, we seek to insert the words:
calculated to incite racial or religious prejudice.
Those words would not constitute a check on reasonable criticism, which has gone on for generations and will continue. The Noble Lord's criticism would have been sound if we had not added those words, and it is on those words that we found our Amendment. The cases they would cover would be those where people use certain words which create among the community a prejudice against a par-tic liar section. In Hyde Park there are
speakers belonging to all sorts of sects, and everything goes off all right; but if somebody went there and said, "That person over there is a Jew," and proceeded to use his oratory against that person, it would be creating racial and religious prejudice. That would be the crime. We do not wish to interfere with the right of people to criticise each other's religion in the ordinary way; but we wish to prevent the creation of racial and religious prejudice. That is the object of our Amendment.
The speeches that have been made have left me very little to say. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winter-ton) put his finger on what is the real and final objection to this Amendment. The Amendment would make it an offence to say something which is
calculated to excite racial or religious prejudice
whether the circumstances were such as were likely to create a breach of the peace or not. One might argue about the word "prejudice," but I should have thought that there were many statements frequently made by Scotsmen, particularly on a Burns night, that might not unfairly be described as being calculated to excite racial prejudice. The Amendment would make that an offence.
I accept that, but it would make only a slight difference. I suggest to the Committee that there are two difficulties. First of all, the basis of this Clause is that of
threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned.
That is the form in which this Clause occurs in the Act which applies to London and in many of the local Acts, and I suggest it is the right basis for a charge—namely, words likely to provoke a breach of the peace, whatever those words may be, whether they are directed to racial or religious grounds or not. We do not wish to draw a distinction between people who, in fact, use
threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace,
and say that it is all right to do that if there is a particular subject matter, but not if the subject matter is something different. That is the real answer, in principle, to the Amendment.
The Clause applies to any words, whatever the subject matter, if they are "threatening, abusive or insulting," and are used "with intent to provoke a breach of the peace" or are words "whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned." I suggest to the Committee that it would be better to leave the Clause as it is and not seek to specify the particular subject matter, thereby, as it were, giving a licence to people, as far as this Clause is concerned, to be as threatening, abusive or insulting as they like, with intent to provoke as many breaches of the peace as they like, provided the subject matter is not racial or religious. For those reasons, I suggest that the Committee should reject the Amendment.
I am afraid I must speak as a layman without being able to appreciate the niceties of phraseology employed by lawyers. With regard to the difficulties that have occurred in the East End of London, there is certainly a dire necessity for the strengthening of the law as to statements made at meetings when they are made with the deliberate intent of inciting racial feeling. It seems to me that the words proposed in the Amendment would strengthen the position and would create a state of affairs in London that would very largely tend to do away with some of the destructive efforts of certain propagandists of a new political philosophy. There is not a shadow of doubt that this new political philosophy is built up on an odious propaganda which deliberately incites racial animosity. It must be appreciated that the meetings are not held indoors, but in the open, invariably in districts that are completely Jewish. The speakers spend the whole of their time, not in endeavouring to propagate their own particular political philosophy, but in making all sorts of accusations and statements of a slanderous character against the Jewish people. These meetings, being held in the districts in which they are, create immense difficulties and tend to destroy the peace and amity that have existed in those places for a number of years.
It must be appreciated that attacks upon the Jewish people were not always the methods adopted by the Fascists. A surprising feature of the work of that body was that for the first 18 months or two years it made no attacks upon the Jewish people. No attempt was made to incite racial prejudice. It was not until the Fascists discovered that they had no message for the British people and were unable to get a response from the British people, that they copied the methods of foreign political forces, taking from them the worst features, with the idea of finding a rallying ground for their own political philosophy. The new stunt was not based on real enmity or animosity against the Jewish people; it was assimilated anger, assimilated detestation, developed purely with the object of creating adherents to their cause. We have found in the East End of London during the last few months that the whole of this attempt to create racial animosity has given an impetus to hooligans—
I am exceedingly sorry if I have transgressed from the right lines in addressing the Committee, but I wish to refer to the Amendment, which aims at introducing a phrase that nothing should be said at public meetings
calculated to excite racial or religious prejudice.
