I beg to move,
That this House views with alarm the extent to which the liberty of the subject has suffered encroachment within recent years, and records its opinion that such encroachment threatens the maintenance and impedes the development of a healthy democracy.
I must apologise to the House for the noise which up to yesterday was my voice, but I assure hon. Members that I shall not inflict it on them longer than I can help. Throughout the world to-day, democratic institutions are being threatened and some have been destroyed—we hope only temporarily. Everyone in this House must deplore the reactionary process that is going on, but it would be stupid and hypocritical to deplore the inroads which are being made into democratic institutions in other countries, unless we were prepared to examine those inroads which have taken place in this country, and take the necessary steps to stop that process from going any further. I propose to show not only that this tendency exists in Great Britain, but that it has, in recent years, progressed to an alarming extent. It is my object to deal with one aspect only of this very wide subject. That is political liberty, and particularly the traditional liberty of the British people to express their grievances; the liberty of free speech, of criticism against existing institutions and of agitating, organising and demonstrating against what they conceive to be social injustice. That liberty, I maintain, has been seriously interfered with during recent years by Parliament, by the judiciary and by the police—particularly by the police.
Let us consider Parliament's responsibility. Since the War, Parliament has passed a number of Measures which, in varying degree, have interfered with the political rights and liberties of the subject. In 1920 there was the Emergency Powers Act; in 1927, the Trade Disputes Act; in 1934, the Incitement to Disaffection Act, and in 1936, the Public Order Act, some Sections of which, in my view, are thoroughly dangerous. In this connection one must also mention the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1934, because it took out of the hands of elected and removable public representatives the welfare of a large section of the poorest people of the country. The vast social question of the care of those people was deliberately removed from the realm of democratic decision. Those Measures are, I suggest, significant, and it is foolish to minimise their danger by thinking that, so far, they have not been rigorously applied. The essential point is that Parliament in those five Acts has given the Executive such powers of repression as would enable it, without further legislation, to lay the foundations of a Fascist State.
The attention of hon. Members should be drawn to one serious feature of this recent legislation. When these Bills have been before Parliament, we have been told by the Minister in charge that the provisions are meant to apply only to really serious acts of an anti-social nature. The Minister's soft words usually gull an unsuspecting House into acquiescence, but once the Act is on the Statute Book and beyond the control of the Minister and the House, it is often put to such uses as would shock—and in some cases, has, in fact, shocked—the Members of this House who voted for it. For example, how many Members when they were passing the Incitement to Disaffection Act dreamt that it would result in a student of 18, a boy of exemplary character, being sentenced to 12 months in prison because of a ridiculous and foolish letter sent to a corporal in the Army? It is true that as a result of public indignation that sentence was later reduced. The point is that this House should never have passed an Act that permitted such an outrage on justice to take place. Again, I am sure that the attitude of many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House towards the Public Order Act might have been very different if they had realised that immediately it was passed it would be used in Harworth to arrest miners and to help to break the strike there.
Probably the most serious development in regard to this restriction of our civil liberties has been the growing tendency of the police, and particularly of the police in London, to interfere autocratically and sometimes brutally in the public right of free speech. A little time ago there was an arbitrary embargo placed by the Commissioner of Police on the holding of any outdoor meetings within a radius of half a mile of any Employment Exchange. Anybody who dared to exercise their right of holding such a public meeting immediately found himself arrested for obstructing the highway, or for endangering the peace, or possibly for obstructing the police in the discharge of their duty. No evidence was necessary or required to prove that there was any obstruction of the highway or any likelihood of breaches of the peace. The ipse dixit of the policeman was all that was necessary to prevent meetings taking place in a large section of London. This procedure was upheld in the courts of law, and I have little doubt that it will be used in future in trade or political disputes in order to muzzle the speeches of workers' representatives when they are trying to air their grievances or desiring to arouse discontent against social injustices.
Recently the question of free speech has been complicated by the establishment of the Fascist movement. It is one of the main purposes of that movement to stir up racial hatred by such provocative behaviour as to create breaches of the peace. Every decent person in the community would like to see an end put to that type of conduct, but it would be doing a poor service to democracy if, on the pretext of stopping the Fascist violence, we permitted the police to destroy the long established democratic rights of our people and prevented the people as a whole from exercising their traditional liberties. That, however, is exactly what has been happening, and whatever may have been said in the past by Home Secretaries in this House, there is overwhelming evidence to prove that the police have over and over again refused to interfere against Fascist terrorism, and have acted with merciless severity against working men and women who have exercised their citizen's right of public speech in criticism of the Fascist movement.
What is even perhaps more serious is that the behaviour of the police has invariably been condoned and supported by the Home Secretary in the House of Commons. There is no need for me to remind the Under-Secretary of the fracas at Olympia, because he was one of those who courageously made a public protest in the Press at the time against the violence that was used on that occasion by the Fascist stewards. The police refused to interfere, in spite of the fact that it was evident that great violence was being used on members of the public.
The Home Secretary of that time supported the police in their refusal to enter the precincts of Olympia, although they knew that violence was being done, on the ground that the police had no right to enter a public meeting unless they were invited to do so by the conveners.
I would like to contrast what happened on that occasion with a meeting that took place in the Autumn of the same year in Glamorgan. A public meeting was called by the Communist party to protest against certain political occurrences that had taken place. The police inspector of that district insisted on going to the meeting. He was asked by the chairman to leave, but he refused, and eventually the matter was brought to the High Court, where the decision was announced that the police had not only a right but, I believe they said, a duty to enter any premises where a meeting was taking place and where they thought a breach of the peace might ensue. The action of the police on that occasion is in marked contrast to the action of the police at Olympia. Subsequently, after this judgment had been made, there was a Fascist meeting in Hornsey Town Hall on 25th January, 1937, where members of the public were treated with violence by the Fascist stewards and thrown out on to the steps. They asked the police to intervene and to go into the meeting to stop any further violence and to take the names and addresses of those responsible for the violence. Again the police refused to intervene, in spite of repeated requests made by the various members of the public who had been violently assaulted. Although protests were made on that occasion to the Home Secretary, no action was taken.
There is little wonder, in view of this and similar actions, which can be multiplied tenfold, that the police in London are rapidly losing public confidence in their impartiality. Indeed, in the East End, where Fascist provocations have been worst, there is a general conviction that the police are there primarily to help the Fascists. There is a growing conviction to that effect.
If the hon. Gentleman wants evidence of that I will give various examples in a moment of the action of the police towards members of the working class who have done nothing serious.
who did not threaten a breach of the peace, and were treated with considerable severity by the police. On every occasion when a Fascist meeting has taken place in the open air the police have acted exactly as if they were appointed stewards of the meeting by the Fascist conveners. May I give some examples of the manner in which the police have interfered with the rights of members of the public to heckle at open air meetings and to make such peaceful interruptions as they think proper? That is a right which every Member of the House would like to see preserved almost as much as the right of free speech. At Stepney Green on 14th January, a Fascist meeting was held. The most violently anti-Semitic abuse came from the speakers. The audience was naturally largely a Jewish audience. A number of people who had asked questions were arrested. One man who had gone to the meeting whistled, and the police arrested him under the Public Order Act. The magistrate was rightly severe on the action of the police, and said:
It would be a sad state of affairs if it were a criminal offence for some irresponsible young man to put his fingers to his mouth and whistle.
Another man was arrested because he violently blew his nose at the meeting. Of course, that summons was dismissed by the magistrate. At a perfectly peaceful meeting held 100 yards away by the ex-service men's movement, a truncheon charge took place and the meeting was broken up without any warning to the organisers being given. We have had instances over and over again where the most filthy language and the most vile abuse has been used by Fascist speakers, and no action has been taken by the police. I admit that in some cases action has been taken, but usually it is not taken. On the other hand people who, for example, in a procession shouted out, "Give us bread," were arrested by the police and charged before the magistrate. On another occasion a newspaper seller who shouted out the words printed on his newspaper placard, "Andre executed by Nazis," was arrested for behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace.
I want to make reference to the meeting at Thurloe Square in March, 1936, which was broken up by the police. I do not want to go into it in detail because it has been before the House on a previous
occasion. I only want to remind the House that it was a meeting held to protest against the Fascists on the occasion of a Fascist meeting in the Albert Hall. The police put a ban on any public meetings taking place within half a mile radius of the Albert Hall. It has been asserted, but I do not know whether it has been proved, that the meeting in Thurloe Square was actually outside that radius. The action of the police in breaking up that meeting was investigated by a commitee set up by the Council of Civil Liberties, a body for which every person who appreciates and desires to preserve our civil liberties should be grateful. This committee of inquiry, which was set up when the Government refused to institute an inquiry, comprised people of such eminence as Professor Norman Bentwich, Mr. Harrison Barrow, Professor F. M. Corn-ford, Mr. J. B. Priestley and the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone). As the result of making inquiries from a large number of witnesses, this committee came to the following conclusions:
That from the time when the meeting started in Thurloe Square the crowd was perfectly peaceable and orderly.
That no attempt was made by the police to get the speakers to stop the meeting, although the police would have had no difficulty in approaching the speakers.
That there was no necessity whatever for a baton charge, that the baton charge was carried out with a totally unnecessary degree of brutality and violence, that serious injuries were caused, and that fatal injuries might have been caused.
That the crowd offered no resistance to the police.
That a serious riot might easily have been caused by the action of the police, for which the police would have been solely to blame.
That the facts call for an official public inquiry into the conduct of the police.
In spite of that very strong evidence, the Home Secretary refused to take any action in the matter, and by that refusal must either be taken to endorse or condone the action taken by the police, or to say definitely that he is not prepared to defend the public against such an abuse of police powers. While I am on this subject I would like to say a word about a further growing abuse of the power of the police in the use of the truncheon. According to the police code:
Truncheons are supplied to the police to enable them to protect themselves if violently attacked. … the use of the truncheons must
not be resorted to except in extreme cases, when all other attempts have failed, and a prisoner is likely to escape, or be rescued, through the constable being ill-used and overpowered.
We have had large numbers of cases where the police have used their truncheons as frequently as they used to use their whistles in the past when they have not been endangered, but merely when they desired to break up a meeting of which they did not approve, although it may have been a peaceful meeting and the chairman and convenors were never warned of the action the police were going to take. I think that if the Home Secretary were wise he would be extremely worried today about the disrepute into which the London police in general are falling. The old type of constable, the friend of the ordinary citizen, the man who earned the respect not only of distinguished foreign visitors but of every decent Londoner is gradually disappearing. The jovial, helpful "Bobby" of the past is giving way to a cold hostile official. The militarisation of the police is becoming increasingly evident, and no one resents this more than the decent element in the police force. As a Londoner I deeply regret this change which is taking place, and I warn the Home Secretary that if he allows it to go too far he will find one day that there has been created such antagonism between the police and the public as may lead to a really dangerous situation.
One word about the extended ban in the East End which was announced by the Home Secretary on Monday. What is the position there? There is only one organisation in the East End which has in recent years caused any breach of the peace, and that is the Fascist organisation. Their demonstrations have caused such breaches, as they are bound to do, because they are deliberately provocative. No other demonstration has caused any breach, whether Labour or Communist demonstration. If it were impossible by any other means except by applying this general ban to stop Fascist demonstrations I would say perhaps we must apply such a general ban, but that simply is not the case. The police in the past have frequently taken powers to stop demonstrations which they believed were likely to result in violence. When the unemployed were going to demonstrate in London in 1932 the police arrested Tom Mann and asked him to enter into recognisances that he would not cause breaches of the peace. This applied to his followers, as he was not the only one arrested. The police took that step on that occasion to prevent a possible breach of the peace by a demonstration in London. On other occasions they have laid down which route a demonstration should take. They have full powers to do that. They have full powers to say that a procession in a certain area is likely to be dangerous for traffic or other reasons, and insist that the demonstration should entirely avoid that area. They could have taken that line in regard to Fascist processions in the East End of London if they had wanted to do so, but the Home Secretary has put a ban on all political demonstrations.
