Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
This proposed new Clause, which takes the place of my Amendment to Clause 10, presents an issue on which this Committee can speedily decide. The new Clause suggests that the Bill when it becomes an Act should be given a trial run of 5 years and then, on the experience that we have gained, the ensuing Parliament can extend it, either in whole or in part, by making it permanent or, if necessary, for a further five years. There have been two main lines of thought; first, the unanimous determination that the militarisation of politics shall be stopped, and, secondly, a widely-felt doubt whether we are not going further than is necessary, and whether what we realise is a much-needed medicine for a particular disease at the moment may not become an exceedingly dangerous diet when taken by the community in later years. Grave doubts have been expressed whether we are not unnecessarily interfering with liberty, and whether also we are not introducing into the police forces throughout the country a danger of political bias or suggestions of political bias which would be inimical to the proper working of the police. By the process of having a trial run and then deciding how much of the Bill shall be made permanent or extended for a period, we should satisfy very largely the doubts that many of us have felt upon those points.
I would point out to the Committee the extreme flexibility of the procedure of putting a Bill into the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. You can extend either the whole or a part, or even small parts of it. I freely agree that most of this Bill relates to matters that present permanent problems, and I hope that the Bill will provide the permanent solution to those problems. Clause 1 and most of Clause 2, I have no doubt, an ensuing Parliament would want to continue, and very likely Clauses 4, 5 and 6, but Clause 3 is the central point of doubt, and I am sure that it would be a satisfaction to Members in all parts of the Committee if there were an easy possibility of remedying any mistakes we may make to-night by reviewing the subject in five years' time. The process of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act is an old and well-tried process. Many Measures about which there have been doubts at the time have been subjected to it in the past, and I think that it would both satisfy many doubts upon the Bill and very materially speed up the Report stage if it were known that the Bill would be temporary in its duration, with the possibility of being made, either wholly or in part, permanent.
I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, but I really do not think that this is a case in which we should turn to the expedient of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. We may not be entirely successful in our efforts, but the efforts we are making are efforts to lay down an improved code. In so far as these efforts are successful the code will not cease to be applicable after five calendar years have passed, and I do not see any reason why, when five years have passed, any person should be encouraged to think that the law may be altered. It seems to me that we must take the responsibility that Parliament has to take. It is not the last word, and our successors will come afterwards, and, I dare say, correct our mistakes; but, in the circumstances, I think that the general sense of the Committee is that we should not insert in this Bill any limitation of time.
I agree with the Mover of the Clause. During the progress of the Bill there have been grave doubts about the curtailment of the liberty of the subject at democratic assemblies and with regard to processions and the like. That is the concern of hon. Members on this side of the Committee. It is only the fear of what is likely to happen unless something is done immediately that we agree to the Bill at all. We can see many of the things that we have paid dearly for in the right of public assembly in which we are not going to have the same liberty as we have had in the past. We have given way on that because we thought there was a greater menace for the time being. If in five years we have dealt with the threatened danger from other countries, and they have seen the wisdom of doing something with their dictators, there may be no need for this restriction of liberty in this country. If at the end of five years the same danger exists, it is agreed in the Clause that the restriction shall continue. If not, this provision will come into operation at the end of the period and the Act will die a natural death. On this matter I am in agreement with the hon. Member who moved the Clause.