In the East End of London for a number of years, whatever may have been the feelings of the people there, they lived in peace and amity together, until this deliberate attempt was made by a particular organisation to sow the seeds of dissension by appealing to the baser instincts of racial animosity. I feel that such a method must be regarded as the meanest form of political propaganda. In the East End of London the Jewish people have been constantly insulted, and the speakers who have been responsible for it have had the protection of the police while doing so.
The hon. Member cannot go into that now. The sole question before the Committee is whether the words in the Clause or the words proposed in the Amendment by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) are better. What has happened in the East End of London is, I am afraid, not a matter which arises on this Amendment.
That does not arise on this occasion. The Committee is solely concerned with the point as to whether the words proposed by the Government or those proposed by the lion. Member for Camlachie are better.
The matter to which the hon. Member is referring might arise on the Motion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," but it does not arise at this stage.
The point I made was whether my hon. Friend is not entitled to argue that his experience in the East End of London has proved the need for this Amendment. I do not wish to put my opinion against your's, Captain Bourne, but, for myself, I think the hon. Gentleman was using a very convincing argument. He was convincing me, in any case.
Surely the hon. Member is entitled to point to what occurred in the East End as an illustration of the importance of legislation against deliberate incitement to racial and religious prejudice.
The hon. Gentleman's argument did not strike me in that way. It struck me that he was putting forward a very powerful argument in favour of legislation to prevent this kind of thing altogether, and I think the proper place to do that is on the question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
Everybody, I am sure, sympathises with the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. J. Hall) in regard to the events to which he referred, but I suggest, with great. respect to him, that he has misapprehended the effect of the Amendment. He said he wanted the law strengthened. So do many of us, and it is with that object that this Bill has been produced, but the effect of the Amendment would not be to strengthen the Clause, but to make it weaker. It is possible, as the Clause stands, to take proceedings under it against anybody who is guilty of
threatening, abusing or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned.
That, of course, would include any attacks calculated to excite racial and religious prejudice. The effect of the Amendment would be to exclude a large class of cases and to provide that proceedings should only be taken where words are used calculated to excite racial or religious prejudice.
I agree, but the words
with intent to provoke a breach of the peace
would be left out. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member heard the speech of the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) in introducing the Amendment, but the hon. Member's ground for the Amendment was that the words in the Clause were too wide. He argued that a great many kinds of expression which he and his friends might desire to use and might think it proper to use, would be prohibited, whereas, he said, what we wanted to do in this Bill was to strike at particular kinds of religious and racial insult which are quite
new in public life in this country, but which have been, more or less, invented recently by those who have figured in events in the East End. I am sure the hon. Member for Camlachie will be the most surprised person here if he is told that the effect of his Amendment is to do what apparently is desired by hon. Members above the Gangway, namely, to strengthen the Clause. He was certainly trying to limit its scope.
The Amendment would have a limiting effect in one respect but in another respect it would have the effect of strengthening this Clause. It would strengthen the Clause to deal with the particular circumstances which calls for this legislation. It would leave out, of the operation of the Clause things to which we have been accustomed in the past but it would strengthen the words with regard to a particular kind of prejudice. There would be no dubiety about it. The Clause would then say that it was an offence to create religious or racial prejudice in order to stir up strife.
I am obliged to the hon. Member for his further explanation, but for myself I cannot see in what sense these words would strengthen the Clause at all. I cannot imagine any words of the kind which we all have in mind and which were used in the East End, which could not be dealt with under the Clause as it stands, without this Amendment.
Suppose some persons addressed a meeting at which no Jews were present and attempted to excite feeling against the Jews. That would not lead to any liability to a breach of the peace at the meeting, no Jews being there to resist any such attack. But that case would come within these words;
calculated to excite racial or religious prejudice
though it, would not be
with intent to provoke a breach of the peace.
In the case which I have supposed the language might provoke a breach of the peace on the following day. It is not used with intent to provoke a breach of the peace at the meeting, but with the intent that people shall go out and do something, perhaps on the next day against the Jews. That might well come within the words of the Amendment, but I do not think it could come within the words
with intent to provoke a breach of the peace.