Speaking in this matter for myself, I think that is a real infringement of the general rights and liberties of the public. It seems to me to be analogous to action by the police in an area where at night time perhaps a large number of burglaries had taken place and where the police would say, "In that area all citizens, good or bad, must be within their houses, or must not be in the streets, after a certain time." There is a small section of the community that is out to create breaches of the peace and bring about acts of violence. The Government should deal with that section and not impose a general ban on the liberties of the public as a whole.
In conclusion, I want to say one word about the Amendment on the Paper. The Amendment states in effect that only such restrictions of civil liberties should be imposed as are necessary for the maintenance of law and order. That sounds all right, but what in effect does it mean? Fortunately we are not here in the realm of speculation. We know from bitter experience the lengths to which the Conservative party is prepared to go in restricting liberties, the excesses they are prepared to commit in the defence of this phrase "law and order." The Amritsar massacre was in defence of "law and order." The murders and desecrations of the Black and Tans in Ireland were all perpetrated in defence of "law and order." Now we are told that they are still prepared to restrict public liberties as far as they consider necessary in defence of law and order. We thank them for the warning which they give us, but they do not expect us to accept their interpretation of liberty, if their interpretation is such as stands in this Resolution. In fact I challenge them to deny that what their Amendment really means is that they are prepared, if necessary, to extinguish all democratic rights and liberties in order to preserve the present social system. They can hardly expect us to agree with such an outrageous statement of principle.
We believe that the rights and liberties which we enjoy to-day have only been won after centuries of struggle and sacrifice. Those struggles and sacrifices have been almost entirely on the part of the working men and women of this country. We feel it is our duty to past as well as to future generations to see that those rights and liberties are not torn from us or gradually whittled away.
I beg to second the Motion brought forward with such eloquence and ability by the hon. Member for Lambeth North (Mr. G. Strauss). The other day I was in the Library when I came across a book, "Macaulay's Speeches," and I was interested to note what his maiden speech in the House of Commons was. On 5th April, 1830, Mr. Macaulay, afterwards Lord Macaulay, made his maiden speech in this House. It was to second a Motion by a Mr. Grant for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal several disabilities affecting British-born subjects professing the Jewish religion. One hundred years have gone since then, and we find that the Jews in London as well as in Fascist countries are still suffering disabilities. In 1800 we had the Combination Acts which curtailed the liberties of the working classes to organise in trade unions. These Acts were passed by this House of Commons. They were repealed afterwards, and we thought that we had won the right of combination by workers.
Later on in this Debate I am sure some hon. Friends of mine will tell of the Harworth collieries and how there was an attempt there to prevent men joining the union that they wished to join. That will be dealt with by hon. Members who know more about it than I do and who have been intimately connected with it, but I wish to refer to a case in Scotland. There, on 29th October last, a young man named Ian Macpherson, a clerk in the Union Bank of Scotland, was dismissed from his occupation. There had been a strike, which was called off at the last moment. This young man was an executive of the Bankers' Association. He was dismissed. The officials of the Bank Officers' Guild met to discuss the question. The question is still being discussed. They came to the conclusion that something must be done nationally for this man. The fact is that there was a clear case of victimisation because of the trade union activities of this young man.
On 25th November, 1644, there was published a most popular, a most eloquent, if not the greatest of all of Milton's prose works, the "Areopagitica." That was a defence of the liberty of unlicensed printing. It was in the form of a speech to Parliament. It was published deliberately, unregistered, and unlicensed, and it attacked the whole system of licensing and public censorship. I have in my hand a letter written to the "Times" just a few months ago. I will read not the whole letter—it is a long one—but sufficient to let the House get the gist of it. This is the effect:
In view of the increasing number of actions brought against authors and publishers, we submit that the time has come for drastic reforms in the law relating to literary libel. Under existing conditions many of the great classics of the past could not have been published without grave risk of suppression. Sine it is mainly authors of repute who are endeavouring to give credible pictures of contemporary life whose work is in jeopardy, a serious threat to the quality of English literature obviously exists, and the freedom of expression of reputable authors is limited by a fear of flimsy or malicious charges against which they are virtually unprotected. At present the law is so heavily weighted against authors that it is substantially true to say that they can make no effective defence to charges and claims made against them in respect of published works. By no means the only difficulty, although a very common one, arises when the plaintiff alleges that a description in a book of some purely fictional character constitutes a libel on himself. To make out a case he has only to procure a witness or two to swear that they recognise the character in question as himself. The witnesses may be ignorant, misinformed, malicious, or even parties or thinly disguised competitors, but their evidence will suffice to throw upon the author and publisher the whole cost of proving that the character cannot reasonably be identified with the plaintiff.
That is a case of unconscious libel, and the House can see how far such a matter could be carried. Not the least danger to free speech is the turn taken in recent years by the law of libel. The Annual
Conference of the Law Society has condemned it. The National Union of Journalists draw attention to the danger. I would point out that in a recent notorious libel case the defendent was compelled to settle where his avowed and undeniable intention was to refute the very libels of which he was accused. The House will realise the seriousness of the position. I do not think it was improved by a suggestion on that occasion from the eminent judge who presided over the case that the proper punishment for the defendent was an effective horsewhipping. When the Lord Chief Justice uses language of that kind—
I bow, of course, to your Ruling. I was only going to say that the last judge who inflicted such a sentence was Lord Chancellor Jeffreys. Another curtailment of liberty arises from what might be called the political libel. Let any author set out to write a history and narrative of contemporary politics. Suppose he is a Member on this side of the House who believes that the National Government was, perhaps, the greatest frame-up since the Pigott letters. Suppose he believes that and writes a book to prove it. He cannot do it without criticising some well-known figures, and he will find before long that he has set out on a very difficult and perilous adventure. He will find that the Official Secrets Acts will be cited against him, that the law of libel will be used against him in every possible way. He will be threatened, he will be blackmailed, and his publisher will be intimidated. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ramsay MacDonald is dead."] It would be impossible, in dealing with a subject like that, to refer only to one person. The National Government was formed by a conspiracy of several people, a conspiracy which led to the coup d'état which followed.
There is one other aspect of this question which was referred to by my hon. Friend, and that is the Official Secrets Act. That Act—I hope I shall be on safe ground now—was piloted through this House by Sir Gordon Hewart. He assured the House at the time that it had no nefarious purpose, that no hidden meaning was behind it, that it was a plain, straightforward Measure which would deal with spying and things like that. I have in my hand the note of a case given to me by the National Union of Journalists. Mr. E. D. G. Lewis, a journalist, of Stockport, was summoned and fined £5 for unlawfully failing to give on demand to a police officer information in his possession relating to a suspected offence under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, 1911, contrary to Section 6 of the Official Secrets Act, 1920. The prosecution stated that an article in the "Daily Dispatch" written by Mr. Lewis gave information which had been contained in a confidential police circular, and that there was grave reason to suppose that it had been supplied by a police officer contrary to the Official Secrets Act, 1911.
I do not think it is. The defendent was fined £5. The circular contained a description of a man wanted for fraudulent conversion and details of his methods of working. Mr. Lewis had refused to give the source of the information—no one can blame him for that—when asked to do so by the police. The police circular in question was not marked "Confidential," and in reply to a question by defending counsel the deputy chief constable of Southport, the town from which the circular emanated, stated that he could not say that in no place had the circular been placed on police notice boards, although he would be surprised if it had. If this sort of thing is allowed to go on, the work of a journalist becomes impossible.
My hon. Friend has referred to police prejudice and police bias against those who hold what he called "Left" views. I would refer to the notorious case of Mrs. Urquhart. She was arrested for causing obstruction by selling the "Daily Worker" outside Golder's Green Station. She was taken to the police station and searched in a most indecent way, and was tried before the Middlesex petty sessions. Two police constables gave absolutely contradictory evidence; there were five points on which there was difference between the two men. The evidence was so grotesquely false that the Bench dismissed the case without calling on counsel for the defence. That case had a sequel. Two days afterwards the defendant's solicitor wrote to the Commissioner of Police calling attention to the case and to the extremely unpleasant treatment that his client had received at the police station. He suggested an investigation. The Police Commissioner replied that he was satisfied that the action of the police had been correct throughout. The solicitor wrote again, and the reply that he got is one which we sometimes hear in this House. It was that the Commissioner had nothing to add to what he had previously said.
When the solicitor wrote asking for the name of the matron who had searched this woman, and intimated that he intended to take legal proceedings, there was a complete climb down by the Commissioner, who wrote to say that, after further investigation, he agreed that the arrest had been unnecessary and quite unjustified. He tendered his apologies and paid £50 as agreed indemnity for costs. Mrs. Urquhart accepted the settlement. It was manifest that the police could not have spoken the truth at this trial, and yet the Commissioner would not have an inquiry until this threat of action. As soon as a threat of civil proceedings was made by the defendant's solicitor, the Commissioner at once proceeded to make the investigation that he had previously refused, admitted that the police had acted unjustifiably, apologised, and paid compensation. The disturbing fact about it is that the threat was necessary before that was done. The accumulation of these cases absolutely shatters every pretence of police impartiality.
My hon. Friend has told the House about the brutal way in which the police have been using their batons in London. Coming from Scotland, I must say that nothing has surprised me more than the readiness of the police to use their truncheons. To me, it is amazing. A London crowd is not a bad crowd. I claim to know something about crowds in different parts of the world. I have been a student of crowd psychology and have read books on the subject. A crowd in Glasgow is made of sterner stuff, and a crowd in America is even worse. A crowd in London is good-natured. As a Scotsman, I must say of the Londoner and of the Englishman in general that he is a very good-natured gentleman indeed, as shown by the fact that there are so many Scotsmen here. No one would say that a London crowd is difficult. It is timid and tolerant, perhaps too timid and too tolerant. My hon. Friend has also told the House the regulations about the use of batons. It is laid down in the police code that batons are to be used only in an emergency, when the police are being overpowered and a prisoner is violent.
A point which I did not notice in my hon. Friend's reference was that when the truncheon is used it should not be against the head of the victim. The arms and legs are to be struck, but not the head. In the Fascist march, on Sunday, 3rd October, 1937, a girl, Miss Moira Lynd, was struck on the head by a policeman—a severe blow. A bad wound was inflicted, which bled profusely. She was the daughter of Mr. Robert Lynd. A little later than this time last year, hon. Members who go to the cinema will have seen the Movietone News review of the year, in which was a picture of a Fascist march and something of the riot. When I saw that film, and saw the police striking down spectators promiscuously and indiscriminately, I was ashamed. I realised that that film would be shown all over the world and that this brutality would be broadcast all over the world. I felt ashamed because the good name of our country would be lowered by such action of the police.
