Orders of the Day — Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 24th July 1939.

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Photo of Mr Campbell Stephen Mr Campbell Stephen , Glasgow Camlachie 4:05 pm, 24th July 1939

I desire to say at the outset that I am in agreement with all other Members who have preceded me in deprecating the acts of violence which have been perpetrated in this country by members of this organisation. At the same time I must confess that, as I listened to the Debate, I began to wonder greatly. When I listened to the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), I began to wonder whether the Bill was not a Bill brought in by the National Government to repress the enemies of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. That seems to me to be practically the purport of his remarks, and I was astounded to hear it, coming from him. Judging from the various things that he said, the major part of his life has evidently been all wrong, and in his latter days he seems to have adopted an entirely new viewpoint. Because of his dislike for Mussolini, he would like, apparently, to become a Hitler or a Mussolini in this country and crush out anybody who had a different opinion from himself. I read with great interest the large type at the beginning of the Bill: To prevent the commission in Great Britain of further acts of violence designed to influence public opinion or Government policy, and so on. If I could believe that the long Title of the Bill was really practical, I should be an enthusiast for the Bill. I wonder at the modesty of it. I wonder that it does not go on to say: and to prevent all acts that are wrongful acts. If a national crisis were in any way on the lines of what is dealt with in this Bill, we should only have to bring in a Bill to prevent any further national crisis. But the unfortunate thing is that, even when an alleged National Government brings in a Bill with such a Title as this, there is no guarantee that the Bill will be in the least effective. The whole difficulty of the situation is that, as has already been pointed out, we cannot persuade people by Acts of Parliament to do absolutely everything that we would like them to do. It presents a wonderful vista of what one might ask the Government to do. One might have a Bill from them to prevent anybody in this country from ever saying or thinking anything different from the members of the present Government, though that would be very difficult, because of the way in which the Government keep whirling about, changing from one thing to another. The public would be in very great difficulties.

As I listened to the Debate, I became all the more convinced that, while the Government are anxious to prevent the commission in Great Britain of further acts of violence, this Measure is not in any way fitted to make that possible. It is simply a Bill to make it possible for the Home Secretary to take action against people in respect of whom he has suspicions that they may commit acts of violence. That is an extraordinary position for the Home Secretary to be in: that if he—advised, I agree, by his Department—has suspicions that certain people are engaged in a conspiracy, he should be at liberty to subject them to penalties. The Bill does not propose that he should be enabled to take them into court and there prove a case against them, but that if his Department has suspicions about people they may become subject to certain penalties.

We hear much about our liberties in this country. Is anything worse being done in the totalitarian countries than what is proposed in this Bill? This is an absolute negation of justice, and I was very surprised when I heard the right hon. Gentleman above the Gangway say that the Opposition were not going to divide against the Bill. I listened to the Home Secretary with very great interest when he dealt with the problem that he has to face. It is true that he has to face the question of how to stop these outrages. He said that there were three ways that had been considered and put aside. There was general satisfaction that he had decided against internment; evidently it was thought that it would look too much like German methods if we went in for internment and concentration camps. But the Government are taking powers here to take steps against people against whom they are unable to prove a case, and I do not think that any Government are entitled to do that. I know that this seems plausible: it seems very desirable that we should have some method of preventing those outrages; but this is not a method of preventing outrages. If it were, we should be able to stop all crime by working on the same methods as those laid down in the Bill. If there was a suspicion about a certain person that would be enough. That person would be locked up, or put out of the country: sent to some desert island. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as the Home Secretary evidently thinks.

He said that if the Government were not to take some such steps and during the Recess we found ourselves engaged in a war, the Home Office would be in a terrible position. We were in a War from 1914 to 1918, and during those years there was a rebellion in Ireland, a great movement in which the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland were united against the Government of this country in their desire to see Ireland a nation once again. Yet we did not have the Government of the day introducing a Bill for the prevention of violence. During all that period of crisis it was not necessary. I believe that the Government are handling this matter in altogether the wrong way. The way that I would suggest is that which should be used in handling the whole problem of crime: to try to remove the causes of crime, and, having done that, to try to create a machine that will be able to take efficient action against people who can be proved guilty of crime. To act on suspicion is only going to lead to many difficulties for a lot of people. Various hon. Members have pointed to the possibility of anonymous complaints. We have had experience of that in the administration of pensions and of the Unemployment Insurance Acts. In connection with those matters there have been many regrettable instances of ill-speaking people sending anonymous letters about their fellow-men and women. But those are small matters compared with the possibilities created by this Measure.

When I was re-elected to this Parliament some people in Glasgow came to me and spoke about the condition of things in Northern Ireland. I know that I cannot go into those matters here, that I cannot pursue the question of the conduct of affairs in Northern Ireland and the administration of the Special Powers Act there; but I know the tremendous resentment which is felt by those people in Glasgow because of the injustices inflicted on their friends. The same sort of thing is being introduced into this country. Because of a handful of people who are taking this terrorist line, many thousands of other people are going to be subject to the greatest ignominy and hardships. I do not believe that this will be effective in dealing with that small section of people who are carrying on this policy of violence. The Home Secretary has given no evidence that this would be in any way effective in dealing with the problem. He told us about the number of convictions already secured. While there have been many outrages in the country, there have been a tremendous number of convictions in respect of them, so the police are evidently capable of handling the situation with their present powers. If they do want further powers, this House should not give such powers if they are going to be a negation of the liberty that the people of this country have enjoyed for centuries.

There seems to be a tremendous capacity for criticism of what goes on in the totalitarian States, and at the same time a tremendous enthusiasm for following the lines adopted by the totalitarian States. This Bill is thoroughly in the totalitarian tradition, and I hope that the House of Commons will think carefully, and think again, before giving to the Home Secretary powers which will allow him to arrest people on suspicion, put them out of the country on suspicion, put them into prison on suspicion, and keep them in prison on suspicion without being able to prove any case against them. The fact that that has been done in the Colonies and in India is no argument for doing it here. What we should do is to sweep it away from wherever this House of Commons has power—in the Colonies and in India—and to allow the people there to have liberty and justice. If you give them liberty and justice you will not have these outrages.

I am a Socialist, and social democrats have never believed in terroristic methods. Such methods have been against the policy and ideology of social democracy. I see no reason to change my views on that. I have no faith in methods of terrorism. I believe that it is in seeking to develop and press forward the ideal of brotherhood and justice that we shall be able to make progress, and I regret that the Home Secretary, in dealing with terroristic acts, should be adopting the same methods in trying to deal with them. I believe we have to deal with this question in a different way altogether. I would say to some of my hon. Friends that I believe the proper way to deal with it is by inducing the people of Northern Ireland to have a bigger vision and to see the way to peace in the people there having a bigger say in the admiistration of that country.