I cannot agree that the effect of the Amendment would be to weaken the Clause. There is a real necessity for words of this kind either in this Clause or in some other part of the Bill. We ought to remember the purpose of this Bill and the fact that at the next Election we may find a body of men addressing public meetings in the course of the campaign, making appeals to religious prejudice and using abusive and insulting language towards a certain race, namely, the Jews. While the persons at such meetings may be in agreement with the views thus expressed, and while there may be no breaches of the peace at those meetings, language of that kind may have the effect of sending men and women into the streets to create very serious disorder. I do not think that the point of the Amendment is so easily disposed of as some hon. Members seem to think. It is not enough to say that we have always expressed our racial feelings or our religious prejudices and that we ought to continue to do so. We may be right in claiming that as part of our freedom, but we have a set of circumstances to-day which is different from anything we have ever had in the history of the country.
I have here a verbatim report of a speech made as recently as 7th November at Stoke Newington by a member of the Fascist party. I can give his name if desired though I do not particularly wish to do so. He went out of his way to declare that the Jew had a different moral standard of values from the Englishman, and to abuse the Jews. If we are to have that kind of thing on a large scale in the near future and if, from hundreds of platforms, men are going to seek to arouse the passions of people against a particular race, we ought to take steps to fix the responsibility upon those who incite others to go out and create a breach of the peace. It is said that the Clause as it stands provides a sufficient safeguard. I suggest that it does not. It may be that the words which it is proposed to leave out are far too wide to be inserted in a Bill which deals with a particular object at a particular time. But it seems to me, on the balance of possibilities, that the words which it is proposed to insert would not weaken but would probably strengthen the Clause. They would bring it home very definitely to those who are now committing these outrages against public decency and public safety, that if they inflame racial passion or religious prejudice and go outside the ordinary decencies, and what is right and proper in these matters, they will be dealt with under this Clause. For those reasons I support the Amendment.
I am surprised at the Amendment being moved, and I cannot see any necessity for it. Surely the words of the Clause as they stand
with intent to provoke a breach of the peace
do not prevent any ordinary legitimate criticism. If words are used which tend to provoke or are calculated to provoke a breach of the peace the Clause, as it stands, appears to cover everything, and I think it would be dangerous to insert the words proposed in the Amendment. I strongly support the Clause as it stands.
; As the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) appears to wish to divide the Committee on this Amendment, I would like to say why I cannot support it. I would remind him that it is not what is said in support of his Amendment or in support of any legislation before this House that counts when a case is considered by magistrates in court. What is considered is what is actually said in the Act itself. My complaint against this Amendment, although I am in sympathy with the object of its Movers, is that it goes much farther than they intend. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel (Mr. J. Hall) made out a good case against racial prejudice being excited at a meeting, and I would agree with every word he said if he had con- fined his remarks to racial prejudice, but the Amendment goes farther than that and says "racial or religious prejudice." If the Amendment as now worded were incorporated in the Bill, it would mean that there could be no religious meeting of protest at which a speaker could say a word of any kind that might be regarded as criticism of someone else's faith without running counter to this Clause.
If the Amendment is carried, it means that no meeting can be held by such an organisation as the Secular Society criticising religion as religion, without exciting religious prejudice. It is an entirely new departure and would be likely to be used against absolute freedom of speech at meetings where these questions have hitherto been discussed without injury, and I, for one, am not prepared to subscribe to that. I want to see men free to say what they please against any religious or any political institution. If the hon. Member for Camlachie could get some hon. Member to move a further Amendment to his own, to omit the words "or religious," he might perhaps get more support from this Committee, but so long as he allows the Amendment, as at present, to obstruct the free flow of thought that has always been allowed to express itself in our modern meetings, he must expect to be defeated.
There is nothing in the Amendment that would prevent a Secular Society meeting with a Secularist lecturer indulging in any severe criticism of the religious viewpoint of anybody, but it would prevent a Secularist lecturer from using abusive language to the prejudice of religion which might provoke a breach of the peace. It would not interfere with liberty to criticise religion in any respect at all. The kernel of the Amendment is in the word "prejudice," where there is something being done, as, for example, in the Lambert case in the courts the other day.
; Again I must remind the hon. Member that magistrates pay no respect whatever to explanations such as we have just had from him. It would be no good in court to quote the speech of the hon. Member. The magistrate would say, "I am not concerned with the hon. Member for Camlachie; here is the Act, and this lecturer at this meeting said something calculated to excite racial or religious feeling." It is not a question of abusive language. The hon. Member does not say that in his Amendment. The question of abusive language is already covered. What is said is "calculated to excite." I have been at meetings of all kinds where the moderate things that have been said have still been "calculated to excite," and if these words are used, I warn the Committee against voting in support of them for that reason alone.