I can speak with intimate and personal knowledge of the police. Some years ago, during the hunger march, I stood at Marble Arch and saw the police clear the crowd from inside the railings. They had pretty well got the crowd cleared away, but one man was running across when he was spied by a policeman on horseback. The policeman gave a shout and was off after him. A crowd of young policemen were there—I was told afterwards that they were special constables—on horseback. The policeman on the horse saw the old man running away as hard as he could. The man looked back and saw the policeman gaining on him, and he gave a cry like a trapped rat. He grabbed his hat off his head to make himself go faster. The horse came up behind him, and the policeman rose in his stirrups and struck that man down. The man sank forward and collapsed. I saw that done, and hundreds more also saw it. That policeman was in no danger, and what he did was a case of pure brutality. I want hon. Members who doubt any of the statements that have been made to think of that; I have referred to something which I saw myself.
Let me give one other instance. Later on that same day, I was standing on the pavement watching the contingent of hunger marchers arrive from Scotland. There was a crowd in front of me, and along the crowd was a row of special constables. The hunger marchers were being shepherded by regular London police. I have already said how good-natured the crowds are here. What was happening at that time was that the crowd beside me were chaffing the "specials" and the police. The regulars—as I have found out since they were—were walking along, and smiling cheerily and good-naturedly to the crowd. Suddenly a strange thing happened. The "specials" turned round as one man and attacked the crowd, and the first man to be struck down was a member of the C.I.D. in plain clothes. The Under-Secretary smiles; he can verify that for himself. These policemen were attacking, as they thought, a Communist crowd, but among the Communists was this C.I.D. man, who was the first to be struck.
May I give the House one other experience of my own? It has never been told in public before. I happened to be watching a meeting in Hyde Park—by no means a disorderly meeting. A Fascist was speaking. A little man came along and stood in front of me, and there were two policemen on my right. The meeting broke up, and several people in front began to sing "The Red Flag." I do not know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, what you think of "The Red Flag"—
—and the words are a very good poem indeed. I know that Mr. Bernard Shaw has referred to the tune as "The Funeral March of a Fried Eel." Some people in the crowd began to sing "The Red Flag," and this little man in front of me—he was a young man—began to sing too. Immediately the two policemen pounced upon him, and, twisting his arms round till he yelled with pain, hustled him out of the crowd. As the man had done nothing beyond singing "The Funeral March of a Fried Eel," which is not a criminal offence, I followed to see what was going to happen. I went to the police station in the Park, and I asked the officer in charge what this young man was charged with. He gave me an evasive reply. I persisted. We had some cross-talk for a bit, and then a policeman came round the end of the counter and said to me. "I think you had better stay in here too." I may add at that time I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, so I was allowed to go, but I was very anxious to know what happened to the young man, and I went to the court the next morning.
The court was crowded, and this young fellow was in the dock. The two policemen were there, and gave evidence. They told a very lurid story of how this young man had been rioting and fighting, and how he had attacked them; and I should add that they were both present to hear one another's evidence, which was rather strange in a court of that kind. The one, of course, corroborated the other. The magistrate asked the young man whether he had any witnesses, and the young man said "No." I then rose at the back of the court and asked permission to speak. I was asked to come forward, and went into the witness-box, and, after taking the oath, the magistrate asked me my name. I told him, and he said, "What are you?" I said, "I am a Member of Parliament." There was what is called "sensation in court." The magistrate asked me, "What did you see?" and I told him the facts which I had seen. Not only did he discharge the man, but he expressed his thanks to me for coming there, saying that my appearing at that time showed a due sense of public duty. What would have happened to that young man had not I, who was not a person of very great importance, arrived at the court and given my testimony? It is because the liberty of the subject has been, as I believe, encroached upon so much in recent years, and because such encroachment threatens the maintenance and impedes the development of a healthy democracy, that I second the Motion which has been moved by my hon. Friend.
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
remains fully conscious of the paramount importance of the liberty of the subject, recognises that restrictions on civil and political liberty can be imposed only by the authority of Parliament, and affirms that such restrictions should be confined to the minimum essential for the maintenance of law and order, the promotion of the public weal, and the safeguarding of our free institutions.
I have listened with great interest to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, the latter being the first man from North of the Tweed who seemed to show a positive embarrassment at the reception which he gets in this country. I listened with great interest to his personal experiences, but he will not expect me either to follow him or to be able to answer some of the points which he has put. Perhaps the House will allow me to deal with this question on rather more general lines, leaving the legal aspect to my hon. Friend who is to second the Amendment. I think it is quite true that all executives are inclined after a time to usurp to themselves certain powers which occasionally conflict with the freedom and liberty of individuals, and it is only right and wise that every now and then we should examine this question. I do not think the present Government have any reason to be ashamed of an examination into this particular accusation. As the Amendment says, we are singularly free in this country from the arbitrary restrictions on civil and political liberty which we see in so many countries of the world to-day.
I should like to examine for a moment as to how this freedom has been achieved. I think hon. Members will agree that it
is largely due to the fact that for generations, even centuries, the State in this country has been conceived of as a collection of individuals. Not only have they equality before the law, but the individual in this country possesses a status, almost a sanctity, which has to be protected from attacks either by other individuals, by corporations, or, indeed, by the State. There has never been in this country an overwhelming State machine, no droit administratif. After all, the individual has always had the opportunity of recourse to the courts for the defence of his liberty, and before them he can state his case. In this country arbitrary power has always been considered an evil, whether exercised by a king, nobles, landlords, or the mob, or even by a majority in this House. Lord Coke said to James I:
The King is under God and the law"—
and I understand that by "the law," he meant the common law arrived at as the result of years of judicial decisions. It is quite, true that the passage from barbarism to civilisation has been a long, halting, and uncertain process, but in this country it has resulted in the fact that individuals are considered not as things but as persons, and wherever in the world you have departed from that principle you have, in my opinion, taken a step back towards barbarism.
In this country, Parliament has always constituted itself as a kind of judge between individuals, and I think it is essential that Parliament should continue this function. If hon. Members wish to see this argument developed in greater detail, they will see it put forword in a book called "The Good Society," by Walter Lippmann. It is the duty of Parliament in this country to protect citizens from arbitrary actions, far more than it is our business to pass arbitrary Acts directing what their activities shall be. It is clear that there have to be limits, however, to individual freedom. In the interests of individuals, we have to accept certain restrictions and regulations. We say that religion is free. So it is; people are allowed to worship in any way they wish, but we do not allow them, for instance, to have blood sacrifices. A man is allowed to sell his labour wherever he finds the opportunity, but there are restrictions in regard to times and conditions of work. These conditions have been fixed, as a result of long experience, by common sense, by compromise, and by the decisions of Parliament itself.
It may be asked, after listening to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, in what particular line of activity do they really fear that individual liberty is in danger to-day. Is there any unjust restriction on Members of this House? Would anyone suggest that the Press is not sufficiently free, and that there should not be certain libel laws? The gravamen of the hon. Member's charge is that on the platform he is not as free as he would like. I wonder what it is that he is so anxious to put before the public that he cannot say on a public platform. I think many of us in this House, certainly all on these benches, have attended meetings in the hope of being able to address them, and have been unable to speak a word. Just because you do not like what somebody else has said, or think he is going to say, it is not very good evidence of your passion for liberty to prevent his speaking at all. When your political opponents irritate you, as they sometimes do, beyond a certain pitch, instead of trying to prevent them expressing their views, it is just as well to remain silent for a moment and think how fortunate you are to be in a country where you can have political opponents.
Where do we find the political restrictions about which we have heard? We find them in dictatorship countries, whether of the Right or the Left; both Fascism and Bolshevism are not only anathema here, but are extraneous to the character of our people. When these foreign plants are imported here certain unusual, and I hope temporary, restrictions may be necessary. For instance, the hon. Member who moved the Motion made an attack on the police, particularly the police of London. I believe that to be wholly unwarranted. I believe that, in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, this great body of men have rightly earned the regard, sympathy, and support of the great bulk of the people of this country. Personally, I have not much use for these constant marches which take place on Sundays. It seems to me that these marches with banners are alien to our character and most discomforting to our quiet and peace on the Sabbath day, especially when we remember that some of these marches have occasioned thousands of police losing their day of rest.
It does not matter whether you begin with the totalitarian or collective State from the Right or the Left, once you start with either political or economic restrictions, you soon end up in the same way. My suggestion is that in Socialism itself lie the very seeds of these restrictions of which hon. Members are accusing the Government to-day. No doubt, there are many interpretations of Socialism. It is sometimes very different in practice from what it is in theory. If we study the most recent works on the subject of what the next Labour Government will do, one thing, at any rate, we understand, and that is that the Socialist party have a very different conception of Parliament from what we have to-day. We hear of enabling Acts which would give the Executive powers which would have shocked the early Stuarts. [Interruption.] That is exactly why I pointed to the powers of which the next Socialist Government would hope to avail themselves. I believe that no one will be more surprised at the length to which Socialist policy will carry them than many of the Socialists themselves. I am not suggesting that there is not a wide field for social reforms in our existing economic state.
Yes. I hope to be allowed to develop my arguments in my own way, and this I intend to do. You cannot start regulating and controlling the economic life of this country without very soon endangering both political and civil liberties. We have heard many times as to what is to be the financial position when the Socialist Government come into office, and I want to emphasise that the connection between economic restrictions and political restrictions is very close. We know that if there is no panic at any rate credit would be seriously upset. There might easily be a flight of capital abroad. If individuals, by some enabling Act, are forbidden to do what they wish with their own, what happens. You have currency control and financial restrictions, and it is a very short way after that to control of imports and exports.
Surely, that is what the hon. and gallant Member is now discussing. He is arguing that it is possible for the Government to do certain things that may prejudice civil liberties and all the rest of it, and surely, in doing that, he is so broadening the Debate as to make it possible for us to discuss the record of the Government.
The Government have been attacked for pursuing a policy which has brought the restriction of civil rights, and I am answering this by saying that the Socialist party—and this Motion has been brought forward by the Socialists—will, I believe, entail these very restrictions of which they are accusing the Government to-day. I do not believe that you can have State planning by degrees. Once you start to interfere with one section of the community in economic matters, you have to interfere with every other as well. We have seen these plans put into practice in various countries, and these results have always followed. Either the plan breaks down altogether, or they plan entirely wrong, and you find an immense shortage of the commodities which the people most desire. If you stop the exchange of goods, you will very soon stop the exchange of ideas. [Interruption.] I am fully aware of the arguments hon. Members would raise. They are not analogous, but I have no time to develop that point now.
It will be seen that, in the countries where these economic restrictions have been put into operation, it is a very short path from economic to civil restrictions. We see in Germany and Russia to-day labour restrictions confining every man to continue to work in the particular industry and in the particular place where he finds himself at any given moment.
I believe that civil restrictions must necessarily follow these economic restrictions. It may be possible to carry on for some time, as these countries have carried on, by intensive propaganda and by a tightening of belts. The world cannot live in watertight compartments without explosions. The collectivist State, wherever it has the power, means not only death to economic prosperity, but the end of political liberty as well. It has been proved in every instance where we have an example.
I am not suggesting that any hon. Members or any political party in this country would go to the length that we have seen abroad. There always will be in this country a sufficient number of courageous spirits who will fight for the maintenance of their liberties, and they will not be confined in one party. In England we have faced a series of crises in the last few years with the very minimum of interference in our general economy and the maximum degree of liberty to the individual concerned. It is not by chance that in this country, where there has always been the freest economic liberty, there has been the greatest degree of political freedom as well. I do not think that we can afford to ignore these lessons from history. It is true that in our own country we have dealt with each crisis as it has arisen in our own particular way. It does not seem to me at this moment, as we look around and see what has happened elsewhere, to be a nice thing to try to persuade people in this country or anywhere else that our civil and political liberties are in danger. For generations, even for centuries, this country and the name of this country have been synonymous with toleration, liberty, and individual rights, and at no time in the past have we deserved this reputation more than at the present moment.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I certainly shall not seek to minimise the differences which separate those who support our Amendment from those who support the Motion which was moved by the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss). At the same time, I think that perhaps the House can derive some satisfaction from the fact that there is no Member in the House who does
not think that the question of civil and political liberties is important. I shall, in the course of my speech, endeavour to reply to some of the specific points which the hon. Member for North Lambeth put forward. Before I do so, I should like to say that we on this side of the House are a little astonished that this anxiety for civil and political liberties comes from him at this moment. The hon. Member at the beginning of the present year associated himself with the Unity Campaign manifesto, a paragraph of which, dealing with foreign affairs, said:
The working class must mobilise for the maintenance of peace, and for the defence of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union was the only country mentioned which we ought to defend. The Soviet Union no doubt exhibits those ideals of civil and political liberty and those ideals of democracy which inspired the hon. Member when he set down this Motion, and he must have felt the utmost gratification when he saw in the newspapers an account of the elections in Russia last Sunday; the magnificent way in which the rights of free speech, the right of assembly, the right to criticise and oppose were so splendidly guaranteed to the opponents of Stalin. It must have been a shock to him when he saw in Monday's "Daily Herald" the terrible attack upon the whole system. Not only did it contain the accusation that the Soviet Union was not democratic, but the "Daily Herald" was so wrong-headed as to point out that the opponents of the régime were punished by death. Death is a word never used by the genteel and mealy-mouthed Left. The "Daily Herald" ought to have known that "liquidation" is the proper expression.
The hon. Member mentioned as an indictment against the police and the Home Office the affair of Thurloe Square, which has already been debated in this House. He called attention to the purported inquiry into the circumstances which had been held by a strange body, whose report filled everyone with legal experience with hilarity. I would remind the House of one fact, and I believe hon. Members will agree with me in my estimate of that report. The House may remember that when the matter was debated the hon. and gallant Member for the Aston division of Birmingham (Captain Hope) gave his evidence as an eye- witness of what had occurred. The report to which the hon. Member for North Lambeth referred was such that the only way in which they could explain the evidence given in this House by the hon. and gallant Member for Aston was to declare that he must have been mistaken and the victim of an illusion. If there is any hon. Member in this House who attaches the slightest importance to that report, except the Mover of the Motion, I have yet to meet him.
The hon. Member made one remark about the police and the Home Office which is quite true, but there is an explanation. He said that at an earlier meeting of the Fascists at Olympia the Home Office took the view that the police were not entitled to enter the meeting uninvited until some disturbance had taken place. The hon. Member pointed out that a little later, in the Glamorgan case, known to lawyers as the case of Thomas versus Sawkins, the Court of King's Bench held that such a right in the police did exist. That is the explanation of the change. That decision was as much a surprise to the Home Office as it was to a great many practising lawyers. Every practising lawyer knows that that decision is causing a great deal of discussion at this moment, and I hope very much that the time will come when, in a slightly different form of proceedings, the higher courts will be able to say precisely what is the proper extent of the doctrine laid down by that case.
The hon. Member complains that freedom is suffering encroachment and that the maintenance and development of our democracy are threatened. I wonder how many intelligent foreigners coming to this country at the present time would be struck by the fact that democracy was threatened or that we were less keen about political and social freedom and were likely to let our heritage of those great assets disappear. I should have thought that the intelligent stranger visiting this country was more likely to be astonished that this was one of the few places in the world where democracy showed every sign of continuing vigour, and where it was obvious that we were determined to preserve our political freedom. I should have thought that, beyond and above the hard-fought controversies that separate the two sides in this House, there was this in common, that we could unite at least in our belief in our free institutions and in the necessity for their preservation intact.
I may say for those who support the Amendment that our most fundamental belief in politics is in the dignity, the importance, and the status of the individual citizen. We believe that he was not meant to be a sort of robot or an unit in a human ant heap, but a free citizen of the State, that the duty of the State was to give him scope to develop his capacity, that the State existed for him, and that he did not exist for the State. If this is our attitude on these questions, what is our view on restrictions? There is no one in any quarter of the House who says that no restrictions are necessary. We are all agreed that restrictions are necessary. In this country, at any rate, we have no theoretical anarchists. If everybody was free to do as he liked, nobody would like the only things which he would be able to do. The proper object of restriction is so to organise your society that the restriction gives more freedom than it takes away. Can we go further in general propositions about restriction? I think we can. I think we can agree that restriction should be imposed only by law and not by the arbitrary exercise of power. The rule of law should prevail, and in the making and amendment of that law the individual should have some part. If I mention a third qualification, it is that majorities should have some respect for the rights of minorities.
I have mentioned some of the foundations of our liberties. The rule of law is the most fundamental principle of our Constitution. Our freedom is not based, as some countries have vainly tried to base their freedom, on great, formal declarations of general principles. It is based on the universality of the rule of law and the freedom of every citizen to do those things which infringe no legal right and do not offend against any legal prohibition. Our courts are not subject to the Executive. The servants of the Crown are not immune from the ordinary law, which is a great distinction from the practice of many countries which recognise what is known as the droit administratif. The law is subject to the approval of Parliament and it is in the King in Parliament that sovereignty re- sides. It is a Parliament in which publicity and the force of public opinion can be brought to bear on any subject whatsoever, and no remedy is excluded.
Those are the general principles and the general basis of our liberties. By what threats are those liberties threatened? They are certainly not threatened by any desire of the British people themselves. The British people show no desire whatever to throw away these traditional liberties or to welcome any tyranny in their place. Is this liberty threatened by the executive or by the bureaucracy? I do not seek to minimise a matter on which I know the hon. Member on the Liberal benches feels so strongly and upon which he has so often expressed himself, and the point of view expressed by the Lord Chief Justice in his "New Despotism." I think the hon. Member of the Liberal party will agree with me that whatever the extent of the evil which was brought to light in that book, and in the various speeches which have been made in this House, including speeches by the hon. Member himself, in recent years that evil has diminished; that is to say, the particular Clauses against which that book was written and against which other lawyers have spoken are finding their way less and less into modern Statutes, for which I think great credit is due to this House itself.
I think that as a result of the complaints made from every quarter of the House the Parliamentary draftsmen and the Executive would now not be willing to risk introducing in a Bill, even on Second Reading, the sort of Clauses which they hoped to get away with only a few years ago. I think I can even persuade the hon. Member on the Liberal benches that in the last year or two at any rate that evil has not increased. I do not think it would be fair to any quarter of the House to suggest that tyranny on the part of the Executive is likely to escape attention, or that if detected it will not be effectively dealt with in this House. But whoever is entitled to make any complaint of such encroachment, the last person entitled to make any complaint is the hon. Member for North Lambeth, who has so frequently expressed his sympathy with the ideas put forward by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), whose idea of the functions of this House is to get Parliament to pass an Enabling Act, and then allow the Executive to proceed by Orders in Council. From whatever quarter that complaint may come, it comes with ill grace from the hon. Member for North Lambeth.
I do not believe there is any very dangerous threat to our civil and political liberties from any quarter, but I will tell the House quite frankly where I believe that such a threat exists, if it exists anywhere. The threat comes from extreme factions, insignificant in themselves but with a power to create disturbances and threaten law and order. If ever the State should become too impotent to keep order, then the people may tolerate anybody who is prepared to restore order. The one risk to our liberties is the growth of such disorder that the people will say, "Anything for order," and will not examine too closely the policy of the extreme parties who promise to restore order. The breakdown of law and order is the one certain way to produce revolution in any country, and in this country it is the one and only way in which our people could ever be brought to accept a tyranny. That is the reason why the Fascists and Communists are potentially dangerous. Intellectually and numerically they are negligible, but they advertise each other, and they thrive on disorder.
That brings me to a matter mentioned by the hon. Member for North Lambeth, namely, public processions. The matter can now be dealt with, as we know, under Section 3 of the Public Order Act, 1936, but it should be made quite clear to the House—I think it has been made clear by no less an authority than the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt)—that even without the Public Order Act of 1936 there is no absolute right at common law to hold a procession. It is subject to the public right of user of the street. The question, even without the Public Order Act, would be: Is the proposed user of the street by the procession a reasonable one? It is quite possible even under common law that a school crocodile would be perfectly legal, though the parade of 1,000 men would not. The matter has been taken further by Section 3 of the Public Order Act, and the Home Secretary on 21st June of the present year made an Order under that Section prohibiting the passing of political processions, irrespective of party, through the
Jewish quarter of London. That was coupled with a warning to organisers of any counter-demonstrations against a lawful demonstration outside the prohibited area. The ban made under that Order was a ban on all political processions irrespective of party, and the hon. Member complained about that. He thought that the Fascists should have been singled out. The Act says:
Prohibit any class of public procession.
It would be grossly improper, indeed it would be of doubtful legality, for the Home Secretary to ban a political procession of one particular party. Really it is rather effrontery on the part of the hon. Member to try to convince this House of something of which he cannot convince the Labour party in London. The London Labour party met on 27th November of this year, and the hon. Member seconded a resolution advocating the thing which he is advocating in the House to-day. I should like to read a few sensible remarks which were made by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). There was a somewhat lively exchange during the hon. Member's speech, and the hon. Member for West Islington said that the resolution which the hon. Member for North Lambeth was seconding
was not based on the principle of democracy but on principles which could hardly be distinguished from those of Fascism.
At this point there were shouts of "Sit down" addressed to the hon. Member for West Islington, who retorted:
I shall not sit down. That is just what I am speaking against. I protest most emphatically against the adoption of the idea of this kind of Communist-Fascist philosophy.
I do not always agree with the hon. Member for West Islington, but I think he put the point very fairly. It is curious that the hon. Member for North Lambeth should expect to get away, in this House, with something of which he could not convince even a section of his own party in London. But he has been more successful with his friends of the "Unity" manifesto, because, of course, those with whom he was then associated and from whom he is not perhaps to-day very far distant—the Independent Labour party and the Communists—take a different view from the Labour party on this matter, as we know from what occurred on the last occasion on which we had serious disturbances in London.
Let me deal with what occurred on 3rd October this year. On that Sunday the Fascists were going to have a permitted procession—not a prohibited procession—in South London in an area which was not predominantly Jewish. The Labour party, very properly, recommended their adherents to boycott that procession—if I may say so, very sensible and good advice—but the other two parties with which the hon. Member for North Lambeth was at that time associated did not take that view. By their publications and otherwise they advised their supporters to congregate at two meeting places and to prevent the passage of the procession. It was precisely at those two places that the chief scenes of disorder occurred. I have here the statistics of those arrested on that occasion. There were 114 arrests, all of anti-Fascists—for insulting or threatening words or behaviour, 60; throwing missiles, 23; obstructing the police, 24; possessing an offensive weapon, 16; assaulting the police, 28; wilful damage, 3; setting fire to fireworks (which were thrown under the horses), 3. In only two cases was there a successful appeal. I do not believe any quarter of this House would tolerate for one moment, with that record of events, that any action should be taken against the Fascists and not against the Communists.
We heard from the answer given by the Home Secretary to the hon. and gallant Member for Midlothian (Captain Ramsay) on 11th November that in the Metropolitan Police district between 1st January, 1936, and 31st October, 1937, there were the following cases of assault on, or violent resistance to, the police: by Communists and their sympathisers, 104; by Fascists and their sympathisers, 2. It is quite unjust to say that if there is to be discrimination in this matter—which God forbid!—there is a special case against the Fascists which does not exist against anybody else. I will say this too about these people who created disorder on that occasion, that many of them were imported from a great distance. Do not let the House believe that these were innocent citizens stirred beyond endurance by seeing some men marching in a procession.