; I rise merely to put a question. I want to ask whether, if this Amendment were accepted, it would not be perfectly possible, for instance, to use abusive or insulting words against a capitalist or capitalists unless those capitalists happened to belong to the Jewish religion?
; I think the words "calculated to excite religious prejudice" would be beneficial, but we must remember that the hon. and learned Gentleman told us earlier that the Clause as it stands is comprehensive enough to carry with it all that we are asking for in these additional words. I am not in agreement with my hon. Friend who said just now that he was in full agreement with inserting the words "to excite racial prejudice," but that he would not like religious prejudice mentioned. Coming from a city where we have had not only racial but religious prejudice to a great extent, and where we have had broken heads, I have reached that stage of life when I think that anything that would strengthen the law, whether it be that my co-religionists or any other body should keep public decency as it ought to be kept in a great city, should be inserted in the Bill. When I recollect, as I must, the differences of opinion that exist, and that freedom or licence has been exercised on occasions and there has been no religion about it, but it has led to breaches of the peace, I incline to think that if such practices were to continue, it would cause great difficulty. I agree that we are getting more en- lightened and that men and women are not so anxious as they used to be to hurt and insult each other, because greater respect is paid to the honest feelings of other men, whatever their faith may be, but there are occasions in the city of Liverpool when there may be a tendency in that direction, and while this Bill does not deal specifically with Liverpool or the East End of London—it deals with public order, and, as I understand it, will cover all England and Scotland—anything we can do to strengthen a Public Order Bill will be beneficial for the peace of our country.
I think the words "calculated to excite racial or religious prejudice" would lay an emphasis that has never before been laid in an Act of Parliament in regard to the licence that many people think they have a right to use in public places. It was implied a short time ago in this Committee that the words "likely to excite" would apply only to a particular meeting which a particular speaker was addressing. We know, however, that incitement to riot and to a breach of the peace takes place on a particular date, and that two or three Clays later some demagogue brings forward, on racial or religious grounds, things that ought not to be allowed in the public life of this nation. One thing that must be recognised—and it is recognised by this House—is that whatever we may be, Jew or Gentile, we are British citizens, and we have the right under the law to the fullest protection it is immaterial what a man's religion may be as long as he is a British subject admitting the right of the Constitution to govern, and he can demand the protection which the Government extends to each and every one of us. What I expect for myself I am prepared to give to my brothers and sisters, whoever they may be. Any man has a right to criticise my faith but not to abuse the things I love. What happens in ordinary conversation is a different matter, but vulgar abuse in the street by one who may be leading a mob in a way that is liable to lead to trouble, ought not to be tolerated. I feel that I am under a tribute to the four hon. Gentlemen who have put forward this Amendment, for I feel that if such an Amendment could be included it would be for the benefit of public law and order. Because of that I will give whatever weight I can to it, but I am not prepared to go into the Lobby in support of it if the Attorney-General advises the Committee that it is already covered by the words in the Clause.
I rise, in view of the obvious interest taken in this Amendment, to state the position as it appears to me. If the Clause were amended as suggested you would, in order to get a successful prosecution, have to prove first that the words were "threatening, abusive or insulting"; and second, that they were "calculated to excite racial or religious prejudice." On the Clause as it stands you would have to prove only that a breach of the peace was likely to be occasioned. With the Clause as amended you would have to prove an additional thing which has not to be proved under the Clause as it stands. The Clause, as drafted, covers the purpose for which the Amendment is designed.
At first sight the Clause seems a reasonable and unexceptional one, and the Government could have added to their defence of it that it was already the law to some extent over a large part of the country. While the Clause itself looks harmless, it has been found in practice that, whenever the police either want to dispose of somebody at a public meeting or, if they have already arrested him and find the charge they propose to make against him will not hold water, they turn round and charge him under this Clause in various Metropolitan Police Acts and similar Statutes with such regularity and fervour that it has come to be known in many circles as the policeman's friend. That is not the fault of the magistrates and only in an indirect sense the fault of the Government. It does give point, however, to my other complaint that, whereas in London, if you are charged with this offence, the most that can happen to you is to be fined 40s., as this stands the offence can be punishable with a fine not exceeding £50 or three months' imprisonment. I thought that I ought to mention that by way of a subdued protest in order that the House should know that it is enacting a Clause which is frequently abused in practice and is enacting it with a much higher penalty.