What about the right of assembly with which the hon. Member also dealt? A great deal of nonsense is talked even about the right of assembly. As regards assembly on the highway, there never has been any right of assembly. It is always a trespass against those in whom property in the highway is vested, and it is very often a nuisance to the general public. The only right on the highway is to pass and re-pass for the purpose of legitimate travel. So much for what the law always has been on this subject. Nor, as has been held by judicial decision, is there a common law right to hold public meetings in Hyde Park or Trafalgar Square. Of course it does not in the least follow from the fact that there is no such absolute right of public meeting that we do not want people to be able to meet publicly, as far as is reasonably possible. But the idea that the police are bound to allow political meetings on the highway which may seriously interfere with the traffic is, to my mind, quite preposterous. Nor is there the slightest reason to think that there is any impropriety whatever in the police discouraging such meetings in the neighbourhood of a labour exchange. Anything more likely to cause a nuisance cannot easily be imagined.
The hon. Member dealt not only with the police, but also with various Statutes, but he never said what his complaint against those Statutes was. If he attacks the Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act, 1927, perhaps he will tell us what he thinks is wrong with it, and not simply say, "I do not like the Statute." It is perfectly true that the Statute endeavours to legislate against a general strike. It may be that he wants bigger and better general strikes, but the people of this country do not, and least of all do trade union leaders want them. And I wonder how many trade unionists or trade union leaders who sit among hon. Gentlemen opposite have ever felt themselves obstructed in any degree whatever by the existence of the Act of 1927.
I think the case for the prevention of intimidation was very strong, and I shall be very much interested to hear how hon. Gentlemen opposite propose to deal with the Act. If they propose simple repeal, they will find such repeal extremely unpopular. The hon. Gentleman dealt with the Incitement to Disaffection Act, 1934. Again he did not tell us what his objection was, except that one person had been prosecuted thereunder and had received what he considered an excessive sentence. That seems to me an insufficient ground for saying that that Act is oppressive. Let me remind the House what that Act does. It: makes it an offence to endeavour to seduce any member of His Majesty's Forces from his duty or allegiance. Is there an hon. Member in any quarter of the House who does not think that that ought to be an offence? It was an offence before the Act, but before the Act it could not be dealt with summarily; now it can. And if hon. Members say they would like to repeal that Act, it would follow that a man could only be dealt with on indictment.
The hon. Gentleman has accused me several times of not elaborating my reasons against the Act. I do not want to repeat all the arguments made when that Act was before the House and was strenuously opposed by the party on these benches. Limitation of time prevented me from dealing with them, though I should be very happy to do so.
I willingly gave the hon. Member the opportunity to make that explanation, but let me remind him that a great deal of the Debate in this House on that Bill was against the Bill as it was introduced. It was not against the Act as it is now on the Statute Book; and if hon. Members opposite say that there is a considerable difference between the two, that may or may not be a good point against the draftsmanship of the Bill as it was introduced, but it is also a tribute to this House and to what it can do to make a Bill good and innocuous.
The conclusion of our Amendment refers to
the promotion of the public weal, and the safeguarding of our free institutions.
Those two matters are very closely connected. We shall not safeguard our institutions unless we can promote the public weal; and we shall promote the public weal better if we safeguard our free institutions. The hon. Member for North Lambeth, when he stopped at the words "preservation of law and order," said
that we could logically defend anything under those words, even the abandonment of our free institutions. If he had gone on and read to the end of the Amendment, he would have seen how utterly untenable that proposition was.
Let me put this to hon. Members in every quarter of the House. Democracy is not very safe anywhere in the world. It is a difficult form of government, but it is extraordinarily worth while. If hon. Members will analyse what it is that has brought democracy down in those countries where it has been brought down, I believe they will come to the conclusion that it has far more often failed because of the folly of its friends than because of the efficiency of its enemies. Those are not the best friends of democracy who talk most about it, but those who take the most efficient steps to make it work effectively and to avoid what have been its characteristic weaknesses. Those characteristic weaknesses have been that democracy has often failed to produce strong governments and has often been unable to produce continuity of policy. By a characteristic exercise of British political genius, we have in these years or crisis avoided those two evils. I believe that we can continue to do so, and that by that method we may save democracy here and in the world. I commend the Amendment to the House.
I wish for a few minutes to deal with this subject from a different angle. I agree that restrictions on civil and political liberty have taken place in this country, and indeed in almost every other country. I believe that both the civil and political liberty of the subject are determined largely by the rise and fall of economic conditions. In this country we have a greater measure of liberty than exists in most of the older capitalist countries. That is not due to the desire of our rulers to give us that liberty, for they have resisted every inch of the way in the upward struggle for human liberty, but to the fact that in an expanding economic system of capitalism, the reins are loosely held. Political liberties are conceded during the period of struggle, not because our rulers desire to increase liberty, but in order to safeguard the economic system which they run. When crises occur, when the old institutions are unable to function or the rights of private property and exploitation to operate, the reins are tightened by means of economies and means tests, and there are parallel restrictions on civil and political liberty as a result of those developments.
In countries such as Germany and Italy, there has been a complete ending of all civil and political liberty because the system of private property and private exploitation went down into complete crisis and the institutions were unable to function. In this country we have retained a large amount of liberty because of the greater powers of expansion in the British Empire. We have a large amount of territory and a large amount of yellow, brown, black and white unpaid labour which give the rulers of this country a greater pull in keeping the people in temporary subjection and in agreement with the existing order. Nevertheless, encroachments on civil and political liberty are gradually being made by an astute ruling class which sees the danger that three will be in the next period of slump, when they may require extra constitutional powers in order to guarantee the continuation of the present system with the minimum amount of liberty necessary for the protection of the rights of private property and private exploitation.
Liberty has been taken from the citizens of this country, under the guise of the defence of democracy, in a very cunning and astute manner. For example, I am convinced that the National Government allowed Mosley to develop in the East End of London to the extent that he could be regarded as a menace, not because the Government wanted to suppress Mosley, for he is nearer to their point of view than is any section of the working class, but in order that they might have an excuse for the suppression of all advanced thought and activity in the East End. Under the guise of the menace of Fascism, the Government brought in a Bill which gives them the power to prevent all Left opinion from organising itself in the East End of London. That always has been, and always will be, the method of the ruling class in preventing advanced thought and activity by the people of this country.
Stupid things are done in different parts of the country by rather stupid police inspectors and police superintendents. I do not say that the Home Office are responsible for all the stupid activities of stupid chiefs of police. I have found out that police chiefs in many areas are, like many other individuals, actuated by likes and dislikes, and that in some cases they are actuated by a sense of fairness towards those whom they believe to be trying to express in a legitimate manner their antagonism to any encroachment either on their liberty or their economic power.
I will give the House two examples. In a hunger march in which I took part, I met in Luton a police inspector who did not attempt to place a single extra policeman on duty when we marched into the town. He said to us: "I want to see that your people have the proper constitutional method of approach in this area; I do not want to have you hampered in the expression of your legitimate aspirations." He cancelled a public meeting that was to have taken place at the town hall in order to be able to house the hunger-marchers there. He invited us to meet him. As that town had been selected as one in which there would be a day's rest, he telephoned all the picture houses, with the result that every man taking part in the hunger-march was able to see a free show that evening. He marched in mufti to one of the picture houses at the head of the men, and marched back to the town hall with them afterwards. He had a cup of tea with the leaders of the march, and on the following morning, to the consternation, and, I believe, the dislike of certain of the Communist leaders, the men responded by cheering the chief constable to the echo when they left. He had given us decent treatment which we were bound to appreciate; I state that now, as I stated it publicly in the town.
Then we were in Birmingham, and there we met with exactly the opposite treatment. We met with a militarised type of police officer who refused to allow collections, and who was ready to draw the baton on any excuse. He afterwards mustered his men in the local schoolroom where our men were housed and paraded them unnecessarily and in a very provocative manner. At two o'clock in the morning we demanded that the police should leave the building, and in an upper room where the police chiefs themselves had congregated, we found empty whisky bottles and beer bottles which they had left behind them. It was only tact and understanding, decency and good leadership that prevented a riot in that town, and there was always that danger from the moment we came in until the moment we left. On such occasions the tact and judgment of a policeman or police inspector is of great consequence.
Then take the case of the chief of police in the Glasgow area. He came to Glasgow just after there had been riots in that city. The riots had been caused by mounted police going into the centre of a demonstration two or three seconds after they had requested the meeting to disperse, and before there was any opportunity of consultation with those responsible for the demonstration. They had not waited a moment but had ridden through the crowd and batoned the people. Afterwards they charged a number of us with all kinds of actions, such as breaking windows, stealing, and so forth. The present chief constable who arrived just after that period, had a conversation with me in which he said: "During my period of office I am prepared to give the right of legitimate and constitutional expression of views against poverty, against the means test, against economies and on any political question. As long as there is no attempt to use rough stuff in this city, I will give you every liberty and if you tell me in advance what your plans are, I will make arrangements to see that you have that liberty." That is what might be termed intelligent action by a police officer, and that kind of action earns the respect of all men who are guided by principle and decency, because they feel that they are being treated as human beings, and not as outcasts.
To take a further case I want to tell the House what happened to one of our own people in connection with the sale of the "New Leader." It sells about 30,000 copies a week, all by the personal efforts of individuals as it is debarred from the ordinary newsagents. They will not sell a penny paper and we have to depend on the efforts of our own members selling the paper in public places. One man was selling these papers at Hyde Park. A policeman ordered him away and when he went 30 or 40 yards away, followed him, hounded him, dogged him and told him that under the by-laws he was not allowed to sell papers there. The individual in question asked under what by-law he was prevented from selling the papers. The policeman seized him by the neck and said "Come to the police station and I will show you the by-law." That is the kind of stupid treatment to which people are sometimes subjected. The man was brought before the court and charged with causing an obstruction. Because he took the oath in a particular way he was told that he was the type of individual who could not conform to the ordinary law and was a very disagreeable fellow. He was fined, I think, rather for being a disagreeable fellow than for breaking any by-law.
These acts of tyranny by policemen and police officers are largely influenced by the amount of vigilance and control exercised by the Home Office and the authorities. If the authorities show that they are prepared to back up policemen in illegal acts, we know what is likely to happen. I know there is always the defence that the man on the job must be supported. The officials say "We must not break down discipline; we must defend these people, because if we do not back them up there will be a feeling that we are not giving them a square deal." But we know that the authorities themselves sometimes have no great faith in the police. It has come out in the Press and in this House that they have been prepared to select lady police-officers to spy on male policemen. They are prepared to use even criminals who have served periods of imprisonment, as spies on certain officers. I have known cases showing that while there is a general defence of the police, the authorities themselves, when it suits their book, are prepared to spy upon officers and Criminal Investigation Department men throughout the country. There is no general confidence.
Therefore I say, as I said at the beginning, that the civil and political liberty which exists is largely due to the necessities of the ruling class and of the system. For my own part, I desire to see democracy and civil and political liberty preserved and expanded in every way. I see great dangers throughout the world. I want no dictatorship either of the Right or of the Left, because dictatorship, even of the proletariat, tends to become a dictatorship of a few bureaucrats and thugs who are prepared to exercise their power against the great mass of the people when it is not convenient to allow freedom of political thought. I have seen the result of that, and I am bound to say that I do not rule it out as a possibility in this country, if it should be found essential to the preservation of the rights of private property and private exploitation. I have seen it within the last two or three weeks in Spain. I have seen a police force there, organised by an outside force, with abductions and torture and murder taking place under the guise of protecting the interests of the people in that country. I do not want that in any shape or form, and I agree with one thing that was said by the hon. Member who spoke last, that sometimes the excesses of one section produce the excesses of another.
I also admitted while I have been associated politically with action against Fascism and against Mosley, I think the creation of Mosley's influence has been largely due to the advertising of demonstrations in various areas of the country. If we had treated him as being of no political significance, if we had treated him with contempt and laughter, he would not have grown as he has grown. But when people are brought into the streets by the thousand, and defences are erected of old carts and old bedsteads and the like, then the mass of decent-minded people say to themselves "These Communists are out again trying to interfere with the liberty of the subject, and we have all suffered from the attempts of the Communists to interfere with the liberty of the subject." While I think the Mover of the Motion has served a useful purpose by raising this matter on the Floor of the House of Commons and drawing attention to the encroachments on the liberty of the subject which are taking place under a decadent capitalist system, I see them as part of a process of development. When capitalism is rising and developing the rein is kept loose, but when capitalism is going down into difficulty and distress, then the rein is tightened. My advice to the organised working-class is that as a reply to that tightening of the rein and as a counter action to it, they should develop a strong, virile, militant working-class movement, which will be vigilant to preserve the liberty of the people and defend themselves, politically, economically and religiously against all the foes of freedom in this country.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), who has made a speech which, although I do not agree with everything he said, was in large part a tremendous tribute to the ideals of British democracy, the spirit of our race, and the administration of our country which was indicted in the opening speech of the Mover of the Motion. The hon. Member made it clear that he would have no track with the kind of policy which is in vogue in the dictatorial countries. The Mover of the Motion made it clear where he stood. It is common knowledge in the House that he and a small section of his friends stand for a dictatorship of the working classes. He is most closely associated with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), and has definitely expressed his opinion, with, I think, the sympathy of quite a number of his colleagues, that, if ever a Socialist Government is returned again in this country, we shall become ciphers in this House and it will take powers by an enabling Bill to carry out in a dictatorial administration the work it desires. I am glad that the hon. Member for Shettleston, although he attacked the police in some respects in Scotland, had the fairness to say that on several occasions he had seen the police behave with fairness and courtesy.
I regretted the assault on the police by the Mover of the Motion. When he made that attack on the police in London I do not think that he had the sympathy of more than two or three Members in the House. It will be a bad day for this country if we allow attacks to be made on those who cannot defend themselves in this House, on a force which is one of the prides of our national life and the envy of the whole of the civilised world. The hon. Gentleman is most closely associated with that movement which has endeavoured to persuade his colleagues sitting on those benches to become locked in a permanent embrace with Communism, and when he stands up in this House to demand that we should have greater freedom, that we should preserve the liberties of the people, it is indeed surprising.
Had there been time, I should have liked to give a few facts with regard to the Russian constitution and the recent events in that country. I have time enough, however, to say that a constitution has been initiated in Russia which, when it is read, must find the sympathetic support of every democrat in this House. When we read that constitution we read how everyone is to have a vote, how everyone is to have free expression of speech, and so on; and then we see the election taking place. In that election 1,140 seats were fought in Russia and in only one place was an opponent allowed to stand against the nominee of a caucus of gentlemen who were appointed to carry out the electoral machinery. The returning officers nominated and planted in every constituency in the country only one candidate. Am I wrong when I say that had anyone dared to oppose that one candidate he would have certainly been cast into prison, and most likely have suffered death?
I have not time to deal with the matter fully, but I would simply refer hon. Members to the "Daily Herald" of last Monday, where, in a leading article, it said:
He would certainly lose his freedom and he would be extremely lucky not to lose his life.
This is the organ which represents the views of the hon. Gentleman.
I shall be pleased to leave it to the judgment of any man. I do not want to advertise the "Daily Herald," but I would ask hon. Members to read the "Daily Herald" of last Monday, and they can judge for themselves whether I have misquoted one word from that eloquent, devastating article. If there is any difficulty in finding it, it is exactly on a level with an excellent photograph of the Leader of the Opposition addressing Spanish soldiery with fixed bayonets, no doubt explaining to them how great are the liberties in this country.
I have been in political life for 30 years. I have spoken as much in London constituencies as any man in this House during that time. In the East, in parts of the North, and in South London I have very rarely seen fair treatment given to speakers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense!"] I am speaking about what is known to every London Member, and I have very rarely seen any speaker on the Conservative platform receive fair treatment. It is, therefore, rather strange to find how those who advocate these movements in parts of London squeal on the first occasion when they are resisted. If there is any hon. Gentleman who feels, as I do, that Fascist processions ought not to be allowed when the people are in uniform and wearing the insignia of a foreign system which is detested by nearly all of us, I would also urge them next year to do as I did on May Day and have a close-up of the Communist procession in London. They will see red flags, which are not emblems of our country, carried in the procession through the West End in just as provocative a manner as those processions in the East End; they will see men walking with clenched fists, which is not a British gesture; and they will see again and again efforts made to show those in the districts through which they are marching that there is a general desire to bring to an end the constitution of this country, and to disrupt British society.
The vast mass of these people are not typical British men. If you examine them closely you will see that the overwhelming majority are clearly those who, in comparatively recent years, have come from foreign countries, many of them being refugees or sons of refugees who had fled to the one free country in the world. It ill becomes the champions of that population in London to come here and impugn the liberties of this country. I speak as one whose forebears have more frequently been Members in this House, perhaps, than those of any other Member, and I say that we can still thank God for our liberties. Through all the centuries this country has been free, and to-day still our liberty is the most precious thing we possess. We refuse to be driven to the beliefs of those members who so closely sympathise with the systems in foreign lands.
I want to try and present in the space of 10 minutes what I would like 10 hours to say. I want to say one word about the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion. I regret very much his biased references to the police. It seems to me to be perfectly futile to take one or two particular instances by one or two individuals and then to stigmatise the whole of the wonderful Metropolitan Police. I do not align myself for one moment with the suggestion that they are partial and that they treat one section of the community differently from another.
I want to go on to one or two points raised by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss). I think everyone will agree that he made a very remarkable speech. With every general contention I find myself in agreement, but there is one thing on which I find myself rather in disagreement, and that is what he said with reference to the book "The New Despotism"—that during the past few years there had been less interference by Parliament than formerly with individual liberties or by Ministers taking unto themselves certain powers. I do not think that that can be justified. I believe that almost every week in this House the Executive is usurping the functions of Parliament. I believe also that to a large extent ordinary Members of Parliament have become correspondence clerks and mere voting machines. Every question is made a Vote of Confidence by the Executive. The power of the Whip enforces the decision. It is true that now and again Members have courage to express their real convictions. It used to be said, and I think Lord Hewart laid down this contention, that the task of the Executive was to govern the country and that the task of Parliament was to make laws, but as a matter of fact what happens is that the Executive does both. It governs the country and makes the laws. It simply presents to Parliament its decision, and everyone has to troop into the Lobby behind them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not everybody."] I think it is a thing that is generally true.
There is another fact to which I want to draw the attention of the House, and that is the extent to which the House is delegating its powers to outside bodies. There is the Import Duties Advisory Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Lyons) put a question to-day about the refusal of the Import Duties Advisory Committee to grant a duty on hosiery. These people are permitted by a power which we gave them to turn down this application. That power has been given by this House. They have also the power to decide the structure of the steel industry. The Unemployment Assistance Board took away the obligation of the Minister to answer personally questions with regard to the regulations drawn up. The Traffic Commissioners can deprive a man of his business. The Marketing Board is a producers' monopoly. They restrict production, and they have the power to inflict fines on the people who do not obey their behests. The Coal Bill gives power of compulsory amalgamation. All these are infringements of civil liberties.
We object to dictatorships in this country, we say, because of one reason, that they govern by decree. Are we not doing the same? There are mountains of rules and orders and regulations passed every year. A regulation is laid on the Table of the House, and the opportunity of discussing it is after 11 o'clock at night, without any opportunity of amendment. You take the lot or leave it, and we are handing over more and more every year the power of this House to a bureaucracy. My contention is that there is far too much legislation and far too many officials, and we are creating them by every Act of Parliament that we pass in this House. More and more we are giving to outside bodies the powers that we ought to use in this House. I should like to ask the Members of this House to spend four or five hours in the Library reading some of the Statutes which we have passed. They would be astounded at the number of times one comes across these words:
'As the Minister thinks fit'; 'except in so far as the Secretary of State otherwise directs';' may, by Order, make such provision as seems to him to be necessary.'
You go further. The hon. Member for Norwich said that that is not being done lately. It has been done under an Act this year—the Harbour, Piers, and Ferries (Scotland) Act, 1937. That gave power to the Minister to appoint an individual who in that particular Section to which I am referring had power to call upon people to give evidence on oath. He could choose his witnesses. He could
say, "I will have 'A,' but I will not have 'B'." He has complete power to do as he likes, without application of the rules of evidence, and no obligation to listen to evidence except as he thinks fit. The regulations which we are continually passing in this House have the force of a Statute. In practice these regulations are not drawn up by the Minister. They are drawn up by some individual in the Department. I should not like it to be thought that I am criticising the Civil Service. The people whom I am criticising are the Members of Parliament for giving them that power. The whole practice is a farce and a sham. There is a new despotism going on. I am certain that on all sides of the House we believe in liberty. I believe that all of us, and none more than the Socialists, believe in individualism, but we are all subscribing to doing away with it. It is time that the Members of this House really recognised the huge bureaucracy that we are creating. I would like to see a Standing Committee set up to whom all these regulations could be sent, so that they could be fully examined.
The hon. Member referred to the Incitement to Disaffection Act as it was passed. If I had had time, I should have liked to refer to the Bill as it was presented to the House. On the information of a common informer—mere suspicion—only suspecting that a man had done something—on giving information to one justice of the peace—a justice of the peace could issue a warrant to search the man's premises and to search his person—merely on suspicion. It is no good the hon. Member for Norwich saying that in the last few years this sort of thing has not occurred. It is true that the Attorney-General at that time, now the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, met us in a very splendid manner during the Committee proceedings on that Bill, and I ought to pay my tribute to him, but as the Bill was drawn up it was an absolute threat to the very foundations of British justice. The defendant had to prove his innocence, not the prosecution his guilt.
I believe that this country is the greatest country in the world. I believe there is here the greatest amount of liberty in the world. That is not due to accident, but to the safeguards provided by the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law, and they have both been broken by the present trend of legislation. The guarantee of civil and religious liberty is in the hands of Members of this House. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. It is our duty to practise it.
When the House discusses questions of public order and of civil liberties, I think it is the general sense of the House to take a House of Commons rather than a partisan point of view. At any rate, that was the practice when we passed the Public Order Act last year. But I think I am not doing the hon. Member who moved this Motion an injustice when I say that his speech was not merely a partisan speech in the ordinary sense, but that it was a bitterly partisan and sectional speech, for which he seemed to have searched records of every kind over several years to find everything that could possibly be raked up which might be discreditable to the Metropolitan Police. The hon. Member may not agree with that, but that is my impression, and the House can judge between us. I think it is true to say that the hon. Member has not today carried the House with him in his condemnation of the Metropolitan Police. I do not propose to go into those matters in very great detail, except on certain specific points raised by the hon. Member, but although he is a very suspicious person I will say that he did me, at any rate, the courtesy of saying that I had not got any pro-Fascist sympathies. I, therefore, hope that he will realise, whatever suspicions he may entertain elsewhere, that there is, at any rate, somebody in a certain position of authority in the Home Office who is decisively not pro-Fascist.
He very much criticised the Home Secretary at the time of the Olympia meeting for what he said with regard to the rights of the police to enter public meetings, and also criticised the police for taking up a different attitude later. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) has stated the position correctly in regard to that matter. The Home Secretary of that day stated that it was the view then held that the police could enter premises on which a meeting was taking place if they were invited to do so by the occupier, or if a breach of the peace was taking place. It was only when the High Court took a different view, as a result of the case of Thomas versus Sawkins that the position was altered. That decision showed that the earlier view of the powers of the police, that they could not enter private premises merely on the apprehension that a breach of the peace was likely, was too limited, but that if they had reasonable ground to anticipate a breach of the peace it was within their power, and it was their duty, to enter. I think it will give the hon. Member some satisfaction to know that instructions have been issued to the police on the basis of this new ruling by the court to the effect that if for any reason the police have ground for believing that an unreasonable amount of force is being used by stewards at an indoor meeting, the police should take action promptly with a view to identifying the assailants if possible, or, at any rate, put a stop to any further assaults, and, further, that the police should not hesitate to enter a hall for this purpose whether or not persons ejected ask for their assistance.
I could, if I had time, deal with the matter at length, and, I think, completely satisfactorily, but I want to pass on to other important matters. It is well that we should consider this matter of public meeting and police action in a proper perspective. I would like to tell the House that, during the year from December, 1936, to December, 1937, there were 3,094 Fascist meetings held in the Metropolitan area, 4,364 anti-Fascist meetings, and 4,553 meetings held under the auspices of other bodies, that is, a total of 12,011 meetings. The House will appreciate that the policing of those meetings imposes a terrific burden upon the police. Very few of those meetings have been interfered with by hte police. I think the following figures will show that the police carry out in a completely impartial spirit their primary duty of maintaining order and preventing breaches of the peace. From the period 1st July, 1936, to 1st December, 1936, the police asked the promoters of only 20 meetings out of those 12,011 to close down the meeting, this action being taken because the crowd was getting out of hand, and because there was imminent danger of a breach of the peace.
I am afraid that I should require notice of that question. Of those 20 meetings, 13 were Fascist and only seven were anti-Fascist. On the question of the prohibition of processions in the East London area. It is true to say that the ban has, broadly speaking, general approval and I think also general approval in the district. I would cite only one opinion, that of Dr. Mallon, Warden of Toynbee Hall, who knows the conditions in the area as well as anybody. He says:
I do know the factors here, and I say that the extension of the prohibition is both desirable and necessary.
It is not necessary for me to labour the point, which was indeed so well made by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) when this question arose in another place, that there are very grave dangers indeed in making this ban an exclusive ban on one political organisation only. It might be of use to the House if I now considered the question which we are discussing to-day in rather more detail than is usual, and if I went into what I might describe as the machinery of British freedom. We all talk about it rather generally. That may be because, as Lord Baldwin has said, we take it for granted.
In the situation of the world as it is to-day I think I might go in rather more detail into this matter if the House will permit me, and to go right back to the first principles. We have all heard in our school books about Magna Charta, and most of us who are not lawyers think of it as something which has passed into the limbo of history. That is not the case. Magna Charta to-day has the force of a Statute, and is recognised by the courts as part of the law of the land. We to-day still live under the provision of the Charter:
No freeman to be arrested, imprisoned … exiled or put upon in any way except by the lawful judgment of his peers or the law of the land.
The same is true of the Petition of Right and the Bill of Rights, 1689, which says:
The pretended power of suspending laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal.
I can say that this is a provision, which, in the year 1937, everyone in the Home Office takes very good care never to forget. Broadly speaking, it is under the protection of those great Charters that we enjoy our civil liberty. Roughly they assure that Englishmen can do what they like without let or hindrance unless they break the law. Thus arise the three great civil rights.
The first is the freedom of discussion. There is no censorship whatever of the Press in this country, and there has not been any in peace-time for practically 250 years. We hope that there never will be, for the writers of a free Press act as the skirmishers and scouts of freedom. By a ruthless process they rout out and reveal hidden abuses or concealed oppressions. The second right is the right of public meeting, which in this country is universal and unfettered, provided always that the meetings are not unlawful assemblies, do not obstruct the free passage of the King's highway, and are not likely to lead to breaches of the peace. Thirdly, there is the right to personal freedom. This is, perhaps, the most fundamental right of all, and I would like to examine the position concretely. Of course, many Continental countries in the nineteenth century adopted general declarations of the rights of man, the freedom of the individual, and so on; but what is so impressive in the English system is that the great principles laid down in the charters of English liberty are backed up by a whole series of practical legal processes for securing their effective enforcement.
First of all, there is, of course, the famous writ of Habeas Corpus. This again is a process which many laymen had come to regard as rather an antiquarian curiosity, but, of course, every lawyer knows that it is nothing of the kind. The remedy is always available, and the High Court still has occasion from time to time to issue writs demanding that legal cause be shown in open court for the detention of the body of such-and-such a citizen in custody. As a matter of fact, only a few years ago a writ was successfully directed to the Secretary of State, with the result that the prisoner was released.
There are also two further types of remedy open to every person who thinks that he has been wrongly arrested or wrongly prosecuted, namely, a civil action or a criminal prosecution. A civil action for damages can be brought for wrongful arrest or for malicious prosecution, if it can be shown that prosecution took place without reasonable or probable cause. The remedy of a criminal prosecution would usually take the form of a charge of assault. Again I would like to emphasise that these are not merely theoretical rights; they are real rights which are exercised by the citizens of this country. I have before me a number of actual examples of the use of these processes, but I will not weary the House with them. All I would say is that, although I think the general sense of the House to-night has shown that no one would seriously suggest that the Metropolitan Police are performing their duties otherwise than in accordance with their traditional standards of impartiality, tact and forebearance, at present there are three actions by private persons pending in the High Court against the Metropolitan Police at this moment.
There are certain additional points which I think it is only right that we should all remember. In the first place, it is no defence in this country for a constable to plead the orders of his superior officer. The only justification for interference with the private rights of the citizen by the police or anyone else acting on behalf of the executive is a defence recognised by law; and, secondly, that defence has to be made, not in some special administrative court, allowing perhaps special rights to officials, but in the ordinary open law courts of England, that is to say, law courts in which questions of law are finally decided by judges irremovable except on a substantive Motion of both Houses of Parliament, and where questions of fact are decided by 12 ordinary English citizens.
Let me sum up the position by giving a quite imaginary instance. If, for example, a constable or any officer or official of the Government were to arrest any individual unlawfully, even if the arrest were effected on instructions from higher authority, even if he were acting on the orders of a chief constable, even if the chief constable were carrying out the wishes of the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister, everyone, from the Prime Minister downwards, who could be proved to have had any responsibility for that unlawful act, would be answerable in the courts, would be triable before a jury of ordinary citizens, and would be liable both to be punished for his wrongdoing and to pay compensation to the individual wronged.
In this country no man is above the law, but every man, whatever his rank or condition may be, is subject to the ordinary law of the land and the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts. Our civil rights, therefore, exist because the courts will bring to book anyone, whatever his position, whether he be a private person, village constable, or Minister of State, who unlawfully interferes with any of us. I am not going to make any comparison with foreign countries. No comparisons are necessary. These are, indeed, great and formidable engines of liberty. They are available to everyone, they operate powerfully and easily, and, above all, they work without the favour, and indeed, if necessary, in spite of the opposition of, the executive Government of the day. Behind this automatic apparatus of liberty stands, of course, the supreme guardian of freedom, the sovereign Parliament. I would not venture, in this House, to go into details, but I think it is worth while to observe that it acts broadly in two ways: first, by supervising the actions of the Executive and, secondly, by its effective power of investigating any grievance whatsoever that arises in the State. It is not for me to address the House in any detail on the subject, but I do say, as a young Member, that the exercise of these powers is still a vital reality to-day. I think there is nothing about which the House is so easily or quickly roused as a threat to individual liberty.
I remember an instance which took place only a few years ago, and which is within the recollection of hon. Members. There was a case in which a young flying officer was found in the streets of London in the early hours of the morning carrying an attaché case. He was suspected of being a thief by two plain-clothes policemen who approached him. He, on the other hand, thought they were bandits. In the upshot, after a struggle, he was removed to a police station where it was eventually realised that he was not a thief, and he was released. The matter was raised in the House, and the Home Office spokesman replied regretting the incident but justifying police action. The House was immediately aroused. Member after Member rose, without distinction of party, and pressed the Government to give more weight to the flying officer's statements and to reconsider the position. In a few hours, the Secretary of State undertook that the Commissioner of Police himself should see the flying officer and himself make a special investigation. This was done. The Commissioner made a full apology to the flying officer and announced that as a result of his inquiry he had decided that the sergeant of police was wrong in not apologising at the time. Further, a defect in procedure had come to light and a new standing order would be promulgated, providing that in future all cases of this kind should at once be reported to superior officers.
I have ventured to describe some of the main features of the actual organisation of British liberty; but what of the spirit that lies behind our system, and has been the vital force in creating it? We all know that our system has not come into existence as a result of the ukase of a leader or the decree of a President. It has grown down the years, and has been created by the handiwork of countless individual Englishmen. I think the Master of Balliol comes near to the heart of the matter when he emphasises the vital importance of the part which has been played by ordinary local life in the formation of the English political temperament. These are his words:
Nowhere was the village community so real and enduring a thing as it was in England for at least twelve centuries of its history. In every parish men met almost daily in humble, but very real self-government, to be judged by their fellows, or fined by them, or punished as bad characters; to settle the ploughing times and harvest times, the fallowing and the grassing rules for the whole village. To these twelve centuries of discipline we owe the peculiar English capacity for self-government, the enormous English development of the voluntary principle in all manner of institutions; and lastly the spirit of co-operation, the spirit of fair-play and give-and-take, the habit of working to a given purpose, which tempered the hard and grim individuality of the national character.
Our people to-day, for the most part, no longer live in villages. The vast majority
live now in the great towns. But I am going to say that anyone who has any intimate knowledge of the social life of the masses of our people in the great cities will agree that the old spirit lives on among them to-day. Lord Baldwin not very long ago referred to the training which our people daily receive in the art of self-government in the local branches of the great friendly societies, the trade unions and that immense variety of voluntary associations which flourishes among our people. I know from my own experience in Birmingham—and, of course, many hon. Members opposite know even more intimately—how well, broadly speaking, these concerns are managed by our people. There is at once both a great measure of freedom and equality, and at the same time a respect for the authority of the leaders who emerge naturally from the general body. Also, nowhere is it possible to find a greater respect for the rules of order. I am not speaking from hearsay, but from my recollection of meeting after meeting of working men in the city of Birmingham, and it is my conviction that the temperament of our people is profoundly practical and constitutional.
But what we are all most interested in is the future. I put it to the House that it is no good our beating about the bush or evading realities at a time like this. The truth is that history does not tell of any democracy that has survived. Of course, a statement of this kind made only a few years ago would have sounded very academic and theoretical; but it does not sound quite so theoretical to-day. We are in the presence of new factors, and I suggest that two of them are of major importance. First, in recent years, by two great extensions of the franchise—which have always been regarded in the past as in themselves great extensions of political liberty—this House is now elected by what is practically universal franchise, and, therefore, from that point of view, we have attained to full democracy. Secondly, we have seen the fall and ruin of the democratic systems of continental countries.
I put it to the House that we ought to face the difficulties. Our prudent course is to take the view that Lord Baldwin took, when he said that democracy is the most difficult form of government, and to be ready to learn the vital lessons afforded by the practical experience of
democratic breakdown in other countries. What is the essential problem of democratic Government? I believe it can be stated quite generally. It is the difficulty of achieving a proper balance between freedom and order. Both are fundamental and eternal principles in the life of organised communities. Lord Baldwin stated the problem with conclusive brevity, when he said:
Freedom without discipline soon degenerates into licence, by which many a State has perished. Discipline without freedom will make in time a nation of slaves.
Again and again in the last few years we have seen in other countries what a deadly danger to liberty is widespread public disorder. In the end, people will accept anything, they will swing to any extreme, they will accept any dictator to restore that principle of order, without which no tolerable life is possible in any society. That danger we must avoid at all costs. I think we must equally avoid the philosophy that has invested these proceedings with intellectual support, namely, that the individual is really only a cog in the machine because the State itself is the only entity which possesses a fundamental moral value. Englishmen, I think, will always find more attractive the great alternative principle enunciated long ago by an old Puritan militia colonel, when he said, in quaint Commonwealth English:
Really the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the richest he.
I make no excuse for reading to the House the Master of Balliol's comments on this sentence, because they are so apt to my theme and, as I think, so important:
That seems to me the authentic note of democracy. The poorest has his own life to live, not to be managed or drilled or used by other people. His life is his, and he has to live it. None can divest him of that responsibility. However different men may be in wealth or ability or learning, whether clever or stupid, good or bad, living their life is their concern and their responsibility. That is not a scientific nor a common-sense doctrine. It is a religious and moral principle.
Therefore, I recommend the House to support my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment, because I think that is the best way to make clear to everyone that while we are very ready to learn practical lessons from whatever we may see going on in the world, it is our fundamental aim and determination that England shall remain a free and Christian country.
In our endeavour to see that as many hon. Members as possible should take part in the Debate the Under-Secretary and I came to a decision to shorten our contributions. I have no objection to the Under-Secretary's general statement of the principles of liberty and law in this country, but I want to analyse some of his statements. We have had a good deal of criticism about Socialism to-night, and the hon. Member clinched his argument by quoting a statement from a Socialist, the Master of Balliol.
I should like to repudiate the suggestion that from this side of the House there has been any general attack intended on the police of this country or the police of London. What my hon. Friends have done is that they have drawn attention to certain abuses of police powers, and every case quoted has been a well-authenticated case which has come before the courts and the courts have decided that the police were in the wrong. Our action in moving the Motion and raising the discussion is not because we are in any way less jealous of the hard-won liberties that have been built up for centuries in this country, but because probably we are more jealous of their invasion than are the members of other parties in this House.
There is no point in the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) and the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) quoting the difference in rules and practices that obtain in other countries. We are not concerned about the position in other countries. What we are jealous about is that the liberties of this country shall not be invaded or violated. In regard to the Olympia case, which has been quoted, one hon. Member who preceded me deserved praise for the speed with which he wrote to the "Times" and called attention to the abuses of the liberty of the subject which had taken place. The other cases quoted, Stepney Green. Golders Green and Hyde Park, were brought before the courts and dismissed. I have one comment to make on the statement of the Under-Secretary as to the right of civil action for everybody. It is quite a different thing when a humble unknown working man tries to exercise that right. It was proved that these people received brutal treatment at the hands of the police, and the matter was afterwards adjusted by the courts. With regard to the case of the young flying officer, to whom justice was done after his case had been brought before this House, one wonders whether he would have obtained it if he had been an ordinary working man who had been coming home late at night, and had been accosted by the police, as happened in this particular case.
The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) made a reference to the inquiry into the Thurloe Square riot, and said that it only aroused derision in the mind of anyone with any legal knowledge or training. It does not lie in the mouth of the hon. Member to cast aspersions of that kind. The Chairman of that Committee was a man of legal eminence and experience which largely outweigh that of the hon. Member for Norwich. The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth complained that my hon. Friends had raised a question of the conduct of the police. As one who has done as much street-corner speaking as most people, I can give testimony to the general fairness and decency of the London police, but these cases do occur, and we are concerned about them. We feel that there are other elements in the ranks of the police which are somewhat spoiling the old-fashioned police force. And surely the hon. and gallant Member will realise that this is the only court of appeal. This is the only place where we can call attention to these abuses in the hope of getting them remedied. To say that the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) has brought wholesale charges against the police is absurd and without any foundation. We think there is something to be considered. In an editorial in the "Times" to-day they deal with this Debate and suggest the lines upon which they hope the Debate will proceed, that is, of discussing the thesis laid down by the Lord Chief Justice in his book, "The New Despotism." They say this:
It is possible, however, that he is not concerned with any dangerous developments in Parliamentary procedure but only with the more trivial checks upon the liberty of the subject which can be applied under such measures as the Sedition Act or the Public Order Act.
There is an admission in that statement in the "Times" that there have been
invasions of the liberty of the subject. I am pointing these things out, not as an attack on the police, but because I think a certain amount of slackness has crept in in some directions. Only yesterday I read a report of a woman who was charged with stealing, and upon the evidence given in court it was found that the inspector in charge of the case inquired of her whether she had had immoral relations with the prosecutor in the case. The magistrate said that it was utterly improper and contrary to all rules that any such question should be put. But it is done. These are the things to which we desire to call attention in the hope that they will not continue. Only a short time ago an hon. Member called attention to the brutal treatment of prisoners in one of His Majesty's prisons. It is true that through the action of the Home Secretary swift and condign punishment was meted out, but it does not do away with the fact that there is an alarming increase of these cases. I do not stigmatise the whole of the police, but I mention these facts in order that the reputation of the police force may be saved from the besmirchings which have fallen upon it quite recently.
But there is one aspect of the case with which we are very much concerned, and that is the question of search by the police without warrant. That has been commented on by the Royal Commission on Police Powers. The House will be familiar with one case, that of the hunger marchers, when the present President of the Board of Trade, who was then Under-Secretary to the Home Office, said that the police were perfectly right in the action they took. Afterwards we found that the Minister's statement was wrong, because when the case was taken to the courts the judge stated that such things should not take place. The paragraph of the report said that it was never contemplated that the police should have the right to invade people's homes in order to search for papers to bring charges against them which might be different from the original charge against them.
The hon. Member has quoted quite a number of statements, with which we all agree, as to the way in which our liberties have been built up over the centuries. I will quote a statement made by President Woodrow Wilson when addressing the New York Press Club in 1912, but which is as germane to-day as ever
it was. None of these liberties, he said, had been given to the people at large by those who have been in positions of place, power and authority. Every one had to be fought for by the people. In calling attention to that, President Wilson said:
Liberty has never come from the Government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.
While it is quite true, as the hon. Gentleman has said, that we have built up through all the centuries a magnificent body of judicial rights and civil rights in this country, nevertheless their administration is to a very large extent determined by economic conditions, and that is one of the things against which we have to be constantly on guard. I will quote somebody from whose opinions, I am sure, there will be no dissent on the opposite side of the House. About 100 years ago this country was going through a period of disturbance very much like that which it is going through now. Changes of opinion and changes in economic conditions were taking place, and methods to quote such were adopted about which there is complaint now. One of my hon. Friends interjected a reference to Peterloo. That is one of the milestones; and Disraeli in those days when they were fighting for civil rights said:
The real cause of this—as of all popular movements not stimulated by the aristocracy … is an apprehension on the part of the people that their civil rights are invaded.
That fight for civil liberty has gone on without ceasing and without any relaxation down to the present time. To-day the fight is still as necessary as it was then. In a variety of ways, as has been testified in many parts of the House, there have been invasions of the rights of the subjects and limitations imposed here and there. Everybody admits that, paradoxical though it may seem, limitations very often give the subject a larger amount of liberty. That is so in cases of the individual where the licence interferes with the common good of the people. But it is an entirely different thing when people in authority interpret and administer the law in such a way as to deny to the mass of the population those hard-won rights and liberties which are their inheritance. Again I quote from Disraeli:
Before the House agrees to any one of the projects of the Noble Lord"—
it was a Whig Government in office at that time—
we ought to inquire into the causes of the insurrectionary spirit and whether the Government is concerned in that insurrectionary spirit. How can we tell that the cause of it may not be the country having to struggle with a weak Government?
There was never a quotation that was more applicable to the present position. In conclusion, I want to say that the conceptions of liberty of hon. Members on this side are as expressed in the Motion, which I think should gain the assent of the whole House, and not that persons clothed with brief authority should so exercise that authority chiefly to maintain their position, nor to be so partial in their administration of the law as to cause those who might differ from the Government or administration to go in
fear of reprisal or punishment because of such difference. In some quarters there has been a tendency to depart from that principle, but I hope that this Debate to-night will go very far to prevent any spread of that tendency. I close by saying that hon. Members on this side, even more than hon. Members opposite, because we have most to defend, are jealous of those liberties which have been won through the centuries and which are dear to this country. We are determined that they shall be maintained unimpaired and handed down to succeeding generations as we have them to-day.
|Division No. 63.]||AYES.||[11.1 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Groves, T. E.||Parker, J.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Halt, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hardie, Agnes||Riley, B.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Hayday, A.||Ritson, J.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)|
|Banfield, J. W.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Barr, J.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Silverman, S. S.|
|Batey, J.||Jagger, J.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Benson, G.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Bromfield, W.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Sorensen, R. W|
|Buchanan, G.||Kirby, B. V.||Stephen, C.|
|Burke, W. A.||Kirkwood, D.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Cape, T.||Lathan, G.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lawson, J. J.||Thurtle, E.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Leach, W.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Cooks, F. S.||Leslie, J. R.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lunn, W.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||McEntee, V. La T.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||McGovern, J.||Westwood, J.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Maclean, N.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||MacNeill Weir, L.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Ede, J. C.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Mathers, G.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H||Maxton, J.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Frankel, D.||Messer, F.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Muff, G.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Naylor. T. E.|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Paling, W.||Mr. G. Strauss and Mr. Aneurin|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Errington, E.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Erskine-Hill, A. G.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Crooke, J. S.||Everard, W. L.|
|Assheton, R.||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Fleming, E. L.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Crowder, J. F. E.||Furness, S. N.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Denville, Alfred||Fyfe, D. P. M.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Dodd, J. S.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Dugdale, Captain T. L||Grant-Ferris, R.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Eastwood, J. F.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen H. C. (Newbury)||Eckersley, P. T.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Harbord, A.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)|
|Channon, H.||Elliston, Capt. G. S||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Emery, J. F.||Hepburn P. G. T. Buchan-|
|Hepworth, J.||Markham, S. F.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Higgs, W. F.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Savery, Sir Servington|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripen)||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Selley, H. R.|
|Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Holdsworth, H.||Munro, P.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Holmes, J. S.||Nall, Sir J.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Hutchinson, G C.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Tasker. Sir R I.|
|Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Patrick, C. M.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Petherick, M.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Porritt, R. W.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Lees-Jones, J.||Procter, Major H. A.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Levy, T.||Radford, E. A.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Liddall, W. S.||Rankin, Sir R.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Little, Sir E. Graham-||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Lloyd, G. W.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Loftus, P. C.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Lyons, A. M.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Rowlands, G.|
|McKie, J. H.||Royds, Admiral P. M. R.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Magnay, T.||Russell, Sir Alexander||Captain Cazalet and Mr. H.|
|Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Salmon, Sir I.||Strauss.|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Salt E. W.|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.